Pants On Fire

Our pants. our pants, our pants are on fire.

Our pants. our pants, our pants are on fire.

I watched a politician lie the other night.  I know.  Big surprise.  But I was only watching to see his technique.  Maybe pick up some pointers.  He had the body language down right.  Very relaxed.  No unmanageable ticks.  Or involuntary furtiveness.  Nope.  Clearly at ease with himself.  And his duplicity.

He was up there a long time too.  Long press conference.  Playing the “obviously if I had anything to hide I wouldn’t be all hanging out and jawing with you for this long” ploy.  Know it well.  I also know if you’re not on your A-game that day, it can back-fire.  That’s why defense lawyers always want to keep that shit to a min.

My mom always saw through it.  As a teenager I would always stop by her bedroom after a night of partying.  For a little chat.  To show her how high I wasn’t.  One night she flat-out told me, “I think you come in here and talk to me for a long time so I wouldn’t think you were stoned.”

Oh God.  She just busted me.  A clown squirted chocolate milk out of his eyes.  A laughing tulip licked up some of the drops.  I remembered looking at a Puerto Rican girl’s bra strap on the subway when I was six.  Then I pictured playing ping pong with Pasty Cline.  Heard somebody whisper something about Presbyterians.  The top of my head felt like a lava lamp.  I wondered what ever happened to Checkers and Pogo.  I saw a pyramid.  A vulture.  A lemon.

A soup ladle made out of purple velvet.

“Really? Well that sounds strange to me.  And not because I’m stoned kind of strange.  Which I’m not.  At all.  Just weird because…of the… weirdness…of…it.  And I can’t believe it!                            What you said.      Back then.  And I’m really tired with these allergies in my eyes so I better go to the bed.  Bed.  Not the bed.  Just bed.  I better go to bed is what I meant to say.

Anyway, I was watching this guy lie his balls off.  And I had to admit, he was pretty good.  Lots of apologizing for things.  Just not the things he was being accused of.  But that doesn’t matter, because with lazy listeners it all blends together.  Sprinkle enough apologies around and they think “Hey, he apologized.  What more do you want?”  It’s a way of taking the rap, but while maintaining your innocence.  A tricky dance to pull off.

“I take full responsibility for what happened.  For leading on your sister, to the point where she would feel compelled to write fantasy scenarios in her diary about me and her having sex in a bowling alley parking lot on the Friday night you went up to Santa Barbara.  You are right.  I should not have done that.  That was wrong.  Leading her on like that.  I should have known that once she realized she could never have me, her vivid imagination would erupt in a rebellious tantrum.  There’s simply no excuse for not noticing the level of her sexual attraction towards me.  I should have known that my innocent and innocuous flirtation would unleash a demon of desire.  But I was a fool.  A blind fool.  I should’ve never been nice to her.

But you shouldn’t have read her diary.  With all her fictitious private stuff in it.

So I guess we’re even.”

Tippy tap-tap.

Tap.

That one didn’t work.  Well, it worked getting me hit repeatedly by a screaming woman.  Worked like a charm.

Apparently, she wasn’t a porch swinger when it came to listening.  She listened real hard.  I don’t know if she would’ve hit me any less hard if I just told her the truth.  But I know I wouldn’t have felt as scumbaggy, while I stood there, lungs vibrating from the blows.  Sure, I still would’ve felt like scum.  Just not as baggy.

rx5Oc

I hate to lie.  Not out of any rigorous ethical principals, but because I hate doing anything I’m not good at.  And I don’t think I’m a good liar.  I get too nervous.  Give away a lot of poker tells.  And add way too many details.  Things that trip me up later.

“You said you had to go to visit somebody at ‘the brain unit’ at a hospital in Pasadena.  Which hospital exactly was that?”

“Uh, let’s see…I have to think exactly what the…”

“Because my father is a doctor at Huntington Memorial.  Was it at that one?”

“No, definitely not that one.”

“Memorial has the best neuroscience department in Pasadena.  I thought he might have gotten his cat scan done there.”

“No, I’m drawing a blank on the name.  I mean I know it.  Maybe when I give up trying.  You know how sometimes after that it will just pop up.  I remember it was fairly close to the Rose Bowl.  And I remember I got robbed by the Snicker machine at the cafeteria.  Took 85 cents.  I remember that.  And that they had a so-so brain unit.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

“Who?”

“Your friend.”

“Oh God, I hope so.”

“Well, we missed you at Easter brunch.  The kids really enjoyed the egg hunt. ”

“Oh man, I wish I could’ve been there.  But you know…”

Yeah, they know.  And you know they know.  And it’s a cringe-fest.

I can use the heat from my shame to propel me away!

I can use the heat from my shame to propel me away!

Early on in my sobriety, I used to go over to this old guy’s house to hang out.  He had almost twenty years sober by then.  We’d sit in his living room and chain smoke while he taught me some coping skills–ways to navigate the treacherous seas without a tankard of grog.  He was generous with his time, and was very helpful in securing the sails of my sanity.

One day, the subject of honesty came up.  He said my big problem was with “white” lies.  He said that’s where I should focus.  That was the crux.

He’s crazy, I thought.  Who gives a flying frankfurter about white lies?  That’s just being polite.

I’ve got bigger honesty issues to wrestle with.  All those years as a drunk, lying became second nature.  It became a survival mechanism.  Now I was having trouble disengaging from it.  I was having a real hard time being honest.  Those little white lies I told were just social niceties.  As problems went, they seemed like a low priority target.

We’re standing in a dining room ankle-deep in raw sewage and he wants to put the salad fork on the correct side of the plate.

But he insisted.  I only thought they were harmless.  I had convinced myself that I was lying not to hurt someone’s feelings.  Keep things nice-nice.  But at a deeper level, I was really worried about their disapproval.  I was afraid they wouldn’t like me.

“They’re corrosive.  Every time you tell a white lie, you’re telling yourself it’s not okay to be you.  You’re lying about who you are. ”

It wasn’t a burning bush or flash of light variety of insight, but I did hear a distant gong.

Lying about who I am?  Holy shit.  That doesn’t sound good.  It sounds creepy and insane.  And not in the way I enjoy.

“Instead of making up all kinds of reasons why you can’t do something, just say you’d rather not.  And then leave it at that.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, just say ‘I’d rather not.’ ”

“And leave it at that?”

“Leave it at that.”

This was absolutely nuts.  I remember giggling with glee.  Simple honesty.  What a revolutionary approach to life.  I couldn’t wait to try it out.

I didn’t have to wait long.  I’m not lying.  The next day, one of my personal training clients asked me to come out to Disneyland with her and her family.  Oh boy.  A wholesome activity that I despise, but don’t want to admit to hating, because people will then think/know just how degenerate and jaded I am.

Now was my chance to say “Hey, I hate craft fairs, Renaissance faires, parades, dinner theater, magic shows, puppet shows, circuses, sack races, hot air balloon launches, and any kind of music that’s played from a bandstand.  But I really hate Disneyland.  So I’d rather not.”  And then leave it at that.

I stood there.  Do it.  Just say it’s something you’d rather not.  Then drop it.  Drop it like a hammer.  Strike a blow for being yourself.

“Oh wow!  Would I ever love to! But you said Saturday?  Yeah.  Ah.  I can’t.  I promised a buddy I would go with him to get a cat scan at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.  They’ve got a great neuroscience department there.  He has epilepsy and they specialize in brain mapping.  And even though epilepsy is not life-threatening per se, he gets nervous about any medical procedure, and since he’s a recovering alcoholic he’s going to need somebody to be there…because none of his friends or family are talking to him yet, you know, him being early in recovery and all,” I said.

And then left it at that.

I went back to my friend and told him about my failure.  He said it was okay.  A lifetime of behavior doesn’t change overnight.  The important thing was that I was becoming aware of my dishonesty.  That, in itself, was an important step.  In the process.  The process of recovery.

Turns out he was crazy.  And right.  The white lies were the crux of my problem.  Not being okay with who I was–was.  That was the hydra head to a  multi-tentacled monster.  But little by little, the more okay I became with who I was, the easier it was to be honest.  And the more honest I was, the more okay I became with who I was.  It was almost like it was some kind of process or something.

So yeah, I’ve come a long way with honesty.  How long?  Well, let’s just say long enough to know I have a long way to go.

I’ll leave it at that.

In Case of Emergency

When Every Day Sucked.

I remember driving home from work one night.  Eight and a half hours without a drink.  The bolts were starting to pop out of the seams.  The matrix of reality, warping and woofing.  Psychosis nudging in.  Fear already camped out.  Making S’mores.

Besides a suspended license, I was driving with two feet.  Why?  Because I had drop foot, which is some form of alcohol-induced neuropathy.  Or at least that’s what the Chinese acupuncturist diagnosed.

But what does a few thousand years of medical wisdom know?  All I know is that it made me unable to lift my right foot.  I can’t move it from the gas to the brake.  Which turns out to be an important driving ability.  And this was an important time in my life, to have good driving ability.  Dig?

