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Monday, 26 December
Supernatural Presents

Another Jesus Day has come and gone, and again, I find myself that much the richer for having made fun of it. I got some good swag indeed: the wife presented me with delights such as seasons 3 and 4 of The Simpsons as well as a luxurious new robe. I look forward to watching the yellow hilarity over and over while wearing a brand new ratty hole into the seat of my robe. The parents got in on the act too--in return for my anniversary generosity (my parents' anniversary is earlier in the month) consisting of two pounds of jerky, my parents generously sent us . . . two pounds of jerky. Yes, this is true. We're a dried meat kind of family.

My mother also came through in her inimitable way--she bought us yet another completely mystifying Christmas gewgaw. Last year's entry was this . . . thing that sort of hurts the mind. It's this foot-tall green Christmas stork with a Santa hat rakishly pulled down over its eyes, with a festive disco orb hanging from its beak. It is, in its singular way, utterly transfixing. For reasons I do not fully comprehend, it is my wish that one day PJ Harvey drops by and sees it and then writes a song about it. My Christmas stork would have mad cred.

I never thought she'd top that one, but she might have this year with . . . again, words are not enough. Were my horrible cameraphone not on the fritz, I'd take a photo. Okay: what it is, is a dog. The dog is golden yellow, and he wears a hatlike thing that is really a curved wire with a bell on the end of it, so it hangs over his head, ringing cheerily into his dog ears at all times. In his mouth is some sort of holiday basket that contains, as near as I can tell, a pair of eyes, perhaps chewed from the head of a misbehaving child. He is covered in red spots (Christmas Dog! Now with German Measles!) and wears elfin green boots on all four feet. Finally, he sports a truly alarming tail, one that juts out at a 45-degree angle from his ass that is unmistakeably penile in aspect. The overall effect is uniquely horrifying and yet endearing; his face is painted in a sidelong glance that says "You have no idea what I've been chewing or where I can pee." It's like something Heironymus Bosch might have imagined if under commission from the People for the Unimaginable Fetishization of Gay Animals (PUFGA).

Oh, I didn't even mention the weird part yet. In addition to all of the above, I discovered that the poor beast is hinged right at the small of his dogback. Gripping the thing's head and gently lifting up, sure enough, the top half of this curious canine swung up to reveal its true nature: it was a box. And let's not be coy: it's not a large box. It's only a couple inches tall. So we must conclude that, yes . . . it can only be a stash box. Thanks, Mom! Not that I've smoked pot in many years, but should there be a bust, and should I, for some reason, have some pot in the house, I can be reasonably sure that the cops will not try and look inside (or, probably, at) the Blighted Gay Christmas Fetish Dog and His Basket of Eyes.

The wife's parents also got into the act, but not in an overtly weird way like my erratic mother. Their main gift to us was the completely unexpected purchase of two nights stay on . . . a houseboat. Huh? Well, there's apparently this guy an hour or so away from us who maintains four houseboats on the water (good place for them!) and rents them as romantic getaways. Seriously. They accompanied the gift certificates with pajamas for me, a nightie for the wife, and an assortment of wines and snacks for us to take on our hubba-hubba Nite of Luv on the houseboat (it's extra to have Robert DeNiro climb on board in the middle of the night to try and murder us). It is, in seriousness, a pretty cool and creative gift, and in all unseriousness, my favorite part is that included in the snack basket was a jar of pickles, because my mother-in-law knows I'm fond of them. I can't wait to eat a jar of pickles on a mysterious houseboat (in my pajamas) and then attempt to get busy with the wife. "Honey . . . they're koooo-sheeeer . . . " It would have been even better if the wife's nightie was made by Vlasic. "Slip into this . . . then slip a pickle into your mouth."

It was a good weekend, all told. We had a potluck gathering at our place on Jesus Eve, and many weary, half-drunk people showed up bearing things in bottles and trays; the wife cooked a turkey; complicated desserts were consumed; the Chartreuse, lamentably, went undrunk, so there it still sits. And after the pre-Jesusness, the wife and I were not much into doing much for the actual Jesus Day--spent, happily, on our own with only the NFL to keep us company--and so we kept it simple. In fact, we kept it simpler than simple. We had Christmas Simplex.

