Taking The Arsenic Cure At Ojo Caliente

Good for what ails you.

Good for what ails you.

I have a sharp pain in my upper back.  Almost a month now.  Feels like a prehistoric lobster clawing into my shoulder blade.  I checked in the bathroom mirror and didn’t find any kind of clinging crustacean, so I have to conclude it’s some knot in my Reichian armor.  A constricted ball of energy refusing to go with the flow, now stuck and radiating Deadly Orgone Radiation throughout my etheric body, but with some leakage getting into the soul itself.

Probably got it doing bent-over dumb-bell rows.  Bent-over dumb-bell, indeed.  Maybe it’s from all the time I spend hunched and brooding like a doomed cathedral gargoyle.  I can think of a few people who might be the source.  Not you.  They don’t read my stuff.  No, they’re just some folks standing on my back while I do my spiritual push-ups.

Something’s bugging me.

Man.  This pain is at that tricky six level.  Bad enough to suck, but not bad enough for me to pursue any proactive remedy.  Look, I’m a personal trainer.  Shouldn’t I use any of the stretching, physical therapy stuff I’m always recommending to my clients?  Maybe use the foam roller that’s in the trunk of my car to roll out and loosen the myofascial membrane?  Stuff that’s been proven to help.

Fuck that.  I need a chubby Asian girl to walk on my back with a pair of spiked heels.

Well.  I need a lot of things.  Things that maybe don’t have to do with the pain in my back.

They might be wants.  In need’s clothing.  It’s too confusing.   For now, I am content to use the sharp corner of our wrought iron bannister to press against.  I lock my knees out from a squat and thrust.  Dig that fucker in.  Deep.   Then grind on it.  Really try to torture it out.

Lori laughs when she sees me do this.

“It looks perverted.”

“That”s probably why it feels so good.”

“Are you sure that’s the right thing to do?  Shouldn’t you get a massage or see a doctor?”

“I tried the corner of the counter in the kitchen, but the floor is too slippery in there.  I just wind up falling on my ass.  I’ve got carpeted steps to push off from here.  This is definitely the way to go.”

“…Okay.”

I’ll tell you what.  It got better while I was in New Mexico.  I almost drowned the little demon in the hot springs at Ojo Caliente.  It was really nice.  Keller and my sister, got Lori and I, a room next to theirs.  Both rooms had private outdoor tubs, with piping hot volcanic earth juice on tap.  Not a bad set up.  Getting to be with people I love.  All of us bringing our A-Game to the mirth that night.  Laughing like lunatics.  Under a black desert sky scrubbed clean with wind.  The stars sparkling extra bright.

Just does not get any better for this old sot.  One of the best nights of my life, actually.

In the morning,  I ventured over to the public pools.  You know, see who’s who in Modern Rome.  It was interesting.  Everybody in their resort robes.  Whisper Only zones.  Everything all flutey-foofy and cedar hand-lotiony.  It always felt like places like this were just goading me into boisterous misbehavior.  The perfect place to be perfectly inappropriate.   A good canvas for some dramatic chiaroscuro.

Now I try to play well with others.   Sometimes that means just being invisible to them.  So they won’t engage me.  And tempt me into doing something bad.  So I definitely wanted to glide through this whole scene as Buddhistly as possible.  I even tried not to flip my flops too loudly as I cross the lobby.  Going ghost.  Leaving no footprint.

There’s all kinds of different pools with different flavored water.  Some has iron that’s supposedly good for something.  Another has high concentrations of soda, which I’ve always been told rots your teeth.  Then there’s the arsenic water.  Supposedly it’s good for arthritis, stomach ulcers and “a variety of skin conditions.”   I could see that.  It sounds like some medieval cure for crotch critters.

“If ever a bold bard gets ball boweevils by bawdy bar maiden, he need only to boil both bollocks in a bowl of its broth.”

Arsenic water?  Are you sure?  I mean, I’m as New Age as Donovan, but that can’t be good for you.  Isn’t it like poisonous in even trace amounts?

Apparently, this is once again, where I am the fool.  These trace amounts are just tracey enough to make them a downright tonic.  Homeopathic Dr. Death’s Miracle Cure, Hair Tonic, Ball Soak and Mouth Rinse.  Arsenic water.  Open your pores and let the poison in.

Arsenic as cure-all is hardly a new remedy.  But always as a last resort.  Like Lumera.

Freckled boob soak.

