Shemp Hair Blues

Another Lithuanian with great hair.

A Lithuanian with great hair

He had taken some old bills, like the ones for his phone, utilities, a few from credit cards, and splattered them with his own blood.  They were nicely matted in brushed aluminum frames.  I’m sure he was trying to make a statement somewhere among all those statements, but I didn’t get it.

did get that this art opening was only serving wine.  And that wine gave me a headache.  Had enough of those already.  Speaking of…

My date went from bloody bill to bloody bill, giving them her full aesthetic attention.  Judging them individually by some measuring stick in her mind, she’d nod at one then move on to the next.  Pause.  Stare.  Scrutinize.  Appear to discern something.  Smile.  Nod.  Move on.

Something about the whole act smelled like rotting baloney.  She was too earnest.  Too intent.  My Fraudulent Pantomime Meter was going off, reading “Total Fake-out.”  She just wanted to be seen appreciating the work.  To look like she gave a flying fuck.

I suspected this because that’s what I was doing.

“Very nice, see how he managed to get a clot over his cable late fee,” I pointed out.  “Pollock directed his splatter, but not this concisely.”

She nodded absently and looked over at the artist.  He was on the other side of the room, drinking a small bottle of sparkling water and talking to three women.  In his early thirties.  Mediterranean good looks.  One of those dark guys who can pull off wearing his hair in greasy dangling locks.  Like Shemp.

Very few guys can pull off that kind of hair.  I always admired the ones that could.  Guys like Gibby Haynes.  And Leo Gorcey.  And Danny Trejo.  And Iggy.

The blessed and lucky.

I always loved Shemp’s hair–the way he would curl it behind his ears after getting his nose clawed with a hammer.  Just one more thing to deal with.   Besides having furniture broken over his head, always having to flip back his greasy hair.  While spitting out splinters.

That says so much.  In other words, it’s all in a day’s work when you’re a gnarly fucker.  It’s important to keep your hair out of your eyes while your head is being pile-driven into a cast iron stove.  So you can see better.

That’s so badass it hurts.

It really hurt.  The fact that this guy had his own show at a prestigious Santa Fe art gallery.  That his work was selling.  That women loved him.  That he wasn’t drunk.  That he would soon be sleeping with my date.  And that he got to have Shemp hair.

It was too much.

I excused myself and went out to my ’73 Olds Omega where five beers were heating up in the August afternoon sun.  I got in the car and lied down on the front seat.  I gassed open a can and shotgunned it down my throat.  Dropped the empty on the floor boards.  Reached under the seat and repeated.

That’ll do.  Save three for later.  I sat up and looked around.  The parking lot was full, but there were no people around.  I wanted to stay there and hide.  I couldn’t bring myself to walk back in.

I lied back down and reached under the seat.  Pop.  Pish.  Gluggity-gluggity-glug.  Thirshhhhhhh-tee!

That one did it.  I recovered my intrepididity and rose up from the car seat.  Resurrection.

Back inside, I saw her talking to him.  No surprise.  Sometimes I just know how things are going to go.  Especially when it’s bad.

I circled the perimeter for a while, looking at his work.  What a bunch of shit.  Anybody could do this.  Sure he does some origami with some of the bills.  Whatever.  You can learn that from a book in the library.  But who has the nerve to present this mess to a gallery director?  Not me.  The gall.  The balls. 

Great.  We’ve established he has bigger balls.  More bile to swallow.  To go with the red dot by the $1,200 piece.

Finally, she waved me over.

Here we go.

She introduced us.  I took his hand, then bent down and kissed his onyx ring.  I don’t know why I did that.  It was just one of those spontaneous things you do while buzzed, then wonder about later.  I meant it as a gag, but here’s where it turned terrible–he received it.  He actually took it with a slight nod, all papal and shit.  Acting like it was appropriate.  What a motherfucker!

She noted the exchange.  Oh shit.  I clicked my heels and bowed, extending the gag.  Hoping to save it.  But the damage was done.  He had diminutized me.

It was clear now that I had to beat this guy’s ass that night.  To negate that awkward little scenario.  Seriously.  Dudes have gotten on the list for less.  I ran through the whole flow chart in my head a few times.  It always came back to beating.  After all, this was a major clowning.  He played me like a wash bucket bass.  In front of her.

He’s already better than me in everything.  That was hard enough to stomach.  Now this.  And I’m not even including the Shemp hair.  That’s just running the shank through all four gears.

Hmm…superior to me in every way.  Not enjoying that fact.   I should fix it.  Let’s see, he’s better than, in all things…ah… except perhaps in a mutual exchange of pain.  I might be able to endure more of that.  I might be better there.  I may best him in the ability to suffer.

Well, we would just have to find out.  We would have to exchange pain.  And before the crowd thins out.

Unfortunately, I lived by a strict warrior code, one that prohibited me from throwing the first punch, unless I could totally get away with it.  But this ran a little deeper.  Sucker-punching the artist at his gala opening is not going to win you any style points.

