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Tuesday, 29 July
JULETIDE!

Here we are, running out the clock on July, so it seems obvious that what we all should be thinking about is Christmas.

Mostly, I just don't have shit to write about, so for some reason, I started thinking about

HORRIBLE CHRISTMAS GIFTS OVER THE YEARS

Mom

Mom always took it up the ass on Christmas, gift-wise. I don't care to dwell on any other -wises, but if that's how she rolls, well, you go, Mom.

It's always been easy for me to shop for my mother. We are both voracious readers, and so I know I can always dump a wagonload of books on her and be pretty safe (although she was really puzzled last year when I took a chance and gave her a copy of the comic Bone).

My mother has been an RN for thirty-five years or so, and like many RNs, does not wear much of anything, ever, in the way of jewelry or perfume. Jewelry gets caught on stuff, like patients, and is also shiny and lends itself to grabbery, by things like deranged patients. And perfume simply doesn't go over well in confined spaces, like, say, an OR, and it often goes over less well with patients with severe allergies or compromised immune systems. So she keeps it simple.

That never prevented my dad's mom from buying her, year after year, Jean Nate bath products. Christmas, for me, always carries the ghost of the scent of Jean fucking Nate, and after a few years of this, my mother stopped trying to suppress her sighs.

Whenever my grandmother came to visit, out came the Jean Nate, and it is now the unsexiest scent imaginable, as I associate it with what my dead grandmother apparently thought was sexy.

I guess I haven't helped myself any by bringing up the terrible spectral image of my mother enthusiastically engaging in Christmas anal sex, either. You see why my readership is way down.

Anyway. None of this was nearly as bad as the year my grandmother bought my mother a sweatshirt with an '80s bangled teddy bear--fake rhinestone necklace and bracelets--with googly eyes glued on and bearing the legend "Bears Just Wanna Have Fun."

Dad

My father is similarly impossible to shop for, as if there is something he wants, he simply buys it. Not many people know this, but he owns several dozen of Jimmy Carter's discarded toupees, which he likes to shoot at down in his basement, in the makeshift firing range he has set up down there.

I'm just kidding. About the toupees, anyway: he really does have a firing range in the basement, suitable for pistol shooting. This used to terrify Peggy, their lovable little mutt, until Peggy died, hopefully not out of gunplay-related agitation.

(Note to self: Possible Christmas gift this year--deaf dog.)

So my dad really likes guns, and that's cool. Seriously, it's pretty cool. Whenever I visit, we take a trip down to the basement, and he unlocks his gigantic gun vault--he has a gun vault!--and then do some target shooting while, happily, not terrorizing innocent dogs beyond lucidity.

Not that I've ever given my father a gun--nor has anyone, to my knowledge. For one thing, guns are fucking expensive. For another, nobody else in my family gives a shit about guns, except for me, and I only care about them to the extent that they are fun to shoot in basements, because it's just a perverse thing to do. My father did once give my mother a "really, really sweet little gun" that was essentially the Homer Simpson bowling ball equivalent of a gift, and my mother promptly hid it from him, forever, but brings it out once each year demanding that my father clean "her gun" as any sensible gun owner should. Then she hides it again. He sees the gun once a year, and it eats at him.

I've lost the thread here, haven't I? Well, to get to the bullet, what would you say would be a great gift to get my conservative, gun-loving, ex-Marine Viet Nam vet father for Christmas? Would you say:

A Khalil Gibran book?
A pair of "grizzly bear" slippers complete with giant claws?
Nothing?

If you answered with the first one, congratulations! You are my paternal grandparents, who evidently never met their only child, which I think is impressive. If you went with number two, you are his aunt, who had laudable but ultimately misguided concerns over podiatry-related thermoregulation, and a truly warped idea of personal aesthetics. If you guessed number three, you were my mother's parents, who frequently managed to forget about my father's material existence entirely.

FAMILIES! So awesome, so reliably fucked up.

Me

In whatever year it was really popular, all I wanted was a ROM: The Spaceknight action figure. ROM, who eventually got his own rotten comic book, was this eight-inch tall silver dumbfuck with a jetpack and a few bleepy-bloopy LED red lights and muffled space noises. ROM was cooler than shit.

"All I want this year," I explained magnanimously to my parents, "is ROM. That's all I want."

