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

You Can’t Punch Gas

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

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

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

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

Like a charm.

Fucking specificity.

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

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

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

It is what it is.

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

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

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

Trust me.

It is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go slack.  Give slack.  Get slack.

“You may be right. ”

Put hands in pockets and shrug.

“But I am right!”

“Maybe.”

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

It’s hard to argue with wallpaper.

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

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

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

My first time ever.

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

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

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

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

This is nothing.

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

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

“I thought eight.”

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

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

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

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

That was the whole truth.

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

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

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

Which I am fucking not.

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

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

“Well, it looks like I fucked up.”

“Yes! Yes you did! YOU FUCKED UP!”

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

“Yep.” I said, “Looks that way.”

“You almost lost us a big account!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look back.

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

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

The silence is peaceful.  I let my mind drift.

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

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

Finally.

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

I stopped by the door.

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

More looking.

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

Good-bye early nap.  Oh well.

It is what it is.

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

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

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

Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

Fuck Yeah!

Fuck Yeah!

The Year in Review, Including Ear Hair Trim

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

“You’ve got a luxurious ear of hair.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two,” I told him.

“Summertime, huh?”

“”Yep.”

I waited for him to start cutting.

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

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

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

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

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

“I think sometimes not even then.”

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

“It is.”

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

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

“Yeah.  Exactly.  So that leaves me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, let’s not think about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Regis rise from the dead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small improvement.

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

I put my soda on her counter and sat down.

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

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

Hairstyling by Beth

Hairstyling by Beth

Pot And Ponchos

Is that a real poncho, or a Sears poncho?

Is that a real poncho, or a Sears poncho?

Going through old photos the other day and came across this gem.  Ah, the poncho.  Difficult piece of clothing to pull off.  Women should never wear them, and the only men that can really rock them are Mexican revolutionaries or drug-addled hippies.  I guess at the time I fancied myself the latter.

But I look fucking ridiculous.   A poncho.  C’mon dude.  Really?

I know.  I know.

I was wearing that poncho the first time I tried scoring weed in Santa Fe.  I had new buddy drive me to the plaza where I had seen a variety of doper-looking scruffians and ne’er-do-wells hanging out.  A few were kicking the sack around.  Others huddled around in conspiratorial circles talking.  This was generally fertile grounds for sowing a pot connection.

Unless you’re a stranger wearing a poncho.

I jumped out of the van and walked over to a small group of these Plaza Rats.

“Hey guys.  Do any of you know where I can score a little herb?”

They all shook their heads no.  Emphatically.  It wasn’t like a no, not right now, but a no, never.  We don’t know anyone who ever sells marijuana.

Strange.  What gives?  I don’t see any X’s on their hands.  They don’t seem straight-edge.  Especially that dude with the knit rasta cap selling hand-carved soapstone hash pipes.  He’s shaking his head no, too.  Hmm.  I walked back dejectedly to the van.

For many years, my friend, Russell, would remind me of that day.  He was there at the plaza hanging out.

“We all just knew your were a narc!” he’d laugh.  “Oh, here comes some buzz-cut guy that jumped out of a white van…wearing a poncho!  Like that was going to throw us off.  He totally looks like a cop, but he must be cool, because…he’s wearing a poncho.  Hahahahahaha!  No way man.”

He had a point.  I wouldn’t have turned me on if I wasn’t me.  What was I thinking?

Fortunately, a little later, I met a guy named, David Scott, who sussed me out as a legitimate fuck-up, and finally vouched for me to his friends.  He invited Keller, my sister, and me to the house where he was living and introduced us.  I didn’t wear my poncho that night and we were welcomed warmly.  So that’s how I got to know The Plaza Rats, an indigenous tribe of freaks, punks and hipsters I immediately felt at home among.

And for the record, none of whom would ever know anyone who sold pot.

At least not anyone who would sell it to a burr-headed state trooper-looking dude wearing a poncho.

So what was the deal with the poncho in the first place?   Well, hear me out.   There was some reason behind my insanity.

I had just moved to Santa Fe, NM from Southern California in ’87.  Or was it ’88?  Doesn’t matter.  My sister and I had driven through a blizzard that got so gnarly we had to pull off and spend the night in Seligman AZ.  We had spent three hours of night driving in white-out conditions with everything we owned crammed into a Chevy Chevette (diesel) and a U-Haul roof carrier.

All I could do was try to stay in the wheel prints of the semi in front of us.  If he went over a cliff, I would have been following right behind.  It was some of the most wide-eyed, ass-puckered motoring I’ve ever had the joy of experiencing.  A memorable first time driving in snow.  I think that U-Haul carrier saved us.  Kept us squashed to the road.

When the semi finally pulled off at Seligman, we were elated.  To this day, that two-horse-turd town holds a special place in my heart.   I will never forget how good it looked that night with all its glowing neon angels.  Gas.  Motel.  Beer.  The holy trinity for tired travelers.  A sweet divine sanctuary.

