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Thursday, 13 October
Where The Fuck Was Rebecca DeMornay?

As we all know--at least those of us who were weaned on movies like Risky Business--a modern rite of passage is The Party When Your Parents Go Out Of Town. Why, incidentally, did our parents ever go more than four blocks away from us when we were old enough to start wondering about beer? This phenomenon, on first blush, might lead some to believe that there has been evidence for the conservative assertion that our great country is going into a shithole: we were clearly raised by fatuous, indulgent morons. Unfortunately, since this has been a righty trope for like sixty years now, I cannot see how much traction it has.

Anyway. Like a lot of people, I had parents who were careless enough to leave me in charge of the home for one fateful weekend when I was a teen. "NO PARTIES!" they direly screamed. No problem. I would only have one.

I really doubt that they ever thought I wouldn't have a party, really; my parents aren't complete doorstops. I think it's just that they thought that admonishing me not to somehow filled their parental requirements, as they saw it. They might as well as tipped me a theatrical wink. What they really were saying, as far as I was concerned, was, "Have a party! Please! And if you leave any evidence of it, we have the right to shove pointy sticks into your eyes until you're eighteen."

Things could have ended up so much worse, really, but it didn't seem so at the time.

It all started out fine. People gathered, and gifts were given--get this: the weekend in question was my birthday weekend. Can you figure? I still wonder if John Hughes paid off my folks to make this happen so he could film it all for an as-yet unreleased documentary. Just fun-loving kids enjoying a sprightly time!

Then, of course, everyone simultaneously got drunk.

The first thing I remember getting out of hand was when I heard my mother's old, creaky upright piano getting played. The ancient thing was forever out of tune, and sounded remotely like that guy who smashed Muppets on their heads with a fish to make them howl. Someone was playing it exactly like a deranged fish-wielding person, and I rushed into the den to make them stop, right in time to hear the damper board come unmoored. CRASH! it crashed softly. I pulled the drunken woman off the piano stool and shoved her off into the care of some nearby date-rapist, probably.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the old debate about eggs raged. You know this one, right? How, leaving aside years of anecdotal evidence, it is TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE to break an egg when cradled on its side in one's palms? There, standing over my kitchen sink with an egg in his hands, stood one of my guests. He squeezed mightily, while others chanted, "GO! GO! GO!" I stared at him as he completely demolished the egg, and yolk exploded over everything. I contemplated my befouled kitchen ceiling as Mr. Egg Dominion celebrated his yolky victory by dismissing the rest of the carton as "pussies" and tossing them idly onto the floor.

Hey, time for everyone to get the fuck out of here!

That was when T. flipped out on, I think, her boyfriend. T. had had an awful lot to drink, and was just now responding to some perceived slight. T. was on her last nerve, buddy! Aaaargh! Fuck you, boyfriend! Oh, how T. railed. Then T., at an apex of fury, made her exit. "Fuck you!" she screamed at egg yolk, or something. "I'm leaving!"

And she flung open the door to our hallway closet and stamped right in.

I need to clarify a couple things here. For one, we hadn't been in this particular house for that long. So our possessions weren't as squared away as they necessarily would have been in some place where we'd lived for a while. For another--and really, I don't want to hear about it, okay?--my father is a gun collector. He loves guns, is completely respectful of guns, and instilled in me a total respect for the things. Know this: I would sooner shoot myself into the sun than fuck with my father's guns, or treat one as anything other than what it is: a machine that demands total respect.

T. opened up our hall closet and marched directly inside, and immediately knocked over all of my father's rifles that he had stored insided. They fell around her onto the hardwood floor. I distinctly remember time dilating. I knew that they were all loaded (though not chambered). T. thrashed around as if she were being beset by incubi. "FUCK YOU!" she screamed.

It was totally one of those things where it could have easily led to headlines like, "BIMBO BLOWS BRAINS OUT: Local Teen's Drunken Sex Party Ends In Tragedy." But as it happened, I flipped, and hustled everyone out. I actually believe--I am not proud of this--that I literally gave T. a little kick in the ass as she left. She had scared the piss out of me. Plus, our piano now sounded like a wounded elk, and the kitchen looked like a scare pamphlet from Operation: Rescue Omelette.

I spent the next day frantically cleaning, and doing idiot piano repairs, and most importantly, meticulously reconstructing the impromptu gun closet. I lived in fear for twenty-four hours that I was overlooking some crucial clue, some damning bit of evidence.

I like to kid myself even today that I fooled my parents. It is to their credit that this has never come up. I grew up in a town of around 3000 people. All they would have had to do was go to our neighbors and ask, "So, what happened this weekend?" And the neighbors would say, "What do you think? Your fucking kid threw a party. I heard from Whiskey Joe that T. nearly blew her head off walking into your gun closet."

Fuck, man, John Hughes never even called.

Monday, 29 August
Mario, Mario (Sung To The Tune Of "Radio Radio")

Friday night, the wife and I attended a wee party--a friend of mine from an exotic country called Kah-Nah-Dah was visiting (superhero enthusiasts will recognize this as the home country of T'challa, the Black Panther), and so a small group of us gathered at our friends' house out in Wallingford, mainly to drink and play video games.

You can see where this is going. House! Of! Geeks! Or, if Rob Zombie were directing a film about it, House of 1000 2 Geeks.

Aw, I don't mean anything by it. I'm kind of a geek. Or, rather, I would be if I were much smarter than I actually am. What do you call a geek who isn't very bright and in particular knows nothing about computers? I need to know. How about "pud"? In the house of geeks, the pud had come to drink.

I brought my WORLD FAMOUS Bloody Mary mix, which, I'm sad to say, I did not do a bang-up job with--I made it a little too spicy, as I was rushing myself when preparing it. However, the geeks were gracious about drinking them, which made my pud heart warm.

They showed me their geek accoutrements, such as a sheet of old promotional stickers for OK Cola that had been lovingly framed. Internet cables snaked orangely across the floor; these connected their computers to a little gadget they had built called the "steal-a-ma-jig," a device that hunts out wifi signals for them to poach on. It points through the blinds of their porch door. I was cautioned not to open the blinds so much that the neighbors could see their steal-a-ma-jig, which made me laugh. "Honey . . . those kids across the street have a rectangle pointed at us!" "Damn. I'm calling the FBI."

The geeks in question, J. and A., are really fine fellows, and I certainly do not mean to run them down. They are actually very much more socially attuned than we have come to think of the average geek. J., for example, claims to have a girlfriend who "goes to school in Nebraska" or some such story, and we all gently let this happy fiction pass unchallenged. Nebraska. Whatever little story gets him through the day. Sure, J.! Nebraska! Third moon of Mars! Whatever!

A. actually does have a girlfriend, a very charming tiny little woman who goes by T. She is also a robot, which A. wouldn't like to learn that everyone knows about, but it's pretty obvious. T. has a black belt, for instance, but steadfastly refuses to kick A.'s face around the room, no matter how much we all beg her, which clearly indicates some sort of programming constraint. I mean, I wish A. would just be comfortable enough to admit he built a combat robot girlfriend, but until he is, we just have to be good enough friends to let him pretend otherwise.

Anyway, it was a nice leisurely evening, and after a few drinks, we settled around the warm light of the TV screen and played us some Mario Kart. We were here joined by J. and P., a couple of other nice geeks who took extreme pleasure in kicking the everloving shit out of the wife and I at this weird game. J. and P. are both computer beasts; J. recently accepted some new position at some horrid company dedicated to ruining our lives, and P. is another computer beast who recently quit his job and subsists only on the lichens that grow in his bathroom, so there was some tension in the room.

Anyway. Mario Kart is a deeply weird racing game--to be honest, I'm not sure Mario even shows up in the fucking thing--where you race your choice of weirdmobiles around fantastic tracks throwing all sorts of nonsense ordnance at the other racers. The characters are a baffling mix of princesses, dancing tuxedoed men and what seemed to me like various tubers, and as you race along, you fling things like seashells and baskets of dead fish at one another until, inevitably, at the end, I lose. For a while, the others took great joy in watching me lose, by vast margins, but after a while, you could tell that they were getting a little irritated waiting for me to laboriously complete a course that they had finished half an hour ago. I devised a little death-howl to amuse them every time I drove my car off the track into the sea or into some nameless void--AAAAAAIIIIIIIIEE!!--but that quickly palled after they noticed that I did this approximately every ten seconds or so. Then they pulled out a game cartridge labeled "Mario Autopsy Derby," and the wife and I decided that we'd had it--especially after the Bloody Marys.

And really, there you have it. We did have a very good time, for a couple of lowly puds. One day I hope to finally achieve geek status. Don't get me wrong--I surely do love my wife. But it would be killer to have one of those combat robot girlfriends. I guess that's not very realistic. Pretty Nebraska, you know?

Tuesday, 23 August
Dr. Guano

On Saturday, the wife said to me: "I want to take you out to dinner!" Well, okay. She wanted to go to the Coastal Kitchen, a nice enough place with a rotating regional menu. Groovy!

Around 6:30 we walked out the door. "It's kind of like we're having a date!" she said. I grunted agreeably, because I'M ALL MAN or whatever. I grabbed her hand, and we walked happily in the beautiful evening.

A couple blocks later, a bird shit all over me.

Blap! Blop! Blup! I felt something fall onto my back, and I stopped in my tracks. "Did a fucking bird shit all over me?" I yelled, drawing yet again on my inexhaustible reservoir of Duh. I presented my befouled back to the wife as if in accusation. "Oh baby!" she cried, confirming the obvious. In no time at all, she started to scrape the crap from my shirt with, I think, a magazine subscription card.

I of course handled the whole thing really poorly. As she scraped away, I snarled, "Well, I'm not wearing this fucking thing the whole night," and stomped off back home to go change my t-shirt. The wife trailed behind me, silently, because for one, I'm an asshole with a temper, and two, what can you possibly say to someone who has just been shat upon by another member of the animal kingdom?

"It was just a bird. Rise above the avian hijinx, mammal!"

"I think that G.G. Allin liked to cover himself in birdshit. I think it looks cool."

"You know, proponents of the Many Worlds theory of physics would tell you that there are an infinite number of universes where a bird didn't crap on you." (There are also an infinite number of universes where I don't recycle this joke, but sadly for you, reader, this isn't one of them.)

Yeah, no. Anyway, after a bit of a scrub and a change of shirt, we re-embarked on our date night, and after a minor trek, arrived at the Coastal Kitchen, where we discovered that the newest menu featured Puerto Rican cuisine.

I didn't feel up to Pulled Eel and the wife wasn't too down with Braised Trake, so we ordered some safer stuff, and at the same time ordered some drinks. There was another table right next to us as well, with a couple of oldsters: in fact, I had full view of them in the opposing seat, while the wife had her back to them. They had me a little concerned.

Specifically, the guy, who was facing me. He did not look good, and seemed to be hanging onto the table as if it were Mother Russia. He had an alarming pallor, making him look like he were constructed from fungal rice paper, and he was sweating. A lot. Presently, he began drooling as he clung to the tabletop, and I am ashamed to say that I felt kind of disgusted--Gosh, I wish people wouldn't drool!--nice. And then he pitched over in his seat with a terrible clatter.

See, he was having a stroke.

KA-BLONK! He went down like a sack of sand. "Did that guy just fucking keel over?" I senselessly asked the wife. I pulled out my cell phone, but the geezer's dinner companion seemed not at all concerned, and waved us off. "I think he's tired," she explained. Tired? This looked a lot like a fucking stroke to me. My thumb twitched itchily over the cell keys. But by now the waitstaff were grouping. The guy's dinner companion vaguely explained, "Well, he just got released by the hospital this morning." And she launched into an incomprehensible account of their failure to obtain the guy's medication. "Why was he in the hospital?" we cried.

"He had a stroke." Jesus God.

Eventually the paramedics were called, but not by me: Being me, I actually listened to the crazy fucking bat with her "Aw, he's just tired" routine--she was stacking her leftovers into styrofoam containers while the guy was struggling to sit up--she periodically turned to us, at the next table, and made some "What can you do?" shrugs.

They hauled him out on a gurney, right about when our entrees showed up. We poked at our food gloomily. I stared hopelessly at my martini, which had just arrived sans olive, thanks to all the what-the-hell. I did not make an issue of it.

Is it awful of me to say that I kept wondering if they should have offered us a different table? It might be. I kept staring at what my brain insisted on calling the "Death Booth." Not that he died. When he got wheeled away, he looked all right, except for the fact that he seemed to be made of burlap.

I also accused--jokingly--the waitress of foul play. "I've got my eye on this guy," I said, referring to Mr. Stroke. "I'll know it if you slip this guy a mickey like you did the last guy." I got a skeletal laugh, more than I deserved.

I'm surprised that birds don't shit on me every damned day.

Tuesday, 26 July
Putting The Fun In Funeral Homes

On Sunday, the wife and I had a little birthday gathering to attend--summers are always of course lousy with damn birthdays; presumably because of the joyless weather in winter leading to the old, "Hmm . . . might as well fuck, I guess" syndrome--at around 8:00.

My tendons moaned at this idea. 8:00! Sunday! What do I look like, Disco Stu? Good God, people, that's prime prune-sucking time for people like me! Also, I knew that none of our friends would take that time seriously. Theater peoples' time-sense features a mindbending sort of elasticity. (I once had a friend who was taking me to the airport make a side trip along the way to drive me to a bloody fucking audition for a part that he thought I was a good fit for. "The director says he can give you ten minutes right now!" he exclaimed. "We have plenty of time." He then drove me to a bar, where the director was sitting with a beer, and soon I was drinking one too, gulping it down while looking worriedly at my watch. After the beers, we went to the nearby theater, where I auditioned--as promised--very quickly, and found myself in a scene featuring me riding a prostitute like a horse. Only then did we finally dash off to the airport, where I barely caught my plane. Later I found out that I had also gotten the part. So I couldn't even be that outraged about it. Also, later, my friend who waylaid me told me what sold the director on me for the part. Director's quote: "Can you believe it? He was the only damn guy who rode the fucking whore.")

Anyway. We knew showing up at eight would be stupid, so we timed it to get there around 8:20. We met the birthday girl H. and her boyfriend T. right on the street corner. They had just shown up, of course. We walked into the bar. I noticed that we were still the first ones there. Naturally.

The bar we went to is called The Chapel, so named because it is a reconverted funeral home. Like, old school--dark wood everywhere, twenty-foot-high vaulted ceilings, and a hilarious Brobdingnagian bar crafted out of repurposed slabs of marble, hopefully not robbed from the dead--the bar top came up to my nipples, and its semicircle is dotted with absurdly high chairs on which to uncertainly teeter while staring down at the hoi polloi at the regular tables. Top o' the Underworld, Ma!

The place is amusing in a kind of sinister, Teutonic way, and the improbable, faceless dance music being pumped out by some DJ locked in a coffin upstairs somewhere only made it weirder. NNDT!--ss!--NNDT!--ss!--NNDT!--ss! came the bad music, and I kept waiting for Charon the Groovy Boatman to boogie up to me and pry my jaws open in search of a penny before shoving me into a battered flat-bottomed boat for my final ride into Tartarus over the River Styx. I imagined his Death Boat radio would also, of course, play Styx.

Also sinister was the drink menu. Drink menus are really never anything but useless except for listing, say, daily drink specials. This one was no different. Page one listed a numbing litany of horrible martini crimes, like Cucumber martinis and Combed Ass martinis and the like. I rid myself of the awful menu as quickly as possible and asked for a regular old fucking Sapphire martini. It was eight dollars, and I heard my shuddering, 36-year-old heart wheeze as it unhappily pumped a few more pints of grey blood out into my unsturdy arteries. Eight dollars. This fucking town. My nerveless hands reached for my wallet and I whitely opened a tab.

Back at the table, the rest of the group had enthusiastically embraced the dreaded drink menu, and were consuming things like Appletinis, which always sounds to me like the circus acrobat group that probably died the week before Dick Grayson's parents bought it (CIRCUS FREAKS MOURN LOSS OF OWN; APPLETINIS FINIS). One fellow was drinking a concoction called the "Redrum;" I didn't have the heart to ask what was in it. He called it a "Murder."

"I'm drinking MURDER!" he pronounced, in Vincent Pricean tones.

"What does murder taste like?" someone said.

"It tastes like coconut!" exclaimed his girlfriend, after a sip. In my mind, I imagined Lenny Briscoe squealing on some lost episode of "Law & Order" that murder "tastes like coconut," but remained silent, because I'd like to keep my friends.

We didn't stay long. It was, after all, becoming perilously close to 10:00 (on a Sunday!), and we really needed to get home before the light failed totally and our atrophied, late-30s rods and cones left us hopelessly night-blind and lost. I could just see us on the roadside, gaping like zombies, and begging for cold oatmeal from passersby.

Before we left, I did remember to ask about H.'s birthday. She reported that it went well, and was relaxing. T. had gotten her some lovely gifts. T. murmured to me that I should ask her what exactly she had wanted (and received.) Okay.

"What did you get?" I asked H.

"Tires," she replied. I stared for a moment.

"Like car tires?" I asked.

"Black gold!" she crowed. (Really.) I didn't know what to say.

"I really needed tires," she explained.

Ah.

I decided that I'd better have one more drink before we left.

Tuesday, 14 June
Just The Facts

SANTA MARIA, Calif-- In what some described as a "harmonic convergence of holy fucking SHIT, dude!", reality appeared to break free of its moorings today in California, as Michael Jackson was aquitted of all charges leveled against him in a high-profile case involving accusations of child abuse, child endangerment, child eating, Julia Child and Raul Julia. In one of the more bizarre spectacles of our time, California seemed to erupt with a spasm of surreality.

Ms. Child and Mr. Julia, themselves both dead celebrities, reported surprise at being involved in such a high-wattage event, noting for reporters that they were, in fact, dead and confused, with Child being quoted as saying, "UUUNNNNNGH!" She then embarked on a ghoulish feast of the damned by savagely dining on the undead corpse of Mr. Julia.

Upon announcement of his blanket acquittal, Mr. Jackson was seen to totter feebly out of the courthouse and blow shaky kisses at the throngs of onlookers; seen on hand was also heavyweight prizefighter Mike Tyson, fresh from his recent loss to a gentleman picked out of the audience. Mr. Tyson, who had after his loss announced his retirement from boxing, called out to Mr. Jackson. "Michael! Do you have any children you're done with? I could eat them for you. I'm hungry and poor." Mr. Jackson did not reply, but instead leaped onto a nearby car and screamed "HOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" while grabbing his groin. Mr. Jackson then smashed the car's windshield with a crowbar as a zombie dance team shuffled out of the crowd and began executing tightly choreographed shrugging movements.

Not to be outdone, apparently, famed Hollywood actor Tom Cruise was also on hand for the media event, and joined Mr. Jackson atop the ruined car with newfound love Katie Holmes in tow. As Jackson continued his automotive assault, Cruise leaped up and down manically and screamed paeans of love for Ms. Holmes to the stunned crowd; Holmes stood uncertainly nearby, smiling gently, until Cruise finally nailed the young actress to an inverted cross and let Holmes' blood course over his face as he kneeled beneath her wailing form. "Clear," gasped Cruise, clearly overwhelmed. "I'm finally clear." When asked for comment, Ms. Holmes told reporters, "AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"

With the media circus apparently at its crescendo, it is doubtful that anyone could have predicted what came next. Mr. Cruise, now bloodied and sobbing beneath Ms. Holmes' stilled body, did not bank on the arrival of another of Hollywood's anointed: to the shocked eyes of reporters and onlookers alike, actor Ben Affleck creeped stealthily from out of the gathered crowd, making elaborate "you-don't-see-me!" gestures. He crept up behind the openly weeping Cruise, and the crowd held its breath.

Mr. Affleck then freed his mighty testicles from his trousers and gently rested them on the back of Mr. Cruise's neck in full view of witnesses. Onlookers gasped, and one woman was seen to release white doves into freedom at the moment that Mr. Affleck's testes made contact with Mr. Cruise's sinewy neck. Cruise was then seen to whirl on Affleck, who danced away, singing, "Fruit basket! Fruit basket!" in mocking tones.

Cruise did not seem amused. "You put your nuts on my neck!" he screamed. Mr. Affleck coyly replied, "Now you know how people felt after seeing Mission Impossible: 2." At this point, the woman in the crowd released another white dove, which sailed cinematically into the air; Mr. Tyson was observed chasing after it hungrily. By now, Ms. Holmes was thoroughly dead, and Mr. Jackson seemed a bit dazed at the sudden shift of focus. The dancing zombies continued to shuffle dutifully. The moment stretched out.

A voice off to the side suddenly burbled out a gasping sentence. It was Mr. Julia, still being consumed by the feral ghoul that used to be Ms. Child. "This . . . this is not the Hollywood I remember," he moaned as his face was finally, fatefully devoured. And there was a deep silence as Julia finished eating Raul.

Tuesday, 07 June
Swervedriver

A true story!

My senior prom, I double-dated with another couple. His nickname was, for reasons lost to me (probably for the best), "Tweety," and her name was . . . to be honest, I don't even remember who she was at all. Let's call her Bailey, in honor of the WKRP character that I thought was hotter than Loni Anderson. (It doesn't even matter . . . she barely surfaces in the story again anyway.)