For Christmas dinner, we feasted on chili, beet salad and Li'l Smokies. No joke. "Wot? The Li'l Smokie as big as me?" God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, 12 April
The Revenge Effects Of Denver

So I went to Denver with dire plans to completely bag on the city like I've done before to others . . . but alas, I cannot. I just don't have the heart to do it. Mainly because I only left the hotel one fucking time during my entire stay there. There were a lot of reasons why: a vicious windstorm, for one; intense laziness, for another (room service? Or trudging around an unknown city at night?); and, oh yeah, a fairly packed-in work schedule.

All of which is incredibly boring to even think about, much less write about, so I'll just mention some high points. One was hearing someone use the neologism "dynamical," which caused me to instantly become dyspeptical and stop-listenic.

I've been sitting here about three or four minutes trying to think of another high point, but I've got nothing.

Oh, wait! One night (the one time I left the hotel), a couple co-workers wanted to go out, specifically to the Hard Rock Cafe (NOT MY CHOICE! NOT MY CHOICE!), so we did, but it was a laughable little hole, so we left and went somewhere else that was also terrible. Seriously, this is how exciting it was.

So after all that nothing, I came home, which has been great, except for the really electrifying stomach flu I immediately came down with.

Yes, yesterday morning, I was sleeping happily with the wife, when suddenly at 6:00 AM, I woke up--unusual enough--with an urgent thought: "Say! I'm going to vomit!" And so I ran to the bathroom and did just that, heaving enthusiastically, and thinking, "Wow, this was unexpected." Then I sat on the bathroom floor and sighed for a bit, winded by my exertions, and wondered what the hell that was. Then I was seized by another revelation that rang in my brain: "Wow! I need to get up off this floor and sit on this awful toilet! Right now!" Groaning, I hauled myself up onto the throne and gripped the seat while my ass provided nearly enough thrust to achieve escape velocity.

The whole thing was really unpleasant, even more so, maybe, than it is to read about. Anyway, as I sat there, gastrointestinal turbines screaming, I came to realize something else: "You know . . . I feel terrible! I do believe I'm having chills!" The attendant uncontrollable shaking lent the whole flight-simulator thing some real verisimilitude.

At length, my spasm seemed to subside, and I unsteadily rose to my feet. My mouth tasted, well, like vomit, and I figured fluid replacement was important now, so I took a few sips of water--not gulps, as I figured greedy slurping right now would not be tolerated. I returned to bed.

I lasted maybe ten minutes before dashing back into the bathroom to once again helplessly yell down into my toilet, disgorging the meager tablespoons of water as if it were the worst poison in the world. Then, just to mix things up again, my bowels starting groaning, and I assumed the other position once more, and sat morosely for a while. When I was able to get up again, I was lucky enough to be able to flush and walk two steps away. Then I turned back and spent some time vomiting up nothing; I had nothing, so I just gasped wordlessly at my hated commode, like an outraged fish.

After a while--three or four times--I stopped going back to bed, because there's no reason my wife shouldn't get some fucking sleep. I retired to the couch, and took a few more trips to the bathroom for more of the same, each time trying to take in a few drops of water in the vain hopes that I would keep it down. Or in. Or in the same building. It never worked. I decided I might as well experiment. (The elements of the experiment were obtained by my wife, who purchased them at the store for me after waking up wondering what the gutteral beastlike noises emanating from the bathroom were.)

So began OPERATION: HYDRATION, because I was getting a little worried about the old electrolytes, which are useful for things like thinking and living. I really didn't think anything would stay down better than good old H2O, but fuck it. Plus, puking up water was getting a little dreary, so I could also see if anything was remotely more pleasant to bring up.

Flat 7-UP: Not a success. It lasted only about fifteen minutes. On the other hand, flat 7-UP is pretty much the same flowing either way: sickly sweet. It also had the unfortunate side effect of intensifying the diarrhea. Quite fortunately, I couldn't taste that.

Club Soda: Also not really a success, but longer in the gut. I think it stayed there for about 35 minutes before rushing up. I had also put a bunch of ice into it, so it was very startling to experience really cold vomit zooming up my throat. It felt like an Alpine bullet train.

Gatorade: An unmitigated disaster, not only in terms of time tolerated (around eight minutes), but also in aesthetic terms: it is, under the best of circumstances (whatever those are), really alarming to vomit unearthly neon yellow-green liquid. I wondered if my bile ducts had simply disintegrated under the force of my abdominal attack.

