Red Ink In My Eye

Relaxing the other night, watching some documentaries about Russian prisons, I found myself being grateful.  Grateful the optical mouse worked on my bed sheets.  So I didn’t have to sit up at the desk to click.  That’s such a pain in the ass.

A Russian prisoner is being walked to a cell by four guards and a dog.  He’s handcuffed behind his back.  His legs are shackled.  He has a black cloth bag over his head.  And they have him walking bent over at the waist.  At a right angle.  The don’t fuck around at The Black Dolphin.  That’s the name of this particular prison.  The White Swan is another.  But that one is not as luxurious as the New Age spa this prisoner is enjoying.

“Come, be pampered in blissful sybaritic abandon.  The Black Dolphin, privately nestled between the jet-set playground cities of Novokuybyshevsk, Samara, and Ufa.”

The prisoners are forced to spend the day standing in silence.  Standing.  With a Russian head on their necks, one that makes them think Russian thoughts.   Keep that part in mind.  What a mental and emotional bludgeoning that in itself would be.  What vast endless steppes of melancholy confront that average traveler.  Now throw him into the worst place in Russia (which has a pretty decent collection) and see what kind of misery you can conjure.

These boys distill a potent brew alright.  And I know a thing about moon-shining a mental nightmare.  But they when they tap into that still, the sorrow just fucking flows.  I always say a Russian with a guitar is good for at least two suicides during any picnic.  So when the camera shows two of their prisoners standing in a cell, I always try to picture what’s going through their heads.  What the interior landscape looks like in there.  How those seconds would tick-tock by.

Time that must really crawl when you’re eagerly awaiting a delicious bowl of cabbage water.  Not to mention the fifteen minutes of luxuriating on the sinful comfort of a wooden stool.  Precious minutes.  Oh yeah.  That part totally rocks.  All that… getting to sit.  While eating water.

Best fifteen minutes of the day.  For sure.

It’s brutal fare.  And I need to see this.  A little reality-check.  To get more gratitudinal.  Which is an important tool in my sobriety toolbox that I hardly open.

I reach up for my can of Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale.  I have to sit up to get at it.  If I put the can on the floor, I always kick it over.  So I have to set it on top of the dresser.  I’d prefer to just be able to turnstile my arm out at the elbow and have one in reach.  But alas, life is exceeding cruel.

I guess, if I dragged in something like a TV tray I could set up a little temporary nightstand, but I refuse.  You start using a TV tray as an end-table and it’s over.  You’ve officially quit the race.  Start picking out battery-heated booties from the Harriet Carter catalog and await your death.  It’s coming on swift wings.

I’ll keep having to reach up a little.  It’s good for me.  Good for the obliques.

Now there’s some dude showing off his tattoos.  A sullen, nicotine-stained woodcarving of The Eternal Mope, he’s pointing out what each piece of creepy Russian iconography means.  The church domes each represent a full conviction served.  It looks like he’s got pretty crowded Kremlin on his chest.  The black cat a burglar.  A beetle means pickpocket.  Stars on his knees mean he will not kneel before any authority.  Cool.  Spider web denotes drug addiction.  A light bulb means he worked in a Uranium mine.  Sorrowful Madonnas.  Orthodox crosses.  Church bells.  Ships.  Barbed wire rosaries.  Dice.  Diamonds.  Skulls.  Angels.

All of it signifying something sad, bad, or both.  Laid out there.  Bared naked.  For all to see.  Every one of your underworld merit badges.  On proud display.

Think of all the talking it would save.  Instead of trying to catch up a new friend with endless stories.  I could take off my clothes and just rotate like a rotisserie chicken a few times and they’d be up to speed.  Need to refer to a time in my life, just lift my shirt and point.  Let them read the codex.

Fuck yeah.

Okay, now I want some tragic Russian prison tattoos.   I want my own illustrated history tattooed in flesh.  I want to be a living billboard of bummer.

But only if I could design my own.  A bear drinking bees instead of honey from a hive.  An onion dripping  juice into a bloodshot eye.  A babushka mother wringing her hands.  A stack of poker chips on each shoulder.  A rabbit plowing a field.  A skull head hand-cuffed to a chainsaw.  A bullet going through a screen door.  A pair of black Converse with wings.  A wizard bong.  X’s on my eyelids.  A Mexican peso on my palm.  A monkey stealing a peach.  Well, one monkey stealing three peaches total.

I could also get 0.24, 0.26, 0.19, and o.o inked on my forearm–my blood alcohol level during arrests resulting in a conviction.  Maybe the ones that I beat on the other arm.

“This flying mushroom on my shoulder means I’m a skilled pilot.  The gnome bathing in the kitchen sink means I can handle the weird.  The salt shaker on my fist means I fight dirty.”

“What does the stiletto heel through the heart mean?”

Silence.  I break down in sobs.  Big rolling heaves.  Some renting of garments.  Hair pulling.  Really uncomfortable to witness.  Finally, wiping away snot, I manage to blubber out, “It means nothing!”  Then more sobbing.  More shirt tearing.  Hair pulling.  Just over the top shit.

