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Friday, 29 August
Men II Boyz

Conversation with my barista this morning (he kills me; he's also in a band whose name escapes me, but it's like "The Throw-Ups" or something):

He: Went to a bachelor party last night.

Me: Oh, yeah? [Note sparkling banter on my part throughout.]

He: Yeah. Bunch of guys sitting around watching porn. So me and my buddy left to go to the Lusty Lady. We were like, "Come on, let's go see real girls!"

Me: Oh, yeah? [Yes. I am The Man.]

He: Yeah! Sticky floors, man. [This isn't really what I want to hear from the guy making my coffee.]

Me: I've never been to the Lusty Lady.

He: You've only got six months, man.

Me: Oh, yeah? [I hate me.]

He: Yeah. The one in San Francisco is already down, and I guess they're losing their lease here too.

Me: Oh, wow. I, uh, I guess I should go soon.

He: You've got to, man! [He gives me my coffee, and I turn to go.]

Me: Maybe I will.

He: Sticky floors, man!

Me: Yeah. [And at this point, for no coherent reason, I raise my fist in a kind of Black Panther/solidarity gesture. Right: We straight white males have to stick together for porn! As I exit the door, I hear again:]

He: STICKY FLOORS!

So basically my life is a Noel Coward play rewritten by Larry Flynt.

Tuesday, 26 August
Worst and Ten

Tonight I watched, mainly out of purest inertia, ESPN's new drama "Playmakers," an intensely realistic look at the inner workings of an NFL team. And when I say "intensely realistic," I of course mean "screamingly demented," because this is after all TV; and while I have no special insights into any particular NFL teams, I can observe that this team basically resembles the cast of Passions, only with horrific scars, spinal trauma, and a predilection for the almost-naughty-for-cable expletive "shit." No NFL team can possibly have such a storied collection of ridiculously fucked-up players.

Okay. Maybe the Bengals.

The series starts by highlighting a few choice characters, all of them spectacularly fucked up; in fact, there doesn't seem to be the stock "grounded wise person" character floating about tsk-tsking over his friends' awful life choices and dispensing pithy observations about same--in fact, nobody in this show appears to even have any glimmer of self-awareness at all; professional football in this context appears to be something akin to Scientology or Amway: a fundamentally silly venture that somehow makes its followers completely unaware of its drastically inane premise.

There is the aging running back, who just came off a harrowing rehab; he is having illicit thoughts about an apparently amorous newscaster, which presents a threat to the family that he loves. Yes, this sounds plausible: when it comes to football groupies, they always chase the nearly-washed-up old guys whose careers are in twilight. He is also threatened by the rookie phenom just hired who is basically taking his job, and anyone with working synapses can see that the TERRIBLE TEMPTATION OF PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING DRUGS is in this character's near future. Suspenseful! This is like waiting to find out if Yogi Bear is going to steal a picnic basket sometime soon.

The aging running back has a good buddy linebacker, who has problems of his own: he nearly tackled a guy to death recently, paralyzing him, and is wracked with guilt over the memories, because he's clearly a nice guy. See, he even brings his erstwhile victim some DVDs in the hospital, while the guy lies there and calls him an asshole and explains to the linebacker, "I can't even feel my dick." The linebacker looks away ashamed, and so does the viewer. Later, we see that the linebacker is so guilt-burdened that he sees a psychiatrist about it, and the viewer looks away again, because god damn it, "The Sopranos" clearly has a lot to answer for; the viewer then goes to make a drink while the shrink and the killer linebacker exposition for a while: turns out that not only is the linebacker all fucked up over nearly killing the numb-dick guy, he also had an obsessively creepy fucked-up father who killed the linebacker's brother by coaching him into a heat-stroke when they were teens. Next week, I imagine we'll find out that his mother was a cross-dressing lesbian ace pilot for the Luftwaffe, because he doesn't have enough psychologically damaging freight to haul around yet; he's like Job in shoulder pads.

There's also the aforementioned hotshot rookie runningback who has some voiceover bits (though everyone has voiceover bits in this series; evidently the producers are iconoclastic revolutionaries dedicated to overthrowing the notion that in visual narratives you don't say it, you show it) detailing his crummy crackhead parents. He says, more than once, like a mantra, "Don't do drugs." You're going to really freak out when I mention that he does drugs. YOU CRAZY PRODUCERS! What nutty curve ball will you throw me next? No, don't tell me! He . . . has an pathological urge to collect old Ranger Rick magazines? He . . . eats asparagus obsessively and then performs gas chromatograph tests on his urine in order to create a "smelliness index"? He . . . enjoys frolicking with incredibly pneumatic chicks who possess the unearthly ability to wake up with artfully arranged clothing and blankets that just barely cover their nudity? (This always kills me. I've known so many women who, after a night of frenetic fucking, carefully make sure to put their bras back on, because they're just so comfortable.)

I knew I'd finally hit on it. Anyway. He's a swaggering crack addict who's a really talented football player. You now know utterly everything about his character.

There's also some head office shenanigans involving the team owner, who is anonymously reptilian and evil, which is actually fine. My inner pinko really kind of believes that people who are that rich are probably pathological fuckheads anyway; I realize it's not at all fair, and probably provably false, but really, take a look around you: are the ridiculously rich not, as a general rule, kind of awful? Hell, if you want, just take a look at most sports owners. I don't have a problem demonizing them: they're hideous.

And finally, as if this litany of woe weren't wretched enough, there is the head coach, who is typically tough as nails, godammit, and you've got to be there for the TEAM! and if you're not, well, godammit, you got no place here, all right? He's got tough decisions to make, like whether or not to start (1) the aging running back who is old and slow and has been out for eight months or (2) the rookie hotshot who, apart from the fact that he runs like his asshole is on fire, is wildly popular with the media. I wonder who he'll pick? Again, this is about as suspenseful as Frog and Toad Are Friends.

But I haven't really gotten into the heart of the head coach's character, for there is a deeper secret. A shocking secret. A disgusting secret.

He is apparently pissing blood, and won't see a doctor. Yes, you read that right.

The viewer, once again, looks away. It's time for another drink.