We bought some snow chains, sandwiches, chips, and sodas.  (Try saying that with a bilateral lisp)  Anyway, there is a very good chance that I purchased some beer that night, but I can’t remember for sure.  The fact that I got roaring drunk in the town bar that night made the purchase of package store beer uneventful in my memory.  There were bigger things to remember about that night.

I remember my sister and I checking into a little motel and being very grateful to be alive and that we had made it, so far.  We still had a long way to go, over some treacherous snowy and icy roads, but for now, we were okay.  Breathe deep.  Holy shit.  What have I gotten us into?

I also remember feeling very proud of her.  She was damn good co-pilot.  Goddamn.  When things were looking grim, she kept her cool and that helped me keep my shit together.  I always knew she was gutsy, but that night, I got to see her at her finest.  Poised.  Steely-eyed.  Determined.  Scared for sure, but not letting The Fear best her.

She’s a good person to have at your side, pointing the way to go to avoid the burning zeppelin.

After I finished appreciating my sister, I decided to hit the bar.  She was in for the night, so I trudged through the snow to the only place open that night.  What I saw when I went in was pretty cinematic.

A black-haired biker babe behind the bar drying glasses, and one sole patron sitting at the bar.  A desiccated piece of grizzle, a wild-haired, bushy-browed, burned-out freak…wearing a poncho.   Oh fucking yes!  So exactly the bar of my dreams.  A sexy chick to look at and a weirdo to talk with is all I really need.

The place was rustic, with antlers and shit on the wooden walls, the plank saloon floor was urine-stained and varnished with years of vomit.  Probably a few quarts of blood splattered  here and there.  Nice.  Perfect actually.  I know you can’t have any real fun without spilling a few bodily fluids.

I ordered a beer and a shot for myself and the fabulous furry freak.   He nodded his appreciation.   Hell, I just looked Death in the eyes and didn’t flinch too much.  I could afford to buy the house a round or two.

I offered one to the bartender, but she declined.  She looked part Indian.  Probably a good idea.  She looked like she’d be a handful in a bar fight.  Strong arms.  Powerful legs…and ass.  I imagined us rolling around on a floor covered in broken glass, wrestling for the pool cue, knocking over tables, her biting into my shoulder, me pulling on her hair, then our eyes meeting.  Magic.  The look that says we belong together.  Then her mouth opening slightly.

“That’ll be sixteen dollars.”

I handed her a double saw.

“Keep it.”

“Thanks.”

“Roads are a motherfucker I hear,” the old head says, still looking straight ahead.

“Yeah, my ass hasn’t unclenched yet.  We’re driving to Santa Fe.  It would be nice if we don’t die.”

The head nodded.  The bartender told me nobody knew if I-40 would be open by tomorrow, and that we might be stranded.  That was fine by me.  This place seemed better than most.  But it was about to get much better.

“You want to burn one?” Mr. Poncho asked me.  Now I nodded.  We stepped outside and watched the snow come down while taking turns hitting at the joint.  It looked really peaceful.  Not like it did from behind the wheel.

I can’t remember how, but in the course of our conversation, Captain Beefheart came up.  I probably brought him up, since I was totally into Don Van Vliet.  A buddy had turned me on to Trout Mask Replica, and the rest was history.  Anything that utterly insane was not just something to listen to, but to somehow incorporate as a lifestyle choice.  The Captain was bat-chain puller insane and I was hoping that repeated listening would infect me with his liberated madness.  Like I needed more.  Bat chain puller.  Bat chain puller.  Puller.  Puller.

Anyway, not only did this guy know about Beefheart, but he could sing his entire catalog–pitch perfect, from the deep grumbles to the high screeching.   I shit you not.  It was an amazing thing to witness.  Especially stoned.  When we went back inside, I bought another round and he performed a little recital for me.  He not only sounded just like the Captain, but knew every single word to every song I threw out.  It was like having a living, breathing, weed-sharing, Captain Beefheart juke box taking requests.  Nothing was too esoteric.  I couldn’t stump him.

Ice Cream for Crow.  I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby.  Dachau Blues.  Abba Zabba.  Candle Mambo.  Big Eyed Beans from Venus.  Tropical Hot Dog Night.   Mirror Man.  I Wanna Find a Woman That Will Hold My Big Toe Until I Have to Go.  And of course, Bat Chain Puller.  He knew them all.

“Okay, Man With A Woman Head.”

He’d take a sip of beer and begin.

“The man with the woman head
Polynesian wallpaper made the face stand out,
a mixture of Oriental and early vaudeville jazz poofter,
forming a hard, beetle-like triangular chin much like a praying mantis.
Smoky razor-cut, low on the ear neck profile.
The face the color of a nicotine-stained hand.
Dark circles collected under the wrinkled, folded eyes,
map-like from too much turquoise eye-paint.
He showed his old tongue through ill-fitting wooden teeth,
stained from too much opium, chipped from the years.
The feet, brown wrinkles above straw loafers.
A piece of cocoanut in a pink seashell caught the tongue
and knotted into thin white strings.
Charcoal grey Eisenhower jacket zipped and tucked into a lotus green ascot.
A coil of ashes collected on the white-on-yellow dacs.
Four slender bones with rings and nails
endured the weight of a hard fast black rubber cigarette holder.
I could just make out Ace as he carried the tray and mouthed,
‘You cheap son of a bitch’
as a straw fell out of a Coke, cartwheeled into the gutter.
So this was a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood,
So this was a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood,
So this was a drive-in restaurant in Hollywood.”

