You Can Never Go Home, If You’re Lost, Que No?

Okay, now what?

Okay, now what?

They say you can’t, but I’m going home.  Back to Santa Fe, the place of my rebirth, death, rebirth, death, and rebirth.  Those are special places.  Places where a lot of shit went down.  Places with fertile fields to sow madness and mirth.  And rocky soil to pull plow through.  Places to choke yourself out in the yoke of toil.  To sweat out Dark Eyes vodka while a jack hammer batters your Juarez dental work loose.

Magic places.  Places to make all your dreams come true.

Santa Fe was one of those places.  Except for the making all my dreams come true part.  Some dreams are just too insane.  Even for New Mexico.

And New Mexico is one weird-ass state.  Totally, Marius Seal of Approval, weird.  I think by now, you’ll understand the magnitude of what my certification means.   This is not some corn-fed, roll-her-eyes-at-Adult Swim, mid-western housewife’s idea of weird.  No.

It’s my version.

So yeah.

New Mexico is weird.  In the best way.  I think it’s the people.  I swear to God, there isn’t a person in that state that isn’t some sort of character.  Funny, crazy, dangerous, dumb, brilliant, beautiful, bizarre, annoying, and delightful.  Name it.  We got ’em all in old New Mex.  The psychos I worked construction with.  The artists I’ve gotten criminally drunk with.  The madmen I fought in bars and parking lots.  The silver spray paint huffing vagrants I learned to ballroom dance in the arroyo with.  The decent cops that showed me leniency.  The friends.  The freaks.  The ladies that taught me to love…

Then there’s the place itself.

The landscape that taught me about God.  And showed me His more artsy side.  The sky actually talks to you out there.  Not always what you want to hear.  But the signal comes in pretty clear.  It’s the wideness.  TV signal doesn’t scramble it’s messages as bad.  Trees, rocks, water, dirt, plants.  All alive.  Also having something to say about it all.  Happy sun.  Stormy clouds.  Celestial snow.  Stars that stare back at you with wonder.

My big regret is that I spent so much of that time drunk.  Sometimes way too.  Certainly to appreciate some of it’s more subtle charms.

Like with a few women too, I guess.  I wish I was more present.   But you can’t be present when you’re deeply involved in shooting holes through furniture.  And trading karate chops with a buddy whose round house kick sends you crashing into a fish aquarium.  So yeah, I chose my career over having any stable romantic relationships.  Didn’t have the capital to invest enough of the emotional currency required to fund one.

What can I say?  I was a driven and ambitious young man.

I wanted to run amok.  As amok as amokably possible.  I needed a place to wait out my exile from the human race.  A desert inhabited by aliens seemed like good place.  To set up my own Area 51.  Run my own test flights.  A little elbow room to get my crazy dance on.

Under the moon.  While the hounds howled.  And a fire illuminated the madness in my eyes.  Grind the edge, until I drop off the rail, and plunge into The Abyss.  Then see what’s left after everything is destroyed.

Alright.  Did that.  Check mark that box.  What’s next?  Probably rehab.  And a slow descent to Earth’s orbit.

Very slow.  No rush there.

But I had to leave.  Hated to.  But had to.

I thought I could wash my sins away in the Pacific Ocean.  But the waters were already saturated.  And working at a strip club wasn’t exactly dry-cleaning my soul.  Should’ve gotten rid of all the guns, too.  I guess I had one more death left in me.

So I tried a different way of living.  One so jack bland, only the most desperate would even attempt to embrace it.  But it was all I had left.  And it turned out to be a lot better than I thought.  As my friend Mad Dog would say, “Ain’t that a kick for sore balls!”

And that’s what sometimes hurts about going home.  The ball-kicking realization of how much I missed out on. And now miss.  Being there and wishing I could have done it all sober.  Seen it all through clearer eyeballs.  But then we’d have nothing to laugh about, would we?  No mischievous hi-jinx to recall.  And if this blogula even existed, it would be insufferably boring.  Recipes for good mulch.  Illustrated core and balance exercises.

Pictures of people standing around in nature.

I shudder to think.

You should too.  You see,  I did it all for you, dear reader.  And it’s okay.  You guys are worth it.

Anyway, it will be good to see my sister and Keller.  Good to see Marko.  And whoever else I’m supposed to see.  Sunday afternoon I’ll be making speed-amends at a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  Come by if you feel I owe you one.  I’ll try to guess what it’s about.  If I can’t remember, you can remind me, while I gnash my teeth with regret, and embarrass you with an overly dramatic public display of contrition.  And anything else to make things right.  Between us.

Buy you a beer?  You name it.  Even an import.

Because I want things to be good.  Between me and you.  And between me and New Mexico.  I want it to be a good homecoming.  I want to be able to go home.  Just to see if all those fuckers were wrong.

I’ll keep you posted.

Okay, now what?

Okay, now what?

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Apocalypse Much Later, Chapter 1.

To The Apocalypse!

I broke through the window and started to reach for the can of beans sitting on a hot plate, when I saw the bare wires.  Hmm.  I followed them up the wall to a marine battery on a shelf.  They wouldn’t leave them bare if they were using it to power the burner.  They would have at least taped them down, but they were dangling loose.

Nasty little trap for the looter?  Was there a clacker ready to spark a surprise?  I should have known.  Nobody showcases a can of beans like that.  Not in the window of an trailer.  Unless it’s rigged to something loud and bright.

“Dude, give me your crutch.”

Marko gimped over and handed it to me.  I pulled off the rubber skid plug and took a hit.

“Sssssweeeet Satan’s asshole, that buuurnsssss!”

Liquid fire scorched its way down.  Artichoke brandy.  Gnarly shit.  We had come across a flipped-over truck full of artichokes.  The driver was dead and didn’t seem to mind us helping ourselves.  We gorged on artichokes for days.  We didn’t want to waste fuel boiling them, so we just ate them raw.  I was crapping out fuzz for weeks.

Anyway, after we got sick of eating tough, spiny leaves and fur, we decided to make shine.  Marko had set up a rig and cooked up a batch of choke-brew.  We used pieces of broken laminated furniture, and bags of dried dog shit we had collected to fire the still.   The final product was a little disappointing in the taste department, but scored high marks in the effect department.  Special effects actually.  We agreed there was a slight hallucinogenic quality to it.  Above and beyond the pinch of Jimsonweed he added.

Some mild, color enhancement.  A pleasant vibratory blur.  Time donuts.  No big deal.  But, a nice little extra.  Who would of thought?

“I intuit the can is rigged.  Probably a load of Jolly Time,” I told him, “You think I should give it a poke?”

Marko peered in.

“They’re using a lot of juice.  Might not mean anything though.  If it does, that plate is pressured, for sure.”

“I think I should give it a poke.”

He uncorked the crutch, took a hit and handed it back.

“Poke it.”

I took the crutch and poked.   As soon as the can rolled off the hot plate, it blew.   I felt the blast flatten my face.  I saw white light.  Then some flashing, lilac shapes that looked like those Christian fish.  That’s all I saw for a while.  What is this?  Why is this?  When I opened my eyes I saw Marko’s screaming face surrounded by white puffy clouds of smoke.  He’s in heaven, I thought.  He made it.

My ears were ringing and I felt something hot in my cheek.  I was holding half a crutch with blue flames dripping off the end.  Marko cupped both hands around his mouth and yelled at me.

“ARE…YOU…ALRIGHT?”

I wasn’t sure, but didn’t want to look like a pussy so I smiled and tried to give him a thumbs up.

That’s when I saw I didn’t have a thumb.

This whole Apocalypse thing was turning out to be a major drag.

Marko and I were much more prepared for Y2K, or what we both now referred to as The Great Disappointment.   Society was supposed to collapse because people’s computers couldn’t go to eleven.  We were psyched.  A world gone mad was right where two dudes like us belonged.

We began to arm ourselves.  Pretty much ten years earlier, but now, we had even more reason to pick up some pieces we felt we needed.  You know, to fill the holes in our collection.  When you catch a gun sickness, there’s never enough.  There’s always one more you need.

Over-under .410 derringer?  Oh hell yes.  Just the last resort back-up my imagination could see myself desperately needing.   Some riverboat card game gone south.  For those times.   The camping survival rifle that folds up in your lunch box.  Check.  These two semi-autos just for flashing in front of the bathroom mirror while playing Taxi Driver.  Check and check.  You looking at me?

They all make sense.  A Japanese carbine that takes ammunition that doesn’t exist anymore?  Of course.  In case you ever run across a surplus.  You’ll have the gun to shoot it.  Blunderbuss?   Trench mortar?  Gatling gun?  The answer is always the same.  Oh hell yes.  After all, you never know.  Pretty soon it’s time for bigger gun safe.

