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.

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My Hillbilly Heart

Two outlaw legends.

What luck! Two outlaw legends need a ride.

I think I should have been born a hillbilly.  I think that’s been the problem.  I needed to be around people who understood me.

I’ve been watching a lot of videos of outlaw hillbillies on the computer machine these days.  Mostly Jesco White and his clan of kin, raising hell in Boone County.  More bat-shit ballistic, cold-cocked ruthless, knocked-down, chopped-up and snorted party people you won’t find.  Not around these parts.  Really love Jesco.  Really love that whole family.  Hell, I just plain love hillbillies.

I admire how tough they are.  They’ve had more than their fair share of shit dumped on them.  People living in places where having a job mining coal is considered “doing well. ”  In other words, it goes down from there.  Tragic shit.

Jesco White, King of the mountain dancers.

Jesco White, King of the mountain dancers, on the fast track.

Exploited for ages.  Starved thin.  Shot up.  Beat down.  Sold out.  Black-lunged.  And somehow still proud.  If you can endure all that bullshit and still tap out a dance on the front porch, more power to you.  Nobody dances better than the poor.  That’s a historical fact.

As for the outlaw element, I figure they’ve earned a little rule-breaking slack.  Yes, yes.  We all must take personal responsibility for our actions blah blah.  But I see a lot of people not taking personal responsibility for their actions.  They’re farting up their golf pants on a resort island while some great idea of theirs has just ruined the lives of thousands of people.  And nobody setting the hounds on them.

Fuck it.  If you’re coming from such a depressed socioeconomic status, there’s nothing wrong with paying back society.  With a middle finger.  As a salute to it’s magnanimous largesse.

“Somebody say large ass?  C’mere Lulu Lee, an’ let me spank some of that big white!”

Gratitude.

Gratitude.

Hell.  Why not try and do as much as you can get away with?  If you’re basically fucked either way.  Might as well go ape shit.

Create some memories.  Something they can’t take awayI always say.

I’ve created a few memories.  In between all the stuff I can’t remember.  Some good.  Some not so.  But not everything about being bad was bad.  Just like not everything about being good is good.  It’s just better to be good.  So I have to go with that.  Maybe with a little resignation.  Maybe with the thought that I wouldn’t have to do this…if I was born a hillbilly.

Me without make up.

My natural default. Can I still get a ride?

Could be some past life thing.  Maybe because I was conceived in Kentucky, when my dad was stationed at Ft. Knox.  I don’t know.  But I get those people.  I think I’d find a comfortable niche in a community of moon-shining, tap-dancing, porch-swinging, substance-abusing, unlawfully-discharging-of-a-firearms folk.

Something about the lifestyle.

It appeals.

Not all of it.  The abject poverty is a downer.  Not a fan of any racism, xenophobia, or inbreeding either.  Early death due to accident, sickness or murder are also bummers.

But karate-kicking the Jack Daniels mirror my cousin Keith won at the carnival in Brokewood–right out of ol’ boy’s hands?

Well, that sounds like a gas.

Especially if it had his last line of coke on it.

“How do you like that, boy?”

“You done stirred up a hornet’s nest of shit, son.”

Both of us scrambling for a shard of broken glass. “Only Daddy That Will Walk The Line,” playing on the stereophonic record player we stole from the Goodwill.  Granny on the rocker, gumming us a grin from behind her huffin’ rag.  Uncle Willie tapping out The Death Row Shuffle on the curling linoleum in the kitchen.  My hound dog, Boone, howling at an outhouse moon.

I can get into that.

Or going to the gasoline cart races.  Swilling half-gallon cups of beer.  Watching the cars go around the track.  Cheering when someone crashes.  Booing when someone wins.  Karate chopping my cousin Keith in the neck for no reason while stumbling back to parking lot.  Jumping the security guards sent to break up our fight.  Gassing them with their own pepper spray.  Mountain dancing on the hood of their squad car while they cough and vomit.  Then throwing a brick through the rear window before we bolt.

