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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Raging Taurus

Beautiful and deadly!

Beautiful and deadly!

I’m training a new fighter.  A chick.  Em.  22 years old.  Natural jab.  Pivots her hips into her hooks.  Hits hard.  Really hard.  Not just hard for a chick hard.  But hard hard.  She also has Down Syndrome.  Which makes seeing her tear up the bag even more delightful.  Makes her one of the most wonderful women in the world to watch.  And I’ve watched a few.

But this one really rocks my world.

I’m holding a 70 lbs. heavy bag, and she is literally rocking my world.  When she lays one in, the bag swings me.  I can’t believe what I’m experiencing here.  Obviously her disability didn’t disable to her ability to kick some serious ass.  I’m hanging on for life, partly because she’s clocking me through the bag, and partly because I’m laughing so hard.

Just busting up thinking about the what the idiot who bothered her enough to warrant a beating would be experiencing right then.

Stiff jab, two rights, then torquing in a left body hook…deep.  Backing up and dropping to deliver the hammer groin strike I taught her.  She whips it up to a backhand to the head.  Then throws a knee back into the groin.  I wince at the thought.  She keeps beating them out.  This.  That.  That, again but harder.

I’ve turned her into some kind of M.M.A. monster, a one-woman pain train.  A raging bull.

How did I get so lucky?

I was working with her dad, her brother, and her cousin.  Just putting them through a physical regime I concocted–something based on the p.t. program of Sparta.  Hell, they’re all ex-drinkers.  They know how to take a beating and keep their whimpering internal.  Always a pleasure to train. Good lads, not afraid to vomit and push on.

We’d be working out at the park, and Em would come by while walking her dog.  She’d stop and chat.  I found her to be very charming and lovely. More importantly, our senses of humor clicked.  We got each other.  And when that happens you can relax.  You’re family.

So I was psyched to hear that Em and her mom also wanted to train with me.  They wanted to get their buff on and were ready to suffer.  Excellent.  More victims.  This should be fun.

I had no idea just how much.

Right off the bat, Em explained to me that she had Down Syndrome, but that she was high-functioning.  Okay.  High-functioning anything is good.  I wish I could be a high-functioning whatever model of disability I am.  My problem is that there are so many of them, I can never choose which one I should master.  Shit, I never even got to be a functional alcoholic.  So yeah, life isn’t fair.

Well, it turns out she was being modest.  Her personal achievements really turn the tables on who is actually “disabled.”  Let’s see.  She’s acted in films and on television.  (She has a SAG card)   And when she’s not acting, she writes stories and song lyrics.  Sings.  Dances.  Enjoys cooking and art.  Has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and film facts.  Plays multiple sports.  Lifts weights.  Goes to college.  Doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs.  Volunteers.  Takes care of animals and helps other special needs kids.  Oh, and has been invited to the White House, and asked to speak before Congress.

High-functioning, my ass.

That’s living better than most people I know.

Including me.

Hey now.  What’s the deal here?  I mean, I think I could still take her in a fight.  She’s giving up a lot to reach and weight advantage. (It’s my wonky left shoulder that might get me in trouble.  I can’t jab for shit anymore)  But other than that?  There’s nothing.  She’s better at everything else.

Doesn’t leave much to hang my hat on.

Yeah.  High-functioning.  Good for you.  Now beat it, kid.  You’re making me look bad.

Anyway, I started Em and her mom off with some basic stuff.  Running with the medicine ball over their heads.  Burpees with push-ups.  Jump rope.  Crunches.  Dumb-bell shoulder presses off one leg, on a balance disk.  Crawling under pretend Normandy barbed-wire.  One-legged butt-blasters.  (ladies love those)  Planks off the balance ball.  More running with the medicine ball over their heads.  More almost throwing up.

But never giving up.

The women turned out to be as tough as their men folk, and they seemed to be having fun.  I sure was.  Em was always cracking me up with the gems that rolled out of her mouth.

She’s quite eloquent.  Not just eloquent for a person with special needs, but eloquent eloquent.  She certainly has a better vocabulary than any of the bimbos on Bravo.

“Come on, Em.  Let’s do this.  Don’t be stubborn.”

“I’m not stubborn.  I’m obstinate.  It’s because I’m a Taurus.”

Oh man.  She just …kills me.

All the time.

One afternoon, I mentioned I had some boxing gloves and punching mitts in the car.  Em insisted I break them out.  She gloved up and started smacking.  A little awkwardly at first, but began landing a few with some zing.  She knew when she connected well, and adjusted her technique to replicate the results.   Well alright.  I took notice.  Do all people with Down’s punch this well?

After that, at the end of every p.t. session, she wanted to work on her hitting.  Her mom was cool with it.  Nothing wrong with a young lady knowing how to lay a smack-down if necessary.  Make some predatory perv think about things…while handcuffed to his hospital bed.

For Christmas her dad got her a heavy bag and her own gloves.   So we started beating on that.   I taught her more stuff.  With each lesson, she got better.  And better.  She knows how to take direction.  I’ll  suggest something and she does it, and then remembers to keep doing it.

I wonder what that would be like.