Monday, 25 August
Strange Quark, Spinning Down

When I was growing up, I frequently spent a month or so in LA with my grandmother Emmy (now deceased) and my grandfather Vanaisa. Vanaisa is Estonian for grandfather--technically, it means "old father"--which I thought was pretty cool; it's pronounced with four syllables: vah-nah-EE-sah. He and my grandmother fled Estonia when it was being annexed by the Soviets during WWII, and after what sounded like a fairly harrowing trip, finally landed in the States in the mid '50s, first moving to Chicago and then to Encino. So I'd go down in July or August and hang out and get the shit spoiled out of me by them; they'd dote on me, take me shopping, or out to fine dining--well, their version of it, anyway. For them, nothing was quite as chi-chi as an elegant evening out at the Sizzler. God knows why, but for a long time as a kid, I was totally convinced that the Sizzler was the shit. Sizzler and Benihana, the latter of which introduced me to some of my very favorite barely Asian food.

Even I knew as a kid that Vanaisa was kind of a whackjob; but I found it really entertaining. He certainly wasn't dangerous or anything, he was just, well, nuts. He would do "magic" tricks for me: he'd hide one of my superhero guys behind some cushions, and then have me go pour him a ginger ale, and when I got back, it would have "magically" disappeared; he'd swear he had no idea where it went. Days later, I'd find it somewhere weird, like at the bottom of the pool or in my pillowcase.

One of Vanaisa's vices was gambling, or rather, it would have been had my grandmother not put a stop to that. He used to go to the track and bet the ponies, but after a while my grandmother basically told him she'd beat him stupid if he didn't cut it out, so he just stopped. Sort of. What he'd do is get the racing form every day, make his picks, and then listen to the radio broadcast of the races, tracking his winnings. Soon enough, he had enlisted me as competition, and so, feeling very worldly, I would sit down with him and pick my horses. Of course I totally ignored the odds in favor of which horse had the coolest name, but sometimes I got lucky and beat him, and he'd stare at me in mock horror. "YOU TAKE MONEY FROM MY POCKET! Now I cannot eat."

His obsession with gambling took other hilariously weird, ticlike forms, such as his obsession with LA's ubiquitous giant bank clock/thermometers. He'd spy one in the distance while driving, and would holler, "HOW HOT DO YOU THINK IT IS? HOW HOT?" I'd crane my damn neck around trying to see it, but he was already plowing ahead with his spiel. "I think it is 70 degrees!" So you were fucked if you wanted to pick 70 degrees; sorry, too slow. "Uh . . . I'll say 72." He would invariably laugh derisively no matter what you said. "72! You are crazy. It is 70 DEGREES! I bet you FIFTEEN CENTS!" Why fifteen cents had this talismanic hold over him, I'll never know, but every one of his random shoutout bets involved this sum. "I bet you FIFTEEN CENTS! HOW HOT?!" The bastard was right more often than not, too, because, duh, he'd look at the fucking sign before howling out his bet proposal. Not being very smart, I didn't catch on to this little bit of obviousness for a long time.

Probably also keyed into his love for gambling was his adoration of Wheel of Fortune. I'd watch with them and enjoy their fractured attempts to play along: "I say it is 'FOR WHO THE BELLS TOLL!' " I'd turn to him and explain that the only letter on the board was an "R", and that it was only a three word phrase. "You never know," he would say cryptically. Then he would go on to mock the actual players. "He is buying a vowel! I can't believe how stupid this guy is." He said that approximately 100% of the time when a contestant bought a vowel, because he was also spectacularly cheap; this might explain all those mighty fifteen-cent wagers. To him, buying a vowel was the equivalent of getting the undercarriage coating on your new car.

His rabid frugality led to the occasional amusing shopping experience (though utterly humiliating for me at the time), as he would go nuts looking for bargains. Once he took me to some outdoorsy store looking for some lawn chairs he had spied advertised for five or ten bucks. We drove like forty minutes to the place, only to have the sales clerk tell him they were out of those, but would we like to look at these? Total bait-and-switch, even a dummy like me could see that, and I waited for Vanaisa to get pissed and start raving. He stared for a minute at the clerk, and then broke into a grin. "That's very smart! You tricked me!" The clerk assumed a posture of familiar retail misery, and mentally tallied the various awful aspects of his job while Vanaisa continued. "I drove very far to get here, and you have only these!" He dismissively waved his hand over the offending chairs, as if they were broken geegaws crafted by retards and maniacs. "That is a good racket!" And we left, he chuttering all the while about how good they had jobbed him. It was like he was appreciative for the sudden insight into capitalistic malfeasance, and a wholly wasted afternoon wasn't too much trouble for the lesson.

Anyway. He's probably close to being on his way out now--my folks are taking care of him--and it's okay, honest, he's been in a bad way for a little while. He's still nuts, of course; I believe he's decided that ORANGES are POISON! And he won't drink tap water, but then again, he did spend a lot of years in LA, so this perhaps isn't the looniest thing I ever heard: at least when I was there, LA tap water tasted like something unpleasant had fucked in the pipes. He's taken to squirreling away bizarre, cramped notes on little pieces of paper that he won't let my folks see--tiny notes against the conspiracy that has surely come to make him eat oranges, drink tap water, and buy vowels, surely. I wonder what they say, and I suppose that when he does go, we'll all find out.

I bet they are, to put it mildly, interesting. I bet you fifteen cents.

Thursday, 21 August
The Quest Fulfilled

Snark waited patiently while Rory the Caterpillar took another massive bong hit. Finally, the caterpillar pointed six legs behind Snark. " 'Ere . . . the Cat will take you." Snark turned around.

There on a branch sat a lovely Kitty, cleaning her fur with the air of someone who has suffered many fools in her time. She seemed to take no interest in Snark, who nonetheless greeted her.

"Hullo, Cat."

"You may, if you prefer, call me Kitty."

"As you wish, Kitty. What do I do now?"

"You may do whatever you wish. I am going to rent videos. I have an urge to see Uncle Buck, I think." Kitty began to stride away.

Snark gasped. "But that's mad!"

Kitty said agreeably, "That's true. We're all mad here. You're mad. I'm mad."

Snark said, "Actually, I might be kind of high. The caterpillar might have fucked me up."

