Thank God For This Toothache.

1.200 bucks?  I'd rather suffer eternally.

1,200 bucks? I’d rather suffer eternally.

It’s been kind of a shitty few weeks here at Trudge Inc.  By that, I mean not my version of Heaven on Earth.  Which I realize is a tall order.  But this version didn’t even come close.  Not to what I’d prefer to orchestrate.  As my version.  Which, although perhaps a little complicated to arrange, wouldn’t cost very much.  Except maybe in hurt feelings.

Anyway, this was something very else.

Some low-grade depression, some ass-kicking physical pain, and a sprinkling of mid-ranged irritants.  All culminating with an ill-timed blow-up with my mom.  The day before her birthday.  Yeah I know.  I’m the worst son ever.  But I don’t want to brag about my ranking.  Fact is we fired at each other at point blank range with armor-piercing rounds.  And that seems to have brought up all these unpleasant feelings.  For both of us.  Go figure.

Ah well.  What’s done is done.  Very cathartic actually.  I’m sure after we spit out the mouthfuls of depleted Uranium dust and rebuild Fallujah, we’ll be just fine.

And maybe when I…(cough-cough)

…get somebody to remove…(urgh)

…this cinder block from my spine.

Better than a mother's love.

Better than a mother’s love.

So as I was nursing my self-inflicted wounds, trying my best not to figure it all out, I remembered the toothache.

A few weeks earlier I got a toothache.  On a Friday of course.  That way I’d have to wait until Monday to make my dentist’s car payment.  But in the meantime I’d get to celebrate a tooth-ache week-end.

And not by soaking and swishing it in scotch.  Or rubbing my gums with Civil War-era Laudanum ointment while crossing the border into Mexico with six hundred dollars of “fun money” and the phone number of a good taxi driver.

No, this would be alternate doses of aspirin and Ibuprofen.  War documentaries.  Ice Cream.  Petting the cats.  Trying not to hate life too much.

At one point it’s hurting like fuck.  I’m thinking about going into the garage, grabbing some pliers and really going Civil War.  Just start humming the Battle Hymn of The Republic while twisting out teeth until the pain stops.  It’s really the only manly way to handle this.  Just makes good horse sense.

Okay, but before I employ plan A, I need see if there are any options.  Need to wrap my head around this.  See if there might be a better solution.  One that doesn’t require vice-grips and Anbesol.  Or something even worse.

Hmm...no expiration date.

Hmm…no expiration date.

I have this thing about mastering my misery.  Having dined on such heaping helpings of it, as an alcoholic, and as a human being, I’ve come to believe that suffering has to have some nutritional value.  There has to be some good from pain.  Otherwise everything I’ve endured, would just be fucked up shit that’s happened to me.

Because life sucks.

And death is probably worse.

Which as a concept, I don’t have a problem with.  It’s just that if I agree with it too much, I’m told, I become a drag to be around.  A real bummer boy.  A Downer Danny.  And I don’t want to be a Downer Danny.  Do you?

Besides, I tend to make bad decisions when I hate life.  That’s why I try to think the opposite of my favorite way and remain somewhat upbeat.  Just so I don’t bring Lori and the cats down too much.  Why should they pay because my tooth hurts?  Even though it only seems fair.

Okay, gratitude is a go-to.  I know being grateful has a positive effect on the personality complex.  Clinical studies have proven that grateful people are less of a pain in the ass to be around.  Gratitude also seems to be some sort of component for successful recovery from various maladies of mind and soul.

I know.  Insane.  That one’s attitude towards something would make any difference.  But apparently so.

But this is a toothache.  Can I be grateful for a toothache?  That’s really getting tin-foil.  That would be some seriously un-hinged Rasputin shit.  The howling of a madman.  Really clawing at the moon there.

That was all I needed to think.

“Thank you, oh merciful Creator, for this pain–this pain that’s radiating up through my jaw and jack-hammering into the top quarter of my skull–making my right eye water.  I don’t know why I should, but I’d like to thank you.  For this most generous gift.  I don’t know what I did to deserve it–I mean I have my suspicions–but thanks.  Anyway.  Amen.”