Son of a bitch.  He knew the whole thing.   Maybe I had died back there on I-40, and this was my heaven.   I felt like I’d discovered buried treasure.  What a magnificent gem hidden in a wasteland of Arizona desert.  More beers.  More Beefheart.  More pot.  Digging that crazy poncho, too.

I have experienced many wild and wonderful things in my life, but running into that old freak, in a deserted bar during a snowstorm, remains a highlight.  The human Beefheart beat box.

I think that’s when I caught the poncho germ.  I too wanted to be a solitary, desert-dwelling human repository of cult-music.  A sun-baked beatster basting his brains in a tin-foil trailer.  Not giving a flying fuck.  Too crazy to care.  To be so out there you don’t worry about whether you’re pulling off the poncho or not.  You’re too busy talking to crows, painting rusted car hoods with animal scenes, and remembering how to sing every single Captain Beefheart song ever invented.  Just in case.

I already knew The American Dream wasn’t for me.  This seemed like a viable alternative.  Puller.  Puller.

They opened I-40 that next morning.  I was nervous, but had renewed faith that something was looking out.  We chained up, topped off with diesel, and shimmied that clattering Chevette along the ice.  That next day’s driving was actually worse.  Slush from passing trucks would splash on our windshields and stop our wipers, leaving us driving blind, but we made it.  Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We had never been there.  We didn’t know anybody.  Had no jobs.  No place to live.  Very little money.  And we didn’t give a flying fuck.

There’s nothing like almost dying a lot to make you feel alive, and not worried about small bullshit.

So anyway, a few days after getting there, I walked past a shop selling ponchos.  Oh fuck yeah.  I had to get one.  We had already scored a trailer to live at, inside the Space Science Center for UFO studies on St. Francis Drive.  This would be the second important component to starting my new weird life.  The third was pot, which I would get next.

Wearing my poncho.

I can't give you my coat. It's gotten quite cold.

It’s gotten quite cold, I’ve decided I can’t sell you my coat.

My Favorite Stripper.

Let me know when you're ready for a lap dance, player.

Let me know when you’re ready for a lap dance, player.

I’ve managed to meet a few exotic dancers over the course of my life, but she holds a special place.  For some reason, I always get to thinking about her around Thanksgiving.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because I was grateful to have known her.

She was a piece of work alright.  Men had no idea what they were in for.  But I did.  That’s what made it so wonderful to witness.  I’d watch some drooling letch walk arm and arm with her to the lap dance booth.  Or in the case of many Japanese business men, getting dragged into the booth by her.  Regardless of how they got there, they were all thinking the same thing.  “What an aggressive and nasty little slut!  What kind of a dirty whore has my good fortune chanced upon me here?  This omnivorous sexual creature, lacking inhibition and moral restraint.  This perfect woman.  At least for the lap dance booth.”

It was that or some variable of the same meme.  I could see it in their faces.  Their wild eyes.  Spinning Japanese eyeballs behind coke bottle glasses.  They were so excited.  Why shouldn’t they be?  This girl seems like someone who will let you get away with a lot.  They sensed a total disregard for boundaries.  A Devil’s playground for their wildest desires.

They were in for a surprise.  A boundary was about to punch them in the eye.  Knee them in the groin.

I was a manager at an L.A. strip club manager.  Stressed out.  Trying to stay sober.  Depressed.  Nervous about a big court date.  No money.  Shitty car.  No girlfriends.  And no, not doing any of the strippers.  Like I said, I was depressed, and maybe still mourning the loss of my drunkenhood.  I certainly wasn’t digging having to deal with things in a responsible and healthy manner.  My recently instilled moral compass had me baffled.  Navigating around the world with all kinds of restrictions and parameters was definitely harder.  No wonder I never wanted to do it.

It sucks ass.

It also seemed like every time I did do the “right” thing, something bad happened.  I was in deeper legal shit, then I had ever been in while drunk.  That didn’t seem like a very happy reward for giving up the thing I loved most.  Seemed like a total gyp, actually.  I was really getting the feeling that maybe it wasn’t worth all the effort, this new sober life.

Things kept coming at me, on an endless conveyer belt of bullshit.  Served continually, with no breaks.  With no beer to take the Nestea Plunge into.  No refreshing refreshments.  No oblivion to crawl into and hide.  Instead, it was Reality 24/7,  hammering and hammering on me.  Beating it out of me.  With no bell to end the round and take a stool.