"Whatever works," Kitty replied. "Come along. Perhaps we shall find the Duchess."

"The Duchess?" asked Snark. He wished he had something to eat.

"Yes," said Kitty, "some know her as Judith. She often walks this way from time to time nursing her baby number."

"I'm sorry . . . did you say number?" Snark was very confused.

"Yes. She has an adorable little Thirteen. He's quite the dickens; last week the Duchess found him beating up forest hoboes. What a laugh they had." Kitty said this flatly and coldly.

"Tough little number," murmured Snark.

"Indeed. Well, here we are. I'm off, unless you fancy joining me. Are you sure you wouldn't like to watch a movie? Say, Monkeybone?"

Snark grimaced. "I think not."

And without another word, Kitty vanished, bit by bit, starting with the tail, until finally only her smile remained. Then the smile said, "You are really a very smelly badger," and it too vanished.

"Vile cat. Was that necessary? May she be beset by unpleasant Australians." muttered Snark. "Where in the deuce am I, anyway?"

A melodious voice came from behind him. "You are right here, dear badger, which I must say beats Sacramento."

Snark whirled around to see a lovely duchess. She held in her arms a very filthy baby, which, as Snark soon noticed, really was a number 13.

"You are the one they call Judith," said Snark, "and that is your little baby 13. He's very handsome," lied Snark, attempting courtesy.

"And you seek the Flask of Always Whisky, dear Snark. I have heard. And you are very polite, for it is plain to see that this baby is uglier than Dale Chihuly. For your kindness, I will take you to see the one who can help you: The Red Queen."

"I thank you milady. Shall we walk?"

"Do let's. To pass the time, perhaps I will sing for you a song? Little 13 loves it so, for it is about upholding the Libertarian ideal."

Snark was mystified by this turn of phrase, and replied, "I myself enjoy songs about Ross Perot, but pray, continue."

And with that, the duchess Judith began singing a sort of lullaby to the besmirched child, and gave it a violent shake at the end of every line:

"Speak roughly of your government, Castigate it when it taxes; It knows only malign intent, Take up your guns and axes!

CHORUS: Wow! Wow! Wow!"

While the Duchess sang the second verse of the song, she kept tossing the baby violently up and down, and the thing screeched like Steve Albini.

"I rage against my government, I work for its demise; For it's rebellion that I do foment, Because I hate those fucking guys.

CHORUS: Wow! Wow! Wow!"

Snark walked quietly a moment, and then said, "That was quite lovely."

"Thank you," said Judith, "little 13 does get so worked up. It is good to soothe him. At any rate, we are here."

Snark looked up and beheld a strange scene. It was a croquet game, populated by an odd array of creatures; Snark beheld lobsters, giant cockroaches, stuffed dogs, baboons, and a bowl of melted cheese. Dominating the scene was a figure dressed entirely in red: obviously the queen. She was screaming vicious oaths and imprecations.

"Does the Queen have a name?" asked Snark fearfully.

"Brad," whispered the Duchess, "and I think she's been drinking again."

At that point the Queen screamed at Snark. "YOU! VILE BADGER! APPROACH!"

Snark paled, but did as he was told. "Yes, your Highness."

"What? Is on? Your head?" demanded Brad venemously.

"A floppy hat, your Highness," quavered Snark.

"It looks like Tommy Hilfiger shat on your head," observed the Queen.

"It was kind of a wild night," replied Snark, "it's certainly possible."

At this, Brad stared at Snark, and then laughed uproariously. "You delightful thing! You please me! Shall we play darts? I have several sporting men in my taver--ah, castle, that enjoy darts."

"If you please, Madam, I am on a quest. My true love has sent me on a quest, and I was told that you might help."

"A quest! Isn't that divine!" Brad clapped his hands. "And what might this quest be for?"

"If you please, your Highness, I am looking for the Flask of Always Whisky."

The Queen stared hard at Snark for a very long time. Snark finally quietly added, "And if I may, Madam . . . if I may . . . I like your cute little ass."

The Queen softened. "Dear boy," she whispered, "I'd have an uglier badger killed for saying that. I shall grant your wish." She suddenly whirled. "GUARDS! Summon the wastrel!"

The guards looked at each other. "Ah, pardon, your Highness, but which one? We have so many."

"You know the one! He won't shut up about anything! Always with the 'fuck this' and 'eat shit' and 'where's my pants?' The drunken lout who won't be quiet!"

"You mean Skot?"

"YES! He's the one. Horrid little pervert. Once I found him making GI Joe hump My Pretty Pony. Bring him to me!"

And in short order, the pitiful Skot was hauled before the Queen. Snark was appalled at the state of the man (if it was a man). It resembled a scarecrow built out of skin grafts and clumps of discarded hair.

"Skot," said Brad imperiously, "this man is on a quest. He requires the Flask of Always Whisky for his true love. You possess it. You will give it to him, or I will remove your head, if I can find it. I assume it's where all the spittle and bullshit flows from, so my chances are good. And if not, I can always look up your ass; it's sure to be there."

The thing whined and rattled like a sack of rusty nails. "But I need it! I need it! You cannot take it! Without it, I will only be left with the Everflowing Keg, The Goblet of Pwim-River, The Eternal Fount of Single Malt, and The Unrelenting Bota Bag! Please!"

"You traitorous little homo. You dare defy the will of the Queen?" Brad screeched. "HAND. IT. OVER."

Skot scraped the dirt sadly, and whimpered incoherently. "Very well," it said, "I obey you in all things, my Queen." It produced a lovely crystal flask from somewere within its terrible, mismatched clothing. "Here," Skot breathed, "take it, Sir, and think of me well."

Snark trembled as he took up the prize. He felt dizzy, and he looked up at the Queen, whose image seemed to swim before Snark. "I . . . I thank you, Queen . . . I suddenly don't feel well . . . "

The Queen spoke from a distance: "Fare thee well, dear badger. Be always happy . . . that flask will sure help. Enjoy it."

Then Snark knew only darkness, for how long he knew not. When he awoke, his head was in Fox's lap, and she beamed down at him joyfully. "My love! You wake!" She held the flask up. "And you have triumphed, my heroic badger."

