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Thursday, 30 October
106 Beets That Weren't

I did not, in fact, get any damn beets. They had beet greens on the menu, but no actual fucking beets. What a burn. I mean, beet greens are fine and all, but it was like shopping for Mozart and finding only Lothar and the Hand People CDs.

So we had to content ourselves with a bottle of '98 rioja; some creamy sheep's milk cheese (spiked with a bit of pimenton); aged serrano ham; grilled Dublin prawns (prawns are a member of the Routinely Maltreated food group; they arrived longitudinally split from head to tail--imagine serving veal like that); and hot Spanish sausage dumped attractively over some achingly crisped-up potatolet slices. Oh, and finished up with some totally pornographic flan concoction made with coffee, chocolate and orange liqueur.

In retrospect, the Tragedy of the No-Beets wasn't that big of a deal.

Wednesday, 29 October
A Love Letter To, Variously, The Wife, Certain Adzes, And Unappreciated Vegetables

Today is the wife's birthday, so I will of course be taking her out for a lovely meal at the Insanely Fucking Great Tapas Joint, where we will, I hope, consume beets. I'm a sucker for their beets. I'm also reasonably sure that I've never typed that sentence before, but I'm kind of enchanted with it: I encourage whatever American beet concerns might exist out there to pick it up and use it as a really terrible advertising campaign:

He's a sucker for our beets! Paid for by the US Beet Council.

Or maybe just one of these:

Fuck you, dude! Eat beets.
Beets: Pee red in a good way.
We've! Got! Folate!
Sexier than cabbage.
Now with fewer aphids!
Beets: Because You've Just Given Up.

No charge, boys! Anyway, I'm sure glad I could marginalize my lovely wife's birthday by jabbering idiotically about root vegetables, because I know she'll read it later and think, "What a swell husband! His sad babbling touches my heart!" And then she'll attack me with a pulaski.

Married life is great, but occasionally terrifying. There's only one thing to do: go get some tasty damn beets.

Monday, 27 October
Whites In Night Satan

Ah! Another weekend has passed! And I really don't have much to show for it. It was, I confess, full of unexpected surprises: for instance, the wife and I had no idea it was time to set our clocks back until our stage manager reminded us of this. Or, rather, since we had no earthly idea in the first place, one could say he minded us of this. Anyway. We're both a little fried with rehearsing (tonight was our first day without rehearsal in a week--as Equity rules disallow work on Mondays. Would that this obtained for my day job). The wife promptly responded to this direness by immediately getting sick, and spent much of today in bed. I'd like to blame this on our frantic schedules, but I suspect it has a deeper root: the movies we watched over the weekend.

When we got home from rehearsal on Friday night (after, of course, full days at work), the wife was pretty whipped, and already feeling kind of ucky, but I was kind of keyed up, so I began a hunt for some movie on cable that I could watch without fear of having to actually think about anything. Cable is good for this sort of thing--I reluctantly passed up "Bikini Squad" as being possibly too cerebral--and indeed I found a winner: Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever. Now, I knew going in that this movie was going to be fucking ghastly, but not ghastly like "I can't believe how ghastly this is!" More like a "I know exactly how ghastly this is!" It's hard to explain. For example, there are movies that I deem utterly ghastly even before I see them; I deem them ghastly when I see the ads. Examples of this a priori judgment include unspeakable debacles like, say, K-PAX and What Planet Are You From? I haven't seen these movies, and I never intend to. I pre-determined their all-encompassing worthlessness long before their actual release, and I stand by my decisions. They were clearly wretched from inception to releases, and there's little point in verifying this by actually watching the things. Garry Shandling as an alien? Kevin Spacey (also as an alien) enjoying large bananas? These themes are best explored by our nation's robust porn industry.

But B:E.V.S. (a happy acronym I didn't even notice until I just typed it) was of a different stripe: it was a movie that I knew I could watch despite its completely obvious emanations of pre-horror. I had no illusions that it wouldn't stink. Of course it would stink! It features two actors whose talents tend towards the monochromatic: Antonio Banderas, who takes sweaty, coiffed brooding to its logical extreme; and Lucy Liu, who will apparently die before expressing a non-steely emotion. (Can someone cast her in a spectacularly unwatchable tearjerker like Love Story some time, just to say they tried? It would be a great phenomenological case study of some sort. "Well, that was a disaster. Let's never do that again." "Agreed! What's next on the agenda?" "Mike Nichols has proposed a sequel to Sweet November with Chris Rock and Madchen Amick." "Whoa." "Mike agreed to direct, as long as he gets to jerk off in her trailer." "Let's get ink on that.")