Me and Keith laughing as we roar out of there.

My 1970 Chevelle SS dragging caution tape tied to pylons.

Out to the back-roads.

And sweet freedom.

The money I saved by not fixing my teeth going under the hood of the beast we ride.

Cracking cold beers.  Ripping bong loads while driving with the knees at eighty-seven miles per hour.  The air-blower vacuuming up the white lines in the road.  Shooting at mailboxes with the .410 snake charmer we stole from his uncle, who’s also my dad, who’s now married to his mom, who is a stripper, that’s also good for pills.

That part would be cool, too.

"Hey, I need a ride to my truck."

“Hey, I need a ride to my truck.”

I’d want to cultivate a dangerous drifter look.  When I say “cultivate” I mean “naturally default to.”  Just walk around as the gnarly mess God meant me to be.  Let my hair go greasy.  Grow some stubble.  Let the gut lap.  Don the foam cap.  Start chewing plugs of tobacco tar–the dripping juice staining my red beard with black streaks.

Tattoo “Born too Loose,” on my forearm with a needle wrapped in string.

In Hillbilly Heaven, I’d live off Ramen and roadkill.  Canned beans and beer.  White lightning and black-powdered adrenaline.

I’d shoot empty bottles off my cocktail table.  Torch my tool shed just to watch the sparks fly up into the night sky.  Rock some large pile of woman back and forth in my rickety trailer while listening to Black Oak Arkansas.  Chain-smoke Pall Malls.  Pick at my electric cigar box guitar.  Take long pulls from the jelly jar.  Cough from the burn of liquid fire.  Jump straight out of my Lazy-Boy and knock out another of Keith’s meth-loosened teeth.  This time with a badminton racket I found in the neighbor’s yard.

“Jim Dandy’s not comin’ to your rescue, beeeyahtch!”

SWAP!

All because I could.

Ain't got a squad car? Hop a table.

Ain’t got a squad car? Hop a table.

The freedom.  The liberation.  Just the idea of it gives off some pretty potent vapors to huff on.  Activates the reptilian part of my brain.  The part I try to keep in check now.  So I can be the good citizen.  And stay out of the evening news.

The problem is that after sustaining long periods of good citizenshiphood, even in my doddering middle-age, I find myself hankerin’ for a heapin’ helpin’ of misbehavin’.  I miss courtin’ Miss Mayhem.  It’s the same irrational fond-recollectioning I do for some of the women that had made my life hell.

Or for booze.

You only remember scenes from the highlights reel.  A reel edited with Leni Riefenstahl propaganda wizardry.  Triumph of The Self-Will, if…you will.  All the brutally painful scenes left on the cutting room floor.  Only replaying the fun parts.

I selectively reminisce, then find myself longing for a long-lost self–a part of me that doesn’t get to come out to play anymore.  It’s easy to feel sorry for him.  Miss him.  And wish he wasn’t grounded…for life.

You know you gotta keep him locked in the root cellar.  Feed him under the door.  But that guy doesn’t die-off easily.

Fuck, he’s proved it.

So I better try to deal with him as best as I can.  While he’s still hanging around.

In early sobriety, I had to play a lot of Grand Theft Auto on the video machine.  Just to safely ween myself from some of my real hobbies.  Today, I  like to watch others run amok.  Soccer riots.  Public brawls.  Cage matches.  Russian mafia gunfights.  There’s always something to hold my interest on YouTube.

Basically, to let me live vicariously.

Anyway, it’s just something nice to think of.  Dream about.  Remember.  Whenever my goody-two-shoes start to pinch.  It’s good to remember what not giving a fuck feels like.  Maybe keep a little of it stuck in my sock.  For in case.

It sure helps knowing you already filled up on enough bad.  Earlier.  Really topped off the tank.

Enough to last you through a really long pursuit.

.

Young hillbilly in exile.

