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Tuesday, 29 January
A Tacolypse Now

The other night, while at the Bar That Shall Not Be Named with the wife, we had the following exchange. See if you can tell where it all went wrong!

I was asking the wife about work--day care--and led off with an innocuous gambit: "So, how were the little douchebags today?"

She assured me that they were no more monstrous than usual, and related a few short anecdotes. One involved a child who enjoys sandwiches more than anything in the world, and when eating one, further enjoys occasionally hoisting it into the air like a victory flag. Another child evidently derives glee from launching himself off the top of staircases; another is only content when gnawing on a particular endtable in the room. In other words, nothing new: we are ruining our children and turning them into the next generation of psychopaths, depressives and otherwise damaged revenants.

I already like them better than the Boomers.

Then talk turned to her staff. I always like hearing about them, for it seems that the only people more fucked up than our society's children are the ridiculously underpaid wraiths that we barely pay to take care of them. Plus, I am acquainted with many of them, so I always get a little frisson of self-satisfaction in hearing of their varied plights. It's like watching "COPS," only every time someone gets punched in the neck, you get to yell something like, "Hey, that's Donny! Ha ha! Right in the neck! Oh, Donny! I never liked you."

Eventually, the conversation turned to Miss X, an employee of the wife whose misadventures are storied and invariably hilarious, usually due to her curious worldview-slash-psyche--which may be described as one part palsied libertarianism, one part hurtling-through-space brio and perhaps just a splash of pure, distilled run, you fools, run! I'm always pleased to hear of her hijinks, because they usually involve some flavor of unadulterated human pain.

A question suddenly occurred to me. "Does Miss X ever have boyfriends?" I asked.

[NOTE FOR THE STUPID: This is where it all went wrong.]

"Sure," said the wife. She proceeded to tell me about one fellow in particular who endured no less than three or so separate dates where Miss X showed up forty-five minutes late each time because she was spending time filing her teeth or ironing her ears or some such. She was apparently quite surprised when he stopped showing up for their dates, and promptly would call to berate him. From what we know, he has since moved to Tobago and has filters on all incoming media to block anything that contains the alpha string "ayn rand."

Well, I just had to laugh.

"Oh, sure," said the wife, giving me a little elbow jab to the ribs. "You think she's cute."

All my blood ran into my ass and my breathing became shallow; I gawped like a flounder and farted nervously through my suddenly engorged cheeks. Never has a trap been so casually sprung; never has one been so ineptly responded to. "What!" I cried. "Why I! What!" I dived for my Manhattan like a raptor spying a fish. The wife stared bemusedly at me as I tried to calm myself.

Now, the thing is, Miss X is indeed cute. Anyone would say so. I attempted to explain this.

"Sure, I guess," I said, adopting a speculative tone, as if I were discussing landfill conditions in Omaha. "But she's not the kind of girl I'd go for." (This is true! I know: it doesn't matter. I'm a fool.) I mentally dusted off my hands here in a satisfied "case closed!" way.

"That's good," said the wife acidly. "Since you're MARRIED!"

And there I sat, pinioned, and I had brought all the cutting instruments myself and handed them over with an eager smile. The wife seemed to be enjoying this with a grimness that you'd normally expect to find in some children's story that involves someone getting burned alive at the end.

There was only one remedy to this situation, and of course it involved tacos. Happy endings always do, which is why they served tacos at Pol Pot's funeral. The wife was of course having me on a bit, but that didn't mean that I was going to get out of buying some tacos in the bargain.

And this taco place SHALL BE NAMED! For it is magnificent, and everyone should visit this place. It is called Tacos Gringos, and it is a tiny little place on Olive Ave. E. in Seattle, and if you live in Seattle, you're a fool for not going there. If you don't live in Seattle, you should fly here to eat their tacos. Moreover, you should commit a felony here and then flee the state so you can get extradited back to Seattle on the state's dime to eat some more of these fucking tacos.