Yep.  I did it.  I gave thanks for my pain.  I really did.

Not snorting lines of Darvon off the belly of a Tijuana stripper will make a man do crazy shit alright.

Or, so it would seem.

What did I have to lose?  I was fucked anyway.  At least until Monday morning.  I’d consider it an experiment.  Maybe it will help me delineate where the power of gratitude runs into a brick wall.  And the friendly staff at La Farmacia Sureño need to take over.

Say, this is good shit.

Say, this pain annihilator is good shit.

Well, the pain didn’t magically go away.  But it did start to go in and out.  I’d get these small breaks when it would subside.  And I was genuinely grateful for those.  Anything to keep me out of the garage.  Or the liquor aisle.  Or heading south on I- 5.

I kept taking the aspirins and Ibus and rode out the waves of pain as best as I could.  Tried to have fun in spite of.  Tried to not let it ruin my weekend.  Or bring down those around me.

Well, it didn’t, and slowly the time between waves grew.  By Sunday night the pain was gone.  Stayed gone Monday morning.  And since.  No more toothache.

Interesting.  I’ve never had a toothache go away.  Not without having the dentist’s foot push off on my face.  Or had a hole drilled through my wallet.  Never.  I’m sure there’s such a thing as temporary toothache.  I’ve just never had one.

Not one that lasted all weekend.  Then went away.

But I’ve also never made a point of being grateful for having one.

Coincidence?  Maybe.  But a noteworthy one.  So I should forget about it right away.  Which I did.

Except now I remembered it and wondered if I could concoct another pain-relieving coincidence for this shit with my mom.  What if I gave thanks for this pain?  That would be pretty pathetic.  And desperate.

“Thank you, O merciful Creator, for bestowing me with this bounty of painful childhood guilt complexes triggered so effectively by your angelic worker, the mother of my life, the woman that delivered me to this terrifying orb of earth…that I have been cast down upon… for some horrible transgression I’m sure.  Because You, my Eternal Father, know best, that when it comes to being a good son, I’m the worst. ”

I have to admit, thanking for the toothache was easier.  That’s why I think it came first.  To help me ramp up speed for the leap of sanity required to be thankful for all this bullshit now.  But I did it.  I gave thanks–for all the bad feelings I was having.

Now this may be another coincidence, but I woke up the next day feeling better.  Lighter.  Nothing external in the situation had changed.  Just the way I felt about stuff.  Better perspective.   Better attitude.  Still some shrapnel in the guts, but less.  Decidedly.  I felt more waves of peace then I did of dread.  Eventually, things got better between me and my mom, but more importantly, between me and everything else.

Huh.

Okay, let’s write it off to the power of suggestion.  I’ll take it.  Look, I’m an alcoholic trying to stay sober.  I can’t afford to be too picky how that happens.  I have to be ready to go to any lengths not to take that first drink.  If that means kissing the dusty feet of some Voodoo priestess while she blows powdered alligator liver on my head, or mind-gaming my cognitive thinking, if I can “suggest”  myself out of drinking, it’s a miracle.  One I should try to keep repeating.  If that means believing certain crazy things, and then acting on them, I’ll do it.

(To be fair, I was always good at that)

Anyway, that’s how I  “came to believe.”  I fucking had to.  I no longer had the luxury of being cynical.

Trying to connect with some invisible otherness was something I had  to do.  I got to a point in the train wreck when that was all that was left.  I had destroyed all other options.  It was that or die.  You know, Plan A.

So when you grasp that last straw, and it starts to grow into a stalk of wheat, like in the ergot-fueled finale of an Elysian mystery rite, you’re grateful.  And your life is never the same.  Which is a big relief.  And it’s the beginning of a new relationship.  Between you and everything else.

