Writer’s Block And Tackle

I got nothing.  I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a while now.  I wish it were metaphoric.  I’d be happier.  Maybe it is, and I will be happier when I realize it.   As it is, up until less than one minute ago, it was literal.  Then I had to start typing something.  Might as well type about not typing.

Okay.  That’s over.  Now what?

I guess I’ll write about what I just wrote.  Attention everyone, I wrote something earlier even though I had nothing to write.  There.  Okay, now just keep going.  One sentence at a time.  It’s got to lead somewhere.  Hopefully fruitful, but at this point, I don’t give a rat’s ass.  As long as I don’t delete all this, it’s a start.  Let’s see if I delete it.

Nope.  No such luck.  Looks like I’m committed now.  Here we go.  I don’t feel good about this.

One of the things I liked about drinking was it helped me get over these stuck points.  Drink enough and you become a fucking genius, and everything you write is brilliant.  Until you read it in the morning.  If you’re lucky, you might be able to salvage a paragraph here or a sentence there.  Sometimes I would go back, into the scrap yard, and weld some loose, working parts together.  I’d come up with something, and label the abomination, “Post-Post Modern Lit.”

Nothing left to do after that, but stand back and see if the hipsters salute it.

Most of the time, those scraps of paper got trampled underfoot,  and were left to sop up beer and broken glass.  They never saw the light of day.

And the reading public was better off.

Regardless, without drinking, I wouldn’t have had even those mutilated parts to cobble together.  I needed something to silence The Voice That Hates Everything, just long enough to get something, anything, down on paper.  There’s actually a window.  You’re drunk enough not to listen to The Critic, but not too drunk to coherently do anything about it.  It’s a sliver of time.  If I hit it just right I could bang out some decent shit before the aperture closed.  And The Moron took over

I once heard of this writer that was an alcoholic.  Yeah, I know.  Crazy shit.  But I trust the source.  If you are one, I don’t need to explain how alcohol can facilitate the creative process.  You guys know.  Get one us drunk, and you are going to witness some original thinking.  Bold even.
Ideas not hemmed in by bullshit like reason or meaning.  Or fear of social rejection.

When your diving board is that springy, you’re bound to get a good bounce.  Where you land, is not as important as how much air you catch.  A belly flop into a drained pool is still better than sitting on a chaise lounge.  It’s certainly a better story to write about.

This one time I belly-flopped into a drained pool.  Okay, not true.  But it seems like something that could have happened.  Can I just write about stuff the could have happened?  I can write a whole story that climaxes with a dive into concrete.  Seems me.

That also seems like too much work for tonight.   Too creative.

I just want this screen to magically fill itself with words.

So far it’s working.

Okay, I shouldn’t have said that.

Now nothing again…

…for longer than you’ll know.

Tunes.  I need tunes.  Time to put some Billy Childish on the old I-Podular unit.  That always help loosen me up a bit.  Some bad-toothed Brit spitting out the words.  Mad Billy.  The Churl of Chatham.  One of Thatcher’s bastard children.  Doesn’t give a flying fuck.  Snarling cur.  Pissed drunk.  Pissed-off.  Grab a face.  Hurl a gob.  Knee a groin.  Rebellion and riot.  Boots and pint glasses smashing into your skull while a bird in white leather blows you a pink lipstick kiss, then jabs a pool cue in your eye.  Action.  Adventure.  Romance.

It’s not working.  I’m not feeling it.

I feel like putting on a Snuggy and watching a cable show about luxury RV’s.  Going through my closet and getting together a pile for St. Vincent DePaul.  Organizing my dumb-bells in the garage, in descending order, by weight.  Anything but writing now.

However, according to the WordPress Word-O-Meter, I’ve got 733 words.  Just a few more, and all this can be over.

Let’s see…this one time, in my past, something really funny happened.  I’m not in the mood to remember any particular instance, or even make one up.  But if I did, hoo-boy!  What laffs we would have.  We’d be pissing our pants.  Imagine how awesome that would be.

