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.

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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

Mardi Gras Death Trip ’89, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did and it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a crazy bitch.

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, she was fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole bus exhaled in relief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My God, Texas is weird.

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

Go Blue!