But successfully defending yourself from an over-sensitive, temperamental, thin-skinned effete, one who was over-reacting to some constructive criticism while being called out for false-flagging Shemp, was something else entirely.  Now that was a chapter I wouldn’t mind having in my bio.  I could see it.

I must make it so.

“Love what you’ve done here.  Instead of wasting money on a shredder from Costco, you used your mail to clean up after your menstruating dog.  And are now getting paid for it.  Fucking brill.  Mastermind caper you got cooking here.  I hope this scam is multi-level marketed, because I want to sign up for the seminars, Shemp.”

Except I didn’t say that.  I just looked at him.  And thought about things.  Wondered if goading him into a fight was the right thing to do.  What if he warranted the hair?  What if he had the holy power?  He looked fit.  The last thing I wanted was to be hitting on some guy’s head with a brick while he straightens his hair.  Plus, you could never get a good grab on that shit to whiplash the neck, something we in the trade called Bull-whipping.

“Don’t make trouble.”

That’s what I heard in my head.  Very clear.  Very loud.  It seemed to come from somewhere else.  Believe me, it didn’t come from me.

What?

Then again, like in case I didn’t get that something else was talking to me, “Don’t make trouble.”

I got it.  Clearly.  I was a little spooked, to be honest.  One time I heard something like that while washing dishes at The Natural Cafe, right before I was going to say something bad to the prep cook about a girl that worked there.  Something said, “Shut up.”  Distinctly.  Enough to make me shut up.  Not fifteen seconds later, that girl came in and hugged the prep cook.

“I’ll see you at home.”

“Okay, love you.”

Oh shit!  I had no idea.  Yeah.  That was close.  Good thing I…alright already, disembodied voice from beyond.  I won’t make trouble.  But don’t blame me if things get really boring.

“I like your work,” I forced out.

“Thanks, I like yours.  I read your column in The Reporter.  It’s some funny shit.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I had a crappy little column in the weekly paper.  I didn’t think anybody read it, much less liked it.  And here was both, in the same dude, and a dude with awesome Shemp hair.

Lightning 180 flip in my attitudey.  Feelings of brotherhoodship and good-fellowing welled up in me.

I couldn’t believe that I had been planning to beat up my only fan.  That would not have been a savvy career move.  Besides, he’s such a cool dude,  liking my writing and shit.   Making all this magnificently insane art, while looking all greasy.  And shit.

He turned out to be a decent yog.  Funny too.  We joked and bantered back and forth for quite a while.  He had a dry sense of humor.  I figured out that whole regally-receiving-the-ring-kiss was just him playing along.  He was just playing it straight.  With a more subtle touch than my inebriated mind could appreciate at the time.

What I did appreciate was that although all these artsy fartsy types were trying to draw away his attention, he would return to our conversation.  He didn’t blow me off to talk to some of the hot, semi-hot, or hot-enough-after-eight-beers women that were trying to glom on to him.  Which included the creature that rode up with me.  That really showed class.

When I invited him out to the Omega for a hot beer, he declined, telling me he was a recovering alcoholic.  Oh wow.  Poor dude.  Now I really wanted him to succeed in art.  Since he basically had nothing left to live for.

We wound up staying there until things wound down.  A bunch of people had decided to go to La Casa Sena for dinner and he invited both of us to join.  No fucking way I could afford that.  I begged off with a lie about having to write.

“I want to go,” she says.

“Go,” I say.

So she went.  She took the upgrade.  It’s not like I couldn’t see it coming.  I have a gift.

I can’t say it didn’t feel bad.  But I wasn’t pissed.  In light of recent events, I was wary of being pissed–being pissed about stuff I probably didn’t understand.  I could give it a rest.  At least until tomorrow.

Anyway, I don’t know if they ever hooked up.  I don’t know what happened to either of them.  To be honest, I can’t even remember the dude’s name.  He was just the guy with Shemp hair.

And he had what I wanted.

Note: None of the people in this story actually exist, including the author and Shemp.  However, any and all accusations of slander and libel will still be reviewed carefully by my attorney.  As I’m sure, by yours, as well.

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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.

Like Sand Through An Hour Glass, The Days Of No-Strings Sex…

Pokey and Aurie were trying to sweat me out.  They weren’t about to leave me alone with her.  Not as long as they each thought they had a crack.  It was getting late, Sunday night, and everybody had work in the morning.  Or at least I did, and that’s all that mattered.  The shitty bottle of wine they brought was long gone, and now everybody was subsisting off my largess.  My Sunday beer.  It was killing me.

Go home you lousy leeches.  Go home and vaporize into non-existence.  Just fold into some passing parallel dimension.  Hang out in quantum possibility for an aeon or three.  My beer is almost all gone because of you two fucks.

“Whose ready for another beer?” I asked, getting up.