Freckled boob soak.

I went from pool to pool taking turns to soak in all of the different potions…but that one.  I was scared to.   So I thought about it.

“Dude, your whole thing is about how a little bad is better than no bad at all.”

“It is.  It really is.  I think it rounds out my character.  A little bad.  Keeps the ladies interested.”

“Why not add arsenic, too?  To go along with your collection of a little bad. ”

“Yeah, and maybe build up my immunity to larger doses of arsenic.  Like if somebody ever tries to Rasputin me.”

“No doubt.  It could save my life.  Besides, what kind of pussy can’t handle a little poison?”

“I do like a little poison.”

“Fuck yeah.”

“I’m in.”

“Me too.”

I got out of the rotting-egg pool, and tip-toed over to the arsenic one.   There were two middle-aged earth mother types in there already.  I hesitated.

Some women have described their first impression of me as “predatory”  or “surrounded by an aura of menace.”  Which is unfortunate.  I mean, that they can see that.  If anyone were to make that assumption, it was going to be these two wholegrain-fed mamas.  These types always hate me.  At least at first.  So now they were going to be uncomfortable with me being there.  And I was going to feel uncomfortable about that.

Fuck it.  I’m here to soak in poison.  Bring it on.

I eased my hooves into the water and slid in.  My horns glistening in the toxic steam.  I smiled at the ladies, but they didn’t smile back.  They turned and whispered to each other.  I sat back, closed my eyes and inhaled the arsenic mist deep into my lungs.  Let the poison mix with my own in chemical union.  Let the Periodic Table of Elements mutate my cells to It’s Will.

When I opened my eyes I found myself looking at a pair of boobs bobbing on the water.  They were elongated, and looked like two freckled salamis floating in a bathtub.  Hardly bone-crushing erotica.  At least for me.  I thought about something, and when I looked up from them, I saw one pissed-off Gaia Granola stink-eying me.  She thinks she’s caught me getting a perv on, when on the life of my cats, I wasn’t.  I was too zoned out.

Anyway, she turned away all violated and leaned in to tell her friend something.  Her friend looked over at me and nodded.  They got out of the pool.  Put on their robes and flip-flapped away with decided intention.

I knew it.  I knew something.  That’s why I hesitated.  Knew something would go down.  They were waiting for something and thought they got it.  Now they could leave content, thinking that their initial assessment of me was correct.

Very irritating.  But what am I going to do?  Run after them trying to explain–

“Look ladies, I’ve worked in strip clubs.  Your tits don’t mean anything to me.”

Yeah.  That’ll fix it.

The fact was that seeing those two beefstick boats made me remember going as a kid with my parents to the Hickory Farms at the Esplanade Mall in Oxnard.  They had diced samples of salami and cheese on toothpicks you could stick into different mustards.  That’s what I was thinking about.  That hardly constitutes prurient leering.  But try to explain that to a woman whose scurrying away with her smokey links flopping under her robe.  You’ll just dig yourself in deeper.

Fuck it.

Let it go.

I sunk back into my pool of poison.  I have no control over what they think.   I have no control over what anybody thinks.  And far from being a bummer, when actually realized, to it’s most fullied optimal, the liberation can be absolutely intoxicating.  Certainly frees one up for a wider range of motion.

Hmm…

Whatever arsenic kills-it’s better dead.  My back stopped hurting for a few days.

They were right.  Sometimes a little poison is just thing, to ward off a greater malady.

Unfortunately, the treatment didn’t kill enough of it, because the beast grew back a few days after I returned to California.  And is still digging in, as I write this.

There was a arsenic water fountain there you could drink from.  It had a health warning plaque attached.  Drink at your own risk.  I passed.  Soaking in poison and actually drinking it are two different things.  That’s one thing I’ve learned.

I should have guzzled a belly full of it.

I guess if I was a better writer I’d tie-in how caring what somebody thinks is really the source of my pain.  And how when I did let the poison I was surrounded by, kill off the real poison–the shit in my mind–the pain went away.  How that’s the real remedy for my present discomfort.

But, I’m just not up for it tonight.

My fucking back is killing me.

I feel like a new man!

I feel like a new man!

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My Brother Strip Club Gladiator

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

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

And that.  Is pretty much.  That.

That’s what’s going on there.

Old Joe.  And me.  At my mom’s house.

Having lunch.

How about that?

Yeah, that’s some crazy shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when he’d meet The Panther.