Young hillbilly in exile, looking for a ride.

Shemp Hair Blues

Another Lithuanian with great hair.

A Lithuanian with great hair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blessed and lucky.

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

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

That’s so badass it hurts.

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

It was too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, she waved me over.

Here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I must make it so.

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

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

“Don’t make trouble.”

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

What?

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

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

“I’ll see you at home.”

“Okay, love you.”

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

“I like your work,” I forced out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to go,” she says.

“Go,” I say.

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

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

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

And he had what I wanted.

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

Pot And Ponchos

Is that a real poncho, or a Sears poncho?

Is that a real poncho, or a Sears poncho?

Going through old photos the other day and came across this gem.  Ah, the poncho.  Difficult piece of clothing to pull off.  Women should never wear them, and the only men that can really rock them are Mexican revolutionaries or drug-addled hippies.  I guess at the time I fancied myself the latter.

But I look fucking ridiculous.   A poncho.  C’mon dude.  Really?

I know.  I know.

I was wearing that poncho the first time I tried scoring weed in Santa Fe.  I had new buddy drive me to the plaza where I had seen a variety of doper-looking scruffians and ne’er-do-wells hanging out.  A few were kicking the sack around.  Others huddled around in conspiratorial circles talking.  This was generally fertile grounds for sowing a pot connection.

Unless you’re a stranger wearing a poncho.

I jumped out of the van and walked over to a small group of these Plaza Rats.

“Hey guys.  Do any of you know where I can score a little herb?”

They all shook their heads no.  Emphatically.  It wasn’t like a no, not right now, but a no, never.  We don’t know anyone who ever sells marijuana.

Strange.  What gives?  I don’t see any X’s on their hands.  They don’t seem straight-edge.  Especially that dude with the knit rasta cap selling hand-carved soapstone hash pipes.  He’s shaking his head no, too.  Hmm.  I walked back dejectedly to the van.

For many years, my friend, Russell, would remind me of that day.  He was there at the plaza hanging out.

“We all just knew your were a narc!” he’d laugh.  “Oh, here comes some buzz-cut guy that jumped out of a white van…wearing a poncho!  Like that was going to throw us off.  He totally looks like a cop, but he must be cool, because…he’s wearing a poncho.  Hahahahahaha!  No way man.”

He had a point.  I wouldn’t have turned me on if I wasn’t me.  What was I thinking?

Fortunately, a little later, I met a guy named, David Scott, who sussed me out as a legitimate fuck-up, and finally vouched for me to his friends.  He invited Keller, my sister, and me to the house where he was living and introduced us.  I didn’t wear my poncho that night and we were welcomed warmly.  So that’s how I got to know The Plaza Rats, an indigenous tribe of freaks, punks and hipsters I immediately felt at home among.

And for the record, none of whom would ever know anyone who sold pot.

At least not anyone who would sell it to a burr-headed state trooper-looking dude wearing a poncho.

So what was the deal with the poncho in the first place?   Well, hear me out.   There was some reason behind my insanity.

I had just moved to Santa Fe, NM from Southern California in ’87.  Or was it ’88?  Doesn’t matter.  My sister and I had driven through a blizzard that got so gnarly we had to pull off and spend the night in Seligman AZ.  We had spent three hours of night driving in white-out conditions with everything we owned crammed into a Chevy Chevette (diesel) and a U-Haul roof carrier.

All I could do was try to stay in the wheel prints of the semi in front of us.  If he went over a cliff, I would have been following right behind.  It was some of the most wide-eyed, ass-puckered motoring I’ve ever had the joy of experiencing.  A memorable first time driving in snow.  I think that U-Haul carrier saved us.  Kept us squashed to the road.

When the semi finally pulled off at Seligman, we were elated.  To this day, that two-horse-turd town holds a special place in my heart.   I will never forget how good it looked that night with all its glowing neon angels.  Gas.  Motel.  Beer.  The holy trinity for tired travelers.  A sweet divine sanctuary.