“I’ll take another one,” everybody said.  Everybody in the entire world.   I winced, but my back was turned.

“Some more of my beer, coming right up!” I announced.  A little pissiness leaked through the pants of my facade.   I was hamstrung.   I couldn’t call these two couch mushrooms out as blood-suckers in front of the chick.  Not so early in the seduction process.   I would look like a petty alcoholic.  She’d get to see that part of me later.  Hopefully much.  This was no time to sandwich board it.

Besides, they might make a case for being Even-Steven because of the Two Buck Chuck they spotted earlier.  Like that counts.  I hate wine.

I looked at my watch.  33 more minutes before Owl Liquors closed.  The rail was coming down.  Should I just drive to the store now?  I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to wind up having to spot a whole new party package myself, and with the arrival of lots more beer, I’ll never get rid of the Toad Stool Twins.  I can try to wait them out a little longer.  I’ll give them sixteen more minutes.  I rolled my shoulders and cracked my neck.

“I really have to pee!” Bobbi informed us.  Well alright.  She pushed herself out of her lotus, brushed the cracker crumbs off her jeans and walked to the bathroom through our little dude triangle.

“Excuse me, guys.”

We all checked her out.  Nice butt-cheekage.  Two big melons straining the seams of her jeans.  Our shifty eyes caught each other looking so we turned away.

“Cool chick.”

“Yeah, she is.”

Bobbi had moved to Santa Fe from Providence, Rhode Island, which made her kind of exotic.  She was a little crunchy, and a little grungy.  She was Crungey or Grutchy.  No make-up, air-dried hair, torn jeans and thrift store sweater type.  She did sport a personal Kryptonite in the form of cat glasses, and you can tell beneath all the woodsy, wholesome burlap and denim, she had a burlesque stripper’s body dying to get out.  That was not going to happen with three dudes sitting around drinking beer.  I’m sure it happens, but not in the dimensions that I tend to frequent.

“So you guys have to get up early for a landscaping gig tomorrow?  Or, are you free to party on?”

They looked at each other.

“We don’t do landscaping,” Pokey said.

“That’s right, ” I said, looking at my watch.  Eleven more precious minutes left.  We heard the toilet flush, and looked at each other.  Uh-oh.  I could tell they were both in it to win it.  I just better go get some beer now.  This is going to be a long night.

She came out and smiled at us.  She went back to her pillow, sat down, and crossed her legs.

Is it even worth it?  She’ll just wind up hating you anyway.  Everything winds up rotting.  This whole game is rigged against us.  Death is our only true relief.

“Are you okay?” she asked me.

“Oh yeah, I was just wondering if maybe I should make another beer run.”

Everyone agreed that was a great idea.  Yes?  Great idea?  Not so great that anybody reached for their wallet.  Fuck it.  I break.  Lost this battle, but the war rages on.  Double down on victory in the Kursk salient.

I got up.  My death ray was in full effect as I looked at the two urchins avoiding my eyes.  Can’t penetrate into their souls if they don’t look.  Sneaky fuckers.

“Be right back, guys.”

“Let’s burble some herbal,” one of them said, as I closed the door behind me.

I walked out to my car.  No muffler.  The roar set off car alarms when I drove past.  Sometimes, like now, it felt good.  Sometimes it was just embarrassing.  The clerks at Owl used to laugh about hearing me all the way from Maynard.  Ha-ha.  I pay your rent.  Show a little respect.  A little awe.

I drove up to the window.  It was the old lady.  She looked like an apple doll.

“EEEEEEEE! Crazy huero is here!  We were talking that we could hear you–”

“A case of MGD bottles, and two 40s of Old English. Throw in a shot of Dark Eyes, tambien…por favor!”

I had no time for idle chit-chat.  Those two back there are probably filling her in on all kinds of information she hadn’t received clearance on.  Homo Todd’s Halloween party, The St. John’s Incident, any number of open mike nights, the Dread Zeppelin show, Soul Asylum at UNM.  Just a whole bunch of information she didn’t need to process just yet.

I didn’t mean to, but I peeled out from the window.  The tires were bald enough.  They didn’t need the abuse.  Like anything did.  It just seemed like when I got uptight, I would naturally scatter that shit wherever I doth roam.

My roaming took me on to St. Francis then a right up Alameda.  I cracked one open and murdered half.  Threw the cap out the window, and killed the rest.  Tucked the empty under my seat, and hand signaled a left turn.  I fished a butt out of the ashtray and sparked it.  I was feeling a little better.

I was grateful that the State of New Mexico had come to it’s senses about allowing package liquor sold on Sundays.  When I heard it was official, you would’ve thought it was V.J. Day by the way I rejoiced.  Jumping up and down and punching the air kind of joy.  For a long time, you couldn’t buy booze from a store on Sundays.  Just at a bar.  If you’re already passing up meals to keep the lights on, the extra financial burden of getting your grog on a Sunday, because you drank up your stash on Saturday, could be just the thing that upsets the household budget, and severely restricts how much beer Father can purchase for the rest of the week.