Marko and I built up a pretty good collection.  We had some other supplies, but we didn’t worry too much about that.  We had enough guns and ammo to get more supplies.  We grew up on the Mad Max movies.  We knew how you parlayed power in a society that is reduced to eating it’s dead.  Gone is the glass ceiling that held maniacs like us down.  We’d finally have some room for advancement.

Unfortunately for us, society didn’t collapse in 1999.  Little by little, over the years. we pawned-off our armory for beer money.  By the time the Great Shit Hit, we were caught flat-footed.  We wound up with nothing but a .22 caliber target plinker, and a ceremonial sword that was used for Freemason rituals.  We decided to take turns carrying the gun.  I’d get the pistol on odd days and on even ones, I got stuck with the sword.

It really sucked.  It wasn’t like we had pictured.  In fact, this whole End of the World deal, was not what we were hoping for.  Sure, being able to smash into a vending machine to grab all the tasty cake snacks and gum you can carry is fun.  But you never realize that you might be doing it while a tooth rots in your head, or a cyst, that simple antibiotics could get rid of, is starting to fester.  Making  your underarm smell fetid.

We soaked a rag in some Angostura Bitters from a bottle we scavenged from a looted drug store.  All the other booze had been carried off, but people tend to overlook Angostura Bitters, because they were considered just a drink condiment.  Something  to tap out a few drops of in order to add character and depth to the flavor of certain mixed drinks.  They didn’t think of chugging down three bottles in a row on a vacant stomach.  Or carrying the bottles in a bandolero.  To have them handy during particularly hairy shoot-outs.  To calm the nerves.  They didn’t know how awesome Angostura Bitters could be.

Lucky for us they didn’t.  In fact, that was the luckiest thing to happen to me and Marko since the world really shit the bed.  It’s been pretty much bad luck, unabated, since.  So every time we found a bottle, while rooting around some smashed up grocery or liquor store, was met with great joy.  Great joy over bitters.  Bitter dregs.

I wrapped my hand with the rag and embraced the burn as best I could.  What a waste of 40 percent.  Bitters was a rough buzz, but they did the trick.  Drinking straight bitters was to drinking, what smoking bong tar was to weed.  A head-achy, murky buzz, but a buzz nevertheless.  And, in an extreme emergency, you could put a few drops in to flavor a whiskey sour, or to fight off infection from a blown off thumb.  Pretty versatile shit.

We had carefully gone through the still-smoking trailer.  There was nothing really in there of value, besides the marine battery and a deck of Bettie Page playing cards.  Whoever had been there had moved out and on.  They left the beans under black powder and ball bearings just to be dicks.  I didn’t get that.  I mean, what good is me having a disposable thumb going to do them?  Except to make them feel better they’re not me.  I guess I kind of get that.

Total waste of beans, though.

We hiked up our back packs and continued our trek west, to the sea.  We heard the ocean had turned red, just like the Bible said it would.  There was also talk about bodies of mermaid people washing up on the shores.  We had to check that shit out.  If we could get there without too many more body parts getting blown off, it would be a nice get-away.  Surf and sand.  Fun and sun.  Not to mention barnacles, sea weed and sand dollars to feast on.  Funny how you crave minerals and nucleic acids when you go without them for a few years.  You just crave kelp.

Something to take the edge off the radiation sickness.

We had this dream of one day opening up a seafood shack/trading post, featuring sea-gull on a stick.  Marko would run the bar, and I would put on a nightly show featuring my wry comments and oddball observations on everyday life in hell.   Maybe a woman or two would show up.  Someone we could bribe with our barnacles and bird on a stick.  Use food to buy human comfort.  Maybe someday start a sex cult.

Big dreams alright, but we were still outside Castorville, CA., so they would have to wait.  We had decided to cross the Central Valley of California on our march to the sea.  The abundance of agriculture, even when left untended, would sustain us through the trek.  We would be like The Gleaners in that old French painting.  We’d stuff ourselves vegan with kale and beets.  After that, it was just a matter of plinking-off rodents and birds for protein, and drinking water from the radiators of abandoned cars.  Marko had these PVC pipes packed with charcoal that would filter the water, as he put it, “pretty okay.”  Pretty okay would have to do.

My big invention was the stick sack.  I devised a way to hang a sack off my belt.  I would pick up sticks for firewood, and put them in the sack.  The stick sack.  The one I invented.  So we were both adding our own particular skills and knowledge to this partnership.  This grand endeavor.

“How’s your ankle, bitch?”

“I am very happy about it.”

Marko was using a plank as a crutch.  I could see his boot all swollen out.  He rolled the ankle about a month and a half ago.  Just trucking through a  parking lot of some mall ruins.  Crunch.  It was one of those things that could’ve happened even in normal times.  The problem was in normal times you could lay up a few days until the swelling goes down.  We didn’t have that luxury.  We had to remain moving targets.  Lots of different marauding bands out here.

All kinds of urban street gangs were migrating out to rural environs, and mutating into their own brands of evil.  There were cholos in mule-drawn low-riders that were big into Aztec human sacrifice.  Black gangs into medieval torture.  Escaped prisoners.  Biker gangs. Vigilantes.  Sex-slavers.  All the basic characters of an average Bethesda video game.  Bad eggs.  One and all.

Then there were the Pappy Parkers.  They were the scariest.   Gun nuts.  Survivalists.  Outdoorsmen.  These fiends had been salivating at the thought of society blowing out a colon.  Sound familiar?  They had been preparing for this for a long time.  And they didn’t sell off all their cool shit at Pawn City.  Yeah.  We envied them.   They could pan for gold, fish, trap, and hunt.  They always had huge stockpiles of ammo, supplies and food.  Gas masks.  K-rations.  MRE’s.  Soviet army trench shovels.  Those little pellets you light to heat up a cup of water.  Instead of pieces of tire, like Marko and I used.

Their thing was to take you out with a black powder musket or cross-bow.  They did it for sport, and to  save the real ammo for something more significant.  If they managed to wound you, they’d drag you back to their camp and make you guest of honor at their picnic lynch.  Then have some taxidermist mount you.  With everyone else in line behind him.

Fuck those guys.  I was itching to catch one of them on the clavicle with my 33d Degree Grand Master’s sword.  Bring down the wrath of Jachim and Boaz.  Maybe while he was taking a piss at night.  Outside their circled RV compound.  I’d take all his cool shit.  Get me a Confederate hat or a German helmet.  Goggles.  Cowboy holster.  A real gun.

That was a pipe dream.  We gave those fuckers wide berth.   The best you could hope for was to come across a pile of them after a government gunship torched them into beef jerky.  Pick through the smoldering wreckage for souvenirs.  That’s how I got this compass with a whistle.  It was all there was left.   It was never much of fight between the government and those dudes.  When it comes down to guns you bought from Big 5 sporting goods or a gun show at the fair grounds, against a battery of Hellfire rockets, well…

Being good at paintball and Civil War reenactments, hardly qualifies you as a force to be reckoned with on the modern battlefield.

It gave me a strange comfort  that somebody else had their Apocalypse fantasy turn to shit.  That’s one thing I learned about fantasies.  They can only exist, if you don’t think them through.  You never picture yourself being chop-sawed in half by a hot blade of depleted uranium while your pop gun dangles its cork.  Why would you even entertain that?  It would be a drag.  So having an A-TK M230 chain gun rip up a dirt road, spitting bullets through their crotch, wasn’t what a lot of those dudes were expecting.  Not when they were having their Red Dawn dreams of glory.

Anyway, just because they didn’t pose much of a threat to government forces, didn’t mean they didn’t pose a threat to our sorry, unprepared asses.  We tried to avoid them as best we could.  In fact, later that day, we got caught in a huge open field, and had to lie in a drainage ditch for almost an hour, waiting while one of their long convoys of horse-drawn Winnebagos and Airstreams clopped by.  Probably on their way to find a suitable oasis to set up one of their flea market tented cities.  A place to trade crafts, and establish a new religion.  One that allows marrying children.

They did have women though.  Pale and chubby creatures with floppy freckled breasts.  Women who quilted bandages and crocheted warm camouflage ponchos and lap-warmers.  Women who baked cinnamon rolls and bundt cake for the men.  We could see them working in the kitchens inside the RVs and trailers as they passed.   We could smell their sweet buns.  I quietly rolled over to Marko.

“Hungry?” I whispered.

He smiled and indicated something with a nod.  I looked over and saw a large woman through one of the trailer windows.  The rough road was jostling her around.  Making it all shake and jiggle.

I raised an eyebrow and grinned.   I turned back to Marko and nodded.  Me too.  I rolled over and went back to being invisible…and smelling cinnamon buns.  Funny how you crave dough…after you haven’t had it for a few years.

