Punked-Out Punk: The Merciful Conclusion

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Ugly scene at the punk show.  Gurz and I wound up going at it.  Savage exchange.  Dude fights dirtier than me.  Beat me to the salt shaker.  Then beat me with the salt shaker.  Right there on the dance floor.  While the band played on.  I thought I’d met my match, but remembered a move called Monkey Steals A Peach.  That took the proverbial wind out.  Cops showed up and arrested us both for felony assault.  Essington posted our bail.  We paid him back by stealing his car.

Hmm.  It’s a good start for this piece.  I mean I really like it.  Right away we’re up to our elbows in action.  The writing is snappy and scrappy.  Lean and tough.  I get to work in a salt shaker and Monkey Steals A Peach reference.  Getting busted is rich.  The evil burn there at the end, too.  The whole paragraph is so me.  We’re talking signature shit.

There’s only one little problem.  It’s a balls-out lie.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with that.  It’s just that Gurz or Essington might yap.  Then everybody will think/know I’m a liar.  Which would suck.  And oh yeah, I’m supposed to try to be as honest as possible, in order to help stay sober.

Fucking staying sober.  Always tripping up my game.  Saving me from humiliation.

You want the truth?  You think you can handle it?  Well handle this-

I went to the show and had an okay time.  Got along with Gurz and Essington.  Nothing crazy happened.  Was asleep in my motel bed by 2AM.  Had a nice breakfast with Brisa and Dennis the next morning.  Came home.  The end.

After all that build up, that’s all you get.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.  No drinking.  No drugging.  No fist-fights.  No stage-diving.  No strippers.  No hookers.  No cops.

Not so hot on the truth now, are you?  Yeah, it’s easy to pay it lip labor, but another thing to have to endure listening to it.  Or in this case, having to read it.  It could set you free, but the truth just might lull you to sleep.  Like a bellyful of antihistamine-fed turkey, cold hard facts can be quite soporific.  Plain old boring truth.

Here’s some more boring truth-  I hate writing music reviews.  Mostly because I suck.  I’ll write “they sound alright, like some band I can’t remember the name of, only more hoppy-boppy,” or “the chick playing bass looks like someone my buddy went out with, back in Santa Fe, during the 90’s.  A real clingy, emotionally needy, pain in the ass.  The girlfriend, not the bass player.  I don’t know what her story is.”

I’m no Lester Bangs.  And don’t want to be.  First off, he’s dead.  Second off, I recognize my limitations as a writer.

Add that to the fact that nothing amazing, funny, or insane happened at the show, and you’ll know why I dragged ass getting here.  This thing became a book report I couldn’t find the Cliff Notes for.  I kept putting off writing about the show with a Part One, Part Two, Part Three, hoping I’d find some angle to make it interesting.  Well, the angle never came.  That’s when I decided to try to lie my way out.  Like a cornered rat.

Sure, lot’s of uninteresting things happen to me, all the time, and it’s never stopped me from writing about them.  But there’s usually some internal component, some gleaned insight or entertaining thought process to report.  Not this time.  The only thing I remember thinking was, “this music is okay, but I’m ready for it to stop now.  It’s starting to hurt my ears.”

Not much to hang your hat on.  Even for Lester Bangs.

Reagan Youth

Thank God, Michael Essington was there.  He can write about music.  Or anything else.  He’s prolific.  Smart.  A natural writer.  Very readable.  In real life, a solid down-to-earth character.  No posturing or posing.  And that comes through in his work.  I wish we could have talked more that night, but the music was…too loud.

Anyway, while I hemmed and hawed, waiting for some God Machine to descend from the sky, he banged out a review of the show.  You can read it here.

Okay.  That gets me off that hook.  No need to review the show.  And that should be lesson to all you kids out there.  Sometimes procrastination pays off.  So don’t put it off.

I’ll will add that while Essington was jumping hurdles trying to get to the show, I saw the whole thing.  13 Scars and Reagan Youth managed to tap into the wellspring of youthful angst and delivered the notice.  Especially noteworthy, since both bands are made up of generally older dude types.  It was good to see middle-agehood could still shred shit up.  Good for morale.  A mighty hammer blow struck against the evils of ageism.

But like I said, at one point my ears just gave out.  It wasn’t the musicianship, or even some age-crisis induced introspection, but the physical discomfort of decibels relentlessly beating against the skull that made me ready to bail.  But I didn’t.  I clung on to the bitter end.

And am a better man because of it.