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

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

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

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

Glad the windows were rolled up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He called me the day after.

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

I knew it.  I sat down on the couch.

“Over several lifetimes.”

“Oh shit, what happened?”

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

“What the fuck happened?!!”

“Just the best day of my life.”

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

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

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

“You saw her without her make-up?”

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

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

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

“Good call.”

“Roger that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You managed that too?”

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

“I fucking give up.”

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

“You’re bullshitting.”

“Afraid not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Got your freak on, did you?”

“Freaky freak.  Freaky-deaky freak.”

“Wow.  That is whole package of WOW.”

“Now here’s the kicker–”

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

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

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

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

“You’re a dirty whore, Joe.”

“Oh yes. Yes I am!”

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

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

And night.

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

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

My work is done.

You Can’t Punch Gas

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

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

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

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

Like a charm.

Fucking specificity.

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

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

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

It is what it is.

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

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

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

Trust me.

It is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go slack.  Give slack.  Get slack.

“You may be right. ”

Put hands in pockets and shrug.

“But I am right!”

“Maybe.”

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

It’s hard to argue with wallpaper.

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

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

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

My first time ever.

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

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

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

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

This is nothing.

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

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

“I thought eight.”

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

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

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

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

That was the whole truth.

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

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

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

Which I am fucking not.

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

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

“Well, it looks like I fucked up.”

“Yes! Yes you did! YOU FUCKED UP!”

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

“Yep.” I said, “Looks that way.”

“You almost lost us a big account!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look back.

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

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

The silence is peaceful.  I let my mind drift.

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

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

Finally.

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

I stopped by the door.

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

More looking.

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

Good-bye early nap.  Oh well.

It is what it is.

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

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

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

Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

Fuck Yeah!

Fuck Yeah!

The Year in Review, Including Ear Hair Trim

"You've got a luxurious ear of hair."

“You’ve got a luxurious ear of hair.”

There’s a joke about Supercuts, but I can’t remember it.  Something about how there’s two kinds of haircuts you can get.  I don’t remember what they were.  I don’t even remember if the joke was funny.

Mind is really going.  Oh well.  Good riddance, actually.

I looked down at the magazines by the bench.  Here’s one.  A Year In Review Edition.

What could be more boring?  Canned media serving up one more helping of stuff they’ve staled to death all year.  Still, every magazine has to feature one.  What are you going to tell me about?  Who won the World Series?  An election?  Tell me about a school shooting?  Storms?  War?

I kind of know about those events.  I’ve managed to stay conscious enough this year to realize what was going on around me.  Hoo-fucking-ray for me.  No, seriously.  That’s big for me.

Let’s see.  Here’s a feature on The Movers and Shakers of 2012.  Riveting stuff.  I can’t believe I didn’t make it this year.  I tossed the magazine aside and watched the barber chick cut a bald guy’s hair.  She was taking forever.  One would think cutting an old bald guy’s hair would be a three minute turn around, but you would be wrong.

Old bald guys actually take longer.  I noticed that most barbers don’t want to just pass some clippers over the head and slap their neck with a towel.  You could do that with a young dude, keeping his head shaved, but not with old bald dudes.  There’s a lot of Kabuki theater involved.  The barber does a lot of pretend clipping with scissors.   Comb, comb, comb, air-clip air-clip.   Comb, comb, comb, air-clip air-clip.

It used to drive me crazy.  Well, crazier.  Clearly, they were trying to make the old guy feel like he was getting his money’s worth.  By spending fifteen minutes in the chair.  Fifteen minutes of my valuable time.

One afternoon, after my guy gave a rather extensive performance, I had to bring it up.  He tied off the bib and asked me what size blade.

“Two,” I told him.

“Summertime, huh?”

“”Yep.”

I waited for him to start cutting.

“So I noticed you have to do a lot of pretend hair-cutting with old bald dudes.  Is that so they don’t feel like they got gypped?”

“Well…it’s actually more than that,” he said, “For a lot of these guys, getting a haircut is the only human contact they get.  So I want to take my time with them.”

I looked at dude.  Did I hear him right?   He didn’t strike me as someone who would concern himself.  Straight guy, shaved head, tattooed neck, ring-through-the-nose regular dude.  Not the touchy-feely, sensitive New Age type.  He was into choppers and the LA Kings.  It surprised me he would reach out like that.  I sat there trying to digest this anomaly.