Slowly you start to see.  You start to understand.  No matter how bad something looks or feels, there’s something good behind it.  Something holy.  Some gift.  It might take an aeon or two before you see it.  But you know it’s there.  And that’s all that matters.

Whether it’s having a fucking toothache.

A fight with your mom.

Or being an alcoholic.

It’s good to give thanks.

Before you even know why.

Mrs. Winslow, you're trying to seduce me.

Mrs. Winslow, you’re trying to seduce me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pants On Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

A soup ladle made out of purple velvet.

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

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

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

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

So I guess we’re even.”

Tippy tap-tap.

Tap.

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

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

rx5Oc

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

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

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

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

“No, definitely not that one.”

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

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

“Is he going to be okay?”

“Who?”

“Your friend.”

“Oh God, I hope so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, just say ‘I’d rather not.’ ”

“And leave it at that?”

“Leave it at that.”

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

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

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

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

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

And then left it at that.

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

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

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

I’ll leave it at that.

In Case of Emergency

Fear of Erica Jong

It's nothing a drink will help.

It’s nothing a drink will help.

As the plane approached Albuquerque, it started to buck and roll with turbulence.  It was the kind where the pilot tells the flight attendants to take their seats.  Fucking great.  Wings tipping.  Seats shaking.  Deep drops and soul rolls.   Here and there, some involuntary yelps from passengers.

Once from here, for sure.  It sounded like someone stepped on a puppy.  Couldn’t contain it.  Just slipped out.

It’s not my favorite thing, doing turbulence, not drunk.

There are only a few things that I can say are better done drunk than sober.  The first is, of course, dancing.  Especially if you’re white.  The second is getting arrested.  Tried it both ways, and it was better drunk.  The last thing is bouncing around violently in a tube of aluminum, thousands of feet from the earth.

If I could have my choice, I’d always prefer to do that drunk.  While I know it’s better for me to not be drunk during times like these, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t easier shit-hammered out of my gourd.

I used to walk down the aisle to get to more booze, the plane’s shaking counteracting my stumbling so that I’m stepping straight, and make announcements to my fellow passengers.

“This is a great day to die!”  “We’re all going to die anyway. Let’s fucking get it over with.”  “Death can’t be worse than tomorrow morning!”

Stuff like that.  In my head I was keeping up everyone’s morale.  I wanted my lack of fear to inspire them.  To give them the courage to plunge to their deaths stoically.  Bravely.  Resolutely.  Even joyfully.

You know, shit-faced drunkenly.

If there’s ever a situation that I really can see myself blowing my sobriety, it’s on an airplane that’s going down.  If the cocktail cart starts rolling down the aisle as we plummet, I’d like to say I wouldn’t stick my foot out to stop it.  That I would choose to die sober.  Locked in solemn prayer.  Instead of trying to shot-gun down as many miniatures as possible… before our fiery wreckage scatters across a sewage treatment facility.  Or a field of beets.

But I really can’t.  I can’t be sure I wouldn’t drink.  As an alcoholic, you never can be… too sure.  It’s the nature of the disease.

For now, I was content to sit quietly in my seat.  Asshole, fists and teeth clenched.  Locked in solemn prayer.  First to The Creator.  Then on down the spiritual hierarchy.  I’m going through arch angels, regular angels, Kerubim, avatars, saints, sages, ascended masters, Buddhist holy men, Kabbalistic wise men.

I’m beseeching mercy like a mother.

My girlfriend is gripping my hand numb.  She’s a Christian, so she’s talking to Jesus.  Not a bad call to make.  I’ve dialed that hotline myself.  Quite a few times.  More than this heretic would care to admit.  What can I say?  He comes through, but sometimes I think because his phone is constantly blowing up with requests he gets overworked.  So I prefer to add a whole bunch of other spiritual beings to my emergency Rolodex.  Find somebody with more of a gap in their workload.  Somebody standing around waiting to get a call.  And maybe one who specializes in turbulence.