Let's not be coy about this. These were the lean years. My mother, to my unending horror, routinely dragged me to Goodwill for buying clothes. My mother was implacable about these missions, and, to her credit, also routinely failed to take any of my shit about this.

"Moooooom . . . " I would start to whine.

"Tough shit," she'd say before I could finish my nothing of an argument. She wasn't mean about it; she wasn't any happier about it herself, and fuck, she's the one who was stuck with a bathroom full of goddamn Jean Nate products anyway.

"This is a nice vest," I remember her saying, forcing me into some puffy, multi-striped winter thing that seemed to defy common understanding of the concept of "vestness." It looked like something a Wookiee would get disdainful about.

"Mooooooom . . . "

"It's a nice vest." This in steely tones.

It wasn't a nice vest. It was a shitty thing, a thing a poor kid wears. I keep digressing.

All I wanted that year was a ROM action figure. That's all I wanted. I had made that clear. This wasn't hard. I asked for one thing.

Christmas came, and I could obviously see the package with ROM in it. I had studied the box in stores closely; I knew its shape and dimensions; I knew its presence. I saved it for last, casually tossing aside the other meaningless shit with a laugh--oh, The Narnia Chronicles, huh? That's nice. Let's get to the real shit.

I took my time opening the present; savoring, anticipating.

I don't have to tell you this, do I? It wasn't ROM. I don't really remember what it was. It was some awful, anonymous toy that nobody had ever heard of. It might have been a Helen Keller asthma doll with Real Wheezing Action or something. I looked at it for a while and then looked up at my folks: my father just looked at me neutrally, and my mother wore some strange expression that mixed hopefulness and desolation in equal measure.

Let's be straight: I'm not now nor have I ever been some kind of awesome hero-child or anything, wise beyond his years. I'm just as demanding and cranky and annoying as any other asshole on this stupid fucking rock. I was then, I am now. It was a crummy effort at fulfilling a crummy wish of some crummy brat on yet one more crummy fucking Christmas.

On the other hand, I didn't want my parents looking at me like that. On another hand, my mom had gotten some more terrible Jean Nate product, and that was always good for a laugh. And on some other cephalopod hand--we clearly needed all the hands we could get--well, there was nothing but horseshit gifts lying all over the place. I think someone had given my father a snap-front shirt made out of the screams of murder victims.

I beamed as best I could and thanked them for the great toy, but I doubt I was terribly convincing.

The next year, come Christmas, can you guess what I got? My precious ROM toy, by now basically uncool and essentially one notch above debris, toy-wise.

"Oh, man!" I screamed. "This is great!!" My parents looked awfully pleased at my reaction, and the truth is, I wasn't kidding. It was great; it took a year, but then again . . . I seemed to have erased those haunted looks my parents wore, and that was pretty good. So was ROM, I had to admit, even late a year, becase the thing was, it worked all right for all that time anyway. So what was there, really, to give a shit about? I had a thing that I didn't have before.

So did my mother. She had Jean Nate body spray.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, 23 July
Carmina Barbecuana

July continues its utter blitzkrieg upon our social schedule. Why, tomorrow, in fact, YET ANOTHER GODDAMN friend celebrates his birthday, and so we will trudge out to Fremont to some utilitarian booze-fling called, excitingly, the Station.

Really? The Station? Can we perk this up a bit--a little razzle? How about . . . Hedgehog Station? I'm just spitballing. Reanimation Station? The bar where all the staff are zombies? I don't know. We can do better. How about Everyone's Asshole Here Is Packed With Clams Station? I'd want to hear about their specials, for sure. Anyway. I'm sure it's a fine establishment, on that could, I suppose, just as easily be called the Establishment.

Barbecues naturally continue to be popular. Decide for yourself what this says about me, but I've been to two now this month that have been hosted by two of my local bartenders. So on Monday--a day I capriciously took off for reasons involving me not wanting to go to work that day--I found myself at W.'s house. W. carefully explained his barbecue strategy to me.

"I bought forty pounds of charcoal," he said earnestly. "And then I bought more than forty pounds of ribs." As you might suspect, W. is not a man who lives by half measures. Once I was out for a night on the town with W., and he jumped up and down on someone's car hood. One simply isn't surprised to learn that his modest barbecue has somehow turned into the porcine version of The Killing Fields.