“I shouldn’t have asked.  Sorry.”

That would be fun.

Actually, I always thought that if I were to really get my criminal creep on, I would like to tattoo a monocle over my eye.  With the string coming down from it, like the Planter’s Peanut Man.  Just to really keep ’em guessing.

“They called me ‘Professor,'” I’d  tell the cashier at the drive-thru.  Then drive off before getting my food.  But after paying.

Ah, it’s a pipe dream.  I’ll never do it.  I’m just not that into advertising what a fuck up I was.  Except in this blog, that goes out to the world via internet.

Huh.

The tattoos would’ve actually been a better choice.

Oh well.  Gotta take the bad with the bad.  Which is what these lads on the telly seem to being doing…with style.

They’re marched out at six in the morning for exercises.  That’s right, no cup of mocha espresso is going to wake you up like a few scorching lungfuls of Siberian frost.  The interviewed guard explains that the routine is made up of light movements intended to get blood flow into the limbs.  Just the thing after you’ve spent the night hung up with your arms behind your back, on a meat hook.

Just do some tootsie-tappers and wristy twirls.  Under searchlights.  And snow swirls.

Got to hand it to those Ruskies.  They know how to suffer.  Always have.  I think best of all.  Although Keller and my mom have been reading about North Korean prison camps.  They both tell me the No-Kos can give the Russians a run.  Keller said they have something there called a Three Generation Conviction.  In other words, the conviction is handed down through three generations.  Like a gold watch.  Or alcoholism.

Pretty raw deal, but I don’t know.  The Russians take anguish to an art form.  I really do enjoy their mournful songs of loss and regret.  Real soul-achey stuff.  I just can’t picture the North Koreans being as lyrical.  Maybe because they always do pep squad foot-stamp-and chant-stuff during the talent shows.  Running around with banners.  Spelling letters out of people.  Basic totalitarian regime half-time extravaganza shit.  That’s not going to translate well on the cattle car railing you off to work detail.  While everybody inside is fighting over icicles.

(Soda reach.  Sprinkle some trail mix on the chest to eat from.  Neck kind of hurts from watching sideways.   This pillow sucks.)

Okay, I don’t like this part.  Seen it before.  Always kills me.   The dad coming to visit the son.  See, the dad can’t visit too often since he doesn’t drop by Siberia that much.  He can only make the long journey twice a year, to be with his son– for two hours.

The visits only reignite the flame of pain.  But in this case, it’s clearly a pain endured in the name of love.

(Gulp)

They sit huddled in a small reception room nursing a cup of tea.  The son cradles some sort of beef-stick his dad gave him.  He doesn’t seem to care about the nitrates or high sodium.  They smile bravely.  The father is holding his son’s hands.  He has clearly forgiven him.  You can see it by the love in his eyes.  After all the fuck ups, the father still loves him.  Even though it makes it all hurt more.  It’s that kind of love.

(Hard swallow.  Eye-ball juice forming)

Now it’s time to part.  Time for Dad to catch the 5:15 back 2.300 kilometers into the city.  Time to tell the mother, who will never see him again, about her son.  Again and again.  During long winter nights.  To keep the memory of him from fading like a ghost into the forest.

They hug deeply.  Both men have tears.

(Achhh!  Achhhhh-hah!  Ghrrach!  Ahuuurrr!  Fucking pollen count.)

I move the mouse and click.  That’s enough of that.

I lie there for a while thinking.  I want to write my dad an e-mail.  Just to say “hey” and that I’m okay.  And that I love him.  I’m pretty sure he still loves me.  After everything.  More importantly, I want him to know that I do.  I kind of don’t feel like getting up.  Maybe tomorrow.

No.  Now.

It won’t kill me.  But not doing it might.  I sit up and reach for the keyboard.

Fucking Russians.

"This next number I'm going to play is a sad little song."

“This next number I’m going to play is a sad little song.”

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Gulags and Kitty Cats

Just sitting here digging life.

I’m trying not to get into pacing and hand-wringing mode, but one of my cats, Bugsy, has been gone for a day and a half.  I’m worried that he’s gotten into a fight or been killed by a car.  Big tough guy scared about his kitty cat.  God, if people knew.  They must never know.  I hate this shit.  It’s my karma for what I did to my folks.  I just have to trust his little kitty higher power is looking out, and distract myself as best as I can.

I’m on-line with Dave, and we’re talking about Mikhail Dyomin’s book, The Day is Born of Darkness.  We both get a kick out of thinking about life in the Soviet Prison system.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because it was so brutal, that it makes our regular shitty days seem down right paradisaical.  Not like we need to look in books for examples of brutal living.  We both can draw on our own past experiences.  Dave a lot more than me.  Fucker was not just some dilettante dabbling in brutal, like me, but a clock-punching, licensed journeyman worker at it, most of his whole life.