Cranberry Juice: I was really worried about this one, because if yellow-green is an unsettling color to see in one's output, then red is just frightening. I really didn't want to give this stuff up. Plus, for Christ's sake, I was thirsty. It was getting pretty old. But it stayed down, mercifully, though there were a couple nervy moments where my guts rumbled ominously. Fortunately--and there are very few situations where that word is useful in this context--it was only some more by-now routine diarrhea. What a relief.

A final observation: I couldn't help but notice what a nonsmoking aid the stomach flu can be. Not only was I rid of nearly every urge to smoke, the one time I tried resulted in me dashing with shocking velocity to the bathroom to, yes, violently throw up. The shits 'n' pukes also gave me a literally visceral aversion to things like pizza commercials. I hope that one day modern science can use this knowledge to address our country's problem with smoking and processed foods, possibly by giving everyone the stomach flu, forever. Only then, maybe, will we be healthy.

Tuesday, 14 September
Marginalia

For at least a couple weeks now, when walking home from work, I have been subject to the profoundly horrifying experience of hearing The Bangles' "Eternal Flame" in my head, over and over. Whether there is some unknown somatic trigger on my walk that I am unaware of or simply a troubling disorder of organic nature, this cannot continue. Why? Why this suffocating, mephitic song? Strong measures are called for. Tomorrow I will begin loudly singing The Fixx. If that doesn't work, I'll have to call in the big guns, like say Richard Marx, or, God forbid, Rush. I'll do what it takes.

-----

Whenever I walk by my rubber tree plants--which I love, and I always want to give them a collegial chuck on the shoulder for being such classy-ass plants, but evolution has thus far fucked them out of shoulderdom . . . for now--but I also am unfailingly bummed out by the ever-thickening layer of dust that they accumulate on their broad leaves. "Poor bastards," I think. "I should clean that fucking dust off these guys. They totally leave me alone." Then I glare at my higher-maintenance plants and shout, "WHY CAN'T YOU BE MORE LIKE YOUR BROTHERS?" The plants keep their own counsel--smug little fucks, and I can see that smirk, Mr. . . . Viney. (I don't know what the hell some of my plants are.)

Anyway. Eventually, when I'm done mentally castigating my plants, my attention finally returns to the aforementioned dust-coated Good Guys, the rubber trees. "I really need to dust off your damn leaves," I say. And then, because I am extremely lazy, I don't. So I constantly feel bad about it, but yet not bad enough to do anything. Hannah Arendt would probably look at my horticultural misdeeds and describe them as "the banality of schmevil."

-----

Today at work, I found myself quite startled to suddenly be involved in a conversation with a couple female co-workers about "boobs." My halting contribution: "I . . . like boobs." It occurred to me then that I had just brilliantly distilled the entire life work of Norman Mailer down into three small words.

But I had no time to savor this dubious victory, as apparently everyone in the office but me was completely drunk on this Monday morning, because the conversation then turned to "asses," namely male asses. That was when one woman (jokingly) slapped me on mine, saying, "Wow! That's firm!" Then, qualifying: "Maybe I hit your wallet." I replied, "No, that's all me. I have an extraordinarily fine ass."

People laughed, and then there was a brief silence, and someone piped up, "This is of course all going into a lawsuit."

I'm not worried. My ass is still pretty good. I'll take it to a jury.

-----

Today, walking home--Is this burning . . . an eternal flaaaaaame?--I passed a brick apartment building. It had one of those blocky dryer outflow air vents, smelling of old socks and fabric softener sheets. It also had a discarded wig resting over the top of it.

This was possibly the most disturbing set of sensory conditions I've ever encountered. The dryer vent was causing the discarded wig--and "discarded wig" is a hauntingly oppressive set of words just by itself--to blow about and dance weirdly; as if the dryer vent was attempting to seduce me with its whorish behavior. The cloying scent of fabric softener drifted into my nostrils while I stared at the lewd hairdance, and all the while "Eternal Flame" continued to play in my brain, and for a moment, I was transported back to high school prom, and my date was creepy, bewigged dryer vent, who danced like Salome and smelled of that awful Snuggly bear thing, and all my high school friends stared at me and said things like, "Jesus, dude, why did you bring the transvestite dryer vent to the prom, and why does she smell like my grandma?"

Then I thought back to my actual senior prom, and with some dismay, I realized I probably would have had a better time with discarded-wig-transvestite dryer vent.