That added some words.  Come on.  Dig deep.

Why am I even doing this?  What’s the point?  What’s my motivation?  Not fortune and fame.  Not on WordPress.  Why this compulsion to write, even when I don’t have anything?

My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Wagner (who was totally hot) was the first person to encourage me to write.  She told me I had talent and that if I applied myself to it, I could go far.  Yep.  Yeppy yep yep.  She was so right.  If I applied myself.

She was my first muse.  Man, I had a crush on her.  I remember holding her hand when I was line monitor.  It was cool, white and chalky.  Holding it gave me intensely weird feelings.  The fact it was attached to a married woman made the medicine even more strange, more potent.  An attraction to females and danger was already reaching out through those cool, white chalkies.  The loving hands of death.

I wound up writing stories just so she would read them.  They always featured me as some sort of heroic force of nature.  I wanted to impress her.  Make her think I was something more than I was.  Working as my own publicist, you might say.  Anyway, she’d give them back with some positive comments and maybe one of her red-inked smiley faces.  Heady shit for a fourth-grader.  It meant she bought the lie, and maybe I had a chance.

It seems that writing was my earliest attempt at seduction.   Good thing I never tried that again.

942 words.  Almost there.  Maybe I’m already there.  I can just end this shit right now.  Kill it.  A little zinger and The End.  Make it a short one.  For a change.

I dunno.  I think it’s going to fart itself out here pretty soon.  Let’s poke it along and see if we can get it to crawl some more.

I had this gig once, writing a weekly column for a local paper in Santa Fe.  They paid forty bucks an article.  The deadline was noon Monday mornings.  I didn’t have a computer those days, so it’s not like I could just press send from the old home office.  Even if I could, there would be no point in sending something that didn’t exist.  I hadn’t spent the week-end working on an article.  I spent the weekend turning the old home office into a den of iniquity.  One filled with enough wretched excess and moral decay to have made Caligula uncomfortable.

Too busy living life to its fullest, baby, to be scribbling bullshit on paper.

On Monday morning, I’d be lying close to death from having lived so fully.  I’d stare up at the ceiling.  What the fuck am I going to write?  I was too poisoned to handle a pen and paper.  I would word-process the column in my head, in between vomiting and sipping canned beer.  Cheap, rancid shit.  Stuff that made you puff sewer gas out of your pores.  I’d be moving paragraphs around in my head.  Trimming sentences.  Inserting jokes.  Sweating and stinking.  Sprawled out on a stained mattress.  Trying really hard to be a genius.

For forty bucks.

Some mornings I wasn’t sure if I was going to live, but I was sure I wasn’t going to miss that deadline.  Or the forty bucks.  I never did.  It was my last vestige of responsibility and I clung to it tenaciously.  I’d get on my stolen bicycle with no seat, and peddle down to The Reporter.  I’d borrow somebody’s computer and bang out what I had in my head, while also trying to hold my alcohol smell in.  Tapping away, taking really shallow breaths.  Not wanting everyone in the office to know what a drunk I was.  Even though that’s what the article was about.  Genius.

Shit, that was hard.  This is easy.  We’re already at 1298 words and I haven’t broken a sweat.

Back then I needed a deadline.  Sometimes I would set up a reading, knowing it would force me to write.  If I didn’t have an ax hovering, I’d blow off the work at the first sign of a stall.  Whereas if I had a performance looming, I’d stick with it, and try to power through.  I had to come up with something.  The reading was in three hours.  And still, I would procrastinate.

I’d be burning it to the last minute.  One time, I actually finished a piece after I took the stage.  Wrote the last words after I sat down on the chair and opened a beer.  I’d have all these papers stuffed into a briefcase, sheets flying out everywhere, and the audience would think it was part of the shtick.  Fine by me.  Let them think this was performance art.  The truth was that I was totally unorganized and flying by the seat of my pished keks.