My solution was to outsource the job of braking to my left foot, while my dead right one would be in charge of flooring the gas.  I’ll be honest, it’s not the easiest way to drive.  Lot of lurching and sudden stopping involved.   Especially when braking for the Iguanacolussus, an irksome multi-ton ornithopod from the late Cretaceous period that keeps scuttling out into the middle of the road.  And then disappearing.

Anyway, I finally get my beer and I’m almost home.  Whip-lash Larousse just has to cross Cerrillos Rd. and he’ll make it.  Hands trembling.  So close.  To my beer.  To relief.

Then I spot him.  A cop cruising by the other way.  I look up into the rear-view.  Watch his brake lights flash.

Oh fuck no.  Please no.  Of course, yes.  There he goes.  Turning around.  And coming up right behind me.  Oh God.  If he pulls me over for anything I go to jail.  That much is guaranteed.  Just don’t panic.  The most important thing is not to panic.

I look away from the mirror in time to see the light turn red.  I panic.  Mash both feet down.  The gas and the brake together.

Bad move.  In terms of staying under the radar.

My back tires spin in a smoking burnout.  Just lighting it the fuck up.  All N.H.R.A.  Funny car shit.  The chassis tap dances through the red light, and into the middle of the busy intersection, where it comes to rest after I finally picked up my feet from the pedals.  Traffic both ways screeching and skidding to a stop.  Me just sitting there with my eyes shut.  Awaiting impact.

There was one final tire-squealing brake, and then silence.  I had stopped the entire intersection.  Now sat there idling.

I am so going to jail.  I am going to have to detox behind bars.

“Sweet Lord. help me.”

I look up at my rear-view.  I can’t believe it.  He’s gone.  The cop is not there.  Honest to God, he wasn’t even driving away.  He was just…gone.  I don’t know if I hallucinated him being there in the first place, but I know I didn’t hallucinate him not being there.  Because if he really was still there, I’d be in his back seat.

Holy and most merciful Creator!  Thank You for vaporizing that peace officer.  And hopefully to a happier dimension.

I exhale.  My spine puddles around my pants.  I’m hanging on to the steering wheel, when I see myself in the mirror.  My eyes looked like oven-baked marbles.  All cracked from the heat.  Glowing red.  I looked insane.

Even I thought so.

I lift my left foot.  And then press down with my right one.  The car goes forward.  Okay.  We’ve got this.

I crossed Cerrillos and traffic resumed.  I was going to get to those beers.  And everything was going to be okay.  Until tomorrow.

I need a drink.

I need a drink.

I became physically addicted to alcohol around 1995.  The mental component had long been hooked.  But it took a while for the body to catch up.  It made it though.  Hooray!

Previous to this, I had, at times, experienced some ill-effects from consuming liberal amounts of alcohol.  Fire-hosing vomit across stranger’s laps could have been a warning that the quantity of beer I was inhaling wasn’t sitting well.  But once I realized I could carry a chopstick in my back pocket–a black lacquered Chinese one, I figured I’d solved that problem.  Now I could pick and choose where to discreetly dispel any tummy-upsetting froth.

The front entrance of Tom and Lenny’s Shoes, on 63rd Drive, in Rego Park, Queens was a favorite.  I had worked for them once, and felt my treatment there had been unfair.  Perhaps this wasn’t a valid way to protest it, but I just always seemed to feel better after barfing on their doorstep.  And that was good enough for me.

So you see, back then, the repercussions from my drinking, just weren’t bad enough, to even contemplate stopping.  Never mind actually trying to.

Sure, there were the usual hang-overs.  Some of them notably brutal.  But you learned to endure them.  They built character.

The Tuesday morning of a three-day bender, I’d feel a little out of sorts.  A little groggy and nervous about having to operate a vehicle.  Vertigo making the floor roll and buckle.  Eyes blurred from dehydration.  Ice pick in the forehead.   Tainted chowder gurgling in the guts.  Bones hurting and feeling too loose in their sockets.  Sore liver.  Acrid bile percolating in the throat.  Thoughts of suicide.

But it was nothing that a beer and chorizo omelet couldn’t fix.  A tickle of the chopstick, some Gatorade and a breath mint, and I was right as rain.

Then one day, I woke up and noticed my hands were shaking.  What’s this?  That’s so after-school special kind of alcoholism.  So stereo-typical.  So not my Ripley’s Believe it or Not kind of alcoholism.  When talking to friends, I would often cop to being an alcoholic.  “But I’m not one of those…you know…” I’d hold my hands out and make them shake, “I need a drink or I’m going to die kind.  All Ray Malland and shit.”

Well, it was looking like I was becoming all Ray Malland…and shit.

Accompanying the trembling was a rather snappy anxiety, one previously experienced while running from police or watching women take pregnancy tests.  Now it had me teething on a high-voltage power line whenever my beer levels went low.

Fucking great.  I’d sit there frozen in fear.  Too terrified to even twitch.   I’m scared to get up and brush my teeth.  How am I going to manage driving to work on a suspended license, then dealing with the public for eight hours?

It turns out, not very well.

There were moments, when the alcohol was leaving my system, that I thought I would go mad.  Only another Lost Weekender knows what I’m talking about.  It’s a bad dream.  Set-designed by a German expressionist.  The furniture bending at strange angles.  People are talking to you in Swahili or Urdu.  What are they saying?  Am I getting into trouble?  Or are they putting together a lunch order?

“Did someone just say something about Bea Arthur’s vagina?  No?  Never mind…I…”

I don’t know what is going on.

Except that I keep seeing sad angels in my head.  Skull people in concentration camps.  A coughing flower.

My pencil has become sinister and I have to throw it away from me.

As far as possible.

It takes every strand of will-power not to run out into the street flapping your arms.  Sweat pouring from your pits.  Stomach knotted in an icy grip.   Throat dry.  You hear strange organ music coming from the employee fridge.  Spy shadow figures darting around the periphery.  They’re waiting for you.

They can smell your death.

So can you, actually.  There’s a new strange funk that’s clouding out of your pores these days.  Besides, the sour beer smell.  It’s different.  It smells…like decay.  Killing off too many cells at once you are.  That’s kind of unnerving.  I better drink more so I don’t worry about that.

When I started morning maintenance drinking, it wasn’t done in any Cancun spring break, devil-may-care abandon.  It was conscious calculation.  I can’t function without having two or three beers before work.  I’m not drinking to “party down.”  I’m drinking so I don’t see the Devil while trying to make change for a customer.

I have to drink to make it.  Without it, I will fall apart.  Even faster.

I don’t care how much of a dumb-shit, clueless drunk you might be, but when an egg timer gets turned over after every last drink, you realize things.  Like maybe, you’re fucked.

Which is actually good.  To realize.

It’s the most important seed-thought an alcoholic can have.  If they’re going to have any chance.

Fortunately, I had been having that thought a lot.

So things were already good.  And I didn’t even know it.

It Could Be Worse, And Will Be If You Don’t Stop Crying

Not a bad beer, actually.

Not a bad beer, actually.

Right now I’m drinking a protein shake that I ruined by putting in some sort of green algae superfood powder.  I tried to make it more healthy, but I made it too healthy.  Now it tastes like shit.  Like a chocolate, metal, and grass smoothie.  I can taste every one of the essential whatevers in it.  The traces of Boron.  Copper.  Molybdenum.  Chlorophyll.

Fuck it.  At least I’m not actually eating grass.  I’m not having to eat grass because the Cossacks have burned the crops and raped our cows.  So it technically could be worse.  See how I fixed that?  “It could be worse” is like a magic wand.  Now this shake is delicious!

That’s at the core of my survival mechanism.  “It could be worse.”  Instilled in me from my parents.  And I guess one more thing I should appreciate them for.  I don’t know if it’s a Lithuanian thing.  Seems like it.  I’ll ask some friends.  I’m pretty sure it is.  At least from the war refugee crowd and their off-spring.

It was the closer for any shit storm my family had to go through.  Somebody would say, “It could be worse,” and we’d call it a night.  Clock out.  At least now you could brush your teeth and go to bed.  I imagine it’s a form of gratitude.  At least some distant cousin of it.  It doesn’t work so good in jail.  But sometimes you can use it in a hospital emergency room.  Tie up the evening’s festivities with an “It could be worse.”

“The more you bitch, the more God will give you something to bitch about,” was another of our cozy sayings.   I still stand by it.  It seems to be true.  At least in my personal experience.  I don’t know if it’s some cosmic truth.

Like “Nobody likes a pants-pisser in their bomb shelter.”

As insensitive as that one may sound.  There’s some folk wisdom there, albeit of the rough-hewn and gnarled variety.  Basically, panic begets more panic.  And then nothing gets done.  To fix things.  You have to keep your head and not cave into The Fear.  That’s how they made it through the war in Europe.  That’s how they made it here when they came.  They didn’t shit themselves.

They Didn’t Shit Themselves;  An American Success Story.

Anyway, it’s a tradition I’ve tried to uphold.

It’s a lot easier now that I’m not drinking my weight in beer. You know, deftly navigating my ship, The Rocinante, through the Stormy Seas of Destiny.

And holding my mud.

I’ve actually gotten a little braver without alcohol.  It’s taken some time, and then even more time to see it, but I think I’ve made progress.