As usual, I'm acres off, afield-wise. Suffice it to say that I watched that horrible film (the wife sensibly immediately fell asleep), and it was everything I couldn't want in a movie, except for the dumb violence. They even (SPOILER ALERT! And if a spoiler for B: E.V.S. is actual cause for alarm for you, may I gently suggest analysis?) included a CUTE KID IN DANGER! HE MAY BE KILLED! I genuinely wish for the day that they kill the cute kid. Like, in the opening credits. That would be something to talk about.

[Credits roll.] "A McG Production!" [Shot of cute kid playing on swings.] "INTRODUCING ECHIDNA VARGAS!" [Shot of cute kid being run over by Soviet tanks.] "Featuring Darius Rucker as AGENT GRACKLE!" [Shot of cackling evil black man.] "Salad services by HOLLYWOOD GREEN GROCERS!" [Shot of celery.]

But it was really also everything I was after: basically, a witless dogfuck of movie whose incomprehensibility amounted to a wholly undefinable kind of zero-divide of one's intelligence: no matter how you parsed its retardate conditions, it obstinately refused any attempt at honest analysis.

And you know what? The next night, we rented The Core.

It's all our own fucking fault.

Friday, 24 October
Missing Misery

The wife and I were driving home from rehearsal the other night when the local indie station told us the sad news about Elliott Smith. We were both pretty bummed out; I had always liked his sad, crabbily smart songs, and later that night I put the headphones on and listened to some favorites, like "Stupidity Tries" and "Waltz #2." I'll miss that papery keen and his penchant for Beatlesque string swells. I always wondered what it would be like if he and Aimee Mann tried their hand at collaboration: probably some gorgeous misery-orgy of an album along with one lone, snarky, evil perversity like a cover of "Muskrat Love." I'd buy that.

I grew up with a serious hard-on for pop music (my father warned me against never touching his new stereo until he realized that I treated it like a holy thing, and would sooner cut off my feet than harm it; after that, I had unlimited access to their vinyl, and sat for hours listening to The Who). But I never tried my hand at it, apart from some effort on my mom's part to teach me piano; because of my boundless laziness, I regarded the lessons as one step up from being slowly poisoned, so I soon quit, because it was irritating to me that I wasn't instantly good at it. But I was really excellent at sitting around and fucking off, so I enthusiastically embraced that as my hobby of choice.

So I never learned an instrument, and I never sang, either. I mean, I did some bullshit chorus stuff in junior high, but when I tripped into acting during college, I never even considered the musical route: for one thing, I detest musicals; earlier tonight someone was talking about seeing a production of Oklahoma!, and I offered that it would take six strong armed men to force me to watch that fucking thing. I'd rather be chewed to death by vampire Shriners.

But I have sung. I've been cast in shows where I had to sing, God help me, mostly terrible little throwaway numbers, or as a part of the ensemble, because, no shit, I'm not being falsely modest here, I really am not too good. I have no training at all; I smoke; I am profoundly unconfident; the idea of it makes me sweat pure uranium--so it's just not sensible for anyone to try and make me sing anything.

But a couple of years ago, I made the mistake of having an interesting idea: I had just stumbled across the Magnetic Fields' horrendously wonderful 3-disc 69 Love Songs, and I mentioned to my friend R. that it would be a pretty neat thing to do a Valentine's Day cabaret set featuring nothing but selections from the albums. He thought it was a great idea, and immediately set it up, scheduling three days in February for the event. He planned on singing himself, lined up two female friends for the project, and then--it was my idea!--asked me if I would be the fourth person to round out the show.

For unclear reasons, I agreed. This was deeply irrational and weird; as I said, I'm no singer. I have no training, and the whole prospect was terrifying: R. had also lined up a freakishly talented local band who specialized in a sort of ethereal chamber pop to do the music, and I clearly had no business on stage with any of them. It's no exaggeration that I was the most hopeless person involved.