My job didn’t help.  I was one of three managers at an ancient, bio-hazardous waste dump of a strip club.  I had to police over fifty different damaged bundles of dysfunction that we featured as entertainment.  Besides them, I had an owner to deal with.  He was a total money-crazed lunatic, who drank a lot and was prone to stroke-tempting rages.  Then I had a bunch of semi-retired gang bangers and ex-cons working as cashiers and doormen, a couple of odd-ball, tin-foil hat conspiracy nuts working as DJs, some strippers doubling as waitresses, and a few perpetually pissed-off bartenders, each with their own hornet’s nest of issues.

Then there was the clientele.

It would’ve made anybody want to drink.  It sure made me ready for a beer or seventeen after my shift.  Instead, I’d stop for a Cobb salad at Ralph’s and listen to the AM broadcast of Art Bell’s Coast to Coast on the late night drive back to Redondo Beach.  Coast to Coast is not tin foil, by the way.  Lizard people do exist, and many are in positions of great power.

Anyway, the barrage of bullshit was slowing eroding my resolve not to drink.  Also, the possibility of having to do time was hanging over my head, and that didn’t do much to slake my thirst.

So it’s never with great fondness that I recall those days surrounded by g-strings, glitter and thongs.  Go figure.  No, that’s a time in my life I tend to fast forward through when doing the Total Recall thing.  It was generally a gloomy two years.  I had to work at finding any silver lining.  The fact I could find some from such an unlikely source is note-worthy.  Lynx, the bad-ass, speed-freak stripper.  Oh shit.  There’s a song.  I call copyright.

Anyway, she was this  manager’s personal pet.  Out of the fifty or so girls we had working, she was my Number One.  My sunshine.  My only sunshine.

An attractive-enough little brunette, she wore her hair ratted up in a pony tail, like Pebbles… or Gene Simmons.  Had a pretty nice chassis.  Firm fanny.  Perky little peepers.  Sometimes she wore too much eye make-up and had a tendency to over-accessorize, but so did Gene Simmons.

I liked her because she could always crack me up.  I also found out that like me, she was trying to stay sober.  A fellow traveler on the Trudge Turnpike.

Not many of the other girls were trying to stay sober.  Like none other.  Not that every single one had a problem.  Just that of the many who did, no others were trying to do anything about it, but get money for more.  And while most of the other girls were criminally scandalous in their attempts to rip-off the house, Lynx was always square.  That’s the other thing I liked about her.

She showed me the respect of not making my job any harder.  She was still running game on a lot of the chump customers at the club, but she always rendered unto Caesar.  I appreciated that.  I never had to watch her.  Unless I wanted to.  Just for laughs.

I have to stop and make this clear.  Although she was attractive, I wasn’t necessarily attracted.  One of those strange things.  Like she was my younger sister in some other life.  I never had any pervy feelings for her.  Seriously.  I just got a kick out of her.  She had a loud laugh that made me laugh.  She was also a trip to watch.  She had the wanton whore thing down.

She’d be clomping around onstage in her black boots.  Not really dancing, but pacing back and forth like a caged dominatrix.  Step, step, turn.  Gyrate.  She’d have this look in her eyes like she was searching for someone to rape.  Raw animal lust, pausing only to choose who to violate next.  So many eligible and willing victims.  Step, step, step, turn.  You?  Gyrate.  Gyrate.

Ooh, pick me!  Pick me!

Poor suckers.  She didn’t have trouble snagging customers willing to pay for a private lap dance with her.  Guys were very eager to spend some quality time with her, to share some precious moments, inside one of our semi-private, shower-curtained, ripped couch, “what’s all this tissue on the floor?” suites.

After all, the mark had pretty good reason to believe he had pulled a live-wire.  He’s picked someone who would make his twenty-seven dollar, three-minute dance, worth every penny.  Those dirty fuckers all thought she’d be a pushover for some verboten grinding and rubbing.

I should probably explain how the lap dance thing worked, at least at this club.  Girls would dance on stage for tips, but if a guy really liked a girl, he could pay to take her into a booth and let her bump and grind on him.   He was supposed to keep his hands at his sides and never touch the dancer.  Well, at this club, all this took place in a dark booth, behind a plastic curtain.  I had floor men who would peek in to make sure everybody was playing by the rules, but strippers are a sneaky breed of greed.  If they can get away with earning a little extra, by allowing a little extra, most do.

Well, it turned out, Lynx was not that kind of girl.  She policed her privates to the legal letter of the law.  And she enforced that law with her bony little fists and pointy boots–much to the customer’s chagrin, and my utter delight.  I remember watching her take this excited, chubby business man into a booth.  He was leering.  His sweat glands were salivating.  Oh man.  He’s going to go for it.  Gonna make a grab for the gold.

I listened to the song start.  Sure enough.  After a couple of bars of music, I hear a commotion, and out from behind the shower curtain, Rolly Polly rolls out.  He’s sprawled on the floor, holding his eye.   She comes out of the booth putting some money in her purse, kicks the sorry lump, then steps over him on her way back to the dressing room.