My date's name was L. And she was Not Into Me, really, but then again, like a lot of dweeby high school guys, I wasn't raking in the chicks anyway. I thought I was lucky to have a date, and since we were driving around in Tweety's Galaxie 500 (I think that's what it was--I know shit about cars [actually, this may be insulting to actual shit, since I know even less than that]), I admit that I harbored lonely hopes about the evening's promises, not only because of the double date (social currency being earned! Tweety was popular!) but also because we were drinking, yes, wine coolers.

Rattle around with me, nubile innocent, in this spacious backseat! For don't your breasts find comfort in occasionally--if accidentally--rubbing on my arm? Is there not room enough here in this slightly dank back seat for salacity? And do you not slake your thirst from the chilly illicit potions delivered to your perfect throat by Messrs. Bartles and Jaymes? (Note: Her throat was not, in fact, perfect. On the other hand, neither was my grey tux with "dusty rose" cummerbund and tie.)

So we drove for a while in the muscly SnatchCar--as I was already fervidly imagining it--drinking our hideous wine coolers and no doubt listening to Night Ranger-y things, and in general having a good time.

Then Tweety, uncharacteristically diverting his gaze to the actual rural road we were traveling, spied something. A small thing, pierced by the headlights. Two small coins of light reflected back at us in the night. And Tweety identified it instantly.

"CAT!" he screamed joyously. This all happened in seconds.

You have to understand boys, I guess. Is it just rural hick boys? Maybe "understand" is totally the wrong word. I don't even know. It's hard to explain. I'll just keep going.

It would have been easy, perhaps, to mistake his identifying cry as one of alarm. It was emphatically not. Tweety, his instincts honed by what I assume was more than a little bit of practice, intentionally swerved towards the panic-stricken cat. I gripped the seatback in front of me and felt myself go a little slack. I immediately knew what was going to happen.

CRUNCH

Tweety ran effortlessly over the cat, no doubt reducing it to atoms with the huge car. The girls screamed as if their tits had caught on fire. "OOOOOOHHHH--OOOOOOHHHHH!" they firebelled.

Tweety, for his part, had an entirely different reaction. He twisted in the driver's seat to face me. "YEAH!" he screamed victoriously, as if he had repelled an invading force of malevolent aliens. He held up his hand to me. And God help, me, I tiredly slapped it back. He laughed quite a bit, drinking more wine cooler, and the girls fell into a wintry silence.

Boys are awful little beings. (And while I say that I was truly icked out by this particular incident, I myself cannot claim to be an innocent when it comes to the rotten things boys do--but that was when I was eight. Anyway.)

Needless to say, there was no awkward grappling with the date to be had that night. The rest of the evening was spent with me standing around morosely nursing a glass of terrible punch while the date wriggled enthusiastically with her girlfriends, ignoring me entirely. I can hardly blame her.

For all I know, Tweety got his brains fucked out. It all seemed terribly unfair. I'll run over a cat, lover! I called out in my brain. Just let me go grab my bike!

It was a pretty horrible evening all the way through. As I stood around, I had a thought: Well, I'm going to go all the way through high school as a virgin. This turned out to be true.

I wondered today why I thought of this, and I think I know why: it's because the wife and I finally saw Elektra on Saturday night, and I had a similar thought: We all die alone.

It's not an original thought. In fact, my friend Johnny 13 is fond of the phrase. But it kept coming back to me as I watched this awful funeral of a film, replete with a precociously irritating little girl as a main character. We all die alone. And when I die, I will be thinking of this movie.

It was a miserable film, barely tolerable, and so not filled with action as to make you wonder exactly how much the makeup folks spent on "EXTREME MOPINESS!" It made you long for the touch of a loving hand as you sat dying by inches while the Magical Tattoo Guy shat out his soul with the effort of pretending to emote as snakes, bears and friendly pandas erupted from his body.

It's a horrible film. Don't ever see it. You know what's more fun than Elektra?

Running over someone's cat on Prom Night and not getting laid.

Tuesday, 24 May
One Adam Twelve, See The Asshole

The wife and I were hanging around the apartment on Friday night, not having much of a plan at all; maybe a movie later? I had noticed earlier that the evening's offerings included Closer, which I am profoundly uninterested in seeing (see also Garden State. This is known as the Natalie Portman Effect, where movies I would normally take a chance on become fatally poisoned by the presence of this willowy weirdmouth schmactress.) However, I also saw that the movie Elektra was playing, and my interest was piqued: this is the kind of obviously ghastly movie that my brain eats like dark candy.

But then a phone call came for the wife. It was from our friend J. And she had been foully dumped, out of the blue, by her boyfriend of some months. She was sobbing horribly--a sensible reaction when a loved one decides to move that adjective into verb past tense--and was also terribly concerned about cigarettes. "I think I'm going to smoke!" She had quit a few months ago with good success, but there's nothing like extreme emotional stress to get your brain to start playing funhouse mirrors with your sense of priorities. The wife of course made immediate plans to go over to her place to comfort her, while I, being a man, made plans of my own involving deep cover. Occasions like these are not exactly times when the male perspective is welcomed.

I made myself comfortable in my chair after the wife had rushed out. I figured this was going to take some time, and probably a not inconsiderable amount of drinking (and, of course, attendant hellish introspection, reflexive self-loathing, sudden vituperative skyward howls, etc.). At least, that's what I've always done.

Time ticked off idly while I watched SportsCenter for a while, and I took a savage kind of flagellant joy in seeing virtually all of my fantasy baseball players performing as if they had belladonna suppositories forced up their rectums, or perhaps just falling to sniper fire as they emerged sulkily from their dugouts. I'll trade all you dirty fuckers, I seethed inside. I'll trade you for beanies. Then I'll be the Beanie Guy, the guy who walks around wearing nothing but beanies, and people will point and hiss, "It's Beanie Guy! He drafted Scott Rolen and David Wells! And now he walks around in beanies!" And other people will say, "I just wish he'd wear pants." So, you know, guy thoughts.

And then the phone rang. It was the wife. "Listen, we all need to eat. You want to meet us on Broadway for a bite?" I squeaked a little. "She's okay," said the wife, reading me easily. "Come on, meet us." I glanced at the clock. I was pretty hungry, and it was getting a bit late. "Okay," I said.

I should point out that I don't write any of this to poke fun at J. I think we all know that being dumped is really one of life's shittier things, and I feel badly for her. So it's not to mock her that I write anything--that would be pretty cruel. But there are certain near-universals when it comes to Sudden Relationship Oh-Fucks. There just are.

J. was obviously a little drunk, and hey, you go girl. "I'm drunk," she announced unnecessarily. "And I'm going to get drunker." "I support your endeavor," I intoned gravely. I made a mental note to make sure J. didn't pay for a goddamn thing that night, because nobody should have to lift a finger for anything in these situations.

If I was on edge meeting up with them, the feeling dissipated shortly--happily (for me), J. wasn't in a generic Death to Men mode. Well, maybe one man. The ensuing conversation--broken here and again with drink orders--consisted mainly of circular, searching self-questioning peppered with the occasional spate of deeply unkind comments regarding the guy in question, which were inevitably volleyed back by the wife and I with loose variants on the phrase "He's an asshole!" Because there are rules. One rule is: the dumped person is allowed--nay, encouraged--to voice the most venemous possible things about the other party. Another rule is: As the friend, it is your duty to vigorously agree with these assessments, regardless of whether you have any idea as to their veracity. Because they are your friend, and they are hurt, and people who hurt your friends are, until some sort of irrefutable evidence comes along to suggest otherwise (and frequently not even then), fucking assholes.

So. Fucking asshole indeed. J. was, I must say, more composed than I have been in past similar situations; whether this was due to our steadfast reliance on the "He's an asshole!" tack, or her inner reserves, or the numbing amount of alcohol we were consuming is anyone's guess. In the end, we walked her home, of course, despite her assertions that she was fine. Sorry, nobody is fine on nights like that, and fuck walking home alone. Her cat was there at her apartment to greet us, perfectly outraged at being left alone for a few hours and vocal about it. I unkindly guessed it was a male cat.

So, J.'s former boyfriend: Boy, are you stupid.

So, J.' cat: Cut her some slack and lie quietly on her tummy.

So, Beanie Guy: Get over Scott Rolen. And put on some pants.

But most of all, J.: He's a fucking asshole.

There are rules.

Wednesday, 27 April
What Women Don't Want

Back in around 1994, some time after getting over the utter horror of my too-young first marriage and subsequent divorce, I was at some arbitrary point declared by my friend M. to be "ready for dating" again. Which of course filled me with new, fresh horror. It was like being declared "ready for consumption by pit demons."

I mean, I was never good at dating anyway, not that many people are, I suppose, and for those of you who are good at dating, I can only say: You people are fucking freaks. But I was also damaged goods thanks to the divorce, and wary, and regarded most women as, alternatively, divine goddesses to be appreciated from afar, or rapacious harpies interested only in pulling out my tongue and using it as a hacky sack.

Healthy! This boy was sure ready!

But my friend M. was undeterred, and managed somehow to set me up on a semi-blind date with her friend S. (I say semi-blind because I had met S. briefly once with M. when I accompanied M. for drinks with her co-workers, of which S. was one.) So we talked on the phone a couple times, and made plans. As the guy, it was up to me to pick the place and all that crap.

And so we met, for reasons that passeth all understanding, at the Deluxe.

The Deluxe (with a name like "The Deluxe," you know they don't mean it!) is basically just a pub (Wednesdays are Burgeramas! $4.99 [with purchase of beverage!) with pretensions, like a Denny's that had won the Lotto. Not an auspicious venue for ro-mance.

But to her credit, S. did not blanch at the humble surroundings. This despite the fact that, to my dismay, she was wearing a very smart suitlike thing, with a jacket and a skirt; her lipstick matched her outfit, which brought out the highlights in her hair, her eyes sparkled, etc. She was stunning really, but not for any of those reasons mostly. See, her entire outfit was a really shocking shade of salmon-pink, and what I remember thinking was that she looked like a baby's lung in pumps.

I can't imagine her assessment of me was any more charitable. I had arrived in typical mid-90s Seattle garb: faded jeans and t-shirt overlaid by rumpled longsleeve. (I never even bothered trying to deal with flannel. I was about as grunge as Joe Piscopo.) (And actually, that outfit is still pretty much what I wear. When I'm feeling sassy I might wear khakis. Tssss! I'm red hot!)

I'm sure we both knew it was immediately hopeless, but you can't just blurt that out, so we sat down to eat dinner. She had some chicken breast or something, and I ordered a French dip.

Let's stop a minute. Think about that. You're on a date, a first date even, and though you might recognize early on that it's just a put-on for the two of you, you don't want to look like a fucking fool, right? Right? So what should you not order? Hmm, I don't know . . . how about a great big falling-apart sandwich with au jus that will all end up on your shirtfront, in your lap? Brilliant idea! Also, with a big, falling-apart sandwich, you don't even use utensils, so your date has to stare at you the whole time while you're eating like a fucking caveman and salty beef juice is running down your arm and you can't even keep eye contact during the conversation anyway because you keep having to hunch over your plate like a protective ghoul gnawing on a leg bone to keep the roast beef from falling into your lap.

And yet we made a little conversation. Some work stuff, some hobby stuff, that sort of thing. I swerved right away from any music conversation when she mentioned having recently attended some country music concert . . . no reason to go there. At one point she asked me where I grew up.

"Oh, God," I said, rolling my eyes. "I grew up in a really tiny town in Idaho called Grangeville. You've never heard of it."

She perked up, which made me wary. "Idaho! That's pretty country! Was it a farm?"

"No," I said. "It was actually a horse ranch. I mean, we didn't own it, but part of living there was taking care of the horses. I did that a lot when I was a kid."

She was smiling now, and her eyes were sparkling. Naturally, I was still half-wrestling with my obstinate sandwich, so I couldn't really figure out what was going on in her skull. But she was interested . . . in something! I waited.

"So would you say," she asked twinklingly in an odd tone, "that you're . . . kind of a cowboy?" She cocked her head at me coquettishly. Oh my.

This was a fat, lazy pitch, belt high over the middle of the plate, and all I had to do was swing. I thought about my experience with horses: getting thrown off of them, being nearly kicked in the face by them, getting trampled by them (all true!). I thought about cows. Well, I thought, I'm eating one right now! I enjoy them to that extent! If I just shined her on for a bit . . . who knows?

Ahhh. Let's not pretend that this was some test of nobility or anything. It wasn't even really a dilemma of any kind. Who was I ever going to fool, really? It was a dumb, fleeting idea, something barely worthy of a Penthouse Forum letter. ("I never thought this hot broad would buy my cowboy routine, but her heaving 36Cs told another story . . . ")

I put down my floppy sandwich and looked at her. "No, I'm not a cowboy. Not even close." I grinned, maybe a little ruefully, and she grinned back, and we laughed a little. We made some small talk to round out the dinner, and she allowed me a chaste kiss on her cheek at the end of the night. The next day I called her, as a good boy does (making sure to pick a time I knew she wouldn't be home), and on her answering machine thanked her for a lovely evening, and we should do it again sometime, har har har. She did me the good favor of not returning the call.

I saw her again, many times later, though, when I was hanging out with M., and we became, if not friends, then just good acquaintances. And I always found it kind of charming when she'd see me and murmur, "Hey, cowboy."

Friday, 25 March
You Remember Him

This last weekend the wife and I got into a discussion about the cruelty that kids visit on each other, and I was reminded of this guy that I went to high school with. (Though I did not bring him up in the conversation.) If The Breakfast Club has taught us anything--and really, it hasn't--it's that high school kids are cliquish, petty, vindictive and highly stratified. You know, basically just like adults but with less sophisticated filters and coping strategies. And so there is the archetype of The Utterly Ostracized Kid. And of course, it exists. You can probably think of your own example--and I do hope it wasn't you.

For me, it was Leo. (Not his real name--I just picked Leo because I don't think I've ever known one.)

Now, let's be clear, I was never really that popular at all, but nor was I a complete outcast either. I had my share of friends, but it's not like I was cracking the higher social circles or anything either. To use the Breakfast Club categorization system, which is probably as good (and as useless) as any, I was considered a Brain. (Remember: this was Idaho. Ah, can't get enough of that cheap joke.) I was pretty average-looking (had a nasty year-or-so-long bout with Ye Olde Acne, which was pretty raw, but it went away), didn't have many girlfriends, but I had a good sense of humor that served me well. I played tennis and baseball, and was neither any good nor wholly terrible at either.

Leo was none of these things. He was pudgy and pale, and not athletic in any way. He wasn't necessarily stupid, but he wasn't exactly lighting up the boards with his grades either. He had a slight lisp--always a great plan provided you like it when people call you a fairy. But really, Leo's big problem--and probably his greatest Catch-22--was simply that Leo tried way too hard.

"Hey, guys!" he would call out to some group of kids, all of whom would rather eat poison than be seen with Leo. "What's going on? You guys hanging?" Sullen mutters by way of response. "Check it out!" Leo would continue, undeterred, his eyes shining a little. "Got a debate trip coming up." He'd bark some nervous laughter. "That's so lame." Silence.

It was always so horrible. Nobody wanted the guy around, and everyone knew it. Worse, he knew it. But what was he supposed to do? Not talk to anyone? I guess . . . but that would also be a lousy option as well, since Not Talking To Anyone would of course provide definitive proof that he was a big loser. Better to try and awkwardly try and wedge his way into . . . anything, maybe if only to elicit some terse comment, even a lousy, "Yeah, I hear that, I guess" that he could take home with him as meager evidence that he wasn't completely alone in the school. Which he undoubtedly was.

I'd like to say that I, being the stand-up high school guy that I was, was above all that crap, but of course I wasn't. I wanted as much as everyone else to climb the ranks of coolness, which of course wasn't fucking likely, but it certainly wasn't going to help my slim chances by associating with the likes of Leo, right? So I too traded in the cheapest and yet most valuable of social currencies: pissing on the guys a few rungs down on the social ladder. It wasn't that I disliked Leo, though he could be exasperating in his too-eager-to-please circumlocutions, but I'd be lying if part of it wasn't a certain amount of contempt and disgust as well: Don't be such a simpering pussy. Never mind that I was a pussy too, and had done my share of simpering. The hard fact was, he was desperately trying to trade up friendship for some respect, but I think even he knew that nobody wanted what he had to offer.

Leo also didn't have much going for him at home, either, from what I understand. I know his mom wasn't around, but I cannot remember if she died, or left, or what. I do know that he was stuck at home with his father, who, by all accounts, was a vicious, miserable douchebag who was almost unbelievably cruel to his only son: you know, the pale, pudgy, unathletic, unpopular one. There were whispers of abuse, I know, but I also know this documented fact: on more than one occasion, Leo's dad, upon receiving one of Leo's really unspectacular report cards, took an ad out in the local paper that published his grades, with text to the effect that he was publically "challenging" his son to do better.

This was, to everyone in school, of course hilarious. Yeah, that's a laugh riot.

One night Leo was home alone--I don't know where his dad was--and he built up some kindling in their wood stove. Then he loaded it up with some gunpowder and possibly some gasoline. Then he threw in a match, and the whole fucking thing blew up. To hear some accounts, it "moved the walls" of the house, or, sometimes, "cracked the foundation." Small town stories are rife with bullshit and embellishment. What was indisputable, however, was that it blasted Leo's face off and landed him in the hospital.

This was also, by the way, hilarious (though in that hushed way that pretends to actually convey sympathy where there is in fact none). The leading jokes--and they were legion--all pointed to what a complete dingus Leo was. After all, he maintained steadily that he was "just trying to start a fire, didn't know that would happen, etc." What an idiot! Some wags offered that it was Leo's one attempt to become cooler by "taking up smoking." If anyone else shared my thought that it was an ill-conceived and maybe half-hearted suicide attempt, nobody told me. And I didn't say anything either.

That would have made me . . . what? Sympathetic? Couldn't have that.

After a lengthy hospital stay, Leo returned to school. Same old Leo! He did at least get points for being plucky, for he would regularly still approach groups of people (who did not want him around) and say things like, "Hey, guys! What's up? Hanging out?" Except now his face looked like a ruined pink asteroid. How he kept his eyes--actually, they were nice blue eyes--is beyond me. His hair had all burned off too.

Yeah, Leo, we were just hanging out. Talking about you, and making Frankenstein jokes. Or jokes about roasted ham. Get lost, would you?

When graduation rolled around, Leo was still there. In fact--I just looked at my yearbook to confirm the memory--Leo had lost a lot of the baby fat. He didn't look bad! He had also gotten taller while I was busy not noticing him. I don't know if he had work done (I doubt it) but the explosion hadn't even damaged his face much in the long term; it had all seemed to heal well. He almost looked sort of . . . handsome.

He still didn't have any friends, though. Not that I could tell. I know he signed up for the Marines and went to boot camp after graduation, which seemed, at the time, frankly incredible.

I never heard anything about him since. Not that I've asked.

I do think about him, though, now and again. Which I acknowledge is worthless sentiment. I don't ask for expiation or forgiveness or any of that. I guess I just wish him well.

And man, I don't even think I deserve to do that.

Friday, 11 March
Pretty Stupid Baby

Much of what follows is, I must confess, based on reports from various family members. It is probably just as well that we do not remember much from when we were toddlers, since they are basically really embarrassing little id-wagons. I seem to have been no different.

-----

One of my early lobbying efforts that I waged against my parents was, like a lot of kids, a change of name. Apparently, I desperately wanted to be called "George." I assume this was borne out of a deep desire to one day become either (a) an adorable, mischievous monkey, or (b) Liberace's brother. My horrifying, abusive parents denied me this simple wish, which is almost certainly why I am today such a miserable husk of a man.

-----

Things I routinely ate--sometimes clandestinely--with inordinate gusto:

Butter
Raw potatoes
Uncooked hot dogs

And that old classic:

Dog food

All of these things are, of course, nauseating (butter? Jesus), but also kind of thought-provoking. One could, say, set up an argument that childrens' mind-wrecking food preferences are in fact a refutation of evolution. How does Darwinism account for a creature so hopeless that it would actually eat such alarming garbage and expect to live (or procreate)?

But on the other hand, look at what the same argument does to Intelligent Design.

"I think it's clear that the complexity of the natural world--to say nothing about the amazing human mind--obviously suggests a creator."

"Professor? What does it say about our Creator that your son is over in the corner eating a cold hot dog?"

"Gavin! Put that down! Oh, fuck. (Pause.) Class dismissed."

Me, I can't get behind Intelligent Design until it clears up the whole Cold Hot Dog thing.

-----

Not to get all Kids Say The Darnedest Things and all, but I apparently had a phase where I would march around irritating the hell out of my folks by exclaiming, over and over: "MO-NA! MO-NA! MO-NA!"

That they didn't use me as firewood is a testament to their patience, their non-George cruelty notwithstanding. I think they were mostly puzzled because they didn't actually know anyone named Mona.

This changed, oddly, a couple years later, when my uncle hooked up with a woman named Mona. These being Hippie Years, she rapidly became Aunt Mona, though they never married, and she's long gone. However, she lives in my memory.

One day I was taking a shower; I guess I was around four or five. As I was toweling off, Aunt Mona entered the bathroom, and I screamed like a firebell. "IN HERE! IN HERE!"