I assume there's a Rush song about this.

Tuesday, 30 March
Absent Friend

In high school, everyone's gotta have a best friend. Especially if, like me, you were a dweeby, skinny kid with glasses who listened to awful, pukey bands like Sigue Sigue Sputnik and the Woodentops--because without a best friend, you're kind of just getting beaten up and then going home every day, which gets pretty old pretty fast. At least with a best friend you can commiserate: "J.B. hit me in the nuts today." "J.B. is a fucking fag." "I know. I hate that fag." (Pause.) "Fag." Leaving aside that adolescent boys aren't known for either their sensitivity or their sparkling conversation, I should just point out that in Idaho, "fag" was the definitive utilitarian insult. For a long time, I didn't even know that it carried an actual meaning; I regarded it as another sort of generic profanity, like "fucker." I even remember this exchange, in junior high, between two other (female) parties, and being wholly mystified by the levels of subtext that I was obviously not getting: "You're a total fag!" "Oh, yeah? Well, you're a fag-GET!" (Her pronunciation.) I stood there wondering what the hell the distinction could mean, but there was nobody I could ask; I hadn't met B. yet.

B. and I were in many ways total opposites. Where I listened to bands nobody had ever heard of ("Who in the fuck is Love and Rockets?"), B. listened to bands nobody else wanted to hear: he was an avowed metalhead. Interestingly, he was also a strangely self-aware metalhead. Remember that this was the mid-to-late 80s, the age of hair metal, and so we would drive around listening to horrific garbage like Poison, Whitesnake and other forgotten wretches like the BulletBoys. B. would comment, "Jesus, these guys really stink." I would enthusiastically agree: "Why do you listen to this fucking shit, then?" He didn't know. "It just rocks, you know?" I didn't know.

His favorite bands were a real mystery to me, too: he had a deep reverence for the band Ratt, a thoroughly unremarkable metal band if there ever was one; Ratt was to metal as Sheryl Crow is to pop music--inoffensive pap that your brain barely registers. B. also revered Dokken, horribly enough, mainly for their startlingly ugly guitarist George Lynch, who played the guitar as if he were renting it by the hour: every solo was blindingly fast, and Dokken's videos would all inevitably feature loving closeups of Lynch's terrifying imp-fingers, which was actually a real pleasure, given that the alternative was looking at his dreadful face, peering out ghoulishly from behind a nimbus of tortured bleached hair.

We did have moments of agreement: we both thoroughly enjoyed the Def Leppard album Hysteria, and tirelessly played it over and over one summer, pausing it only to fast-forward past the deeply lame title track, one of those appalling metal ballads, all caramelized ennui and husky "I wantcha" moanings. Another interesting discovery was this mysterious bunch of apocalyptically gloomy death-pigs named Metallica, whose Master of Puppets album made us wide-eyed. They played every song as if their nuts were on fire, and shrieked out incomprehensible banshee babblings; this was music to kill dogs with a hammer by. In other words, pretty good fare for the average teenaged boy.

But for all his metalhead posturing, B. was a pretty hilarious fellow. Here's a few of my favorite schticks he pulled. (Note that these anecdotes will serve to refute those who would like to deny the homoeroticism that inevitably exists amongst your average teenaged boys.)

1. At B.'s house, watching videos, bored. B. suddenly announced that he was hungry, so he wandered into the kitchen. "Hey, I'm going to make a hot dog. You want one?" "Sure," I said distractedly. He rattled around in there for a while, fixing things up. Finally he emerged from the kitchen and walked over with a plate. "Here you go," he said. I turned to him to take the plate and discovered that he was holding a plate with a bun on it; the bun contained his penis. He hovered there with an enormous grin; I noticed also that he was holding a big squeeze bottle of French's in his other hand. "Mustard?" he asked quietly, like a good waiter. My reaction was sadly predictable: "You fag! Get away from me!" B. cackled and ran back into the kitchen. I sat there feeling a little disconsolate. First of all, the hot dog had sounded really good. Second, I had noted clinically that B.'s dick was absolutely huge. Nothing was fair!