Snark bathed in her radiance. "It was a mighty quest, my love," Snark said, "but I am all the happier to be back in your presence."

Fox glowed anew. "We shall know the greatest happiness," she said, "and perhaps, someday, I can somehow repay your efforts on this quest." She took a long pull off of the flask and smiled enigmatically.

Snark took the flask and enjoyed a thoughtful drink. "Well," he said craftily, "do you know anything about Batman?"

"Oh, heavens," said Fox, starting to comprehend, "you'd better give me back that flask."

It would be unseemly to continue further. Let's just say they lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, 20 August
The Quest Begins

Once upon a time, there lived a strange badger-like creature named Snark. Snark was a clever beast, and enjoyed wearing floppy hats for some reason, because hey, who wants to mess with a badger? People left Snark alone, which suited him fine, because that gave him time to read comic books. He particularly enjoyed Batman stories, and sometimes, late at night after a couple beers, he would pretend to be Batman. "I am the Dark Knight," he would exclaim to anyone who listened, "so don't fuck with me!" Nobody did, of course, because he was a crazy badger in a floppy hat.

But more than anything, Snark loved his girl Fox, who was, I hope I don't have to spell out, a fox. Fox had a peaceful squinty foxface, and really was mostly peaceful, but did have tiny girl fisties if somebody fucked with her, which was rarely, because if you were paying attention, you'd remember that her boyfriend was an imbalanced behatted badger with Batman delusions. Fox was pretty safe.

They were very happy. And one day, Snark realized that he wanted nothing but to be with Fox forever and ever, so he asked her to marry him. It was darling as he kneeled in his floppy hat, and presented her with a bouquet of fresh chicken eggs to suck.

"My darling Fox, I want to marry you. I want to make you always happy. I bring you delicious eggs that you may suck."

"My wonderful Snark! How handsome you are in your floppy hat! I will of course marry you!" She beamed peacefully and her fur seemed to glow.

"Hurrah!" shouted happy Snark, and in his delight, he inadvertantly crushed a couple eggs. He guiltily licked his paws while Fox laughed.

"But, my darling, these things are not so simple in our crazy-ass fairytale world. Before I marry you, I must send you on a quest." Fox smiled sadly.

"A quest?" Snark frowned. "But why?"

"Don't ask me. I don't write this terrible crap," replied Fox primly. "But that's what you have to do. You must venture into the Below Lands and fetch me a prize. You must find for me The Flask of Always Whisky."

Snark gasped. "I have heard of such a thing. In tales. In legends. Sometimes on talk radio. Why must I seek this object?"

Fox twitched her tail. "Must I marry such a dull badger? Because it has Always Whisky, you silly beast. It will pour and pour and never empty." She sucked greedily on one of the remaining eggs.

Snark was abashed. "My love. I am sorry I asked at all. Of course I will find this item, and return it to you, and then we shall be married, and we shall live happily forever after, and we shall never eat at Hardee's. All this I swear."

Red beamed. "Go, my whiskery knight! Go and fetch me the Flask! I will wait here for your return, thinking only of you while I read volumes of Lacan and Derrida!"

"Why would you read such terrible things?" Snark asked, concerned.

"I'm really kind of strange. Go!"

And so Snark went, off into the forest of books. If you have ever been to the forest of books, then you know what a forbidding place it is. Volumes upon volumes stack against the sky, and seem to lean in on you when it is darkest. Snark wandered, lost, feeling a little oppressed by the terrible words that he caught from the corners of his eyes. Hold! Was this Piers Anthony looming over him? Horrible. Wait! Over there, in a copse, was that a shambling pile of Michael Crichton? Don't look! Snark was miserable and lonely.

And then suddenly, he heard a curious noise. Was it--yes! A voice! Snark hurried to inspect. He saw a most curious figure.

It was a large rabbitlike figure, clutching a daunting pile of books. It had an amusing beard and charming glasses, and it was looking quite nervously at a pocket watch that hung on a chain. It was nervously talking to itself, saying, "Oh, what a dreadful fucking pile of fuck! This will not do!" He dropped a few books on his large feet. "Fuck!" cried the poor beast into the lonely night. Snark noticed that he had a curious pendant on his vest; it was gold and bent into the shape of a sort of S.

Snark nervously approached the thing. "Sir, might I inquire as to where I am?"

The rabbitlike thing started, then recovered himself. "I am no sir," said the figure, "but I am only Ampersanderson."

"Ampersanderson?" Snark had never heard of such a name.

"Yes. My mother was a rabbit--Dog rest her sainted ears--and my father was a punctuation mark. It's not a noble heritage, but it's mine. It could be worse. I know someone whose sister is a tilde. Can you imagine?" Ampersanderson shuddered. "It's not easy being of punctuation blood; my schoolmates used to call me "PM"--Punctuation Mark--but I beat their asses stupid for it. Now they just call me Mark. So may you."

"I thank you, Mark, for your greeting," replied Snark, becoming unsettled by the seemingly mad creature. "May I ask your advice? I am on a quest for the Flask of Always Whisky. I seek it for my bride-to-be." He adjusted his floppy hat to a jaunty angle.

"The Flask!" breathed Mark, "I have heard of such a thing!" He paused. "You are on a mighty quest! I will show you how to get down into the Below Lands. You must come with me."

"Friend!" cried Snark. "You do me a good turn. Why are you so kind?"

"You seem like a jolly sort," replied Mark, cleaning his spectacles and picking nits out of his beard. "And most people are assholes. I cannot abide assholes." Mark's tone suddenly became stiff. "You are, I trust, not an asshole?"

"Assuredly not," replied Snark confidently. "Assholes do not become betrothed to peaceful squinty foxfaces."

Mark smiled. "I believe you. I am a well-read rabbitlike bearded thing, and difficult to fool. And you are quoting from the One Thousand One Hundred and Forty-Two Truths in the Book of Drimmie. I shall doubt you no longer, and will escort you to the entrance to the Below Lands. Come."

And so they went, making small conversation along the way. At length, they arrived at an innocuous-looking hole, just big enough to fit a lovestruck badger or a bearded rabbit. Snark was apprehensive.

"What must I do?" he asked Mark.