Michael Essington and David Gurz

Michael Essington and David Gurz

If you read part one of this saga (and my stats show that’s not likely) you’ll know that I went primarily for the book-signing, Essington and Gurz were doing for their joint effort,  Under a Broken Street Lamp.  It was good to finally meet Gurz.  A deeply troubled individual.  Dangerously deranged old punk.  Ex-con.  Ex-heroin junky.  Street survivor.  You’re just not going to find a more subterranean creature.  If I had a stick that night I would have poked at him, just to watch him claw and hiss, the madness and menace glinting in his eyes.  A fascinating specimen of Demonous Nocturnous.

And all that comes through in his work.  But lots of other stuff too.  Sinister resume aside, Dave is a sweetheart.  Intelligent, funny-as-fuck, and–oh, he’s gonna kill me–sensitive and caring.  That’s right.  He’s what is known in folklore as a Noble Scoundrel.  Standard archetype, really.  What the turn-of-the-century criminal, Jack Black, called “a good Yegg.”

Anyway, we’d been corresponding and talking on the phone for over a year before this, so it was great to actually meet in person.  And not be able to communicate.  But hang out anyway.

That’s what this whole odyssey was about.  Making the effort to connect with friends.  Going against my selfish inclination for the apparent comfort and safety of isolation, and coming out to the show.  Just to be there.  To hang out.  To talk loudly to somebody who can’t hear you, and then not hear them tell you that.  To build that bond that comes from nodding and shrugging at each other.  Clueless.  While droplets of blood roll from your ears.

I wouldn’t trade it for all the treasure in Timbuktu.

Okay.  That’s not true either.

Damn.

Anarchy Transformer

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Blogula Turns Two.

Birthdays blow.

Birthdays blow.

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

And get this party started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clap…………………………….clap.

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

Clap.

Clap.

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

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

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

I can think of no greater honor.

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

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

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

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

Just to show you we still got it.

Thanks for reading.  Trudge on.

Marius

Stand-Up Assassin

How's everybody feeling tonight?

How’s everybody feeling tonight?

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

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

And none of it funny.  At all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nervous laughter.  People still smiling.

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

Much less nervous laughter.  A sea of blank stares.

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

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

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

It's like he can read my mind.

It’s like he can read my mind.

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

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

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

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

Taking the mike off from its stand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I say we kill the messenger.

I say we kill the messenger.

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

Like the motivational speaker caper before this.

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

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

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

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

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

We will no longer tolerate an aggressive Poland.

We will no longer tolerate an aggressive Poland.

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

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

Clench a fist.  Seethe.  Hiss it out.

“Thisssssssss has become…unacceptable!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold fists out and up like Gigantor.

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

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

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

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

Look down.  Then up.

“And we have come…to destroy!”

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

Tick-tick.  Blam!

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

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

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

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

He suspected that would happen.  With his luck.

We love the pain.

We love the pain.

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?

My Brother Strip Club Gladiator

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

Decided I’d pick a random picture out of a pile and write about it.  What can I say?  I’m desperate for topics.  Okay.  This one should be easy.  Me and Joe.  We’re at my mom’s house having lunch.  I’m pouring him a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice made from concentrate.  It looks like I’m wearing a chandelier, but I’m just standing behind it.

And that.  Is pretty much.  That.

That’s what’s going on there.

Old Joe.  And me.  At my mom’s house.

Having lunch.

How about that?

Yeah, that’s some crazy shit.

Obviously, this was taken during a period of sustained sobriety.  Because that’s how cray-cray I roll when I’m not drinking.  Doesn’t lend itself to a good story though.

I guess I could write about the dashing black devil dog I’m pouring the OJ for.  That’s Joe.  We became buddies while working as bouncers at the same strip club.  This was the dump in Gardena.  Not the one by LAX.  The one on the Compton border.  Just get on Rosecrans Blvd. and follow the sound of gunfire.  And the smell of sex.

It wasn’t one of my more stress-free gigs.  There we were, sitting on piles and piles of cash, one block away from the 110 freeway on-ramp.  It was as close to a sure-thing armed heist jack-pallooza pay-off as you’re going to get.  At least that’s what all us bouncers had decided.

Now…if we could only find some people around here desperate enough to try.  Yoo-hoo!  Anybody in this zip code like some free money?

What made it even better was that I took the cover charge and carried the majority of the cash.  Felt like I was wearing a bacon-bikini to a dog fight. Eventually the owners let me carry a piece, but in this neighborhood that didn’t really guarantee anything, except drawing more fire.

So I really appreciated having a guy like Joe watching my back.  Ex-Marine.  Funny.  Sharp as razor wire.  Strong as an ox.  Squared-away.  He wanted to be a writer too.  We became pals and hung out when not at work.  We’d lift weights at his apartment and talk about writing, life, strippers.  Travel to border towns in Mexico in search of adventure and romance.  Just normal stuff.