And yet. He was offering me songs! Such songs! "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side"! "Yeah Oh Yeah"! "When My Boy Walks Down the Street"! And then I apparently went off my nut, because I was suddenly suggesting things: "Why didn't you pick 'Grand Canyon'? Or 'The Death of Ferdinand DeSaussure'? Those are great songs!" They were promptly given to me.

So there I was: self-fucked. How was I going to fucking DO THIS? The answer, as it turned out, was scotch. We kept a bottle of the stuff backstage (we were all pretty nervous), and there's nothing like a little Dutch courage to make situations seem suddenly less daunting. It has other side effects too.

On the night we recorded the performance on CD, I can be heard jabbering nonsense in the middle of "Luckiest Guy," and then blurting, "I seem to have forgotten that line!" At the end of the song, I inform the audience, "Come back tomorrow for the complete lyrics!" Similarly, later in the disc, R. and I are bulldozing our way through "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan, " and there's an amusing moment where we both kind of lose the momentum and then uncertainly fuck up coming back in on the melody, somehow sharing between us maybe six different keys: "Abi--" "ABIGA--" "--GAiiiil . . . " (chuckles) "ABIGAIIIIL!"

And yet, and yet. R. and I also performed a version of "Grand Canyon" that, well, is admittedly probably never going to set anyone's house on fire with its pyrotechnics or anything, but man alive, it sounds wonderful to me. It sounded wonderful doing it, and it sounded even more wonderful when a couple people told me that it had made them tear up. That might have been the most wonderful thing I've ever heard in my many hours in the theater: what actor doesn't want to move people to tears? (Weird actors, and I've known them: they hate audiences, and wish them ill, and have only contempt for them; they are, in my opinion, creepy and dangerous, and should be boiled.)

I don't know what the point of all this is. I'm just writing. I do know that I'll miss Mr. Smith and his lovely, plaintively literate songs. And I miss singing "Grand Canyon" in that way that you miss a good vacation when it's over. And I think it's good, though of course painful, to miss things, and people: it's part of remembering. You don't reminisce about things you never cared about in the first place.

If I was the Grand Canyon
I'd echo everything you say
But I'm just me
I'm only me
And you used to love me that way.

I know it's not Smith's lyrics. I'm just saying: I'll miss the echoes.

Monday, 20 October
Mother Night (And Boy Is It A Mother)

Tomorrow I have rehearsal (of course), and it's a deadline rehearsal: it is the first night that we work "off-book." That is to say, we aren't allowed to be carrying scripts any more. It's always a big deal in any production, and everyone sweats it, and it's always a fucking catastrophe. There's really no way around it; it's kind of like the first day of school: everyone knows no real work is going to get done, and everyone is freaked out, and everyone feels like hell afterwards. Probably the worst part about "first night off book" is, unlike the first day of school, how boring it is for everyone; people sit around and glumly wait for their turn to look dead stupid on stage. Not exactly a spicy recipe.

See, there is etiquette to consider, and the strange ways in which this ritual has evolved. Like I said, actors are supposed to be more or less conversant with their actual lines, but in reality, this is never the case: it's too early in the process to have all your lines down, generally speaking, unless you're some kind of terrible savant, or perhaps have a gruesomely exacting work ethic, and in both cases, you will probably be immediately hated. It's almost expected that you're going to run into a big patch of bumbling fuckups, and people who show up their colleagues probably aren't going to be very popular. It's expected that even the cream of the crop are going to have to call "Line!" at least a few times, at bare minimum.

And even this calling "Line!" is fraught with bizarre ritual. See, it is one of the grossest breaches of acting protocol to actually help your fellow actor out, no matter how dire the situation when it comes to off-book rehearsals. It is a strange dance between actor and stage manager (who is, in the parlance, "on book"--that is, following your every word against the script, and noting, I kid you not, every single deviation you make) as to when the stage manager actually supplies a line. The Stage Manager will never give the actor a line until he or she asks for it. Period. The SM will sit dumbly for minutes on end while an actor stews onstage, groping for lines (or until the director goes fucking ape, and demands intervention); it is simply not cool at all to hoarsely whisper to your struggling stagemate, "Dude, it's 'Now is the winter of our malcontent.' " Your fellow actor will detest you for this sort of thing, and rightfully so. It's built in to the system.

So there's where we'll be tomorrow, I guarantee it. Someone (and there's a good chance it might be me) will be cruising along in a scene, and will then hit a brick wall. An illustrative example:

Actor One (A1): My fair Gerard! What sayest thou?