And that makes Father cross.  Hostage-takey kind of cross.

But those Dark Ages were behind us now.  We were moving into a brave new world.  I looked over to all the beer and smiled.  My happy bunch of beer.

I parked the car and cracked another one.  Might as well get a few under my belt to fortify me for battle.  I sized up my chances.   The trolls kind of came as a set, and women hate to break up a set.  I knew that much.  Advantage me.  However, they were more from the same tribe.  That woodland, Kashi-crunching, outdoorsy knit cap wearing, hacky-sack kicking peoples.  Advantage them.

They were easy-going and mellow.  I was hateful and dangerous.  Pretty even there.

They had weed, although I never actually saw it.  Advantage them.  I had lots of beer, although they’d never actually see it.  Advantage me.  Big advantage.  Okay.  I win.  I tucked the empty under.

I grabbed a six-pack to bring in.  Six beers between four people.  Heh-heh.  A party-spoiler if there was ever one invented.  I couldn’t pull it off with people who knew me well.  They’d see me walk through the door with a six and know I was hoarding.  But if these people really knew me, I wouldn’t have to go through this charade.

The whole night had been a charade for me.  I had been as fake as an electric fireplace.  A faux-finished one.  Sitting there, trying to nod my head in all the appropriate parts of the conversation, when I would have rather just stared, slightly slack-jawed and entirely not interested.  It was grueling.

Pokey had been talking about his idea for Judo trading cards.  God, what a stupid idea.  I had already heard part of this brainstorm before.  Typical late-night, unrealistic pipe-dream ambition caper.  Who the fuck cares enough about Judo, besides Pokey, to get into collecting trading cards about that shit?

I took Judo as a kid.  Pretty worthless as a martial art.  Unless you go to a bar where everyone wears the pajamas and agrees to only flip each other in a fight.  If some ass-hole grabs your chick’s ass, you could go over there, bow, grip each other by the pajama lapels and start waltzing around the dance floor looking for an opportunity to roll him over your hip like a jitterbug dancer.  Then Judo wouldn’t be worthless.  Other than that…

I had to act supportive.  Couldn’t just piss all over his Rose Parade.  Really wanted to though.

“That sounds like a great idea.  Everybody loves Judo, so everybody would love Judo trading cards.  I hope you will buy me a beer or four to replace the ones you drank tonight when you become a millionaire.”

Ha-ha-ha.  We all laugh together.  Ha-ha-ha.  We’re all friendly friends.  Ha-ha-ha.

I cracked open another beer.  I’ll go back in right after this one.   Not too eager for another earful of Aurie’s conspiracy theories, and the inevitable buzz-kill that results from believing some of them.  Sure most of them you could shuck aside, but if a dude just keeps coming at you with them, like that’s his thing, and he is very eager to share his personal nightmare with you, eventually he’s going to spin one out that you find yourself believing.  Especially if your stoned.  We’re losing the war for Man to the Lizard People, being one that rang true to yours truly.

Holy shit. He’s right!  It’s them.  From Reptilis Reticula or some shit.  Bush for sure.  Others?   Too many to list.  What can I do to overthrow them? I have trouble holding down a day job.  Oh yeah.  We are fucked.

I call it Fear Tripping.  Get yourself on a course of thought that leads from one scary thought to another, but always slightly scarier.  Amp that bitch up.  See if you can get your teeth to sweat with fear.  The thing I’ve found about scary thoughts, is that there are always other ones that reinforce them.  Once you go down that alley you’re doomed.   All you can do is stop thinking.  Meditation is one way.  I had another.

It started to get clinky under my car seat as I stuck number four under.  One more, and I’ll go in.  I snapped off the top.

I wondered how long Bobbi would be my girlfriend.  She seemed like a three-to-six month.  Stable enough to make it work for awhile, and then too stable to make it work anymore after that.  Those are a little rougher to bounce out of.  By then there’s enough history to pull out the long knives.  You’re not going to scoot out without getting shived a few times with The Dagger of Ugly.  She seemed like a nice girl, but that doesn’t mean shit in a break up.  I’ve watched Gaia Goddesses and Moon Mothers turn into Medusas once they smelled the funk.

Works with animals?  Helps the poor?  Teaches children?  Christian?  New Age?  Green?  Rainbow?  Doesn’t matter.  Hurt them and they all go wolverine.  God bless them for that.  Most dangerous animals will leave you alone if not provoked.  Why did I keep poking at them with my stick?

Well okay.  Yeah.

But is that really a good enough excuse?  Bobbi seemed like a really nice girl.  Nice enough not to deserve the likes of someone like me.