I wound up losing the part I had just wrote, that same night.  It was amazing.  I finished writing it up there on stage, set it down, and read some older pieces.  Things were rolling along.  Then I decided to lay the fresh one on them.  Hot off the presses this one, kids.  I get halfway through, and realize I can’t find the last sheet.

That’s funny.  I just wrote it.  I’m going through the whole briefcase while the audience waits, but it is gone, gone, gone.  I’m totally baffled.  I mean I didn’t go anywhere.  I was on stage the whole time.  So where could I have misplaced it?  Somewhere between here and here.  When was the last time you saw it?  When I was sitting right here.

Performance art?  Or just train wreck?  I’ll never tell.

I always wanted to see how close I could cut things.  Let me tell you, I could cut them wahfer theen.

There was a place in LA, called Al’s Bar, over by Little Tokyo.  They had an open mike on Thursdays.  Some friends and I would pile in the car and drive south.  We’d take turns going up to do something.  Didn’t much matter what.  It was for our own enjoyment.  The idea that we were up there “performing” something in front of an audience, was a pretty good rush.  But, it was even better if you could push the envelope.  Redefine what constitutes entertainment.  Get esoteric.  Make people wonder about you.  Provoke thought.

Scare the hell out of yourself.

One night, I decided I wanted to try an experiment.  I wanted to see what would come out of me if I had absolutely nothing prepared.  Nothing.  Just get up there and see what rolls out.  I’d create a vacuum in my psyche and hope something would fill it…at the very last minute.  Something interesting was bound to happen.  No matter what.  Maybe I’d even learn something.

I learned something alright.  I learned that I was fucking crazy.

As the evening proceeded, and my turn got closer, I started feeling some apprehension.  Maybe I should have some back-up, in case I can’t come up with anything.

And ruin the integrity of the experiment?  You idiot.  The whole point of this would be destroyed.  You’d be left doing something pointless.  We can’t have that.   Sufficiently penitent, I pushed any ideas away and tried to sit in mental void.  As best I could.

The place was noisy. There were people in the other room talking at the bar and shooting pool.  They weren’t paying attention to what was going on in the little show room.  In the performance space, there were probably thirty or so people.  All watching the terrible spectacle that is an open mike night.  Most of them were on the sign-up list to perform.  So you can imagine how pathetic.  How brutally dreadful.

That night, I couldn’t take comfort in how terrible the other acts before me were.  I didn’t know if my shit would be any better.  After all, I didn’t even know what my shit was.

Just be here.  Don’t think.  Stay present.

I was pretty awake by the time they called my name.  Not really able to anesthetize myself, at even dive bar prices, I was far too sober to enjoy the experience.  I always had stage-fright, but that night it seemed particularly acute.  The Fear had coiled in my gut and was constricting my throat.  Why was I doing this?  Nobody held a gun.  This was all my idea.  Of fun.

Why would I do this to me?

I got up and introduced myself.  I adjusted the mike, and looked down at it.  I stared deep into the meshed metal wire.  I really had nothing.  Nothing.  I clearly remember thinking, “Okay, I’m fucking out of here.”  I just stood there and checked out.  Evaporated.  My soul had left the building, leaving an empty husk staring at the mike.  Silence.  Then…

“I WANT TO FUCK YOUR MOTHER!!!”

I watched myself say it, from about two feet behind and above.  Sort of floating above it all.  Me looking at me.  I wasn’t too thrilled with what I was seeing.  The whole bar had gone pin-drop silent.  The people in the next room stopped talking and shooting pool.  Everyone was staring at me.  I guess that was good.  I had gotten everyone’s attention.  Or at least whatever possessed me did.  Good way to do it.  Although it seemed a little drastic.  No warming up the crowd with some friendly patter and a reminder to tip the waitress and bartender.  No.  Just cut to the chase.  Let everybody know what you would like to do to their mother.