It’s not like I’m ready to hold the pass at Thermopylae, but I don’t have to drink a six pack before opening my bills anymore.  Or need to drink eight beers to prime myself for the next beer run.  And now (may the heavens tremble at my might) I can kiss a girl with no beers at all.  I mean for me.  She’d still have to be hammered out of her skull.

So yeah, it’s nice, this whole not being too-drunk-to-deal-with-it-all deal.  And, no matter how terribly I may being dealing with it all, at least I’m not dealing with it drunk.  Because chances are my sober fucking-up would look like water-walking compared to my drunken version.

Of dealing with it all.

It’s an advantage a recovering alcoholic has over the normal person.  No matter what our shortcomings, if we stay sober we always have some golden straw to grasp.  Right?  At least that.  At least I’m still sober.

Have some normal person throw that one out.  See who golf claps him.  Big deal.  Shut up and have a drink.

Of course, there’s always the chance the recovering alcoholic will succumb to his/her fear, and then totally destroy their life in a final drunken death dance.

And that, my friends, is where the normal person regains the advantage.

By not doing that.

When things get tough.

Lucky fuckers.  That’s a good advantage.

However, if I do manage to stay sober, well then…I’ve shaved the house’s dice, haven’t I?  C’mon lucky seven, Daddy needs a new pair of pants.

He’s crapped this pair.

(See what I did there, Pauly?  Craps.  Pair of dice.  Pair of pants.  Nice, huh?  I like it)

I don’t know how many of my readers are in some sort of recovery, most probably only from last night’s barf-a-thon, but it’s one of those things ex-addicts and ex-drunks have to do.  We have to be grateful we’re not fucked up on our choice of magic carpet ride.  You take anything for granted long enough, be it a relationship, a car that runs, or some money in the bank, and chances are that something…is going to slip away.

Sobriety is just one of those things.  If you don’t pay enough attention, she can slink off.  Her high heels clacking away into the night.

I really don’t want to go back to drinking.  So I try to be grateful.

I figure that life can be hard enough just regular.  Look, in my own half-assed, duct-taped way, I try to work a program.  I pray to the Unifying Intelligence That Binds Creation, meditate on the perfection of The Silence, contemplate the goodness of all souls, work to be less selfish, admit when I’m wrong, try to be a good listener, help when I can, surrender when I can’t, lift weights, stay away from grains, and get enough Molybdenum .

Basic stuff.  And for the most part, I live a life filled with a lot of wonder, laughter and joy.

But sometimes… old demons stop by the pad and ask to use the bathroom.  Next thing I know, they’re camped out, ordering pizza and pay-for porn.  They’re not leaving anytime soon. Then I find myself treading shark-filled ocean, trying to keep my lips just above the water line.  I’m barely making it.  Barely.  And I’m not even drinking.

The last thing I need right then is a bowling ball necklace.

Let’s see how I do with crippled critical thinking.  After I impair my judgement.  Enough to tap into some creative problem-solving.  Become a drunken genius.  Now I can save the day with a master stroke.  Employ some bold solutions.   Just the thing for delicate problems.  A sledgehammer.  And the blind faith to use it.

So yeah.  It could be worse.

And if you’re drinking to solve something, all you got to do is keep it up.  And you’ll see.

Because it can always get worse.

And probably will.

So cheers to that.

Sorry for the buzz-kill.  I’m out of here.

–By the way, this fucking shake is growing on me.  It’s got a weird tang to it.  And I appreciate that from a chocolate shake.

.

Stopped crying.

Stopped crying.

9 Years Without A Drop To Drink

Good to the last drop.

Good to the last drop.

I’m so very thirsty.  Somebody get me some water.  Just kidding.  Gotta soda right here.  I have to admit, I feel a little proud of myself, which is weird.  I’m patting myself on the back for something I didn’t do.  Something I really had no business doing.  Something that almost killed me.  A bunch of times.

It’s like being proud for not bludgeoning yourself with a ball-peen hammer.

“Hey Eddie, how’s it hangin’, bro?”

“Slightly left, Ace.  How you been, Goon-o?”

“Not bad.  Got an easy gig at a tool rental place.  New woman, too.  It’s still in the sheet-burning stage, so that’s good.  You know.  Basically kicking the shit downhill these days.  You?”

“Well tomorrow will be nine years since I stopped beating my brains in with a ball-peen hammer.”

“Holy shit.  That’s really great.  Is it hard?  Like do you still miss it?”

“To be honest, sometimes.  After a hard day, I’ll come home and think how good it would be to have a nice cold hammer.  Just to beat the shit out of any consciousness floating around in my skull.  Ah well, those days are over.  Now I think it through.”

“Glad to hear that, dude.  Good for you.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t stop doing it on my own so I had to summon a praeter-natural force to take over my entire guidance system.”

“Dude, that sounds like some crazy shit.”

“Tell me about it.  Now I talk to the invisible and it talks back to me.  Through everything.”

“Uh, yeah…that’s cool.”

“It tells me what to do so I wont want to start hitting myself again.”

“What does?”

“Everything.  Everything that comes from nothing, which is one.”

“Huh.  Yeah well alright, you crazy fucker.  It’s good to see you’re doing…okay and shit.”

“I’m just grateful to have been restored to sanity.”

“Oh for sure, bro.”

Silence laden with subtext.

“Alright, well… throw one to your new old lady from me, Eddie.”

“I will,  Ace.  From behind.”

“Nice.  Take it easy.”

Only another recovering Hammer Head gets it.   The miracle of it all.

It’s a miracle alright.  An absolute miracle that I’m sucking down a Diet Hansen’s ginger ale while typing this.  With no looming court date.  In a house without bullet holes.

Oh, I know.  I’m not out of the woods yet.  I guess no alcoholic is, until they’re dead.  That’s sliding into home.  In the meantime, try to be an alert base-runner.  Don’t let your ass get picked off between pitches.

I remain a deeply-flawed individual, but I now realize that the measure of just how much, is based on arbitrary judgements.  How fucked up I think I am, is always relative to a bunch of different moving targets.   I am free to choose any measure.  Some days I cut myself slack.  Other times I roll out the Iron Maiden and really torture myself.  Depends on the mood I’m in.

I seem to do better with slack.  I wish I picked it more.  What’s wrong with me?  What kind of fucking idiot won’t pick slack over The Rack?

Okay, there I go again.  Man, it’s a slippery slope before hammer time.  Got to stay all present and shit.

I’m okay with the spiritual component to recovery.   That whole “came to believe” thing wasn’t too much of an issue.  I always enjoyed contemplating stuff.  I’ve been a closeted mystic my whole life.  In fact, at one point, as a young man, I actually thought about joining a monastery.  It was just that whole celibacy deal that killed it for me.   Certain haircuts too.

So I embarked on a different course.   Hell yeah I did.  Kind of opposite of monk-like.  About as.

Dionysian  abandon was to be my path and I tried to  make the best of it.   Hey, you play the hand you’re dealt.  It wasn’t doing white martyrdom on Skelig Michael, but it had it’s challenges.  But where it would lead was surprising.

A while ago, I read in Jung’s letter back to Bill Wilson.  He recalled his diagnosis of Roland H., the alcoholic Jung had to wash his hands of as hopeless, leaving  him only the thin straw of spiritual redemption as cure.  He wrote, ” His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

I dig it, Dr. Jungy.  That’s it, baby.  I had a thirst for union with God.  Can’t blame a guy for that.  Shit, all this time I thought there was something wrong with me.  Does that include the wanting to be with chicks part too?  That’s all part of that union stuff, right?”

Turns out, you don’t need nineteen Heinekens and a shot of Crown Royal to find God.  Apparently there are other ways.  A spiritual solution you say?  Okay, fuck it.  I’ve tried crazier shit.  It’s got to be better than listening to me when I’m drunk.  I’ll get us all killed.

I figured I’d try being a spiritual dude, especially if I could still bang it out.   I didn’t really have anything better to do.  I guess I could’ve built a tool shed or something instead.  But I didn’t need one.  So I decided to do the prayer and meditation bit.

Look, if this lunatic is going to make it through an average day without his amber anesthesia, I’m going to need some other kind of strong medicine.  I’ll gladly dip into my mojo bag.  Whip out my Obeah and Wanga.  My consecrated wand.  Anything to flag down a passing avatar to ask directions.

The crazy thing is, it works.  When I ask, I get good directions.  Something out there steers me right.  If I pay attention.  And follow them.

So yeah, now I talk to the invisible, and the invisible talks back to me, using everything…created by nothing, which is one.  You see it’s…

Ah fuck it.  Disregard.

Anyway, it makes for some pretty weird days.  And I love weird.  As long as sober can be weird, I’m good with being sober.  And being sober has been good with me.