I only had to remind her to keep her gloves up a few times, early on.  After that, they’ve stayed up.  It’s crazy.  I’m always having to harp on my clients, “Keep your hands up! Keep your hands up!”  Not with Em.  She keeps her hooks in close.  Turns on the ball of her feet.  Snaps her jabs out sharp, but doesn’t try to homer with them.  Uses them to set up her next punch.  Mixes up her head and body shots well.

Snaps a twist on the end of her jab to maybe open a cut.

Snaps a twist on the end of her jab to maybe open a cut.

Keeps those mitts up.

Keeps those mitts up.

Pretty soon, I felt like I was witnessing some kind of miracle thing.  There was some natural ability we’ve tapped into here.  She’s got some God-given talent to whup ass.  And I have been sent to help deliver it.  I must abide by my Creator’s wishes.

I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a boxing coach.  I’m an ex-bouncer.  That punchity punch-punch stuff is okay, but in the real world, brawling rarely comes down to dancing around a bar room floor while exchanging jabs.  It’s a lot of kicking, clawing, and gouging.  Stuff that really works.

I started teaching her how to scrap.  How to use her elbows and knees.  I even taught her The Ron Martinez Belly Bopper, a move I watched a fellow bouncer use with great success.  It’s just a simple open hand thrust into the center of your opponent’s mass.  It doesn’t sound like much, but if you do it quickly, and really rally some meat behind it, it’ll send dudes tumbling over several cocktail tables.  It’s also a low-profile strike.  Harder for witnesses to see than a Hollywood jaw shot.

“C’mon Em, become Ron Martinez.  Really get your bull on.”

I’ll swing the bag and watch her time her thrust for maximum penetration.

“Ole!”

Making Ron Martinez proud. Somewhere.

Making Ron Martinez proud. Somewhere.

I’m teaching this girl with Down Syndrome a move I learned from an crazed Vietnam war vet bouncer in Santa Fe, over twenty years ago.  How awesome is life?  She’s just got to remember to be sneaky about it.  Ron never telegraphed the Belly Bopper.  He also shot it out low so the crowd couldn’t see it.  Once your mark goes down, grab a salt shaker off one of the tables and bring it down on his eye as he’s getting up.  C’mon Kid.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

She’s improving.  And she keeps improving.  Who knows where she’ll be a year from now?

We also work on breaking out of holds via groin strikes.  A woman actually only has to think about throwing a groin strike and a male will instinctively start to cover up.  It has something to do with our only reason for living.  Regardless, she knows not to bet the bank on a ball-bonker, but to follow up with a foot stomp and throat shot.  Oh, and that kicking somebody when they’re down depends on what they did, and if you can time it to the beat of whatever song is playing over the juke box.  Keep it cinematic.

Going DOWNTOWN!

Going Downtown!

My choke-hold is about to loosen quickly.

My choke-hold is about to loosen quickly.

It’s not like I expect her to be able to walk into a country western joint and bitch-belt a shot glass into the teeth of some cowboy drinking at the bar.  Just drop his bony ass.  While the band plays Boot Scoot Boogie and security swarms.

Unless, that’s something she some day wants to do.  Then I’ll support her dream.  In the meantime, she’s getting some exercise, and a healthy place to take out any life frustrations.  And learn some skills she’ll hopefully never have to use.

That’s it.  That’s all I bring to the table.  But what she shows me, teaches me, gives me, is much more profound.  She has brought more joy and delight to this recovering alcoholic than he seemed worthy of.  Spending time with her is the highlight of my week.  I personally believe that angels will sometimes take human form.  What I can’t believe is that I’ve gotten to teach one how to take out a knee.

It’s been very rewarding.  I’ve gotten to actually see what makes a successful human.  It starts from the love they emit outwards.  That love is irresistibly returned by those around them, and that creates a force field that makes all those within it thrive.

Thank you, Em, for welcoming me into that force field, and helping me thrive.  God knows, I can use the help.

We will destroy you, ibut only f you're not nice to us.

We will destroy you, but only if you’re not nice to us.

9 Years Without A Drop To Drink

Good to the last drop.

Good to the last drop.

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

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

“Hey Eddie, how’s it hangin’, bro?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dude, that sounds like some crazy shit.”

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

“Uh, yeah…that’s cool.”

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

“What does?”

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

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

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

“Oh for sure, bro.”

Silence laden with subtext.

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

“I will,  Ace.  From behind.”

“Nice.  Take it easy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah fuck it.  Disregard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Polite applause sputtering to silence.)

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

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

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

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

(Silence.  Scattered coughing)

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

(Applause)

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

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

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

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

All sober and shit.

All sober and shit.

You’re Not Going To, So Don’t Try

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to get in shape this year, as a professional personal trainer, I would like to encourage you…to forget it.  You’re not going to do it.  You are going to fail, just like every year.  How’s that for some refreshing candor and honesty?

Save yourself the anguish of yet another blown New Year’s resolution, and don’t even try.

If you don’t try, you can’t fail.  Or maybe, you just need to try harder.  Yeah.  That one always works.

Let’s face it, if you could have done it, you already would have.  In fact, statistically, you are more likely to be struck by lighting while making love to an albino Indian in a canoe, then you are to keep any New Year’s resolution about getting fit.