Mona barely blinked. "You shouldn't be ashamed of your body!" she exclaimed kindly--this would have been '73 or '74, so, you know, Yay Hippies. I was not mollified. "IN HERE!" I screamed again. I evidently wasn't big on improv. I was also seriously freaked out.

Mona, in her way, tried to help. She made a little moue at my distress and then said something again about how Our Bodies Are Gorgeous or whatever. As proof--and again, I imagine she meant well--she peeled off her shirt. Of course she wore no bra. "See?" she said. "It's no big deal!"

This was fascinating. And it was a big deal. It gave me very complicated thoughts.

It may not have all come at once, but that might have been the moment that tipped me over to the idea that there were greater things in the world than cold hot dogs.

Friday, 07 January
Warehouse

When I got done with college--sporting a mighty Bachelor of Theater degree--I of course had to get a job. Strangely, Hollywood casting directors (or, for that matter, Hoboken casting directors) were not exactly scratching at my zipper or anything, so I had to find, as they say, a "real" job.

When actors say things like "real" jobs, that means: Jobs that suck. You know, like the ones normal people have. And we always say it in a tone that suggests that these jobs are beneath us--we're trained actors! We want unreal jobs! Like, say, acting! This is partly why actors are such a pain in the ass. We've trained extensively for a job that barely exists, and when it does, it usually pays nothing. And then we get snitty about it. Why you people tolerate our ilk is beyond me, because frankly, we're fucking deluded and strange.

Anyway, I got a job working at my roommate's dad's company, which was a "paint sundries" warehouse, filling orders. "Paint sundries" really just means: "Paint-ish shit that isn't paint." Like deck sealant, varnish, rollers, tarps, caulk, etc. It was hardly a challenging job, but it was actually--in the sepia-tone of easy nostalgia, anyway--sometimes fun. A particularly respected skill was being able to master the flinging of empty shipping tape rolls (those big cardboard disk) in such a way that they'd glide for yards. It takes a kind of wrist-flip that only practice brings. Even more respected was the ability to throw the things with velocity and accuracy, because the real idea was to hit another guy in the head.

See, the place was all boys. Of course it was, and I don't mean that in any demeaning way--any woman could have done the job. But it was just a boy place . . . even for the men. There were 40-year-olds there, with families. On the job, they were boys. Watch out for that tapeball!

They were:

Gary

Our fearless leader, the supervisor. Gary had buck teeth and three DUIs under his belt, so Gary always needed a ride. But as boss, this was hardly a problem, since anyone was happy to drive him around wherever (not me--I had no car), which was usually--surprise!--to a bar. Gary was also meticulous about the hazing of new employees, which is what led him to body-check me into several gallons of xylene (yay!). But then, he liked me. Less lucky was Mike (more on him later), who was shrink-wrapped into a shopping cart (which we used to carry orders) and sent sailing down the parking lot. Unfortunately, Mike's cart jumped a small abutment and he continued down a hill, screaming like a deranged bat. When the cart finally fell over, we rescued him, and then mercilessly castigated him for making us walk so fucking far to get him. Later, Mike would fail to notice when Gary fingerpainted "I WANT DICK" into the dust on his tailgate.

Bobby

Bobby was a fucking beast of a man, and I took good care never to piss him off. (Anyone who knows me can tell you that this takes a heroic effort on my part.) He was the strongest person I've ever seen. He was a stocky Irishman, and built like a walking sub-basement. I once watched him carrying six five-gallon cans of deck seal: two on his shoulders, two in the crooks of his elbows, and two more in his hands. He was also the one who, on a lark, casually picked me up and tossed me into the cardboard crusher (again, when I was new). Then he turned it on, knowing full well that the giant steel crush-plate stopped a good three feet above from bottom; he laughed like mad as I screamed piteously at what I assumed was imminent death.

Brian

Brian drove a Camaro, and wore Gargoyle shades; he had a mullet. For all that, Brian was, I swear, a pretty good guy. If I have relatively little to say about Brian, it's only because he had exactly three interests: 1. His car 2. Getting hammered. 3. Chicks. I liked Brian a lot, but let's just say that his plan was only about 2/3 successful.

Kevin

What to say about Kevin? Kevin . . . made me sad. Kevin quite clearly had something wrong in his head, and I couldn't figure it out for a long time. He stuttered a bit (not much), and would make bizarre, nutty errors (he had trouble with the whole concept of alphabetization, and was made famous once for putting a box knife in his mouth for storage when he needed both hands--of course the blade was out, and he cut the shit out of his tongue . . . bad). But finally, after a conversation with Kevin, I guess I got the story, and it was a little heartbreaking. Over beers, Kevin said, "You know, I used to be smart. Nobody believes me. But I wasn't this way." I didn't say anything. He continued. "Look, I was dealing some coke, okay? And this guy hit me over the head with a fucking pipe. He stole all my shit. And then . . . " Kevin raised his arms to half-mast in that universal gesture of "who knows?" "Ever since then . . . I can't think right. It's kind of fucked up."

Mick

Mick, another Irishman (big surprise), will probably die at the warehouse, if he isn't dead yet. Mick was all of these things: a drunk; a junkie (though he battled it mightily); an asshole ("Mick, would you--" "No."); a dreamer (he enjoyed Castaneda, the freak); a husband (to another, much more afflicted junkie); and a devoted father (particularly to his damaged little girl, who at the age of four still had never spoken a word . . . I of course figured on the heroin). Mick was also given to drunken pronouncements: "Skot . . . you're almost there, man. You're so close to . . . you'll see." I think I miss Mick most of all. He was a good man trapped in a horrible scenario.

But I do remember this: During the week, we would listen to the fucking classic rock station, but I finally managed to allow us to listen to a "modern rock" station on Fridays. One Friday, a Blondie song came on, and Mick came up to me.

"Is this Blondie?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"If I wanted to hear junkie bitches scream, I'd go home," he said.

The aforementioned Mike ended up challenging Mick to a drinking contest. Pretty stupid; Mick drank Mike into a coma, almost literally. Mike really was a stupid guy.

I don't know why I miss these guys.

Thursday, 11 November
Home, Not Alone

Call this my John Hughes blog entry. It's about once--and it was just once--in high school when yes, my parents went out of town, and yes, ignoring their admonitions, I held a party. It is a testament to what a dweeb I am that I still get little frissons of I'M SO BAD! feelings when I remember it.

It's not like it was complicated. Parents gone-->call friends-->party liftoff. And it's not like it was smart, either: in a town of 3300 people, a bunch of fucked up teenagers gathering at one location are simply not going to go unnoticed. I must say my parents were gracious enough not to mention what they almost certainly knew about ten minutes after getting back into town: I had a party. This is presumably why, to this day, whenever I speak to my father on the phone, he heartily assures me that he is doing everything humanly possible to exhaust my inheritance before he dies.

(This is not a lie. It is also kind of effective, since my parents had me young; neither of them are even sixty. "Going golfing in Montana with your mother next week! Then we might swing down to New Mexico! Jesus Christ, kid . . . I hope you have a good IRA. You're sure not getting shit from us.")

And now that I think about it, my parents clearly know that I was going to have a party no matter what: because they left over my birthday. And they're just not that dumb. On the other hand, I clearly am that dumb, since I just figured that out.

Anyway. The early part of the party isn't really worth relating; just kids showing up at the house with horrific piles of beer, which were all immediately hidden away around the house. One learns early in high school that if you put your beer in the fridge like a moron, it will immediately be drank by those who failed to score. Thus, you find remote areas to hide it. Some people kept theirs in locked cars, but I always hated having to go out to the car to get a fresh drink every two minutes or so; I generally located the dryer and stowed mine there. Nobody ever looked in the dryer.

After a half hour or so, having dispensed with the pretense of giving me gifts--I do not believe there were any--the party got into full sway. Someone, I don't remember who, pounced on my mother's piano and began banging out some horrible noise. It might have been Tom Waits. At any rate, this somehow signaled the Beginning Of Crazytime, because right after that, an argument broke out in the kitchen over whether or not an egg could be broken if held in a certain way in the palm; specifically, the assertion seemed to be that eggs are indestructiible when squeezed in some dumbfuck fashion that nobody sensible would ever attempt.

Naturally, this challenge proved irresistible, and people began gleefully crushing eggs over the sink, the floor, and for certain unfortunate lightweights, people's hair. I scurried ineffectually around the kitchen trying to dissuade people from violently squeezing eggs in their bare hands, but it was useless. The entire room was soon garishly decorated with chicken embryos and the prone people who weakly thrashed in them.

Meanwhile, on a couple different fronts, trouble was brewing. D., a well-known sociopath, was howling at B. over a certain girlfriend dispute; it seemed that there were certain "making out" issues in the air. D., the far more unbalanced of the two, was well up in B .'s grill about this issue, while B. (not the keenest of folks) was attempting to be conciliatory. This went over poorly, and after a bit, D. had found himself a crowbar and raced at B .

This was a real mistake, as while B. was not the swiftest of rivers, he was a dedicated black belt. B. took about thirty seconds to disarm D. and then turn him into a human omelette. D. moaned in rather non-eggy fashion on my lawn for a while before deciding to head home. B., on the other hand, truly a gentle soul, spent that time weeping in my bedroom, moaning over and over to anyone who would listen, "I had to do it, man!"

There were other problems. T., a female friend of mine at the time, got upset with her boyfriend at the moment, J. (J. was rumored to have a penis whose girth was soda-can-like. Wasn't high school weird?) T. became very upset--perhaps her feelings were inflamed also by the increasingly frenzied pounding my mother's piano was taking at the hands of some demented teenager--and flipped right the hell out. In high dudgeon, she screamed, "I'm getting the fuck out of here!" She marched to the door and flung it open.

Unfortunately, since T. was supernaturally drunk, she flung open the door to my father's gun closet, which contained, among other weaponry, a shotgun, a 30.06, and a number of pistols. T., being completely wrecked, walked into all of them. They clattered to the floor, as did she, as I stared in utter horror: for one thing, it's a miracle none of them went off, as my father keeps his guns loaded. For another, HOLY FUCK, SHE JUST DINGED UP MY FATHER'S GUNS! Meanwhile, as I charged over to the scene, T. was grabbing and dropping various loaded guns in puzzlement, as if they were vines impeding her progress. I saw her pick up a shotgun and look at it quizzically. "This isn't the front door!"

No. Definitely not.

And I do remember that the whole time this was going on, there was someone--I do not know who--maniacally playing the piano. I even remember the piece.

Duke Ellington*: "The Entertainer."

*(And when I say "Duke Ellington" I of course mean "Scott Joplin." Lord. Thanks, Craig.)

Tuesday, 12 October
Smooth Criminal

My junior year in college, I was of course still slinking around the theater department working on my worthless degree, when an interesting opportunity fell into my lap. One of my professors had been contacted by the Oregon State police. Would he, the cops asked, happen to know of any couple of actorlets weird enough to come down to the state police HQ and spend a few hours helping out with Hostage Negotiation tactics? Probably in the hopes that we would be "accidentally" shot in the course of events, my professor sought out me and M. We agreed instantly to the job, particularly when we found out that the cops were coughing up $40 apiece for the whatever it was.

So later M. and I found ourselves driving out to the state police facilities, something I had only previously imagined occurring under some duress. Like most municipal buildings, it was irritatingly annoying in different, nonspecific ways that you couldn't quite nail down: architecturally, it was kind of like a balding man in a cheap suit whistling to himself while jangling his keys in his pocket.

We met with a fellow who explained what was going on. Hostage negotiators, like all of us I suppose, need practice! Troublingly, though, hostages are not a clockwork commodity that one can count on, so to keep the boys on their toes, periodically they get some actors to come in and spend three or so hours improvising hostage scenarios for the negotiators to work on.

He pulled out some papers, one of which outlined the requirements, which were, I thought, quite broadly defined. I was quite free to invent a vivid past for my bad guy, as well as any motive I might have for the "kidnapping," up to and including batshit craziness; similarly, M., the victim, and I were free to invent any relationship that might exist in our predicament, if any. What did need to happen was that (1) in the course of our chats, I was to make at least one completely unreasonable demand, and (2) that eventually M. should begin to exhibit symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, the famous psychological effect of the victim beginning to sympathize more and more with the captor. The rest was up to us. "You can kill her if you think they're doing a bad job," said the fellow mildly. I cheerfully turned to M. and informed that the moment we got into the room I was going to beat her to death with an ashtray and take her forty bucks.

We went into the room; I was distressed to notice that there were no ashtrays--for did not the stoolies smoke hungrily as they squealed to the coppers? Did I not see this on TV? This place looked more like a conference room anyway, and I took note of a couple open windows, and realized glumly that I would almost certainly be breaking the law with some regularity during my visit to the cophaus.

The fellow pointed to a sturdy-looking phone cradle on the table, with a wire snaking out the door. "This is actually what we toss through windows so we can have a direct line with the captor in live situations." We stared at the veteran phone with new respect for its blocky heroism. Then he gave us the big tip: "I'll also tell you what we obviously don't tell the captors: even when it's on the hook, it's still on and transmitting any conversations or noises it picks up." I stared back at the traitorous phone again, realizing what a lousy criminal I would be. That it would never occur to me to see through such a transparent trick was evidence not only of my fundamental dimness, but also of that widely held bullshit assumption: that cops are the good guys, and good guys don't lie. Not to say that cops aren't good guys. It's just that in fact they do routinely lie as a matter of course, in word and deed.

We had fifteen minutes or so of alone time, M. and I, to come up with a loose story to get things started. Then the phone would ring--pretending here that the negotiators had been notified of a hostage situation, and tossed in the phone--and we'd be underway. (The fellow in charge assured us the phone would be off until that first ring, and I don't think he fucked us on that one. He wanted an honest test of his boys.) So we decided that M. was my old girlfriend; she had kicked me out because I was kind of a flake who, when "off his meds," was semiviolent and unpredictable. We spiced things up by giving her a baby to worry about; it was also in the house.

For my part, I can't remember what name I gave myself--I think it was Earl--but I decided that my troubling mental history would guarantee a spotty and variegated work history, which gave me an idea about an "unreasonable demand." We quickly agreed that M. had kicked out Earl thanks to his deteriorating mental state, which also led to his most recent firing, which had all culminated with the current events, namely Batshit Earl's Gonna Shoot Momma And The Baby.

Presently, the phone rang. I obviously can't remember all (or even much) of the exact language these fellows used, but they were damned smooth. "What do you want?" was a big question at the outset, and I noticed a certain determined avoidance of ever actually saying the word "No." I felt a little weird knowing I was talking to Real Live Cops, but I also thought (1) they wanted some verisimilitude in my demeanor, and (2) I felt a kind of perverse glee in being able to--no, encouraged to--chew on these cops' asses, so I cut lose with torrents of horrid vituperation. "You fucking cops, fucking with me all the time, I oughta blow this bitch's head off RIGHT NOW!" Etc. etc. I felt very macho at the time, but I'm sure that the negotiators were rolling their eyes at each other from the outset and scratching notes to themselves like, "Great, three hours with Baby Mamet."

I ranted at them for a good while, hanging up on them with dire threats and--making some theater for the open line--hissed threats at M. while she wailed and pleaded convincingly. In the interest of keeping things on this side of stupid, we wisely didn't attempt to imitate terrified baby noises. After an illicit smoke--hanging out the window--it was time for Unreasonable Demand. I picked up the phone, and the negotiator boys were alert and attentive. They of course immediately asked me if I was ready to come out; it was always their first question, and always came with steady assurances that their only concern was everyone's safety, including mine. I sported with them a bit, trying to see if I could get them to actually tell me No.

"I think I'll stay put. That okay with you?"

"Whatever you're comfortable with right now, Earl."

"You're lying, aren't you? You'd like to blow my brains out!"

"Earl, I'm not lying to you. We just want everything to stay cool and calm."

"Bullshit! You want my nuts in a vise!"

"Earl, even if that were true, I don't own a tool shed."

I mean, not really, but you get the idea. Anyway, I finally hit them with my demand: that every employer who had ever fired Earl be gathered right there on that very street, and that they loudly shout at Earl how sorry they were that they ever canned his loony ass. If I didn't get these demands met in an hour, then it was curtains for M. and her oddly stoic baby.

The boys were, as ever, not to be flapped, and made cheerful sounds to indicate, Well finally! Something we can work on for our good buddy Earl! Jesus, why didn't you say so before, son? And then they hung up, and M. and I performed another laughable little psychodrama for the negotiators' benefit, where I direly hinted something about shutting up the fucking kid before I shut it up for her (we tacitly assumed that the boys were accepting our invention of the troublesome baby despite its lack of voice). RING RING! Hey, what a coincidence! I picked up the phone. "Say, Earl," said one of the boys, "we're having some trouble with finding all these guys to apologize to you. You think you can help us out with some names?"

This went on and on, and I really started to like these guys. They were on my side! Well, Earl's. And M. really started to come around too: after a couple hours, she was faithfully howling about how EVERYTHING WOULD BE BETTER IF EVERYONE LEFT US ALONE! This after the boys wanted to speak to her to make sure her and the "baby" were all right; I let M. gurgle at them for a while as I hung out the window and smoked, and she sobbed at them to piss off, and they told her, sorry, ma'am, we can't do that (but we're not saying no!), not just yet, and boy, once those fellas come and apologize, this would all be over. I ended that conversation by roughly grabbing the phone away from M. and smacking my own palm to indicate that I was roughing her up a bit. Then I hung up, which prompted a fresh spate of RING RING RING! Which I ignored for a while; M. put her head down by the phone and gasped miserably. RING RING RING! I let the boys dangle for a while before picking up again, which I figured was cool as a kind of "What's going on in there?!" tension-builder, but I now realize probably had the boys scribbling fresh notes: "Does he know this isn't a movie?" "Silence is sure helping us hone our negotiation skills."

Oh, this went on for what felt like ages. Eventually, the boys regretfully (but sternly) told me that they were shit out of luck in finding all these old supervisors to come say they were sorry. I screamed hideous imprecations, and all the while, the boys still managed never to actually come out and say they weren't doing what I wanted. Everything was simply fucked up, Earl, can't you see that?

"You fuckers promised me."

"Now, we said we'd try, Earl. We've been trying. It's difficult, what you're asking."

"You haven't even fucking tried! You've fucked me from the beginning!"

"Earl, we've been talking all this time. If you feel we haven't been straight with you, that's on us, but I want you to know that we've been working for you on this. Nothing that's happened so far is a big deal, Earl, and we want to make sure it stays that way, all right?"

"You guys aren't negotiators! You're ballet dancers from the Bolshoi, aren't you? And one of you is also a circus bear!"

"Earl, it's true I like to dance here and again, and Joe is pretty goddam hairy, but you have to understand that . . . "

Again, I don't remember it all, but you get the idea.

Eventually, after three hours and some change, I decided I'd had enough and the boys had earned their pay. (I was also getting a nice crick in my back from angling myself out the window.) I finally told the boys that I'd seen the light; I didn't want anything bad happening, like myself being riddled with large holes; I wanted to come out. I was given precise instructions on what to do: something about cracking the door, throwing out the gun, lacing my hands on the back of my head, backing out slowly, etc. I agreed to all of this (and they were really putting on the cop mojo for this speech--there were clearly some seriously good ways to get shot if one didn't follow these instructions to the letter). Finally, after getting it all, I hung up.

M. and I stood there, staring at the door. Was that it? I whispered to her: "Am I supposed to follow their directions? Are we also "doing" the arrest?" She didn't know. The guy who gave us the lowdown at the beginning never mentioned this. We kept staring at the door. Finally, I said, "I guess I'll go out."

So I cracked the door open, cautiously and very slowly, and feeling both apprehensive and really dumb, backed out with my hands laced behind my head. I craned my skull around trying to see what the fuck was going on. I saw the orientation cop and what were obviously the two negotiators, looking at me with amused grins.

"We're not doing the arrest part, are we?" I asked, loosening my stance.

"No," said one of the negotiators, for the first time all day.

Tuesday, 28 September
AGCT

This weekend's big marriage-related event was our friends G. and M. holding a party to renew their vows. It was all very fun and all, but I still wonder who fucked it so badly as to precipitate the event. Besides which, if I may nitpick, they didn't really renew their vows so much as write a couple of goddam new vows, which for me stank a bit of false advertising. I wanted dull, rote recitation of the old vows, with maybe a "And this time, we mean it!" stuck in at the end. But maybe it was for the best, and the old vows blew or were terribly embarrassing or something. "I promise never to watch John MacEnroe TV shows." "And I promise to stop clandestinely burying my face in your underwear drawer when you're out." "WHAT?"

G. and M. were resplendent in their finery, even if some of the guests were not. The theme was simple: wear red. Friend J. never got that message and showed up in earth tones; he rectified the situation by raiding the costume shop (for this took place at a previously described dingy theater) and coming up with a perfectly horrifying suit jacket whose crimson-paisley lining sort of fit the theme; it certainly red, and leered out from beneath the folds like some awful psychedelic tongue. [Disclosure: the suit jacket used to be mine, and I long ago donated the wretched thing to the theater. Distressingly, they actually used the fucking thing.]