Besides not pissing my pants all the time, I’d have to say the best part is being available to my family and friends.  I’m glad they don’t have to worry about me anymore, and that by not having to deal with the old version of Marius (Marius 0.24) their individual burdens are a little lighter.  They deserve better.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s bring them out right now.  My family and friends–

My mom, Chicken Head.  My dad, Bodine.  My sister, Inski.  My friend Keller.  Spike.  Mike.  Emmitt.  Spudman.  Sue Bob.  Mad Dog.  Marko.  Sir Douglas.  Riggsy.  Ripper.  Ramona.  T-Bone.  Tony.  Todd.  Tommy O.  Timmy.  Yimmy.  Youngy.  Danny.  Frank.  Garth.  Gurz.  Dez.  John ‘Carnak’ Carnell.  Johnny B.  Justin O’Kane.  Bubbles.  Lili.  Ruta.  Red.  Aida.  Swell Mel.  Flat Matt.  Marsh.  Max.  Mugs.  Mahoney.  Stacey.  Siggy.  Sammy Pajammy (and her mammy).  Gregula.  Super Terry.  Alexa.  Davey.  Candice.  Peachy Peter.  Guy Thomas.  Judy.  Ginger.  Bobby.  Ben.  Eme.  Ace.  Felipe.  The Mystic Man.  The Plaza Rats.  The Fellowship.  The Hidden Chiefs.  The Bang-Bang Girls.  And my cats, Bugsy and Louie, with Terry Bozzio on drums!”

(The stage parts to make way for a drum kit the size of an off-shore oil rig, with two black and white cats running around inside the double bass.  The crowd goes wild)

“And the guy nobody ever thinks of except Riggsy…Hot-Link!   That’s right everybody, Hot-Link is in the motherfuckin’ house!  Let’s bring it!”

(Polite applause sputtering to silence.)

“And of course, finally tonight, certainly last but not lost, my girlfriend, Lori Lee, the Sleep Pea.  Let’s give it up for her long-suffering ass!  She deserves a medal everybody.  With oak leaf clusters.  And caramel!”

(People rise to their feet.  She greets them like Evita.  It’s a long ovation.  Very pointed, and she’s milking it)

“Okay, honey that’s good.  Take your bow.  Alright.  Very nice.  Okay.  That’s good.  That’s…just…just go stand with everybody over there.  Right there.  Over by the kitties.  Very nice.

It’s not like I don’t have to put up with anything either.”

(Silence.  Scattered coughing)

“Well there they are, Ladies and Gentlemen,  just a few of the oh so many who have brought me joy in sobriety.  Thank you everybody for making my world a better place.  I’ll do my best to pay you back.  Including the vig.”

(Applause)

“Now let’s all pray I make another year without beating my brains out with a hammer.”

(The crowd bows their heads.  I think about the traffic getting out of here.  It’s going to be murder)

“Okay, I guess that’s enough.  I still don’t really know how long a prayer is supposed to take.  But that seemed like the right amount of time.  Anyway, thanks for coming tonight to our nine year gala extravaganza sobriety celebration.  Please be sure to drive home safe and embrace the ineffable mystery of the infinite as you stumble blindly through your lives.  And good night Austin Texas, where ever you are!”

The audience filters out, some hurrying to make last call.

All sober and shit.

All sober and shit.

Apocalypse Much Later, Chapter 1.

To The Apocalypse!

I broke through the window and started to reach for the can of beans sitting on a hot plate, when I saw the bare wires.  Hmm.  I followed them up the wall to a marine battery on a shelf.  They wouldn’t leave them bare if they were using it to power the burner.  They would have at least taped them down, but they were dangling loose.

Nasty little trap for the looter?  Was there a clacker ready to spark a surprise?  I should have known.  Nobody showcases a can of beans like that.  Not in the window of an trailer.  Unless it’s rigged to something loud and bright.

“Dude, give me your crutch.”

Marko gimped over and handed it to me.  I pulled off the rubber skid plug and took a hit.

“Sssssweeeet Satan’s asshole, that buuurnsssss!”

Liquid fire scorched its way down.  Artichoke brandy.  Gnarly shit.  We had come across a flipped-over truck full of artichokes.  The driver was dead and didn’t seem to mind us helping ourselves.  We gorged on artichokes for days.  We didn’t want to waste fuel boiling them, so we just ate them raw.  I was crapping out fuzz for weeks.

Anyway, after we got sick of eating tough, spiny leaves and fur, we decided to make shine.  Marko had set up a rig and cooked up a batch of choke-brew.  We used pieces of broken laminated furniture, and bags of dried dog shit we had collected to fire the still.   The final product was a little disappointing in the taste department, but scored high marks in the effect department.  Special effects actually.  We agreed there was a slight hallucinogenic quality to it.  Above and beyond the pinch of Jimsonweed he added.

Some mild, color enhancement.  A pleasant vibratory blur.  Time donuts.  No big deal.  But, a nice little extra.  Who would of thought?

“I intuit the can is rigged.  Probably a load of Jolly Time,” I told him, “You think I should give it a poke?”

Marko peered in.

“They’re using a lot of juice.  Might not mean anything though.  If it does, that plate is pressured, for sure.”

“I think I should give it a poke.”

He uncorked the crutch, took a hit and handed it back.

“Poke it.”

I took the crutch and poked.   As soon as the can rolled off the hot plate, it blew.   I felt the blast flatten my face.  I saw white light.  Then some flashing, lilac shapes that looked like those Christian fish.  That’s all I saw for a while.  What is this?  Why is this?  When I opened my eyes I saw Marko’s screaming face surrounded by white puffy clouds of smoke.  He’s in heaven, I thought.  He made it.

My ears were ringing and I felt something hot in my cheek.  I was holding half a crutch with blue flames dripping off the end.  Marko cupped both hands around his mouth and yelled at me.

“ARE…YOU…ALRIGHT?”

I wasn’t sure, but didn’t want to look like a pussy so I smiled and tried to give him a thumbs up.

That’s when I saw I didn’t have a thumb.

This whole Apocalypse thing was turning out to be a major drag.

Marko and I were much more prepared for Y2K, or what we both now referred to as The Great Disappointment.   Society was supposed to collapse because people’s computers couldn’t go to eleven.  We were psyched.  A world gone mad was right where two dudes like us belonged.

We began to arm ourselves.  Pretty much ten years earlier, but now, we had even more reason to pick up some pieces we felt we needed.  You know, to fill the holes in our collection.  When you catch a gun sickness, there’s never enough.  There’s always one more you need.

Over-under .410 derringer?  Oh hell yes.  Just the last resort back-up my imagination could see myself desperately needing.   Some riverboat card game gone south.  For those times.   The camping survival rifle that folds up in your lunch box.  Check.  These two semi-autos just for flashing in front of the bathroom mirror while playing Taxi Driver.  Check and check.  You looking at me?

They all make sense.  A Japanese carbine that takes ammunition that doesn’t exist anymore?  Of course.  In case you ever run across a surplus.  You’ll have the gun to shoot it.  Blunderbuss?   Trench mortar?  Gatling gun?  The answer is always the same.  Oh hell yes.  After all, you never know.  Pretty soon it’s time for bigger gun safe.

Marko and I built up a pretty good collection.  We had some other supplies, but we didn’t worry too much about that.  We had enough guns and ammo to get more supplies.  We grew up on the Mad Max movies.  We knew how you parlayed power in a society that is reduced to eating it’s dead.  Gone is the glass ceiling that held maniacs like us down.  We’d finally have some room for advancement.

Unfortunately for us, society didn’t collapse in 1999.  Little by little, over the years. we pawned-off our armory for beer money.  By the time the Great Shit Hit, we were caught flat-footed.  We wound up with nothing but a .22 caliber target plinker, and a ceremonial sword that was used for Freemason rituals.  We decided to take turns carrying the gun.  I’d get the pistol on odd days and on even ones, I got stuck with the sword.

It really sucked.  It wasn’t like we had pictured.  In fact, this whole End of the World deal, was not what we were hoping for.  Sure, being able to smash into a vending machine to grab all the tasty cake snacks and gum you can carry is fun.  But you never realize that you might be doing it while a tooth rots in your head, or a cyst, that simple antibiotics could get rid of, is starting to fester.  Making  your underarm smell fetid.

We soaked a rag in some Angostura Bitters from a bottle we scavenged from a looted drug store.  All the other booze had been carried off, but people tend to overlook Angostura Bitters, because they were considered just a drink condiment.  Something  to tap out a few drops of in order to add character and depth to the flavor of certain mixed drinks.  They didn’t think of chugging down three bottles in a row on a vacant stomach.  Or carrying the bottles in a bandolero.  To have them handy during particularly hairy shoot-outs.  To calm the nerves.  They didn’t know how awesome Angostura Bitters could be.

Lucky for us they didn’t.  In fact, that was the luckiest thing to happen to me and Marko since the world really shit the bed.  It’s been pretty much bad luck, unabated, since.  So every time we found a bottle, while rooting around some smashed up grocery or liquor store, was met with great joy.  Great joy over bitters.  Bitter dregs.

I wrapped my hand with the rag and embraced the burn as best I could.  What a waste of 40 percent.  Bitters was a rough buzz, but they did the trick.  Drinking straight bitters was to drinking, what smoking bong tar was to weed.  A head-achy, murky buzz, but a buzz nevertheless.  And, in an extreme emergency, you could put a few drops in to flavor a whiskey sour, or to fight off infection from a blown off thumb.  Pretty versatile shit.

We had carefully gone through the still-smoking trailer.  There was nothing really in there of value, besides the marine battery and a deck of Bettie Page playing cards.  Whoever had been there had moved out and on.  They left the beans under black powder and ball bearings just to be dicks.  I didn’t get that.  I mean, what good is me having a disposable thumb going to do them?  Except to make them feel better they’re not me.  I guess I kind of get that.