It was that last thought that did it.  I started the car up, and backed out of the car port.  I had this moment of clarity.  Or at least as clear as a moment you can have after 7-8 beers.  I didn’t need to get involved.  Just because she was attractive, and I was bored and “lonely.”  I didn’t need to insinuate myself into her life, and then feel bad for doing it in the first place.  I wasn’t up for the guilt this time.

I’ll hold out for somebody equally traumatized by life.  That way we’ll be even when everything goes to shit.  I’ll let the two trolls fight over her.  It was an ever so small inching towards something resembling a conscience.  An emotional troglodyte’s first evolutionary movement towards a sentient bi-pedal existence.

I turned onto St. Francis.  They’re going to be wondering what happened to me.  Hell, I was wondering what just happened to me.  I wrote it off as just saving myself a six-pack, but it felt like more.

A cop climbed up behind me.  The no muffler.  He had to be hearing it all the way in his bone marrow.  I was going to jail.  Going to have to wake up Marko for bail.  He followed me all the way down Cerrillos, but turned off on Baca.  Only in Santa.  Maybe my karma was getting a little better.  I aimed my car for home.  I had work in the morning.

Sanitized for your protection.

Showdown At The Worm Saloon

“Hey hey, Babydoll, all you gotta do is call.  I drank a lot of beer, but you know I got a friend, and his name is Alcohol!” Alcohol, by The Butthole Surfers. Continue reading

Wreckage Wreckage Everywhere, Not A Drop To Drink

Time to leave this party town behind.

My television was constantly blaring World War 2 documentaries.  I figured the annihilation of Stalingrad was an appropriate soundtrack to the destruction and chaos around me.  The night before, my friend from Ireland, Dez, had tried to break a Negra Modelo bottle on a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  He wanted to dramatically punctuate an anti-American diatribe he was delivering.

It was the 4th of July and he was drawing some serious stink-eye from the other patrons, but that just eggs an Irishman on.  They’re all closet demagogues, anyway.  Show me a rabble that needs rousing, and I’ll suggest an Irishman on his 9th beer.  They’ve got charisma.  The accent makes their words carry weight.  It doesn’t take much for a Celt to swing my vote for madness.  They make mayhem seem more lyrical.  Their drunkenness is of the old-timey, hanging-off-the-lampost-singing-Danny Boy variety, sometimes coupled with good-natured bare-knuckled fisticuffs.  It’s charming and lively.

I knew Dez liked America all right, but because he had an attentive audience, he couldn’t resist poking at the wasp’s nest.  He loved when events went “toh-tahlly wide-o,” and bodies started to tumble over each other.  The Irish don’t take fighting too personal.  Some of their best friendships start while two former opponents sit together and cool their black-eye bruises by rolling a nice cold pint across them.

But you weren’t going to get a chance to start up that kind of friendship, if you can’t get people to mix.  A full-on bar brawl is a great way to break the ice.  Dez was going to make sure we’d meet new people.

He was on a roll, getting all Michael Collins on the crowd, but probably using the C-word a lot more.  When he reached the climax of his rant he swung the bottle down hard.  It thunked.  He quickly tried to save the moment and banged the bottle down again, but it remained intact.  He tried one more time to no avail.  Feeling that he was losing his audience, he sat down defeated.  The waitress came by and took away the empty bottle.  We continued to drink, but now more quietly.

The next night, as we drank at my place, he expressed his amazement at not being able to break the bottle.  He picked up another bottle of Negra Modelo and (I swear) barely tapped it on my small table.  This time the bottle exploded showering every square inch of my tiny inefficiency apartment with slivers of brown glass.

“Well bravo, old boy,” I told him. “Just a pinch off in the timing department.”

“Can yah believe that one, eh?  Like some fooking magic trick”

I wasn’t too upset.  The place was already covered with broken glass from when I had gotten locked out and decided to punch out what I thought was a small pane of glass in the back door.  That small pane turned out to be a full door’s worth of glass, carefully disguised behind a faux frame fraudulently dividing it into what appeared to be small individual squares.  The final result of this decorative deception was spectacular. It was also too daunting a mess for the hairbrush and flattened Tecate box I was using as a broom and dustpan, so I just left it.

The average alcoholic learns to tolerate a lot of things normal people wouldn’t stand for.  An entire apartment covered in broken glass was a small thing.  Just ignore it like the bullet hole in the toaster, the deadly mold growing in the bathroom, and the burned taxidermy owl in the oven.  If there’s still a bunch of 16 ouncers hidden in the toilet tank, everything is fine.  Let the Nervous Nellie’s from Squaresville dither in a thither with their brooms sweeping up little spills.

Alcoholics have real problems, problems that can only be cleaned up by direct impact with the Meteor of Oblivion.

A few weeks later, Dez called me.  He was all exited.  He thought a bomb went off in his apartment.  All the windows were blown out from the inside, but he wasn’t sure what happened.  “Protestants?” I asked.  “Ah Jayzus, dere’s no way tah tell.”  When I got there the place looked like a scene from Londonderry during  the 70′s. Every single window, seven in all, were smashed from the inside.  He had been outside working on his van when the place blew up.  Strangely, everything inside was fine.  Not even the bong had been tipped over, and we knew how little it took to spill that bitch.