One morning, when I lived in Redondo Beach, I walked out on the porch and saw the entire beach covered with running people.  At first, I thought it was some catastrophe.  Everybody running around in a panic.  Then I realized it was New Year’s Day.  My God.  How pathetic.  How predictable.  The next day there was half as many.  By the third day the beach was empty again.  Big surprise.

Every January at the gym, the crowds swarm.  Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, people show up in their new Christmas gift work-out gear, ready to turn over a new leaf.  And every year, they fly away, before the month is over–way, way, way before their three-year, automatic payment withdrawal contract is over.  By February, it was always back to  the same faces you’ve been seeing all year.

I worked at a Gold’s Gym for seven years.  Even though we were signing up new people all the time, you never saw them more than once or twice.  After that, they would just disappear.   The ones that were making a real honest stab at it usually packed it in after three weeks.  Thing was, our shark-efficient sales team had already shock-collared their checking accounts.

We had a slick sales gang.  Ghetto hustlers and ex-con sharpsters.  They called themselves “The Felony Fitness Crew.”   They weren’t about to throw any cold water on your fevered delusions about becoming a Greek statue.  No, sir.  Create Value.  Establish Rapport.  Get Routing Number.

I used to love listening to them laugh and joke after making a big sale.  Lot’s of high-fives while pantomiming prison rape.

“I banged their culo for $89.00 EFT, baby!  Didn’t even use lube, brah-ther!”

“Fitness Starter Pak, bitch!  $499. prepaid year with nutritional counseling, carnal.”

“EEEE-hoh-la-chingada-madre!

Both hands grabbing out to imaginary shoulders and pelvic-thrusting at air ass.

Those guys were a riot.  I miss them.

Anyway, if you have ever joined a gym and didn’t go, don’t feel bad.  Lots of people do that.  You should feel bad for joining a gym though.  Not a lot of people do that.  Letting them into your checking account was a big mistake too.  What the fuck were you thinking?

That you finally had it with the way you looked?  Sure.  I understand.  But apparently, you didn’t hate it enough to really do anything about it.  Or stay doing it.  That’s okay.  I don’t encourage hating the way you look as a motivator.   That only takes you so far, and makes the experience of working out, all the more miserable.  Which everyone will tell you is the key to success.

No, bad body image seems to demand replication in form.  Some kind of cosmic law.  So all your fist-shaking resolve, bold pronouncements and sworn oaths are worthless.

Hate your body, and it will hate you right back.  I can promise you that, on everything that is sacred to me.

I suggest trying to be grateful for whatever body you got stuck with.  Just because it’s not walking the red carpet is no reason to hate it.  Start with being glad it can even walk.  Can you move?   Are you somewhat ambulatory?   Well, that calls for some celebration.  If you were laying in a hospital bed, paralyzed, you’d be wishing you could be your old, flabby, but moving, self.

So being able to move is awesome, but if you’re lazy like me, it’s easy to resent ever having to.  I tend to forget that just moving around is a miracle of mechanics.  Neurons firing, nerves twitching, muscle fiber lengthening and shortening, bones pivoting around.  It’s crazy shit.

Freak out on it.  At first, it’s just enough to get into moving, and maybe…using stuff.  Light weights, slow treadmill, remedial Yoga class, whatever.  Add a spirit of play into it.  Throw a Frisbee around.  Play hopscotch.  Shadow-box to Static X’s Wisconsin Death Trip.  Dance around the room like you’ve come down with St. Vitus.  Anything is better than the years of nothing.  Set the bar low, so you’re sagging ass can easily step over it.  The less you can make it suck, the better.  Eventually, if you stay at it, you will naturally reach out for more challenging forms of play.

People who are active, tend to want to stay that way.

There’s a lot of ways to head-fuck yourself into getting active, but in order to want to stay active, you have to find something you enjoy.  Sometimes that takes time, and may require a few misses.  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Don’t feel bad about not liking something.  All my life, somebody seemed to be trying to make me feel bad for not liking something.

“For crissakes!  That was a classic movie!  One of Orson Wells’ greatest masterpieces!  How could you not like it?” or “It’s cheese cake!  Everybody LOVES cheesecake!”  I just shrug.  If they only knew the truth.  I don’t like most movies.  Period.  And, even though I hate cheese cake, I’ll eat it, because I don’t care about food.  It’s just plug.

Disneyland.  Dinner theater.  Magic shows.  Parades.  Monopoly.  Card games.  Amusement parks.  Christmas morning.  The latest based-on-a-bestseller, breath-taking, Academy-award nominated cinematic thrill-ride.  Chart-topping pop sensation.  Widely-anticipated sequel.  Old family favorite.  Ratings hit.  You name it.

If a lot of people like it, it probably leaves me flat, and does not motivate me to participate.  So I get not being into things.  Especially if they require a modicum of self-propulsion, and you’re a lazy, fat fuck.  That said, there still must be something active that you would like to do.  Even chasing a wayward kite around the beach is a good start.

“I like to waddle down the mall while cramming an ice-cream cone into my pie-hole.  Does that count?”

“Sure it does!  And after your stroke, we can play squeeze the rubber ball!”