Total waste of beans, though.

We hiked up our back packs and continued our trek west, to the sea.  We heard the ocean had turned red, just like the Bible said it would.  There was also talk about bodies of mermaid people washing up on the shores.  We had to check that shit out.  If we could get there without too many more body parts getting blown off, it would be a nice get-away.  Surf and sand.  Fun and sun.  Not to mention barnacles, sea weed and sand dollars to feast on.  Funny how you crave minerals and nucleic acids when you go without them for a few years.  You just crave kelp.

Something to take the edge off the radiation sickness.

We had this dream of one day opening up a seafood shack/trading post, featuring sea-gull on a stick.  Marko would run the bar, and I would put on a nightly show featuring my wry comments and oddball observations on everyday life in hell.   Maybe a woman or two would show up.  Someone we could bribe with our barnacles and bird on a stick.  Use food to buy human comfort.  Maybe someday start a sex cult.

Big dreams alright, but we were still outside Castorville, CA., so they would have to wait.  We had decided to cross the Central Valley of California on our march to the sea.  The abundance of agriculture, even when left untended, would sustain us through the trek.  We would be like The Gleaners in that old French painting.  We’d stuff ourselves vegan with kale and beets.  After that, it was just a matter of plinking-off rodents and birds for protein, and drinking water from the radiators of abandoned cars.  Marko had these PVC pipes packed with charcoal that would filter the water, as he put it, “pretty okay.”  Pretty okay would have to do.

My big invention was the stick sack.  I devised a way to hang a sack off my belt.  I would pick up sticks for firewood, and put them in the sack.  The stick sack.  The one I invented.  So we were both adding our own particular skills and knowledge to this partnership.  This grand endeavor.

“How’s your ankle, bitch?”

“I am very happy about it.”

Marko was using a plank as a crutch.  I could see his boot all swollen out.  He rolled the ankle about a month and a half ago.  Just trucking through a  parking lot of some mall ruins.  Crunch.  It was one of those things that could’ve happened even in normal times.  The problem was in normal times you could lay up a few days until the swelling goes down.  We didn’t have that luxury.  We had to remain moving targets.  Lots of different marauding bands out here.

All kinds of urban street gangs were migrating out to rural environs, and mutating into their own brands of evil.  There were cholos in mule-drawn low-riders that were big into Aztec human sacrifice.  Black gangs into medieval torture.  Escaped prisoners.  Biker gangs. Vigilantes.  Sex-slavers.  All the basic characters of an average Bethesda video game.  Bad eggs.  One and all.

Then there were the Pappy Parkers.  They were the scariest.   Gun nuts.  Survivalists.  Outdoorsmen.  These fiends had been salivating at the thought of society blowing out a colon.  Sound familiar?  They had been preparing for this for a long time.  And they didn’t sell off all their cool shit at Pawn City.  Yeah.  We envied them.   They could pan for gold, fish, trap, and hunt.  They always had huge stockpiles of ammo, supplies and food.  Gas masks.  K-rations.  MRE’s.  Soviet army trench shovels.  Those little pellets you light to heat up a cup of water.  Instead of pieces of tire, like Marko and I used.

Their thing was to take you out with a black powder musket or cross-bow.  They did it for sport, and to  save the real ammo for something more significant.  If they managed to wound you, they’d drag you back to their camp and make you guest of honor at their picnic lynch.  Then have some taxidermist mount you.  With everyone else in line behind him.

Fuck those guys.  I was itching to catch one of them on the clavicle with my 33d Degree Grand Master’s sword.  Bring down the wrath of Jachim and Boaz.  Maybe while he was taking a piss at night.  Outside their circled RV compound.  I’d take all his cool shit.  Get me a Confederate hat or a German helmet.  Goggles.  Cowboy holster.  A real gun.

That was a pipe dream.  We gave those fuckers wide berth.   The best you could hope for was to come across a pile of them after a government gunship torched them into beef jerky.  Pick through the smoldering wreckage for souvenirs.  That’s how I got this compass with a whistle.  It was all there was left.   It was never much of fight between the government and those dudes.  When it comes down to guns you bought from Big 5 sporting goods or a gun show at the fair grounds, against a battery of Hellfire rockets, well…

Being good at paintball and Civil War reenactments, hardly qualifies you as a force to be reckoned with on the modern battlefield.

It gave me a strange comfort  that somebody else had their Apocalypse fantasy turn to shit.  That’s one thing I learned about fantasies.  They can only exist, if you don’t think them through.  You never picture yourself being chop-sawed in half by a hot blade of depleted uranium while your pop gun dangles its cork.  Why would you even entertain that?  It would be a drag.  So having an A-TK M230 chain gun rip up a dirt road, spitting bullets through their crotch, wasn’t what a lot of those dudes were expecting.  Not when they were having their Red Dawn dreams of glory.

Anyway, just because they didn’t pose much of a threat to government forces, didn’t mean they didn’t pose a threat to our sorry, unprepared asses.  We tried to avoid them as best we could.  In fact, later that day, we got caught in a huge open field, and had to lie in a drainage ditch for almost an hour, waiting while one of their long convoys of horse-drawn Winnebagos and Airstreams clopped by.  Probably on their way to find a suitable oasis to set up one of their flea market tented cities.  A place to trade crafts, and establish a new religion.  One that allows marrying children.

They did have women though.  Pale and chubby creatures with floppy freckled breasts.  Women who quilted bandages and crocheted warm camouflage ponchos and lap-warmers.  Women who baked cinnamon rolls and bundt cake for the men.  We could see them working in the kitchens inside the RVs and trailers as they passed.   We could smell their sweet buns.  I quietly rolled over to Marko.

“Hungry?” I whispered.

He smiled and indicated something with a nod.  I looked over and saw a large woman through one of the trailer windows.  The rough road was jostling her around.  Making it all shake and jiggle.

I raised an eyebrow and grinned.   I turned back to Marko and nodded.  Me too.  I rolled over and went back to being invisible…and smelling cinnamon buns.  Funny how you crave dough…after you haven’t had it for a few years.

Night was coming.  We decided to stop and set up camp in a dried river wash.  Marko took a look at my hand.  He said I would probably live long enough to regret more stuff, then washed the wound with the last of our precious bottled water.  He wrapped another bitters-soaked bandage around it.

“Do you want some aspirin?”

My hand hurt like hell, but we only had three  left.

“Nah,” I said, “Let save it in case one of us gets really hurt.””

“That’s what this is for,” he said, pointing the pistol to his head.  “Come on, dude, take one.  I’m serious. ”  He held one out in his hand.

I looked down at it.  A simple aspirin.  Now looking very much like an Morphine drip.  A shot of Demerol.  But only one of three left in the entire universe.  Do you do it?  Or save it, and have something to live for?  The pain is now, but later pain could be worse without it.  Is some less bad now, worth more bad later?  What if he winds up needing it?   The ankle.  I’ll feel like shit.  Jesus, I don’t know.

“We’ll find more, dude, c’mon.”

He was being righteous.  I took it out of his palm.

“I’ll hold on to it.”

We had picked up a few pockets full of Brussels sprouts earlier that day.  We poked them through some car antennas and toasted them over small fire.  We leaned back against some big rocks.  The sky was clear, and the stars were out.  We ate our burned bulbs in silence.

“These things taste like farts,” I told him, “I always thought that about Brussels sprouts.”

“Taste this,” Marko said,  lifting a cheek and gassing one. “See if it tastes like Brussels sprouts.”

He did his evil guffaw.  I always loved hearing that.  I had set him up for it this time.   I knew he’d take the bait.  We stared at the fire.  Really quiet.  No helicopters out tonight.

“You know what I really miss?”

“Hot buttered cinnamon buns, stuffed in mom jeans,” he said, spiking another Brussels sprout on the antenna.

“Besides that.  No, fabric softener.  I  miss fabric softener.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I just started using it a few months before everything went to hell, when I figured out you could pour it into that… thing in that compartment, in the middle of the machine.  I always thought you had to wait for the rinse cycle before you could pour it in.  So I never wanted to deal with that bullshit.”

“What compartment?”

“Uh, in the middle of the thing that spins back and forth.”

“The agitator.”

“Yeah, there’s a place to pour it in, so the softener gets dispersed during the rinse cycle.  You don’t have to stand around and listen for it.”

“No shit.  I didn’t know about that.”

“Yeah.  I had some really fresh-smelling laundry there for a while.  It smelled like how they always talked about in the commercials. ”

“Uh.”

Marko looked tired.  He was barely holding his eyelids up.  I had seen that look before, plenty of times, but this was just out of exhaustion.

“Anyway, I really miss that smell.”

“Uh.”

He lifted his cheek, but nothing came out.  I could see it irritated him to miss the cue.  Great time to ask something like, “Do you miss this smell?” But he whiffed.  One more try.

“The smell was very artificial, but in a pleasant way.” I went on, “The smell of laundry softener is one of those rare, man-created things that didn’t totally blow.”

He didn’t even try that time.  He must be fading.