Anyway, the minute he messaged me something about the book, I was on Amazon getting a collector’s quality copy.  Are you kidding?  Dudes that make playing cards out of pressed bread that they paint with soot and drops of blood.  Oh yeah.  If you’re a connoisseur of misery like Dave and I, you know you can’t beat the Russians.  They are masters of melancholy.  The average Russian store clerk lives a life sadder and more tragic than anything in Bronte, or Celebrity Rehab.  However, throw one them into a Siberian prison, and see what kind of gloom oozes out.  A high-grade, pharmacological-quality depressant.

I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich, when I was a kid.  I loved transporting myself into a distant Siberian labor camp, and really imagining how awful it must have been.  I used to do that so that when it came time to go to school, I could trudge with the fatal resolve of a Soviet prisoner.  Perhaps stopping by the window to wonder, “How long will the desolation of the endless tundra haunt my dreams?  How long before a fire or friend?  Mocked by the raven, hunted by the wolves, my heart hangs freeze-dried on the barbed wire of 6th grade.”

I get up from the computer and walk outside to see if Bugsy is around.  I don’t go out there and yell “Bugsy! Bugsy! Bugsy!”  It seems too desperate.  I make my girlfriend do that.  Instead, I send telepathic messages that he should get his furry little ass home for some dinner and a nap.  Then I pray to St. Francis to protect him.  Why does he do this to me?  Is he so self-absorbed in Tom-catting around the town, that he can’t even check in and let us know he’s alright?

A bigger cat moved into the neighborhood recently.  A big blonde beast.  I call him Boris.  Boris the Beast.  Bugs and him have gone at it a couple of times now, and once he came home with a tuft of fur missing and a big cut across his nose.  Bugsy is all street cat.  He loves it out there.  I don’t blame him.  That’s where the action is.

Except for a family of raccoons, he’s had the run of the ‘hood all to himself.  Now this cat moves in, and I get the feeling that Bugsy is just looking for trouble with this bigger cat, to prove something.  Prove something to Boris, and prove something to himself.

I don’t know why I think that.

“Do you think he’s okay?” I ask Lori.

“He’s fine,” she says.  I scrutinize the timber in her voice for any hidden anxiety.  She seems confident.  I’ll hang on to that.

I go back on-line, Dave has cut and pasted the lyrics to No River To Take Me Home, by Neurosis.

Digging a hole so I can rest
No tears from no river to take me home
The stones in my way, roots to the core
Of a rising sun falling through
the wind to the soil

As my body leaves me
I cling to a tree in a dream
I’m screaming to you
Whatever comes through me I will be.

Well… that’s kind of downer, I think.  But, I don’t diss a good downer. It’s a good song to sing on the transport train north to the General Dispersion Center, where you get processed, and then sent to your separate time-share gulag resort.  A sad little ditty to croak while the other convicts gnaw on dried crusts of bread, and long for the wheat fields of the Ukraine, their bitter tears turning into frozen stones that roll off their dirty cheeks.

At least, Louie is hanging around close by.  He’s had a big week.  Killed two bats, and two mice in a 72 hour period.  Dave called it a serial-killing spree.  He really got his predator on.  It surprises me, because Louie doesn’t look like a killer.  While Bugsy is scarred, sleek and lean, Louis is puffy and fancy.  He has a tail like one of those feathers in a Musketeer’s cap.  His fur foofs around his neck, giving him a fancy collar like Sir Walter Raleigh.  I always worry that he’ll get picked on by the other cats for looking like a little dandy.  I’m pretty sure this little outburst of violence is him compensating for the fact that he looks like a sissy.

I don’t know why I think that.

I get a Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale and sit back down at the monitor.  Lori is watching some reality thing about a bunch of Amish kids that leave the rez and head out to New York City.  Hoo boy.  That town tore me a new one, and I was a native New Yorker, and slightly more streetwise then a wide-eyed Amish bumpkin.  I can’t believe the producers are doing this.  Real life Hunger Games.  We have become the modern Romans, enjoying the spectacle of throwing Christians to the lions.  It’s absurd.

“Did you know there are Amish prison gangs?” I ask her.

She just nods.  She thinks I’m fucking with her.

“I’m serious.  Dave said when he was doing time in Pennsylvania, there was Amish dudes there who had been busted for cooking meth.  He says all lot of them started out cultivating weed, but later set up labs because they were more lucrative.  Of course some are going to get busted and go to prison.  Dave said they all hang out together in the joint, and whah-lah!  There’s your Amish prison gang.  Neat huh?”

“Amish.  Were growing pot and making meth.  Isn’t that against their beliefs?”

“Who knows?  Maybe if they don’t use electricity for like grow lights and stuff.  And I’m sure you could set up a meth lab without using demon electricity. You know, cook the dope down on hibachis and shit.”

She shakes her head.  I can tell she doesn’t want to believe it.  She’s got this idealized, cozy-comfy version of Amish people she wants to hang on to.  Doesn’t want to believe they can get fucked up like the rest of us.  Well, I can’t let this go.  Time to riff.

“Oh, what a quaint little store you have here!   What a beautiful hand-carved wooden rocking horse.   Heavens, such a lovely kerosene lamp, and look at these baskets!  The workmanship.  Can I take a look at that butter churner?  Oh, while you’re at it, we’d also like a 1/4 of Purple Buddha Sky and an 8-Ball of White Line Fever.”