Like the Enochian Angel of the Element of Air.  He who raises and calms the storms.  He who protects air of Air.  Ardza, may Your holy name reflect the ineffable glory of God through eternity.  Help reveal to us His mercy.  Help calm the storm around us.  Help calm the storm in this humble creature’s mind.  Amen.

I look over to Lori.  She’s got her eye’s closed tight.

“We’re going to be okay,” I tell her.  I pat her white, bloodless hand and smile.

She opens her eyes and tries to stretch her grimace into a happy face.  Fails.  Goes back to talking with The Son of God.  Eyes closed.

I don’t blame her.  I don’t get all hurt if she wants to talk to some other guy.  I’m confidant in our relationship.  Besides, this is Jesus.  So I’m totally cool with her dividing her attention, especially at a time like now.

Another dip.  My guts bang against my throat.  They push out a whistling whimper through my teeth.  Not a yelp.  A whimper.  Big difference.  Then another drop.  A long, deep one.   I pictured the altimeter spinning.

I add Jesus to my list.

“Hey.  It’s me, Marius.  I know we don’t talk too much these days, but I’m always thinking about You.  Remember when I was thirteen and I scared myself into thinking I had a brain tumor and I held my illustrated children’s bible and turned my life over to you?  Well, I never officially took it back.  Even though some of my life choices might have made it seem that way.  Well, out of anybody, you’re the go-to guy for forgiveness, so we should be cool.  Right?  Always dug your message.  Just didn’t, you know, dig all the dogma that barnacled around it.  Anyway, if I do die, could you make sure I go to heaven?  And preferably not a weird part of it, like the Mormon’s version…

…Amen.”

I felt better right away.  Covered all my bases.  I gave my girlfriend another smile.  This time a real one.

What is death but the unknown?  I seem to be hurtling towards that all the time.  The Unknown.  And Death.  The death of something, at least.  In my life and all around me.  Something dies deader than dead.  And then, sure as shit, something else is born.  Usually something new and improved.  In my life, and all around me.

I thought my life was over when I had to quit drinking.  In a way, it was.  That life died.  But I don’t mourn it.

Because I got an upgrade.

It happens in other areas.  Everyday, I see parts of me die off.  Not like parts parts.  Oh God forbid.  I don’t know who would be appropriate to pray to for a certain special part not to die off.  Priapus?   No, I mean parts of my personality.  Parts I don’t mind shit-canning.  The parts that were spawned in fear.  Ugly parts.  Parts that have worn out their welcome.

I try to replace those parts with the ones born out of love.  Nicer parts.  Shinier ones.

That’s the plan at least.  I don’t know how well I’m doing sometimes.  But dude is trying.  I’m willing to go through the complete overhaul.  Whatever it takes.  I want to be a new and improved version.  I have this nagging need to feel that Whoever/Whatever created me, is proud of Their creation.  Cornball shit, I know.  But there it is.  For real.

The engine screamed in reverse as the wheels touched down.  The cabin clattered like crazy then stopped.  We made it.  As we taxied to our terminal I took a deep breath.  Everything was going to be okay.  It always is.  No matter how scared I get.  If I can remember that, I can keep the yelping to a minimum.  Like with this flight.  Only one.  One audible one.  That’s pretty good.  I’m definitely improving.

Yeah.  This was going to be a good trip.  I kissed Lori’s cold hand.  Then waited for the seat belt light to go off.

My Brother Strip Club Gladiator

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

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

And that.  Is pretty much.  That.

That’s what’s going on there.

Old Joe.  And me.  At my mom’s house.

Having lunch.

How about that?

Yeah, that’s some crazy shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when he’d meet The Panther.

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

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

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

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

Glad the windows were rolled up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He called me the day after.

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

I knew it.  I sat down on the couch.

“Over several lifetimes.”

“Oh shit, what happened?”

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

“What the fuck happened?!!”

“Just the best day of my life.”

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

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

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

“You saw her without her make-up?”

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

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

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

“Good call.”

“Roger that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You managed that too?”

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

“I fucking give up.”

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

“You’re bullshitting.”