K., for his part, appeared in a newly-purchased jumpsuit of confusing origin; it was far too small for him, and seemed to showcase his genitals in a frankly disturbing way, particularly when he sat down. (At one point, I saw his girlfriend K. reach over and give his member a companionable squeeze, causing me to refresh my drink.) The overall effect of the garment--and K.'s hair, which he had sculpted into a deliberately eerie Dennis the Menace tribute--was really quite arresting, especially considering that K.'s body type is something like one of those Punching Nun puppets: a central skinny stick sporting two wildly flailing arms. He looked like an inmate escaped from Prop Comedy Penitentiary.

And then of course there was A., who simply shoved himself into a red t-shirt and denim overalls, and stood around placidly, missing only a strand of wheat to chew on. One expects this sort of thing from A.--sartorial inexuberance being the least of it--which is reliably charming. One of my favorite stories about A. involves him noisily vomiting in some bushes; when friend E. tells the story, he employs some really terriffic sound effects, something like: HRRRrrrRRRR! HRRRrrrrRRR!

After a while, we settled down with our drinks and the show got underway. It was a pretty simple affair, if, at times, baffling. Limericks seemed to be a running joke, as many were told (none particularly funny or even Nantucket-y); a version of "White Wedding" was enthusiastically howled; and our friend L. delivered quite a lovely reading of Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat," diligently emphasizing the word PUSSY whenever it came up, which was, happily, often.

Then we got to the vows. M. delivered hers to G. pretty much straight, and they were sweet as all vows are--standard "Awwww!" stuff. (Not to demean them. "Awwww!" is a perfectly valid tone to strike.) Then G. came up, prefacing his comments with the observation: "I can tend to be a little geeky." This elicited some laughter of agreement: G. is a forensic toxicologist. We waited to see how geeky G. could possibly be. We didn't have to wait long. Here's what he got out before the entire room erupted into laughter for thirty seconds:

"A molecule . . . "

Pandemonium. I clamored for G. to stop right there, as it couldn't possibly get any better than that, but in the chaos, I was ignored. You have to give it up to anyone who start his renewal vows this way, but G. wasn't done. After a while, the laughter subsided, and G. gave a very lovely speech likening marriage to paired nucleotides, saying at one point, "Your adenine perfectly matches my guanine."

Everyone is going to think I made that up, but I did not. It made me so happy and into the spirit of the thing, I wanted right there to joyously run around and give everyone a celebratory fine needle aspirate for pathological analysis. "Hurrah! Hurrah! G. incorporated genetic dorkery into his renewal vows!" I would shout. "Oh, and Mrs. Bandersnatch, I'm afraid you have pharyngeal cancer. Anyway, huzzzah!"

Finally, the ceremony gave way to the post-vow celebration, and tragically, there was karaoke involved. I have written before about how my friends are horribly skilled at the art of karaoke subversion--in fact, I'm assuming this was the intent of having it--and this was no exception. I'll say it again: there is nothing that you have ever witnessed that can prepare you for malicious, shameless actors bent on completely strafing your favorite pop songs with deliberately ghastly renderings.

V., who may be the queen of this foul art, was the first to act, and she re-enacted a legendary crime by tackling "Bette Davis Eyes," which I have also previously wrote about. In true form, she waved her arms witchily about while her vocals screamed and whooped about the small space, like attacking harpies. It's truly beyond description what the woman can do: at one moment she evokes LeAnne Rimes suffering a debilitating inner ear disability, and then before you can recover, she's intoning the next line as an earnest Rod Steiger piece of dialogue. It's impossible to reproduce in print. Not that that ever stopped me from trying.

"Alllll the BOOOOOYYS think she's a [swoop into gutteral hiss] spyyyyyyyyy/ She's got [Borgninian pause. then an evangelical CALL TO GAWD] BETTE DAVIS EEEEEYYYYYYES!" Put that all together with some Stevie Nicks twirls and a couple hiii-ya! leg kicks and you've got . . . something. Birds have been seen to die when V. does karaoke.

K. and E. of course had to enter into things, and performed a simply murderous version of, God help everyone, "Gangsta's Paradise." K. took on the unglorious rap duties--this is, after all, Coolio--and acquainted himself with the typical misery of a Boston white guy attempting to take on even the lamest rap lyrics. However, his orange jumpsuited resplendence helped distract from his skillz, while E. growled out the chorus in a baffling, gruff accent of unknown origin--perhaps E. was paying tribute to the rich contributions of the Basque people to rap music. At any rate, the whole thing ended with an alarming scene where E. mounted the prone K. and simulated anal sex, which, let's face it, is a pretty stale act when it comes to dingy-theater-situated-vow-renewal-ceremonies. It's just played.

A good time had by all. I do wish G. and M. the very best, and since they continue to hang out with people like, well, us . . . they will need it. See you in ten years or so. We've got plenty of jumpsuits.

Wednesday, 08 September
Very Pedestrian

Hi, howdy, hi, and all that shit! Have a good weekend? I did. Nice and relaxing. I think my favorite part was hanging out and my friend K.'s, and he became disgusted with a package of corn tortillas (we were making tacos); I think they smelled funny or something--I wouldn't know, as I was eating flour tacos. Anyway, K. was most dissatisfied with his flatbread purchase and suddenly yelled at me, "DUCK!" Then he hurled them at my head. Fortunately, my unearthly reflexes kicked in, and I did duck, and they sailed over my head through K.'s fourth-floor balcony door and gracefully fell to the pavement below, landing with a lonely-sounding DAP. K.'s girlfriend K. covered her eyes at this sadly typical display of tortilla discontent--this was by no means the first thing she had ever seen hurled furiously into the street--while K. (the former) and I entertained ourselves briefly by watching cars run over the discarded corn-disks. Not for very long, really, though. It wasn't like they were getting much flatter. It's just fun watching cars run over stuff, even mundane things like substandard taco shells.

Not so much fun is watching cars run over things that are precious to you, like, say, you. As a person who walks to work, this nearly happens to me, oh, I think nearly EVERY FUCKING DAY. I say nearly, of course, because I have so far managed not to be run over, but it's only despite the best, most enthusiastic efforts of Seattle's frankly incredibly shit-blind drivers. I could fill a lot of space with stories of my near-hits. (Seriously, Seattle drivers: an awful lot of you are real fuckballs, and I sincerely hope many of you die in exotically unpleasant scenarios involving things like starved boars.)

Most stories, unfortunately, about walking around being menaced by cars, observing local fauna excreting, etc., are pretty boring. Including these. Enjoy!

Every morning, I am forced to cross Olive Way, which at the I-5 overpass is a one-way road where two lanes veer off onto the freeway onramp. Needless to say, cars aren't real fucking enthused about gearing down to let people cross the onramp entrance, despite the clearly posted crosswalk, so I routinely have to scamper across the road to avoid being crushed by the accursed commuters every morning and afternoon. You get used to it, but it certainly instills a singular loathing for the zooming parade of bastards who ignore you waiting to cross the fucking road.

One morning I began to cross (with cars oncoming but down the road a bit), and I failed to correctly judge the outlandish speed that one small car was approaching at. The next thing I knew, the damn sporty little can had squealed to a screeching halt mere feet from my knees, scaring the helpless loafs of shit nearly right out of me. (Bear in mind that the bloody assholes are supposed to stop anyway.) Then--then!--the tiny little silver fucking douchecar emitted this unbelievably horrible noise--BLAAAAAP!

The fuckette--for it was a woman--was honking at me. For crossing the street. At a crosswalk. At which she was hurtling at barely subsonic speed. Well, that was it. In a truly reptilian display of limbic outrage, I wheeled on the car and let fly with my lit cigarette at the windshield, whose trajectory was remarkably flat for such an aerodynamically challenged item. It bounced off the glass feebly, and I screamed, "FUCK YOU!" I was dimly pleased to see the woman flinch, probably fearing that I was going to crawl into her car like a mythical, horrid onramp incubus and violate her in some awfully specific way.

I felt bad about this later--a little bit--I mean, freaking women out is not something I strive for on a daily basis. But maybe this one deserved it . . . a little bit?

Walking to work, as I mentioned before, also entails on a regular basis seeing things like people relieving themselves on the streets. At least in most urban settings. I barely register it any more, except in kind of a "Gee, I sure hope that peeing guy doesn't talk to me." Sometimes they do. "Hey, you got any change?" Uh . . . no. Please don't vengefully pee on me. But hey, you know, people gotta pee.

But perhaps not . . . well . . . inventively. Another day, this time on my way home from work, a fellow was taking a piss right outside the Capitol Hill library. His technique was, ah, innovative. Rather than the usual "huddle against a wall, go to it" method, this man rewrote the rules. He was standing near the sidewalk, his pants around his knees, and he was bent over at the waist. He had tucked his dick in between his legs, Jame Gumb style, so his dick was pointing backwards under his ass and clenched between his thighs, and his urine described an unlovely parabola from its point of origin directly onto the sidewalk. His female companion watched this display clinically, and they gabbled incomprehensibly, exchanging baffling syllables animatedly. I wondered if David Lynch was directing a scat video, and hurried along, despite the realization that even that would be better than Mulholland Drive.

The final tale to relate rests on the sorta-kinda reputation that Seattle has for its laughably strict no-jaywalking laws. For years I heard tales of people getting cited for UNLAWFUL STREET CROSSING, mostly of the friend-of-a-friend type, so I never gave them much credence. Until one morning.

I was waiting at a light as I made my way to work; traffic was minimal at best. Olive and Bellevue was deader than a thousand corpses, and so I made my way across, not noticing the cop car idling at the light behind me. He pulled up alongside me with full lights and a BLAP on the siren; already I was filled with disdain. Oh, for God's sake, I thought. I'm public enemy number nine hundred and five.

"You know why I pulled you over?" he asked. I refrained from letting him know that I was already on the sidewalk. Where was he going to "pull me over"? Into someone's apartment?

"I guess because I walked against the signal," I said. I noted sadly that he had alongside him, at seven in the morning, a Subway sandwich larded with pepperoncinis. I mastered the urge to ask him how his divorce proceedings were going.

"Yep. That's seventy-four dollars, you know." He said this in flat tones that mirrored the state of his depressing sandwich.

"I'm sure sorry," I replied. "I was just trying to get to work. I'm a few minutes late."

He seemed to survey me for a few moments, trying to gauge my smartass factor, which, when it comes to cops, is nil. Why fuck them around? It's only going to mean woe.

He said, "Would you have done that if you'd have seen me first?"

This struck me as really puzzling. Would I have crossed illegally had I noticed the cop car? Of course not. (Lord knows I'm too much of a moron to be trusted with something as complicated as crossing the fucking street on my own, officer! I need the government's aid for this perplexing task!) He seemed to be asking whether or not I was just a feeb or some kind of loony anarchist street-crosser.

"No, sir, I don't think so," I replied. "Like I say, I was just in a hurry to get to work." Like most of us are murdering ourselves to get into the office.

He scowled at me like the SCUMBAG I OBVIOUSLY WAS. Then he said, weirdly, "Seventy-four dollars!" again, as a further warning. And took off.

This is like the most petty thing ever, but my Christ . . . that cop has inspired me to walk on every stupid light I ever see.

Wednesday, 01 September
House, Divided

When it came time to leave the college dorms--O bliss--I and two friends inherited a two-story house called, unimaginatively, The Pit. Its virtues included proximity to campus (two blocks), hilariously low rent, and countless structural defects. The latter doesn't sound like a real perk, but it really was, since these horrifying code violations also resulted in a landlord who was supremely unconcerned with the various depredations visited upon the unfortunate house, as long as it meant he wasn't bothered in any material way. The most agitated I ever saw the man--and I saw him rarely--was when our toilet fell through the rotting bathroom floor, and even then he stared at the debris with a kind of weary unsurprise. My roommates and I spent an exciting couple of weeks navigating the bathroom by hopping from 2x12 to 2x12, which is challenging even when one is sober.

One roomie was J., an agreeable, curly-haired Euroweenie pop enthusiast; he would excitedly show you his collection of 12" dance remixes. Improbably, he also actually had a couple girlfriends, both disturbing in their own ways. One was A., the tragically late but yet nascent free-lover; she was noted for her curt summations of current lovers. Of J. she confided in me once, "His dick is so fucking huge. Sometimes I can't even face it." This made me think of her as Indiana Jones, lying on her stomach, fearfully confronting a giant rising snakelike penis, an image that haunts me still.

(I think our favorite girlfriend of J.'s was another J., who was dubbed "The Pod," for her tendency to lie around all day on the couch, buried under blankets. The Pod was interesting not only for her profound inactivity, but also for her mysterious powers. You see, when we would go to class, The Pod would already be lying there on the couch, watching TV. "Bye," she'd say listlessly. Then we would come home, and The Pod, again, was immobile on the couch. But the house was magically, somehow, cleaner. N., the other roommate, and I talked about this. N. would say, "The Pod kind of freaks me out." And I would say, "I know. But it cleans. All J. has to do is pat her head in the morning and then leave. Then it somehow cleans." N. thought about this. "We must not fuck with The Pod," he declared.)

N. didn't really hang out a lot (though we remained good friends for years); he was largely preoccupied by his rather astonishingly annoying girlfriend E., who was (really) given to machine-gun-like statements such as, "N. do you think she's cute? Do you think she's cuter than me?" Then we would watch N.'s neck get red as she harangued him about the nothing he had said. The most salient anecdote I can remember of their entire relationship was (as related to me by N.) when they were sitting on her sofa watching TV. E. had just emerged from the shower and was reclining in her robe; N. noticed something on her thigh. "Oh, you've got a little string here, honey," said N., and proceeded to unintentionally pull out her tampon. Yay!

So the three of us moved into the house, taking it over from the previous occupants, three female students. I was quickly disabused of my notions that girls are cleaner than men. When I started putting clothes into my closet, I noted a shelf devoted to a large collection of canned soups that had been left behind inexplicably by D., the room's previous owner. I wondered if D. were some sort of forlorn militia of one, silently stockpiling nourishment in case martial law suddenly befell Felony Flats (as our neighborhood was affectionately known). The shower was an unmitigated horror, and featured only two clean, white spots in the entire plaque-armored interior, which were feet-shaped spots on the floor. We fellows regarded these basically as instructions to "Stand Here," and kept up the proud tradition of not cleaning anything. Also in the bathroom we found a companion lurking in the corner: it was a semi-translucent little blob that proved singularly impervious to all known forms of physical, chemical or mystical attack. We were informed later by a biology student that the thing was called a "plasmodium." It was there when we came, and it was there when we left. I hacked at it one boring afternoon with a paint scraper, and I swear I could hear it jeering at me. I'm guessing it's still there.

What really sealed the whole "chicks are pigs too" deal for us, though, was when it came to the fridge. N. and I opened it on our inauguration day and stared at some condiments and not much else. Typical student stuff. The thing was, it smelled pretty damn bad, and we uncharacteristically decided to clean it before loading in our groceries (read: beer). So the first thing I did was to reach down at the very bottom to grab the drip tray, where all the crap that falls down collects, and where all the excess moisture ends up. I knew it was going to be horrible--these things always are--but I was utterly unprepared for what revealed itself.

The tray was heavy, and I realized that the girls had never once even touched it, if they knew it was there. "The thing's filled with fucking nasty water," I thought, which was true. What I couldn't foresee was the thick blanket of dead houseflies that covered every centimeter of the brimming tray. My mind reeled as I brought this horror out from the fridge, refusing to acknowledge this insectile charnel-house, and I stared at it unbelievingly. How the fuck did all these flies get in here? It was like a tiny Jonestown. Finally, unable to deal at all, I gently set the awful thing down on the kitchen floor and ran outside to vomit convulsively. N. ended up being the hero and gingerly brought the tray outside to dump. He tried valiantly to lure the neighbor's yappy dog over to soak the beast with the noisome liquid, but had to settle for merely befouling her rosebed with the fly-brine.

With The Pit's closeness to campus, it quite unsurprisingly became a magnet for sudden parties or unnanounced dropins. My good friend D. once came by during finals, clutching a twelve-pack of beer. I was sitting on the scabrous couch we inherited from the girls, and was working my way glumly through a six-inch stack of various papers I had to do. "D.," I protested, "no. I've got to get this shit done." I waved at the daunting stack. "No problem," replied D. twinklingly. He put the beer down on my stuff. "We work from the top down."

Another time, during another impromptu party, my girlfriend at the time became exceedingly drunk, and therefore vulnerable to attacks intended to maim, which she seemed to invite: someone shoved her down the stairs. She bonelessly and agreeably jounced down the stairs with great velocity, finally impacting on the crispy wall below, producing a rather giant hole in the plaster. N. and I acted fast, and quickly put a poster up over the maw, reasoning that what we couldn't see surely couldn't hurt us.

The next weekend, someone inexplicably smeared pumpkin all over the poster, and when we couldn't bear the smell any more, we had to remove it, forcing us to the realization that something more substantial had to be done--even our willfully blind landlord surely couldn't ignore a gaping span of emptiness in one of his walls. Lacking money, but not ingenuity, N. and I came up with a solution: we stapled several used Domino's pizza boxes together and shoved them into the wall until it was flush, then liberally spackled the whole fucking thing over. A paint job later, and we had a new wall.

Lord, I could go on for pages. One more. Another night, another party, heigh-ho, whatever. The next morning I awoke with an unsurprisingly indignant bladder; I headed downstairs to use the bathroom (by now refloored, hallelujah). On my way through the living room, I noticed something in the corner over by the phone stand. I couldn't tell what the hell it was, so I crept up to it cautiously, inching closer and closer to identify it. (I am myopic in the extreme.) I screwed up my eyes to examine the damn thing. What the fuck?

Finally, my brain took it in. There was, on my carpet, a single well-formed turd, of goodish length and heft, about eight inches long. The world was still for a moment.

Then I screamed bloody murder. J! I howled. N.! GET THE FUCK DOWN HERE! It was no use screaming for N.; he was off at his girlfriend's, presumably being browbeaten in some unfortunate way. J., however, was upstairs, and evidently wrangled his gargantuan dick into some shorts and loped downstairs. "DID YOU SHIT ON THE FUCKING RUG?" I screamed. He stared at the hideous, recumbent mass for a moment. "Is that a turd?" he blearily wondered. I went to the kitchen in a storm to gather an entire roll of paper towels, wishing for a biohazard suit. I eventually collected the awful thing and vengefully hurled it into the neighbor's rosebed; her yappy dog remonstrated at me while I stalked back into the house.

The thing was, I was the last person to bed that night. I personally booted the stragglers out before flopping into bed, and I knew that I didn't commit that horrible deed. I spent the next couple days blasting through doorways and confronting people terribly: "TELL ME YOU DIDN'T SHIT ON MY RUG!" Then I would examine their reactions, all detective-like. Pathetic. Most people reacted predictably. "What? You're insane. Get away from me."

I never did find out who laid the Immaculate Turd. I guess I never will. But I'll bet it's still there, in the neighbor's rosebed. Like the plasmodium. And the pizza boxes, entombed in our wall. And, maybe, some soup cans.

I'll bet it's all still there.

Tuesday, 27 July
At The River

For a couple summers in high school, I worked at a river rafting company. My father was working there at the time, and he got me a job schlepping shit around, washing rigs, occasionally driving here and there; your basic scut work. Whatever.

By the second summer, they had started to think about grooming me for a spot as a river guide, which now seems utterly hilarious: I was, then as now, a puny endomorph ectomorph (I am incapable of keeping those terms straight), ill equipped either mentally or physically to challenge Ma Nature in all her roaring, spuming glory. River guides essentially row all fucking day long, pausing now and then to heroically battle whitewater rapids that are trying to hurl you into hidden rocks. Then at night, you have to cook everyone's fucking dinner. I was a kid who liked crossword puzzles and had a disturbing affinity for Arby's.

But when do adults ever notice anything about teenagers that isn't some sort of weird projection laced with no small amount of hostility? "Look at that little turd," I imagine them thinking. "He needs some growing up! And responsibility!" Yeah, because teens take to that shit like ducks to water. This is like playfully throwing a live grenade at Bill Buckner and shouting, "Think fast!"

Nevertheless, I began going on short trips, learning the whitewater biz. This was, of course, more fun than job: spend the day on the rapids, help out the main guide with some light cooking duties, haul some shit for the customers, done. I did this a while, and then the owner asked me if I was ready for "the next step." Is there ever a good way for an employee to answer this question in the negative? "Sorry, boss, no . . . I'm actually happy just marking time." "No thanks! I'm really very slow, and I can barely keep up with what I've got now."

The "next step" turned out to be quite the step: it was a six-day extended river trip down the Salmon River. I was to be at the aid of S., the only real guide for the trip, as it was, unusually, for only two customers. (Most long trips were composed of either large groups or several small groups scheduled together to defray costs, which were prohibitive. For one couple to book a dedicated trip for only themselves must have cost a mint.) However, as a sop to get me going along, I could also ask a friend of mine to go on the trip as well, gratis, with the agreement that we would both be helpers to S. This sounded too cool. Six days of whitewater rafting with a buddy? Why the fuck not? So I asked my pal Chad if he was interested. He sure was.

(Normally I don't give out first names here, just because nobody I know needs to be associated with my dumb site by name. However, some time ago, I learned--at a catastrophic ten-year high school reunion, actually, but that's another story--Chad got eaten alive by bone cancer at the ripe old age of 26, so I don't think he'll mind. Chad, my man, I'm sorry--I'm working on the cancer thing, buddy, though too late for you. But stories never die, so here's one of yours for you.)