She tries not to smile, but I saw.  I turn back to the monitor and don the headphones satisfied.  The Pod shuffles out some Billy Childish.  The Day I Beat My Father Up.

Dave has messaged.  He tells me he’s finished his latest post and want me to check it out.  I click over to WordPress.  I dig his work.  He’s got a lot of gnarly tales.  His blog is called The Sun Burns Cold.  He writes about a lot of stuff, but I especially enjoy the street stories, his adventures in the shooting dens, crash pads, rehabs, insane asylums, squat flops, jails, prisons, and half-way houses he’s gotten to visit.  You know, all the little stops along the happy journey of life.  He’s interspersed that life with seeing some of the most amazing live music, during a truly seminal era.

Dave chronicles that era well.  Boots on the ground reportage.  Intrepid war correspondent, in the middle of the shit.  His matter-of-fact style gives his stories an elegant sadness.  He’s a maniac, but a talented, intelligent, and insightful one.  He may also be a weensy world-weary.

From homeless gutter punk in Seattle to doing an eight year bit for robbery, Dave’s had a rough ride.  The needle and the drink insured he got his share of action and adventure.  Today he’s staying clean and sober, washing dishes in a restaurant, and writing.  Dave can write.  He’s a machine.  He’s up until dawn hammering it out.  It doesn’t matter what kind of bullshit sandwich his day has served him, he writes.  He used to put out a punk rock ‘zine while behind bars.

That tells me something.  Aside from having the talent, it tells me he’s got the disciple to become great.

However, a week doesn’t go by that he doesn’t suddenly decide to quit writing altogether.  Hell, me too.  I think that comes with the turf.  Nothing we write will make a difference.  Nobody is really reading it.  We suck.  Who are we trying to kid?  With everything we’ve revealed about ourselves, we’ll never be able to run for public office or be hired by a successful corporation.

At least that’s something good that’s come out of it.  We take turns talking each other down from the ledge like that.  Two alcoholics talking.

I know he can’t quit writing.  I mean he can quit, but he’s powerless to stay quit.  He’s a writer, regardless of his protests and denials to the contrary.  He actually writes me these missives on all the reasons why he’s not a writer.  Long, eloquent, well-formed treatises why.  They’re very convincing.  And really good writing.  I, on the other hand, can quit anytime I want to.  I just don’t want to… right now.

Okay, I kind of do now.  Seriously.  It just hit me.  Fuck, I’m the middle of this piece.  Okay, as soon as I’m done dealing with this shit, I’ll hang it up.  For good.  It really isn’t worth it.

Anyway, it’s good to have made a bro in Dave.  A fellow escapee from the mutant zoo.  I always look forward from hearing from him.  It doesn’t matter what kind of mood he’s in, because whatever it is, he communicates it well, and we always wind up sharing a laugh.  I enjoy that.  I can cut people all kinds of slack for their moods.  I’ve been known to get moody now and then.  Once or twice.  So I think I understand a little about the human condition.

Not from being one, mind you, but from reading about it in books.

If you are pissed off, I figure you’re going to be pissed off no matter what, at least for a while.  If I run in with pep squad outfit on and start clapping and fist-pumping a cheer to rally you, I’m just going to add myself to that list of things you’re pissed off at.  Fuck that.  I’ll hang outside the blast zone until the rocks and shrapnel pitter pat to a stop.  Then if you need help picking through the rubble for any valuables, I’m around, dig?

Too many people can’t stand to be around somebody that’s feeling bad.  They hurry and try to fix it, and when that doesn’t work, both people just wind up getting pissed at each other.  You have to be able to sit with someone’s misery, hurt, or pain.  Just be there with them.  As much as you might want to squirm out, you sit there and share it with them.  Let it run it’s course.  If you allow them to fully express what’s bothering them, and offer no resistance, or get defensive, they wind up coming up with answers on their own.

The fact that you didn’t run off when things got un-fun speaks volumes for your commitment to the friendship.  Then everybody can cheer.

I hear a scratching at the door.  Oh, you little fucker!  If I wasn’t so happy to see him, I would kill him.  Louie’s happy to see Bugs, too.  He is burying his nose in Bugsy’s ass.   I don’t know what I think about that.  Bugsy heads to the kitchen.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know.  Chow time.

I have to go through this whole big ritualistic production to feed him.  First, I have to get him a clean bowl.  He doesn’t like it when there’s old dry cat food still in the bowl.  It has to be in a clean bowl.  I also have to make a big deal about shaking the bag, and loudly sprinkling the new dry food.  That gets him figure-eighting between my legs.  They I have to open a new can of wet food, making a big deal about popping the lid.  I have to fork the wet food into the dry and mix it, but just a little.  He doesn’t like it too mashed up.  Seriously.

If I leave out any of those steps, or say, just spoon out some wet onto some old dry, he’ll just look at it, then look up at me, and keep looking.  The look says it all.  “So that’s it?  Just shovel out some shit and throw it down?  Like I’m some kind of animal?”  He’ll wind up eating it, but with that neck-rolling, shoulder-shrugging attitude.  Major guilt trip.