We bought some snow chains, sandwiches, chips, and sodas.  (Try saying that with a bilateral lisp)  Anyway, there is a very good chance that I purchased some beer that night, but I can’t remember for sure.  The fact that I got roaring drunk in the town bar that night made the purchase of package store beer uneventful in my memory.  There were bigger things to remember about that night.

I remember my sister and I checking into a little motel and being very grateful to be alive and that we had made it, so far.  We still had a long way to go, over some treacherous snowy and icy roads, but for now, we were okay.  Breathe deep.  Holy shit.  What have I gotten us into?

I also remember feeling very proud of her.  She was damn good co-pilot.  Goddamn.  When things were looking grim, she kept her cool and that helped me keep my shit together.  I always knew she was gutsy, but that night, I got to see her at her finest.  Poised.  Steely-eyed.  Determined.  Scared for sure, but not letting The Fear best her.

She’s a good person to have at your side, pointing the way to go to avoid the burning zeppelin.

After I finished appreciating my sister, I decided to hit the bar.  She was in for the night, so I trudged through the snow to the only place open that night.  What I saw when I went in was pretty cinematic.

A black-haired biker babe behind the bar drying glasses, and one sole patron sitting at the bar.  A desiccated piece of grizzle, a wild-haired, bushy-browed, burned-out freak…wearing a poncho.   Oh fucking yes!  So exactly the bar of my dreams.  A sexy chick to look at and a weirdo to talk with is all I really need.

The place was rustic, with antlers and shit on the wooden walls, the plank saloon floor was urine-stained and varnished with years of vomit.  Probably a few quarts of blood splattered  here and there.  Nice.  Perfect actually.  I know you can’t have any real fun without spilling a few bodily fluids.

I ordered a beer and a shot for myself and the fabulous furry freak.   He nodded his appreciation.   Hell, I just looked Death in the eyes and didn’t flinch too much.  I could afford to buy the house a round or two.

I offered one to the bartender, but she declined.  She looked part Indian.  Probably a good idea.  She looked like she’d be a handful in a bar fight.  Strong arms.  Powerful legs…and ass.  I imagined us rolling around on a floor covered in broken glass, wrestling for the pool cue, knocking over tables, her biting into my shoulder, me pulling on her hair, then our eyes meeting.  Magic.  The look that says we belong together.  Then her mouth opening slightly.

“That’ll be sixteen dollars.”

I handed her a double saw.

“Keep it.”

“Thanks.”

“Roads are a motherfucker I hear,” the old head says, still looking straight ahead.

“Yeah, my ass hasn’t unclenched yet.  We’re driving to Santa Fe.  It would be nice if we don’t die.”

The head nodded.  The bartender told me nobody knew if I-40 would be open by tomorrow, and that we might be stranded.  That was fine by me.  This place seemed better than most.  But it was about to get much better.

“You want to burn one?” Mr. Poncho asked me.  Now I nodded.  We stepped outside and watched the snow come down while taking turns hitting at the joint.  It looked really peaceful.  Not like it did from behind the wheel.

I can’t remember how, but in the course of our conversation, Captain Beefheart came up.  I probably brought him up, since I was totally into Don Van Vliet.  A buddy had turned me on to Trout Mask Replica, and the rest was history.  Anything that utterly insane was not just something to listen to, but to somehow incorporate as a lifestyle choice.  The Captain was bat-chain puller insane and I was hoping that repeated listening would infect me with his liberated madness.  Like I needed more.  Bat chain puller.  Bat chain puller.  Puller.  Puller.

Anyway, not only did this guy know about Beefheart, but he could sing his entire catalog–pitch perfect, from the deep grumbles to the high screeching.   I shit you not.  It was an amazing thing to witness.  Especially stoned.  When we went back inside, I bought another round and he performed a little recital for me.  He not only sounded just like the Captain, but knew every single word to every song I threw out.  It was like having a living, breathing, weed-sharing, Captain Beefheart juke box taking requests.  Nothing was too esoteric.  I couldn’t stump him.