And be grateful we can squeeze.

Look, if you can’t find any physical activity, out of the thousands of different ones available, then I strongly suggest you get okay with dying a fat load.  It’s not the worst thing.

In fact, it’s one of the things that makes America great.  We have more people dying because they’re fat than because they starved.  So kick out the Lazy-Boy into recline, and help yourself to another Rice Krispy Treat.  There’s probably a good show on TV.

Just don’t make any New Year’s resolutions about getting into shape.

I’m sick of hearing them.

Says it all.

Says it all.

I Sold Out To The Mann.

I slammed the door in front of him causing him to run into it with his chocolate shake.  He smashed the cup right into his jacket, and now the ice cream was running down into his pants.  At first, when he looked down, he was sad.  All that delicious treat… ruined, and now soaking into his clothes.

However, by the time he looked up at me, he had already turned his sad into mad.  After all, he was on his way to sneaking into a free movie with his delicious chocolate beverage, when some person stepped in and fuckered it all up.

I was that person.  I was Marius Gustaitis, hired representative of Black Knight Security, sub-contracted to Mann Theaters for twenty dollars an hour (ten of which I would keep before taxes) and your worst nightmare, Mr. Sneak-in-while-other patrons-exit-the-back.

I bet you never figured on running into a petty and pissed-off dry drunk in need of either a program of recovery or a case and a half of ice cold sweating bottles of Heineken.  I bet you never thought when you saw that open door, that a man, strung tighter than a meth addict’s banjo, was watching it intensely, like an animal snare, just waiting for someone to trip it.

Well, you tripped it alright, and now you’re dangling upside down from a tree limb like a Piñata representing everything wrong with his picture.  Is it time to rip your head off and bludgeon your sagging torso with it?  Gosh, I hope so.  That would be swell.  What time is it?

“What the fuck, dude?!” he said, backing off and squaring his shoulders, then flipping his hands out in the universal sign for querying, ” Do you want some of this?”  Ah, the old Come-and-Get-It stance, except his had a coating of cool chocolatey creaminess that took down the threat-level a peg or two.  If he was going to come after me, he would’ve done it a long time ago.  Myself, I wouldn’t be asking a bunch of questions.  You food me, and I go into a red-out.  Just another thing I have.

“No happy show for you.  Only bad times,” I said, the adrenaline taking a toll on my eloquence.  I sound like an angry, Chinatown merchant, I thought.  Buck fever.  You see them in the cross-hairs and the scope starts to shake.  So close.  Don’t scare him off.  Don’t let him see The Crazy.  Calm down.  Goad him back in.

“You should be a good citizen ship,” I told him, “And sail straight, observing all bylaws.”

There I was, a middle-aged man in a suit and tie, with a thimbleful of authority, spouting off some some square do-gooder pablum.  That would have me swinging.  Do it.  Please take a swing.

They never do.  Not when you really want them to.  It never happens.  Never.  He smelled it.  His animal instincts were dialed in.  No, this suit is stuffed with explosives.

“Chocolate shakes are bad for you,” I scolded,” You need sunshine and exercise.”   I even managed my Happy Face with Bright Eyes, but to no avail.  He turned and beat it down the alley.

Alright, that was still semi-okay.  At least I ruined his night.  That’s something.  Nobody was going to have a good time on my watch.

Not if I’m not.

I walked back around to the front of the theater.  Out on the promenade, some long-legged sex bomb clacked by in ice pick heels, swinging a vintage Whiting and Davis purse.  I smiled.  She smiled back.  Dude, she totally wants you.  Or, she will once she finds out you’re a 40 year-old, non-drinking alcoholic, working as a rent-a-cop for a movie theater.

You’ll get some leg tonight, for sure.  That was a woman, right?  I didn’t see any Laryngeal prominence, but her mitts looked a little ping-pong paddley.

I went back inside the theater and took my post towards the back, where I could keep an eye on the patrons coming in and any renegades trying to cross-pollinate theaters.  Not that I cared about Mann Theaters losing out on money, or any kids seeing a movie with a higher rating.  I just didn’t like the idea of anyone thinking they got over on me.  Mine was an ego-based sense of justice.  I was beginning to understand the mind-set of cops and prison guards.

How bleak.  How utterly demoralizing.  This was my reward for giving up beer.  I don’t know if any reward would’ve seemed big enough at that point, ungrateful wretch that I was, but this job sure wasn’t it.

Let me back up.  After rehab, my buddy, Spike, invited me to stay with him in Redondo Beach.  What the hell.  It was hard knocking around Santa Fe sober.  I felt like some alien had invaded my body and was now making me live someone else’s life, somebody who doesn’t stop in at The Cowgirl Hall of Fame for a few pints of Guinness and a frozen Margarita kicker before hitting the liquor store on his way home from work.  It was just too disconcerting.

I took Spike up on his offer and loaded up my internally bleeding Ford Bronco II, and pointed it’s overheating radiator West.  I stretched a cumulus cloud of white smoke across two state lines and stopped when I hit ocean.

Spike was a good bro.  He let me sleep on his couch rent-free until I could afford to pay towards a larger apartment.  He really wanted to see me make it.  Looking back, probably more than I did.