Tonight I don’t mind putting a towel over one arm, using the china, the silver, letting him smell the cork.  I’m just happy he’s back.  I watch him and Louie tuck into their bowls with the satisfaction of an indulgent Jewish mother.  He has a new scratch, but he’s okay otherwise.  I feel a big weight lift.  Thanks St. Francis.  Good looking out.

After they eat, I go back to the computer.  I could hear them rough-housing upstairs.  Big fucking racket.  It sounds like they’re dragging a couch down the hall.  Now they’re building shelves.  Big crash.  I think that was the vacuum cleaner coming down the stairs.  Yeah, it was.

“Hey you two! Fucking cool it up there!”

They love to go at it.  Just for fun.  Just fighting each other for the sheer joy of it.

Hmm.

I start reading Dave’s new piece.  It’s a prison one.  My favorite.  This one’s about when he played bass in a band while he was locked up.   That is so punk rock, I can’t stand it.  Life is good.

We never do anything bad.

On-line Loverboy Roy, Part 2.

I love sunsets, too.

I guess she was attractive enough, like if you were just getting out of prison or something.  But, I wasn’t the one just getting out of prison.  I don’t know how to put this delicately.  I don’t want to come off as insensitive, but she just wasn’t a good-looking woman.

Ladies, you must agree that there are men out there that are not physically attractive to you.  I’m sure that if you carefully studied them from a safe distance, and searched deep in your heart, you’d find a beautiful human inside.   But I’m also sure that the thought of getting naked with them…would still make you want to vomit.

So let’s not pretend this game doesn’t work both ways.

Anyway, all I can say is she took a damn good driver’s license photo.  Who does that?  That’s the picture she used for her profile.  I studied it and deduced it was some from some kind of ID, but didn’t think more of it.  I was just relieved that she looked okay.  Cute even.  I also thought, “Hey, if this is her driver’s license photo, then she looks even better in real life.”

What I should’ve been thinking was, “Hey, what kind of person only has their ID photo to use in their profile?”  Oh, I don’t know, like a newly released convict?  Maybe.  Let’s see.

This would be my second and last date via cyber-whoredom.  Having just gotten sober, I found myself paralyzed around women.  Not just internally, like always, but with my motor skills.  I couldn’t make my feet walk over to the part of the room where the object of my desire was located.  Desire is a powerful motivator and when it’s thwarted, it’s late breaking news.  For me, at least.  It’s also a king-sized drag.

I’d go to bars and just stand around drinking oceans of club soda.  I was frozen in fear.  I had lost my ability to charmingly convince a women to give me a try.  To see if I would destroy her life or not.  I had no game.

Did I drink away my game?  Did I even have any to begin with?  Was it all bottled game?

Beer made dancing through the complicated quadrille of courtship so much easier.  Do you need to undress the hostess while her guests wait for dinner?  Got just the thing.  Beer made me bold, and bold makes things happen.

“Using the front porch swing like a Bangkok love basket with Thelma Lou, while her folks listen to Jack Benny on the radio is going to require some Moxie, young man.  Try Sots, delicious whole-grain, yeast soda.  It’ll put the giddy-up back in your gallop.”

Indeed.  I needed a bucket of liquid oats in my feed bag to get trotting again, but that wasn’t going to happen.  I needed help.  Desperate times call for commensurate measures.  Computer dating seemed appropriately desperate, but not without advantages.

You could weed out thousands of bummers by making your profile so insanely honest that only the hippest of chicks would reply.  The easily terrified would be scared off.  Whoever was left would be a woman so battle-hardened by life’s weirdness that a guy like myself could relax and be himself.  That was the idea, at least.

My first nibble was an ex-porn starlet that ended the evening with a peck on the cheek and a fraternal pat on the back.  The next bite on the line was a woman named Lana.  I looked over her profile.

Lana.  Sexy name.  Rhymes with “I wanna.”   Might be a fortuitous sign.  What else?  Likes sunsets, long walks on the beach, romantic evenings by the fire.  I guess I can put up with that…for a while at least.  I did some volume calculations with her weight and height.  Adding some size for number padding, I estimated that she wasn’t going to be petite.  Nothing wrong with that.  I wasn’t averse to spanking a full fanny around the ballpark.

The problem is this here, this part-time job thing she listed, selling Mary Kay cosmetics.  Those women are crazy.  Trust me.  Sure they’re great in bed, but you pay for it with your sanity.  What meager remnants of mine remained, I guarded jealously.  Part-time, too.  Means she’ll be around.   Cut into the napping schedule.  Well, we’ll deal with that chestnut when it gets too hot.

I called her.  She picked up on the second ring.

“Hello, Lana?”

“Uh-huh?  Hold on…Randy, if you don’t shut the fuck up right now, I’m going to come up there and beat your face in!  Okay, I’m back.”

“Hi, my name is Marius, and I am the guy from on my profile you answered to by sending something to my e-mail which I answered you from, from.”

“Yeah yeah, hey, how’s it going?”

“Okay, well, nothing I guess.  I mean good.”