2. B. and I, hanging out at my place, probably again watching videos. Ding-dong! The doorbell. I shuffled over to answer it and was confronted with that most horrifying of situations, the Jehovah's Witnesses, apparently there to try and convince me that true salvation lay in getting eight million doors slammed in my face. They started into their spiel, and I stammered politely, because while I certainly didn't want to talk to these poor bastards, I was raised not to do rude things like slam doors in nice people's faces. (I have since gotten over this.) B., however, had a solution. He crept up behind me and looped an arm over my shoulder suggestively. "Lover, come back to bed," he crooned, "I miss your butt." The JWs practically dropped their Watchtower on my shoes in an effort to vacate my doorstep.

3. This might be my favorite. And I doubt that any of these are terribly original, you know, but that's hardly what old memories are about. This one, in fact, just made me laugh for a few minutes before I could type it up.

Anyway. B. and I were hanging out at our friend K.'s place. K. and I were in the kitchen preparing for a party later at the place, as K.'s parents had stupidly gone out of town. They had sternly told K. that C., his older sister, was firmly in charge, which was even stupider than leaving town, since C. was a college student who immediately endorsed the party idea with both thumbs. So K. and I were trying to ram a vodka bottle into a watermelon for later consumption. From behind us, we suddenly heard B. call out, "Hey, guys! Check it out!" We turned around and beheld B. with his pants around his ankles. He had discovered a particularly tall, phallic cactus and had placed it below his ass, and was straddling it, moving his ass up and down, miming butt-cactus sex. He grinned enthusiastically over his shoulder at us as he continued his gyrations. Again, we were totally predictable: "You fucking fag!" B. continued happily, his ass mere inches from the awful cactus. Then K. went quiet and turned a bit pale. He said, "B.--your leg. Your leg is . . . " he trailed off. Then I saw what he saw. There was a tiny thin line of crimson liquid that was leaking out of B.'s ass, running down his leg. It was chilling. Did he accidentally get himself caught on the cactus? How could he not notice? Was something . . . else wrong with him? B. never stopped his faux-humping for a minute. K. and I couldn't do anything but stare at that red liquid, that languidly bobbing ass.

Then B. unclenched his ass a little bit. And let a maraschino cherry fall out from between his cheeks. K. and I, unable to fully process this fresh horror, screamed like murder victims while B. yanked up his drawers and ran snickering into the bathroom.

Like a lot of old friends, B. and I went our separate ways, and gradually lost touch, bit by bit. Hey, it happens. But here's to B. and to all the best friends we can find.

Salut, B.!

You fucking fag.

Tuesday, 06 January
And The Weather Gods Said "Ha!"

Yesterday at work, when the snow talk started, the honchos rolled out their Byzantine work-avoidance procedures, and dourly began making honks about closing the office. So this morning when I woke up and I saw the piddling little inch and a half that had fallen by 7:00, I rolled my eyes and started trudging to work without even bothering to call in and check things out first. Not even a Seattle office is going to totally wimp out with this feeble effort, right?

I must try to remember how dumb I am. Of course they closed the office. I stuck around work for about an hour and experienced such adventures as Skot's Intrepid Hunt for the Lightswitches and also Skot's Totally Unheroic Chat with the Bosslady (who left the house too early to get the message and got trapped at work until her husband picked her up).

Me: Man, I feel kind of bad leaving when you're stuck here.

She: You're welcome to stick around.

Me: You're joking.

This pyrotechnic display of my legendary Won't-Do attitude is sure to make my stock soar with the higher-ups.

So, SNOW DAY! Since all of the public schools cravenly closed down in the face of Mother Nature's non-wrath, it was pretty unsurprising to find that the wife got the day off from her teaching. We lounged around for a while before setting out to take care of the essentials: Operation Procure Booze. So we walked up to 15th, passing all the way those timeless features of snow days--kids sledding and dogs flipping out.

Seattle, basically paralyzed by this hilarious little snowlet, responded by swiftly closing down every street that had better than a five percent grade, and the town's little bastards responded with the fierce glee of the annually deprived: we just don't get snow here, so they gotta get in on it when they can. And sure enough, they were out in force, employing sleds, saucers, trash can lids, cardboard boxes, and, in more than one case, nothing at all in their quest to SLIDE DOWN EVERYTHING! It's this sort of thing--closing down streets--that makes me sort of fantasize about the government we'd all like (and deserve). Instead of being the bunch of officious, grasping beatdown freaks they so clearly are all the time, it's nice to imagine them doing something for once just because it's cool.