I didn’t want him going to sleep just yet.  He was my entertainment system.  He was the only person I ever talked to these days, besides myself.  And I was pretty sick of listening to myself.

“Hell, dude, sometimes I even miss standing in line at the D.M.V.  I mean, even though you were surrounded by terrible people, at least they weren’t trying to turn you into a skin drum set, or sell you off into slavery.  They were just awful to look at.  Small distress when I think about it now.  And at least being there meant you had a vehicle to deal with.  Even if it was trying to get it registered with no proof of ownership.  Right?”

He was out.  Cold.

It was back to just me for a while.  I felt my mood dip.  I had nobody to distract me from the pain in my hand.  I tried to watch Mexican television in my head.  I imagined long-legged Latinas jumping around in bathing suits while a guy in a dog costume played the accordion, but I always wound up thinking about gangrene and amputation instead.

I broke down and took the aspirin.  We will find more.  Have faith in things unseen.  I popped it with a hit of bitters.  I punched up my sleeping bag and climbed in.   I looked up at the stars and did what I always did, searched the night sky for UFOs.  I’d lie there and think.  C’mon, dudes.  Get us off this fucking thing.  I want you to teach me about inter-dimensional travel.  I’ll teach you how to make a stick sack.

Most of the time, I just saw the stars, but they were comfort enough.  I was glad they were still there.   Looking exactly as they did when I was a little kid.  They made me feel good back then, and they still did.  Sometimes you have to look to eternity for any sense of stability.  I felt my eyes start to close.

Hope, by Dave Gurz, 2012

Mardi Gras Death Trip ’89, Part 1

Taking the Greyhound anywhere sucks, but taking it back from anywhere sucks even more.  Especially from Mardi Gras.  One minute, I was sharing a hotel room with five University of Michigan co-eds at ground zero of what has been traditionally known as a rather celebratory event.  A festive little fiesta in Idsville, USA.  The next, I’m on a stinking bus, surrounded by crying babies and newly released convicts, on the slowest way to travel short of rowing there with a canoe paddle on a furniture dolly.  Fate is a fickle bitch alright.

Going down didn’t seem so bad.  I was excited.  I was on a grand adventure.  Besides, going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans is pretty much a pilgrimage every alcoholic needs to take.  For once, your environment will match your internal world.  Now your behavior will be entirely appropriate, no matter how inappropriate.  Especially so with drunken chicks from Ann Arbor.  Drinking it up.  Throwing it down.  Slutting around.  You would be hard-pressed to find more capable party warriors to run with then some wolverine wenches.

I had been running with a pack of wild ones, during the holiest celebration in Alcoholdom.  Those little girls turned out to be quite a wrecking crew.  They were crazy enough for me to sack and pillage with and not get bored.  They kept up their end of the mischief and mayhem.  I was impressed.  They knew how to take full advantage of the generous temporary slack society had granted us.  While they looked like nice, fairly good girls, under the collective spell of Mardi Gras Madness, they blossomed into beasts.

My girlfriend at the time, let’s call her Lu, didn’t change too much during Mardi Gras.  Like me, she always felt Mardi Gras shouldn’t be boxed into just a few days before Lent.  Hey man, Mardi Gras is a state of mind, man.  Man.

Lu was a crazy Albanian chick, from a very strict, traditional household, but she just boogied right out of that noose.   She still had more tackles to break before she hit open field, but she was juking family and relatives left and right.  They had no idea what a hard-drinking Jezebel she had become.  Had them scammed.  A double-life double-agent.

She was also once my ex-girlfriend Patty’s best friend.  Was.

Patty and I had spent a summer together.  She was an odd chick.   She could don her party cap, but her main thing was athletic outdoor activity.  Fucking great.  Mine was humping in a darkened room within arm’s-reach of a beer, while the battle for Stalingrad raged on the TV.  All this hiking, biking, running and jumping wasn’t my prefered pastime.  She had me sucking wind trying to keep up.

She would get up at 4am to bike to the ski basin and back, then wake me up at six to drive her to her waitress job.  That really pissed me off.  Now you don’t want to take the bike.  Listen, why don’t you shave a mile or two off that mountain run, sister, and use it to peddle your ass to work.  You’re interrupting REM sleep, and that’s important when you want to feel your very best.  And maybe if you didn’t eat all that raw cookie dough, you wouldn’t need to exercise so much.

That fall she flew back to Michigan.  We continued through letters and drunken phone calls, but when she came out to visit that winter, I could tell something was wrong.

That whole not having sex with me thing being my first clue.  The way she stiffened up and clenched her jaw when I touched her was another.  Finally, after a few days she came out with it.  She had met someone new at school, and it was over.  Why the fuck did she waste money on a plane ticket when a nineteen cent postcard would’ve done the trick?  I didn’t understand women.  Fortunately, she had brought her best pal, Lu, as I surmised later, for moral support.

Say, I know how to take the sting out of this rejection, and maybe put some of it back into the person rejecting me–I’ll fall in love with her best friend.  I didn’t know women too well, but it seemed like it might be something that wouldn’t go down too well.  It might create some weirdness between them.  Mama some drama.

I did and it did.

Some people need to actually fall in love to fall in love.  They are handicapped by small imaginations and limited ideas about what constitutes love.  I could fall in love faster than you could uncoil a 15 foot garden hose and spray two humping dogs.  So I decided to fall in love with Lu, and the dividends were plentiful.

Hey, check it out, all of sudden I  don’t feel bad about Patty finding someone else.  And now, Patty is all pissed-off because I have.  How awesome is that?  Love does solve everything.

Who needs to get over it and move on with their life now?  C’mon girl, I just did, and it was easy-peasy.  You’re right about Lu being good moral support.  I thought you would be happier for her.

Lu turned out to be a better fit for me than Patty anyway.  She could drink like a longshoreman, and was as horny as a stray cat.  She could also make me laugh, which was big.   Smart.  Cynical.   Wit sharp as a tongue piercing needle.  A canister of napalm sarcasm in her purse, at the ready to flame anyone in need of a good soul-scorching.  She was definitely her own woman.

One morning I woke up next to her and saw a tattoo on her shoulder.  I slowly remembered her getting it the night before.  It was a design she had sketched out right there at the tattoo shop on a whim.  Who does that?  What a crazy bitch…

I shot up out of bed and ran to the mirror in the bathroom.  I slowly pulled back the bandage and exhaled.  Okay.  It was some Japanese writing.  That’s alright.  I can live with that.  I guess I’m going to have to.  I hope it says something cool.

What a crazy bitch.

One thing that both my sister and I dug about Lu was her ability to not only “go there,” but drag you along, kicking and screaming.  She was a natural writer, gifted with a perverse imagination and a sick sense of humor.  She liked to make up stories, intricate and detailed ones, involving you as the protagonist and a course of events that lead you to some horrible and revolting situation.

Well, my sister and I had been playing that game with each other for years, you know, to pass the time when we were bored, so she had a discerning audience.  We both thought she was good.  She knew how to spin a good horror yarn.

The trick was to make each stepping-stone episode along the way as believable as possible.  Extraordinary coincidence was allowed since that happened in real life, and so were certain lapses in normal behavior on the protagonist’s part due to alcohol, since that happened in real life too.

The first part of her story usually involved something really awesome happening to you.  She’d try to get into your head and personalize the story.  She’d have me excitedly accepting an invitation to some celebrity party in the Hollywood Hills.  A literary agent was interested in my work and wanted to talk to me about it at her party.  A party with plenty of Heineken and Hollywood sluts.

That was crucial because it created a tiny desire to believe along.  That’s how she’d lead you through the narrative.  However, as soon as Rip Taylor or Fran Lebowitz, showed up at her fictional party, you knew you would wind up having sex with one or both of them.  It was always due to the collective effects of drugs and drink.  A standard literary device for this game, and I suspect not entirely one born of her imagination.  She would dole it out in detail.  The shame. The disgust.  The need to shower eleven times.   She’d describe it so vividly, it would leave you laughing, and maybe a little traumatized.

So yeah, she was fun.

When she called me from Michigan to tell me she was sending a bus ticket, I took it.  We would rendezvous in New Orléans with four of her girlfriends minus Patty, of course.  As soon as I hung up the phone, I was at the oven cooking up some of my special brownies for the ride.

My brownies were notorious.  I never got the measuring dosage thing down, and always wanted to err on the side of psychosis-inducing overdose, rather than “not high enough.”  I once gave some as a wedding gift to some friends.  The groom ate three of them, when one was pretty much one too much.    I had indicated the proper dosage, but eating dope is tricky.  It takes a little longer to come on, and in the meantime, “these brownies are delicious!”  When they do finally hit, watch out.  Your stomach can absorb more psychotropic agent than your lungs could ever wheeze down.  It’s makes for a wilder Mr. Toad’s ride.

I guess the groom totally freaked.  I wasn’t there but heard all about it afterwards.  So yeah, that didn’t turn out too good.  Maybe a toaster would’ve been a better gift.  I felt bad, but not bad enough to change the recipe.