“He touched my tits,” she told me.  I nodded.

The guy came to me complaining, but I didn’t want to hear any of it.  “You don’t touch her tits, dude.  She’s like a sister in a past life to me, you sick fuck, you filthy degenerate?   What kind of place do you think I’m running here?”   I had Danny throw him out.  No refund.

Turns out that guy was with a bunch of other guys.  They got pissed I was throwing out their buddy.  So I threw them out too.  They tried to make a stink, but found themselves surrounded by a bunch of guys right off the post office wall.  Yeah, that’s right.  No refund, you fucking fucks.

That’s what not drinking did to me.  Strung me way too tight.  Especially that first try.  I had no clue what it took to successfully not drink.  Being an asshole is not part of the program.  Maybe embracing your inner-asshole, and making friends with him.  Accepting the fact that you’re an asshole,  and then invoking some sort of supernatural force to run interference.   To mitigate it.  That’s part of my program now.  I’m mitigating.

Back then I was unmitigated.  I was the 100 percent, un-cut, pure shit.  It didn’t make life any easier.

Lynx was struggling too.  She had all kinds of Life problems.  Lots of wreckage.   Legal troubles.  Painful relationships.  Health concerns.  The whole recovery bouquet.  So she was trying to deal with all that and stay clean…while working as a stripper in a dirty L.A. club.  She had a lot on her plate.

I did my best to help.  I’d go to bat for her with the general manager for schedule changes, let her leave when she needed to, take her side in the cat fights, cut her slack for fuck-ups, and basically, tried to look out for her.  She repaid me with her goofy laugh and crazy stories.

One afternoon, during a dragging day shift, I was bullshitting with one of the bartenders.  I had just said, “And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster,” when Lynx walked by.  “Turkey baster!” she shouts, “Were you into those too?”

Here’s the thing.  A long time ago, in some story I wrote, I wanted to imply that something kinky was about to transpire, so I wrote “And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster.”  I always liked that line.  A nice blend of strange and nasty.  I reused it a lot.  It became kind of a standard device of mine.  It really makes a great last line to just about any story.

Anyway, when I came up with it, I didn’t have anything particular in mind.  I just thought the nastiness was inherent, but in an amorphous way.  Turkey Baster Time?  Hmm.  Something weird is about to happen.

So that was it, and I was actually using it that way while talking to the bartender, when Lynx overheard me.  Now she was all excited, asking me about using a turkey baster, and I don’t even know what she meant…what that would actually entail.

“Uh, I don’t…know…what that’s all about…even though…I was talking about it.”

“Oh fuck, that was my favorite way to do speed!”

What’s this?  I had to think about it, but I got it.  Wow.  That’s pretty crazy.  So crazy, my own imagination couldn’t have come up with it.  That’s pretty crazy.  Disconcerting, actually.

“Oh yeah, that way…the turkey baster, ha-ha! Yeah…sure.”

“I used to have different colored ones.  Even had a rack of six different ones mounted by the wall of my bed.”

Okay.  That was too much.   My mind was officially blown.  What-the-mother–?  Is she pulling my leg?

“You’re fucking with me.”

“No Marius, I had them in this thing, like a spice rack, my boyfriend made and mounted for me.”

She was serious.  Turkey basters.  For taking speed.  Via culus.  Different-colored.  Collect-them-all, but keep your best six in a happy rainbow by the bed, in a rack, that your boyfriend made as a handyman shop project.

Wrap your mind around that.

To think I was proud of myself for coming up with a turkey baster being used in some generally implied kinkiness.  Real life had out-weirded me.  Had run circles around me as a writer.  As an artist.  It was humbling.

Even if I could make something like that up, I would never use it.  It’s not very believable.  The reader isn’t going to buy it.  Maybe the shooting drugs in your butt part, but not the spice rack with different colored basters part.  That part, is just too.

And yet, there it was.  True fact.  Stranger than fiction.

I love it.

Lynx was always good for stuff like that.  She was full of surprises.

Anyway, it was only a matter of time before my white knuckles lost their grip, and I was drinking again.  All the stress finally made me snap.  As it started to look more and more like I was going to go to prison for a few years, I caved.  I was scared, and didn’t want to think about it.  So I told myself I could get sober again while inside and started bolting them down.

Then my lawyer beat the rap.  Oops.  Ha-ha.  Jumped the gun there.  Maybe I should have waited a little longer.  Oh well.  Now it was too late.  The genie was out of the proverbial.  I had unleashed The Beast.  Nine months of absolute destruction.  Stepped into the elevator and pushed B.  One more time.  But this time for good.

I was very quickly out of a job, and then an apartment, then a mind.  Made quick work of all of them.  Who needs that shit anyway?

I drank myself helpless, and wound up in rehab for the second time.  This time in North Hollywood.  A place, appropriately called Cri-Help.  Or as we lovingly called it, “Cry Help, Bitch! ”  After detox, I was transferred to residential.  One day I went to the office where they handed out mail.  There she was.  As a patient, but working in the mail room, Lynx.  I guess she couldn’t stay straight either.