There is nowhere to sit in Tacos Gringos. In fact, there's no tables either. There's barely room to stand. And they're only open Tuesday-Saturday from 8:00 PM to 3:00 AM, which might tell you what sort of crowd they're after: drunks! Everyone needs tacos, but particularly drunks and idiotic dupes who have been baited by their wives, and Tacos Gringos provides them. They are two dollars apiece, just the right size, and served only with onions and cilantro, with a selection of three hot sauces. That's it. Eat and get out, fuckers!

But you won't get out. Not for long, anyway; you'll just go back. When we were there, I had two shredded pork tacos. Then two more, followed by one last taco. Previously, I had eaten their goat tacos--goat!--which tasted like angels had spat in them. I have seen on the menu--but when they were closed, so I could not sample these--chorizo tacos.

From what I understand, the guy who makes these incredible things used to be a chef at Campagne (non-Seattleites: a high-toned schmancy restaurant) and he just got tired of working for other people, which hey: awesome. Go. Just go. Even if you're not a drunk or a desperate dipshit of a husband caught on a rack of wifely sado-humorism. Go because the tacos are good, and who doesn't like tacos? They bring us together. Let us unite, my friends. Let the juices of bonhomie drip down our wrists and soak into the shirtcuffs of our loving souls. Tacos improve our lives and mollify our wives.

Good tacos make good neighbors.

Tuesday, 22 January
French Kisses

I checked with her, and she doesn't mind: this is the year the wife turns forty. And it only seems fair that before I leave her for a younger woman I show her a good time.

(Ha ha! I kid. No younger woman would have me. So I'm leaving her for an older woman: Here I come, Helen Mirren!)

It has long been the wife's wish that on her fortieth, she would like to be in Paris. And so we are planning on making this happen. (Though today's economic autocornholing has certainly put some zest into the plans. Is there a Wikipedia page on "Things You Can Melt Down For Money"?)

It sounds like a good time, and of course I am willing to do anything to make the wife happy--which now that I reread that, sounds hilarious: "Oh, I suppose I can take one for the team and go to Paris." I've been to Paris; it's nice! So is London, so is Rome, so is Brussels; I think all the major European cities that I've visited are positively swell. They're corking!

So how come I always have more fun in the smaller cities?

Part of it is simple: I'm a tremendous pain in the fucking ass. Somewhere there is a Platonic Ass Ideal, and there is an identifiable Pain Solid in it, and it is almost certainly Skot-shaped. It's always some little fucking thing, really.

In Paris, it wasn't the food--which was wonderful, particularly (I'm not kidding) this fucking rad little taco joint--it wasn't the snottiness (everyone who acknowledged us was lovely). It was the goddamn phones. (This was pre-cellphone for me.) I just wanted to make a call to check my bank balance (prior, of course, to being able to do this online), and so I got one of those little phone cards and proceeded to dial. And dial. And dial. All to no avail; in 2001, at least, France's public phone system was about as user-friendly as ENIAC schematics. For my efforts, all I was able to obtain was a stream of recorded Gallicisms that I became certain was trying to tell me, "You are a vexing little sausage of a man." I finally gave up, and found myself staring down at a bit of graffito reading, "American shit." I then proceeded to beat myself about the head with the plastic receiver in a truly Krustyesque display of self-mortification.

I know that this is an unfair and unrepresentative way to remember Paris. And yet I do, except for the dim parts that have been occluded by self-inflicted head trauma.

When I think of my time in France, I much prefer to remember our Thanksgiving night in Arles, a sleepy little town in the south of France, remembered mostly for being so relentlessly charming and so implacably beset by chilling winds that it caused a certain Mr. Van Gogh to completely lose his shit, paint radioactive sunflowers and eat his own ear.

We loved Arles almost immediately. There's something about a town that has kept its semi-medieval protective walls, because fuck Huns, or whatever. I demand a completely Hun-free night when on vacation. Also, you have to love a place with a functioning arena that continues to stage bullfights. It certainly explained where my Thanksgiving meal came from that night, listed on the menu in helpful English as "STEAK OF BULL."