“Afraid not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Got your freak on, did you?”

“Freaky freak.  Freaky-deaky freak.”

“Wow.  That is whole package of WOW.”

“Now here’s the kicker–”

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

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

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

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

“You’re a dirty whore, Joe.”

“Oh yes. Yes I am!”

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

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

And night.

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

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

My work is done.

You Can’t Punch Gas

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

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

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

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

Like a charm.

Fucking specificity.

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

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

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

It is what it is.

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

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

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

Trust me.

It is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go slack.  Give slack.  Get slack.

“You may be right. ”

Put hands in pockets and shrug.

“But I am right!”

“Maybe.”

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

It’s hard to argue with wallpaper.

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

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

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

My first time ever.

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

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

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

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

This is nothing.

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

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

“I thought eight.”

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

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

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

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

That was the whole truth.

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

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

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

Which I am fucking not.

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

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

“Well, it looks like I fucked up.”

“Yes! Yes you did! YOU FUCKED UP!”

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

“Yep.” I said, “Looks that way.”

“You almost lost us a big account!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look back.

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

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

The silence is peaceful.  I let my mind drift.

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

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

Finally.

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

I stopped by the door.

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

More looking.

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

Good-bye early nap.  Oh well.

It is what it is.

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

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

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

Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

Fuck Yeah!

Fuck Yeah!

Failure As A Viable Option

Stands for so much more than Failure.

Stands for so much more than Failure.

God bless those crazy door-kickers, men for whom failure is not an option.  They’re fighting a war.  They can’t afford to fail.  Not me.  Failure is not only an option, but quite often, a much easier one.  It’s certainly easier than trying not to fail.

So yeah, you probably don’t want me on your night HALO drop team.  I’m the guy who’s so pissed-off about the snack machine taking my change that I forget to pack my chute.

Thank God there’s a difference between hostage rescue and putting out a weekly blog.  Smart of me to seek the latter gig.  Found myself a niche with a lot of slack.  Failure is not going to ruin my week.  Maybe the week-end.  And Monday.  But that’s it.

It was three-thirty Saturday morning and I had finished my little piece.  I read it over and decided I hated it.  “I hate it,” I said out loud.  Like it was a big awaited announcement to wake up my cats with.  They didn’t seem to give a flying fur ball.

Anyway, I didn’t push publish, and went up to bed.  Yes, I had failed, but somehow corn will still genetically mutate in the fields and cyclops children will continue to be born in the Ukraine.

The show will go on.

However, to be very honest,  I was a little pissed.  Pissed at myself mostly, but with a sprinkling of pissed-at-the-world-in-general.  No specific gripe, just a blanket resentment.  Just the sort of blanket you want to snuggle up to as you slide into your dream state.  For a good night of sleep.  After you read a little bit about Mexican prison gangs.

As I drifted off that night, I repeated a little affirmation, “I failed, because that’s what failures do best, and I am the best.”

Nighty-night.

I had a dream I was playing chess with my old film professor, Fred Karetski.  We were on stage in front of an auditorium audience.  When I looked down at the game I noticed my pieces were checkers while old Fred had a combination of chess pieces and what looked like over-sized Monopoly markers.  What the fuck?  I didn’t understand exactly how, but it appeared he had an advantage.  His big pewter shoe probably had more killing power than a red checker.

How exactly do you play this game?  I had no clue.  I didn’t even know if it was my turn.  And was too embarrassed to ask.

The place is pin-drop quiet.

I’m freaking out, but Karetski is just hanging loose, absentmindedly applying and re-applying Chapstick like he always did.  This little display of oral fixation would bug the shit out of me back then and did now. Partly to take the opportunity to vent my spleen, and partly to distract the audience from my obvious ineptitude, I decided to call him out on it.  I’ll save this situation with an inspired diversionary rant.