“Hey!”

I started towards her, wanting to give her a hug, but she stood back and shook her head.  I had forgot.  The place was strictly non-contact.  As members of the opposite sex, we were not only not allowed to touch, but to talk, or to even make eye-contact.  This place was pretty uptight about it, too.  You’d get written up for even acknowledging a chick in the dinner line.  Of course, everyone broke the rules when they could, but there was a counselor right there in the room.

“Uh, I’m here to see if I got any mail.”

“What’s your name?”

It was strange.  It felt bad.  Not being able to talk to a friend.  Not being able to ask what was going on with them.  How they wound up in rehab.

“There’s nothing here for you.”

“I figured.”

We stood there looking at each other.

“Okay, I guess I’ll check back some other time.”

“Yeah, try again later,” she said,  looking over at the counselor.

One day we did manage to talk.  She had come over with another woman to the picnic bench me and some other dude were sitting at.  They sat at the other end of the table, facing each other.  A counselor was talking to someone at the next table, so we used our friends to beard the conversation.  It was absurd.

“Last I heard, you were going to prison,” she said to the woman across from her.

“I beat it,” I told the guy across from me.  “But I went out anyway.”

“No shit,” she said, poking the woman.

We laughed at our respective conversation partners.  There was that  laugh, loud enough to bring unwanted attention from The Man.

“And you, dude?” I asked, “Did you go back to the turkey baster?”

“What?” My guys asks.

“Not you.  Her.”

“No, heroin.”

“That’s one way to keep off meth.”

Everyone nodded.

“Did you ever wind up dating, Emma?” she asked her friend.

“Dating is hard to define,” I told my buddy.

“Yeah.  I know,” she said to the woman, “You’re a whore.”

We sat there for a while, but it was awkward trying to catch up while pretending to be talking to two other people.  Looking at some dude and asking him if he still plans on stripping when he gets out.

It became really difficult when the two other people started to talk to each other at us.

“Do you think they ever fucked?” the guy asked me.

“I can’t figure it out,” her friend told her.

We finally decided to wrap it up.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” she said, getting up from the table.

“Me too, bro. It’s good to see you.”

That was it.  That was the last time we talked.  I’d run into her around the rehab and we’d do the slight nod to each other, then I stopped seeing her. I’m pretty sure she got released before me, because one day she was gone.   I never saw her again.

Too bad.  She was a cool chick.  I wish we could have stayed in touch.

So I guess I’m hoping this entry is like a note in a bottle that I’ve thrown on the seas of the internet.  I’m hoping that she’s alive and well, and will somehow, some day, stumble upon this while surfing.  Even though I changed her stage name, she’ll know it’s her.  After all, how many women have had a mounted rack of multicolored turkey basters by their bed?

If you are reading this, I want to thank you for being a good friend during a hard time, and for entertaining me, and always keeping things interesting.  I really owe you for that.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster.

Let's party!

Let’s party!

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

I’m A Rich Bastard Now.

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I won’t be writing this bullshit blog anymore.  Why?  Because I don’t need to.  I don’t need you.  I don’t even need me.  I’m rich now.  All of a sudden.  Filthy, dirty, stinking, obscenely rich.  I will simply be too busy indulging my degenerate appetites to waste time writing some worthless, free blog.  This was only something to pass the time until I stumbled upon a windfall.  Well, I’ve stumbled… and the wind has fallen.
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Of course, my elation at this turn of events is tempered by the fact that some people I don’t know, but blessed with my last name, had to die in a terrible tragedy.  Someone had to pay the ultimate price to deliver me.  But, like the old saying says, “Whenever a Gustaitis dies, an angel is born.”  Well, I have been reborn.
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Please witness:
Roger Silas Kokou
Attn: Gustaitis,

This is an official legal notice of unclaimed fund left behind by Eng. Jacob A. Gustaitis, a national of your country, contractor by profession who died in a car accident along with his wife and their only daughter.

As the former official/personal attorney of the deceased and witness of fact of this subject matter, I hereby solicit for your immediate response and positive committed efforts to facilitate the transfer of the total amount valued at twenty million, Six hundred thousand U.S.D which he left behind, since you bear the same last name with him thus you are legally authorized to apply. Kindly Respond via my private email for details: cabinetwatdan(AT)yahoo.com or call: 00-228-9-95-27-743.

Regards, Barrister Daniel Wataego (Esq) Lomé-Togo

Can you believe my luck?  I’ve been waiting for something like this.  Deus ex machina, baby.

Twenty million, six hundred thousand dollars.  Even in today’s money, that’s a decent chunk.  I can put the twenty million in a CD, and then coast off the six hundred grand until it matures, in three or six months.  I haven’t decided which.  Is there a tax on getting money from dead people you don’t know?  Seems like there would be.