Mark looked at him bemusedly. "Don't be a tool. You have to go down. There lies the Flask. But you will need help. You must seek out my friend, Rory. He will provide you with clues. Go."

Snark felt a bit lost. "But--"

"GO!" yelled Mark, and with that, shoved Snark down the hole.

Snark fell for a long time, but felt no fear; rather, he felt rather sleepy and considered taking a nap. At one point he passed a jar of marmalade, and thought to himself, "I hate marmalade." He kept falling.

Some time later, he landed, softly, on a matting of luxuriant lichens and leaves. He felt a bit distracted--the Below Lands! And gazed for a moment at the landscape, verdant and lovely, like a raver's corduroy pants, or She-Hulk. Then he heard a languorous voice.

"And who . . . are you?"

Snark turned and beheld a large caterpillar atop a huge mushroom; it took laborious pulls off a bong. The caterpillar addressed him again. "I am Rory. Who are you?" Rory had a large boombox next to him, and Snark noticed that it was emitting strange sounds.

"I am Snark. I was sent here by Ampersanderson--I mean, Mark--to search for the Flask of Always Whisky." Snark was becoming mesmerized by the heavy smell of the hookah and the odd sounds emanating from the boombox.

"Mark! Oh, what a delightful asshole! I will help you, Sir Snark, for you have named a friend."

Snark felt relieved. "I do thank you, kind Rory." But he could not resist asking: "May I ask you what that glorious noise is that you are enjoying?"

Rory flexed several dozen of his legs and grinned. "That is The Streets."

Snark was nonplussed. "The Streets?"

Rory said, "Yes. They are dope. Let's push things forward."

And Snark, catching on, said, "Oi. Oi." And smiled.


To be continued.

Tuesday, 19 August
Smoke Gets Up My Ass

Being once again in the thick of a glorious summer, I have a message for my fellow denizens of Capitol Hill:

BUY YOUR OWN FUCKING CIGARETTES. Please? It's getting kind of ridiculous.

See, the thing is, I normally am a rock-solid follower of the Unspoken Code of Smokers. The rules are pretty simple:

1. If a fellow smoker bums a cigarette, give him one without complaint.

Example:

"Dude, can I bum a smoke?"
"Sure."

2. Unless it is your last cigarette, in which case the fellow smoker will immediately withdraw his request.

"Dude, can I bum a smoke?"
(Opening pack) "Oh, shit, sorry, it's my last one."
"Oh, hey, no problem."

3. Failure to withdraw request for last cigarette is the gravest breach of cadging etiquette.

"Dude, can I bum a smoke?"
(Opening pack) "Oh, shit, sorry, it's my last one."
"Oh, wow, thanks."
"Are you deranged? Get the fuck away from me."
"But--can I . . . ?"
(Shivving the cadger with a sharpened screwdriver) "AAAAAHHH!"
(Police arriving.) "Hey! Stop! What are you doing?"
"Sorry, officer, he was bumming my last cigarette."
"Oh, hell. Are you all right? What was he, crazy?"
"I guess."
"Uuuuuuuugh." (Cadger dies.)
"Carry on, citizen. We'll throw this in a dumpster."

I hope my examples clear up how this all works. There's a few other mitigating circumstances, though, all thrown into clear relief today on my walk home from work. It also happens to depend on who is doing the cadging. It's pretty easy, though:

Homeless Man/Woman

Come on, they're homeless. What's a cigarette to you?

Scary Homeless Man/Woman

On the other hand, you're not a superhero. Or if you are, you're the world's weirdest superhero, because you smoke. Which is kind of cool. I'm going to pretend you are now, and I name you LUNG LAD! (Or Lass. Whatever.) You travel our fair city, flying around with a smoke clenched in your jaw, tirelessly fighting crime and nicotine fits, pausing only occasionally to bend over at the waist and wheeze violently, holding one hand up in that "I'll be okay in a second" way.

Homeless Guy Selling Real Change Newspaper

Give him a cigarette, but then feel kind of peevish about it, because you just bought a newspaper to boot, and that was supposed to fill your "I did my one bullshit miniscule bit for the homeless" slot for the day. Then feel really stupid about being such an asshole over a bloody cigarette, for chrissakes.

Horrid Little Fake Homeless Bastards With Irritating Haircuts

Being past 30, I already hate the young, so it's easy to give in to the temptation to tell them to go fuck themselves. This is what I usually do. (Well, in my mind, anyway. I really don't need my obit to contain the phrase "death by skateboard.") Walk on by and also ignore the pleas of "Beer money, beer money." Fuck you, junior. Sell the leather boots.

Later, imagine horrible scenario in which damaged youth was driven from an abusive home and feel absolutely terrible. The next day, feel less terrible when you see the same kid driving a car.

Finally, this is really outside the realm of smoking, but it falls into the whole civic duty thing: I'm talking about those glinty-eyed parasites who stalk around busy corners with clipboards and try and get you to sign their fucking petitions. "I signed this one," you say. "It doesn't matter," they reply, and shove the clipboard at you. "I hate this petition," you say. "It's okay, just sign," they insist. "I'm a Cantonese rebel freedom fighter in this country on a recruiting mission," you say. "Just a quick signature, please."

These people all need to be lit on fire. Sounds like a job for LUNG LAD!

Lung Lad?

Crap. Turns out he's on his last smoke.

Friday, 15 August
Oh, The Hideous Thinks You Can Think!

I'm pretty sure that the most boring thing in the world is to listen to someone who is telling you about their dreams. Isn't it? Maybe Freud thought this was good stuff, but look at what a cracked bastard he was; I myself just cannot get interested at all--they always sound either really mundane (". . . so then I ate this pretzel . . . ") or monotonously silly (" . . . except that my high school was also a roller derby!"). And they inevitably conclude with the phrase, "Isn't that weird?"

Anyway, I had this crazy dream yesterday while post-work napping.

I was in this large building, sort of like a gymnasium, but segmented by half-walls. Maybe I was imagining cubicle-land from a worm's eye perspective, but who knows. My parents were around somewhere, and the dreamlogic was telling me for some reason that they expected me to provide dinner. This is where I should have clued in to the fact that I was dreaming, as the one meal I ever cooked my parents ended up being some dismal pork chops that we gave up trying to eat and instead sanded some cabinetry with them.