Actor Two (A2): [Dead silence. The seconds creak by ominously.]

[The SM says nothing.]


[A1 and the SM continue to say nothing.]

A2: I know this . . . it's the chili dogs thing . . .

[Everybody continues to say nothing.]



A2: I enjoy . . . no. I like your . . . no, I was right . . . I enjoy chili dogs! I enjoy? I like? FUCK!


A2: I know this.


A2: Something about chili dogs?


Director: We need to move this along.

A2: God damn it. What is it? Chili dogs . . . what? I almost had it!


A2: Jesus Christ. LINE!

Stage Manager: The line is, "Darling, will you marry me?"


Stage Manager: That's a different scene.

A2: Why didn't you tell me that?!

A1: It was actually kind of funny watching you do that.

Interestingly, people still wonder why actors drink so much. Now imagine this sort of scenario stretched out over five hours, and I'm only exaggerating a little bit. It makes for long nights.

I think I'm in good shape, but then again, I've humiliated myself before at these kind of things, so one never knows. At the very least, I can sit there, resolutely not remembering my lines, thinking of chili dogs.

Let Us Now Mourn Ape

As I've mentioned, I've been awfully busy lately rehearsing for the new show I'm working on that'll be going up in November. In the interest of demystifying things, I should report that our rehearsal location isn't actually a theater at all: it is, in fact, a decommissioned naval base. This isn't really too odd, really: most of the time, you're very lucky if you can rehearse in the actual space that the show is going to be performed (unless you're working at some large house with their own black box spaces to use): most of the time, you can't, because maybe there's another show going on at the same time, or they're using the space to display Eric Bogosian's amazing bra collection, or they're burning heretics, or whatever.

Anyway. The naval base is of course horrid--not in a "I'm going to die here" way, but more of a familiar "I'm going to get a respiratory infection here" way, which any actor is accustomed to--but it's a homey kind of horrid. For instance, the floor generates this amazing kind of nanodust that has a propensity for massing in the folds of your jeans and also under your fingernails, so that when you get home, you kind of want to energetically body-fuck a loofah. You just feel grimy.

And lending to the whole experience is the incredible plumbing of the place: today we all stared dangle-jawed as our rather large Brita filter utterly failed to transform the alarmingly yellow pipe-water into something slightly less piss-looking; long faces were to be seen drinking dismal, metallic tea. The whole affair seemed to darkly involve black magic somehow; I personally suspected the shade of Mordred, skulking around beyond our vision, surreptitiously and invisibly yanking out his sad, weathered penis and invisibly polluting our water.

I may be losing it.

And I hasten to say that I do not blame our good director for any of this--for one thing, I happen to know that she is one of my tens of readers, so let me just reiterate that I think she's just really corking--because it's not her fault. You rehearse where you can, and it's a considerable expense; plus, Equity (that is, the actors' labor union under whose rules she has chosen to operate) demands certain things, and she is doing her level best to comply.

Hilariously (to me), one of those things is a kind of provision for what amounts to a fainting couch; that is, Equity demands that a bed of sorts be provided should any actor suddenly be overcome by an attack of the vapors, or perhaps a sudden vast queasiness over one's life decisions, or what have you: at any rate, she is required to provide a reasonably clean place for some suddenly incapacitated actor to flop out. And she has.

In the back of the Room of the Navally Damned, there is a gigantic inflatable mattress for any of us to utilize should we all of a sudden succumb to the rigors of standing around and pretending to be other people: it is violently purple. I have come to love it. It is the most amazing color of purple; it actually looks like a giant Nexium lozenge when viewed at a certain angle. I stare at it a lot, because, well, I'm easily entertained.

My most recent fantasy about the enormous purple fainting pad is that it is, in reality, the funeral bier for Grape Ape. In the last week, I have imagined the sad death of Grape Ape many times.

I have thought about the actual text for the eulogy of Grape Ape.

Yes. I'm losing it.

Wednesday, 15 October

When the wife and I finished rehearsing tonight, we drove home in the hairless murk of the evening. Everything looked beautiful, like filtered vinaigrette. I relaxed in my seat. At one point, coming down on Aloha Street, I spied a woman out for a walk, wearing a Dick Dale song, probably "Miserlou." I softly cursed Quentin Tarantino, and vowed never to forgive him for making that itchy sweater popular.