Ice Cream for Crow.  I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby.  Dachau Blues.  Abba Zabba.  Candle Mambo.  Big Eyed Beans from Venus.  Tropical Hot Dog Night.   Mirror Man.  I Wanna Find a Woman That Will Hold My Big Toe Until I Have to Go.  And of course, Bat Chain Puller.  He knew them all.

“Okay, Man With A Woman Head.”

He’d take a sip of beer and begin.

“The man with the woman head
Polynesian wallpaper made the face stand out,
a mixture of Oriental and early vaudeville jazz poofter,
forming a hard, beetle-like triangular chin much like a praying mantis.
Smoky razor-cut, low on the ear neck profile.
The face the color of a nicotine-stained hand.
Dark circles collected under the wrinkled, folded eyes,
map-like from too much turquoise eye-paint.
He showed his old tongue through ill-fitting wooden teeth,
stained from too much opium, chipped from the years.
The feet, brown wrinkles above straw loafers.
A piece of cocoanut in a pink seashell caught the tongue
and knotted into thin white strings.
Charcoal grey Eisenhower jacket zipped and tucked into a lotus green ascot.
A coil of ashes collected on the white-on-yellow dacs.
Four slender bones with rings and nails
endured the weight of a hard fast black rubber cigarette holder.
I could just make out Ace as he carried the tray and mouthed,
‘You cheap son of a bitch’
as a straw fell out of a Coke, cartwheeled into the gutter.
So this was a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood,
So this was a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood,
So this was a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood.”

Son of a bitch.  He knew the whole thing.   Maybe I had died back there on I-40, and this was my heaven.   I felt like I’d discovered buried treasure.  What a magnificent gem hidden in a wasteland of Arizona desert.  More beers.  More Beefheart.  More pot.  Digging that crazy poncho, too.

I have experienced many wild and wonderful things in my life, but running into that old freak, in a deserted bar during a snowstorm, remains a highlight.  The human Beefheart beat box.

I think that’s when I caught the poncho germ.  I too wanted to be a solitary, desert-dwelling human repository of cult-music.  A sun-baked beatster basting his brains in a tin-foil trailer.  Not giving a flying fuck.  Too crazy to care.  To be so out there you don’t worry about whether you’re pulling off the poncho or not.  You’re too busy talking to crows, painting rusted car hoods with animal scenes, and remembering how to sing every single Captain Beefheart song ever invented.  Just in case.

I already knew The American Dream wasn’t for me.  This seemed like a viable alternative.  Puller.  Puller.

They opened I-40 that next morning.  I was nervous, but had renewed faith that something was looking out.  We chained up, topped off with diesel, and shimmied that clattering Chevette along the ice.  That next day’s driving was actually worse.  Slush from passing trucks would splash on our windshields and stop our wipers, leaving us driving blind, but we made it.  Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We had never been there.  We didn’t know anybody.  Had no jobs.  No place to live.  Very little money.  And we didn’t give a flying fuck.

There’s nothing like almost dying a lot to make you feel alive, and not worried about small bullshit.

So anyway, a few days after getting there, I walked past a shop selling ponchos.  Oh fuck yeah.  I had to get one.  We had already scored a trailer to live at, inside the Space Science Center for UFO studies on St. Francis Drive.  This would be the second important component to starting my new weird life.  The third was pot, which I would get next.

Wearing my poncho.

I can't give you my coat. It's gotten quite cold.

It’s gotten quite cold, I’ve decided I can’t sell you my coat.

Mr. Fix-It Real Good

I’ll have it back to you as good as new!

I had locked myself out again.  There was only one solution, to put on a sap glove and punch out the glass.  Cheaper than a locksmith.  Besides, it was only a small pane.  Except it was not.  It was a singular big pane disguised as individual small ones by the faux frames in the door.  A cloud burst of double-paned weather-rated safety glass came raining down on me.  What a surprise.  What a clever decorating device.