“You and that bullshit Chapstick, Karetski. Maybe you should give it a rest.  Personally I don’t believe in Chapstick.  I don’t even believe in chapped lips.  I mean I believe they exist, but not that they’re a problem big enough to go to the store and buy a cherry-flavored wax tube to rub around on them.  If chapped lips are such a big problem for you, then you don’t have enough problems.  You need your cities bombed while you feed on vermin.  You want a good way to deal with chapped lips?  Ignore them, and after a while they will un-chap.  They fucking always do, Freddy Boy. So maybe it’s time for you to scrape the protective and soothing emollient from your fat greasy lips…and man up.”

He reaches into his pocket.  Pulls out the stick, pops off the cap, and starts smearing.  He puts the cap back on and smacks his lips.

“Your move,” he says, grinning.

I woke up the next morning more tired than when I went to bed.  Lori was still sleeping.  I tried to walk downstairs while the two cats figure-eighted between my legs in a pre-feeding frenzy of affection.  We looked like a Balinese circus act.

“That’s very cute, you little fuckers.  You’re going to make me break my neck.”

I made it to the kitchen and started the coffee.  Then I opened a can of cat food.  For the cats.

I watched them eat while I waited for the coffee.  I tried to look for the positive.  Let’s see.  I said “I hate it,” instead of “This sucks.”  That means I wasn’t saying the article was bad, just that I thought it was.  That shows a little discernment.

Just speeding your way up the rungs of your spiritual ladder, aren’t you?  I poured myself a large cup.

What else?  Anything else positive I can take away from this experience?

Nope.  All tapped out.  I went outside to water the garden.  I’ve been lax about watering this winter and some of the plants died.  Sorry everybody.  Sorry I neglected you to the point of killing you.  And shit.

All form is transitive.  Without this fact there could be no sorrow.  Well, at least not without fixating on that fact.

I pointed the hose at the two rose bushes for a while.   Then I stood over the gardenias and let it soak.  Watering my Garden of Sorrow.

It’s only a blog, for crissake’s.  Why do you make a big deal about missing a self-imposed deadline?  It’s not like some big sweaty city editor is shouting his scotch breath into your eyeballs for missing it.  So why are you?

Because I’m insane.  We’ve gone over this.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  When I can’t write, I can’t be.  And I don’t want to fail at being.  It’s airtight.

I gave the poinsettias a little splash.  They grew too crazy last year.  The leaves were freakishly large.  Land of the Lost large.  They gave Lori the creeps.  Me too, kind of.  Paper plate-sized leaves you picture a Stegosaurus snacking on.   Yeah, that’s enough water for you guys.  I walked the hose over to the other planter.

Everything but the bush with purple leaves was dead.  You couldn’t kill that thing.  Cut it down to the stump twice and it always grew back bushier than before.   I watered it.  A little reward for perseverance.

“Good boy.  Fuck those pansy annuals.  Drink up.”

I put the hose away and went inside.  Lori had come downstairs.

“Hey, how are you?  Did you publish?”

“Nah.  I didn’t like it.”

“Oh.  How are you feeling?”

“I’m alright.  It’ll take more than that to kill me.”

I poured myself another cup of coffee and sat down at the computer.  I re-read the piece.  It was okay.  It needed some smoothing out, but was salvageable.  I might have been a little too hard on it.  It wasn’t a complete failure.

I guess nothing ever is.

Abstract Lack of Expression

$1,700.

$1,700.

Edward looked at the canvas he had spent all summer on.  It had four brand new razor slashes across it–a creative addition by his newly-exed girlfriend, Mia.  A real hot-head.  Perpetually pissed and ready to shoot hostages, she finally blew.  Earlier, she had taken all her stuff and left, but not before vandalizing some of his best work.

He fished out a half a butt from the ashtray and lit it.  Easy come, easy go.  The girlfriend, not the painting.  He wasn’t so flippant about that yet.  Fucking oil paint.  Took forever to dry.  He really tried with that one.   Not his usual slap and splash.

It was of a cartoon devil smelling the stocking-clad leg of a fat woman eating a drum stick.  A signature piece.  Now ruined.