Night was coming.  We decided to stop and set up camp in a dried river wash.  Marko took a look at my hand.  He said I would probably live long enough to regret more stuff, then washed the wound with the last of our precious bottled water.  He wrapped another bitters-soaked bandage around it.

“Do you want some aspirin?”

My hand hurt like hell, but we only had three  left.

“Nah,” I said, “Let save it in case one of us gets really hurt.””

“That’s what this is for,” he said, pointing the pistol to his head.  “Come on, dude, take one.  I’m serious. ”  He held one out in his hand.

I looked down at it.  A simple aspirin.  Now looking very much like an Morphine drip.  A shot of Demerol.  But only one of three left in the entire universe.  Do you do it?  Or save it, and have something to live for?  The pain is now, but later pain could be worse without it.  Is some less bad now, worth more bad later?  What if he winds up needing it?   The ankle.  I’ll feel like shit.  Jesus, I don’t know.

“We’ll find more, dude, c’mon.”

He was being righteous.  I took it out of his palm.

“I’ll hold on to it.”

We had picked up a few pockets full of Brussels sprouts earlier that day.  We poked them through some car antennas and toasted them over small fire.  We leaned back against some big rocks.  The sky was clear, and the stars were out.  We ate our burned bulbs in silence.

“These things taste like farts,” I told him, “I always thought that about Brussels sprouts.”

“Taste this,” Marko said,  lifting a cheek and gassing one. “See if it tastes like Brussels sprouts.”

He did his evil guffaw.  I always loved hearing that.  I had set him up for it this time.   I knew he’d take the bait.  We stared at the fire.  Really quiet.  No helicopters out tonight.

“You know what I really miss?”

“Hot buttered cinnamon buns, stuffed in mom jeans,” he said, spiking another Brussels sprout on the antenna.

“Besides that.  No, fabric softener.  I  miss fabric softener.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I just started using it a few months before everything went to hell, when I figured out you could pour it into that… thing in that compartment, in the middle of the machine.  I always thought you had to wait for the rinse cycle before you could pour it in.  So I never wanted to deal with that bullshit.”

“What compartment?”

“Uh, in the middle of the thing that spins back and forth.”

“The agitator.”

“Yeah, there’s a place to pour it in, so the softener gets dispersed during the rinse cycle.  You don’t have to stand around and listen for it.”

“No shit.  I didn’t know about that.”

“Yeah.  I had some really fresh-smelling laundry there for a while.  It smelled like how they always talked about in the commercials. ”

“Uh.”

Marko looked tired.  He was barely holding his eyelids up.  I had seen that look before, plenty of times, but this was just out of exhaustion.

“Anyway, I really miss that smell.”

“Uh.”

He lifted his cheek, but nothing came out.  I could see it irritated him to miss the cue.  Great time to ask something like, “Do you miss this smell?” But he whiffed.  One more try.

“The smell was very artificial, but in a pleasant way.” I went on, “The smell of laundry softener is one of those rare, man-created things that didn’t totally blow.”

He didn’t even try that time.  He must be fading.

I didn’t want him going to sleep just yet.  He was my entertainment system.  He was the only person I ever talked to these days, besides myself.  And I was pretty sick of listening to myself.

“Hell, dude, sometimes I even miss standing in line at the D.M.V.  I mean, even though you were surrounded by terrible people, at least they weren’t trying to turn you into a skin drum set, or sell you off into slavery.  They were just awful to look at.  Small distress when I think about it now.  And at least being there meant you had a vehicle to deal with.  Even if it was trying to get it registered with no proof of ownership.  Right?”

He was out.  Cold.

It was back to just me for a while.  I felt my mood dip.  I had nobody to distract me from the pain in my hand.  I tried to watch Mexican television in my head.  I imagined long-legged Latinas jumping around in bathing suits while a guy in a dog costume played the accordion, but I always wound up thinking about gangrene and amputation instead.

I broke down and took the aspirin.  We will find more.  Have faith in things unseen.  I popped it with a hit of bitters.  I punched up my sleeping bag and climbed in.   I looked up at the stars and did what I always did, searched the night sky for UFOs.  I’d lie there and think.  C’mon, dudes.  Get us off this fucking thing.  I want you to teach me about inter-dimensional travel.  I’ll teach you how to make a stick sack.

Most of the time, I just saw the stars, but they were comfort enough.  I was glad they were still there.   Looking exactly as they did when I was a little kid.  They made me feel good back then, and they still did.  Sometimes you have to look to eternity for any sense of stability.  I felt my eyes start to close.

Hope, by Dave Gurz, 2012

One Judo Chop Mother

Black Gi Bitch, Hai-Yah!

“Did you Judo chop him?” she asked, sticking out her bony little hand and chopping at the air with her knuckles bending back.  A real chick chop.

“No, I clapped him on the ear with a glass bar ashtray.  Besides, there’s no chopping in Judo,” I told her, “There’s no judo chop.”

“How do you know?”

“Oh, I know…Judo.  I took it as a kid,” I told her.

“I didn’t know you studied Judo.”

“Yeah, it’s just one more of the wonderful surprises about me that keep unfolding in a cascading cavalcade of wonder.”

She was lucky to be with me.  I wish she could see that.  I took a swig of my beer and finished it.  I got up and got another.

“What color belt did you get?”

“It doesn’t matter, that shit was worthless,” I cracked the beer, sat down on my mattress and put a heel up on the milk crate, “Fighting dirty is the only thing that works.  Trust me.”

Even my occasional reader might deduce by now that my life has had its share of physical encounters.  Some pleasant.  Others not so much.  I piled my plate high with both types, then splashed myself in the face with it all.  What can I say?  I’m a pig beast.  A repentant one, if that counts for anything.  Semi-repentant.

No bad-ass, I.  A more craven and fearful creature you would not find.  So it was especially hilarious that such a coward would find himself in the middle of so many angry and violent physical encounters with other men.  A certain cinematic masterpiece featuring Don Knotts as The Shakiest Gun in The West, comes to mind.

A fearful little bookworm, easily bullied, constantly humiliated, I withdrew deeper into my own terrible mind.  I wanted to avoid people, at all costs.  Summer camps, youth outings, team sports, dances, anywhere my peers gathered filled me with dread.  So many more of you to deal with, or better yet, run from.  Snot-wiping, ball-kicking, name-calling, nose-punching, tangerine-slice-down-on-bench-before-you-sit-down barbarians.

So I met the news that my parents had enrolled me in Judo classes at the Camarillo Community Center with less enthusiasm than perhaps another lad might have.  Sure I wanted to learn how to Judo chop off the heads of my tormentors.  Or kick them so hard in the nuts that they lodge in the throat and choke them.  But, I figured that learning that stuff would require having it done to me.  Or it would just somehow wind up happening to me.  All the time.  That’s how things rolled those days.

I needn’t have worried.  The Judo taught at the Camarillo Community Center was of the “for recreational purposes only” variety.  There was to be no ball-chopping or throat-kicking.   The classes were conducted, more or less safely, by a ringer for Sulu, named Mr. Nishimori.  He worked at the juvenile hall facility, and seemed like a guy who could fuck you up fast.  He was nimble and quick.  He’d announce the flip, then in a blur, the dude he picked to help demo, was flat on his ass.

He did all this in his office clothes.  I’d watch him demonstrate flips in his nylon dress slacks and thin brown socks, a pocket full of change constantly jingling as he’d pivot and spin.  It looked impressive, but weird too.  It was strange seeing him flipping dudes, while in his slacks and brown stinkies, clinking change and keys swinging in his ball pocket.  Some sort of civil servant bad-ass.

The rest of us had to wear Judo Gis.  I never approved of the Judo version, basically a white, heavy cloth pajama.  The Bay City Roller length of the pants, the white color, and generally dorky and harmless look just didn’t imply enough of a martial art threat.  I preferred something a little more sinister.  Something in black, with a more ninja assassin cut.  I would have to wait years, when I started Kenpo Karate, which did feature ball-chopping and throat-kicking, before I got to wear a cool black Gi.

What the fuck.  You play the hand you’re dealt.

We spent a lot of time learning how to forward roll.  It was sort of an aggressive somersault followed by a hard hand slap on the mat.  I didn’t know why it was considered so important, but over and over we would roll and slap.  All the kids waiting in line for our turn to tumble.  Sometimes we even had to Evel Knievel over two crouching classmates.  I just didn’t get it.  How is this going to help me in a fight?

Turns out, learning how to take a tumble was one of the most important things I ever learned.  No fucking way I would have made it through life without the forward roll.