Never having stuck around long enough at a crime scene to be able to investigate one, we were at a loss while poking around for clues.  If there was anything different, it was the new fresh smell the place had.  Finally, he found a ruptured can of deodorant behind the radiator.  We figured out his cat, Scabby, had knocked over the can on to the radiator where it heated up until it blew. The concussion was enough to force all the windows out of the panes, but not to knock over the bong.  It was an impressive lesson in physics, especially for Scabby, who would not come out from under the couch.

It was late Saturday afternoon by then and felt like it was too late to go to a glass place.  A Santa Fe summer storm was blowing in fast so we decided to get trash bags and tape them up around the frames.  They didn’t have trash bags at Owl Liquors, so we decided to ride out the weather. We sat there drinking beer after beer while the wind and rain blew in from all sides.  The curtains were flapping around like mad ghosts. Occasionally, lightning would illuminate the whole place.  It was very cinematic.  “I feel like we were on a haunted pirate ship,” I announced.  “Aye, aye Cap’n,” Dez mumbled before his chin took a dive into his chest.

The next morning, the carpet was soaked.  The book shelves had crashed down across the glass coffee table, breaking it and the bong it supported.  The art posters were torn and curling up. The stereo was ruined, important court papers soaked in bongwater, and the cat was gone.  None of this was due to the elements.  It was the spontaneous bouts of kickboxing we’d erupt into.

The irony here was that the place had survived an aerosol bomb explosion, and a howling storm, but couldn’t survive us.  We assessed the damage as we looked around for leftover booze.  The damage was considerable, the leftover booze scarce.

We went and bought some windows.  The guy already knew us.  Sliding glass doors, faux-framed glass, and various bathroom mirrors having been replaced by us many times over.  Our way of supporting a local business.  He actually gave us a 10% good customer discount.  A rare break in the business of breaking things.

“Orale! Los Masters of Disaster!” he happily greeted us.

“Hey Manny, we need seven windows,” I told the guy.

“Good party?”

“Sart uv,” Dez said, picking out a splinter of glass from his finger.

The problem for the alcoholic with paying The Piper is the discriminatory loan shark interest rates he seems to charge us.  Our escape from reality seems to cost more.  Unfortunately, as much as it costs in wreckage, both material and emotional, we keep paying.  The vig is big, but the options seem worse.

Until we run out of resources, get incarcerated, or die, we don’t stop.  Healthy people don’t get that.  Why would they?  Hell, even we don’t get it.  At this point, the wreckage was piling up, but I could still drink my way around it.  It would be a little while longer before the big hammers started to come down.

Their shadows now hung over me as I swept the pieces of the bong into a snow shovel with a paper plate.

Dez must be feeling tired.

Poisoned By My Own Hand; Death By Chambord

The Royal Vial of Poison

It was the worst hangover I ever had.  And I’ve had a few over the years, but this one wins the gold.  The National Anthem plays, and I put my hand over my heart.  I humbly accept that I had something to do with its shining success.  I’m the man behind medal.

Lets see.  Beer, tequila, champagne, some wine in there, somewhere, then more beer and tequila.  A little weed to give the merry-go-round a good spin, then a cheap cigar.  Good party.  I loved everybody.  Everything was hilarious.  I came home and wasn’t quite done.  Just needed a little knick-knocker to bang the box closed.  Nothing to drink except an ancient bottle of black raspberry liqueur that I brought back from my grandparents’ house after they both had died.  Some shit called “Chambord.”

From Wikipedia:

“Chambord is made from red and black raspberries, Madagascar vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and cognac.

Chambord is produced on the premises of a traditional Loire Valley Chateau, using all natural ingredients. Whole raspberries and blackberries are steeped in French spirits for a period of several weeks to produce a fruit infusion. This infusion produces a distinct raspberry flavor and aroma.

After the infusion is extracted, a second set of spirits is added to the fruit and allowed to rest for a few weeks.  After this second infusion is drawn off, the remaining fruit is pressed to obtain the natural sugars and juice.  The fruit-infused spirits and juices from the final pressing are then combined, and finally, the berry infusion is married with a proprietary blend of cognac, natural vanilla extract, black raspberries, citrus peel, honey, and herbs and spices. The liqueur is 16.5% alcohol by volume.”

Oooh!  Sounds wonderful, especially that 16.5% alcohol part.  What they don’t mention in the article is that all that fussing and fruit-infusing produces a lethal toxin, and that drinking it will give you a hangover you’ll remember and write about almost twenty years later.

It came in a fancy bottle that looked like the orb a King holds to symbolize something symbolic, His Majesty’s Royal Thing.  I remember looking at this very same bottle as it sat on their shelf for over 30 years gathering dust.