Well okay, now you know…don’t ever forget your keys, and that what looks like little individual panes of glass, thanks to some bullshit phony frames, could be connected to a motherload of glass, and that punching it out is not cheaper than a locksmith.  You can conclude that and learn from it.  Can’t you?  I found out ten years later that I couldn’t.

One of the best things about being sober is not having to fix as much stuff.  I don’t just mean abstract stuff like relationships and credit ratings, but actual stuff, like car doors, furniture, windows, televisions, bathroom fixtures, and heirloom china.  Stuff that costs beer money to replace.  And it always needs to be replaced.  Always.

Tough shit for someone who’s been the proverbial bovine male in the china shop his whole life.  Never fully at ease in this material dimension, I was perhaps, I’m saying perhaps, self-medicating.  Any natural clumsiness was now aggravated by the constant ingestion of central nervous system neurotoxic zombie juice.  Even sober, anything less durable than an AK-47 or lead ingot doesn’t stand much of a chance under my sustained proximity.  Just dig me after a few forties of malt liquor and shot or three of whiskey.  Hey, hey, hey!  I can find a way to break sand.

While drinking, I was a one-man wreckage machine.  Just add priceless family keepsakes and I’d churn them out into a stream of broken junk, swirling in a wake of pissed-off people.

Things were worse around my friends.  Those miscreants had a blatant disregard for property and unhealthy ideas as to what constituted fun, and of course applied coercive peer pressure for me to participate .  Honest.  I never wanted to run wild, destroying stuff.  Except for always.  While other kids had posters of sports heroes on their walls, I had ones of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan.  I remember moping around grade school all grumpy because I wasn’t allowed to sack or pillage.  I made up for this in later life, in spades, of wall putty.

My friends and I liked to drink beer and rough house.  Pushing a friend’s head into a door jamb was one of the few ways we knew how to comfortably express our affection.  The more love in the room, the more collateral damage.  You never knew when a karate kick would miss a groin and land on a trophy case or computer monitor.  Shopping for sliding glass doors on a Saturday became almost a tradition.  “Hey Manny, let me have the single plate, and some new runners.”

Then, as you all know by now, there was the gunplay.  More Spackle.  More airline tickets.

That shit added up.  The cost of operating an alcoholic was not cheap.  There was always somebody to pay for something.  It was either that or try to fix it myself, and that was always problematic since I’ve never been much of a handy man.  Anything with more moving parts than a bottle of beer baffled me.  If it couldn’t be fixed by repeated chops from a tennis racket, it was time to throw it away, and do without.   Being drunk doesn’t lend itself to any painstaking problem solving.

I preferred a more action-oriented approach.  The idea was to reduce what was originally only slightly damaged, back to its molecular components, in the hope that it would somehow rebuild itself, perfectly.  You know, in response to the tantrum I just threw.  Cup handle won’t stay glued?  Throw it against the fridge.  See if that works.

“So if it belonged to your great-grandmother, that means it was really old, huh?  Like some kind of antique type of thing? ”

Whether through accident or anarchy, the physical world crumbled at my touch.  Especially cars.  I could disintegrate your car interior just by sitting in it.  I’d be trying to roll down the window and notice I’m twirling a useless handle in the air.  I don’t know how I pulled that ashtray out so that there is no human way possible to re-insert it.  Radio knobs?  Please.  I might as well have just pulled them off as soon as I got in.  Cigarette lighter?  Throw it out with the knobs.  Ignition broke off, but now I don’t have to look for your keys to start it.  Rearview just snapped loose.  “Here, save it for somebody who does coke.”

What’s wrong with all this shit?  Why can’t anybody build a car for a modern drunk Neanderthal?