It was a fat, indolent plumber night, and my pants felt like small dogs. I lit a cigarette and inhaled the J.M.W. Turner smoke, savoring its corduroy tang.

It's been a gunmetal day, and I'm pretty tired; I've settled in with a flannel whisky, and I'm thinking about tomorrow. In a little bit, I might put on the headphones and listen to some clean laundry palimpsest, or maybe a chianti bafflement.

I don't know. I guess I'm just a little red hurricane lamp in a Cale-force limned. I should probably call it a Wight. So to you I say, wheat deems, and don't let the hedge rugs delight.

Monday, 13 October
Chicken Little Big Man

My last post may have given some of my tens of readers the impression that I look down upon fast food workers; not so. That they are shitty, brain-mauling jobs is undeniable, and the fact that folks regularly show up to do it is a marvel. And I also sympathize: like many of us, I have put in time at fast food joints, the first--of course--in high school, or rather right after high school and before I left for college, I worked in a former A&W. The owners got sick of paying the franchise fee, I guess, and so they turned it into the magnificent Burger Time. While I worked there as a fry cook for those three endless months, I managed to (1) have scorn heaped upon me for showing up in open-toed sandals--always a good idea around boiling hot grease; and (2) douse myself in boiling hot grease. Not the feet, though; a fryer slipped while I was trying to empty it, and I watched with mild unease as a sheet of oil played beautifully over my forearm. Some minutes later, my mom (an RN at the local hospital) was debreeding my wound while I writhed like a Phish melody.

But all that was kind of nothing compared to the legendary month I spent in college working at a KFC. It was Christmas break, and I was spending it with my girlfriend at her place in Portland. I needed money. So I applied at the local KFC, thinking, "Hey, fuck, I've done fast food, how bad can it be?"


When the manager looked at my application, he said a phrase I am never likely to hear again in my life (unless I return to fast food): "Aren't you overqualified?" Previous job experience at that point included things like doing surveying for the Forest Service, clean-up shifts at a sawmill, and jerking off during work study at my school's graduate law program. I had no reply to this unexpected question, so I believe I said, "Probably." Like a lot of college students, I was a real asshole, and had no idea of this unfortunate condition. Fortunately, the manager kind of liked me and hired me anyway. His first job for me? "Can you run over to Fred Meyer and get me some cigarettes?"

Uh, sure. His brand?

"Virginia Slims Menthol Light 100s." He handed me a couple bucks. Through a mighty force of will, I restrained myself from asking him what his drag persona was named.

(Bonus unrelated side story! I had another friend who smoked Virginia Slims--female. She called them "Vagina Slimes." Once she slipped and asked for them by that name from a clerk. Look, it was really funny at the time.)

Anyway, the job at KFC. I don't know what it's like now, but (pause for creaking of bones) back then, my first job in the morning was to deal with the dozens of refrigerated chickens I would be cooking during the day. They were pre-cut, of course, and mostly--that word is important--mostly eviscerated. The manager explained to me that parts of the bird weren't quite fully mauled yet: most of them still had their livers sitting there glommed onto the chilly corpses somehow, and what I had to do was dump all the carcasses in a sink full of cold water and kind of thumb the livers off the damn things.

This is just one aspect of the job where I was, I am shamed to say, less than diligent. If you lived in Portland, Oregon circa 1990, and you contracted a mysterious kind of deep-fried chicken hepatitis, you can come on over to my house some time and punch me in the face. Sorry about that.

I think there was some vein or something I was supposed to yank off the post-birds, but I didn't cotton much to that either. So really what was going on was, I was kind of just splish-splashing around in a mini-lake full of clammy poultry. I can assure you that I considered this the sexiest possible thing to be doing at nine am.

The rest of the work was just typical mindless drudgery: dump the undifferentiated chicken cadavers into a flour bath, add the SECRET SPICES (yes, they came in silver envelopes marked SECRET SPICES), throw them into the pneumatic silver pressure cooker (Made With Pride In The Howling Underworld City Of DisTM), rotate the stock. When bored--the manager really was a nice guy, leaving aside his deeply disturbing choice in cigarettes, and would tolerate a lot of fucking around--I of course turned to that great boyish pasttime called "What cool shit can I put in the deep fryer?" I always wanted to put a pair of gym socks in that fucker, but I always forgot to bring a spare pair.