I sat down and quickly befriended one of W.'s friends--himself simply another bar denizen, as it turned out--named, improbably, Damien. Another thing about W. is that his friends all seem to be named or nicknamed alarming things, such as "Tank" (yawn) or "Chain" (actually Wayne, but I'm going to call him "Chain" anyway) or "Bench." It's a confusing world, and I'm just occasionally drinking in it.

Damien and I had a nice chat--he also happens to work in clinical trials--right up until a strange woman appeared in the second story window and started hollering "ALL FOR YOU, DAMIEN! ALL FOR YOU!" Then, with a noose wrapped snugly around her neck, she jumped to her death, causing W. to promptly butcher her, extract her ribs, and throw them onto the groaning barbecue.

It turns out that the poor, delicious woman had been driven to madness by the karaoke machine in the upper floor living room, which was being used to ill effect by W.'s girlfriend, who was unaccountably croaking out Lovecraftian versions of Loverboy songs. It could happen to anyone, particularly if you're the sort of anyone who happens to be friends with someone who at any moment could launch into an unsteady REO Speedwagon warble and who also happens to date a wild-eyed hairburger that barbecues entire mammalian populations while simultaneously clutching 1. a bottle of Cruzan rum and 2. a bottle of peppermint schnapps.

This was relatively early into the evening.

Presently, all of W.'s illustrated friends started showing up. I don't have anything against tattoos, though I have none of my own. I've simply never thought of any tat ideas that I could say with complete confidence wouldn't possibly embarrass me when I get older and floppier. Although I did come close to getting "WHASSUP!" onto the shaft of my penis. But I do like looking at what others choose to decorate their bodies with.

One gal that--sigh--I also know just from the neighborhood bar sports a busty woman on her arm. I always feel weird staring at it, because it's a silly two-dimensional illustration written on a nice girl's arm skin, but on the other hand, it's a busty woman. So I catch myself staring. I think I've said before that guys are stupid.

Another woman had this terrible tattoo on her shoulder that was a poker hand, sort of--it was a busted straight flush, ace of hearts through jack of hearts and the fifth card was . . . one of those "INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO PLAY RUMMY" (or whatever) cards that everyone throws out immediately when opening a new deck. It was possibly the most dispiriting tattoo I've ever seen; it was like seeing someone with the lyrics to Snow's "Informer" tramp-stamped on her back with a big arrow made out of the words "Licky boom boom down" pointing to her asshole.

Okay, maybe not quite the same, but it was in that territory. She wore a very short skirt-dress, and later, when reaching up to hug someone goodbye, I was given cause to also wish that she had worn underwear. I clutched my beer bottle in my nerveless hands and anxiously drummed a Latin beat with my fingers on the shoes of the hanged, ribless woman who still dangled unceremoniously from the second-story window.

It was probably time to go home; pig bones littered the yard, and people were starting to do strange things like spraying Aqua Net into the barbecue coals, muttering cryptic things about "conversion reactions." W.'s incredible, overweight cat--Merle, a twenty-pounder at least--was staring ominously at another cat--Banjo, an orange dishrag of a creature--who was asleep in a fruit bowl. Yes, time to go. When the pets are displaying behavior that the hosts are soon to emulate, it's time.

We shall see if the Station contains such wonders. I will, of course, report further, after the fact. Unless I hear Damien's call to sacrifice, in which case, enjoy the ribs.

Monday, 14 July
Hell Isn't Necessarily Always Other People

Jesus Christ, July. What the fuck?

July replies: Yes, penetrating question, Skot. What the fuck, indeed. July is always a snotty pain in the ass.

It was a busy weekend, particularly for my astoundingly dismal standards. Thursday was a rehearsal dinner, and you know what that means: Yes, on Saturday, there was a wedding. A wedding that I was in, alarmingly. Yes, there roams the earth a man courageous enough to allow me to become part of the most important day of his life. He is, of course, deliriously insane and not worth poking fun at, and so I will not sully their good ceremony with any cheap shots, except for a few. Mostly at me.

1. Not a shot, actually. It really was pretty cool that the procession of groomsmen (me! included!) leading up to the march of the groom was accompanied by a live acoustic version of the Pixies' "Here Comes Your Man."

2. My classiest moment probably had to be during the photo shoot when the bride arrived, and I said, "You look beautiful. I wish I was the one nailing you tonight."