At least I was baking it in brownies. When I lived in New York, and was even poorer, we grew a bunch of window-sill weed.  It was shit smoke.  All shade leaves and no buds.  If you did smoke enough of it to get high, you were guaranteed a raging headache.  The solution was to pan fry it up in a little butter.  Activate the fat-soluable THC in some hot grease, then spoon the toasted ash into some Haagen Daz Mint Chocolate Chip.  A delicious treat that unlocks portals of perception.  The ones that may have been better left shut.

Well, after a while, we couldn’t afford the ice cream, and then later, the butter.  We wound up toasting up the dried leaves in vegetable oil, and eating the charred sludge by the oily spoonful.  You really had to disciple your gag-reflex.  The process made you buck and rock, with a lot of hand-waving, as you tried to get it down.  It looked like you were trying to jump out of your own skin.  That’s why we called it “Jump.”

You haven’t lived until you’ve OD’d on Jump while riding a clattering E train underground.  The lights flickering like Frankenstein’s laboratory.  Sandpaper mouth.  Eyes bulging bloodshot.  Your heart bass-drumming in your throat.  Knuckles gripping the steel strap so hard your forearm muscles start to cramp and spaz.  Ice water running down your pits and spine.  A vast cosmic ocean roaring through the conch shells that have replaced your ears.  Paranoid fear so thick you can iron a dress shirt on it.  Really an apocalyptic trip.

And just the thing for a boring bus ride through Texas.  Besides being discreet, they would bring me to the edge of sanity, and my mom always said, “You can’t be bored while trying not to lose your mind.”  She was certainly right about that.  The ride through Texas wasn’t boring.  Besides the bombers of Betty Crocker, I was tripping out on all things Texan.

The South has always kind of freaked me, but now travelling through these towns, surrounded by all these rednecks straight out of central casting was too much.  Belt-lapping guts, straw hats, pointy shit-kickers, toothpicks, farmer-tanned arms, grizzled chins spitting out black juice, and that was the chicks.

Remember, Texas is the reason that the president’s dead.

I was already warped from the fun fudge, but now, seeing all these yee-haws and good ol’ boys really spun the merry-go-round.  They sent me spiraling down a wormhole of thoughts and impressions.  Are these people for real?  Is anything for real?  I can’t feel my spleen.  Lot’s of pawn shops here.  My prefered social safety net.  I think I’m having a stroke.  What if I need to ask any of these people for help?  They think the end of the Civil War was just a temporary cease-fire.  If they find out I’m from New York they’ll drag my body from behind a pickup truck during the homecoming parade.  Just being this stoned in Texas is probably a capital offense.  Do not talk to any of them.  They’ll know.  It’s against the law to even make someone suspicious in this state.

I was kind of enjoying the fear fest.  Good brownie.  Texas is not boring.  Major freak show freak-out freak-a-thon.

I took it all in, while hitting off my flask, listening to The Butthole Surfers on my walkman.  The Buttholes and The Motards, and maybe Willy Nelson, were the only things to come out of Texas I could relate to.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  I had no bearings.  I took my cues from the people on the bus, most of them blacks and Hispanics.  As long as they were laughing and joking, I felt like things were okay.

There was no joking around when we pulled up to a roadblock check point.  I don’t know if they were looking for escapees or what, but we could see a bunch of cops waiting to board.  One of them had a dog.

Fuck the dosage schedule.  I crammed three days worth of brownies down my throat.  Now was not the time to worry about dialing in just the right amount of buzz.

The cop with the dog climbed on the bus.  He looked so stereotypical I thought he was wearing a Halloween costume.  The air was crackling.  Everybody looked straight ahead.  I’m sitting there, and know this dog will sniff out the THC coming out of every one of my pumping sweat glands.  Oh Jesus.  Chain gangs.  Microwaved breakfast biscuits for breakfast.  Bologna sandwich and apple for dinner.  Forever.

He walked down the aisle looking at each of the passengers.  When he got to me, I smiled weakly while swallowing the last of the brownie, and forced my eyebrows to look happy and surprised.  Oh what a nice doggy!  The dog sniffed my hand, then continued down the aisle.  He got to the end, turned around and walked back by, then off the bus.  That was it.  They let us go.

The whole bus exhaled in relief.

“Wooo-wee! I thought they was going to pull Darnell off!” someone yelled.

“Shutthefuckupnigger!” someone I imagined was Darnell, yelled back.  Everyone laughed.  Me too.

The driver closed the door and started the bus.  The mood became almost jubilant.  I started to hear beer tops pop.  Maybe we were stuck on this rundown bus, but it sure beat some alternatives.  My gratitude lasted about 17 to 18 seconds.  It atomized with the realization that I now had a bellyful of cooked cannabis to contend with.  My sanity was about to be ripped through like wet toilet paper, by a flaming meteor of burning brownie.

On a Greyhound bus.  Going through Texas.  The longest possible way.

It was now only a matter of time before things got really challenging.  Tickity-tickity-tock.  Maybe this won’t be good.  Maybe this will be too intense.  Not a lot of room to pace around on a bus.  Pacing around is good.  Really want to pace around and wring my hands right now.  Get my fret on.

I finally found what to do with my hands.  Gripping the arm rests in white-knuckle terror seemed like an awesome option.  Let’s do that.

That bus became my rocket.  To the End of Time, and The Final Sacrifice of Man.  But, before all existence ceased, there would be time to day tour the three hundred and thirty-three levels of Hell, then stop at the Insanity Gift Shop.

I was surprised by how tidy and organized Hell was.  All these levels and units.  Your basic prison model.  Makes sense.  Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of chaos and pain, but it was neatly divided in separate containers.  Like your average suburban family.  Man, I was seeing some crazy shit.  Goats and tar.  Dental decay.  People being tortured with plasma instruments.  A bobbing skull that lights the cigar of a leper with perfectly coiffed hair.  A hundred thousand men pulling a huge phallic obelisk through a desert bristling with cactus.  They were being bullwhipped forward by a huge mollusk riding on top of a tricked out 70’s party van.

What does this all mean?  Who’s in charge here?  Why am I feeling so crazy?  I didn’t sign up for this!

My God, Texas is weird.

I returned to Earth just as we crossed over the Louisiana state line.  It would still be a long time before New Orleans…and the real party hadn’t even started yet.

Go Blue!

Gulags and Kitty Cats

Just sitting here digging life.

I’m trying not to get into pacing and hand-wringing mode, but one of my cats, Bugsy, has been gone for a day and a half.  I’m worried that he’s gotten into a fight or been killed by a car.  Big tough guy scared about his kitty cat.  God, if people knew.  They must never know.  I hate this shit.  It’s my karma for what I did to my folks.  I just have to trust his little kitty higher power is looking out, and distract myself as best as I can.

I’m on-line with Dave, and we’re talking about Mikhail Dyomin’s book, The Day is Born of Darkness.  We both get a kick out of thinking about life in the Soviet Prison system.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because it was so brutal, that it makes our regular shitty days seem down right paradisaical.  Not like we need to look in books for examples of brutal living.  We both can draw on our own past experiences.  Dave a lot more than me.  Fucker was not just some dilettante dabbling in brutal, like me, but a clock-punching, licensed journeyman worker at it, most of his whole life.

Anyway, the minute he messaged me something about the book, I was on Amazon getting a collector’s quality copy.  Are you kidding?  Dudes that make playing cards out of pressed bread that they paint with soot and drops of blood.  Oh yeah.  If you’re a connoisseur of misery like Dave and I, you know you can’t beat the Russians.  They are masters of melancholy.  The average Russian store clerk lives a life sadder and more tragic than anything in Bronte, or Celebrity Rehab.  However, throw one them into a Siberian prison, and see what kind of gloom oozes out.  A high-grade, pharmacological-quality depressant.

I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich, when I was a kid.  I loved transporting myself into a distant Siberian labor camp, and really imagining how awful it must have been.  I used to do that so that when it came time to go to school, I could trudge with the fatal resolve of a Soviet prisoner.  Perhaps stopping by the window to wonder, “How long will the desolation of the endless tundra haunt my dreams?  How long before a fire or friend?  Mocked by the raven, hunted by the wolves, my heart hangs freeze-dried on the barbed wire of 6th grade.”

I get up from the computer and walk outside to see if Bugsy is around.  I don’t go out there and yell “Bugsy! Bugsy! Bugsy!”  It seems too desperate.  I make my girlfriend do that.  Instead, I send telepathic messages that he should get his furry little ass home for some dinner and a nap.  Then I pray to St. Francis to protect him.  Why does he do this to me?  Is he so self-absorbed in Tom-catting around the town, that he can’t even check in and let us know he’s alright?

A bigger cat moved into the neighborhood recently.  A big blonde beast.  I call him Boris.  Boris the Beast.  Bugs and him have gone at it a couple of times now, and once he came home with a tuft of fur missing and a big cut across his nose.  Bugsy is all street cat.  He loves it out there.  I don’t blame him.  That’s where the action is.

Except for a family of raccoons, he’s had the run of the ‘hood all to himself.  Now this cat moves in, and I get the feeling that Bugsy is just looking for trouble with this bigger cat, to prove something.  Prove something to Boris, and prove something to himself.

I don’t know why I think that.

“Do you think he’s okay?” I ask Lori.