He was a good fighter.  I got to watch him work his magic a few times.  He had a pretty impressive beat-down delivery system worked out.  Mostly thanks to Uncle Sam, but he also had a natural talent.  Which is hilarious when you knew Joe.  When you knew what a total sweet-heart, good soul he was.  To watch him go from genial, charming guy–to ring gladiator–was an amazing thing to witness.

They never saw it coming.  A flash of white teeth, then a storm of blows.  Black Lighting.

He didn’t have to resort to that very often since he had this natural ease about him.  It put other people at ease.  He could defuse a potentially explosive situation with a well-placed wisecrack, or a “C’mon now, work with me, brother!”

He never showed fear.  But he also didn’t get up in dude’s faces.  Instead, he would gently steer potential trouble down and away.  I liked that.  Now that I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t so gung-ho for fisticuffle solutions.  A fella could get hurt.

Sometimes though, you’d run across a dude whose personal karmic debt was just screaming to be paid.  A man intent on blowing past all the safe exits being courteously offered by this gracious gentleman.  He’d misjudge Joe’s nice as soft.  Think he could steamroll him.

That’s when he’d meet The Panther.

Surprise!  You’re suppositions were errant.  Now you get to do The Chicken while being choked out by in a powerful ebony bicep.

We worked well together.  Like some salt and pepper super hero duo.  I was salt.  Since, you know, me and the salt-shaker thing.  Although, at that point, I had moved away from those to a kinder and gentler 300,000 volt zapper, La Chicharra.  A light touch on the back of the neck.  Arcing blue spark blowing out CNS circuits, a little mountain dance, then a collapse into a puddle of electrified urine.  Much more humane.

Relatively.  That little Tesla cattle prod packed a wallop.  I know.  I accidentally sat on it one night getting into my car.  Forgot I had it in the back pocket.  All I know is I’m reaching for the ignition and a Frankenstein bolt of electricity blasts down my right leg.  Kzzzzaaahrrrrrr!

I screamed like a little girl.  Yes it hurt, like a bear trap snapping repeatedly along the limb, but it freaked the fuck out of me too.  Your first thought isn’t “Oh I just accidentally sat on my zapper.”  No, you think something very terrible is happening to you.  Something mysterious.  Some unmeasurable new torment.  From God, maybe.  And your involuntary screaming frightens you into more screaming.

Glad the windows were rolled up.

Anyway, it was good to know Joe had my six.  I sure had his.  I loved that guy.

We wound up working for the same security company after the we left the strip club.  That was dead-end, so we’d try to pick up free-lance work doing escort for scared rich people.  Most of the time we just wound up doing security at rap shows and private parties.  But, whatever we’d find individually, we’d try to get the other guy in on.   Always looking out for each other.

One day, I got to do him a major solid.

One of my contacts, a successful jewelry designer I carried baubles for, had one of her girlfriends coming in from overseas.  She needed a driver and escort while she stayed in LA.  My lady friend told me this woman was beautiful, and like I mentioned, prosperous enough to pay well.  Just to safely shepherd her around.

Why I didn’t take the job I don’t know.  Something just told me to pass it on to Joe.  I knew his financial empire was struggling a little more than mine at the time, so I told my lady I’d have Joe do it.  She had already met him one night in Santa Barbara when we all had dinner together.  (Actually, that was the night before this picture was taken.)

“Oh yes,” she said, “Joe would be perfect. Mmm yes, PERFECT.”

Huh?  Oh.  Okay.  I got it.  Our company just expanded it’s service line.  This was going to be one of those deals.

Shit.  I may have just fucked myself out of a very enjoyable paid gig.  Oh well.  This was going to be quite a happy surprise for Joe.  I called him and dialed him in on the basics, but left out my intuitions, not wanting to get his hopes up.  I shouldn’t have worried.

He called me the day after.

“I owe you more than I could ever repay.”

I knew it.  I sat down on the couch.

“Over several lifetimes.”

“Oh shit, what happened?”

“All good things, man.  All good things.  I so owe you.”

“What the fuck happened?!!”

“Just the best day of my life.”

“The one that could have been mine.  Go on.”

He tells me how he goes to pick her up at the hotel she’s staying at, and into the lobby slinks this blonde cougar.  Early forties.  Classy.  Sophisticated.   Clearly an intelligent and together woman.  But maybe unstable enough to be fun.  Maybe some unresolved issues that periodically erupt in deliciously bad behavior.

“Nine,” he says, “with make up.  Solid eight without.”

“You saw her without her make-up?”