Silence descended.  A vast, eternal one.  Pyramids were built and crumbled.  Civilizations rose and collapsed.  The distance between planets grew.

“So what’s up?” she volunteered.

“That’s funny, that’s what I was going to ask you? Ah-Hahahahahahahahahaha!”

“What?  What’s funny?”

“I don’t know.  So you like sunsets?”

Not the scintillating repartee of a Noel Coward bedroom comedy, and it would grind down from there.  I remember having the stupidest conversations of my life with that woman.  Not all her fault, either.  I was still scrambled and remedial myself.  Her being brick thick just anchored the dialogue to a muddy playing field.  She would underhand pitch me a rotting grapefruit and I would splat that bitch out into the cheap seats.

I think we had two conversations on the phone before our date.  They were just chock full o’ red flags, but I’m newly sober.  What are red flags?  I just learned what red stands for and don’t know yet what it means when it’s attached to a flag.

I was just happy to get through the conversation.  When she told me she just got out of prison for interstate transportation of drugs, I thought, “Good, she can’t give me too much shit about my past.”  Some of the best relationships start there.  We decided to meet at a restaurant.

“That way you don’t have to worry about me raping and killing you,” I assured her.

“Okay.”

On Saturday night I did that thing where you spray the cologne in the air and walk through it.  Walk through it and any nervousness.  Without drinking.  I can do this.  I’ve lived through much, much worse than a bad date and rejection.  And what else is life but a torture rack to endure until blessed oblivion?

I finished my pep self-talk and walked into the restaurant.  “Are you Morris?” someone asked.  I looked over.  It was a woman.

And then I saw her face.

Holy shit!  The smile did it.  Not a sexy Lauren Hutton front gap, but a multiplicity of them, scattered as though from repeated BB gun accidents.  Pellet gun, actually.  She looked like a jammer from the old Roller Derby on channel 13.  A Los Angeles T-Bird, but with a face someone carved in a pumpkin contest at Trader Joe’s.

She also still had a little prison smell behind the ears.  They get a look after doing a few years that doesn’t shower off easy.  I could see her spitting sunflower seeds while she walked the track in her utility CDC windbreaker.  She was not bull-dikey enough to be a shot-caller or yard boss,  but could be a unit soldier or shower hatchet.  The other women wouldn’t try stealing her Ramen soups, that’s for sure.

While I do admire a woman who can protect her locker of canteen goods from the other convicts, it’s not much of a sexual turn-on either.

Fuck.

You know you could have offered to meet her at a coffee place.  That’s a place where a lot of raping and killing doesn’t happen on dates, too.  You’d only be out a cup of coffee, but no, your male ego wanted to impress.  Unfortunately, that fucker isn’t going to pick up the check.  Or be anywhere around when you try to parachute out of this flaming dirigible.

She had the lobster, of course.  I hamburgered her in passive protest.   As she told me about the third restraining order she’s ever had to file, I scrutinized her.  How many beers would this take?  We’re probably talking thirty to forty, and by then…well…ain’t nothing gonna happen.  She was out of beer range.  Sober?  Not a chance.  Or as much chance as me making out with my dad.

She yammered on and on but my brain couldn’t pay attention.  It had to come up with an escape plan.  Too early to fake a seizure.  Someone needs to die.  Not a family member, but like a co-worker or neighbor.  Tell her I need to go and ID the body.  Please, someone call me.  Where are all the telemarketers when you need them?

One good thing, though.  I stopped being nervous about the date not going well.

“I put on a lot of weight in prison,” she announced, while the waiter poured her some more wine, “They feed you nothing but starches.”

That doesn’t bother me.”

“Thanks. I’m glad to hear that.”

“Yep.”  I can eat starches all day.

Over dinner she told me about her bust.  She said she was working for a woman who asked her to take a trailer full of furniture to Indiana.

Oh boy.  NEVER take furniture to Indiana.  My buddies Scott and Richie told me about that.  Cops are hip to that one.

She said she got pulled over and right away they call in the dogs to sniff the trailer.   I nodded.  They saw the furniture.

She claimed she really didn’t know the drugs were in there.  I kind of believed her.  Why should she bullshit me at this point?  It took her a long time to convince the feds she didn’t know.  Eventually, they gave her a deal.  Wear a wire and get the receiver to come out and pick up the trailer.  After the sting she would also have to testify against them and the woman that sent her.

She said she was scared to death, but did it.  The G-men got to polish their buttons over the bust and convictions, but screwed her anyway.  She got three more years than the deal they agreed on.

“That’s dirty,” I said, and picked up a french fry, “Feds always want to get their money’s worth.”

It was a depressing conversation, and I noted with chagrin that the more wine she drank the more flirtatious she became.

I was getting antsy for the check.  How much longer, O Lord, will You leave me tied to this stake,?  The ravens have pecked out the flesh from between my ribs, letting the hot wind whistle through in mockery.  I am humbled by Your might.  I tremble at the thunder of Your wrath.  I beseech Thy mercy.