So I found this dream-pond and began fishing. Success! I was really hauling the little bastards in, these little diamond-shaped silvery fish that looked a lot like my brain borrowed them from MC Escher prints. I caught like nine of them, and then, because they needed to be "sanitized," I had to move them over to a swimming pool. Mmmmm, chlorine. Just what every meal needs.

While I was transferring the fish into the pool, along came a really cute goose, swimming right up to me. He had these twinkly eyes and a near-grin on his beak, and he was in all ways clearly friendly and adorable. He kind of broke my heart. Which is why it was frankly really awful when I found myself reaching out and drowning him; he shook his head wildly and gave a very human-like AAAAWWG! while I held him under. Then I woke up.

I realized after waking that the goose was the AFLAC goose right to a T, bizarrely, but I still felt really terrible. Why did I drown that fucking bird? And why was I so disturbed by this stupid dream? Maybe I was going to make him for dinner. Or maybe an AFLAC ad was on TV and my brain latched on to it. Or maybe I'm just a budding sociopath with violent hydrological tendencies. It's hard to say.

Isn't that weird?

Thursday, 14 August
Captive Audience

(Phone rings.)

"H-hello?"

"Hello, may I speak to the person who makes decisions in your household?"

"Uh . . . I . . . (muffled sobs) . . . hold on a second . . . "

"Oh, I . . . ah, okay . . . "

(fervent whispers, muffled)

"I . . . I'm being held hostage. He, uh, the guy holding me . . . he says he's in charge. So I guess you want him, but he's busy."

"You . . . you . . . what?"

"I'm being held hostage, so you have to talk to him. What's this about? He says he'll kill me."

"God, I . . . look . . . God. I was . . . I was just calling about your long distance plan, but--"

"Hold on."

(more fervent whispers)

"Okay, he's interested, so hold on. He's just hanging up with the negotiators."

"No! I can . . . oh, God . . . "

"Hi, this is Tom. I don't have much time here, but talk to me about your international rates. Like, Honduras or maybe Cuba."

"Ah . . . ah . . . sir, I . . . ah . . . "

"Oh, hell, you're going to have to call back, I've got tear gas to worry about here."

(Click.)

Wednesday, 13 August
The Night We Drank Everything

Well, I have successfully lived through two staged nights of the Match Game. People seemed to enjoy themselves--particularly on Monday night; I suspect that people who go out on a Monday might think, "I know that tomorrow I'll be miserable, but Tuesdays are always miserable, so why not have something fun to be miserable about?" It was, for a first venture, at least moderately successful as well; we had lots of people both nights. From a profligate-drinking standpoint however, it must be rated as an astronomically smashing success on all fronts, and possibly some backs and diagonals as well.

For those of you who don't remember, the Match Game was a game show from the seventies where two contestants tried to match answers to blindingly dumb questions with "blanks" in them with a rotating (sometimes) cast of C-list "stars" like Gary Burghoff and Fannie Flagg. The thinly veiled non-secret of the show was the fact that more or less all the time, the stars were utterly tanked out of their minds, and delivered their answers with no regard for coherence, relevance, or sometimes even physical reality. Especially witty or wink-wink smutty responses earned hysterical cheers from the audience; terrible or particularly surreal answers got people viciously booed.

So it was with us. Pretty much all of it. Taking a gin-soaked page out of the How Not To Method Act workbook, most of us started drinking well before the show; a few people might, to judge by later misbehavior, have started even earlier, like say the previous Friday. We figured, hey, let's do this thing right, you know? This unfortunately led to the startling spectacle of six ridiculously dressed actors trying to imitate dimly-recalled celebritilets (I was doing my best to emulate the reptilian Richard Dawson, and I must say, I was, uh, challenged) while also trying to answer brain-eating riddles in a somewhat clever fashion. It was, of course, booze-fueled mayhem, and we became more and more bellicose as the debacle went on, and we pestered our harried "production assisstant" with increasingly imperious demands for more gin--er, water, I meant water. Heh heh. At one point, "Fannie Flagg"--drag queen, naturally--ran out right during the Super Match. So she stood up and announced, "Nobody ever picks me for this," and wandered over to the bar. Wild cheers! Nobody cared.

In the end, much fun was had, many livers creaked and spat, kidneys howled like dogs, and at least one person told sad tales of experiencing the sudden, unpleasant closeness of the bathroom floor. For myself, I can only solemnly advise you never to find yourself in the position of needing to remove your contacts after several double gin and tonics, because chances are excellent that you will do some mysterious, fumbling damage to your eyeball, causing you the next day to frequently grab at your skull and moan at the sudden pain and blasting jets of tears.

Oh, I can also tell you that there is one thing worse than getting all stupid on a Monday night and then trying to endure work the next day: Doing it all over again on Tuesday, knowing full well that Wednesday looms in the blurry distance.

Monday, 11 August
Up Dawson's Creek

Posts have been scanty lately, for which I apologize; work has been kind of crazy, and then I've been trying to plan for tonight's experiment with doing The Match Game. We had a dry run on Saturday with us playing a mock game, and it went pretty well; my friend K. is playing Betty White, and it was pretty startling to hear her respond to a question by perkily answering, "Well, Gene, I said 'snatch'!" When in doubt, go for the blue material.

And then there's me: Richard Dawson. As I have mentioned before, I don't really look anything like him, nor sound like him (not that he's terribly noisy these days). So I worry, but it should be okay: I've got a black turtleneck, a brown sportsjacket, and an awful gold necklace, so all that's left is to affect an artful mixture of somnolence and pussyhound smarm. No problem! But that's not to say I didn't try some sartorial fuckarounds first.

First, I'm blond. Richard had brown hair. So I looked for some of that temporary-color hairspray, but found none at the two drugstores I looked, and therefore concluded that this exhaustive two-stop search was hopeless, and gave up on that. Then I figured if I wet my hair and shoved a ton of gel into it, it would darken my hair right up. So I bought some gel; the brand name was "Consort," which made me feel kind of dirty, but then I remembered that I was supposed to be Richard Dawson, and that the vaguely icky idea of "Consort in my hair" might help my character development, much like the three gin and tonics I plan on having.