“That’s kind of sad, when you think about it.”

“Yeah, no shit,” he said, “They already come from a generation that didn’t touch much.  Except maybe for sex.”

“I think sometimes not even then.”

“Ha…yeah…Hard to pull off, but possible, I guess.”

“It is.”

“All I know is that as they get older, there’s even less of that.  So what does that leave them?   An awkward hug now and then?”

“Hmm.  And maybe a pat-down at the airport.”

“Yeah.  Exactly.  So that leaves me.”

He was right.  What really impressed me was that this guy would care enough to do his small bit.  Holding their neck, combing their hair, massaging their scalp.  A hand on the shoulder.  Shit.  I felt like a heel for bitching about it.

Once again, something revealed it’s true nature–something that had bugged me before–and now made me feel like a dick for resenting it.  I hate when that happens.  And trust me, it happens a lot.   Not surprising.   My knee-jerk interpretations of events are nothing but some slapped together immediate impressions stuck in the glue of some unexamined prejudices.  On a foundation of underlying fear.

My summary is usually worth the amount of time it took to come up with it.  Zero flat.

Beth called over to me.  “I’m almost done.”

“I’m good,” I told her, “Take your time.”

I go to Beth now.  As cool as that other barber was, he never got the hang of wrangling my cowlicks.  Not like Beth.  She knows my cowlicks.  She knows how to tame those beasts.

I looked at the pile of magazines.  None of them interested me.  I remembered how in jail I would’ve killed for a scrap of anything to read.  When I got locked up in Redondo Beach jail, they had a huge stack in the cell.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  Good stuff too.  Rolling Stone, Spin, Outdoor, and some hot rod mags with sexy chicks.  It was the quietest, cleanest jail I’ve ever visited.  Dark enough to sleep.  Light enough to read.  Two pillows, two blankets, and the whole cell to myself.  I could clock some hours in a set-up like that.

Of course, I got bailed out fast that time.  It figures.  Thanks anyway, Spike.  Good looking out.

Beth was trimming the old guy’s ear hairs.  Man, that is so gross.  Of course, not getting that done is even more gross.   If I didn’t cut that shit every other day, I’d have grey beards growing out of my ear holes.   That’s the most humbling thing about middle age.   Seeing stuff on yourself that even grosses you out.   A bouquet of nose hairs.   An ugly toe nail.  Bushy eyebrows that could earn you a bandstand seat at a Soviet Military parade.

Just getting gnarlier and gnarlier.  Until the only time anybody touches you is to shave your neck or attach heart monitors to your chest.

Alright, let’s not think about that.

Beth looks cute today.  Dig the knee-high leather boots.  Single mother from Georgia.  She works hard.  Her boy means everything to her.  I don’t think she’s dating.  Might not have the time.  I’m sure it’s logistically difficult for a single mom.  At least for one that cares about her kid.

That’s too bad.  I wish she’d find someone.  Some guy that takes a real liking to her little boy, and does all kinds of father shit with him.

Fishing.  Playing catch.  Camping out.  Mayberry father kind of shit.  Not guilt-tripping you about what a fuck-up you’ve become kind of shit.

I looked back at the pile of magazines.  Kanye and Kim.  Very important.  Can’t not take them away with you…when reviewing the year.  A year’s worth of some of the wildest shit imaginable, and I need to remember those two.  Two of the most forgettable creatures that ever used up air.  Remember them and push out something vital.  Like remembering to pay the cable bill.

I would rather pray to the ancestors of some Borneo headhunters than think about them.

Not to get all Max Von Sydow, but with the bullshit we fill our heads with as a society, it’s a wonder we can find our asses.  Is Snooky pregnant?  Is Hoda leaving?  Whatever happened to Chachi?  Will Bristol ever dance again?  Does Bonk-Bonk love Vagella?  Will Thog call off the wedding?  Will Yuddy Van Rence be killed off in the season finale?

Will Regis rise from the dead?

These are not questions.  These are pork rinds and Tab.  To stuff ourselves with while waiting to die.  Anything to avoid having to really live.  And wonder about important stuff.

Check this out.  We watch Reality TV.  Think about that.  We watch…Reality TV.  I have not mastered Reality, but I’ve seen a lot of it on television.