I never saw anyone drink from it.  People must have been hip to it.  They must’ve have known it was death in a bottle.

I didn’t know that then.  All I really knew was that it was a bottle of booze, and I wasn’t going to let a perfectly good bottle of booze go to waste.  After my grandfather’s funeral, I threw it into my suitcase.  I was never much into liqueurs and shit.  Too fucking sweet.   If I want to drink something that tastes like cough syrup, I’ll drink cough syrup, thank you.

The bottle continued to sit on my shelf for another year or so gathering more dust.  I just kept it around.  Hey, you never know when you’ll need it.

Like right now.  I picked up the royal globus cruciger and uncorked it.  I quickly took four or five deep swigs to get it down before the taste hit.  The sickly sweetness made me want to retch.  Dear God, that’s some evil shit.  Who would drink this by choice?

It wasn’t long before the synergistic effect from introducing this unholy concoction into my already multifaceted drunk finally pushed me over the falls.  I stumbled over to my mattress and let myself fall face first.  Sweet holy oblivion!  The Universal Void!  Oh blessed dissolution!  My soul’s husk entombed in the dark City of Pyramids, where I shall dwell with no name, hooded and faceless, in the Desert of Desolation for eternity.

Then, almost instantly, a loud alarm clock.  Time to rise and shine, and give God your glory, glory!

I knew when I opened my eyes.  This was no ordinary hangover.  This was going to be special.  Today, I would become a man.  Calling in was not an option.  Not because of any heroic work ethic, but because my finances were strung so tight, any day’s pay lost would spell my doom.  I was $64 away from The Abyss.

I worked as a laborer for a local plumbing company.  Most of the time I just dug trenches and ran the jack-hammer.  The average day usually didn’t lack some brutal pain in the ass, but now it was winter and freezing cold.  Everything would have a little extra suck attached to it.  It had stormed three days earlier.  Santa Fe was covered with 6 to 8 inches.  I got Friday off because of the snow, so I was out of the blocks quick that weekend and had an early lead.

By Saturday night, I was at a world record pace.  Remember being 86’d from Luna.  Helping Marko push our car out of a ditch.  Being at some St. John’s party where we almost got into a fight with some visiting Dutch dudes that looked like The Bay City Rollers.  Eventful for sure, but we were on our A Game, and dealing effectively with what we had to deal with.  I was just navigating my way through a fairly typical week-end night.  Nothing yet to foreshadow the personal milestone I was about to be set.

It was the shindig at my friend Collette’s house on Sunday night that really propelled me to my bitter victory, and it was those last slugs of  Moroccan citrus peel and honey that pushed my nose across the ribbon.  I’m sure the Chambord assured that this Monday morning would become immortalized forever as my worst.

There was the most amazingly brutal, temple-banging headache, the kind that beats at the eyeballs so hard it jars them blurry.  My stomach was clenched in nausea.  Throat burning from bile.  Hands already beginning to shake.  I got out of bed, walked a few steps, then actually had to take a knee, like I had been chop-blocked.  Fuck me.  This is some new super strain of hangover.  After all, I wasn’t a little baby about alcohol poisoning at this point, but this kind of suffering was almost biblical.  This was very different.  Why?

Beer, wine, tequila, champagne, beer and tequila and beer.  Check.  Nothing amiss there.  Hmm.  Oh, the fucking Chambord.  That was the last, so that’s whose fault it was.  Chambord.  That’s the X factor in our equation.  Fucking Chambord.  From France.

I rode the walls down the hall to go outside and start the car up.  I walked out in my underwear and one sock.  I saw the lady across the street getting into her car to go to work.  She saw me, and I saw her, but neither of us waved.   The Olds Omega was a block of ice.  The door was frozen shut.  I got one foot up on the car and was trying to pull the car door open like it would make me the King of England.  I finally got it open and after a few dozen tries, got the engine to turn over.  I went back inside.

Breakfast was out of the question.  I took a shower and put on my Gumby suit, which is what Marko and I called our green, cold-weather coveralls.  I could only find one glove and settled for that.  One of anything is better than nothing, except maybe tumors and shit.  Or a hangover like this one.  None of it would be a lot better.  So much for that axiom.

I drove to the plumbing office late where Joe, yes, the plumber, was already waiting.  Joe was an ex-speed freak from Farmington, NM.  He wore his long blond hair in a single braid.  He could be cool sometimes, but more often was one of the most hateful and sarcastic bastards that ever crawled the earth.  I could forget about getting any sympathy from him.  It was all I could do to get him to stop at a drive-thru so I could attempt food.  He pulled into Hardee’s.

I hated Hardee’s but it was this or nothing, and except for tumors and a bunch of other stuff, something was always better than nothing.  I got the 99 cent hamburger and a small coffee.