Turns out Marko was taking the same Judo class during that time.  We didn’t know each other back then.  We figured it out one night, years later, when we were drinking at his pad.  Although his ability to safely tumble forward should have been a big clue, I didn’t know he was a fellow former Judo enthusiast.  It was only when I had asked him if he ever heard my story about how I ran into a guy that had pissed his pants in my Judo class 20 years earlier and how I made sure to remind him of it.

“Hold on, dude,” he says, “In Mr. Nishimori’s Judo class?  I remember that.  Mr. Garcia cleaned it up using his foot and a bunch of wadded up paper towels.  I was there!”

Fuck yeah.  That’s why it was so great hanging out with Marko.  Wonderful surprises were always unfolding from him in a cavalcade of cascading wonder.  We figured that it was more than likely we had actually fought against each other.  That did it.  Both of us talked shit about how we must have beat down the other into being our bitch.  What an amazing preamble to our friendship.  I’ll be damned.  The Universe exists.

I asked him if he remembered how Friday nights were.  He nodded.  “They blew dong, dude.”

The worst part of going to Judo was when class landed on Friday night.  Us little kids would have to run a gauntlet of older teen-types that were hanging around The Armadillo, the teen center the city hoped would curb juvenile delinquency–curb it by giving them a headquarters equipped with pool tables, pinball machines, and a bank of pay phones.

Kids would be outside the teen center huffing solvents and smoking joints.  Their long hair parted down the middle, headband optional, shell necklace not.  Marlboro Reds (hardpack only) dangling from their mopey mouths.  The girls reeking of patchouli, had tooled leather purses, and hair ironed straight and flat, then feathered back. They wore flared hip-hugger pants, cork wedgies and eye shadow and assumed a jaded facial expression common among old hookers, and women awaiting execution.  The guys wore surf t-shirts, low-riding 501s, and either leather Wallabees or Waffle-Stomper hiking boots.  All that, along with the same sullen, vacant look that was de regueur at the time.  A sort of pastoral, almost bovine countenance that belied a simple-mindedness, but not without a sense of menace.

Then there was me, in something that looked like a robe cut out for a gingerbread man, with flood pants and flip-flops, trying to flap through the crowd as fast and invisible as possible.  You know, really doing The Hurry.  I had to book it fast before some scary older kid jumped in front of me in a karate stance to clown me in front of his laughing friends.  It was something those dudes just had to do.  It was part of some unwritten social contract in ’70s suburban hooliganism.

Dance nights were the worst.  The  Teen Center would be teeming with these sagging sack, dope-smokers and their whore girlfriends.  The ones I loved more than life itself.  My dad would drive me up to the curb, and I’d pause before opening the door.  I’d do this thing where I would pretend that I was jumping out into a hot LZ, like I had just been choppered out into a rice paddy and now had to make it to the tree line before the mortars sighted in on me.  Really.

“Roger, Wizard 5, we are down.  Time to beat our boots through Cong country. I’m out!”

“I’ll pick you up right here.”

“Roger that, Daddy One-niner, fly this bird back safe.”

Slam the door and hustle.  Quickly, but not too quick.  Can’t just flap out of the bush like a quail.  Just maintain a steady forward movement, eyes locked three feet down in front.  Every step is one closer to safety.  The treeline.  “Though I walk in the shadow of the valley or the valley of the shadow…”

One night, while I was trying to teleport myself through the crowd as an invisible mist, I felt a sharp chop against the back of my neck.  It was one of the loady-stoner hard guys giving me the Hai-Karate bit for the amusement of the other Visigoths waiting in line.  He was just fucking around, but the chop hurt, and scared me into an involuntary cowering.  Everyone laughed.

“Watch out, now, he’ll use some of his Kah-rah-tay on you, Roy!”

“Hai-yah! Motherfucker!” some dude joined in, feinting a chop.

Somebody else yelled out, “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting!”

More laughter.  I stood frozen in fear, my fellow judo enthusiasts breaking right and left, swinging wide to avoid the enemy contact.

The worst was when some chick yelled out, “Hey, leave the little kid alone!  He’s really scared!”

That’s when I started crying.  Before that, I was just scared, but when that chick tried to call off the dogs, because it was so obvious how terrified I was, I lost it.  I was already embarrassed, but now that I was crying, I was really embarrassed, and that made me cry harder.  It was a vicious cycle of suck.

There was also something about the chick being nice, among all that meanness, that got to me.  Mercy always chokes me up.  Even to this day.  If I witness somebody doing something merciful, I crack.  Tight pain in the throat.  Eye’s bulging with sadness sauce.  Heart stroked like a viola.

Being on the receiving end of some of that mercy, sort of made me feel sorry for myself.  Now I was being seen as a crybaby in front of all these cool people.  I ran right out of my flip-flops in my flight towards the judo room.  I found a corner and wiped the snot and tears away.  I had to suck it up, and play like nothing happened.  Hoping nobody would remember this supreme embarrassment. (Irony Alert!)

We spent the rest of the night waltzing around the blue and tan mats with each others lapels in our grip, trying to flip and pin each other, then once more, we took turns rolling forward.  I did so with a little more intensity, a little more drive for achieving some excellence in this rough and tumble forward business.  I even pinned out this taller red-haired kid with freckles and bad breath.  Nut-crackered his neck in the crook of my arm and squeezed.  Okay Red…you…go…down!

(Hang on, I need to drive my search-engine count up)

Yes, a boy with freckles on his face, as opposed to a young woman with sexy freckled breasts.  Freckled breasts. Yes, how about ’em?  Those freckled boobs.  Freckled breasts are a different thing than a freckled face.  Freckled breasts are breasts that are freckled. That’s why they’re called freckled breasts.

(That should do it.  Gotta throw those guys a bone.  Long story.  Google freckled breasts)

Besides learning how to break my fall,  Judo taught me something else.  Something every man should know.  Bitches will fuck you up.

We had girls in our class, and if you thought I had some sort of chip on my shoulder, you should Judo fight a woman, and see what kind of pent-up anger she has to tap into.  These chicks weren’t just trying to throw your ass to the floor, but the ass of every man who had ever bossed, bullied, or belittled them.  Even by nine, most girls already had a death list.

“I read the kite, bro. A la verga, your name is on the list, ese.”

It was nervy doing  Judo with girls.  Any attempts at chivalry on the guy’s part were seen as cheap pandering, you perceiving them as a weaker sex.  They made sure you paid for it.  This was during the 70’s.  Women were starting the revolution without us.  The girls in our class weren’t putting up with any horny horseplay either.  They’d kick your fucking legs out and leg-scissor your throat closed.  Lights out, Romeo.

For the record, I think it’s perfectly fine to underestimate a woman.  You just have to be willing to pay the price.

One Saturday, I was enrolled in one of them Judo Tournamental events.  Big deal.  Lots of people, mostly families.  My dad was there, with his camera.  It was awful.  Usually, I would have been happy to have gotten out of there without crying or pissing my pants.  But that day, I was on a hot streak.  I don’t know what was going on, but I was flipping and pinning dudes left and right.  I kept advancing and racking up points.  I couldn’t believe it.

I beat five guys in a row.  This kind of shit just didn’t happen to me.  From my feverish calculations I was in the running for a trophy.  In fact, all I had to do was take my next opponent to a draw.  In that tourney, the tie went to the runner, and the person who had fought previously would advance.  Hell, I was beating these dudes, and now all I had to do was tie, and I would win a trophy!  I had never won a trophy before.  Not even a lame one for penmanship or posture.  For once, my Dad being there with his camera seemed okay.

Ham on cheese, this was going to be sweet.

Why was I so sure I could tie?  Because I noticed that my next opponent was a girl.  She was a cute, short, slightly chubby, Filipino chick.  She looked like she was nice.  As we stood facing each other before the match, my eyes looked into hers.  “Don’t worry,” they said, “I’ll be gentle.”

We bowed to each other.  The referee yelled “Hajime!”  We grabbed each other by the lapels.  Perhaps I did it a little roguishly, after all, I was the victorious conqueror.  Feeling very Marius the Great, I thought, “What good is war without spoils to ravish?  What good is Victory without a wench and her sweet wine?”

She looked up and smiled.

Hey, I think she like’s me.

She leaned back, put her foot into my solar plexus, then rolled backwards, launching me like a sack of rocks from a Trebuchet.  The successful flip was called.  I lost the match in less than six seconds, to a girl.  Now that was the kind of shit happened to me.  Back to normal.

I went home that night without a trophy, but I did get a new metaphor, one that would repeat itself throughout my life.  Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.  Smile.  I think she likes me.  Foot in the gut.  On my back, destroyed in utter defeat.  Again and again.

It was my first lesson in an eternal truth.  Bitches will fuck you up.  So proceed with complete reckless abandon.  It will totally be worth it.  I want a trophy!