(There's something oddly warming and special-making about spending Thanksgiving in another country where obviously nobody gives a shit about your US holiday. It's like sharing a secret, albeit a secret that isn't secret at all and that nobody else cares about anyway, and let's not even think about the fact that it's one of the lamer holidays for being manufactured and fraught with all kinds of lies and misdirection and so forth, but anyway: it's still kind of your secret thing on that day in that place, even if Bastille Day makes it look like some clumsy, raddled milkmaid by comparison, because Bastille Day is fucking awesome in ways that Thanksgiving will never be. They stormed something for their holiday! What did we do? We had dinner. And then half the people at dinner died of communicable diseases a little later. AMERICA!)

Anyway. STEAK OF BULL! Who could resist that? Well, the wife could, for one, and she instead had a little mistake of a salad that was decorated with strips of uncooked salmon, which she pawed through gamely if unenthusiastically; the oiliness of the fish had permeated the entire dish. She resorted to pushing the stuff around the plate in a manner recognized by parents of young children everywhere until the waitress appeared with her next dish, a much more well-received preparation of rabbit. Meanwhile, I sawed mercilessly at my STEAK OF BULL, savoring it's loser-y goodness. "You were a warrior," I thought at my plate of meat. "And you lost to a mincing peacock with swords. Suck on that, cow."

At the end of the meal, we ordered and received two creme brulees, and . . . oh my. They were heavenly. Bar none the best brulees we had ever eaten, seasoned lightly with the staunch unsmilingness that is the hallmark of French waiters and waitresses the country over. (Not rude! Just all business. I love French waiters: they bring you your shit and get the fuck out of the way, because that's your table for as long as you need it, and if you need something else, well, you should have thought of that before, stupid. It's like they trust you enough to take care of yourself for the night, and if that's not the case, well, that's sort of sad. French waiters are basically Turing machines.)

After the meal, the wife and I decided, well, we're not done Thanksgiving it up! It was like nine, but of course Arles had rolled up like blown-out socks; we wandered for a while in front of nothing but dark storefronts. Finally, we found a little bar that was open and walked in. A group of men were playing Parchisi in the corner; they favored us with a curious glance before returning to their game. The floor was covered with sawdust and peanut shells and the here-and-there chairs were all well-worn wood--spare and spartan was the rule.


We took in what the bar had to offer, and were mildly disheartened to see that the sole scotch available was Clan Campbell, an incredible horror that we have never seen in the US, unless that's what you're getting when you buy things like xylene or butyric acid. Clan Campbell is a fiendish hellbroth that is essentially what frat boys squeeze out of their carpets to drink when their trust funds are tapped for the month. Naturally, we ordered two.

"Rokes?" asked the nice barlady. We made the international monkey-faces of Not Understanding.

"Rokes! Rokes!" she hollered, and reached down and picked up a few cubes of ice to show us.

Ah! Rocks. Got it. "No thank you," said the wife. The barlady cocked her head quizzically and then shrugged and put ice in our drinks. Oh well. It couldn't possibly make the horrible stuff worse.

It somehow made it worse. Which, perversely, made it better, because now we were laughing at this suddenly comical horror-fluid, which caused the Parchisi guys to laugh with us, unaccountably, which made the lady next to us laugh as well, sitting comfortably on her chair and petting her dog happily--and let me just say that France is a country that would never, ever think to prevent people from bringing their dogs into restaurants (at least I hope this is still true), and let me further say That's fucking rad, and to sigh to think that we like to think of the French as being tight-assed and all--and then the chair the dog lady was sitting on broke right beneath her, pitching her down onto the filthy sawdust and peanut shells and cigarette butts, causing her to give a little yell of surprise, and that was it; the whole bar lost it, dying laughing, holding our sides, tears running down our faces and throwing back this awful scotch while the dog gamboled in delight, and a chill wind blew outside to the concern of nobody within the safety of those battered walls.

To paraphrase John Irving, I want a whole life like that night. I look forward to going back to Paris. And I don't think the wife will mind too much if I also say: I really look forward to getting out of Paris, out amongst the locals, the happy dogs, the sawdust and the broken chairs.

Monday, 14 January
Dramatis Personae

Well, HI THERE! I was . . . uh . . . well, I guess I was just fucking off for a while.