3. Later, when going in for a congratulatory hug, I stomped right on her damn foot. "That's a twofer!" I witlessly cried, and she looked at me like I had opened my mouth and produced the motionless WB frog. She hates me, and I deserve it. Get to know me!

Enough. Let the poor couple rest, and may happiness rain down upon them ceaselessly.

That was Saturday. An entirely different event was planned for Sunday. It was sort of peculiar, even by my exceedingly expansive standards, because it was a housewarming party thrown by my neighborhood bartender. I've never been to any of my bartender's parties over the years, but I was to this one, causing me to wonder if I should check my expenditures at this place.

We showed up and were immediately met by the host's wife. "Oh!" she cried. "You're the special ones!" She shared a meaningful look at E. (the host), and I didn't know how to interpret that. Special as in fond of dipping his balls into his cocktails? Because I do that for effect, and to also clear bar space. Or maybe we just like cocktails a lot. It's hard to say, because then E. was screaming at his father, manning the grill: "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, THE SALMON IS DONE! LOOK AT IT! WE'RE NOT MAKING CARBON HERE!" And then a good-natured wrestling match ensued.

You see, E.'s family brood is, to borrow a phrase from Morbo, belligerent and numerous! I was introduced to, variously, Aunt Boo ("I'm a situation buster! Like Ghost Busters! Only situations." A child had fallen down and skinned his knee. "Break his legs!" howled Aunt Boo. "Situation busted!") and Carla, who declared her passion for the punch containing "Mexican crazy liquor." (I don't know.) Children ran amok during the afternoon, particularly one horrifying little thug who screamed like a madman at any and all opportunity, and resembled nothing so much as a sloe-eyed little Rutger Hauer; his mother's idea of parenting was to simply be exasperated and make empty threats about "tying [him] to the car bumper." "No!" he screamed back as he attempted to drop another unlucky child down the chimney; his mother shrugged. He was a tiny little speeding argument for eugenics.

But I make it sound like a bad time; it wasn't, really. E. had really laid in the food and drink, and he tended to the makeshift open-pit barbecue like a man who has singed his nuts before. Hilariously, E. also has like eight brothers and a father who all claim to know barbecue better than anyone else; even better, they all look identical: they are all about six-foot-three and all sort of resemble burlier Michael Phelpses, or perhaps several blowsy Chris Martins.

"JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! DO YOU WANT ME TO COOK THAT, YOU FUCKING IDIOT?"

"GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY GODDAMN SALMON. GIVE ME THAT SPATULA, DOCTOR MENGELE!"

"CAN YOU EVEN SPELL 'FISH'?"

It was sort of thrilling, at least until that little towheaded shitbag entered the scene again, screaming incomprehensibly and threatening to launch water bombs onto our heads from the raised porch. His mother screamed at him to get down. "No!" he shouted, and she sat down again. I hate rotten little shits, but really, I hate rotten little parents even more. Later, he bit some other kid.

("Knock his teeth out!" yelled Aunt Boo. "Situation busted!" She had located the terrifying Mexican liquor punch.)

Presently, E. gave us a tour of his new home, a charming little edifice constructed entirely out of things designed to bonk your head on--an interesting choice for a tall guy. "Here's the head-smashing room!" he didn't call out, but might as well have. In the living room was a photo of himself with his wife from their marriage shots. It was almost unbelievably charming: there stood E. with his girl, in front of an Airstream trailer, looking for all the world like two Nevada desert mannequins waiting for an A-bomb test to happen. I made some empty comments about the lovely wood flooring and the . . . unique architecture as E. made another near miss with his skull versus some duct work.

"It's all ours!" he said over his shoulder to us, grinning wildly.

Children burst into the room. A little girl held out a handful of silver: "Look what we found! Money!" E. smiled. "Really?" he asked. "I wonder if there's more."

E., of course, had salted the basement of his new house with spare change for the kids to find. They raced back downstairs. E. looked fondly after them, even the hideous one.

"This is all ours."

Tuesday, 08 July
Dog Soldiers

I assume I'm not the only one who attended a Fourth of July party where "America: Fuck Yeah!" was played this last Friday. Sigh. More on musical crimes later.

The wife and I attended a perfectly lovely party on the Fourth, which featured some things like fifteen pounds of barbecued spareribs (rapidly consumed) and dogs! dogs! dogs! I may have mentioned before my love of these beasts/evolutionary opportunists.