Second, I remembered that for a long time, Mr. Dawson sported a creepy, bedgraggled mustache for a long time. Since I hate shaving anyway, I had already a faceful of whiskers last night, so I shaved everything off except the mustache. Perfect: I looked like Robert Redford in The Sting but without the handsomeness. Then I wet down my hair and toweled it. Now I looked like Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies but without the Ellen Barkin. I dumped an unholy wad of Consort in my hair, and massaged it around; it felt like consomme. Then I combed out my hair and arranged it into what I imagined to be a Dawsonesque coif.

It was a spectacularly ghastly failure. (It probably didn't help in that I can barely maneuver my hair into an acceptable shape on any given day anyway.) My hair was indeed darker, but it had a strange evil sheen to it, and it seemed to grip my skull like some terrible, starving mollusk. It also seemed to highlight, rather than de-emphasize, my gruesome mustache, and as I stared at myself, I realized that resembled nothing so much as a child molestor. I had a vague urge to go register with the authorities.

"I need to register as a sex offender."

"Yes, I can see that. Sign here."

Off came the mustache; out came the gel. It hardly matters: I'll be sitting next to a drag queen playing Fannie Flagg who will be wearing a sweater with a fried-egg pattern. Nobody is likely to give me a second glance.

Friday, 08 August
These Are Apparently Unremovable From My Brain

WONN HON-DRED MEEEEL-YONN DOH-LLARS!

And . . . and . . . twins!

. . . Hoover power . . . Hoover power . . .

Wednesday, 06 August
It's A Banner Day!

In what I'm pretty sure is a new record, the number of co-workers that I have covertly flipped off today is:

6

And I've still got nearly half a day to go! Oh, I'm all man.

Tuesday, 05 August
Temporarily The Best Thing Ever

Sure signs that you've gotten snared by a song that isn't going to let you go for a while:

1. You take a bus half a mile out of your way to get the CD, which was released today--you were careful to note--going all the way up to 15th because your stupid neighborhood is rapidly going all to hell, and consequently, where before there were no less than five (5) music stores, there is now one (1), and it's tiny and mostly used stuff, and also because Fred Meyer doesn't count, because they sell only crap. I know that half a mile is not a long way to go, even just to walk, much less take a bus, but you have to realize how phenomenally lazy I really am. Sometimes I let my mail sit for months, waiting for natural entropic forces to open it for me.

2. In the interceding MONTH since you first heard the song on the radio and its accompanying CD release--a month? Jesus, don't release the song that far ahead!--you emailed your local radio station no less than three times with requests for the song, taking care each time to make sure it wasn't the same DJ over and over, because, you know, you don't want to come off creepy and obsessive to someone you don't know and will never meet. It's better to post on your weblog how creepy and obsessive you are, so your tens of readers can see instead.

3. Get home with CD and immediately begin torturing yourself with the sweet anticipation of hearing the song. Do not play it immediately, and in fact wait for your long-suffering wife to ask, "So did you get your CD today?" She knows about this because you have been talking about this song for the last month in the tones of a junkie who heard of a new amusement park called Smackland opening soon. Delay. Don't be sensible and race to the stereo. Put away the groceries. Pick lint off your feet (yeah, like you don't get foot lint). Idly wonder which is funnier, a meerkat or an echidna? Meanwhile, pretend you're not fiddling with the CD like a chittering ninny.

4. Finally, put in the CD. Turn it up loud and play it, casting furtive glances at the wife, because it's important that she like the song as much as you. In fact, you realize that it is really, really important that everyone, all your friends must like this song as much as you do. This is the most important song in the universe until you get sick of it, which you sadly know in your small thoughts you eventually will, but for right now, everyone must love this song. Try not to be too crushed when they are not.

5. And when the wife has gone off to rehearsals, play the song over and over and over. You will want to air guitar and air drum and mock-sing and do your upsettingly bad little rock-dancing routine along with it. Do so. Find yourself not caring much when you notice that you are visible to people on the sidewalk.

6. Finally stop playing it. Not that you're tired of it--hell no! But you're starting to feel a little guilty and plus, you don't want to wear the thing out all at one go. You're going to savor this for as long as you can. You never know when you're going to get caught, trapped by a song that you've fallen in love with, so you have to stretch out the arc of the affair for as long as possible. And the best part is, even when (you know the time will come, admit it, even though right now it seems just possible that this song will be different, and you will always love it THIS MUCH, you know you really won't) you fall out of love with it, and it joins the rest of your collection, you will one day find it again, or it'll find you, and it'll be like a warm visit and an exchange of pleasant memories with an old friend. Human ex-lovers don't behave that way, but this song will, and someday you can share a drink with it and say, "I remember when I loved you, wasn't it great? I mean, you're still wonderful, but back then, God, it was love." And the song will say back, "That was great! All the same, it's nice to see you again. Now hush, and listen: " Just like that.

I'm no tease, folks. It's a song called "Carried" by some bunch of Brit kids named Steadman. And for at least the next week, it's the most important song in the world.

Monday, 04 August
My Bother, The Car

All right. It was time to stop jerking around. This car thing had gone far enough. I was going to fix things one way or another. I grabbed some stuff at the bookstore and walked up to the moribund little pile of shit.

I was calm. I was cool. I popped that hood open with a practiced flick of the wrist and gazed down at the engine with an icy, clinical stare. "All right, hombre," I whispered, "it's high noon. I'm Gary Cooper. And you're . . . " I thought a moment. "You're the other guy in High Noon." I've never seen High Noon, but the car didn't know that. Neither did the two hot chicks smiling at me from the sidewalk. "Just gonna whip this fucking car into shape, ladies!" I screamed at them. "I've got SKILLS!" I waved my arms madly in a display of raw passion. They giggled and ran away. They wanted me.