I wish I had a better cover story, but I don't. I took a week off, then two as I fell under a really bewitching head cold, and then . . . the fucking off happened. Late at night I would steal a glance over at the laptop, and I'd think, "Hey, I should write something!" And then I wouldn't, because frankly, my life is just not very exciting. And there's only so many vicious lies one can make up about one's immediate family. For example, as I write this, the wife is carefully shaving my balls.

I guess there's always one more.

As you might imagine, the wife and I rang in the new year at The Bar That Shall Not Be Named, among good friends. And by "good friends" I of course mean "regulars."

Regulars are a curious social phenomenon. Following some cosmic law I am not privy to, they seem to usually consist of people who, if not for the fact that you find yourself in the same bar together on a regular basis, you would never even think to talk to. This does not mean that regulars are bad people. This just means that they aren't so reprehensible that you mind sitting six feet away from them while emptily discussing such things as "things that are fucking ass."

Take W., for example. W. is a garrulous fellow, an imbiber of Manhattans who is not averse to the occasional blackout ("Wait, I stopped by here last night?") and who is completely and totally unapologetic about his job, which surely must rank as one of the most horrifying jobs to be contemplated: W. is a supervisor at a collection agency. W. spends entire days monitoring the phone calls of his awful minions, making sure that they are doing their hellish jobs correctly and more or less following the scripted responses instead of screaming about the hallucinatory bats in their hair or hoarsely whispering to their unlucky interlocutors, "I'm about to take a ghastly dump in your ear! Why did you pick up the phone? RUN! RUN, YOU FOOL! They're coming with scythes!"

I like W. despite his obvious vocational defects. For one thing, W. is, while working, also pursuing his Ph.D in American history, and I find that admirable. He also freely admits to finding Jim Rome hilarious, which I find so perverse and nut-rattlingly demented that I also find it admirable.

W. is also a running freak, so I don't understand that either. It makes him fascinating somehow, like a bearded lady, or a Wisconsin resident. It's these little things that bring us regulars together; our differences. I'm sure he finds me as curious as I do him. I mean, don't get me wrong: I run. From muggers, for example, and from jazz. And, usually, Wisconsonites.

H. is another regular, a soft-spoken girl with a sweet smile and a penchant for giving strangers (e.g. me) things like 8-foot lengths of coaxial cable. (Backstory: I needed an 8-foot length of coaxial cable.) H. is so soft-spoken, in fact, that I would estimate that approximately 65% of the things she says are completely inaudible to me. It might not even be that she's soft-spoken; I am starting to suspect that the frequency of her vocal tones are the tonal inverse to the bar's ambient noise, and so there's some sort of noise-cancellation thing going on. This has the unfortunate effect of leading me to kind of scream at her in some sort of misguided attempt at compensation.

S: How you doing tonight?

H: I was [garbled].

S: What?

H: [Her mouth is moving.]


H: [Garbled] . . . jambalaya . . . [garbled]


H: [Peculiar look, more garble]

After about ten minutes, I finally look down at the pen in her hand poised over a newspaper and realize that she is attempting to solve that day's Jumble.

"I'm FUCKING AWESOME at the Jumble!" I scream, right as the bar has quieted down, earning me some woe-tinged looks from the room.

"What?" says H.

(Note: I really am fucking awesome at the Jumble.)

This is quality bar talk, and I wouldn't have it any other way. On New Year's Eve, my friend J. was there (he's a regular too, and like me, he enjoys ordering obnoxious Old School drinks such as Moscow Mules and Widow's Kisses), and when (once again) K. the bartender realized he didn't have a clock in the fucking place with a second timer, he called out, "Does anyone have a watch with a second hand?" I looked over at J. meaningfully, knowing that he was the happy new recipient of an iPhone for Christmas.

One year before, the same thing had happened--the no-clock, thing--, and we had done the New Year countdown off my my completely arbitrarily-set analog watch. J. called up the time display on his iPhone and said, "I think this is a tradition worth preserving." So I synced up my dumb little wristwatch with his digital display and called out "thirty seconds!" "ten seconds!" And the countdown took care of itself after that, just me and the wife and a couple good friends and a roomful of people that I'd normally never give the time of day to in any other context, and we all raised our champagne and grinned at each other happily and raised our glasses, just like old friends. Just like regular.

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