Fortunately, he had been suffering loss his whole life.  This stung, but not enough to want to make him change anything.  Except maybe to go back to acrylics.

And keep his fucking mouth shut about Pilates.  That’s what started all this.

He got up and walked to the fridge.  He opened it and counted seven beers left.  He closed it and put on his jacket.  He felt around for the keys in the pocket.  Not there.  Oh man.  He walked over to the window and lifted the blinds.

It was gone.

Walking to the liquor store, he debated calling the cops.  They ask too many questions.  He’d somehow wind up getting arrested.  So he wrote off the car too.  He had paid $1.700 cash for it three years ago.  The last time he sold any work.  All was not lost.  He still had some bolt cutters.  In the morning, he’d take a bus to the junior college and clip himself off a bike until he could figure things out.

He walked into the liquor store.  Devon the Dick was working.  Great.  Not in the mood for his brand of ball-busting.  Not tonight.  Feeling too sensitive.

“Ah, it’s the great arteest!” he greeted.

“Ah, it’s the great liquor store clerk, ” Edward greeted back.

Motherfucker.  At least I’m trying.  Living off the largess of some pretty vulnerable people, but I’m still trying.

Edward put two six packs of Steel Reserve on the counter.  Devon the Dick looked down and smiled.

“Uh-oh! 211 in progress!”

“Yeah, that’s funny.  A half a pint of Dark Eyes.”

“Hey, the good stuff!  You must have sold one of your masterpieces.”

“And Camel light, hard pack, please.”

Why is it that some guys can only communicate by being assholes?   It was always something with this one.  A remark about the shoes.  The gut.  The cheap shit you’re drinking.  Always a jab.  Fucker dying behind the counter of some shit-hole liquor store trying to make me feel like the loser.

He took the bag and started to walk out.  Here it comes.  He could count.  One…two…three.

“Hey, don’t forget us when you’re famous!”

“Yeah, don’t worry.”

You never forget the demons that have tormented you…as you lay in bed at night, chainsawing their heads off.

Edward knew he wasn’t going to make it.  He knew a long time ago.  Way before he blew his art school student loan smoking opium with that coven of performance art lesbians.  A good time, for sure, but not the power career move it felt like at the time.  Eventually, The Academy of Art kicked his can down the road.  He wound up delivering pizzas and eating handfuls of mail-order Tramadol to ween off the poppy.  Then he borrowed more money from his grandmother and moved back home.

He was resigned to languish in obscurity, using the tortured artist bit to cut him slack for his fuck-ups.  Show some stuff in group shows.  Try to bed chicks that go to those.  That would be good enough.  It would have to be.

While he knew he had some talent, he also knew that he lacked the self-promotion skills that move you up the gallery food chain.  He sucked at talking about his work.

“Tell me about this piece, Edward,” some divorcee in a western skirt and concho belt would ask.

“It’s a man licking a dog’s balls,” he’d say, which would be very clever, if it really wasn’t.

For a while, he tried playing the disinterested iconoclast, but it seemed his disinterest was contagious.  The less he acted like he cared about his work, the more people seemed to want to join in.  And not care about it either.

His new plan was to create a body of work while drinking himself to death.  A tragic death would have to help sales.  Trouble was, the older he got, the less tragic his death would be.  It was now a race against time.

He was walking along when he felt his his phone buzz in his pocket.  A text.

“I am telling EVERYBODY about the herpes!!! ;)”

He put the phone back and climbed the stairs to his apartment.  He could hear Narco rap blasting from the neighbor next door, a latino kid, that installed garage door openers.  He was okay.  Always had pretty good weed.  Told him about the volume, but he always claimed to forget.  Good weed will do that.

He went inside, and put the beer in the refrigerator.   He snapped off the cap of the vodka and took a long hit.  It tasted oily.  Dark Eyes.  He opened a beer and sat down on the couch.  He looked at his slashed painting.

The longer he stared, the more he liked it.  It really was a signature piece.  Now.

After his death, it sold for $1.700.