I get it though.  Confession time.  When Lori was gone one night, I watched two hours worth of Full Throttle Saloon.  There was some stuff I didn’t want to think about, so I zoned out on a bunch of white trash running a biker bar in Sturgis.  (And making more money than God doing it.)  Well,  I just got sucked in.  It was the owner, the dude with the mangy blonde dreads and no chin that I couldn’t stop staring at.  He just freaked me out.

Oh sure, there’s also lots of power-drinking miscreants, sexy scanties dancing around greased-pig poles, and sporadic outbreaks of drunken violence.   It’s basically lifestyle porn for domesticated hell-raisers.  So I lost myself in it for a while.  I let my nagging concerns circle the airport, burning up fuel.  Instead of looking at what I didn’t want to look at, I tried to count how many shots Fajita took, and wondered if Jessie ever banged Angie.  If Michael watched.

Finally, I snapped off the idiot box and faced my demons.  Might as well.  They didn’t seem to be antsy to leave anytime soon.  I’ve learned you can’t out-wait a demon.  And you’ll never outrun them.

The best way to confront them is in a very stern paternal way.  “Look you wicked little fuckers, I made you!  You are the products of my tortured mind and I appreciate what you’re trying to show me.  Now beat it.  Daddy’s got this.”

It seems to work.  Losing myself in other people’s drama doesn’t do it.  I’ve tried.  Even tried to lose myself in my own.

Beth undid the old guy’s bib.  That’s right.  A little powder on the neck.  Rub it in.  I bet he digs that more than if some tattooed dude did it.  Or maybe not.  He gets up to pay.  I stay seated.  I wait until she finishes with him.  Then I let her clean up a bit, and wait until she says she’s ready for me.  I used to hop up right away, because I was so pissed at having to wait.  Now I try not to sweat the barber like that.  I wait until they’re ready.

I also cut my own ear hairs before I go.  So nobody else has to deal with them.

Small improvement.

There’s my year in review.  A bunch of small improvements.  That hopefully add up.  It’s too early to tell.

I put my soda on her counter and sat down.

“Do you want a number two or three today?”

“Number two.  Cut it close, Beth.  I feel like I’m losing my edge.”

Hairstyling by Beth

Hairstyling by Beth

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

Wreckage Wreckage Everywhere, Not A Drop To Drink

Time to leave this party town behind.

My television was constantly blaring World War 2 documentaries.  I figured the annihilation of Stalingrad was an appropriate soundtrack to the destruction and chaos around me.  The night before, my friend from Ireland, Dez, had tried to break a Negra Modelo bottle on a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  He wanted to dramatically punctuate an anti-American diatribe he was delivering.

It was the 4th of July and he was drawing some serious stink-eye from the other patrons, but that just eggs an Irishman on.  They’re all closet demagogues, anyway.  Show me a rabble that needs rousing, and I’ll suggest an Irishman on his 9th beer.  They’ve got charisma.  The accent makes their words carry weight.  It doesn’t take much for a Celt to swing my vote for madness.  They make mayhem seem more lyrical.  Their drunkenness is of the old-timey, hanging-off-the-lampost-singing-Danny Boy variety, sometimes coupled with good-natured bare-knuckled fisticuffs.  It’s charming and lively.

I knew Dez liked America all right, but because he had an attentive audience, he couldn’t resist poking at the wasp’s nest.  He loved when events went “toh-tahlly wide-o,” and bodies started to tumble over each other.  The Irish don’t take fighting too personal.  Some of their best friendships start while two former opponents sit together and cool their black-eye bruises by rolling a nice cold pint across them.

But you weren’t going to get a chance to start up that kind of friendship, if you can’t get people to mix.  A full-on bar brawl is a great way to break the ice.  Dez was going to make sure we’d meet new people.

He was on a roll, getting all Michael Collins on the crowd, but probably using the C-word a lot more.  When he reached the climax of his rant he swung the bottle down hard.  It thunked.  He quickly tried to save the moment and banged the bottle down again, but it remained intact.  He tried one more time to no avail.  Feeling that he was losing his audience, he sat down defeated.  The waitress came by and took away the empty bottle.  We continued to drink, but now more quietly.

The next night, as we drank at my place, he expressed his amazement at not being able to break the bottle.  He picked up another bottle of Negra Modelo and (I swear) barely tapped it on my small table.  This time the bottle exploded showering every square inch of my tiny inefficiency apartment with slivers of brown glass.

“Well bravo, old boy,” I told him. “Just a pinch off in the timing department.”