So Chad and I went on the six-day trip, with fearless S. at the helm. Our two customers, a middle-young couple from Chicago, seemed mirthful and giddy at the outset; almost like newlyweds. Their names totally escape me, so let's call them Fuckface and Dingbat, appellations which might indicate some of what was to come later.

One of the first things you should understand about reputable river trips is a cardinal rule: Pack it in, pack it out. You heard me: everything. Including the various unfortunate glops and jellies that the body regularly harfs out as it must. To this end (har har), Chad and I set up, maintained, and carried around a giant military ammo can (everyone's stuff was packed in these, as they are watertight and indestructible) filled with the group's undifferentiated, roiling shit. S., needless to say, was delighted with our help in this area. "Time to pack up the head, boys!" he'd crow, eyeing Fuckface as he was feebly groping Dingbat in the morning before we got underway. We'd trudge over to the giant ammo can, and couldn't help ourselves but to stare hopelessy inside every morning; we couldn't help it. It was like looking at a train wreck. One morning, Fuckface called after us: "Sorry, guys! If it makes you feel better, I'm still burnin'!"

Fuckface rapidly became The Enemy. Dingbat was slightly less offensive, mainly due to her penchant for exceedingly tiny bikinis. It became ever more horrifying to watch Fuckface paw shamelessly at the shrilly giggling Dingbat as the trip went on, mainly because Fuckface was so tirelessly idiotic.

Fuckface had really only two modes of conversation: Aggressive Interrogation and Mysterious Boasting. Both modes were utterly intolerable, and Chad and I learned early on to respect S.'s boundless patience when dealing with Fuckface, which was nearly constantly.

Mysterious Boasting was uniquely horrible in that it was a sort of tireless litany involving Fuckface's various business victories that nobody understood, including Dingbat, whom we privately doubted understood much of anything. For Dingbat was the sort of woman that could be fascinated by bark molds, briefly, before some other weird mind-flare eclipsed that bit of ephemeral interest, and she moved on blithely, adjusting her bikini in fascinating ways. This was probably why she and only she could be kept seemingly rapt by the Mysterious Boasting of Fuckface, an interminable monologue of unbelievable sameness: Fuckface was mostly proud of the innumerable ways in which he had fucked over his customers. And he told everyone about this, all the time. On one particularly heat-stroky afternoon, lolling about in the raft, Fuckface was retelling a story about how his customers were all avaricious dust-fuckers and could all eat several dicks, or something. Chad and I stared at the sky hopelessly, and S. rowed on, ever stoic, and then I heard myself say, "Yeah, fuck the customers." The raft went silent, and I could feel Fuckface staring at me, but he seemed at a loss as to what to say. A few minutes later, he resumed his tirade, and I looked over at Chad, and observed that he wore a tight smile, and that a small tear was escaping his sunglasses. S. rowed on serenely as ever and fixed me with a look that suggested that I might be in charge of the shitcan for the next few nights.

As for Fuckface's Aggressive Interrogation, this was even more strange. All I can do is offer examples.

Fuckface: (Spying a bird in the sky) Hey, S., what kind of bird is that?

S: (Looking up) How about that. It's a bald eagle.

F: (Pondering) No, it isn't.

S: (Slowly) I'm pretty sure it is.

F: No. That's not an eagle.

Note, now, that Fuckface was about as woodsy as Bob Newhart. He didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. He was just being Fuckface. Another example (I swear to God these are true):

F: (We're on shore, touring an old, abandoned ranch; he spies a woodshed) Wow! Hey, S.! How much wood could that thing hold?

S: (Examining) Oh, I guess about ten cords.

F: (Pondering, then, with finality) No, it wouldn't.

Again: Fuckface, I am certain, had no bloody idea what a cord of wood even was, much less any eye for the storage capacity of a woodshed. It was simply his paid-for right to be correct on any given question that might come up on the trip, because, well, he was Fuckface, and S. was just some dumb hick. It blew us away.

One memorable highlight of the trip was S. explaining to us that we'd be taking a mid-day break at a place with a hot spring. It was, he said, regularly frequented by naked people. Chad and I spent most of the afternoon furtively clinging to rocks, spying on the, yes, many, many naked people innocently frolicking in the warm pools of water. For two boys whose exposure to naked people had been entirely through pornography, this was, well, weird. Hairy people with bellies and remarkable sags: we were horrified and entranced. Fuckface and Dingbat hung back by the raft, unwilling to participate; in Dingbat's case, this disappointed us, but we were thankful not to see a naked Fuckface, who, with his ratlike moustache, we realized resembled a kind of malignant Gallagher.

On the final evening of our trip--where, to S.'s woe, Fuckface scattered salad makings on the beach in an attempt to attract mountain goats, as if they were placid zoo beasts that he could pet--S. appeared suddenly with glasses in his hand for Chad and me. They were filled with Tequila Sunrises; Fuckface and Dingbat were wrestling awkwardly in the river surf. "Here's to our last night with these goddamn shitheads." His bloodshot eyes attested to his helpless inability to keep away from the sauce on this final night of our hellish trip with these people, who continued to quack and slosh in the water. "I'm going to beat that fucker with an oar if he tells us any more stories," S. gasped.

Everyone got loaded that night, and Dingbat performed a strangely disjointed and unerotic dance at one point (from our point of view), finally collapsing onto the sand into an untidy heap. Fuckface, ever the hero, wandered away from the heap of limbs that was his companion, and defecated audibly into the distant ammo can, occasionally crying out, "Wow!" at his efforts. "Wow!" Chad and I looked dismally at each other, anticipating the awful morning to come. S. beamed at our misery as Fuckface stumbled back to camp. "What's'at tree?" asked Fuckface truculently, pointing at nothing at all. S. glanced around patiently and said, probably making it up, "That's a cedar." Fuckface stared. "No, it ain't," he said decisively. We went to bed.

Some months later, the trip only a memory (though comedy gold for Chad and myself), we found this out: Fuckface was some sort of quasi-executive at his Chicago company, and Dingbat was his secretary. (If I were making this up, I would be more inventive, I swear.) They were both married, but not, as they say, to each other. And better, Fuckface had used company funds to finance the entire trip. And last we heard, both were out of a job, and both were out of a marriage.

I try to imagine Fuckface explaining this to his panicky lawyers.

Lawyer: Okay, Fuckface. We need to get your side of this.

Fuckface: Awright. First of all, who is this Dingbat person?

L: Uh . . . she's your mistress. Everyone knows this. She's your secretary. You took her to Idaho on a river trip.

F: (Pondering, then with finality) No, I didn't.

(The lawyers cast glances at one another.)

I can just see it. In a fairer world, so could Chad. Tequila Sunrises all around.

Tuesday, 13 July
Alive, He Cried

On my way home from work today, I ran into a particular fellow who is an acquaintance of mine. He's tangentially involved in the "theater scene," sort of, and is well known for his, uh . . . "proclivity" for . . . erm . . . well . . . "drinking." He's basically someone that whenever he comes up in conversation, you can hear the scare quotes. And this is me saying this.

I didn't see him at first, because he was across the street from me, but I soon heard, "Skot! Skot!" and looked over to behold him skittering across the busy street like an agitated chicken, dodging angry, bleating cars. Presently he arrived at my side of the street and stared at me liquidly with kelp-colored eyes.

"What are you doing?" he asked, weirdly emphasising the last word, as if he had caught me doing something shamefully illicit. I looked at myself briefly to make sure I wasn't absentmindedly wandering around with my cock hanging out or something before answering. "Just walking home!" I said, too heartily. Like when you bellow at crazy people as if they were somehow hard of hearing, or maybe just particularly immune to bonhomie. He blinked languidly. I said, "And you?" He fixed me with a strange grin. "I'm vandalizing the neighborhood!" he hissed, and produced some stickers. "Want a sticker?"

Boy, do I! I totally didn't scream in my head. In truth, I was rattled. He looked terrible. He didn't seem quite in charge of his body, as if he were receiving somatic instructions from Altair, and there was perhaps some signal degradation. His skin tone also was of a queer hue, as if he had been built out of some strange filler ingredient that you see on junk food labels, like carageenan or guar gum. His hands shook slightly as he unpeeled some stickers to give me, and for some reason I noticed his palms were weirdly, shockingly pink; the color of Bazooka gum, or certain dogs' assholes.

We made some more vaguely comprehensible small talk about various shows around town, but I was preoccupied with the thought that normally, this fellow was legendary for being almost impossible to get in touch with. Friends have traded stories of unbelievable frustrations about this guy, all revolving around his incredible talent for being extraordinarily elusive when it comes to contacting him. Then, today, I'm innocently walking home, and he all but crawls out of a manhole and grabs my leg.

This is really the wrong image I need to take with me as I go to sleep. Walking home happily, and then being clawed by some strange thing erupting from the nether depths. "I'm made of guar gum and beet greens!" he is going to shriek in my dreams, this alarming, hungry C.H.U.D.

"Want a sticker?"

Boy, do I!

Monday, 07 June
Boy Versus Car

Growing up in a small town in Idaho, finding fun things to do with one's spare time was generally a challenge, and let's face it, rolling hoops with a stick or even shooting countless thing with BB guns gets pretty old pretty fast. The problem became worse once you hit high school, because really, high schoolers are evil little fucks with nearly boundless energy and frequent spasms of hopeless idiocy. You see the problems that can happen once you give the little bastards some car keys. But every parent does, at some point--God knows why. Then, all of a sudden, there's things to do.

Remember, however, this was a small town in Idaho. So "doing stuff," by our faulty, limited barometers, meant much less than it might to some. In the absence of genuinely interesting-to-teenagers stuff--video games, cable TV, urban unrest--our "doing stuff" mostly consisted of driving around, usually--it was devoutly to be hoped--while drinking beer.

What a really great idea. Drunk kids operating heavy machinery.

My first car was a really hilariously ugly blue Chevy Monza. It had this leatherette-y material that sheathed the top of the car, and it was stricken by some awful mange; my friends delighted in peeling raddled strips of the stuff off my car while I yelled at them. They rightly ignored me; it would be like telling them to not poke a corpse with a stick. Boys ruin things, and my car begged to be ruined.

One night while out in my car, driving listlessly through the dirt roads that spread everywhere beyond town limits--and where cops almost always weren't--we drank beer and listened to music and hassled each other. (If this sounds boring, it almost certainly was; the thing is, it beat utter inertia.) At some point, coming up on a turn, we spied a pickup truck parked by the side of the road. We were able to identify it immediately, of course; we knew pretty much every vehicle in town as well as who owned them. This one belonged to D., an upperclassman who while normally docile, had been known when piqued to unhesitatingly kick ass. We rolled up cautiously and said, "Hey, D. What's up?"

He stared at us flatly and took a drink of beer, saying nothing. The silence spun out ominously. We tried again. "So, out cruisin', huh?" Silence. D. took another pull on his beer. He didn't seem to be in a very good mood, and we were probably pissing him off by bothering him. He continued to stare at us intently, and I began to mentally evaluate who of us in the car was the fastest; I knew I could beat a couple of my friends in a footrace, so hopefully D. would expend all his beatdown energies on them.

Suddenly, D. crumpled his beer can and tossed it into the grass. Then he said, "Hang on," and opened his pickup door. Oh, fuck, here we go, I thought. He's going to pull us out of the car and bend us into terrible shapes.

But he didn't get out of the pickup. He calmly leaned out the door and emitted a powerful jet of acrid vomit onto the dirt. Then he sat back up in his seat again, pulling the door shut.

"Was waitin' for that. I could feel it." D. opened a fresh beer. "What's going on tonight?" he asked cheerfully. "Out cruisin'?"


-----


Another night found me and several of my responsible school chums attending a party at J.'s house, J.'s parents quite stupidly being out of town at the time, allowing us to abuse their place with the enthusiasm of a Mongol horde. J. ran about trying to prevent at least the most odious examples of behavior, wearing a disconsolate look of resignation: I and only I will be cleaning this shit up tomorrow.

There were bigger concerns than J.'s upcoming housecleaning tasks, however: the party had run out of beer. So the usual flurry of activity happened: money was collected, designees were assigned driving duties, and someone with a fake ID was summoned. B., he of the precious ID, was driving, and a few of us went along for some reason . . . who knows? It wasn't really a group effort, but high school kids travel in packs.

(To be honest, half the time the fake ID wasn't even necessary. Hell, I bought beer a few times, and I resembled an 18-year-old about as much as I did an officer in the Spetznaz. Most of the time, though, the flinty-eyed trailer queens behind the counter didn't really give a fuck. Yeah, here's your beer, you little shit, they no doubt thought, Go piss your life away. I did. C'mon back when you need a job.)

So B. and the other four or so of us, borrowing J.'s car, drove to the store, and beer was procured, and there was general good cheer all around in the car. So much good cheer that I suppose B. felt that a little celebration was in order. Spying a largish dirt lot off the road, B. turned into it and began whipping brodies in the lot. (For the uninitiated, this is making your car spin in circles fast.) This teenage tradition probably has a little to do with the fact that whipping brodies is, marginally, fun; and probably a lot to do with the fact that in a spinning car, many things fly around in the car and can fall all over you, things like high school girls.

So many brodies were whipped, and we screamed and laughed, and then B.--another venerable tradition--suddenly killed the headlights. We spun and spun, and the girls screamed and screamed, and it was TRA LA LA WE CAN DO NO WRONG!

That's when B., blind as the rest of us, spun the car over an eight-foot drop into a creekbed off the side of the road. There was a disgusting belly-plummet for a second, with some really piercingly authentic new screams along with it, and then WHA-RUNCH! (This tremendous noise was, I learned later, the drive train snapping like a skier's femur.)

Silence.

We finally climbed out of the car and stared at the sagging, dead beast, steaming impotently into the night. "Dude" was said, many times. B. looked particularly ashen, as He Was The Driver. And that's when, as high school students, we well and truly acted according to our natures.

"I . . . I gotta go . . ." "Yeah, I'm freaked . . . " "Oh, geez, I, uh . . . I don't wanna . . . "

Yes, we were foul little weasels, and one by one we mumbled our way away from B., as if he were the carrier of some unspeakable disease that we wanted no part of. And he was, of course: that disease was called responsibility, and to a teenager, there's nothing worse. We scuttled into the night, leaving B. to his lonely, doomed trek back to J.'s, to explain to him how J. didn't own a car any more.


-----


Finally, one last night, again back in the piebald Monza, driving around on the back roads with my girlfriend at the time, K. K. and I hadn't been going out long (and we wouldn't last long), so just the novelty of being in the car together, driving nowhere at all, was enough to somehow entertain us. For a while. Then, of course, my brain remembered that I was a teenaged boy, and so promptly directed me to start acting stupidly.

The roads we were on were sort of familiar to me, but not that familiar; I knew enough that I wasn't going to get lost, but not well enough to know all the details about the terrain. This sounds like the perfect place to drive recklessly, doesn't it? Sure it did. So to give us some thrills, I started driving very, very fast, taking exciting corners at unwise speeds and otherwise just going like a bat out of hell. It was exhilarating, and K. jumped and screamed adorably, and I was having a helluva time. I accelerated some more, as we were on a pretty straight stretch for as far as I could see. We were probably doing over 50 on those lonely dirt roads, some terrible music playing in my stereo.

Then we hit the train tracks.

The train tracks weren't even the big deal, you see, apart from just abusing my poor old car's suspension a bit. Kind of a rattle to ride over, but not that much of a biggie, right? Well, the thing was, it wasn't hitting the train tracks that did any damage; it was what the train tracks meant. As I mentioned, I was driving roads that I wasn't all that familiar with, but the moment I felt the tracks, I remembered what was immediately after the train tracks: one of those sharp, precipitous dropoffs in the road, the kind you see in San Franscisco. And in that famous time-dilation you experience right when everything goes hellishly wrong, I had time to remember, Oh Christ the road just drops out from under you five feet after the tracks . . . I also had time to scream, "HANG ON! I'M SORRY!"

And then we were airborne. I think I invented new forms of poetry in my head as we sailed; odes filled with pleading and grief, lamentations of lost promise, sestinas that described the precise geometry of fucking up. It went on for the standard eternity.

KA-WHAAAAM! My poor, tormented Monza finally hit the gravel with tremendous force; we jounced wildly in our seats. I noted with some surprise that on impact, both car doors suddenly popped wide open, and I was also shocked to see my cassette player violently spit the tape that had been playing all the way into the back seat. The dashboard lit up spasmodically, the equivalent of the car throwing up its hands in disgust, and the engine coughed and died. We rolled to an unsteady stop, the car doors waving in the slight breeze like unsightly giant ears.

We sat for a moment, and I heard K. breathing harshly with shock, and starting to settle into some good sniffles. For my part, I was still gripping the steering wheel, and laughing. Weakly, but still pretty hard, considering. I was laughing, laughing into that vast night, because we had sailed stupidly up to the edge of mortality, had stared the beast in its maw, and we had come back to tell about it; the oldest story, and the best story.

That's all rank horseshit, of course. I was laughing because I couldn't believe my tape player had barfed that cassette all the way into the back seat. The back seat! I thought, continuing to wheeze. That's the funniest fucking thing I've ever seen in my life.

Wednesday, 02 June
Their Otis Wants To Party All The Time

Back to work today after five sweet days of freedom, and you can just call me Cap'n Ugh. Waking up at 7:00? Ugh. Feeling like death after drinking for eight hours the previous day? Ugh. Fielding calls about gastric tumors? CAP'N UGH! Fuck, I felt like a gastric tumor. Which doesn't go over well with co-workers. "Hey, Skot, how you doing?" "I feel like a gastric tumor." "Ugh!" "Yes, that's me, but please address me as 'Cap'n.' Honorifics are all I've got today."

We threw an overdue housewarming party on Memorial Day, you see, hence this week's excuse for drinking for eight hours. We planned everything perfectly! Except for the part where the condo also threw a big party for all the tenants to celebrate our new refurbished deck. Fuck. So right outside our sliding glass door was an enormous, slow-moving party attended by the various geriatrics who live around me, slowly conga-lining while waving their canes rapturously. And that guy in 4D! He really tarted up his iron lung for the occasion. Really, though, the best thing was watching my guests try and find our place: see, the condo party was based in the rec room next door to ours, so my guests kept wandering in there, mistaking it for our party, only to be confronted by people like Googly-Eyed Man Who Will Not Say Hello and Boisterous Board Member Who Wears Coconut Bikinis. Our guests soon realized their horrible mistake, and usually emerged looking rather shattered by the encounter, and I of course laughed at their misfortune. This may explain the utter lack of housewarming gifts.

The party went very well, and exceeded our every expectation, as I think 40 or 50 people cycled in and out before the evening was done. We had prepared a taco feed, with homemade margaritas and Bloody Marys, and these were all mercilessly pillaged with the unsurprising ferocity and raw speed you commonly find in a whole bunch of stage actors. Actors, you see, have no useful real-world talents, and thus tend to find themselves enmired in horrifying, unrewarding, low-paying jobs, and so tend to regard free food and booze in the same way that starving cougars think of free range babies. I'm generalizing, of course. Not all actors are dumb meat-golems who donate plasma every month in order to afford rice. Some are debauched, scabby deviants who somehow miraculously stumble into jobs that they are supremely undeserving of, yet through some manner of baffling hoodoo, manage to retain. I cite, of course, me.

Anyway. At some point, a couple of the wife's work-friends showed up, and they brought their little two-year-old Otis. (Normally, I wouldn't use his name, but come on, he's named Otis. That's outstanding.) Otis didn't really care about anything going on around him, least of all stuporous, fumbling adults, but did really enjoy this weird alligator toy that shimmies along the ground. He also enjoyed punching random buttons on my home electronics, which earned him a soft tackle from Dad, as he nearly reprogrammed my DVD player to endlessly loop "Thirteen Erotic Ghosts" with subtitles in Farsi. We attempted to fascinate the child by throwing on some DVDs of The Muppet Show, which he immediately dismissed in favor of more alligator shimmy-action, so that left the rest of us glumly watching Elton John singing "Crocodile Rock," at least until they showed closeups of Animal maniacally smashing his drum kit, which elicited cheers. I am deeply wary of anyone who doesn't like Animal.

Later, another friend decided to hook up the GameCube and play some Resident Evil. Weirdly, people enjoyed watching this as well, particularly when the player was savagely eaten by a zombie. It's kind of freaky watching an entire living room's worth of people get enthusiastic about arterial spray. Apparently tired of being hapless zombie-dinner, she switched to Spider-Man, and entertained us a bit longer by routinely making Spidey fall to his death with substandard webslinging skills. Finally, my friend C. took over the reins, and loaded in some awful Star Wars game I bought early on. I told him, "That one's really hard, dude." But C. was very confident. C. was also terribly mistaken, and I watched him plow several pixilated X-wing fighters into unforgiving earth.

Finally, the partygoers cleared out, one by one, and the wife and I puttered about, did some dishes, et cetera. Our next door neighbor--a very nice gay man--tottered over to our place to congratulate us on a nice event, and enthusiastically offered to help us out if we ever needed help "gardening"--a rather mystifying offer, considering that our deck is solid concrete, so I suppose he meant our wan, straining plants that sit blinking in their unflashy, crummy pots outside our door. To emphasize his depth of feeling on the matter, our neighbor (who was really quite crocked on red wine) kissed me enthusiastically on the cheek. "I'll buy the soil!" he muzzily assured me, waving vaguely at my horrible little plants. Oh, hot pants! You kiss me with that mouth?