Oh man.

Now I really didn’t know what to say.

Well, I wasn’t about to return into my body.  Not while I had to deal with this telling everyone I wanted to fuck their mother situation.  I decided that whoever yelled out that shit in the first place, could have the mike.  Maybe they can get us out of this, but I wanted no part of it.

It seems the invading spirit had some more things to say, some other pronouncements to make, because I was up there for the entire five-minute allotment.  I can’t remember any of it.  Not even right afterwards.  I had blacked-out.  And not my normal version.  It was strange.  I do remember people laughing.  Then afterwards, people clapping and cheering, and some guy wanting to buy me a beer.  Which I was nice enough to allow.

My friends said I did well, but I didn’t trust them.  I figured they had to say that.  I certainly didn’t want to press the investigation.  I never asked them what I had actually said up there, beyond the fabulous ice-breaker.  I really didn’t want to know.   My scientific investigation was over.  While many questions remained (like what happened)  I was able to come to some firm conclusions.

If you create a vacuum, something will fill it.  Whatever it was, in my case, got some dude to buy me a beer.  That was enough to label the entire experiment a resounding success.  It also helped my stage fright.  I was never as nervous after that night.  Maybe there’s some facing your fears message in there, but I don’t see it.

Oh shit, we’re at 2676 words.  That’s more than enough.  Okay, let’s wrap this fucker up fast.  Uh, yeah, things happened, blah blah, everything turned out cool, blah blah.  Explain some valuable insights.  Some lessons learned.  Maybe some shit about letting go and the creative process, or the entertainment value of demonic possession.  Ask some big questions.  Give few real answers.  Toss in a general observation.  Pair it with a specific absurdity.  Come up with a clever reference to something earlier in the piece, then a pithy popper to cork it.  This bitch is done.

And I had nothing.

Working on my article for Monday.

Mardi Gras Death Trip ’89 Part 2

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

“Happy ending?” she asked.

“Make it the happiest,” I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you think this will be enough?”

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

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

I have had worse moments in my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can start with me,” Lu piped up.

My eyebrow arched.

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

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

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

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

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

“Step up little dude!” I kept shouting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m so glad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was brutal.  Every fucking mile of it.

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

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

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

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

 

Mad Dog

Getting his buff on.

He’s got some gig doing children’s theater (it’s a long story) and he’s starring in The Little Mermaid as King Triton.  It’s the first act.  He’s singing and dancing and the kiddies are filled with delight.  What they don’t know is that King Triton has really tied one on the night before.  He’s up there performing, poisoned to his Poseidon gills (in this case quite literally) in the fine theatrical tradition of Barrymore, W.C. Fields, and Judy Garland.

King Triton has got a problem.  He’s sweating out valuable alcohol under his suit of seaweed, and starting to detox, right there under the hot flood lights.  Dance, dance, dance, sing, sing, sing, sweat, sweat, sweat…start to shake, shake, shake.  He can’t hold his trident steady.  The corners of the room are starting to fold in on themselves, and he thinks he’s beginning to see cats walk across the stage.  Oh boy.

It’s going to be very hard to choreograph a seizure into the act, even for this veteran thespian.  He just has to hold on until intermission.  He knows what must be done.

The curtain finally falls to many little clapping hands, and he is a green blur that vanishes.  Out through the backstage door, and down across the street.  He’s still in full King Neptune/Sigmund und der seamonsters costume.  He’s got the crown of seaweed, little crabs in his beard, flowing cape of kelp, and still armed with trident, and he’s running down the street to the nearest dive bar.  He ducks into some rundown joint in the godforsaken San Fernando Valley.

He runs in and orders a shot of whiskey.  It’s two in the afternoon, Sunday, and the patrons inside are they kind that would be in a dive bar in the San Fernando Valley at two in the afternoon.  The bartender looks at him, then gets him his shot.  The other people in the place look at him.