"Mr. Mayor! The city has been lightly blanketed with snow! Should we declare martial law?"

"No. I have a better idea. Close down any remotely steep street."

"But why, sir?"

"My God, man! Out there, everywhere, there are children who are not flopping around in the snow! Out there are children who are not skidding into cars and hurting themselves! THIS WILL NOT STAND!"

"I love you, sir."

"I love you too, dammit. Now close those roads. AND GET ME SOME HOT RUM!"

It's a fantasy, I know, but it's one I like.

Anyway, it was fun watching the little bastards kamikaze all over the place, and of course the dogs who always look especially crazed in the snow, snurfling all over everything, and then, over and over, looking vaguely confused when their muzzles got packed with snow. Solution: pee on everything. I love dogs, and everyone who doesn't should be violently killed. I'm just saying.

There was also, naturally, some typically lo-fi attempts at snowman construction; we passed one that was about three feet high, with a jaunty scarf and a carrot nose that, due to the slight melt, had fallen out of his face and landed in the thing's hands, giving the little guy the look of an albino dwarf suddenly stunned with the discovery of advanced syphilis. It was delightful.

So we finally got to the wine shop and purchased four bottles--we could be here for days!--noticing our next-door neighbor there as well. Apparently shameless lushes all seek each others' orbits. And as if to prove this theorem, we stopped by a neighborhood bar for a snow day cocktail, and approximately everybody on Earth was there as well. The bartender looked like she was under Panzer attack, but eventually served us our drinks, and we sat and sipped them contentedly, watching the comedy routine of Seattle drivers totally failing to negotiate slightly slippery roads.

This was the perfect work day.

Monday, 25 August
Strange Quark, Spinning Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 19 August
Smoke Gets Up My Ass

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeless Man/Woman

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

Scary Homeless Man/Woman

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

Homeless Guy Selling Real Change Newspaper

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

Horrid Little Fake Homeless Bastards With Irritating Haircuts

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

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

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

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

Lung Lad?

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

Wednesday, 26 March
Elementary School

THE NOBLE GASES are the student council. HELIUM is the nice guy who will come out of the closet in college. XENON is the ridiculously hot salutatorian candidate who is also a minister's daughter; she will resist all romantic advances until the senior graduation party, when she'll get drunk and make out with KRYPTON, captain of the glee club, who is resultantly quite gleeful indeed. Nobody likes NEON, who unsurprisingly goes into pre-law.

BORON is the nose tackle for the football team. He doesn't like to be called "Bo," so nobody does.

RUBIDIUM is the quiet kid who draws all the time and sometimes has unpleasant diabetic reactions. Nobody will remember his name after graduation.

The ACTINOIDS run the A/V club, and sometimes, when the coast is clear, put illicit slides of Bettie Page into the projector and honk at the images. They are furtive and sly and fearful of VANADIUM, who for reasons known only to himself, stalks the hapless Actinoids with single-minded fury, and has a penchant for dishing out cruel titty-twisters.

YTTRIUM is the foreign exchange student who roams the halls with a quizzical half-smile on his face, wondering why nobody will talk to him. (Because he's different, of course.) Finally, gregarious SODIUM one day invites him to a party, where he stuns everyone with his unearthly capacity for alcohol. BISMUTH vomits unceremoniously into a houseplant.

BERYLLIUM has a sniggering reputation for terrible flatulence that isn't really justified, but rather lives on through the typically cruel rumormongering so prevalent amongst teenagers. He will show up for the ten year anniversary driving a BMW, feeling pretty good, but will nonetheless be tormented with an onslaught of fart jokes anyway.

TUNGSTEN is just as comfortable smoking in the parking lot with HAFNIUM as he is playing D&D with dorks like LAWRENCIUM and TIN. He is friend to many and enemy to none; sort of the polar opposite of the widely loathed STRONTIUM, who resembles a malignant ox.

NIOBIUM reads Sylvia Plath, and is aggressively upfront about her sexual proclivities. She will briefly run away from home with the sinister and violence-prone COBALT, but will return amidst vague, hoarse rumors of gunplay and extradition, none true. They just ran out of money.

SELENIUM will break your heart every day if you let her, and you do.

You are IRIDIUM, bright and rare and largely unnoticed, and you're just all fucking right with me.

We hang out with MOLYBDENUM, so there's usually no trouble. Let's go play pinball.