“He’s fine,” she says.  I scrutinize the timber in her voice for any hidden anxiety.  She seems confident.  I’ll hang on to that.

I go back on-line, Dave has cut and pasted the lyrics to No River To Take Me Home, by Neurosis.

Digging a hole so I can rest
No tears from no river to take me home
The stones in my way, roots to the core
Of a rising sun falling through
the wind to the soil

As my body leaves me
I cling to a tree in a dream
I’m screaming to you
Whatever comes through me I will be.

Well… that’s kind of downer, I think.  But, I don’t diss a good downer. It’s a good song to sing on the transport train north to the General Dispersion Center, where you get processed, and then sent to your separate time-share gulag resort.  A sad little ditty to croak while the other convicts gnaw on dried crusts of bread, and long for the wheat fields of the Ukraine, their bitter tears turning into frozen stones that roll off their dirty cheeks.

At least, Louie is hanging around close by.  He’s had a big week.  Killed two bats, and two mice in a 72 hour period.  Dave called it a serial-killing spree.  He really got his predator on.  It surprises me, because Louie doesn’t look like a killer.  While Bugsy is scarred, sleek and lean, Louis is puffy and fancy.  He has a tail like one of those feathers in a Musketeer’s cap.  His fur foofs around his neck, giving him a fancy collar like Sir Walter Raleigh.  I always worry that he’ll get picked on by the other cats for looking like a little dandy.  I’m pretty sure this little outburst of violence is him compensating for the fact that he looks like a sissy.

I don’t know why I think that.

I get a Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale and sit back down at the monitor.  Lori is watching some reality thing about a bunch of Amish kids that leave the rez and head out to New York City.  Hoo boy.  That town tore me a new one, and I was a native New Yorker, and slightly more streetwise then a wide-eyed Amish bumpkin.  I can’t believe the producers are doing this.  Real life Hunger Games.  We have become the modern Romans, enjoying the spectacle of throwing Christians to the lions.  It’s absurd.

“Did you know there are Amish prison gangs?” I ask her.

She just nods.  She thinks I’m fucking with her.

“I’m serious.  Dave said when he was doing time in Pennsylvania, there was Amish dudes there who had been busted for cooking meth.  He says all lot of them started out cultivating weed, but later set up labs because they were more lucrative.  Of course some are going to get busted and go to prison.  Dave said they all hang out together in the joint, and whah-lah!  There’s your Amish prison gang.  Neat huh?”

“Amish.  Were growing pot and making meth.  Isn’t that against their beliefs?”

“Who knows?  Maybe if they don’t use electricity for like grow lights and stuff.  And I’m sure you could set up a meth lab without using demon electricity. You know, cook the dope down on hibachis and shit.”

She shakes her head.  I can tell she doesn’t want to believe it.  She’s got this idealized, cozy-comfy version of Amish people she wants to hang on to.  Doesn’t want to believe they can get fucked up like the rest of us.  Well, I can’t let this go.  Time to riff.

“Oh, what a quaint little store you have here!   What a beautiful hand-carved wooden rocking horse.   Heavens, such a lovely kerosene lamp, and look at these baskets!  The workmanship.  Can I take a look at that butter churner?  Oh, while you’re at it, we’d also like a 1/4 of Purple Buddha Sky and an 8-Ball of White Line Fever.”

She tries not to smile, but I saw.  I turn back to the monitor and don the headphones satisfied.  The Pod shuffles out some Billy Childish.  The Day I Beat My Father Up.

Dave has messaged.  He tells me he’s finished his latest post and want me to check it out.  I click over to WordPress.  I dig his work.  He’s got a lot of gnarly tales.  His blog is called The Sun Burns Cold.  He writes about a lot of stuff, but I especially enjoy the street stories, his adventures in the shooting dens, crash pads, rehabs, insane asylums, squat flops, jails, prisons, and half-way houses he’s gotten to visit.  You know, all the little stops along the happy journey of life.  He’s interspersed that life with seeing some of the most amazing live music, during a truly seminal era.

Dave chronicles that era well.  Boots on the ground reportage.  Intrepid war correspondent, in the middle of the shit.  His matter-of-fact style gives his stories an elegant sadness.  He’s a maniac, but a talented, intelligent, and insightful one.  He may also be a weensy world-weary.

From homeless gutter punk in Seattle to doing an eight year bit for robbery, Dave’s had a rough ride.  The needle and the drink insured he got his share of action and adventure.  Today he’s staying clean and sober, washing dishes in a restaurant, and writing.  Dave can write.  He’s a machine.  He’s up until dawn hammering it out.  It doesn’t matter what kind of bullshit sandwich his day has served him, he writes.  He used to put out a punk rock ‘zine while behind bars.

That tells me something.  Aside from having the talent, it tells me he’s got the disciple to become great.

However, a week doesn’t go by that he doesn’t suddenly decide to quit writing altogether.  Hell, me too.  I think that comes with the turf.  Nothing we write will make a difference.  Nobody is really reading it.  We suck.  Who are we trying to kid?  With everything we’ve revealed about ourselves, we’ll never be able to run for public office or be hired by a successful corporation.

At least that’s something good that’s come out of it.  We take turns talking each other down from the ledge like that.  Two alcoholics talking.

I know he can’t quit writing.  I mean he can quit, but he’s powerless to stay quit.  He’s a writer, regardless of his protests and denials to the contrary.  He actually writes me these missives on all the reasons why he’s not a writer.  Long, eloquent, well-formed treatises why.  They’re very convincing.  And really good writing.  I, on the other hand, can quit anytime I want to.  I just don’t want to… right now.

Okay, I kind of do now.  Seriously.  It just hit me.  Fuck, I’m the middle of this piece.  Okay, as soon as I’m done dealing with this shit, I’ll hang it up.  For good.  It really isn’t worth it.

Anyway, it’s good to have made a bro in Dave.  A fellow escapee from the mutant zoo.  I always look forward from hearing from him.  It doesn’t matter what kind of mood he’s in, because whatever it is, he communicates it well, and we always wind up sharing a laugh.  I enjoy that.  I can cut people all kinds of slack for their moods.  I’ve been known to get moody now and then.  Once or twice.  So I think I understand a little about the human condition.

Not from being one, mind you, but from reading about it in books.

If you are pissed off, I figure you’re going to be pissed off no matter what, at least for a while.  If I run in with pep squad outfit on and start clapping and fist-pumping a cheer to rally you, I’m just going to add myself to that list of things you’re pissed off at.  Fuck that.  I’ll hang outside the blast zone until the rocks and shrapnel pitter pat to a stop.  Then if you need help picking through the rubble for any valuables, I’m around, dig?

Too many people can’t stand to be around somebody that’s feeling bad.  They hurry and try to fix it, and when that doesn’t work, both people just wind up getting pissed at each other.  You have to be able to sit with someone’s misery, hurt, or pain.  Just be there with them.  As much as you might want to squirm out, you sit there and share it with them.  Let it run it’s course.  If you allow them to fully express what’s bothering them, and offer no resistance, or get defensive, they wind up coming up with answers on their own.

The fact that you didn’t run off when things got un-fun speaks volumes for your commitment to the friendship.  Then everybody can cheer.

I hear a scratching at the door.  Oh, you little fucker!  If I wasn’t so happy to see him, I would kill him.  Louie’s happy to see Bugs, too.  He is burying his nose in Bugsy’s ass.   I don’t know what I think about that.  Bugsy heads to the kitchen.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know.  Chow time.

I have to go through this whole big ritualistic production to feed him.  First, I have to get him a clean bowl.  He doesn’t like it when there’s old dry cat food still in the bowl.  It has to be in a clean bowl.  I also have to make a big deal about shaking the bag, and loudly sprinkling the new dry food.  That gets him figure-eighting between my legs.  They I have to open a new can of wet food, making a big deal about popping the lid.  I have to fork the wet food into the dry and mix it, but just a little.  He doesn’t like it too mashed up.  Seriously.

If I leave out any of those steps, or say, just spoon out some wet onto some old dry, he’ll just look at it, then look up at me, and keep looking.  The look says it all.  “So that’s it?  Just shovel out some shit and throw it down?  Like I’m some kind of animal?”  He’ll wind up eating it, but with that neck-rolling, shoulder-shrugging attitude.  Major guilt trip.

Tonight I don’t mind putting a towel over one arm, using the china, the silver, letting him smell the cork.  I’m just happy he’s back.  I watch him and Louie tuck into their bowls with the satisfaction of an indulgent Jewish mother.  He has a new scratch, but he’s okay otherwise.  I feel a big weight lift.  Thanks St. Francis.  Good looking out.

After they eat, I go back to the computer.  I could hear them rough-housing upstairs.  Big fucking racket.  It sounds like they’re dragging a couch down the hall.  Now they’re building shelves.  Big crash.  I think that was the vacuum cleaner coming down the stairs.  Yeah, it was.

“Hey you two! Fucking cool it up there!”

They love to go at it.  Just for fun.  Just fighting each other for the sheer joy of it.

Hmm.

I start reading Dave’s new piece.  It’s a prison one.  My favorite.  This one’s about when he played bass in a band while he was locked up.   That is so punk rock, I can’t stand it.  Life is good.

We never do anything bad.