Really, the whole evening was so dynamic and interesting, I've decided to immortalize it in a comic book. Look for the new title "Cap'n Ugh," distributed by Shimmying Alligator press. We've got this great editor. Otis.

You really can't go wrong with anyone named Otis. I just decided that.

Friday, 28 May
Idle Hands

Hello hello from No-Work-Land! I took a couple days off work because (a) a five-day vacation on Memorial Day weekend sounded just luscious, and (b) the IT staff is busy all weekend doing something incomprehensible like defrumulating the servers, or upgrading our bangsisters, or something. Anyway, the upshot is that all of our computer services are totally and completely hosed until Tuesday. I did have the option of going to work anyway--with NO COMPUTERS AT ALL, meaning no netsurfing or solitaire or even actual work--which would have meant doing really entertaining things like updating manual registration forms, or proofreading SOPs, or gloomily beating off in the restroom. No thanks. All of those things are exactly as boring as they sound, except for the beating off in the bathroom, which is really depressing as well as being boring. So I just bailed and took some time off.

I've already entertained myself by calling the bosslady and torturing her about what a good time I've been having. "What are you doing, Bosslady?" "I'm training Caftan Guy on forms development. What are you doing?" "I'm drinking a cognac and watching a baseball game. HA!" I could hear the Bosslady slump. "You bastard," she breathed. "I'm stuck here with Caftan Guy, and you're lounging around being a louche. I'm miserable." I felt badly for her. "Why?" I said. "He loves learning forms development! He's nothing like you--he's interested in learning his job! I can't stand it. He's ecstatic." She sounded like a broken woman, and I took pity. "Go tell him to go jerk off in the bathroom. It's incredibly depressing. He'll come back looking like a whipped dog."

I hung up and helped myself to more cognac, and then the wife and I watched the execrable movie The Transporter, which was so dire and wretched that I was immediately moved to drink more cognac. In a funk after this cinematic fumblefuck, I was moved to call work again and check in.

"Bosslady!" I cried, after she picked up; "How goes it with Caftan Guy?" She sounded calmer and a little smug. "It's fine. He came back from the restroom all red-faced and gloomy. He kept rubbing his hands on his green corduroys." I shuddered. When Caftan Guy eschewed his caftan, he usually chose sartorially suspect garments made of things like felt or crinoline. Once he came to work wearing only a thick coat of axle grease.

Bosslady continued. "The hell of it is, he's still trying to better himself. He clearly failed at the masturbation attempt--he looks like he saw Liza Minnelli in there--but he's still pestering me about manual registrations. I don't think I can take this any more."

I pityingly gave her the final solution. "Look. Go to a video store and rent The Transporter. I guarantee it will make him want to die. Nobody can function clearly after seeing that piece of horseshit."

"But you saw it!" she cried. "How do I know it'll work?"

I paused. "Listen. Compared to Caftan Guy, I'm Zeus. And look at what a paltry statement that is. Just show him the movie. I'm going to sit here and eat pickled beans and drink scotch. Actually, Jesus, I'm on vacation. Leave me the fuck alone, all right?"

I hated to be so abrupt, but come on--I'm on my own time.

Today's morning headlines concentrated on a man found dead, lying in his own filth, wearing a dashiki. He was only inches away from a television locked in an endless loop playing The Transporter. The victim had, as the stations reported, no eyes left after they had blasted outward onto the wall. The only comment from the recovering officer was, "It's really a shame . . . to die like that watching such crap. Jesus Christ, look at this boy's clothes. Horrible."

"But not as horrible as this goddamn movie. I paid nine bucks to see that shit. They played a sax solo, for God's sake, during that underwater scene. Christ, what a pile." The officer brushed away tears. "Look at this boy," he whispered again. "Dumb fucker. I'm surprised he isn't wearing a caftan."

Wednesday, 26 May
Mean Street

Last night the wife and I chose the venerated path of righteous laziness and decided to go out to to a local C-average Mexican restaurant rather than confront our rather denuded fridge. The path is not always an easy path.

For one thing, it's not so much a path when you drive there. Confronted with the choice of making the journey (a crushing 15 minute walk! Uphill! In the . . . balmy evening!), we wisely chose to take the car rather than risk anything like shin splints, rapid breaths, or exertion of any kind. We went down to the garage and climbed into our sad, embarrassed car, which huddles amongst the gleaming SUVs, BMWs and assorted other beautiful vehicles, trying not to be noticed.

In the Harry Potter books, which I have been reading lately (I have this thing about resisting literary phenomenons until the fire has died down--it's stupid), and enjoying, the little wiz-kiddies all have wonderful pet familiars, such as Harry's gorgeous owl or Hermione's disturbingly ugly (but nimble) cat.

In this context, our car is Ron Weasley's narcoleptic, tatterdemalion rat named Scabbers. The rat, I mean, is named Scabbers. Our car is named "car." But I might secretly start calling it Scabbers as a tribute.

I kind of get off on Scabbers. The rat. The car, eh, not so much.

Anyway. We drove up to 15th and found some parking, and I locked up Scabbers, who sat there looking forlorn as usual, with his ass pointing right at a shiny white sports car. Be proud, Scabbers! Your ass is literally right up in that fucker's grill. (I think ill of people who have nice cars, mainly out of purest jealously. I'd like to have a nice car, but I'd really rather not pay for it. So in the end, it's much easier--not to mention vastly cheaper--to simply resent people I've never met.)

And so we walked a block or so, heading towards the restaurant; I had visions of Cadillac margaritas tickling my skull, which probably made me careless. Normally, I'd be more adept at picking up danger signals, but not that night. We approached a coffee shop, whose doors were flung wide, and patrons spilled out onto the sidewalk, sitting at little round tables. They were all looking inside, not having individual conversations or anything: they were being attentive to something.

I failed to pick up on all these dire clues, and before I knew it, I was writhing on the sidewalk, screaming in agony. You see, the coffee shop was having an open mic poetry night. And I walked right into its awful-rays emanating from the open doors. "Bone in the night/And brass in the day/She ate my hair then/Parchment will not stay." I saw a young man with curly hair saying this into the microphone, and I flopped about like a mackerel, horribly aware that I had let my guard slip. The wife, clearly enjoying my tendon-snapping throes, laughed gaily at my misery; she's a peach, but every now and then she gets back at me for my habit of fraudulently insisting that she is "stinky." This was one of those times, and she cackled as I wailed: "MAKE HIM STOP! THIS IS 2004! ALL THE COFFEEHOUSE POETRY READERS SHOULD HAVE BEEN MURDERED BY NOW!"

My bad assumption. The torture continued. "Slippery night/Overbite/I remember Ted Knight." I beat the sidewalk helplessly with flailing arms, inadvertantly achieving a rather nice 7/8 rhythm that was lost on the rest of the onlookers, who soon turned away from my suffering for more, more ghastly verse. "Deep under the night-awning, I surrendered to mercy/Before emerging once more to clean the soul-gutters/That were so beautifully filled with weeping leaves of light/It is a rape." I confess without shame that it was here I passed out.

The wife told me later that she finally took pity on me--being unconscious and all--and rescued me by kicking me stoutly in the ribs until I had rolled out of earshot of the poetrocities. I woke up in the restaurant, staring at a plate of crisp tacos and a nicely sweating glass full of margarita.

"You blacked out," she said nonchalantly. "Eat your tacos."

"I don't know if I can eat after that," I whined. "Plus, my ribs hurt to fuck."

"Poetry," she replied in a wintry tone, "it can fuck you up. The old guys knew that. Maybe you learned something tonight."

I sure did. I can make my own goddamn tacos at home from now on.

Wednesday, 28 April
Pantheon And On

God: All right, settle down, folks. Let's bring this to order.

Zeus: Listen, I'm sorry, but seriously, I have to bring this up again. (Everyone else moans.) Seriously! Why is this fucking guy always in charge?

God: Demographics. I'm a wise old white guy. And, of course, American. Duh. Let's move on. How did we do today?

Vishnu: Pretty rad. I fucked up all kinds of shit.

Allah: (Desolately) Yeah, rad. Thanks a whole fucking lot for that. (Allah slumps.)

Buddha: Hey, don't go there, man. It's all good.

Allah: It was just another pisser of a day. Jesus Christ. (There is an awkward pause. To God:) Look, sorry about that, but you really are kind of a dong, you know?

God: (Mildly) I get that a lot.

Apollo: Yeah, well, don't mind me. I just pulled the fucking sun around all goddam day. Again. Do you have any idea how much vacation time I have piled up?

Prometheus: (His liver is being eaten by vultures.) Oh, yes, cry me a river, tan-boy.

Brahma: (Serenely) The wheel spins. All that is will become again.

Jerry Garcia: Yeah! Right on!

Zeus: I'm going to ask again: What the fuck is this guy doing here?

God: It was him or Eric Clapton, first to die wins. There you go.

Bacchus: Look, I don't give a shit, but he can't play any more, all right? It's impossible to keep a boner going with this burnout fumbling through "Truckin'."

Aphrodite: (Drily) Yes. Your poor "boners." You have it real tough. (She glares at Haephestus, who is picking his teeth with a Raelian. She laughs despite herself.) Haef, what are you doing?

Haephestus: What? These guys are totally disposable.

God: All right! Let's rein it in! First on the agenda is . . . (he looks) ugh. Seattle? Didn't I wipe those geeks and junkies out?

Buddha: Harsh.

Balder: Uh, sorry, that was me. (Everyone stares at him.) What? Ever since Boeing split, they make some quality combs. You have no idea how hard it is to find a good comb.

Zeus: Listen, we made some progress today. I understand that Thor kicked some serious ass.

Thor: Yeah, I made a windstorm. That was fucking tough. Tomorrow I hope to complete a children's crossword.

God: All right, settle down. Give me the skinny. Did shit get fucked up? Loki?

Loki: Oh, hell yeah! I knocked down Kurruk's plant!

(Pause.)

Vishnu: Are you serious?

Loki: Yeah! That Skot guy? He's a tool. So I knocked over a peony. Soil went everywhere! It was kind of barky soil, too.

Allah: (Venemously) Gee, I hope he didn't shoot himself out of despair.

Loki: (Defensively) Well . . . he kind of glared.

Zeus: Oh, Loki. When did you lose your talent for this job?

Loki: I've been a little depressed since Friends got cancelled.

Haephestus: (Out of nowhere) You know what's also good for picking your teeth? Mormons. Mormons are pointy.

(There is a vast silence.)

Haephestus: Well, they are.

Thursday, 15 April
You Can't Spell "Piss" Without I, S or P

Hey hey! Guess who has restored home access on his fossil of a computer? Thanks to the tireless efforts of George Clooney my friend P., the little iMac that decidedly couldn't now barely can. Yay!

Turns out that in the Big Data Catastrophe that occurred when the wife attempted the unheard-of task of emailing a document to someone, the bloody fucking Earthlink configuration went all blooey. (Well, among other things. I myself undertook the Herculean task of resetting the modem . . . uh . . . stuff. At one point, I addressed it as "You whore." I talk to modems.) This whole fucking thing was so incredibly opaque not only to me, but also to friend P., who remarked, "I don't have any idea what happened here." This is to me a total summation of all things broken-computery. Imagine meeting a surgeon after he's operated on your kid: "I don't have any idea what happened here." "But is he okay?" "Oh, yeah, he's fine. It was the coolest thing. He was just about to die, but then I put a walnut in his shoe." "What?" "Yeah, I don't know either, but it worked. He's outside playing soccer; you can go pick him up."

One result of this capacitorial voodoo was me resolving to get rid of the Earthlink account. So I went to their site to cancel my account, reasoning with no small amount of idiocy that they were conversant with the usefulness of the Internet. Not at all! "To cancel your account, call this number." Of course. I knew what was coming: the hard sell to not drop the account. Some companies are just galling as shit. It's like going shopping, and then being met by someone standing in front of the door. "Are you sure you're done? You didn't get any watercress!" "I don't want any watercress." "Wait here. I'll get you some discount watercress."

Sure enough. After an interminable hold period, which, unbelievably, made me nostalgic for the days of soft jazz--now it's "DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THESE NEW FEATURES? I MIGHT COME IN MY PANTS JUST TELLING YOU ABOUT THEM! AND I'M ONLY A RECORDING!"--I got an actual human. "I need to cancel my account." "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that!" "Ah--" "Please hold while I transfer you." Because of course I hadn't picked the right phone menu option. There's a reason for that. There is no menu option for canceling your account. So you just pick the least stupid of options, which is of course wrong. I waited and listened to the automated voices hector me about their fabulous services. To hear Earthlink's annoy-o-bots tell it, they'd come give me rapturous blowjobs for the right price.

Another alleged human eventually came on the line, and I told her I needed to cancel my account. She sounded exactly like the first woman: "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. May I ask why?" I imagined her with puppy eyes, and of course lied. "My computer died rather spectacularly." "Oh, dear," she said. "You know, we can hold your account for a while at no charge . . ." Uh huh. Read: And we will activate the charges again in a few months. "Really, that's okay. I don't even like to talk about the crash. Many lives were lost. I should just cancel, thank you." But she was a pro. "Is there any way that we can help you? We have a big staff, maybe we can help you out with your crash. Let me ask you: do you need some fresh watercress?"

It was time to bring out the big guns. I jovially explained to her that the crash was actually very freeing, as it gave me an opportunity to use the innovative global communications method I had personally invented that involved a sophisticated system of amplified yodels and convulsive dance steps, all relayed by a complicated network of unemployed Bulgarian circus performers that I had cagily deployed all over the globe. She was unfazed.

"Mr. Kurruk," she breathed, "give Earthlink one last chance. I will personally come over to your house and suck the hair right off of your balls." I pointed out to her that I was recently married. "It's no problem," she replied, "she's just old meat. We here at Earthlink have killed for less. Have you visited our 'crush video' archives? Yesterday we filmed Marla Sokoloff getting a Buick dropped on her and streamed it live to our customers."

I thought about that for a while. Then I said, "I sure appreciate it. But I really ought to just cancel." I could almost hear her slump. "Yes, sir," she sighed. "I'll take care of that." I heard her typing, and I felt kind of bad. "I'm sorry," I said lamely. She brightened a bit. "Oh, it's okay. I feel bad too. You're missing out on some fucking stellar watercress."

Friday, 12 March
The (Non-BBC) Office

Tom sat nervously in his chair, facing the kind-faced doctor. He fidgeted a bit, looking gloomy. The doctor leaned forward.

"Please try not to worry," the doctor said consolingly. "We don't know anything yet. Would you like a beer?" He gestured at a row of taps on his desk. "The Mirror Pond is really nice. They're only four dollars."

Tom stared woefully at the taps and declined. "No thank you. I just want the results." HMOs were getting pretty weird in their hopeless battle against their image of utter rapacity and uncaringness towards their patients. Tom had already declined--twice--offers of complimentary peanuts.

"We should know soon. The pathology results will be in any moment." The doctor smiled again, and settled back in his leather chair.

"It's just this fucking lump," moaned Tom, "It's really got me worried."

"In your throat, you said," said the doctor. "It could be a lot of things. For example: have you had a traumatizing event recently? A cause for grief? These often manifest as a 'lump in the throat.' "

"Well . . . Wizzles died. My cat." Tom fought tears.

"Ah . . . a cat. Well, I can probably rule out simple grief, then. Cats are awful pets." The doctor smiled reassuringly as Tom stared at him. The doctor proudly tapped on the diploma framed behind him on the wall. "The Lithuanian Mob doesn't just hand out these medical licenses, you know."

Out the window facing the hallway, a sudden commotion broke out towards the pathology lab. The doctor stood up, while Tom chewed his tongue fearfully. "Here we go," said the doctor. "I think we have something." He moved towards an easel with a number of checkboxes on it. He grabbed a grease pencil.

Out of the path lab burst a number of young women. They looked terribly serious, and soon stopped after spotting the doctor eyeing them. One of them took out a red sweater and began waving it madly at the doctor. The doctor consulted his notes.

"I see! Ah . . . let me look here . . . okay, biopsy results are . . . oh, dear. Red sweater?" He looked again at the woman, and sighed. "Red sweater. I'm sorry, Tom. You apparently have B-cell follicular lymphoma." He checked the appropriate box with the grease pencil. "I'm sorry."

Tom felt like otters were gnawing on his ribs. "Jesus Christ. What? What the fuck are those people doing? Lymphoma?"

"Try to remain calm, Tom. Those are my assistants, just relaying the information as it comes in. Oh, now what is Tracy doing?" Tom glanced down the hall and saw a fetching young woman doing the Mashed Potato.

"Mashed Potato," muttered the doctor, poring over his charts. "Ah, basal cell carcinoma. That's no trouble. You just scrape that crap off. Are you sure you don't want a beer? It might be the last one you enjoy once the chemo starts." The doctor looked genuinely accomodating.

"Chemo?" Tom croaked. This was all going too fast, too badly, like an Adam Sandler movie.

"Oh, yes," cooed the doctor. "So far, you're very treatable. The standard regimen for what you've got is called CHOP. It's an acronym for several chemicals that I have a hard time remembering after my 'lunch.' " Here the doctor chuckled and made the "drinky-drinky" gesture. And depending on your CD20 positivity, we may throw in something kicky like Rituxan, which is really, you know . . . " He trailed off and made vague "big dick" gestures. "It's, like, wow." Tom was totally unnerved.

"CHOP? And . . . rit . . . rit . . . " he stammered.

"Rituxan. Or, using the shorthand, CHOP/R," the doctor said coolly.

"CHOPPER?"

"CHOP plus R," the doctor clarified. "I guess nobody could make a cool-sounding acronym out of C, H, O, P, R."

"How about PORCH?" Tom said helplessly, wondering if he was on some horrible, soulless FOX program.

The doctor shot him a wintry look. "PORCH is a terrible acronym for a chemo regimen. What's wrong with you?" His look of scorn shamed Tom, and he hung his head. "PORCH," spat the doctor with real hatred. "A word of advice: stay out of medicine, young man."

Tom sat miserably. He wished he had had that beer after all. There was another tumult down the hall, and he looked up. So did the doctor.

"Now Amber has something for me." He stared at another young woman. She wore some sort of handkerchief in her back pocket, and was frantically waving her ass at the doctor. His expression hardened. He looked at Tom.

"Did you see that? That handkerchief?" The doctor wore an ugly face on his ugly face. He was upset about something.

"Yes," Tom replied haltingly. "Is it more bad news?"

The doctor said stonily, "It's terrible news." He paused for dramatic effect. "You apparently are a bottom who enjoys fisting."

Tom slumped. Boy, he thought, I hate CNBC's health plan.

Monday, 20 October
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.

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?"

Yeah.

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.

Monday, 15 September
Easy Like Sunday Afternoon

Much to my glee--and my wife's despair--NFL is back, which means my Sundays are suddenly lush oases in the deserts of my weeks. I really try to make the most of them. Yesterday was no exception.

Promptly at 10:00, the bedclothes suddenly erupted as a form sprang from the mattress, ready and eager to get started with the day. It was, of course, the wife; I hunched deeper into the blankets and clawed at the pillows. I eagerly went back to my fascinating dream about consumer electronics while the ludicrously insomniac wife went into the living room to watch Kieslowski's Red while doing some gentle yoga. Really. The TV sneered about it later to me privately. "You know what your fucking woman had me doing earlier?" "What?" I said. "She made me play a foreign-language film!" it fumed. "But there was football on!" I cried in outrage. "I know," replied the TV, "it really pissed me off. We'll see how she likes it on Wednesday. I'm gonna make everyone on The West Wing look like angry gophers." "That's not such a stretch," I told the fulminating appliance. "Look, must you piss on everything I do?" I let it drop.

Anyway. I snapped on the game, and there it was, a Circus Maximus with Gatorade: the mighty Seattle Seahawks versus the tremendous Arizona Cardinals. I whooped with glee. "This is going to be a terrible game!" I cried. "It's like wheelchair tennis!" (For those not in the know, these two teams consistently rank . . . well, let's just say that they're consistently rank.) Even the sportscasters seemed depressed about the hopeless spectacle about to unravel in front of them; they squawked torpidly about the incredible heat--it was topping 105 in Arizona--and lamely tried to generate enthusiasm about these two teams that nobody cares about. "Arizona is trying to build a team around some of these youngsters!" said one of the goons. Translation: they lost or frantically sold all their good players (again), and are now working with a fresh batch of untested nobodies. Then they sat silently for a while, inwardly groaning over this terrible assignment they'd drawn. It must have been clear to these men how low in the pecking order they were to be sent to this blasted, heat-whipped terrain; it would be like getting hired by the Washington Post and then getting sent to cover plankton harvesting in Banff. Horribly, I recognized one of the poor bastards; so did the wife, in a rare moment of non-screen-avoidance: "Isn't that the guy from BattleBots?" Yes, it was.