Kuma was the name of our favorite dog; he was a German Shepherd/Shar-Pei mix, and he sported a really fetching blue bandana around his neck. Kuma was the sort of dog who shamelessly gets you to interact with him; he had this dumb little purple dog toy that he'd plop at your feet and then make hilariously weird faces at, crinkling up his lips at it in anticipation of . . . what? Its utter demise at his finding skills, I guess. The dog would sit there making faces at it until you couldn't stand it any more, and then you'd fling the thing into the blackberry bushes, hoping never to see it again, and Kuma would tirelessly go out an find the damn thing and return to drop it at your feet again and scowl at it some more. If it weren't so charming, it would have been annoying. Then again, I'm the kind of guy who doesn't mind eating his ribs even when his hands have been thoroughly coated in dog saliva, so.

Kuma was unstoppable, really, and is evidently smarter than most of my friends. On one occasion, when the purple weird toy had been flung into some seriously dense undergrowth, Kuma hunted around for a good while; the brambles in which it had been lost encircled a large tree. Thwarted (briefly), Kuma then proceeded to spend a good fifteen seconds looking up into the tree branches to make sure it hadn't landed above his head. This caused me to stand up and applaud and yell, "You are an awesome dog!" which made Kuma stare at me and shake his head.

When the fireworks started later, Kuma disappeared, causing a bit of a concerned fuss. He turned up later at his owner's home, patiently waiting. When the dipshits started throwing firecrackers and so forth, Kuma obviously thought, "You know, this hurts my ears, and these guys are noisy dipshits. I'm going home." I love this dog.

During respites between meat assaults, one of the chefs (there were four different professional chefs there barbecuing, so . . . I love everything) kept passing around Jell-O shots. "These are Incredible Hulks," he said enigmatically as he held out the tray of green gelatins. "These are Yellow Fever," he said of the yellow offerings. I don't remember what the red things were called. Blood clots? Hellboys? Republicans? I don't know. The fireworks were starting anyway, and I was having a bleary revelation.

That revelation was: I don't give a goddamn fucking shit about fireworks. They are dull and predictable; fireworks are only marginally more interesting than "Two and a Half Men," a show I've never watched and never need to, much like, well, fireworks.

"CUBES!" people screamed. "SMILEY FACE!" Neat. Firework technology has finally caught up to what I used to doodle on my Pee-Chees. But can fireworks depict 70s basketball players with their penises hanging out of their shorts? Not that I saw. I smoked gloomily, staring occasionally with wonder at the cascading fireworks that looked sort of like Tina Turner's hair in 1987. "IT'S TINA TURNER'S HAIR FROM 1987!" I screamed. The only people that heard me either gave me glares or kind of sagged a little bit.

One guy was way too into it; he was drunk out of his mind, drunk to the horrible point where you are convinced that if you're loud enough and repeat yourself enough, you're funny. It was awful. "MANIFEST DESTINY!" he hollered, over and over, for no reason. People began to clear away from his weird, unsteady ambit.

At one point during the hopeless fireworks, the labored stereo system started oozing the doleful strains of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again." The loud pud went nuts again. "THIS IS AMERICA, YOU FUCKERS!" he howled, thrusting his goatee towards the clouds. "THIS IS AMERICA!"

I was standing next to my friend W. "Whitesnake is a British band," I sighed, taking another pull on a nearly depleted Incredible Hulk. I was watching the one other dog at the party--now that Kuma had taken his leave--trying to burrow his way into his owner's abdomen in wretched despair over the incredible tumult. I remember thinking that the poor creature looked sort of like Bonnie Franklin trying to get away from Schneider.

W. wheeled on me. "Whitesnake is British? I didn't know that!" W., who has a keen sense of propriety and an allergy to bullshit, chewed on this for a few seconds before turning to the loud guy and yelling, "Whitesnake is British, man!" Loud guy flapped his meaty arms dismissively and then settled further into his seat, refusing to acknowledge our stinging criticisms. He glassily gnawed on a cold chicken leg, giving him the appearance of the world's laziest ogre.

A few moments later, when the strains of Europe's "The Final Countdown" started to play, he cried "AMERICA!" again. I closed my eyes.

We can all learn from Kuma.










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