Well fuck that.  This money is mine, Uncle Sam.  That whole “render unto Caesar” admonition might have applied in olden times, but not in today’s economy.  I don’t care if I have to fly every week to use an ATM in Togo, I’m not letting you touch any of it.  I worked hard during various periods of my life.  When I wasn’t laying around drinking myself into a stupor, I was busting ass at all kinds of brutal and stupid jobs.

Thank you, sweet Lord.  Of course, I’m going to share my good fortune.  I promise to tip generously and hire only struggling young attorneys.  I think You knew that by bequeathing me this ample harvest, I would spread it among my fellow man.  And woman.  One rolled-up hundred-dollar bill at a time.

I don’t know where to begin.  I mean, I don’t want to go apeshit, but there’s been a lot of things I’ve needed that I just couldn’t afford.

Jet Ski with a grape jelly flaked paint job.  Gold-plated gatling gun.  Armored car with 10,000 watt trunk of funk and champagne slushy machine.  Private bowling alley with a stripper pole in the middle of the lane.  Rocket powered hang glider from Acme products.  Things I didn’t know I needed.  Until now.

Indian elephant wearing a poncho made of rubies.

I’m telling you, this really simplifies my life.  No more having to run the rat’s maze.  No more jockeying for position.  No more dealing with the complicated Rube Goldberg machine of social acceptance.  I no longer have to try to earn the approval of my peers.  You see, I don’t need their approval.  I just need the approval of some corrupt Third World bank executive…and I’m golden.

Everyone will hate themselves for not being me, and that’s approval enough.

I always wanted a satin trampoline.  To bounce around on naked while high on nitrous.  And a spider monkey trained to do cute stuff, like the laundry.

Will this change me?  It depends on what you mean by change.  Sure, it will change the way I act towards others, but it won’t change the person inside.  No.  That person is just going to feel a little more free to assert himself.  That’s all.  I’m still going to like what I like, but now will be able to stick my snout into the trough a little deeper.  Or better yet, pay others to stick it in for me.  Create jobs.

I might be getting ahead of myself.  I still have to come up with the $3,700 to release the funds.  This barrister dude,  Mr. Daniel Whataego (What a ego?) has been pretty firm about me coughing up the money before he can proceed.  I told him, “Dude, I will sign anything saying that as soon as I get my millions I will pay back the four grand.”  No dice.  My Sprint bill from talking to this fucker is going to be a whopper, but I can’t stress.  I have to be patient.  I’m sure there’s all kinds of legal bullshit, and probably a greedy official somewhere along the line that needs to be greased.  I know how this shit works.  People are just not going to hand over twenty million dollars.  Until you send them four thousand dollars.

Mine really is a typical American success story.  A son of immigrants wastes 30 years of his life as a dangerous drunk, gets sober, then one day while scrolling through spam featuring male enhancement products, comes across $20.600.000.  It’s Horatio Algers.  It’s the feel good movie of the century.  It’s now my story, an American story.  A story of redemption…and revenge.

Not everyone is going to be happy about my success.  (I’ll make sure of that)  There are a lot of people out there who will resent my millions, and I expect that.  It’s human nature.  I myself was human once, so I know how those miserable creatures roll.  Lot’s of people I know are struggling these days.  They’re going to see me as a soft touch for a handout.   They are in for a rude surprise.   I might have been willing to help them out when I was poor, because that meant I couldn’t give them much.  But now… now my generosity could really hurt.

Them, that is.

Look, I don’t want to rob them of the wonderful journey of self-discovery that financial insecurity and its panic provides.  If I help pay for an operation or make a rent or car payment for them, it’s only going to keep them from looking deep within themselves.  Do you really need a place to live?  Reliable transportation?  A biopsy?  Or is that just stuff our consumer-driven media brainwashed you to believe you need?

Well, the best way to find out, is to not get any of it.  Maybe you’ll discover that a cardboard box, a thumb, or a spoonful of rat poison will suffice as substitute.  You won’t know unless you try.  Try it a bunch.  You don’t have to report to me.  I know that sit-rep.  It seems like only yesterday I was at Ross Dress for Less, looking through the clearance rack.  Which is weird, because it happened today.

I rarely shop for shit.  Except for food.  I’m doing okay, but I’m not big into spending.  I think it’s residual survival instinct.  All those years living hand to mouth.  So anyway, I needed some essentials.  A new pair of those stretchy lycra thermal underwear for under my work-out gear this winter.  They make me look ridiculous.  Like a villain from the old Bat Man show. but that’s why I disguise myself with other clothes on top.  So nobody snaps.

I’d prefer to clothes shop at a thrift store, but not for underwear.  That’s a little too gnarly.  So Ross it is.  It’s hit or miss there.  They have some of the most hideous clothes ever invented, in my size, and some really cool threads, that don’t fit.  Anyway, I’m in luck.  There’s a set in my size.