We drove up towards the ski basin.  I pushed the burger down against a rebellious gag reflex and nursed the coffee.  We drove in silence for a while.

“Whew! You really smell like liquor,” Joe said, rolling down the window.

“It’s Chambord.”

“Well lah-dee-fucking dah!”

We drove up to the job site.  It was up by Hyde Park.  We were putting in a gas line to this multi-million dollar home belonging to an actress that starred in a terrible movie with Richard Dreyfuss.  They couldn’t get a back hoe in on the side of the steep rocky hill, so it was up to me to jack hammer up the rock, then pick and shovel a trench about forty feet across.  I had been working on it for three days and was only half the way there.

I had kept myself going by picturing myself in a Russian labor camp.  I used to pretend that I was The Iron Prisoner, a man doomed by fate to a life sentence of hard labor.  I would suffer silently and with dignity.  Resigned and resilient.  Bent but not broken.

When I climbed into that trench that morning, I was broken, and bent.  Joe had gone inside the house to top out some drains and left me to my misery.  I put on my glove and lined up the jack hammer on a cluster of rocks.  I was just about to pull the trigger when I let go, turned, and puked my hot coffee and 99 cent burger.  I watched it steam and sink into the snow.  Seeing that made me puke again.  Fucking Hardee’s.

After watching my two dollars disappear into a puddle of slush, I went back to the hammer and pulled the trigger.  All hell erupted in my skull.  A jack-hammer is an unpleasant tool to operate, even when you’re well-rested and in love with a beautiful woman, but hung over, poisoned to the pores, hating the very concept of existence, it’s…really…something.

I tried to picture myself in a cozy cabin sipping a pint of stout, with a nice roaring fire and a bi-sexual punk rock girl posing dirty for me on a bear skin rug.  Hell, even folding laundry in the garage would’ve been better.  Just about anything anywhere else than here now.  My suffering silently and with dignity was now being broken up with periodic puppy whimpering and weeping.

At one point, I thought about just ending it all.  I could lay down, put the chisel bit of the jack hammer in my mouth, then reach up with my foot and press the handle.  I would kill myself by jack-hammering a hole through my skull.  It seemed dicey, and if I didn’t pull it off, I’d be subject to teasing from the rest of the construction guys forever.  Nice idea though.  Maybe I’ll have a character in one of my stories do it.

I’d go as long as I could, then let go of the trigger handle.  I was sweating champagne and Chambord.  Dizzy and dry-mouthed, I’d cup a handful of snow and rub it into my face.  Looking around, I could see I was surrounded by absolute beauty.  We were up on spacious lot of land, with a lot of snow-flocked trees, and from the hillside, I could see all of Santa Fe below.  The sky was deep blue.  The sun bright.

The contrast to my inner landscape, the blighted, bombed out bummer within, was notable.  I remember thinking, “Wow, everything around me is beautiful, and that’s very different from what’s going on inside.”  Why was I always running away from Reality, when Reality looked better than the alternative I created?

My drinking was an escape, for sure, but an escape from what?   Was it from Reality?  Or just from the man experiencing it?

I put the hammer and the big questions aside, and took a few swings with the pick to break up the chunks.  I scraped what I could with the shovel and threw it over the side, then pulled the jack-hammer back up and resumed blasting away.   The open-minded punk rock girl was long gone by now.  Nothing left but bitter irony to chew on, and maybe some hopelessness from a hose to wash it down.

That was pretty much lunch since I didn’t bring anything to eat.  I spent it smoking a couple of cigarettes near a little fire one of the workers built in a fireplace.  After lunch it was back to the trench.  I was still pretty sick and the next four hours dragged.

I hammered and clawed and scraped and got to within seven feet of the end when Joe finally came out to tell me to roll it up.  I dragged the tools and my ass back to the van.  The headache and nausea were almost gone, but I was beat.  Joe finally finished talking to the foreman and got in.

“You look like shit,” he said.

“I’ve never felt better,” I told him, “That Chambord stuff must be some kind of youth tonic.”

He dropped me off at my car.  The left front tire was low.  I’d deal with that tomorrow.  I got in and drove to Kelly’s Liquors.  There was a sale on Beck’s.  I bought three six packs, just to be sure I didn’t Chambord myself again.

One thing I knew by then was that I couldn’t be trusted.  All day long I had been telling myself I’d never drink again, and here I was at Kelly’s again.  Just because I swore off Chambord, didn’t mean if I ran out of beer I might not be tempted to try it again, expecting different results.  Alcoholics are fucked up like that.  We never learn.

Well, almost never.  I never drank that poison again.  Eventually, I even managed to stop drinking.  But, it took a lot more than the worst hangover of my life to want to.  I had to really feel bad.

Am I dead yet?

Liquid Lunch Blues

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am the dead, but I have risen.”

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

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

“How is it still hot?”

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

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

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

“Twenty five bucks for a decent one.”

“Oh.”

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

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

These Plug-aritos are delish!