Back to business. First thing first: check those spark plugs. Carefully, one by one, I took out what I assumed were the spark plugs and inspected them each. They looked good, and reminded me of little spaceships, so I zoomed them around playfully for a while making whooshes and laser noises. Then, remembering that spark plugs needed to be "gapped," I checked the teeny little space between the dongle and the other thingy. Problem: not much of a gap. There was just a tiny space in there, and I didn't see how that was helping matters--why suppress the spark so much?--so I took a screwdriver and reamed out some really big gaps in each of them. Now we'll see some fucking sparks, won't we? I replaced the spark plugs with just a little intermittent hammering with the butt of the screwdriver to get them properly seated, and replaced the odd little plastic helmets they wore. They looked like tiny executioner's hoods, so I hollered "LONG LIVE THE AUTOMOTIVE REVOLUTION!" at a passing old woman. "You're lucky I'm standing between you and these little fuckers. They'd have your tiny head off in a flash, especially now that they're power-gapped!" She displayed remarkably little gratitude for this precious knowledge and tottered away. Old people are sad.

Now for the oil. I consulted my Audi owner's manual--I had picked one up used earlier that day from a very confusing rack full of them, so I just grabbed the ones with the coolest covers--and quickly discovered where the oil-hole was. Underneath the fucking car! Who designs these things, cripples? It just seemed stupid. Why not in the glove box, or on the dash? Whatever. I got down on my back and started inching under my car, getting a little more pissed now, because I was wearing a new shirt. Which of course turned out to be a total wash, because the oil-hole wasn't anywhere that the owner's manual said it was. I looked at another one, this one for a Volkswagen, and this fucking thing told me it was way in another spot, like in the trunk or something, and I just got fed up and tossed away the damned books; clearly none of these fatheads had ever cross-checked their facts with each other, so their damned books were all just a pack of fucking lies. I wondered idly what the morons who made my car--I checked, and it said "Honda" on it--claimed the damn thing was. Probably in space, or maybe the eleventh dimension.

So there was only one thing to do. I checked the oil-hole (the top one this time; can these things be more confusing?) and looked inside. It was blacker than hell in there; it looked like Donald Rumsfeld's soul. So I lit my lighter and waved it around in there, peering for a good look of where the oil got put, but it was still hard to see. Figuring, well screw it, I wasn't getting anywhere with this, I decided to use my hole card. I didn't want to do it, but desperate measures were in order. I took a deep breath, and steadied myself.

I began speaking the Old Words, and my voice came like syrup from my throat, the words hung glistening and heavy in the air. I felt a slight heat as the mystical energies swirled around me, and the fabric of space around me began to tear. The summoning was working. I opened my eyes and beheld a man.

"Doctor Strange," I said, "can you help me fix my fucking car?"

Doctor Strange looked at me briefly, and then flashed his eyes at the "Honda"--strange word! He blanched and looked back at me. "Dormammu's Eyes! Your car--it's--it's---" he trailed off. "It's really fucked up," he concluded softly. "Yes, Doctor, I know. Can you help me?"

The Doctor let his scarlet cape swirl around him mysteriously, and stroked his black beard. His eyes were hooded in shadow, and he seemed not to notice the small crowd of little boys who had gathered to stare at his floating form. I threw small stones at them so as to prevent their disturbing Doctor Strange, and they fled, screaming at my deadly accuracy.

"It is done!" the Doctor suddenly cried, and powerful energy coursed down his arms and into his hands; orbs of light manifested in his palms, and he held them there, like magical basketballs.

"You have fixed my car, Doctor Strange?" I was so happy! I ran to my car and snapped off the antenna and began savagely whipping the sides of the aged jalopy, fiercely screaming, "Don't EVER do that to me AGAIN!" Doctor Strange looked on bemusedly, and said, "No, no, Skot. Leave off your ministrations, much they may be deserved. The car is not fixed. I have simply arranged towing transport for your vehicle to the nearest mechanical shop, where they shall attend to what ails it. In the meantime, we shall enjoy cold beverages, and when they are done, you need only give them money in the amount which is indicated on their 'bill'."

"Doctor," I whispered, "you are truly wise. I am happy I called you, for I was without recourse."

"You were wise to do so, friend," said the Doctor, "and now, let us go eat ribs."

Friday, 01 August
A Day Which Will Live In Stupidity

Yesterday, I arrived home after work and ascended the staircase to my apartment. There at the landing was--YAY!--a box from Amazon! Always a welcome sight, especially since at least 50% of the time, I have forgotten what the hell I've ordered, so it's like amnesiac Christmas. I picked up the box.

TO: MARGARET [REDACTED]

I hurled the box to the ground. MARGARET FUCKING REDACTED! That's my neighbor! Stupid mailman with the stupid tease package. So I grabbed it again and stalked over to my neighbor's staircase and tossed it up onto her landing. Then I began re-ascending my stairs.

Then I did something very curious, where "curious" may be interpreted as "stupid." It's been a hot few days, and I was feeling it. So halfway up the staircase I decided to remove my shirt. Without stopping. You can see where this is going. [Editor's note: For some reason, I switch tenses here. It's best not to think about it.] I get the shirt half-off, and it's covering my eyes, and of course it's caught around my neck with my arms flailing helplessly inside the outturned body of the fabric, and for some reason my legs are still trying to navigate the stairs, and I'm thinking What the fuck am I doing? Stop walking! Oh, Christ, I'm just stupid. And, yeah, I miss a step up and I faceplant into the stairs and lie there a moment (still with my shirt half-off and all wound around my head and arms) and think about how this must somehow prove that I'm a complete Darwinian glitch in the cosmos. If I were plankton (and I just might be), I would probably eagerly launch myself at the nearest pod of whales.

CAR UPDATE: It's still fucked up, and the assumption is still that we overfilled it with oil. Possible sub-explanation is that the spark plugs may be fouled. I don't fucking know. Someone could tell me that the problem was related to angry pit demons and I'd probably earnestly reply, "You mean like in the belts or something?" Anyway, the wife and I unwisely attempted resuscitation last night, following some choice advice from a friend.

Said friend advised using a turkey baster to siphon off the excess oil from the engine. So, unbelievably, we tried this. Now there was a nice picture for everyone driving on 12th: me and my girl, two people who clearly should not own cars (or, for that matter, anything), gingerly probing the innards of our Honda with a turkey baster. I hope someone got pictures.

I probably don't need to tell you that this strategy proved wildly unsuccessful. The car remains on 12th. With a soiled turkey baster in the front seat.

I am the world's least successful adult.










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