It’s 1996, and I’m sitting at a red light.  I look over to the other lane and see a dude, I recognize.  Hey, that’s the guy that pissed his pants in Judo class, almost 20 years ago.  I lean over and get him to roll down the window.  “Hey, you’re the guy that pissed his pants in Judo!”  I yell.  I was figuring to blow his mind, you know, that some random guy would remember him and then remind him of a moment he buried deep into the moldy folds of his medulla.  Freak him out that a witness still remembers.  It was a total dick move on my part, one I paid for with enough karmic drunken pants-pissing to let me remind that same guy again, in another life, and still be square.

Anyway, Judo turned out to be somewhat beneficial.  Not as useful as Kenpo, but it got me used to physically mixing it up with other kids, to be a little bit less of a pussy about physical combat, however watered-down the version.  Win, lose, draw, at least I was participating in something.  And if a fight ever went to the ground (and they always do) I would at least have some idea of what to do.  Just roll forward.  Preferably out the front door of the bar and into your car so you could hit the liquor store before they stop selling.

Hai-Yah!  Judo chop, motherfuckers!

Who’s the bitch now?

Professional Pub Pugilist

I'm ready for my shift drink.

The guy had come up behind Marcos and clocked him right in the head.  He was a bull and had good torque.  He smashed Marcos’ glasses right into his face.  Marcos was the head bouncer, and now, on his way down.  All the other guys on our side had their hands full fighting somebody else.  I was the only guy not busy, so it was up to me to deal with this bald, thick-necked side of beef.  He looked up at me and narrowed his eyes.  I was next.  This was one hell of a first night as a bouncer.  It was everything I feared, and soon, much more.

Before I go on, let me clarify that Marcos was not my buddy, Marko.  That’s why they have different names.  If I meant Marko, I would’ve spelled it that way.  Marcos was the actual name of the head bouncer at Chelsea Street Pub, the place I had just been hired at, and was now balls-deep in shit at.  Marko was probably back at the pad getting drunk.  That’s where I would’ve rather been.

Marcos too, now that I think about it.

I didn’t even want the job.  I was semi-employed at the time.   It was winter and I was doing odd jobs for this temperamental Santa Fe artist.  He had just built a huge studio honoring his grandiosity.  The paintings were alright.   I think they worked because they were so big.  Paint anything big enough and it becomes art.

That’s okay, I guess.  It’s American, that’s for sure.  Big house, big paintings, big studio, big ego, big attitude.  An emotional Central European, he would hug me and tell me he loved me like a brother one minute, then yell at me like I was a scrubwoman that knocked over a bucket of shit in his living room the next.  I bit my tongue and took it because I needed his money.  The small amount was keeping me alive, but what he made me eat to get it was upsetting my stomach.

I lived with my sister, Ina, and our friend Keller at the time, and was having trouble making the full rent.  They were spotting me the short and not making a big deal about it, but I felt bad.  When I saw the ad for doorman at this small, live music bar at the mall, I had Keller drive me to fill out an application.  I didn’t think I would get the job, but I wanted to show them I was trying.   On the application, I lied and said that I had worked as a hospital tech at a psych ward.  I figured wrestling down enraged 5150’s would be considered good experience and qualify me for this entry-level bouncer job.

I figured right.  That would have been good experience to have before starting a job as a bouncer.  Except that I hadn’t actually done it.  I came home one day from serving my genius overlord, and Keller told me Chelsea Street called saying I got the job.  I sank a little.  I really didn’t want to keep borrowing money from him and Ina, as they weren’t exactly swimming in it themselves, but being a bouncer seemed kind of gnarly.  What if I got my ass kicked in front of a bunch of laughing people?  What if I got really hurt?  Or really killed?

I grabbed a beer to celebrate my good fortune, and take some of the edge off the terror that was pooling up in my solar plexus.

I wasn’t exactly new to fighting, as my lifestyle choices had assured enough encounters with other drunk angry males equally pissed-off about something.  That shit happened and you dealt with it.  That was different from coming in, punching a time clock, and waiting for it to come to you.  That seemed a little extra asking for it.  But then again, if getting into a fight was inevitable either way, why not make a little money in the meantime?  Thank God for beer.  Drink enough beer and everything becomes clear.  My destiny was unfurling before me.  I could tell the tortured artist to go fuck himself.  I was going to kick ass for a living.

The next night Keller drove me and dropped me off.  “Good luck,” he said.  “Yeah,” I said back, ” It’s a place at the mall, how bad can it be?”

What an idiot.  Chelsea St. was at that time, the premier club for bar brawling, much more so than up the road at Rodeo Nites.  (Taking into account fight breakout frequency on a per capita, of course.)  It didn’t quite rate a gladiator school, but wasn’t a day care either.  People were getting hurt at Chelsea Street.

Parzival the Innocent had just wandered into the dragon’s playground.

They served beer in pitchers and that spelled trouble.  I couldn’t see why.  If I was going to drink a lot of beer, I was going to do it, regardless of the container it came in.  Give me a shell with a hole drilled in it, and I will make your beer disappear.  All of it.

Turns out, the pitcher for semi-normal people is dangerous, because they wind up drinking more, faster.  Their judgement becomes impaired, inhibitions loosened, and whatever has been troubling their soul gets to find full expression in aggressive bad behavior.  Hey, welcome to my world.  At least we were all on familiar territory.

If I had realized just how at home I would become in this territory, I wouldn’t have been so scared going in.  I walked through the bar and found the manager, Rodney, a buffed-out black dude.  Far-out, I thought, it’s good to have a superman soul brother on the team.  At least I knew who to hide behind if I cracked in fear.  He introduced me to the three other guys working with me.

Marcos, was a tall hispanic guy, I immediately pegged as a Tae Kwon Do dude.  There was Larry, a short and squat black guy, and an Indian biker named Alvin.  He’s the ground fighter and that dude is the knife expert, I noted.  Seems I was the token white guy in this superhero comic.  Greetings gentleman, I hope you won’t judge my entire race by any cowardice you should witness me personally display.  I haven’t been issued any superpowers yet, but I’ve been told that I’m a quick study.

Marcos lined out the job.  Someone checked ID’s, someone else took the money, and the two other guys roamed around the place scanning for hot spots.  Start charging cover at nine.  If something happens don’t leave the door, unless the floor guys are getting killed.  Don’t let the boss see you drinking.  Make sure there’s no chairs in the aisle.  If people leave they have to get back in the line, and don’t steal too much money from the door.  He actually put it that way.  Don’t let the boss see you drinking and don’t steal too much money from the door.

So far the rules made sense.  He told me I would start by checking IDs and handed me a plastic flashlight.

“I’d rather use that one, ” I said, pointing to the steel, four battery Maglite he had through a ring around his belt.

“I bet,” he smiled, “The Beast stays with me,” and walked back towards the bar.

I gotta get me one of those.  I want a Beast.

I took my post at the door and started checking IDs.  I was a little uncomfortable.  I could feel all the men in the place sizing me up.  I’m sure many of them figured they could take me, and I’m sure many of them could.  The trick was to not get to the point where they would try, and that was a mindfuck game.  I was pretty comfortable with those.   I wasn’t so sure how comfortable I was with getting a beer bottle across the teeth.  That would take care of Mr. Mindfuck Magician.

Remember, you used to wrestle down psychotics at your last job, I reminded myself.  You can handle this.

It was a busy night, and a few scuffles broke out, but Marcos and Alvin were able to handle them.  Each time, I could feel my adrenal glands squeeze huge blobs of heart-attack gel into my system, and then stop.  Some guy starts yelling at you because you won’t let his jailbait date slide through, and again the blobs start pumping.  Is this going to escalate into a cage match to the death?  Is it time to kill or be killed?  No, they’re leaving.  Chill out.  Jesus.  I was definitely on edge.  The three quarts of beer I drank before coming in had long been evaporated by the stress.

“You look like you could use a beer,” I heard a voice say.  I looked up and saw an unlikely angel in the form of a living dead girl, Anna.  She was a waitresses bedecked in full death-worshipping  punk fetishistic finery: Doc Martins, torn fishnets, arms covered with ghoul-themed tattoos and cutter scars, jeans ripped short above the knees, black Halloween hair sticking out hither and thither, and a pallor rivaling that of any funeral parlor’s showcased corpse.  She applied her eye-liner with a switch blade  and had live black widow spiders for earrings.  She looked over her shoulder, then lowered a Heineken off her tray.

“Drink it in the bathroom.”

You have to know me to know.  How much I needed a beer just then.  How much I loved Heineken.   How much having one delivered to me, in this hour of need, by such a mordantly sexy, punk rock Elvira, free of charge, meant to me.  It gave me faith in an all-knowing and loving God.