“How ya doin’ there, pally?” he asks the guy closest, but only gets a slight nod in response.

Mad Dog flips the shot back.  Sweet mother of Calamity Jane that’s good.  He’ll take another.

The bartender pours him one, and he pulls his crab-infested beard aside and tosses it down the hole.  Okay.  That should hold him through Act Two.  He pulls out his wallet from behind his flowing kelp and pays the tab, includes a generous tip, and leaves in a cloud of plankton.  He’s got little children to delight.  The show must go on.

Never mind delighting the children.  This story delights me.  It makes me so happy that in the history of the universe, this event transpired.  If only to know that the sight of a detoxing Neptune bolting back two shots of whiskey and then disappearing went into those bar patron’s heads that Sunday afternoon.  Things like that just make me happy. Deeply so.

Mad Dog was good for stuff like that.

My ex-girlfriend, Sue, and I are sitting in my car outside a hardware store in Ventura, CA.  The store is closing up, and we’re waiting to pick up Mad Dog from his first night on the job as a cashier.  We know Mad Dog, and we know that this going to be good.  Until he finally got a job hauling ice for his Uncle Nicoletti at North Hollywood Ice, he had trouble finding suitable employment.  He was a gifted, brilliant and talented young man, and bat-shit insane.

Cashiering is not going to be one of his strong suits.  We can’t wait for him to get in the car and tell us what happened.  But, we’re going to have to wait.  All the other employees are leaving, but Mad Dog is still with another cashier and the manager is going over his receipt tape.  Oh boy.

You can tell there’s some problems by the way the manager is shaking his head, and at times,  just dropping the register tape to his side and staring up at the ceiling.  We could see Mad Dog’s body English telegraph extreme discomfort.  He’s squirming around, rolling his shoulders, and waving his fingers in silent movie angst.

“He’s trying to explain something,” I tell Sue.  She starts laughing.

Understanding Mad Dog and his double-speak, took a special Rosetta Stone, one only obtained by shutting off all left brain function.  You had to listen to what he was saying like you would listen to certain rock lyrics.  The cryptic references would make the analytical part of your brain yield, and allow him to paint pictures, pictures that would say more, deeper, and funnier things than with normal linear speech.  It was in the little cracks between the cryptic that the meaning would creep in.

Comedy is instinctive, being funny requires being intuitive, you can’t think about it.  Most people like to think, and hence you find most people really aren’t very funny.  It’s an entirely different part of the mind to tap into, and if you have an exceptional ability to do so, you are more than likely going to have some shortcomings in other types of ways of processing information.

Now here he was, trying to explain whatever his fuck up was, to this miserable square, a guy who clearly just wants to go home and drown away this 46 hour a week job in generic whiskey and porn.  He’s not getting Mad Dog, or his explanations.  Explanations that might be referencing anything from Disney to The Third Reich to make their point in a veritable kaleidoscope of concepts.

What he does get is that the register is short.  And, strangely, this young man-more than likely-didn’t steal it.  Afterall, he seems to have little understanding of financial transactions and hence no inherent knowledge of money’s worth.  It seems like he might only have a rudimentary grasp of what numbers represent.  He knows a lot about Bix Beiderbecke and the making of Fantasia, but what do those things have to do with why his drawer is short?

Okay, Mr. Manager fuck.  I’ll tell you what Bix and Mickey have to do with this.  Nothing, and that’s the absolute beauty of this moment.  He’s an artist, see?  Things like reason, logic, and common sense spell death to his craft.  A bean-counting, porn-pulling pud like you is not going to understand this.  Or anything, for that matter.

You like things to be how you expect them, which means you are no longer a valuable participant in this thing we call life.  You have become redundant.  You create nothing new.  You just eat, make trash and burden the earth with the weight of your shit.  You are a singular void, but a burdensome one.  Dig it?  A void, but a burdensome one.  Two incompatible bummers rolled into one big fat bomber bummer.