And Arizona could have used some murderous robots yesterday, it's true; adopting an overtly supine position almost immediately, Arizona's geisha-like play allowed the Seahawks to gracelessly back-walk them into paralysis: Seattle scored more or less at will, particularly the defense, which was for the best, because Hawks QB Matt Hasselbeck can frequently be seen wildly throwing the football at anything, anything not resembling a receiver. At one point, an airplane flew over the stadium, and Matt launched a mighty pass skyward, where it described a lonely parabola before impacting on a hot dog vendor, who was ironically just then treating Shaun Alexander to a foot-long. The referees ruled it a touchdown, and the Cardinals dully accepted the bad call, and then prepared some iced tea for the exhausted Seattle players. Seahawks head coach and Emperor of the Galaxy complained about the lack of sugar and demanded some cucumber sandwiches, which were hurriedly delivered.

As halftime loomed, and the broadcast readied itself to blast me with highlights of other games with actual action and genuine fan bases, I prepared a Bloody Mary, a Sunday ritual. It's going to be a lazy afternoon, I thought lazily. I couldn't have been more wrong.

There was a staccato rap at the door, and I curiously went to open it. I was immediately confronted by a ravaged face under a boater's hat, and a long cigarette holder dangled vertiginously from a tight mouth. The thing spoke. "You have to let me in," it rasped, "the bastards are hot on my tail. I tried to appease them with promises of swaybacked, broken hookers, but the swine won't see reason. They're coming after me with hooks."

I casually opened the door wide. "Want a Bloody Mary?" Because it seemed like a good way to pacify the good Doctor.

"Christ, yes," he moaned, walking into the room in a flood of smoke. "I left the tequila in the limo. The ape can have it." He dropped a dirty duffelbag on the ground as I poured the drink.

"The ape?" I asked.

"Research," he growled, "I can't talk about it. Let's just say that the backfuckers at RAND Corporation are getting a large bill. Shit-eating bats!"

"Ah." We sat for a moment, greedily sucking down our drinks, a potent mixture of my own devising. He seemed to relish it.

"Nutrients," he croaked, holding his glass up to the light. He tapped it with a long forefinger. "Black pepper and garlic! Good for the gums. What are we watching?" He craned around to the television.

"Seattle at Arizona," I said glumly.

"What!" he screamed furiously. "Avian skags fighting for lunch money! This is not a football game!" His eyes popped angrily. "Vegas won't even take money on this game, and I know, because I bet on all of them! When I tried to bet on this wretched fuckaround, the guy laughed and told me there was more action in curling."

He lurched at his duffelbag and extracted a damp-looking rag, which he began gnawing on fitfully. He glanced at the screen and noticed Matt Hasselbeck throwing the football at some cheerleaders. "Hopeless," he grunted between bites of the rag, "Not even human. Just some shaved thing they found in Kuala Lampur. I have the documents. At night he sucks Holmgren's toes and eats spiders. You want some of this?" He suddenly held out the rag to me.

"What is it?" I stared at the sodden thing, which smelled of smoke and chemicals.

"Ovine Growth Hormone," he cackled. "Sandoz Labs gives me samples for the ranch."

"Isn't this for sheep?" I said.

"Never mind that. This is medicine! There's no other way we can watch this terrible game," he explained earnestly. "It'll jelly your spine. You'd better pour another Bloody Mary, too."

I shrugged. Who was I to say no? "As long as you think it's okay."

He smiled. "Fuck, son, don't worry about a thing. I'm a Doctor."

[Editor's note: It is, of course, the stupidest thing imaginable to try and emulate the voice of someone who is, it has been amply demonstrated before, totally singular. And I have, of course, failed as well. However, as this scenario has been an old fantasy of mine, I indulged it. Take it as you will. Oh, and to the Doctor, as always,res ipsa loquitur.]

Wednesday, 03 September
Transinaction

I once again took an adventurous journey into the local liquor store today, which features the Appalling State Liquor Clerk. He was, of course, the only one there, so it was impossible to duck him. The conversation was, as usual, typically perverse and unpleasant, not to mention outrageously overlong, as the government-issue credit card machinery was behaving chaotically; we stood there staring at the tiny box for a while, waiting for digital concordance to happen. Inevitably, the guy began making his inimitable version of vaguely human conversation.

"You enjoying this weather?" he inquired; I was immediately suspicious. This sort of banality is distressingly normal, and nothing this man says ever is.

"Well, I wouldn't mind if it was a little cooler when I walk all the way up from the bottom of Denny," I offered gamely. I silently willed the credit card boxlet to give up its Get Out Of Jail beep, but it kept its smug vigil.

"This is nothing compared to where I grew up!" He shook his eyebrows at me and grinned with the demeanor of a man about to tell a Very Great Tale; you know, a really exciting tale like Where I Grew Up. He clearly was going to force a response from me.

"And where was that?" Abject surrender on my part. I said this in the tone of voice that anyone else would recognize as vast, arctic incuriosity, but he continued merrily. The boxlet still hunched malevolently on the counter, bulging with silent strain, like a dwarf attempting to suppress an immense fart.

"Central California!" he bellowed gleefully, because how exciting is that? Nobody else ever grew up in central California! He's totally fucking unique in the universe! I really had no response to this at all, and was starting to get edgy, which is never good, because then I start to behave erratically.

"You're a heat warrior!" I exclaimed, perfectly erratically.

What the fuck is wrong with me? I heard myself ask myself. I don't know, I answered myself. I was starting to feel my neutrons decay.

But he was no stranger, apparently, to febrile outbursts of nonsense, and responded in kind. "At least I've got my Alice Cooper playing," he said, and stared off at the speakers. I noticed, indeed, he was playing Alice Cooper. I think it was "Cold Ethyl." Not the sort of thing you expect to hear in a state-owned facility; REO Speedwagon maybe. Another customer lined up behind me and took up his hopeless post; the clerk was still staring reverently at the speakers.

"Fucking TIMELESS!" he suddenly cried, apparently overcome with the ineffable Joy of Alice Cooper commingled with perhaps some resentment that the man's genius has not been adequately recognized in our time. I glanced back at the other customer, who appeared totally unfazed by the sudden outburst, which for him surely lacked context. Another regular, I thought.

The clerk continued babbling: "Him and that other guy. He kinda looks like Alice Cooper," he said. He looked at me for help. "You know?"

Jesus. Of course not. I took my best shot. "Marilyn Manson?"

"Naw!" he snorted dismissively. "Not that guy, the other guy." Pause. Then he got it. "Ted Nugent!"

Ted Nugent looks like Alice Cooper? What? Look, just say nothing.

"Ted Nugent, man, yeah, totally all about guns, and hunting, and . . . " he trailed off for a second before completing his thought. " . . . and fuck vegans, man." He smiled beatifically at this. I stood still, rigid with Weirdness. The other customer remained consumed with ennui.

The boxlet finally coughed out its release. He handed me my receipt, and I wandered nervelessly out the door.

"Pretty nice day out there, huh?" I heard the clerk greet the new customer.

Run! Run, stupid!

"Yeah, it's pretty hot out there," the guy replied.

He's finished. Wolves will gnaw his carcass. Just go home.

Thank God for the whiskey.

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.

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."

Tuesday, 29 July
Noir Dire

I sat in my dusty cubicle looking out the window at the noonday sun and thought about going downstairs for a gasper, but the oppressive heat changed my mind. Walking outside was like entering the center of a freshly baked pie, and the winos and the skells would be down in the gulag, puking freshets and rapping their scabbed knuckles on the chain link. Nothing I couldn't handle. Those mooks from Cytogenetics were all talk.

But what I needed was a job. The phone hadn't rang in months and my dame was nagging me about it. I leaned back in my chair and fetched a bottle of Mr. Pibb from my desk drawer and took a long pull. It wasn't whisky, but it would have to do. I tugged the brim of my fedora down and settled in for forty winks while wrapped in the embrace of my battered trenchcoat.

Moments later, there was a rustle of fabric and a gentle tapping at my half-wall. I peered up from under my hat and checked out a broad. I knew her. I knew her well. Well enough to know that she was trouble. Angie. She slinked around the corner of the cube, hips moving under her Dockers. She gave me a smile like an Escoffier recipe: saucy and impenetrable. She wanted something.

"Kurruk," she said in a voice like a sack of tenpenny nails dropping into a vat of sweet molasses. The Estonian plosives of my name sounded good in her mouth. Too good. "I have a job for you."

I let the corners of my mouth twitch up into a flinty smile. "A job, huh. What brings little Angie slumming all the way down from glitzy, ritzy AppDev to my humble little flop?" I motioned for her to take a seat, remembering too late that I only had the one chair.

"This project," she said, her mouth disgorging the words like a mother bird feeding her young, "is delicate. That's why I came to you."

Right. Delicate. Skot Kurruk is about as delicate as a solid brass crapper, and she knew it. I let it pass with a hard smile and shot a Camel Ultra Light out of the pack. Delicate. I put the coffin nail in my mouth and then casually didn't light it, because of various workplace regulations.

She continued. "We've got this specimen tracking project," she breathed, probably in order to live, "and it's got to have everything. See, someone wants to send a tissue sample to a lab, and then the lab needs to log receiving it. But then say the lab needs to cut that sample into slides--"

"Stained or unstained?" I barked. It was all I knew about slides, but I wanted to knock her rhythm and see how she danced then.

"Who cares?" she said. Damn. She was a killer.

"Go on," I retorted. My unlit cigarette was getting damp.

"So they cut the tissue into slides, and then they send some of those slides to another lab. But it's all part of the same original sample, with the same identifier, but now it's actually two or three or for different samples--sometimes they're called aliquots--and maybe it's in two or three different places. You getting this?"

"Sure, babe." Pure chin-waggle. She was being as clear as Kurt Vonnegut.

"Good. That's the job. You need to figure it out." She pulled out a thick sheaf of greenbacks--what we in the trade call pieces of paper. "So, Skot," she purred and laid down the stack on my desk. "You think you can handle it?" Pure challenge.

I couldn't believe her guff. If she were a guy, I'd have him rubbing his jaw and picking himself off the floor by now in my mind. But I stayed cool and gave her another smile from my dusty gray filing cabinet of Damn Good Smiles. I reached inside my trenchcoat and pulled out my gat, a beauty I liked to call Bess. I held it up in the dusty fluorescent light, the metal cold and heavy in my hand.

"I think old Bessie and I can help you," I said, cooler than Zima. I put Bess down on the stack of papers and she winked in the light. Angie stared at it.

"That's one . . . big stapler," she breathed admiringly. She raised one eyebrow into the shape of a provocative, hairy tilde.

"Loaded for bear," I grunted. "You better scoot now, sugar," not actually saying "sugar" due to various workplace regulations. "I'll call you when I'm finished."

She squeezed out of the cube, then, pausing momentarily to run a finger over the broken thermostat regulator hanging from the wall. She looked back at me, a vision in khaki. "Thanks."

"It's my job." Snap of the brim, and she was gone. I looked down at the papers and heaved a sigh. My job isn't usually pretty, and this was no different. I was up to my armpits in stink, and I didn't have a menthol rub in sight.

I picked up Bess and started the worst of it: the wetwork. Bess screamed like metal falcon as she ate holes in the stacks of paper, her exit wounds neat and compact; Bess is a precision instrument, and it didn't take too long to achieve Max Collation. Finally, it was done, and I sat back wearily. I'm getting too damn old for this, I thought. I wondered about what to do next.

Aliquots, I thought. It sounded like . . . salvation. It also sounded like a brand of almonds, or possibly a remote South Sea island. Aliquots. Aliquots. I whispered the word in my mind as I slipped into a troubled doze.
Aliquots. I have no god damned idea what she's talking about.

And slept the sleep of the ignorant.

Thursday, 17 July
Buying Booze Made Miserable

At my local liquor store, the employees are friendly. And colorful. There is the hale red-faced man, who looks rather like a cross between a lumberjack and Gabe Kaplan. I'm pretty sure that for him, working in a liquor store is a lot like a boll weevil finding employ at the Gap; he always looks slightly boozed. Then there is the college-age kid, whose every expression bears the tale "The Boy Who Is Marking Time At This Idiotic Place," and always carries the demeanor of someone who is deeply ashamed at being made to wear a state-issue vest (liquor stores in Washington are, idiotically, run by the state, prompting non-insane people everywhere to wonder why the state government is in the business of booze retailing). There is also the very sweet, very homely transsexual (pre- or post-op I cannot, nay will not, speculate); it kind of cheers me up whenever I see her-not-him, because I figure jobs don't just fall out of the sky for patently obvious transsexuals.

And then there's the other guy. Where the others are all sort of endearing, this guy is emphatically not. He's probably in his late forties or early fifties, with a horrid greasy gray ponytail that sort of screams "aspiring child molester." His posture is notably slumped and weirdly non-Euclidian; when I see him walk, I have a vague urge to fling protractors at him. And he is utterly fireproof in terms of clue-obtainment; no matter how cold I am to him, no matter how insistently I look at anything but him, no matter if I fling myself into a Jim Beam display in order to avoid his approach, he will still talk to me. "Say! You sure fucked up my Jim Beam display! Hey, that reminds me, you ever done peyote?"

I'm only exaggerating a little bit. He really did ask me one day if I had done peyote, and then, before I could answer, launched into an account of his experiences with the divine puke-buttons. Another time, he noticed I was carrying a book with me (Dave Eggers' You Shall Know Our Velocity!, which is pretty much inferior in every way to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), and asked about it. "It's fine," I said curtly. He went on to inform me who his favorite authors were: Robert Ludlum and Louis L'Amour. "They died in the same year!" he continued. "I assume you had something to do with that," I wanted to say. (I have no idea if what he told me was true, because I frankly don't give a fuck.)

It's a statement about how difficult it must be to get fired from a state job that this guy is still around. He is clearly loathed by all the others; I have swapped many eyeball-rolls with them as the odious little shambling man has done things like scream "SHIT!" right there in the store when he drops something. I recently found out that the wife, when buying a bottle of whisky, endured comments to the effect that he enjoyed the idea of waking up next to a woman after a whisky-fueled night. And another time, he pointed out to me another customer whom he obviously disliked, and made jerk-off motions to indicate this. As my credit card transaction was being processed at the time, I managed to hold back the wracking sobs of horror until I finally got outside.

But a while ago, I was able to extract some tiny measure of vengeance. As usual, while I waited for the interminable credit transaction to take place, he was maundering on about something wildly uninteresting: his fellow state workers at the main warehouse and their apparent incapability of filling his stock orders correctly. Like I fucking care. He kept bitching, while I stared emptily at the gaily colored poster informing me about the ridiculous amount of taxes I was paying for this bottle of booze. He still wouldn't shut up, and was still complaining about the warehouse people. Then I had a thought.

"Yeah," I broke in, a genial smile spreading over my face, "State workers. They don't have to care, right? Half-assed is good enough for government work." He looked like I had shat into his yogurt. I grinned placidly.

"Well . . . I . . . you know, I have to take exception with that, mister. I work for the state."

Gee, no shit?

"Oh, hey, nothing on you. I'm just saying. I used to work for the forest service! (This is true.) So I know how it is. Hey, everyone takes their breaks, right? Sometimes for years on end." Here I smiled conspiratorially.

He was clearly offended all to hell. This made me wonderfully happy, because I figured, Great! I found just the right button to push! Like a lot of dumbfucks, he took ridiculous pride in the job that he managed to foully misperform every day! He won't talk to me any more!

I went back a week later, and he was there as I walked in. "Hey, how the fuck are ya?" he hollered happily.

I cannot win.

Friday, 23 May
In Dreams I Walk With You

One day after work, I fell asleep on the couch, as I am wont to do, and this was my dream. It's the most vividly remembered dream I've ever had.

It was a brilliant summer day, and I was walking through a city park with my friend K. K. is an actress friend of mine, and she is very beautiful; in the dream, she was wearing a gorgeous, low-cut slinky green gown, and she held my hand as we walked. But there wasn't anything erotic at all about the whole scene (for one thing, K. is a lesbian); it was all quite solemn and stately somehow. I don't recall if we talked while in the park; what I mostly remember is walking serenely and noticing things like the beautiful motes of dust hanging in the sunbeams and the feel of the soft grass under my feet. Everything was hyperreal.

Then, at some point where the dreamlogic dictated it was "time," I walked K. home. We approached her brick apartment building, which I now know is just some random place I pass on my way to work, but in the dream, it was where she lived. We stopped on the stoop of her building, and K. turned to me and smiled.

"Thank you," she said, still kind of warmly solemn, if that makes sense, "that was wonderful."

"I want to tell you something," I said softly, and I swear I had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth, but I knew that it was important. We looked steadily into each other's eyes.

"When Lawrence Welk died," I continued, "he was given an autopsy. The doctors cut him open from here--" I touched the top of my sternum-- "to here," and then I touched my belt. My voice was steady and calm. "The doctors opened him up, and they cut out his heart and they held it. They held the heart of this man whose life and music had touched millions of people all over the world. Can you imagine? That's what I feel today."

We were quiet a moment, and then K. said, "Yes," and smiled sweetly, and went inside. Then I woke up.

Playing on the TV was The Lawrence Welk show.

Wednesday, 23 April
Battlefield: Mother Earth

Last night the fiancee and I were out at a bar eating a nice sedate dinner; the lights were low, the mood was mellow, the drinks pleasant when . . .

AAAAAAAHHHH! MARAUDING HIPPIE ATTACK!

Jesus, we didn't know what hit us; suddenly the place was fucking overrun by like fifty youthful hippie beings. The table next to us rapidly filled up with unfortunate dreadlocks that clamored for beer; the bar was suddenly three deep with people clutching guitars; flannel was fucking everywhere. It was like a very relaxed storming of Normandy. The bar staff reacted as if they were blood cells suddenly facing some dire histological attack, and the fiancee and I sat rigidly, paralyzed by the sudden awfulness of the scene. One guy twirled over to my table and leered down at me and my steak. "Wow, hardcore carnivore!" His eyes pinwheeled. "Let me sanctify your meat," he whispered mystically, and rubbed his beard into my steak, as if performing a sacrament. I was galvanized. "Get the fuck away from me!" I screamed, and shanked him with my butter knife. He buckled, clutching his pancreas and moaning.

The others took notice. "Eric's down!" one of them yelled, "Get his stash!" They advanced, teeth bared, and I brandished my bloody knife menacingly. "Back, you jackals!" I howled, and thinking quickly, I grabbed a nearby Buffalo Tom CD and threw it into their midst; they fell upon it like hungry weasels on a lame chicken. While they were distracted, I stuffed Eric under our chairs and covered him with his battered duffelbag.

I sat down again, pretending nothing had happened, figuring that the others' impaired short-term memory would allow me my gambit. I stared at my ruined steak, covered in matted clots of hair and faintly smelling of Eugene, Oregon. I shoved it aside and reached for my beer; there was a marijuana seed in it, which I defiantly ignored and slugged it down. I felt very alive.

"You were brave, darling," said the fiancee, "I was frightened of these strange folk. They look like trolls."

"They are," I said grimly. "I had forgotten it was Earth Day."

Monday, 14 April
The Tooth of Crime

Because I am (a) a smoker, and (b) a willing pawn of the sinister global dental network, I went in today for my thrice-yearly cleaning/exam/ritual humiliation. For those of you who do not smoke, you can probably only imagine the terrifying psy-ops practiced on those of us who do by our dentists. "Still smoking, eh?" he says, staring intently at wriggling me. I respond with an obligatory sheepish look of the sort commonly found on those caught drowning kittens in a river. "Yeah, I guess . . . " I don't get to finish this thought because my dentist has curtly interrupted. "I guess you don't care that your mouth is a fetid puke-hole suitable only for stuffing with dead herrings. You are dead to me, DEAD TO ME!" he thunders, "Until your next visit. Bye!"

But anyway. Today's cleaning was like most others, with Heather, the voluble woman who is my regular tooth-shiner. We have a nice rapport; she tells me about her kids and asks me about upcoming events, and I reply with inarticulate glugs and periodic whimpers of agony. She always starts things off peering around in there with a tiny mirror, searching, I guess, for the most clearly tender spots. "Still smoking, huh?" Jesus, not her too. "Nga," I say, mounting a defense, but she's not having it. "It's hell on your gums!" she exclaims remorselessly. I concede defeat: "Ylar."

She gets down to real business and grabs at her movable tray of horrors; she selects a pencil-shaped thing with a tiny barb on the end of it that madly vibrates seemingly at her will. She lunges into my mouth and plunges it deep into my mesquite-flavored gums. "YAIG!" I yelp, but she is deaf in her labors, and she extracts various items from my cringing flesh: a hunk of popcorn, a pair of pliers, a Rumpole of the Bailey DVD and Mare Winningham were all lodged in my gums, but now they sit forlornly on the office floor. But she's not done yet.

Next comes a non-motorized device that I like to call Archimedes' Boathook; it's another alarmingly pointy thing with a cruel hook in it that she uses to pry barnacles off of the surface of my teeth. In order to get proper leverage, she crawls on top of my face and stands bestride my mouth, really putting her shoulder into the fucker. She's straining mightily away on one molar when a large crack! is heard; she's broken my jaw. "Yep, that'll happen; might need pins for that. So, you're gettin' married soon, huh?" "Agao," I say, kind of getting into this. I consider become a professional "bottom" in the S/M world. And my broken jaw looks kind of jaunty in the mirror.

It's like she's reading my mind! She flings away the Boathook and climbs down from my face. Then she flips a switch and the lights turn down low; I can hear "Venus In Furs" playing over the loudspeaker. She selects a riding crop from her tray and begins furiously whipping my groin, while I writhe and wonder about the orotherapeutic values of genital torture. After a few hours, she stops.