“Can yah believe that one, eh?  Like some fooking magic trick”

I wasn’t too upset.  The place was already covered with broken glass from when I had gotten locked out and decided to punch out what I thought was a small pane of glass in the back door.  That small pane turned out to be a full door’s worth of glass, carefully disguised behind a faux frame fraudulently dividing it into what appeared to be small individual squares.  The final result of this decorative deception was spectacular. It was also too daunting a mess for the hairbrush and flattened Tecate box I was using as a broom and dustpan, so I just left it.

The average alcoholic learns to tolerate a lot of things normal people wouldn’t stand for.  An entire apartment covered in broken glass was a small thing.  Just ignore it like the bullet hole in the toaster, the deadly mold growing in the bathroom, and the burned taxidermy owl in the oven.  If there’s still a bunch of 16 ouncers hidden in the toilet tank, everything is fine.  Let the Nervous Nellie’s from Squaresville dither in a thither with their brooms sweeping up little spills.

Alcoholics have real problems, problems that can only be cleaned up by direct impact with the Meteor of Oblivion.

A few weeks later, Dez called me.  He was all exited.  He thought a bomb went off in his apartment.  All the windows were blown out from the inside, but he wasn’t sure what happened.  “Protestants?” I asked.  “Ah Jayzus, dere’s no way tah tell.”  When I got there the place looked like a scene from Londonderry during  the 70′s. Every single window, seven in all, were smashed from the inside.  He had been outside working on his van when the place blew up.  Strangely, everything inside was fine.  Not even the bong had been tipped over, and we knew how little it took to spill that bitch.

Never having stuck around long enough at a crime scene to be able to investigate one, we were at a loss while poking around for clues.  If there was anything different, it was the new fresh smell the place had.  Finally, he found a ruptured can of deodorant behind the radiator.  We figured out his cat, Scabby, had knocked over the can on to the radiator where it heated up until it blew. The concussion was enough to force all the windows out of the panes, but not to knock over the bong.  It was an impressive lesson in physics, especially for Scabby, who would not come out from under the couch.

It was late Saturday afternoon by then and felt like it was too late to go to a glass place.  A Santa Fe summer storm was blowing in fast so we decided to get trash bags and tape them up around the frames.  They didn’t have trash bags at Owl Liquors, so we decided to ride out the weather. We sat there drinking beer after beer while the wind and rain blew in from all sides.  The curtains were flapping around like mad ghosts. Occasionally, lightning would illuminate the whole place.  It was very cinematic.  “I feel like we were on a haunted pirate ship,” I announced.  “Aye, aye Cap’n,” Dez mumbled before his chin took a dive into his chest.

The next morning, the carpet was soaked.  The book shelves had crashed down across the glass coffee table, breaking it and the bong it supported.  The art posters were torn and curling up. The stereo was ruined, important court papers soaked in bongwater, and the cat was gone.  None of this was due to the elements.  It was the spontaneous bouts of kickboxing we’d erupt into.

The irony here was that the place had survived an aerosol bomb explosion, and a howling storm, but couldn’t survive us.  We assessed the damage as we looked around for leftover booze.  The damage was considerable, the leftover booze scarce.

We went and bought some windows.  The guy already knew us.  Sliding glass doors, faux-framed glass, and various bathroom mirrors having been replaced by us many times over.  Our way of supporting a local business.  He actually gave us a 10% good customer discount.  A rare break in the business of breaking things.

“Orale! Los Masters of Disaster!” he happily greeted us.

“Hey Manny, we need seven windows,” I told the guy.

“Good party?”

“Sart uv,” Dez said, picking out a splinter of glass from his finger.

The problem for the alcoholic with paying The Piper is the discriminatory loan shark interest rates he seems to charge us.  Our escape from reality seems to cost more.  Unfortunately, as much as it costs in wreckage, both material and emotional, we keep paying.  The vig is big, but the options seem worse.

Until we run out of resources, get incarcerated, or die, we don’t stop.  Healthy people don’t get that.  Why would they?  Hell, even we don’t get it.  At this point, the wreckage was piling up, but I could still drink my way around it.  It would be a little while longer before the big hammers started to come down.

Their shadows now hung over me as I swept the pieces of the bong into a snow shovel with a paper plate.

Dez must be feeling tired.

The Blogula Hits 10.000; Thanks To Freckled Breasts

Well, here we are at 10,000 hits, and all my problems are over.  I’ve been waiting for this moment.  When everything is redeemed.  When everything is glorious and I stand victorious.