My first job was working for a florist named Gary.  I saw the help wanted sign and walked in.  I told him the whole truth: almost 30 years of drinking, destroying my life, crashing and burning, rehab, now trying to live sober, and looking for a job while surfing a buddy’s couch down the street.  A Fortune 500 resume if he ever heard one.  It turned out that this charming little bald, gay man, was 20 years sober, and I had just aced my interview.

I got along with Gary and the ladies that worked for him.  Because my mom had always been into floral arrangement, I pretty much grew up around it.  I knew how to put together a Japanese Ikibana arrangement by the time I was eleven.  I know.  Pretty gay.  Not that there’s anything wrong with gay.  I just wasn’t, and would’ve rather learned to shoot skeet or drive a tractor by eleven instead.

Now however, being able to spike some pussy willows into a shallow vase, taking care to divide the branches to represent Heaven, Earth, and Man according to Japanese tradition, was winning me big points with my new boss, and his harem of female workers.  Big thanks, Mom.  The ladies and Gary liked my stories and would laugh as I recounted my drunken misadventures while we sat around assembling wedding centerpieces.  They didn’t seem to think less of me because of my past.  At least they didn’t show it, and I really appreciated that.

I wound up picking up another job as well.  I got a job as a bouncer at a strip club in Gardena.  So, during the day I played with flowers with a bunch of giggling gals, and at night, I tussled with drunk and drug-crazed degenerates, and hung out with strippers, at a ghetto flesh joint.  It was a full life to be sure.  I was enjoying the novelty of sobriety.  Stuff like having my boss walk up to me and not having to bend at a 45 degree angle at the ankles to avoid him smelling my breath.  I thought that all my problems were over now that alcohol was out of the picture.

The problem was that the alcoholic was still in the picture, and this one not doing anything to fix what was troubling him so much in the first place.  The novelty of not being drunk eventually wore off, and things began to bug me like before.  But now, I had no release.  So I just gutted it all up and tried to hold my mud as best I could.  If you pressed your ear to the lapel of my suit, you would hear the ticking of the time bomb.

I became a raging square.  I morphed into some kind of uptight Jack Webb, an angry middle-aged white man, resentful of anyone I suspected might be happier or having more fun than me, which when you’re that miserable, is everyone.

I remember when C.C., one of the dancers from the club, took me to Venice Beach one afternoon for lunch.  Instead of enjoying  the company of a pretty stripper on a beach full of freaks, I spent the date sneering at the colorful populace and mumbling epitaphs under my breath.  All the free-wheeling wierditry irritated me.  We’d pass by some rollerskating cosmic troubadour trying to hustle his next forty ounce, and I’d just hate on him.

“Good for you, Ding-Dong Daddy.  Wave your freeloading freak flag high, you bongo-beating, rainbow dong thong-wearing parasite.  Go ahead, use up all the freedom and fun under the warm California sun.  Some of us have to work for a living.”  Yeah, basically jealous. and when you’re  jealous of a lunatic panhandler, your way of life isn’t working for you.  More coffee.  More cigarettes.  More anger.

One of the other bouncers at the club, an ex- Marine named Joe Washington, had gotten a side job with a security company.  He told me this company provided executive security, something I was not entirely unqualified for, since my work credits in Central America would transfer.  Far out.  A jaw-clenching reactionary providing a little muscle to escort self-important paranoidals seemed like a perfect fit.  A God shot.  But there was a catch.

Joe explained, that the only openings the owner had were for providing suit-and-tie security for a few Mann movie theaters in L.A., including the one in Westwood where they held all the big openings.  But, as real body-guarding positions opened up, we’d be first pick.

I met with the owner and told him a little about my qualifying work experience, leaving out the couch-surfing-alcoholic-trying-to-stay-sober stuff.  He hired me and gave me a black t-shirt with a logo of a stylized knight chess piece.  “Dark Knight Security,” it said, “Knows Your Next Move.”  I remember he gave it to me almost ceremonially, like he was handing me an ancestral samurai sword.  I mean it was a quality t-shirt, you know, one of those Beefy Tees, but it was still just a t-shirt.  And a presumptuous one at that .

Regardless, I got a third job in as many months, was building up some savings, and soon enough, would be body-guarding the rich and famous.  That wouldn’t have happened if I was drinking.  I decided to drop the florist gig, so that I could dedicate more time to becoming the baddest sober bad-ass I could.

I ran the beach, biked to Marina Del Rey and back, worked out on my bag, and lifted weights like a convict.  The exercise did me good.  I shed the last of my beer muscles and leaned out.  I got back to my fighting weight.  I looked good in my suit again.  It would only be a matter of time before I was shepherding some rich sheep safely through this wilderness of pain known as Los Angeles, California, a pair of .40 caliber pistols strapped across my bullet proof.  I just had to wait it out at these stupid movie theater posts in the meantime.

What I didn’t know then, was that the meantime, would be the only time.  There were no body-guarding positions with this company.  It was all bullshit.  The owner was an ex-L.A.P.D. cop that had to suddenly resign from the force.  We could never piece together his story why, but Joe and I had our suspicions.  After a while though we did piece together that he was just stringing us along.  The only jobs he had for us were as rent-a-porkers, but in suits and ties instead of the standard Boy Scout/Crossing Guard uniform.