I gave Larry the flashlight and ducked into the men’s room.  It was crowded.  The stall was being used.  Fuck it.  I tilted the bottle in front of everyone and drained it in three.   “All righty, back to work,”  I announced.  I dropped the bottle in the trash and went back out.

There’s a point where it all doesn’t matter.  The eviction notice, the search warrant, the bad job, the bad check-up, the lost car keys, the found keys to the lost car, the broken lock, the broken window, the broken heart.  They all sort of blend together in a downward spiraling force that holds your head under the water, but after a single beer, shotgunned down as fast as humanly possible,  you find the renewed strength to hang on and clog the drain just a little longer.  My superpowers were renewed.  I could handle this.

When I got back they gave me the money so Larry could take a break.  Not too much, I told myself, as I started taking cover.  I could feel my shoulders relax.  Things are going to be okay.

Shortly after that little affirmation, the shit hit the fan.  I’m not really sure how it started, but I looked up from giving a guy his change and saw Marcos get clobbered.  Instantly, everybody was kung fu fighting.  It was total fucking chaos and I couldn’t figure out who was who.

In the movies, the sword fighting guys go around the battlefield, slicing and sticking their enemies, left, right, up, down, off a horse, on a ladder.  They seem to know right away who’s supposed to die, and who to save, even though everyone’s armor looks the same.   In real life, it’s a tumble of entwined bodies, friend and foe rotating around a spindle.  The punch you meant for some Pirate Pete biker winds up landing on your buddy’s nose.  The leg you’re gnawing on turns out to be your own.  Nobody’s sitting still for their Sears portrait.

“Sorry, bro, sorry!” you yell to your buddy, then try to land your next one better, and with extra sauce to make up for the fuck up.  It’s a mess.  You can’t over think things, just keep hitting.  Your eyes dilated like a scared cat’s.  Keep hitting.  Everything strobing, fast and slow at the same time.  Mother of God help me!  “Keep hitting.”  I am, Mother!

I wasn’t hitting yet.  I was frozen, looking at El Toro stand over the collapsed tower of Marcos, his bald head glistening with sweat.  When our eyes locked, I knew.  This is it, old boy.  Time to grow some spine.  He started coming towards me and I started backing up.  I reached for my novelty paper weight.

I’m not proud of this, but a few months before, through a mail-order catalogue, I had purchased some brass knuckles.  The catalogue labeled them a “novelty paperweight” so they could legally sell them.  They weren’t even brass, but some cheapo lead alloy that would close up on your fingers after you hit somebody hard, making them difficult to pull off and throw away before the cops showed up.  But, I had yet to discover this fault.  I reached into my pocket, put them on, and stopped backing up.

It was a dirty advantage, and like I said, I’m not proud of it.  I had told myself that in war, the better armed prevails.  This was war, and I really wanted to prevail.

As we closed in on each other, I remember seeing he had a Denver Bronco pony tattooed on his shoulder.  He’s going to regret that someday.  They won’t have Elway forever.

I buried that novelty paperweight in his gut, as hard and many times as possible, my arm pistoning  a pneumatic underhand while my other arm squeezed his taurine skull.  Fuck the Broncos.  He was grabbing at my ears and trying to arch away from the blows, but I kept connecting.  He fell and pulled me down over a table with him.  The film kind of breaks after that.  I can’t remember clearly what happened next.

All I can recollect is a kaleidoscope of images whirling around in no apparent sequence.  Marcos waving The Beast over his head and bringing it down on somebody.  Rodney dragging a kicking guy out the door.  A wet cocktail napkin stuck to someone’s face.  Somebody’s fingers over my eyes.  A girl’s leather purse streaking by.  A sneaker kicking me in the cheek.  Alvin screaming.  A mug of beer teetering on a table.  And, punching-punching-punching.  Very Eisenstein.

I do remember that my fortuitous catalogue purchase helped me scythe the field.  I had the magic touch.  Even my glancing shots were ringing bells.  Bing.  Ding.  Dong!  Howdy doody, Rudy.  I was putting in a good day’s work.  Something out there was keeping me on point, and these ersatz brass knuckles sure add zing to any favorite casserole dish.  Next thing I knew it was over.  Everyone we were fighting either ran off or were dragged away.

Okay, I understand this is a guy thing, but they will appreciate how fucking sweet moments like those are.  You look around and realize, holy shit, we won.  We prevailed.  We met our enemies and smote their bitch asses!  Tables and chairs get put back up, everybody grinning, checking out where we each got nailed.  Puffy lips, swollen hands, perhaps a new tooth arrangement, but feeling joyous and triumphant.

The next best part was Anna bringing us a tray of shots from Rodney.  I figured it was okay to let him see me drink mine, so I tossed it back.  “Ahhhgaah-ha… heeeeze!  Sweet nipples of Venus, that tastes good.”  Warm glow.  Looking around, loving the guys you fought alongside.  Knowing they love you, too.  Girls asking if you’re okay.  The men in the bar acting friendlier.  It’s nice.

After work, there were more free “shift drinks.”  The entire bar staff sat around drinking and laughing as we retold our version of events, with very few matching up exactly.  I don’t know if anybody saw me don the knucks, but nobody said anything.   I don’t think they would’ve cared much.  I made the team.  Marcos was especially appreciative of the vengeance my upper-cuts had delivered to the minotaur.   I made his cheap shot a little more expensive.  Oh well, that’s just what I do… plant pain and reap sorrow.  You know, destroy transgressors and righteously avenge.

Gotta make that rent.

Eventually it was time to go.  Marcos told me to be at work the next night, 8:30 sharp.  No problem.

I had a long walk up Cerrillos Rd. and it was bitter cold, but I felt really good.  I felt like I finally found a job I could hold down, a profession to match my proclivities.  I finally had a place in this world, somewhere a guy like me belonged.  For the next thirteen years, off and on, I would work as a bouncer.  I’d eventually find out that where I belonged was not that great.  It was a stupid and brutal world, but for now it was bad ass.  Perfect.  Hopeful.

So I guess it’s good not to know the future.  It’s better not to know what’s lying in wait.  It’s better not to spend your life bracing for the sucker punches.  They’re going to land regardless, and hurt just as much.  You might as well take them standing up instead of curled up and cringing.  It sure helps if you’re clueless.  I was that night, and that made for a happy walk home.  I remember that clearly.

Rendered harmless for polite society.

Liquid Lunch Blues

.

The Gatorade opened in my lunch box and soaked my tuna sandwich.  I had nothing else to eat and I was hungry.  I ate the sandwich.  I tried to think of it as a bold epicurean experiment, but it’s hard to enjoy your food when every bite makes you want to barf.  It was winter and I had been quietly enduring a hangover while digging a trench for a gas line.  I tried not to be a pussy about hard work, even glorified it at times, but some days you felt every shovelful.  I was gassed out and running on soul fumes.  The fact that my lunch sucked just beat it in harder.

The concrete guys were dining inside their trucks, running the heaters.  I ate my Gatorade on the side of a dirt hill.  I could see all of Santa Fe below me.  A stiff wind was blowing up the slope.  The sky opened up in a yawning chasm of melancholy, trying to suck me in.  I pulled myself out.  I wasn’t in the mood to feel sorry for myself.  Maybe later.

Lunchtime in the world of construction, takes on an almost sacred importance.   You want to stop working and you’re starving.  During lunch you get to stop working and eat.  That’s a significant improvement.  But a lot of times, if you were a bum laborer with a drinking problem, lunch wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.  I used to count off the minutes in my head waiting for noon, and when it came,  I’d look at my lunch and think  “I was waiting for this?”

If I had the money, I tried to make lunch good.  If you had some apples, chunks of cheese, hard-boiled eggs, bananas, and salami to go with your primary sandwich you could feel okay about lunch.  Wash it down with some soda, bottled water, coffee, or maybe a stray beer from last night, and you actually began to revive.  However, a dead car battery, a traffic ticket, a trip to the clinic, and you were back to a candy bar and a drink from the hose.  When it came down to budgeting any remaining funds between drinking or eating, the choice was clear.

My buddy Marko and I used to pool our money and buy ground beef, refried beans, onions and potatoes.  We’d cook it up in a pot and then slap the slop into tortillas and roll them up.  We’d make twenty of them so we could have two each, Monday through Friday.  That was lunch.  The first couple of days they were okay, but by Wednesday they had congealed into a grey clot wrapped in soggy dough.  We doused them with hoarded Taco Bell hot sauce, which made them swallowable.  After a while they became nothing more than a delivery platform for the hot sauce.  We called them “Plug-aritos,” because that’s all they were, plugs to stopper up the hunger hole.  Taste and texture were not a factor at that point.  Volume was king.  Clogability.