I have conquered, and now reign cloaked in majesty and might.  My enemies lie slain around my golden sandals.

Somehow, I thought it would be better.  Maybe, 100,000 will do it.

It’s not that I am not grateful.  I’m certainly grateful to all the bizarre Eastern European spam that has driven up my numbers.  “You have many interesting points of valid depth.  Your expression is provoking many thoughts.  Your erection problems can be solved with medication from approved international pharmacy.”

I’m grateful to all the perverts and their sick and warped search engine terms that lead them to this place.  Some are understandable: “toothbrush shank,” “sap gloves,” “jack hammer crotch,” “lap dancing strip club manager,” “can a penis get conjunctivitis?”  At least there was some general matching reference to my published work.  But the other ones are rather esoteric and puzzling; “pneumatic penis milking machine,” ” leather gloved sniffing,” and my personal favorite, “fierce vagina factory.”  That must be the name of an all-girl punk band.

How did those search terms lead them to my work?  Do I really want to know what that means about me, and my work?

Hey, whatever, right?  Whatever crooked cyber path leads them to this blog is fine with me.  I’m like a whore that way.  Any search term will do.

However, the all-time champion is “Freckled Breasts.”  Freckled Breasts has brought more hits to this site than ANY other search term.  By far.

The freckled breast thing started when I wrote a piece about this biker chick I knew, and in it, mentioned her freckled breasts.  No big deal.  At least not to me.

Well, apparently freckled breasts are a really big deal to a whole bunch of other dudes.  Ladies, if you happen to have freckled breasts, let me assure you, there is an entire international army of men out there who can’t seem to get enough of them.  You might as well swell them out of your bras proudly.  Start harnessing the power they provide.  There are legions of men out there prepared to do your bidding,  just for a chance to paw at your sun dots.

For awhile, there was a freckled breast frenzy.  I’d get two to three hits every single day from a freckled breast search term.  They couldn’t have been from the same guy, since he would’ve been hip to the fact that all my piece provided was nothing more lurid than a casual mention.  I know that when surfing for your particular sickness, you remember those kinds of disappointments.  You never click on those twice.  No, these hits were coming from a bunch of different dudes.  Internationally too.

It became so common that one night, while sitting at the computer, I announced to my girlfriend, “Hey, no freckled breasts today!”  “You’re kidding,” she says.

It’s died down to just a hit now and then.  However, I imagine that this little cluster bomb, loaded with freckled breast references, will Google me into the big leagues of blogging. (I just re-read that last sentence.  I really am insane)

Anyway, I’m grateful for freckled breasts.  And while freckled breasts may have built this blog, it took many more hits to get this far.

The unwitting stooge clicking on a photo I posted, or a Facebook friend so desperately bored that reading this week’s entry beats re-reading the cereal box for the eleventh time.  I am grateful to you, dear reader.  You have brought me my greatest kick, writing for somebody, anybody.

I’m grateful to have anyone read anything I’ve written, whether by accident or on purpose.  I’m just grateful to be writing again, whether anyone else reads it or not.  So what’s my fucking problem?  Why do I feel so ambiguous?

I think it’s just Milestone Syndrome.  Reaching a point you’ve been waiting for, getting over the thrill, and then wondering “What the fuck now?”

My driver’s license, my first car, losing my virginity, my first handgun, my first legal drink, not having to pay money for sex, a steady job, my own place, my first live-in, beating my first felony rap, having an attorney on speed dial …they were all a big deal.  And then they weren’t.  I thought they’d make my life better, but whether they did is debatable.  They definitely made it different, and in a lot of ways worse.

So I didn’t have any illusions about reaching this momentous and crucial moment in the history of Mankind, when my generic WordPress blog reached an arbitrarily chosen number of clicks.  If I did seize on this moment, I knew the yoke of all human suffering would be hung around my neck.  I already struggle with bad posture.   So that would kind of suck.

Good thing I’m inoculated.  I know how to deal with things that suck.  That was what the first part of my life was all about.  Running and gunning through a booby-trapped obstacle course.  How I managed to not die is a testament to my wisdom and moderation in all things.  Level-headed, clear thinking is the key.

I guess that brings me to the thing I’m most grateful for, being alive in spite of my best efforts not to be.  So yeah, having a blog do semi-okay is pretty amazing.  But so is me being around to drop a piece of toast on the kitchen floor.  It is an absolute miracle that either can happen.  And I did it all without being burdened by things like common sense and reason.