My first night was at the theater over on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  I stood in the lobby, trying to front all Secret Service sinister while watching families and couples spill popcorn across the carpet, when it hit me like a bolt.  Oh fuck.  I’ve done this before.  When I was eighteen I got a job working as an usher at a Mann Theater.  It was now over twenty years later, and here I am again back at Mann Theaters, basically doing the same thing, and adjusting for inflation, getting paid the same.

Sure, my suit was better than the polyester, Mid-Western realtor’s jacket and tie they made me wear back then.  But, if that’s all you have to show for twenty years of evolution, a better monkey suit, you’re not setting the world on fire with your ascent up the social ladder, Rocket Boy.  I was right back where I was before my drinking took off.  Back at square Go.  The irony of it all stained my lips and teeth black with it’s bitter berry juice.

I was usually shuffled between two theaters, the one at Third Street Promenade playground of the well-to-do in Santa Monica, and a more run-down one in Culver City, with a lower-income, higher-gang member demographic.  At which one do you suppose I had all the problems?  Think about it.  You got it.

I never had any problems at the Culver City one.  I’m not kidding.  There they would be, Bloods and Crips, watching the same movie together, behaving like good little boys and girls.  I suspect there was a general truce regarding theaters, neither side wanting to fuck up being able to go to the movies in peace.  Sure, there were the usual sneak-in attempts and theater jumpings, but they never gave me a hard time when I caught them.  It was understood we were playing a cat and mouse game and there were no hard feelings.

I even had to empty the whole place one night, in the middle of everyone’s movies, because of a fire alarm.  There was some grouching and irritated questions, but nobody went ballistic.

Meanwhile, back in Santa Monica, I’m squared off and ready to start trading hooks with some dad, wearing a sweater tied around his shoulders and soft leather driving loafers.  He insists on bringing in his leftover spaghetti dinner against the no outside food policy.  He didn’t want to go put it away in his car because…he didn’t want to miss the previews to this Disney movie he was taking his family to.  I swear to you.  I’m not making this up just to create great literature.

I’m thinking, “It’s spaghetti with meat sauce, dude.”  This guy looks like he owns an Audi dealership, and he’s blowing a shit fit over 77 cents worth of food.   If those previews are so precious, I would take the foil tray outside and drop kick it over the sunglasses kiosk across the way.  This guy was willing to risk getting his ass kicked in front of his family over it.

He’s up in my face, seething with rage, white hot spittle foaming in the corners of his mouth.

“It’s the principal!  The principal!” he keeps sputtering.

Everybody in the lobby has stopped to look.  The manager, Mike, is hanging back watching.  I didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved at this point.  A guy like this one is usually well-lawyered.  They don’t get this bold without knowing they can hang you with a juicy law suit.  Is this his game?  Is he trying to bait me into taking  the first shot?  Interesting role-reversal.  Maybe he thinks a shot is the chops is worth a three week vacation in Vanuatu, including the  jet-ski rental, on-call masseur and helicopter tours.

All this going through my head as he’s screaming at me.  His wife has got the kids, but she’s not trying to pull him back or calm him down.  She must be in on it.  The kids don’t seem to be too freaked out either.  Have you seen Daddy do this before?

“I am going to bring this dinner in with me,” he announces, “I am walking in, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That’s where he was wrong, of course.  I’m mentally spinning a Lazy Susan of choices.  I recognized that his assholeness should have consequences, but how painful those should be was now being mitigated by the presence of his family, and the possibility of legal repercussions.  This was not stuff I worried about when I was drinking.  But what would be an appropriate response to punish this impudent and petulant little turd?  Just the right amount of pain sprinkled over a generous portion of shame.

That’s when I realized my old behavior wouldn’t serve me.  Sure I could kick out his knees and rub his snout into the rug like a bad doggy, forever scarring his kid’s image of him as Daddy Hero.  And while that would be deeply satisfying and personally gratifying, I might eventually regret it.  Why not play his game instead?

I decided that if he so much as brushed against me on his way to the Disney previews, I would go down like an NFL punter.  Totally take a dive, making sure to hit my head hard on the floor, so hard that I might night be able to recognize relatives or pronounce words with more than once consonant.  “I can’t feel my penis. What’s wrong with me, Doctor?”

We’ll see who winds up jet-skiing in Vanuatu, bitch balls.

“Please don’t make impotent threats. I command you to halt,” I said, holding my hand up, but splaying the fingers slightly to suggest a weak defensive gesture, my wrist bent almost effeminately.  I also used “impotent” on a hunch.  Hot button?  Hoped so.

Unfortunately, I have a bad poker face.  People can read the thoughts going through my head with the ease of a teleprompter.  As soon as I decided I would hit him where it hurt most, namely his Audi dealership, dry-cleaning franchise, or whatever enterprise had shod his hoofs with such elegant supple leather slippers, he started to balk.  His animal instincts were dialed in.