I finished drinking my tuna sandwich.  I was still hungry.  A Plug-arito would’ve been good.  I lit a cigarette and watched the clouds move for a while.  I found myself wishing the boss hadn’t pulled Marko off to another job.  Not just for help with the trench.  It was better to have someone to talk to.  It helped to have another miserable face looking back at you.  You could pretend you were both in Stalingrad and it was the end.

The night before, my friend Samantha had invited me to her office Christmas party.  She worked for a tour company and they were having dinner at Anthony’s On the Delta.  Fancy.  The owner joined us at dinner.  He was a great host.  He made sure nobody wanted for anything.  Salmon, crab, steak, and chicken dishes kept coming, and I kept cramming.  My bottles of beer kept coming too.  The people at the table were in a good mood, and I felt a tad merry as well.  Yeah, that was good.  It was very different.  Very different from now.

I watched a fat guy walk to the Porta-John.  He had a newspaper.  Ok, I thought, that’s off-limits, for sure.  The honey pumper that came around to empty the shitter was days late.  It was getting intense in there.  I was always pissing all over my shoes because I couldn’t bring myself to look down and see the horror.  Now big boy was going to make his contribution.  Fuck that.  I couldn’t risk losing the food I fought so hard to get down.  I couldn’t imagine bringing a paper in with me and just sitting there catching up on the headlines.

The sun ducked behind some clouds.  It got colder.  I decided to make a hand fire.  I gathered some cardboard and pine cones.  I pulled my gloves off and lit it.  It felt nice to toast up the finger bones.  I looked at my watch.  I had seven more minutes to enjoy this.  I went to my hotel room in Mexico.

There was a brunette opening a bottle of beer for me.  Her teeth easily snap the cap off.  She hands the beer to me and takes off her bikini top.  She throws it off the balcony and it sails like a gull, out beyond the sand and into the surf.  She begins to dance and grind to the music coming from the variety show on the TV.  “A la cama, a la cama, a la cama con Porcel!”  The farmacia cough syrup starts to ooze into the base of my skull and I glow with warmth and joyous goodwill toward mankind.  It’s balmy and breezy.  She’s wearing strappy high heels.  The sink and bathtub are filled with ice and beer.  She says she feels like being a bad girl.

Truck doors started to slam.  It was time to get back to work.  I stomped the fire out.  I put my gloves back on and walked back to the trench.  I was about to pick up my pick and shovel, but stopped.  I just stood there looking down at my tools.  I couldn’t pick them up.  I hit a wall.  I could not move.  Strange.  Then I felt a wave of despair rise up in me.  Oh shit.  Tsunami.  There wasn’t any fighting this one.   Everything suddenly looked sad.  Everything around me looked like it knew it was going to die, and was severely bummed out about it.  I hardly expected that having to eat a fish-flavored sports drink sandwich would bring on a trance of Universal Sorrow.  It seemed an excessive reaction, even for me.

I climbed down into the trench so the other workers wouldn’t see me if I started to cry.  That would be murder.  I laid down on my back.  I remember how good it felt being surrounded by dirt that didn’t give a fuck if I drank too much and screwed up my life.  I closed my eyes and just gave up.  I pretended I didn’t exist.

I heard a Ranchera come on over a distant boombox, and a power saw start up.

After a while, I felt better.  I got up and climbed out, and picked up my pick and shovel.  I could see a little red Honda Civic driving up the hill.  It was Marko.  The boss had wanted him to finish out the day helping me.  I was really happy to see his stupid face.  I called him a spoiled Liberace lap-dog.  He said I looked like someone who made love to the dead.

“I am the dead, but I have risen.”

I told him about the Tuna and Gatorade sandwich and he laughed.  He still had an extra piece of chicken and said I could have it.  He reached into his lunch box and handed it to me.  It was a cold drumstick wrapped in greasy wax paper.  It might as well have been Lobster Thermador.

“I have some hot coffee in my Thermos, dude.  Do you want some?” he asked.

“How is it still hot?”

“It’s in a Thermos, you stupid fuck.  That’s what they do.  They keep drinks hot.”

He poured me a small cup.  Sure as shit, there was steam coming off of it.  I’ll be damned.  I somehow thought that only happened on TV.

“I’m going to get one those things.  How much are they?”

“Twenty five bucks for a decent one.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t buy one now,” he said, “Christmas is coming.”  He jumped into the trench with his shovel.

As far as I was concerned it was already here.  I finished my chicken and coffee and climbed down with him.

These Plug-aritos are delish!

Chaos Junkie

Burn Baby, Burn!

When that thing went off in my hand, brother, I saw a white light.  That was all I saw.  For a few seconds I freaked.  Is this what death is?  A blank white screen for all eternity?  Then I heard Tom screaming, saw smoke and blood, and felt better.  I wasn’t going to have to face a blank screen, yet.  There was more colorful chaos to witness.

I could only make out what was happening in intermittent glimpses.  My perception seemed to be strobing.   I was blinking back and forth between some vast eternal void and the aftermath of the explosion.  White light to smoke and gore, white light to smoke and gore, and so on.  There was a low-pitched hum in my head, like I had been hit over the skull with a tuning fork the size of a garden rake.  That was a peppy little fuse alright, a real go-getter.  It burned down to the stick, quick as a lick.  Ka-pow!

It was 1979.  Tom and I were teenage delinquents.  We were hanging out at my Dad’s house.  He was away on a business trip so we decided to drink all his scotch.  It was Sunday night and we were bored.  I remembered I had a box of what were essentially quarter sticks of dynamite that I had smuggled from Mexico as a little kid.  Let me tell you, you’ve never sweated a border crossing like an eleven-year-old sitting on a box of junior dynamite in the back of his parent’s car.  To me it was worth it.  These “firecrackers” were so much more dangerous than anything the other kids had, they would elevate my status as a mayhem-maker to royalty.  Even big kids would know I meant business.  They were to serve as a sure-fire cure for boredom for many years.

They certainly cured our boredom that night.  We were inside my Dad’s bedroom, and I was flicking the lighter in one hand, while drunkenly holding the Tijuana TNT in the other.  The lighter was out of gas, so it was totally cool to be doing this.  What wasn’t cool was that a spark from a dead lighter could still ignite a fuse.  My Dad’s roommate, a Vietnam vet, sleeping in the next room, didn’t think that was cool either.  The blast opened up my hand into a hamburger pita.  The lighter turned into shrapnel, and peppered my neck and face.  Blood and bits covered my Dad’s walls and water-bed.  Tom had been blasted instantly sober, the roommate pissed himself, and I wound up in the emergency room.

There is nothing more dangerous than a bored drunk.

It was never enough to just get drunk.  I liked to keep things exciting, and it seemed like destroying things, in whatever manner, a great way to do it.  Admittedly, there were at times… consequences, but if you live in fear of those, you have no business drinking yourself insane.  Shoot things, set them on fire, blow them up, throw them out the window, take an ax to them, run them over with your Mom’s LTD, but for God’s sake, make something pay for the fact that you can’t sit and enjoy a quiet moment.

When I was nine years old, my parents turned me into the Camarillo Fire Department for being a pyro.  They caught me recreating a viking sea burial with my G.I. Joe and a burning raft of popsicle sticks in the toilet.  Joe was on his way to Valhalla when they forced the bathroom door open.  A more enlightened set of parents would have recognized my love of history, appreciation of ritual and custom, and would’ve encouraged me to become a cultural anthropologist.  Instead, they ratted me out as a fire bug.

A fireman sat me down and told me gruesome stories of all the people he saw burned to death as a result of little boys playing with matches.  He took my name down and said that if there was any fire in a five-mile radius of my apartment complex he would come looking for me.  He then gave me a tour of the fire truck and turned me over to my parents.  That really sucked.  I was sufficiently penitent.  I decided to take up shoplifting as a hobby until the heat from this rap cooled.

I liked to create chaos around me to equalize the pressure of the chaos inside me.  Whatever was happening didn’t seem like enough.  Maybe it was from watching westerns as an impressionable child, but no drunken party seemed complete until firearms were discharged into the ceiling.  I remember kissing a girl goodnight after a particularly noisy celebration, the sounds of nearing sirens wailing in the night air, the other partygoers scattering in panic around us.  It was a dramatically romantic way to end the evening.  “Be careful,” she said.  “Put money on my canteen,” I told her as I closed the door.  I thought about her while I hid under my mattress.

Thank God I had my buddy Marko to serve as the voice of reason in my life.  (My friends who know Marko got that last joke)  We were a bad combination.  Together we became a machine that produced, and then acted on, very bad ideas.  Besides having a dangerously extensive knowledge of chemistry, Marko liked guns.  Me too.  What’s not to like about guns?  Especially in the hands of crazy people.