I was not alone, of course, in my job. I had some notable coworkers, none of whose names I remember, but certain personalities are indelibly with me forever. For one, there was the kid who informed me that he was but fifteen, and had lied on his application to get the job. He was also, he explained, already intimately familiar with rehab, as he claimed he had a nasty coke habit. I didn't really believe him, and figured that he was engaging in some hyperbole; this attitude was curtailed somewhat after I--oh, Jesus, what an asshole--yes, bought some coke off of him. To make the scene even more horrifically sordid, when he gave it to me, I immediately marched into the bathroom in mid-shift and did a line off the toilet lid.

I will close this woeful little chapterlet of my life by pausing to note that there's a good reason people do coke off of mirrors as opposed to disgusting surfaces that happen to be the exact same color as the controlled substance: it's easier to fucking see. When I had ostensibly finished, I raised the toilet lid back up and observed a rather pricy shower of white powder fall down and drift onto the toilet rim and the bathroom floor.

There were others, of course: the counter staff was almost all women, of whom I remember two: one was perfectly nice, and not terribly smart, and had an almost supernatural fear of mishandling a "Mystery Shopper," those corporate in-house muckrakers that go to restaurants posing as customers, order food, and then go ram thermometers into the stuff in their cars while also making sure the cashier didn't fuck up the change or they didn't have to wait more than seven minutes for their chicken. She was possessed by the idea that she'd cut some terrific fart in front of the Mystery Shopper, or sneeze on his cole slaw. (Which could only be an improvement for that particular dish: nobody should ever eat cole slaw, for Christ's sake, but least of all from KFC. If I were to posit a Sentient Cabbage Universe, KFC would be Pol Pot, and he would carry a fearsome, Galactus-sized goo-gun of whitish slaw-slurry, and he would laugh and expose his grimy blocklike teeth while cabbages everywhere quaked and swooned. Just don't eat the cole slaw, all right?)

I also remember that counterperson because it was she who alerted me to some interesting information regarding the other regular countergirl: that is, the other countergirl had developed a hot crush for yours truly, and never mind the open fact that I had a girlfriend I was living with. Okay, well, hey, these things happen, right? "I'd watch out, though," I was told. "She gets kinda weird." How so, I wondered? "Well, a couple years ago, she carved 'COLIN JAMES HAY' into her arm. I've seen the scar when she changes."

I'm pretty sure that's the most fearsome phrase I've ever heard. So fearsome, in fact, that I doubted that my brain had processed it properly. It was the KFC cole slaw of verbal phrases. "Colin James Hay?" I repeated dumbly, racking my brain. "The lead singer from Men At Work?"

"I guess," said the lass. "I think she was in the hospital."

Hey, NO SHIT? Why isn't she STILL THERE? Let's leave aside the whole "I express my admiration through body mutilation" aspect for a second and focus on COLIN FUCKING JAMES JESUS CHRIST HAY! The world kind of skidded around under my feet as I contemplated this fresh horror: couldn't she have picked a slightly less mockable pop donut to get the whim-whams over? Jesus, even some terrible poodle like Dennis De Young would have worked.

I avoided the Colin James Hay girl like poison. She shot me shy smiles every now and then, and I'd immediately have visions of her pouring kerosene over herself in my parking lot, screaming out to the police negotiators, "SKOT KURRUK! HE REBUFFED MY CHICKEN-SCENTED ADVANCES! LET THIS BE MY REBUKE!" And then going up in tortured flames, like the career of Colin James Hay, while I was clapped in leg irons and carted off to her parents' house, where they would be allowed to slash at me with jagged tin can lids as recompense for ruining the life of their unbalanced daughter.

Fortunately, nothing of the sort ever happened. I ran out my month there (I had merrily lied to the manager about "having long-term goals," but he hardly seemed to be a stranger to employee turnover), and then went back to school, leaving the whole crew behind me, to whatever fates befell them.

There really isn't a proper ending to the tale, nor a moral, nor even a "where are they now?" (Educated guesses: Trailers? Jail? Possibly congress?) Other than perhaps this: If you find yourself being pursued by a person with questionable celebrity obsession issues, you could do worse than to buy some illegal drugs from a nascent reprobate and then do them up in a restaurant bathroom. Return to work. Ignore the chicken livers. Boil stuff in oil.