Decent price, too.  I pull out the top from the box and try it on.  It fits.  Except the neck hole is too tight.  Everything else fine.  Hmm.  I can go next door to Target.  Target, right?  Not Rodeo Drive.  I can probably find a pair with a neck hole that doesn’t choke me.  The difference in price is really not going to make or break me.  But I’ve got this great deal over here, and except for the blocking my airways situation, it’s perfect.

“Fuck it, I’ll stretch the hole,” I decide.  I should be grateful.  There are people out there that don’t even have a hole to stretch.  And I saved enough to buy a twelve pack.

That’s how it is with me.  There’s this feeling that by saving money, there will be more money for beer.  Even though I don’t drink beer anymore.  Old habits die hard.  Back then, if I got, let’s say a traffic ticket, instead of being happy I didn’t get hauled in for D.U.I., I would picture how many imported beers the ticket cost.  Then I’d picture those bottles being smashed, one by one, in a drainage ditch.  Just to drive the pain in harder.

Lose a gas cap?  Six bucks to replace it?  That’s a sixer of Becks.  Forget it.  Stuff a rag in and drive a Molotov cocktail around.  Buy three forties to celebrate your savings.  No need to waste money on an oil change, not when you have to put in a quart every three days.  It changes itself.   Registration due?  Break out the paint set and change the color of the tag.  Proof of Insurance?  Pay the dude at Kinkos to make you one using an old one.

I knew lots of handy cost-cutting ways to stretch the family budget.  Savings enough to buy a Mayan pyramid’s worth of beer.  Instead of a real house.

Unfortunately, drinking on an empty stomach became a common cost-cutter.  My dire financial situations made that one easier and easier to employ.  When you choose to stop eating so you can keep drinking, it’s probably a red flag.  One to whiz right by on your glorious victory lap.  Some kind of end is roaring towards you.  Wave back to the flags.  Won’t be long now before something significant happens.  Will it be getting twenty million dollars?

It’s been hard to change my attitude about money.  Sometimes I think I’m still that bum.  I sure remember where I came from.  If I go to a restaurant, I will really agonize about making a waitress or waiter go back and get something.  I know what a pain in the ass it is to dance to somebody else’s tune.  If I go to a hotel, I have to tidy up the room before the maid comes so she wouldn’t have to work as much.  My mom cleaned motel rooms for a while and it was hard enough when the rooms were neat.

I was on a cruise recently with my girlfriend.  There’s all these Indonesian people serving as crew.  We’ll, I’ve been to Indonesia, and already knew those people are some of the most beautiful souls on the planet.  Happy and good-natured, they always friendly and provide excellent service.  And that’s what bothered me.  They’re such nice people, I didn’t want them to have to do anything for me, and when they did, felt like I had to over-tip and thank them like they saved me life.

If we ordered room service, I would ask the person taking my order, to tell the guy delivering it, that it was no rush.  I had been a room service waiter and knew that whole frantic hurry go-go that came with that gig.  I didn’t want to add to their stress.  If we had to call for something, like more towels, I’d hesitate.  They’re probably really busy now.  I didn’t want them to have to deal with my shit.  Speaking of…

One afternoon, Lori had gone up to one of the top decks.  I figured this was a good time to use the bathroom.  I like to be private about some things, and it’s kind of close quarters, dig?  So now’s a good time.  Well, I finish and push the flush.  Nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again…Again.  Nothing.  Oh fuck.  I can’t believe it.  This can’t be happening.

It’s not going away.

You see, I also used to work for a plumbing company, so I know what having to deal with something like this is like.  I remember having to work through somebody else’s problem while they casually popped peanuts and played ping-pong in the next room.   I cannot subject somebody else to it.  Can not.

It was one of those crucible, just-crapped-my-pants moments.  I MUST handle this.  Into action, NOW!

I’ll spare you the details, but I handled it, so to speak.  It was a secret stealth mission.  I felt like I was smuggling enriched Uranium trying to get it out of cabin and properly disposed of.  I left the package on the counter of the health and beauty spa.  Not really, but I dealt with it, so nobody else would ever have to.  I think it shows character.  Rugged individualism.

I dealt with my own shit.

Anyway, when I got back, I was able to finally call the ship’s maintenance guy.  He fixed the toilet.  I tipped him.  Thanked him like he saved my life.  Closed the cabin door and slid along the wall.  I felt like I had aged years.  So much for relaxing cruise.

I don’t know if that part of me would change if I were rich.  I couldn’t pop peanuts and play ping-pong while somebody else was dealing with my mess.  It wouldn’t feel right.  I don’t think it should.  I hope that part of me never goes away.  It’s a slippery slope if it does.  Next stop, total assholedom.  For me at least.  And tons of money wouldn’t solve that problem.

I do have some friends that have done pretty well for themselves and haven’t turned into total assholes.  They haven’t lost their humanity.  They’re still cool to hang out with and would probably help a friend out if they needed it.  That’s encouraging.  Not that I would ever ask.  Like I said, I’m doing okay.

Which reminds me, I have to get a cash advance off my cards to Western Union some money to Mr. Wataego.  He’s expecting it.