The fact is that nobody knows what the fuck is going on and the whole ride we’re on is caroming off the rails into a corner pocket of black mystery. We can all pretend we understand what is “happening here,” but the godawful truth is, nobody has a fucking clue.  Maybe some sages in caves scattered here and there, but not the people on the news.  We are all a little freaked out, and the sooner we all admit it, the better we’ll all feel, in a strange misery-loves-company way.

So Mr. Manager Man, your reality is basically…well, a drag, and Mad Dog knows this, so he just creates his own, and frankly you’re not welcome in it.

Being understood by some one like you is low on Mad Dog’s totem pole of priorities.

We once did an act together at The Comedy Store on an open mike night.  It featured nothing but inside jokes.  Jokes so inside that even the two friends we had sitting in the audience that night wouldn’t even get.  Shit only me and him laughed about late at night while trying to drink ourselves to sleep. It was high concept, you might say.

Well, an audience paying a twelve dollar cover and stuck with a two drink minimum isn’t the most receptive to this sort of avant-garde fare.  We both got up there and played it to the max.  Really sticking to the program.  Nothing anyone but us would think was funny.  We riffed the whole thing and really got esoteric, even between ourselves.

We were lucky to make it out of there alive.  I do remember hearing some very angry patrons actually screaming at us.  They were very pissed. Grab my coat collar kind of pissed.  We literally had to run out of there.  It was a total rush.

“What was the deal with that one character you were doing, Rocky?”  Riggsy asked us on the ride home.

“Rocky, the guy from the can of wall paste,” I explained.

“Fills cracks and screw holes and won’t shrink,” Mad Dog added, “What’s not to love about that?”

Mad Dog did a good Rocky Rock Hard that night.  He fucking nailed it.  But I was the only person there that knew it.  Had me in stitches.  We kind of didn’t care about the audience.  They sensed that and got pissed.  They were going to make sure we cared about them.  Man, that was insane.  I am so glad we did that.

Everyone knows Rocky

Mad Dog’s act is going over just as well now, but he was going to finish big.  He calmly takes off his cashier’s apron and lays it across the counter.  He nods to the manager and the other cashier and then starts cartwheeling.  He just cartwheels across the front of the store, stops, then cartwheels back across the floor to the front door.  Sticks the landing.  Solid.

He’s got his arms up, Russian gymnast like, which he smoothly transitions to take a deep show biz bow, then shuffles off to Buffalo.  He’s out the door in that elbow-cocked Vaudeville way of scramming.

“What the hell is he doing?”

I almost peed my pants I was laughing so hard.  I was useless jelly by the time he opened the car door.

“How did your first night go?” Sue asks, with a straight face.  That killed me even more.  Sue was awesome like that.

“I was ready to start playing the harp on Uncle Fester’s neck muscles back there, he was strung so tight.” he says.  He takes out a Tiparillo, breaks it in half, throws the other part away then sticks the rest in his mouth.

“Really sandpapery vibe in hardware world.  I need to drink a gallon of varnish to take that edge off.”

I handed him a beer and we pulled out of the parking lot.

He told us that at one point he started to really freak while he was working the register and was making mistakes left and right.  After a while, he just started pushing all the buttons in a giggling fit.  Whatever, right?  Might as well.  It’s all so fucked up you might as well really destroy it.

Sue looked at me.  I didn’t look back.  I knew she was thinking about the sandwich incident.  Me stomping one outside the mall in a temper tantrum.

“So you just flipped out?” I asked, redirecting her thoughts to what a maniac Mad Dog is.

“Oh man, I went totally presto pretendo, dig?  The old fake it until I make it out of here department.”  He lifted the beer, tilted it sideways back and forth, making it act like it was running away from something, then took a deep hit.  “Aacha-cha-cha, me matey!”  Pirate eye wink.