Instead, he looked up.  His rage was gone.  He was now weighing things in his head.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to telepathically implant crazy violent ideas, trying to stave off the sanity I saw leaking in.  C’mon, bust a move motherfucker!  Just shove the flunky theater security lug out of the way on your march towards victory.  Run for the roses.  Trample those that deny you your spaghetti leftovers underfoot, in the fierce day of your pride.

He turned to his wife.

“I’m going to take this out to the car.”

I watched him walk out of the theater, and with him, my hopes for getting out of this stupid job.  They never go for it when you really want them to. They never do.  Never.

There would be no quick fix to my situation.  Alcoholics prefer their fixes quick.  Deus ex Machina, descend upon our wretchedness!   No, I was going to have to learn how to wait.  Maybe things were unfolding at just the right pace.  How could you ever really know?  Except maybe in retrospect.  I resigned myself to think so, if only to delude myself into not being so uptight.  What the hell, right?  You can believe whatever you want.  You might as well believe something that helps you make it through another day with out taking  a drink.  Unless, you don’t want to make it through another day without taking a drink.

In that case, carry on.  You know what you have to do.

I went back to my post and checked my watch.  Two and a half more hours to go.  I looked up and saw two teenagers jump the ropes and run for theater 4.  They looked back at me.  I waved.  Fuck it.  Enjoy yourself, kids.  I’ll do my best, too.

Wishing you a happy show.

A Tale of Two Rehabs

My first rehab was in Laguna Beach.  My second one was in North Hollywood.  I could see the ocean from my window at the first one.  My view from the second featured a neon clown in front of a liquor store.  The first time was in July.  The second was in January.  I got a tan at the first one, and a flu at the other.  I could make out with chicks in my room at the first rehab.  I was written up for making “sustained eye-contact with the opposite sex” at the other.  You get it. Very different.  Different results, too.

At the second rehab, my roommate was a Russian gang-banger from Montebello, who had gotten accepted into a hispanic gang.  I’ll let you figure out how.  He was a young guy with a shaved head, baggy pants, and lots of homegrown ink.  His family moved from Russia when he was five, and he quickly adapted to his new environment.  Boris from The Black Sea was a bad-ass little fucker, and as far as I was concerned, an immigrant success story.

Back then, the second place was full of people being diverted from prison into rehab instead.  Most just did what they would’ve done if they were locked-up.  I looked out at the yard while I was still in detox.  There were guys in beanies and denim coats playing dominoes or walking the track, dropping now and then to do burpees or push-ups.  They wore work pants and flannel, either house shoes or white sox and shower sandals, all de rigueur for the perennially institutionalized.  I wasn’t in Laguna Beach anymore.

Boris and I became friends.  He was a funny dude, and we connected.  The laughs worked like Bondo on the more gaping fractures in my soul.  One night while he was sharpening a toothbrush handle into a shank, I told him about the first rehab.

The irony was that while at the second place, I was surrounded by some seriously sketchy characters, it was at the fun-filled, beach condo rehab in Orange County, where I really worried for my safety.  And, the danger came in the strangest guise.

It started with Granny.  They brought her in on my sixth day there.  She was a crazy, white-haired, 80-year-old woman, who the staff told us, stabbed her husband while she was drunk.  “She didn’t kill him, so…”  So what?  So now she get’s to come in here and live with us for a while?  Oh fuck that.  An 80-year-old man wouldn’t get that kind of slack.  His dentures would be soaking on a bunk in Corcoran.  What gives?

“Dude, that’s fucked up,” Boris said.  He took out his lighter and heated up the toothbrush.  After warming up the plastic, he began pulling and flattening it, then went back to sharpening.

“Why don’t you just go downstairs and get a knife from the cafeteria?”

“I don’t know, it’s just something to do. Go on.”

She wasn’t the cute and cuddly kind of old woman either.  She had mean eyes and sneered a lot.  A Madame Defarge.  She was cantankerous and crotchety, but she could put on her grandma mask when it served her.   I saw her smile at one of the counselors and “Yes dearie” him, but as soon as he turned away, her face soured into glaring hatred.  She was working the system, biding her time until…she could strike again.

I watched her carefully during meals.  Why does she need a steak knife for cutlet?  Give her a butter knife, or better yet, a wooden spoon.  If this old bitty decides to go wide-o with a blade, it’s going to be hard to take her down.  You can’t just run up and belt the old broad.  Clobber her with a fire extinguisher, and you’re going to do time, whether she came at you with a knife or not.  No, there’ll be a lot of dancing around, avoiding her swipes and pokes, while trying to grab for the shiv.  I hate to depend on finesse.  Things tend to get clumsy when the shit erupts.  I had decided I would use my food tray as a shield, protect the vital organ, and just play defence until SWAT got there.

“I’d just tip the table on her and bolt,” Boris said.  Crude, but effective.  I had to admit his idea was better.  That was a breakthrough for me, accepting the fact that somebody else might have a better idea.  Of course, this nugget of realization was nestled in some insane thinking, but any realization at that point was a victory.