Car doors never failed to fail me.  I was always having to climb in and out, NASCAR style, because the fucking things wouldn’t open anymore.  I don’t know of many ways you can close a car door wrong, but apparently I knew a good one.  Opening one, too.

I went to visit some friends in Northern California.  They picked me up from the airport.  I was drunk, of course, because I was traveling–through space and time.  They drove up to the white zone for loading and unloading of passengers only, no parking.  I opened their car door and superfuckingfantastic, broke it.  A very Herman Munster Moment.

“Really sorry about that.  Hey, this is going to be a wild weekend, huh?”

“Yeah.”

Later on they let me borrow one of their cars (I know, crazy) to make an appointment.  As I was getting on the freeway I saw a bum dude hitchhiking.  Always willing to help out a fellow traveler through space and time, I pulled over.  He ran up, opened the door, sat down, and couldn’t shut it.  Who’s this?  A kindred soul plagued with the poison touch?   I got out of the car and we tried to close it.  No way.

I finally had to drive with the passenger door sticking out a right angle.  I dropped off my long-lost brother at the next on ramp.

“Sorry about your door, bro!”

“Yeah, it happens…to me…always.”

“Me too,” he said, then held up his cardboard sign.

We looked at each other and nodded.  Yeah, he knows.  That was kind of a neat moment, but now what the fuck?!  How am I going to drive all the way home with this door sticking out?  I’ve been pulled over for less.  Fortunately, I wasn’t drunk.  The morning maintenance shot I drank had ceased to smooth the edges of this harsh reality.  But, now it wouldn’t spike a breathalyzer either.  It was one of those bad thing/good thing things.

Still, I’d rather not have any discourse with armed lawmen, especially while driving someone else’s car.

“I can’t seem to find their papers, Officer.”  Fumbling around the glove box, finding a hash pipe and a chunk.  “What’s this?  Holding out on me, were they?  Oh, you saw that too.”

“Please put your hands on the dash.”

Yeah, always better not to even get started.  I chose speed over stealth and just burned it home, hoping that the wind would shut it closed.  Every time I took a left turn people behind me would start braking for the body they expected to roll out.  They’d drive up next to me, honking.

“Your door is open!”

Really?  Which one?  Oh, this one next to me, bending like an airplane wing?  Got it.  Smile and give them a thumbs up and hope it satisfies them.

It was a nerve-wracking drive home, but I knew a more awesome time awaited me when I returned the car dog-eared.  “I didn’t do this one, guys.  It was my spiritual twin.  I gave him a ride.”  They looked at me and shook their heads.  What sort of vendetta does this guy have with the doors of our vehicles?

I hate them, for one thing.  Flimsy fickle bitch doors.  So how many beers will a new one cost me?

I was perplexed.  What is this with the doors?  Always some broken door.  What is the Universe trying to tell me?  There must be some metaphysical meaning, something symbolic going on, but it’s beyond me.  Jim Morrison?  Am I to learn something from Jim Morrison?  Do I need to be more groovy?  More Lizard Kingy?

Yes, that’s it.  There could be no other conclusion.

It’s fitting that my last good piece of physical wreckage before getting sober was a broken door.  I came home to an apartment I shared with my buddy, Spike.  I was wavering in and out of a black out.  I forgot my keys and didn’t want to wake him up, so very logically, I decided to punch out a small pane of glass in the door.  Sound familiar?  Not to me.  This time I didn’t bother using a sap glove and just shot my fist through.  The whole door shattered.  Fucking faux frames.  I never learn.

That was the final straw for Spike.  He drove me to rehab the next morning, and you know the rest.  My last drink was a Coors Silver Bullet I stole from him while he packed the car.  I’ve been much better since.  Stuff around me, too.  As for fixing things, I’ve added sincere amends to my fix-it kit, along with the duct tape, Bondo and Spackle I still seem to need.

So I guess, the big lesson here is that sometimes the solution is punching out what you think is a small pane of glass.  I can’t come up with any other conclusion.

And thanks, Spike.