Friday, 21 March
Phrases I Would Rather Not Have On My Tombstone

Hoobastank 4Ever

Affable Nebbish

This Tombstone Redeemable For $25 Off Your Next Interment

Medical Research Is Richer For His Comical Demise

Frequent Crier

Move Along, Nothing To See Here

Has Finally Shut The Fuck Up

Active Culture Below

He Knew Exactly What Hit Him

He Knew Exactly Who Ate Him

He Thought It Was Gin

Goodbye, Stupid

No Spitting

Still Looking For The Head

BOO YA!

We Will Miss Trouncing His Terrible Fantasy League Teams

Monday, 13 January
Now the World is Just A Little More Boring

Well, after a long decline and a stint in the nursing home, my grandmother passed away this weekend. It was, to employ a cliche, not at all a surprise, and a bit of a relief, as a few strokes and Parkinson's had exacted their toll, not to mention her heroic battle with the marauding timberwolves.

As you might expect, she got a bit wacky towards the end, but she was a tough old broad. The last time I saw her, she had her moments of being with it, such as when Mom served her a thin, awful-looking cup of coffee, and she insisted on it "Hot and strong. Like my men." A naughty gleam in her eyes. Meanwhile at night she would get a little wonky and complain about odd events involving "tiny men." She claimed they were sneaking in and stealing her clothes. We would ask her who they were. "Mexicans. Tiny Mexicans. They wear stripes." It is this attention to sartorial detail that set her delusions apart from boring, mundane hallucinations. Fuck you, Woodstock Nation! My grandma sees striped Mexican midgets bent on fashion larceny!

She certainly made life interesting as a child. I would spend my summers in LA with her and my grandfather, both of them Estonian immigrants who fled Europe when the USSR annexed the Baltics. Unsurprisingly, they utterly loathed all Russians, and filled my young skull with long, lurid denunciations of the hated oppressors. Also being from the Old World, she had a compendium of folk superstitions that she good-heartedly terrified and warped me with. Here's a few of the howlers that she told me as a kid. There's no way I'm going to tell you how long I held some of these nuggets as gospel.

1. Whistling inside the house is evil and invites bad luck. Ooookay.

2. If you sleep with your underwear on, you will cut off your blood supply to your legs (and, it did not need hinting at, other things). For a long time I slept naked, rubbing my ostensibly oxygen-starved legs before I dozed off to improve circulation.

3. If you do the (admittedly disgusting) trick of snorting the snot back up your nose and then swallowing it, it will just sit in your stomach, forever. This one was a real peach, as I was haunted by the image of an ageless, indestructible wad of goo forever sloshing around poisonously in my gut.

And on and on. But like many immigrants, certain aspects of American life she took to with an erratic, half-assed glee. One year, when she was about sixty, I guess, she announced she wanted a new car, and bang, out the door she went. Everyone waited for her to return with the Oldsmobile, the Caddy, you know. You can see where this is going. She rolled up in a cherry-red Camaro muscle car, with her tiny homonculus fists clutching the steering wheel and her gleaming eyes staring squarely at the dashboard. She was a fucking terror in that thing, too, because she couldn't drive at all. She had a carefree, sphincter-loosening way of conversing with you as she drove down the freeway, nearly facing you full on, leaving in her wake blood-curdling oaths, vows of vengeance, and smoking, twisted piles of metal and blackening human flesh. I was in the car with her once in a parking lot and she drove over one of those little concrete abutments for your tires; we were doing about thirty. After I climbed out of the glove box, I noticed that she hadn't stopped, and was looking at me with high humor. "This car," she said in her great accent, "has very good suspension."

And one final memory--or story, rather--that I take with me and put into that place reserved for things that you're never, ever allowed to forget. Near the end, Emmy (that's what I called her, and lay off)--who was multilingual--started babbling everything in Estonian, which meant that only her husband and my dad could understand her. My mom spent days and days pleading with her to please, please don't speak Estonian, she can't understand! Nuts to that. The Estonian kept coming. Finally, after a solid week, Emmy caved.

And started speaking German. So now nobody could understand a fucking word she said. Hearing that just made me laugh and laugh. She always traveled her own road, and it was a long road, and, I think, a good one. It leads to the same damn place that all the roads end up at, but not everyone gets there in a fine red sports car, a fast, crazy car that could go anywhere she wanted to until, alas, the suspension finally gave out.










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