“Hold on.  I’m getting there, but it’s part of a whole package.  A whole package of WOW!”

He’s laughing.  You can hear the joy.  Oh man, I’m thinking, a whole package of WOW sounds so good.  Even half a package.  I felt a tinge of something I didn’t like, so I shoved it away.

He tells me that after he picked up this clickity-clackity sexity society kitten, he took her to 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica.

“Good call.”

“Roger that.”

They walked around, looking at the stores and restaurants, Joe just being the young-charming-good-looking-intelligent-witty-chivalrous-chiseled-mahogany individual that he was.

“We hit it off right away.  She seemed fairly happy hanging out with me.”

“Really?  I’ll never figure out women.”

They stroll along the beach.  It’s a beautiful day and the freaks are out.  Lots to talk about.  Laugh about.  Poke playfully at each other about.  She takes him out to a long, leisurely lunch.  Over a glass of wine, she tells him about her life, with Joe asking all kinds of questions that showed his deep interest in her personal history.  He throws in a gentle tease here and there.  She throws her napkin at him, and they smile.  Order more wine.  Let their feet touch under the table.

“Get to the no make-up part.  Actually back up to just before that.”

“Chill my brother.  The story is unfolding.  Elements are…coming together.”

“You managed that too?”

“Not every time.  Just on the last one.”

“I fucking give up.”

Well, it turns out that our sexy and successful client wanted Joe to take her to a girlfriend’s house.  Why not?  Her friend’s a well-known actress, one that’s married to an even more-famous professional football quarterback.  One who also happened to be an African-American athlete Joe greatly admired.  How about that?  His job now required taking this beautiful charge to their mansion, to party.

“You’re bullshitting.”

“Afraid not.”

Fucking rough.  Raw deal.  It meant more people to charm, more people to make laugh and have fall in love with you. Having to sip the premium liquor your personal hero keeps pouring you, while a sexy vampula keeps sneaking you hungry looks.  With teeth-licking.  And eyebrow-raising. Mr. Quarterback’s quarter-grand sound system blasting Bootsy Collins.  Everybody in the kitchen.  Bumping to the beat.  Drinking.  Laughing.  Eating sushi appetizers prepared by the private cook.

I got up to get a beer, then remembered I didn’t drink anymore and sat back down.

“Please tell me you all get food-poisoning.  From the sushi.”

No such luck.  After soul-brother hugging his hero and kissing his beautiful actress wife goodnight, he takes the slightly-teetering client back to her hotel room at The Four Season.  After a few hours of endurance-testing, porn-worthy, jungle-fevered gymnastics they finally collapsed.

It was then he saw her without make-up, as she snuggled next to him in moist, twisted sheets.

“She taught me some shit.  Man.  Tore me up.”

“Got your freak on, did you?”

“Freaky freak.  Freaky-deaky freak.”

“Wow.  That is whole package of WOW.”

“Now here’s the kicker–”

Yeah.  Need one.  A good donkey kick in the gut.  Just to send me somersaulting down the stairs of self-pity.

“She paid me my hourly…up to when I left the next morning.”

“That only seems fair.  Making two month’s worth of pay to endure all that bullshit.”

I inhaled deeply through my nostrils.  Exhaled through my ears.

“You’re a dirty whore, Joe.”

“Oh yes. Yes I am!”

It was weird though, the jealousy was only a pang.  It sort of hit and binged off.  It didn’t lodge in and smolder.  Sure, I wish I had his day.  But something about knowing that Joe got it, a guy I really loved, took the sting out.  I found myself being genuinely happy for him.  More happy than pissed about missing out.

It was strange.  Nice, actually.  It  felt good knowing I kind of helped make it happen.  That I helped a bro have that kind of a day.

And night.

A guy like Joe deserved it.  All guys like him do.

Anyway, that’s what I think about when I see this picture.

My work is done.

Shemp Hair Blues

Another Lithuanian with great hair.

A Lithuanian with great hair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blessed and lucky.

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

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

That’s so badass it hurts.

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

It was too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, she waved me over.

Here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I must make it so.

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

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

“Don’t make trouble.”

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

What?

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

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

“I’ll see you at home.”

“Okay, love you.”

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

“I like your work,” I forced out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to go,” she says.

“Go,” I say.

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

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

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

And he had what I wanted.

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

Thugs Like Us: A Book Review

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

It was even better the second time.

A lot of times it is.

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

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

And a clean line.

Carnell is a master of the clean line.

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

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

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

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

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

And now things are okay.

Win/win.

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

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

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

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

There’s beauty everywhere.  No matter what.

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Lord Thuggington, John Carnell