It turned out Granny was the least of my worries.  I told Boris about Jimmy The Geek.  One day, one of the counselors brought up to my room a google-eyed, belt-above-the-naval, dorkenhoffer with a Vicodin problem.  I’ll call him “Jimmy.”  He was going to replace the snoring pharmacist that checked out that morning.  Good, I thought, maybe now I can get some sleep.  Strange thing was, that although this guy was a Class A, textbook version of nerdhood, my body reacted to him in primal fear.  I swear to you, the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I shook his hand.  I had no idea why.  It just did.

The first thing he did, after shaking my hand and introducing himself, was hand me a piece of paper.  It was a Xeroxed copy of an old Newsweek article.  “You need to read this,” he says.  “Yeah, sure,” I say. “No really, you NEED to read it!”  “Okay,” I tell him.  I didn’t feel like reading Newsweek right then.  It’s old news when it comes out fresh, so a Xerox from the 80’s was really going to be stale.  I glance down at the article.  It was something about a little kid who stabbed his parents while they were sleeping.  He didn’t kill them.  So what?  Who cares?  I folded it up and put it in my pocket.

There was something odd about this bug-eyed dweeb, something beyond his looks, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Something menacing about him.  Ah, I was tripping.

“Dude, that’s the guy!  He’s the one in the paper, as a little kid.  He’s the sleep stabber!”  Boris was excited.  He was now listening wide-eyed.  He had his knees up to his chin.

“Yeah okay, you’re fucking up my story, dude.” I told him, “I didn’t snap to this yet, alright?”

“Dense, bro.”

I continued to tell him about how during some of the meetings that day, Jimmy “shared” about some of the bad things he did.  I’d rather not say here what, but they were disturbing.  Even Boris was a little shocked.  Enough said.  The meetings took on a heavy vibe of disgust as Jimmy let us get to know him better.  So, this was my new roommate.  Jolly good.

During one of the breaks, I remembered the article and pulled it out.  It was about some parents suing the psychiatrist that prescribed their son’s psych meds.  The kid stabbed them while they slept, and they had to blame someone.  In the article, the shrink claimed that the kid didn’t show any danger signs before this incident.  In the margin, written in pencil, someone wrote “Oh yes HE DID!!!!!!!!”  Hmm.  There were other annotations, all made by someone with an apparent personal involvement with the events reported.

Okay, this was a little kid…but… the article was almost ten years old.  I wasn’t delighted in the way things were adding up.  I looked at the name of the kid.  It was “Jimmy.”  Interesting.  Same name as the sick psycho fuck who handed me this Xerox telling me I NEED to read it.  Could there be a connection?  Boris started howling.

“I fucking knew it!” he laughed, “No sleep tonight for you!  Your bunky might get stab-happy. Did you stick him first?”

“Dude. I’m in rehab, not Pelican Bay.  I can’t shank the dude because he creeps me out.  I was tempted to puss out and complain to staff, but how would that look?”  He nodded.  “So I tried to become his best buddy, that is, after I secured a huge cake knife under my mattress.”

Unfortunately, as Jimmy and I became buddies, he opened up more.  He shared more, and I got scared more.  Personally, I thought drugs were the least of his problems, although I’m sure they didn’t help.  At lights out, Jimmy informed me that he also had a condition that made him unable to sleep for days at a time, which he warned might make him crankier when he started to kick.  He said he would probably just spend the night sitting up, “trying to maintain.”  Great.

“I’ll be here for you, brother,” I said, my fingers tucked under my mattress.

Neither of us slept a wink that night.  Jimmy was sitting up cross-legged, talking to himself while listening to something over his headphones.  Recorded instructions from Satan, I imagined.  His Coke bottle glasses made him look like a mumbling locust.  Meanwhile, I kept one eye open the whole night.  I remember trying to get God to forgive me- for a lot of stuff.  I was really pleading my case.

“I even prayed,” I confessed, “Oh God, I’m so scared, please help me!”

“A classic.”

“Yeah, standard stuff, but fucking heartfelt. The next morning I was a wreck.  I was still detoxing and raw, and now hadn’t gotten any sleep.  I didn’t know how I was going to go another night with this ghoul sitting up next to me.  ‘Ok God,’ I finally said, ‘I can’t deal with this shit.  If you’re out there, and you’re not too busy, I’d love for you to take care of this thing.’  What the hell, right?  What do I have to lose?  I’m out of ideas at this point.  I give up.  I put back the cake knife, and go to my morning group session.  During that session, Jimmy gets pulled out of group, and I never see him again.  His insurance didn’t go through so they bounced his ass out.”

“Where did he go?”

“He got into a taxi and drove to Montebello.”

Boris laughed.  “Ah man, I would cap his geek ass.”

“How could you?  He only comes when you’re asleep.”

“Do you think it was the prayer? I mean, do you think that helped get rid of him?”

I couldn’t say for sure.  It seemed like a coincidence, but who says those don’t count?  I just know I felt better thinking that it was.  We were getting sleepy and decided to turn out the light.  Boris put away his crafts project.  We laid there in the dark for a while.

“Hey Boris, maybe there is something out there that we can tune into that will help us.”

“I fucking hope so, dude.  Buenas noches, carnal.”

“A ti.”

I turned over and went to sleep.  I slept well that night, the glow from a neon clown bathing us both in its protective light.

Happy, Joyous, and Free