It's one of those lessons that we all have to learn.

Friday, 10 October
Food, Or Something Like It

Wednesday, I was not required to go to rehearsal, but the wife was, leaving me to take care of myself for the evening . . . never a good thing. I'm hardly the first person to realize that cooking for oneself basically sucks, but more to the point, when I am left alone to deal with food, chances are that I'm going to succumb to (1) my horrific laziness and (2) my shocking lack of will towards resisting my shameful, embarrassing urges.

To get right to the nitty, this is why I found myself at Taco Bell.

Oh, Taco Bell! Thou giver of eighty-nine cent food cylinders! How thy quasi-beef tastes of newspaper! May your bathrooms continue to overflow with quivering junkies!

Jesus, Taco Bell. Why I feel the urge to eat their terrible food is a total fucking mystery to me; food-wise, a Taco Bell is basically just a soup kitchen with moxie. And yet I eat their dire food.

Anyway, the other night while I was waiting for my dinner to be extruded, my eyes wandered to behind the counter, where I beheld the dreaded Employee Bulletin Board. I noticed that the poor fuckers who work for Taco Bell evidently have to participate in something called "CHAMPS!" There it was in big bright letters for all to see, in violation of all human decency or shame: the corporate sadists at Taco Bell and Human Cheerlessness Inc. not only makes their doomed, miserable employees participate in something so horrendously lame that it is actually called "CHAMPS!", they also make sure to post it in such a way as to make everyone else aware of it too. The "CHAMPS!" sign was easily the most depressing thing I've seen in months, and remember that I have seen the new season episodes of "The Practice."

A little Googling reveals that "CHAMPS!"--can you imagine what kind of wretched videos the employees have to endure?--is an acronym. It stands for Cleanliness, Hospitality, Accuracy, Maintenance, Product Quality, and Speed of Service.

My Taco Bell gets the highest possible marks in not achieving any of the listed "CHAMPS!" goals, making my Taco Bell employees CHAMPS! indeed in my book, as I feel that insulting, childish corporate motivational projects are designed solely to be subverted at every turn. I mean, honestly. What adult (or even teenager) wants to be addressed on a Special Olympics level, for Christ's sake? "Can our widdle empwoyees be CHAMPS? Can they? I think they can! Who's a CHAMP? Who's a CHAMP? I think it's yo-ouu!"

Horrible. Which is why I applaud my Taco Bell employees wholeheartedly. They are so not CHAMPS. Right on, Lucille! You shouldn't wash your uniform! Ever! And Terry--who so indifferently dumped my food into that damp bag--don't lose your surliness! And to whoever the manager is--maybe that guy sitting sullenly in the El Camino, chainsmoking and staring fixedly at the dashboard--KUDOS on closing down the drive-up window! I really like the sign that says "GO AROUND"! Oh, fuck it, here's to the whole staff: You have the worst Taco Bell ever! Your grime is insistent and implacable; your employees are visions out of Solzhenitsyn; you never, ever fail to ignore my frenzied pleas for hot sauce; and it is fucking rad in the extreme when I stand at the counter, waiting to order, and you brazenly stand in the back doorway, in full view, unhurriedly finishing your cigarettes. For all these reasons, I love you all, and this is why I come back, time and again.

You are truly CHAMPS!

Tuesday, 07 October
The Punchy Dork

I've recently been going nuts reading all kinds of graphic novels (read: comic books with tits and swearing), and while I know I'll never write one, I do like to come up with superhero names I'd like to see. You have to imagine them being shouted out by musclebound people in spandex. I particularly like the ones that make no sense at all.

The Human Beet!
The Itchy Housecoat!
On-Demand Four-Wheel Drive!
The White Guy!
Callipygian Phrygian!
The Limper!
The Fascinating Anecdote!

Yeah, I don't know either.