Reason and common sense.  Most people have them, and do just fine.  But, take those inherent abilities and see what magic you can create by stewing them daily in judgement-impairing juice.  Now you’ve created something far more interesting.  This creature is very different.  Operates on an entirely different system.  If this…this thing can survive long enough to stop drinking, you’ve got a mutant on your hands.

The years of hangovers and emotional suffering have tempered it’s threshold pain tolerance.  It isn’t scared of the stuff normal people are.  Losing a job, a family, being sick, broke, in jail, close to madness, close to death.  Been there done that.  It’s all over-rated, but nothing to lose sleep over either.  For a guy like me, every day above ground is a victory of such dizzying intensity, that everything else is just gravy.

The other day, a buddy called me.  He’s like me, dig.  Also off the sauce.  He asks me if I’m going to be at a certain meeting.  I say yeah, and he tells me to be on the lookout for this one dude just coming in.  Fucker actually died his first day of work.  Spent the week-end on a bender, then sobered up one day for work.  He tells the boss he’s feeling dizzy and falls out into a full seizure and dies.  No pulse, no breath.

There’s some ex-military dude there, and he knows CPR and starts revving up his heart with a massage and even pumps some of his air into this guy’s lungs.  He keeps him alive until the paramedics get to him, and take him to the hospital.  He lives.  Now he thinks maybe he should look into getting sober.  Who knows why now?  Anyway, this friend tells me that Lazarus was going to be at the Men’s Wednesday Night Stag.  Or at least he said he was going to be.  Heard that before.

I go the meeting, recognize the dude from my buddy’s description and introduce myself.  I welcome him back among the living and wish him luck.  We sit through a fairly boring meeting.  At the end of it, the dude, splits before I can go over and talk with him.  Whatever.  It’s not like I run around trying to save lives.  I just try to make myself as available as I can.  I’ve had some of my most eloquent speeches fall on deaf ears, and a casually tossed remark change somebody’s life.  So, I don’t get too bent about what get’s heard or not.

The next day, I’m leaving the gym and heading out to my car.  There he is.  Trying to crawl out through the driver’s side from out of the passenger’s while some old woman waits smoking outside the car.  I thought he was drunk, but he wasn’t.  Her passenger door was broken, so that’s why he was crawling and sprawling all over the place.  Man, did I know that one.  The beater with the door that didn’t open.  For me it was always the driver’s side.  Anyway, he finally climbs out.  “Hey, look who’s here!” I say.

The old lady drives off, and we stand around and talk a bit.  He mentions he’s stressed about being homeless.  Not a sissy stress, by any means, totally understandable.  But this guy just died and came back.  I don’t think I would be stressing too much about being homeless at that point.

“Dude,” I tell him, “The way I see it, you just made it into the bonus round.”  Through no work or effort of his own, something saved his sorry ass.  Maybe, he was just lucky, but something about him told me he wasn’t the lucky type.

“By all reasons, you should be dead, and staying that way.  I don’t think you had much to do with that.  Something else was in charge.  Why don’t you let that something stay in charge for a while and see what happens.”  I told him most people live in fear of death, and that he could cross that one off his to-do list.  He could seize this moment and really go with it.  He could approach life fearlessly.  Dude, even death couldn’t kill you.  You need to embrace your mutanthood.

Just get out there, and completely dig everything that’s happening, like the holy madman you’re meant to be.

I don’t know if any of it sunk in, but like I said, I don’t sweat that too much anymore.  Anything that’s supposed to stick, will.

I’ll tell you what though, recounting the little pep talk I gave him has done wonders for me.  Man, I really told it like it was.  Then I hear what I call The Voice That Enlightens And Irritates Me At The Same Time, “What an inspirational message, Marius.  You do realize that little lecture you delivered was really more meant for you, don’t you?”

Now, whether I listen to myself, remains to be seen.  I guess anything that was supposed to stick, will.

Anyway, this randomly designated milestone comes at a fortuitous time.  It coincides with a little vacation I’m going to take.  After 46 or so straight weeks, I’m going to take one off.  I fucking need it.  Take a breath.  I need to see where I want to do with this thing, this blogula creature that seems to have a life of its own.  Should I kill it now, at the pinnacle of its success?  Or make it endure the rest of the course, like I myself have chosen to do?

Greatness is really great.