The waiter finally came and set the check tray down.  I paid the bill with singles the stripper’s at my work had tipped me out with.  Quite a grip of them.  The folder bulged when I handed it back to him.  As I did, I realized I didn’t have an excuse ready for if she wanted to come back to my place.  I was so busy beseeching that I forgot to come up with a plug-puller.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday night!   Where are you supposed to be instead?

Okay, now is the time for a seizure.  Do it right here in the restaurant.  You can’t be shy.  You have to sell it.  Knock over a table.  It will be a little awkward but you’ll be home free before you know it.  Do it.  Let it rip.

“I’d like to come over to your place and hang out,” she said.

“Like tonight?”

“Of course.”

“Uh…sure.”  I watched myself say it while hovering just above my body.

If she gets into my apartment, not only will she know where I live, but will probably rape and kill me, all the time.  She only works part-time.  I know how this works.  First you try to let them down easy and say nice things about them, then you switch to why you are too terrible a person to deserve such a goddess, but as soon as they sniff out it’s a shove-off the tears turn on.  The next thing you know, you’re engaged.  It starts out as break-up speech and winds up being a marriage proposal–just to stop the crying.  Or in this case, the stabbing.

As we got up from the table, she wobbled a bit.

“Whoa, that wine kicked my ass!  I hope you don’t plan on taking advantage of me.”  She winked and gave me a big Halloween smile.

Oh God.  Here we go.  I grabbed the tablecloth with both fists and started shaking.

Cuddling Catcus in The Desert of Love

Proceed With Caution

Black Sabbath was playing over the stereo.  On TV, the German 6th Army was surrounded by the Russians, and was freezing to death.  I was drinking a beer and looking at the socks on my feet.  All was well in the world.  The only way it could be better was if there was some female company there to enjoy the perfection of that moment.

There was a knock at my door.  Not a cop knock, or a drunk buddy knock, but a tippy-tap chick knock.  The Universe.  I jumped up and put on some pants.  A lost little girl on her way to Grandmother’s?  Or… just a cop knocking like a chick, to get me to open up.  I paused.  If it is the cops, I’ll just have to pay for the lock anyway.  I slowly opened the door, hoping for a mystery dream date.

It was the biker chick who moved in next door.  It made sense that she’d be the woman The Universe would send.  Great sense of humor, The Universe.

I had already decided I didn’t like her when I overheard her jaw at the two hayseed meth addicts that helped her move.  “Hey Fucker, watch it!  I won that mirror at the fair!”  “Where the fuck is my lighter?  Did you steal my fucking lighter?” “Dalton! I swear if you break that, I’m gonna break your face!”  She was personality-challenged, and she didn’t have the looks to make up for it.  Hopefully she’ll want to drink all my beers, too.

“Got a beer?” she asked, taking off her buckskin jacket and throwing it on the chair that served as my hamper.  She wore a leather vest, revealing a beef jerky-textured cleavage formed by two flattened and freckled breasts.

“Yeah sure,” I said, “But I’m kinda low, I might have to make a run pretty soon, and that’s going to be iffy since my car doesn’t have any brakes.”  This didn’t seem to register.  She stood looking around at my apartment.  She had straight black hair that hung-down like the Land O Lakes Butter maiden.  But unlike the Land O Lakes Butter maiden, who is hot, this woman had rugged features that were probably etched deeper by frequenting smokey and boozy environs.  A harsh life had scoured any softness from her face.  She looked hard.  Prison time and honky-tonk hard.  I don’t generally go for chicks that look tougher than me.

She didn’t waste any time getting under my skin.  “Wow, this place is thrashed! It smells weird in here. Hey turn the music down. What’s this shit you’re watching?”

I looked at her amazed.  Mom, is that you?  I wished the cops had come instead.  I could turn down the Sabbath, they’d run me for warrants, and then leave.  This buzz-kill was going to be a little trickier to get rid of.  I went over and gave a token dial-down on the volume.

“To what do I owe the honor of this occasion?” I asked, getting a beer from the fridge, but not before stashing two in the vegetable drawer.

“Oh, I don’t know. I was bored and I heard the music,” she said, taking the beer.  She flung back her hair and tilted the bottle.  I watched her drain half of it in one pull.  Six ounces in three seconds.  I figured I should just start walking to the store now.

“My name is Toni, but everyone calls me Tehachapi.”  She held out her hand.  I shook it.  It was a firm handshake.  Great.  A cornball handle and a manly mitt.  Sweet deal, all around.

“Well Tony, would you like to have a seat?”  I pulled up a milk crate.  “That’s okay, I’d rather lay down here.”  She flopped on my mattress and started to kick off her boots.  She took out a pack of Marlboro Reds.  They were in a tooled leather purse with beaded suede fringe.  A swap meet purchase, I imagined.  Probably the same vendor that sold her that silver and turquoise lighter holder.  “Do you have an ashtray?” she asked, already lighting up.

“Ah yeah, it’s totally cool to smoke in here,” I assured her.  I handed her an empty bottle to use.