Sue was laughing now.  She worked as a cashier, so this especially tickled her.

“So you just pretended to be cashiering, but were really just doing whatever the fuck came to your head?”

Mad Dog’s broken cigar tipped down.  “Pretty much, dere. I mean sometimes I tried to do it right–”

“I think that’s great!  How liberating!”

I could see Sue was glazed-over with glee.  She got a kick out most kinds of strange behavior.  C’mon, she was my girlfriend for three years.  I’d never hang out with a chick for that long if she wasn’t totally on board.

When the cashier that was supposed to be training him wasn’t around to sweat him, Mad Dog was not only pretending to be ringing things up correctly, but pretending to be giving back correct change.  He just made sure that whatever he gave the customer was more than they had coming,  just to get rid of them.   He moved his line along pretty quick, except for the occasional boy scout who insisted he gave them back too much.  “That’s alright, it’s your lucky day, and thank Jesus for that!”

If they still insisted on giving back the money, he’d have the customer count out the correct amount and then just take the money and toss it into the drawer.

His guts started to tighten as closing time approached and it was time to face the music.  He had already decided to blow the gig, so now he was just going to have to go through the formality of officially resigning from the position.  In this case, by not saying anything, and just cart-wheeling out the door.  Fucking bravo.  Why waste calories trying to explain something to someone who could never understand?

Cartwheels are a much better investment.  If you’re going to go out, go big.

And that’s the way he merrily rolled along.  This guy invented thinking outside the box.  I  always marveled at how brilliantly demented his genius was.  A greater comic I’ve never seen, known, or heard about.

And while he may have played the fool, he was no dummy.   I think he had a pretty good idea what he was all about early on, and cultivated it.  He read and studied a lot.  The guy was a voted most talented in his high school and shit, but somehow he was never able to cop that big break.

I thought it was sad.  Here was this guy with all this talent, dragging melting ice through the sweltering San Fernando Valley, and drinking to put up with it all.  I didn’t feel sad about that part, since I voted for that solution myself.  We saw eye-color to eye-color there.  I too was once a malcontented artistic type, before I lost the art.  Now I’m just a malcontent.

Mad Dog is still performing these days in various community theater type gigs.  He’s still good.  He’s still drinking, too.  I wonder sometimes how much better he would be if he quit.  I can’t lie and say I don’t want him to at least try his craft from the other side of the curtain.  But, I’m the last guy to nag dudes about their drinking.  If you don’t want to stop there’s nothing anybody can do.  You just have to make yourself available to them if they ever decide they’d like help, and pray nothing too bad happens to them in the meantime.

Tough to let go.  I know when I started to think he might be on his way out to some tragic too-early end, I started to pull away emotionally. It’s instinctive, like comedy, only this not being about funny, but about death and pain, the opposite.  He seems to be okay these days, but he knows the score.  Like I said, he may play the fool, but he’s no dummy.  He can see this sobriety thing is just the thing his career needs to get to the next level.   Pirate wink, right back to you, matey!

I know you’re reading this.  And yeah, you caught me nagging.

Anyway, I’ve got plenty of good Mad Dog stories which I’ll part out as we roll along here, merrily.  If he brings you one tenth of the delight he’s brought me over the years, you’re in for a good ride.  He’s a character I’ve wanted to put into the mix for a while.  Besides, nobody can tell Mad Dog stories as good as me.  We see eye-color to eye-color on a lot of things.  I’ve had the same demons hang on my chandelier.  I know how they swing.  Hell, we swung back at them with tennis rackets and umbrellas.  Together we beat those little fuckers back into the cracks of a broken wall.

“Gotta fix the cracks of that wall, Pally.  With Rocky Rock Hard’s Wall Putty.  Fills cracks and screw holes, won’t shrink.”

I will always be grateful for that quality time we got to spend together.  My friend.  Be well.  Everything is going to be A-Ok.

He says it’s okay.