"That was more for me than you," she pants. Was she wearing leather when I came in? I don't know; I'm barely conscious. "Well, back to it." She picks up yet another device, another spinner with a strange fuzzy head on it; she applies a thick coating of goo to the tip. "Whazza?" I ask. "Poison," she grimly replies, and darts again into my maw, beginning to grout my teeth. The spaces between them quickly become accreted with a gritty paste that tastes like vaguely minty graveyard soil. When she has applied a couple of centimeters of grout to my teeth, she then uses a vicious needle-spray of water to wash it all away again. I would like to question the point of the whole exercise, but she pulls me up short by saying, "Don't move your head; this little fucker will burn a hole clean through your skull if I miss." Terrified beyond all clarity or reason, I sit rigidly while she works, and note desparingly that she is occasionally consulting an instruction manual as she proceeds. "I wish I could read Japanese," she sighs. I close my eyes and think of what kind of estate I would leave behind: right, none whatever. So that's taken care of.

Suddenly, she's done. She releases me from my four-point restraints, and I stagger groggily to the door. "Just sign the papers at the desk," she says, suddenly gloriously bored. "We'll see you in August." "Glabe," I say, wincing as my shattered jaw works. I stop at the desk to sign mysterious, frightening papers, and the desk clerk says, "See you soon!" and hits me with a boat oar. I crawl outside into the hall and weakly make my way to the elevator, and to outside.

Thank God. I was really hurting for a cigarette after all that.

Thursday, 20 February
Aw Fuck and Everything After, or, Idiot in Full Flower

After maundering on at length about these various teenaged trials-by-fire, I have purposefully left off what must be the most universal and most horribly traumatic: the category-defying, all-encompassing phenomenon of Getting Caught. It doesn't matter who actually catches you in whatever act, whether it be school officials, or the cops, or neighbors: what matters is that your parents are going to hear about it, and then you will have to deal with parental wrath and reprisal. Neither of which is quite as horrible as the associated implication: you will have to talk with your parents. As in, "We need to have a talk," which is then, horrifyingly, followed by actual talk. No teenager wants to talk with his or her parents about anything apart from curfew negotiations and can I have some money? But there is a thing worse than the parents who "need to have a talk": the parent(s) who, thanks to your awful transgressions, stop talking. Such as, for example, my father, the ex-Marine Viet Nam veteran. But again I get ahead of myself.

After Tracy kindly informed my entire high school that it was I who was responsible for the bomb threat, the rest of the afternoon kind of passed in a haze, and not just because of the beer, although that either helped or hurt, I really don't know. I mostly just felt kind of wrapped up in damp bedsheets, a sort of premature shroud of dread that hung on me heavily, because even a poltroon like myself could now see that I was clearly dead, much like the luckless William Katt, who was over on the beach chatting up a reticent Carrie White. "You poor bastard," I thought, "you're like me, but with even worse hair. You won't live to see the end of prom night." Then I thought of my father, and realized that, all things considered, I would rather be doused in pig's blood and then hideously killed before facing whatever my dad came up with.

I eventually made it home and sleepwalked my way through the evening, with my dad (my mother was visiting relatives out of town) making some curious noises about the hubbub at school. I muttered that it was "pretty weird" before heading off to bed, where I dreamed of terrible things, like the acting of John Travolta. It was a rough night. And then morning hit, and I had to go to school. Where Everybody Knew.

If you've ever seen one of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies, you'll get an idea of how it felt to walk around the school. People either gave me wary, "I'm with you" glances or hard-eyed "Soon your brains will be scooped out like nougat" looks. I knew the second I walked into the place that everything had gone drastically wrong, and that justice would soon be meted out in jagged, cruel strokes. But what could I do? Nothing; I shambled like an unstrung marionette to my first class, playing a part in a tragedy whose unheroic end was eminently clear. The teacher greeted me with an iron smile and a terse, pointed "Hello, Skot." I waved goofily and dropped all my books. Smooth.

This agony went on until my second class, geometry. Then came the call. The speaker crackled: "Skot Kurruk, please report to the principal's office. Skot Kurruk to the office." Everyone looked at me silently, except the teacher, who looked at the floor. I stood up and exited, leaving my books on my desk, even then clinging to tiny shreds of nonhope: "If I leave my books here, I'll have to come back! To pick them up! QED!" A friend told me later that when one of the school staff came by to gather up my stuff, it was like watching me being erased from the face of the earth.

I went to the principal's office, where I was greeted by the vice-principal, the school counselor, and . . . the chief of police. He was holding my by-now very crumpled note. I'd like to say I gave them a bunch of Brandoesque fuck-you guff, but by now I was a babbling sack of undifferentiated terror. I do remember the cop saying "You know, we've got your fingerprints off this note." This was pretty stupid, since (a) I had never at that point been fingerprinted, and (b) clearly about nine hundred people had touched the thing since I typed it. It didn't matter; I confessed nearly immediately. (I did make a brief hopeless attempt at caginess: "Supposing I was the person who did this . . . " Really, really pathetic.) After the obvious had been admitted to, the counselor put his hand on my shoulder and said, haltingly, "Skot . . . do you need . . . help?" I twitched at him balefully and blurted out, "Jesus Christ, no!" It was my only proud moment; everyone else in the room kind of chuckled.

After that came the waiting, because of course they had to call my dad, a small-town courtesy before they hauled me down to the police station to arrest me. Waiting was of course horrible, the worst, the fucking worst, except it wasn't, because then Dad showed up. He looked like a fucking golem constructed out of wrath and moustache, and the aleph on his forehead glowed with an otherworldly malevolence, and all in all, I knew that doom had finally come. At this point, I just gave over to utter catatonia, and entered into a dream-state where Piper Laurie hectored me about Jee-zus and dirty-pillows. Anything was preferable to reality, where, incidentally, I was indeed arrested, printed, and released, with dark promises that we'd be hearing from juvenile court about a date.

I was given a five-day suspension from school, during which (it was May, remember?) I earned zeroes on no less than three major tests. During that suspension, I spent some real quality time with my crazed, vengeful father, who, depending on mood and timing, (a) threw things at me, (b) howled like a gutshot dog over my idiocy, and (c) devised foul, backbreaking chores to be done around our rural ranch. I shoveled out horse stables. I cleared a 20'x20' plot of four-foot weeds with a scythe. I waded through a two-foot tall (I'm serious) stack of extra credit problems given to me by my wonderful and sympathetic geometry teacher. I don't want to exaggerate here, but it was a million times worse than hell.

Things blew over, of course. I lived in terror of ringing phones; I was certain each time that it was Johnny Law calling to give me my judicial ball-kicking. But they never did, figuring that hey, they couldn't do worse than my dad had. I returned to school, to somewhat embarrassed acclaim; some of my baseball teammates took to calling me "Boom-Boom" or "Psycho," which made me feel like a particularly lame radio personality. I managed, through a freakish effort and not a little help from teachers who felt I had gone through the wringer, to maintain a better than 3.0 GPA.

And Tracy? I'd love to tell you that she and I got together, that she was dazzled by my half-assed outlaw ways, that she was my first love, all that. But no. Tracy and I remained only friends, but to be honest? I think I could have made a go of it with her, I really think I had a shot, but . . . oh, hell, I don't have to tell you by now. We ran out of time, she ran out of time. She should have known better than to tease Carrie White.

Fin.

Wednesday, 19 February
Beach Blanket Backfire, or, The Continuing Maturation of an Idiot

I wrote a bit yesterday about cultural milestones that teenagers pass on their way to adulthood, or really, young-adulthood, or really, "larger, hairier kids still misbehaving." I also indulged in some baseless blather about the differences between girls and boys in choosing these markers, but also pointed out at least one shared adolescent hurdle to be overcome by both sexes: not being horrifically killed by murderous telekinetic outcasts at the prom, whom you may or may not have drenched in pig's blood, but she frankly isn't making any distinctions any more. But there is one more significant activity that crosses gender lines: underage drinking.

Nearly every kid does this at least once, except for perhaps the aforementioned kooky homicidal telekinetic, and look how she turned out: blood-wet, orphaned, and dead, with finally nobody to reach out to except for Amy Irving. If that's not solid anecdotal evidence supporting the practice of getting boozed up in your teens, I don't know what is.

So to pick up the narrative thread from yesterday, that's what pretty much everyone did that day. I allowed myself to be herded whitely into Bill's car, where we were joined by Kendall--he was the second person I had told of my prank-cum-federal offense--and we immediately found a senior who would buy us beer for ridiculous amounts of money. (Idaho at that point had recently grandfathered the 18-year-olds into the newly raised 21-and-up law, which immediately catapulted those who made the grandfather into a kind of Divine Elect status, which of course they thoroughly and mercilessly abused. In a just world, they would have been the first up against--or lodged in--the wall in Carrie White's slaughterama, but most likely they were out in the parking lot fumbling with a drunken 16-year-old's bra.) And off we went, whooping and hollering things like "Afternoon at the beach!" and "Pass me a beer!" and "Oh my god, I'm going to jail!"

I had calmed down a bit by the time we arrived at the river, thanks mostly to our friend Beer. The beach was by this time fully occupied by what appeared to be the Seventh Half-Naked Regiment, who were performing their drinking maneuvers with proper military precision. Wanting, as all teenagers do when no adults are around, to be a good soldier, I joined them. Specifically, I joined a particular person named Tracy. Tracy was a junior, in fact was my partner on the debate team (look, shut up, okay?), and I had a white-hot crush on her, because she was (a) pretty and (b) talked to me. Of course, being my debate partner, she kind of had to talk to me, but one doesn't make needlessly fine distinctions like that when one is a dorky teenager whose hormones some time ago started Incredible Hulk-ing all over his glandular systems. Tracy, I was wholly delighted to see, was pretty wasted.

We talked for a bit, I guess, about nothing, because Tracy like I said was plastered, and what the fuck am I going to talk about? Debate? I don't think so. I probably unentertained her with some close analysis of the semiotics of socklessness on Miami Vice. Now those guys were cool. True, they may have a looked a lot like why Betsey Johnson sticks to making women's clothes, but at the time, they were cooler than deep space, and I most certainly was not. And then Tracy said something very important. It was the first of two very important things she would say to me that day. It was: "I wish I knew who was responsible for this, so I could thank him."

Suddenly . . . I could be cool. Tracy would think I was cool. This was inconceivable. It was also the worst possible thing she could say, because it surgically removed pretty much every shred of self-preservation that I had left remaining, which was nearly nil anyway, because hey, teenaged boy.

I heard myself as if from a great distance, say ten yards or so, because I was half in the bag and I think a volleyball had hit me in the head at some point. But you should have seen me. I was nonchalant. I was low-toned and debonair. I sipped casually at my warm Rainier can and said a bit throatily, "You can thank him right now."

Tracy's eyes widened in a way I still remember, and she froze. I smiled winningly and acnedly, and sipped again. Around us, unimportant people did pointless things and yelled uninteresting words. We were figures in a Vermeer painting: perfect, timeless, and pretty much ignored by the world at large. But it was, for me, perfection. I was, very briefly, cool.

"Oh my god," breathed Tracy. "Really? You did that?" I nodded, still savoring this new sensation, that even then I knew couldn't possibly last. "OH MY GOD!" she yelled, and hugged me, a sensation I mentally locked into a tight vault with a sign on it reading "PRICELESS OBJECTS." And then Tracy said the second very important thing of that day.

She stood up on the beach and shouted in her best debater's voice, "Everybody! Everybody, listen up? You know who did this? You know why we're here? It's because of SKOT! SKOT DID IT!"

That's when I stopped feeling cool. Now three-quarters of my high school non-chums knew Who Did It. And I'll admit it was nice being the hero for all of about thirty seconds as they cheered me on the beach and ran over to clap me on the back and chummily drip beer on me, sure. But in my mind, I knew: I now had not even the slightest chance of coming out of this one unscathed. High school students keep secrets about as well as radiation victims keep teeth. I figured I had about twenty-four hours.

Not quite.

Conclusion tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 February
How I Stopped Being A Boy And Instead Became An Idiot

I was a sophomore in high school when I became a felon.

For many teenaged boys, committing a felony is a cultural milestone, and is a crucial part of the process of becoming a man--which is to say, fundamentally just an old boy who misbehaves in more secretive ways. Some girls go ahead and commit felonies, but for the most part, I'm guessing their adolescent rituals are tamer; plus they've got the whole menstruation thing to deal with, which seems to males like a felony perpetrated on one by one's own fucking body. So while girls are sensibly transgressing the social order by doing things like sneaking a look at Judy Blume's Wifey or hurling tampons at the local hyper-Christian telekinetic while she showers, boys are out boosting cars and slaughtering pigs for their blood, which of course will be dumped onto the unlucky telekinetic at the prom, causing her to undergo a massive psychotic break during which she systematically murders everyone at the dance before going home to crucify her unhinged Bible-thumping mother against the wall with cooking implements. Christ, high school sucked. Anyway.

The whole debacle got started--where it so often does with your average teenager, provided the teenager in question is kind of a goofy knob--in typing class. The teacher had clearly given up on the whole day, because it was mid-May or so, beautiful outside, very close to the end of the school year, and we were being typically rowdy and uncooperative. I remember, for example, teasing Carrie White about her dress, a slight that would be terribly revenged later at the prom when she battered me to death with a hail of mentally-controlled flying sousaphones. But I get ahead of myself.

The teacher had basically just given us some ridiculous wankery to do involving simple transcription, and being a pretty good typist already (boy, and that phrase still makes the ladies breathe a little heavier), I got done way early. And then I got what sounded like a pretty funny idea: Wouldn't it be cute as the dickens to type up a bomb threat? Wouldn't that just make the administration chuckle their fucking nuts off? Sure it would. So I did, making sure I moved to someone else's typewriter first, because I was sneaky. No way I get fingered for this! I saw Jagged Edge. I'm sixteen, I'm beautiful, I'm dumber than a dead ape.

So I typed the thing up, and I made it look pleasingly insane in a crappy Hollywood-esque way: all caps and with plenty of stupid misspellings. I wish I had a copy today, but I can reconstruct the gist of it, including a couple of salient features that I most certainly recall:

THERE IS A BOMB IN THE BILDING IF YOU DO NOT EVACATUE THE HIGH SKOOL BY NOON THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT BUT SCROCHED CORPSES. THIS IS NOT A JOKE AND I WILL NOT DEIGN TO TELL YOU WHERE I PUT IT YOU WILL JUST HAVE TO FIND OUT YURSELF IM SERIOUS GET THE FUCK OUT

Uh huh. It's just pitifully stupid. "Scroched"? "Yurself"? Okay, even morons don't do shit like this, but did you notice the kicker? Plunked right down in the middle of all that blaring idiocy? "Deign." As was related to me later, after I was caught (you knew that, right?), the faculty, upon receiving the threat at the office, passed it around amongst themselves to see if they could, I don't know, find any clues? My English teacher did. "Well, whoever wrote this not only knows the word 'deign,' but also uses it more or less correctly. There's only about three kids in the school who probably know that word." (This is not to trump me up as a super-genius, I was just a book nerd. Also, I went to school with fucking hillbillies.)

So I was already fucked even while the ink was drying on the page, but did I give a second thought? Of course not. The whole thing by now seemed deeply funny to me, a kind of Up Yours to the school that was so irritatingly trying to educate me. So I reread my little opus, and surreptitiously left it at the office. I cackled inwardly as I imagined the office staff passing it around: "Oh ho ho. One of the students has made a droll joke in which he promises a fiery death for all! What a scamp this anonymous student is and how he has brightened our afternoon with this federal offense! Ah, well, best chuck it away and get on with our slightly less oppressive lives!" Seriously, I to this day have no idea what I could have been thinking, but I suspect it had something to do with Toto lyrics.

I promptly forgot about the whole thing as the day progressed, until my class right before lunchtime. There was only about ten minutes left before the bell, and all of a sudden--what the fuck? Was that the fire bell? It sure was, and I distinctly remember thinking about how goddamn stupid it was to have a fire drill when there was only ten fucking minutes left in class. Honestly, I was that clueless, a trait I continue to cope with. When we had all assembled in the parking lot, the vice principal started speaking. "Some joker thinks he's pretty funny, and has left a threatening note at our office. By law, we have to evacuate the school and blah blah blah . . . "

Right about then, had any school official happened to look at my face, they would have been able to save themselves the trouble of the search, because I had the whole thing written right on my face. (And let me tell you how happy a lot of students were to have their lockers searched. Bye bye tobacco, booze and porn!) I felt a terrible sensation in my gut not unlike the feeling one gets when viewing a Steven Seagal movie; I wanted, on a cellular level, to die. I knew I was fucked; it was only a matter of time. And this was brought savagely home to me one moment later, when my friend Bill leaned in and whispered to me, "You're my hero." Because . . . oh yeah. Oh fuck. I had told people. Only two people at that point. But that was enough, and I knew it.

There was really only one thing to do, I realized. I could still make things better. So I immediately drove down to the river and drank beer with the rest of the student body. Things, I knew, were just getting started, and there was still ample time for me to make everything massively worse. So I did.

Continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, 12 February
We Put the "Dumb" in "Dumbshow"

The reviews have started coming in for Far East, the show I just opened with last weekend. They have been uniformly tepid, which is fine; I long ago stopped being bothered by reviews. The ones that mention me kind of crack me up: one reviewer commented, "Skot Kurruk is fine as Bob." Fine! Yeah! I'm passable! But even better was another, who wrote the immortal (to me) line, "Skot Kurruk was born to play the traitorous homo--in a good way." I can't wait until the fiancee reads this. "What . . . what does he mean?" she'll stammer. And I'll reply, "Honey, he read my soul. I am, in fact, a traitorous homo. I've already cleaned out the savings account, and have you met Clive?"

In truth, these reviewers did not catch the best show. In fact, the show they saw was a dizzying hellpit filled with enraged alligators, from my perspective. Here's basically what happened.

We started off Act I pretty swimmingly; things were humming along with only a few hiccups: one guy dropped a couple lines, another fucked her blocking all up and ended up across the stage from a particular hat right in time for her line, "Here's your hat." But everyone covered fine, nothing was happening that was perceptible to the audience. At intermission, a few of us smoked confidently and chatted, while I inwardly reflected about how I was truly born to play this particular traitorous homo.

And Act II started fine, pretty much; although an actor mispronounced "Captain Stark" as "Captain Sharks," but hey, it got a laugh. The usual opening jitters. And then there came my scene.

The scene is between my character Bob and his lawyer Hank. Don't worry about why this is, but the staging convention had me on a stool, center stage, facing straight out to the audience, and the actor playing Hank was elsewhere on stage also facing full out to the audience (like I said, don't worry about it, it was just some stylized staging). We started the scene, and "Hank" offered me a seat, and I said, "Thanks," and sat down, and then "Hank" went up. "Went up" is theater-speak for "blanked the line." I waited on the stool for "Hank" to say his next line, and all I heard was the actor's limbic system going into freakout mode and the extraordinary sound of audible sweating. "Hank" remained silent, while I pondered the full ramifications of existential despair as I sat, stage center, in dead silence. Suddenly, "Hank" erupted into a ghastly froglike series of croaks that I eventually recognized as lines from the show, only these lines were half a page later. I mentally pictured the skipped-over lines dying like slugs on a salt lick, and they screamed, "Why didn't yooou saaaaay uuuuusss? Weee are goooood lines! AAAAAaaaaaahh--!" Oh well, so we skipped ahead, at least the actor hadn't totally vaporlocked. I said the appropriate line.

And the actor totally vaporlocked. I heard awful things from the other actor. First, furious swallowing and coughing. Then: "Well . . . uh . . . I need to think about this, Bob. Uh . . . I'm thinking, Bob . . . " Trying desperately to stay in character while us, the audience, and probably passersby for a several block radius realized that the entire scene had fallen out of the actor's head and was lying in a mess on the ground. It was hopeless. I paraphrased the actor's line and threw it out there as a life preserver: "I turned myself in. Doesn't that count for anything?" The actor pounced on it like a cougar on an abandoned baby. "Yes, you did, Bob. That was very brave. I'll emphasize that." Hey, we're back on track! "Okay," I said, and eagerly waited for the next line, which of course was not forthcoming, because the other actor was still trapped on Neptune, looking around thinking, "Boy, I don't recognize this place, but it's cold." This was death. I fed the actor another line and got total radio silence. The actor kept making ghoulish throat-noises, and the vicious tang of flop-sweat was everywhere.

I really am not sure how we got through the rest of that scene without a big hook coming in from the wings to haul us off, but we did. I kept furiously making up leading questions, and the actor finally glommed on to one that led back to the scene proper and its by-now very clammy end, but it seemed to take eons. I felt like Voyager One, trawling the endless black nothing, occasionally letting out a plangent bleat, and hearing only a vast, cosmic "fuck you" of silence.

We finished the rest of the play without incident. And to be honest, the reviewers were mostly pretty kind about ignoring the obvious disaster; only one mentioned it at all, stating the perfectly obvious in case the rest of us had all gone crazy: "[The actor] does need to learn the lines." What would we do without these helpful people? Anyway, so that was over. We had survived, if not prettily. Until the next night.

When it happened again.










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