Work, Play, Maggots

My week in work-hell has ended, so you can probably count on me to not bitch about it until it irritates me again, so, you know, Wednesday. It actually went okay; I did have to come in on Saturday and give presentations; I also had to escort various nurses to and from a hotel on a charter bus, and while that sounds like a porn scenario, I assure you it was emphatically not. There was a decided lack of nubility among these particular nurses--unbelievably, more evidence that the porn industry occasionally indulges in fabrication--and their interests typically resided in more, ah, pedestrian avenues. "Do you know the hours of the aquarium?" asked one unheaving-bosomed not-panting lass. "They're fish," I wanted to reply. "Do they give a shit?" Instead I said, "Sorry, I guess I don't. You could ask your concierge." She replied, "I'd really like to get some photos at the aquarium. My kids would love them." I remained silent, wondering if she had actually ever met her own children. If my mom ever came back from a trip and then offered to show me pictures of some fucking fish tanks, I would have marched right out of the house and wrecked the car. In fact, I think I did that once, but instead of fish pictures, it likely involved booze.

On Sunday, I watched sports with a couple of wretched, degenerate friends of mine; they are, as you have probably already guessed, rabid Red Sox fans. We drank Bloody Marys and farted triumphantly as the Glass-Eyed Vomiter of Sports showered us in pixilated spumes of images featuring various large men doing horrible things to and with various balls. The wife, meanwhile, cowered in the bedroom with the Game Cube and periodically shouted mysterious gibberish about someone named Zelda, but we remained unmoved, and gabbled our own blasts of nonsense. "What kind of a name is Trot Nixon?" "A terrible one." "The Seahawks got murdered by the Packers." "I'm not surprised." "No, you don't understand. Brett Favre flipped out and shanked Shaun Alexander with a screwdriver. Then he called in a zeppelin strike and shot the rest of the 'hawks in the gizzard. They're all dead." "Well, it could be worse. We could be in Cincinatti."

And today was just today. Back to work, not a real biggie, and then home to watch the final game between the As and the Sox--a real thriller, for those of you who don't know (and probably don't care)--and some final chilling out before rehearsals start tomorrow night. After the game, we sadly watched an episode of "CSI: Miami," whose bright, nifty opening featured a man in bed, getting ready to masturbate, only to have a tremendous shower of maggots land on his head. (Seriously, don't ask.) And I thought, How relaxing.

(And hey, Johnny Damon: I hope you're okay. That was a horrific collision, and I worried for your skull. Look at it this way: you did not experience a hideous rain of maggots. So it could have been worse. So sit back, convalesce, and think: How relaxing. No maggots.)

Wednesday, 01 October
Skot Presides Over The Table

I'm in the midst of work Gehenna; we have our biannual group meeting going on, and hundreds of doctors and nurses from around the country have descended like locusts on Seattle to come talk about our bread and butter, cancer. Specifically, we talk about how not to cure it: I mean, Jesus, we don't want to lose our jobs. Our most recent plan was to pump the home offices of the National Cancer Institute full of poisonous spores. Those crazy fuckers want to see a cure! Wackos. We'll take care of them.

Today's groovy activities included me, little old me, heading up what's called a "practicum table;" that is, I presided over a table with eight brand-new CRAs (Cancer Research Associates--nurses or clinicians who are responsible for dealing with clinical trials and the patients who sign up for them). They hung on my every boring-ass word as I tutored them on the finer points of toxicity assessment, tumor response guidelines, and data submission requirements. It was endlessly stimulating. Or, from their perspective, simply endless.

"When you send in the patient data," I gravely intoned, "don't forget to include some beaver shots. Otherwise, I get bored and shred the whole chart."

"Really?" One of them interjected. "Of ourselves?" She looked alarmed, but not as alarmed as the male participant at the table.

I reassured her. "Of course not," I said soothingly, "you're really ugly. I want pictures of hot chicks."

Okay, not really. But without a fantasy life, what's worth living?

But while I was presenting some valuable information on tumor assessment--specifically, the importance of consistency and accuracy of good reporting--I had an interesting question from one of the participants.

"What if I get a report from a radiologist and it's not complete for reporting according to your guidelines?" She looked kind of queasy.

"Tell him (or her) to amend the report so it falls under study guidelines for reporting!" I confidently shot back.

"What if they refuse to look at it again?"

I had never heard of such a thing. I asked, "Has this actually happened to you?"

She looked shy and sad. "Sometimes they don't want to re-review the scans."

This just pissed me off. I said, "Tell them to call me. Give them my phone number."

"Why?" she asked. "They don't have to answer to you."

"You're right," I replied, "they don't. I just want to describe why they get to explain to their superiors why their institution won't be working on clinical trials any more."

There was a brief silence. Then another CRA spoke up.

"Can I call you with all my questions?"

Not every day is bad.

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