For awhile we lived in his mobile home out in the sticks of Santa Fe.  We drank a lot, and often got bored.  You can imagine the results.  Since we took such a casual approach to firearm safety, we didn’t get too many repeat visitors to the old homestead, especially girls.  Poor us, all lonely, drunk, and armed to the teeth.

On New Year’s Eve, 2000, when our society was about to plunge into Mad Max apocalyptic anarchy because the date on people’s computers couldn’t go that high, Marko and I were excited.  Finally, a society more suited to our talents and abilities.  We saw an opportunity for fast-track advancement.  Once the system collapsed, all rule of law would dissolve in the individual’s desperation to survive.  We had been practicing for this moment all our lives.

For months we had been stockpiling guns and ammo, along with canned tuna and baked beans.  We had a medical kit with bandages and medication for pain. We also had five gallons of medical-grade grain alcohol to tide us over until we could liberate more.  Since we had no goods to barter, we decided to become raiders.  We would run around with guns, taking other people’s stuff, especially their beer.  That was our greatest concern with the breakdown of civilization as we knew it, not being able to get beer.  Since this was already our greatest concern, weren’t too worried about adjusting to a world gone savage.  In the meantime, our ids would have some room to stretch out.

When the ball dropped at midnight, Marko was already passed out on the couch.  I was sitting in a recliner.  I picked up my shotgun, and still sitting, pointed it out the open door and pulled the trigger.  I blew a hole through the screen door I thought was also open.  Marko didn’t even flinch.  “Happy New Year, fucker,” I said, cocking another round. “To a brave new world!”  I yelled, and shot through the previous hole.  This time he rolled over and said something that sounded like “Monkey time,” and was out again.

Y2K turned out to be a big disappointment.  The date on everyone’s computers just went to 2000.  Banks stayed open, police showed up for work, utility bills arrived right on time.  Our hopes for establishing our very own empire based on extortion and white-slavery were dashed.  With the money spent on ammo we could have put ourselves through massage school or learned to sell real estate, but that clearly wasn’t meant to be.  We ate the tuna and beans, drank the grain alcohol, and eventually used up all the supplies in our first aid kit.  The only apocalypse we’d get to participate in was the one of our own creation.  Monkey time?

We felt cheated.  The hippies got to have their Summer of Love.  They had Woodstock before Altamont.  Marko and I never got our Altamont.  We were never going to have our environment adapt to us.  It was the first time I lost all hope.  My earlier adventures in Central America had also taken a lot of steam out my engine by then, and I was getting pretty tired of the noise.  Maybe a little peace and quiet wouldn’t be so bad.

That summer I made my first stab at getting sober.  I went to a rehab, and stopped drinking for a couple of years.  Things quieted down for a bit.  The problem was that I never really fixed what was bothering me.  I never made peace with the quiet.  I figured it was enough to just stay dry, but I was getting restless, and I never did get rid of the guns.  I was flicking the dead lighter in one hand, with dynamite in the other, convinced a spark couldn’t start anything.

Crazy-Ass Sons of Bitches

Marko y Yo, bro.

I was sitting in jail one fine evening, thinking about stuff– mostly jail stuff, but also life stuff.  My thoughts weren’t exactly deep as Dostoevski’s, but they were deep enough to make me feel shitty.  I watched an electrician replace a thermostat in the booking office.  He joked around with a few of the guards, then packed up his tools and left.  Suddenly, I wanted to be an electrician, or anybody else that could leave.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again…there was the fact that I refused to heed loud warnings.  My buddy, Marko, deciding not to do something that I proposed should have been plenty loud.  He didn’t buckle under the yoke of reason easily.  So now I was in jail, and Marko was at home, finishing off all of my beers.  That was a bitter, bitter fact, but try getting any sympathy for your troubles in jail.  Anyway, that whole night is another story, for another time.  The main point is that even Marko thought it was a bad idea.

Marko and I never got into bad trouble when we were together.  This was incredible given the fact that we ran Full Bat-Shit Crazy for so long.  We reassured each other that it was okay to push it a little further.  If an idea came to us, well, it was obvious wasn’t it?  We had to answer the call.  We didn’t have much materially, but we could claim an expansive range of experiences.  We could walk like gods if we didn’t stop and ask “Why?”

We met when we were 16 and worked together at Denny’s.  Our bus boy and dishwashing shifts overlapped for an hour every Friday evening.  It didn’t take long to realize how much we had in common.  “Do you like to party?”  ” I’ve been known to.”  So it began.  One day I found a green pill when I was vacuuming.  I brought it back to the Marko who was elbow deep in club sandwich and patty melt remnants.  I asked him what he thought it was.  “There’s only one way to find out,” he said, and popped it into his mouth.  Holy shit.  Marko was the mad scientist and his own monster.  This was a man with an intrepid spirit of investigation and discovery.  He would go places.  That time, however, he only went to sleep, for 45 minutes during his 10 minute break.

Many years later, we continued to work together, mostly as laborers humping a jack hammer and tamper, but also scraping rocks with a pick and shovel.  Hungover like drunk-tank Indians, cursing, sweating, and puking together, we toiled at our version of The American Dream.  The work pretty much sucked year-round. We sweat beer out of our eyeballs in the summer, and ate frozen tuna sandwiches during the winter.  So much shared misery couldn’t help but create a special bond, and some rather anti-social behavior when it came time to “unwind.”

One night we went to Rodeo Nites, a local hay and oats joint.  Neither of us liked Country Western music, but since I worked there part-time as a bouncer, it would be easier to cage free drinks.  It was also a scientific fact that girls who liked Country Western were notorious sluts.  So were we.  Who cares about music anyway when you have so much else in common?  However, that night even the most desperate lady shit-kickers weren’t taking our bait.  That’s what kind of shape we were in.

At one point, Marko was trying to grind it into one of the cocktail waitresses we knew, with his version of The Lambada.  This was hardly appropriate.  Not only had that dance craze died four years earlier, but it wasn’t even Country Western.  Still no reason not to try reviving it with a busy (and slightly pissy) waitress.  Only the fact that I worked there saved us from getting our heads plowed into The Pillar of Shame.  Every bar I worked at had some version of this.  Some pole, wall, or door jam that you would accidentally smash someone into on their way out the door. You saved it for those deserving an extra little treat.  Our antics that night earned us enough for several treats, but my co-workers showed mercy.  Instead, we were asked to “Chill the fuck out,” and given a beer each. We nursed them for awhile, until we got too sleepy and decided to leave.

We walked around for a while looking for his car.  It was hard to find because it was a magical automobile.  It had the power of invisibility.  It was an Oldsmobile his father gave him when he bought a new car.  This was not a Public Enemy 98 Oldsmobile, but a Fuddy Duddy AARP Bonneville, or some shit.  This car said “Driver is a law-abiding, golf pants-wearing Republican, with premium insurance and a healthy fear of God.”  No satanic punk rock stickers on this Citizenmobile.  Nothing that would draw attention to or help witnesses identify.  It would even change color sometimes from blue to green, depending on the light. We once drove from New Mexico to California and back without getting arrested.

We finally found the car and buckled up.  Marko drove towards the exit, but saw it was taped off with yellow caution tape.  We would have to drive to the other exit, which was, oh… about 9 to 11 seconds out of our way.  Fuck that shit!  We had things to do. We were two Renaissance men on the move.  “Don’t fuck around, Dude, just go.” I told him.  “But it’s blocked,” he balked.  “Blocked by what?!  Thin plastic with the words “Caution” all over! Caution is for cowards. Caution is for the slaves that serve.”  I told him that driving through that tape would make us feel like we won a race.  “You want to feel like a winner don’t you?”

He floored it, and we broke through the tape.

He turned on to Cerrillos Rd., one of the main streets through town.  We drove just a few yards before we noticed the sparks.  Huge Roman candles worth of sparks shooting from both sides of the car.  The yellow plastic caution tape had concealed a steel cable behind it.  The cable was attached to two metal poles sunk into 5 gallon drums filled with concrete. These were now being dragged along beside us.  The Olds pulled at the cable caught in the teeth of its grille like a swerving shark, concrete and steel buoys battering its body. It was highly conspicuous.

A cop drove by going the other way.  Fuck.  This was unnerving even when really drunk.  We watched and waited for the u-turn, but it never came.  The cloak of invisibility held.  Just some good citizens taking some buckets of concrete out for a walk.  The car lurched into a gas station.  I remember laughing and laughing as the two of us struggled to pull the cable out.  “Why the fuck do I let you talk me into this kind of shit?” he asked, and then just yanked out the whole grille.  His dad would’ve been so proud to see how strong his son had become.  That made me laugh even more.  It was good to laugh.  It was good to be with good friends. It was good to unwind.