This is so bad, I thought, on so many levels, I don’t know which one I should fixate on.  Maybe I should just focus on the fact there’s some sort of a representation of a woman on my bed.  That has traditionally been considered a good start for me.  Perhaps if I drink a lot of beers, in a very short time, things will somehow improve.  I cracked a fresh one and sat down on the milk crate.  I looked over at the TV and watched troops pull a field artillery piece through the snow.  This was going to be hard.

“My name is…”  Hold it. Real name? Lives next door now. Fake one won’t help. “…Marius.”

“What is it?”

“Marius.”

“That’s a weird name.”

“Yep…It sure is.”

I looked over and saw a German soldier running through the rubble.  A sniper bullet caught him and he went down dead.  If it could only be that easy, I thought.  She pointed to my bookshelf.

“Hey, you got Scrabble!  I loved playing that with my Grandma.”

“Yeah well, I don’t really play it anymore.”

“I’m not very good with spelling, but I’m good at coming up with words.”

“That’s hard to pull off,” I said, “That’s really awesome.”

She killed off her beer, and set the bottle down on the floor.  “That was good. Got another?”

Ok, I need to be called away to some emergency.  What kind of emergency happens at 10:30 at night?  Loads, but I can’t think of one right now, not one that would need me hanging around.  I have eight beers left and that was going to be pushing it even flying solo.  Now this thing happens.  Well, I can’t let her lap me.  I slammed my beer and got up and got two more.

She began telling me about herself, but somehow I already knew it.  Alcoholic parents, abusive marriages, kids taken away, some stripping, some prostitution, drugs, county jail, rehab, bartending, carnival gig, transporting meth to Indiana for her biker boyfriend, state prison, rehab again, and now collecting welfare and selling Mary Kay.  It was a depressing saga, and I was fairly immune to those by then.  Her story curb-kicked anything I had resembling a high into shit-smeared bummer.  Oh, and she’d never even been to Tehachapi.

The liquor store was inevitable.  I told the Old Maiden of the Iron Horse to kick up her heels while I rolled on down to the store.

The car really didn’t have brakes.  I had to rely on the parking brake and my psychic hunches about when lights were going to change.  It was a good thing I was an intuitive, or it would’ve been crazy dangerous.  I coasted to a stop at Owl Liquors, but I overshot the drive-thru and had to get out of the car to order from the window.  The ride back was uneventful, except for the car wreck going on in my mind.

“Where the fuck is your remote?” she asked as I walked through the door.  I told her it was a long story, and that reaching up to change the channel was a good ab work-out.  I put the beers in the fridge and added two more to the vegetable drawer.

We drank and she talked some more.  The drunker she got, the flirtier she became.  The flirtier she became, the drunker I needed to get.  I prayed for a deus ex machina to descend from the sky and save me.  I kept bringing up what an early morning I had ahead, but she kept on yammering and beating her eyelids at me.

“Why don’t you come lay down next to me and make yourself more comfortable?  You’re all hunched up,” she says.

My ass had deep x’s imprinted in it from the milk crate, but I wasn’t about to make myself more comfortable.  It seemed like I couldn’t impair my judgement fast enough to keep up with events.

“I like being hunched up,” I told her, “I think I was a cathedral gargoyle in a past life.”  I started to tell her about how my grandmother spilled an entire pint of cognac in her purse at St. Patrick’s Catherdral, but she interupted with, “Hey, do you want to fuck?”

Oh God. Panic in Detroit.  Things around me began to stretch and distort.  The lines in the room started to point upwards at crazy angles, like in German Expressionist set design.  I couldn’t remember the last time I said no to that question.  I didn’t think I knew how.  I was going to have to learn fast.

“Yeah I’d love to except that I don’t have any condoms, and I’m having an outbreak, and I’m a little confused about my sexuality these days, and I don’t want to rush things, and I’m too drunk, and I have a girlfriend.”

“Well then scaredy cat, just come over here and cuddle with me for a while.”

Could this really be happening to me?  I tried to wake myself up.  No, still here.  The problem was I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  I know.  I’m lame like that.  Was it time to fake a seizure?

“Oh, if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s cuddle,” I said.  I slowly got up.  I wanted to be a fly, or a pencil in a cup, or a ball of dryer lint, anything but me right then.  I laid down next to her.  She burrowed her face into my armpit, and just like that, she was out cold.  The Universe.  Nothing like adding a little drama with a last-minute save.

I looked down at her.  Her face seemed to soften.  I pictured what she looked like as a young girl, back when she had no idea how bad things would get.  That made me feel even more sorry for her.  I found myself feeling bad because I didn’t even want to love her.  But, I wanted somebody to love her, eventually.  Nobody’s life should be non-stop bullshit, and if it is, they should at least have one partner in crime.  Would it kill me to let her pretend for a while?  Clearly I’m not averse to doing things that could kill me.  Besides, I was drunk.  I had the all-purpose excuse already in my back pocket.

I leaned back. I thought about war on the Eastern Front.  That was hard.  This should be easy, well…easier.  You’re just holding another human being.  Fucking relax. I listened to my clock tick for a while, and then remembered the beers in the vegetable drawer.  I wondered if I could get to them without waking her up.  She started to snore as my arm fell asleep.