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Tuesday, 07 July
Patriot Acts

As usual, the Fourth of July provided unbridled patriotism at every turn, provided that your definition of "patriotism" includes words such as "Dionysian" and "gut-wrecking." We showed up at Will and Julea's barbecue fest armed with a package of hot dogs and some buns. AMERICA! They never even found the grill.

"We've got so much fucking potato salad," said Will, throwing a longing glance at the already-groaning table. Will eats as if someone was going to chop off his feet if he didn't clean his plate. Naturally, he also has the metabolism of a starved moth, and his girlfriend--who also loves her food--is something like five-two and should be wearing a decal that says "Actual Size Shown."

Presently, more guests arrived, all of them hauling ridiculous quantities of food; it was, by the climax of the evening, something like a UN humanitarian project, assuming the UN is in the habit of airlifting pallets laden with Doritos and barbecue sauce to Somalia, which, of course, I assume they are. One-hitters were passed around, giving the evening a vaguely key party-ish feeling. Well, not really. Our friends are not skeevy. However, once that thought had taken root, I was unable to prevent myself from thinking about the effects of barbecue sauce on vaginal pH levels, and so I kept a sharp eye on the wife.

A couple of asshole kids walking by the place set off some firecrackers. Minutes later, a couple of cops ambled up to the gate.

"You know, there are a lot of cops down here," one of them said amiably. Will and Julea live down by the water, real close to where the official pyro show is shown; the cops were a real presence by design. "So if you guys have any illegal fireworks, I'd think twice about setting them off."

"It wasn't us!" cried somebody. "It was a couple kids walking by!" While this was true, it was also cutting zero ice with the cops. They just gave us their best Scooby-Doo police chief hairy eyes. This, while uncomfortable, turned out to actually be really fortunate, since party guest Tony chose this exact moment to emerge from the house utterly laden with illegal fireworks. The cops didn't see him pale and beat a hasty retreat into the back yard, where he likely frantially crammed all his illicit booty directly up his ass.

Later, after we had all stuffed ourselves stupid and the remaining food had succumbed to gravitational strain and sunk to the center of the Earth and disrupted tectonic activity everywhere, we went across the street to watch the fireworks. We lifted our faces to the night sky and beheld magnesium hellfire painted across the face of the world!

Fireworks are fucking boring as hell. Every year I stand there, po-faced and arms crossed, staring at the same old god damn fucking smiley faces and Tina Turner hair displays.

This year, we got narration in the form of the two shaved apes behind us, who happened to be semi-crashers to Will and Julea's party. They were friends of some friends. They treated us to a running commentary.

Some bored, alcoholic pyrotechnician managed to figure out how to explode heavy metals so that they displayed a cube shape.

"Square pegs!" cried one of the apes. "Dick in a box!" cried the other. They laughed raucously, and I felt myself tensing.

More enervating displays followed. Some of them looked like other things, which seemed to excite people. "Hey, that's a heart!" screamed our pals. "It's giving me a heart-on!"

The wife turned to me and actually said, "Want to go back and find the bottle of Rebel Yell?" This sentence has never actually been posed to me before, but I immediately assented. Unfortunately, some other lunatic had already drained the bottle of Rebel Yell, and so we contented ourselves with the dregs of a rum bottle, but at least we had made our escape from the Gehenna of fireworks-watching and its attendant narration. Then Will walked out of the house.

"You guys left too, huh?" he said.

"Yeah. I fucking hate fireworks. Plus, we were trapped with a couple of douchebags who couldn't shut the fuck up."

"I just didn't like the tension," said Will, which I didn't quite understand, but I mentally categorized the statement as "I hate fireworks too," just for my own ease.

Naturally, minutes later, when the show was over, everyone returned. Including the two assholes. We were standing in the back yard, gathered around a lovely chimenea fire, just kind of everyone all relaxing, sensing the evening was drawing to a close. It was nice; just friends basking in the warmth of fire and friendship.

"This one time, I glued a chick's hair to her pillow with my come," said one of the assholes, virtually apropos of nothing, as if "apropos" even belongs in the same sentence with, well, anything his neurons were capable of generating. There was a glacial silence as we stared at the mammal making these honking, vaguely human-like noises. It was like watching some early chordate try out his vocal anatomy. He continued to make noises with his mouth, but Will, the wife and myself chose this moment to simply turn around and walk in any direction that might take us away from the sound of his voice. Others soon joined us, gathering joylessly in the front yard, flicking our eyes at each other, silently communicating: "I didn't imagine that, did I? That really happened?" We hung our heads as we heard more goatish laughter floating to us from the back yard, and we shuddered as we imagined what could possibly be said this time to the people who were too uncomfortable to just leave.

We eventually left, spent and emotionally damaged, and really totally fucking full of food. Those guys were still there when we left. Will has sworn to the Elder Gods that they will never darken his door again. Then he ate a gallon of potato salad and farted himself to sleep.

AMERICA!

Monday, 18 May
Bar Talk

"You have perfect hair," said Will to Warren. "But you don't do anything with it!" Will was drunk. For that matter, so was Warren. Will's excuse was: it was his birthday. Warren's was: it was Will's birthday. None of this explains any of these comments, except for the fact that, hey, birthday. Warren leaned into his liter of beer; I wasn't sure if he was hearing anything. It's probably best that he didn't. Will continued his assault.

"Look at your hair!" he cried. He seemed to study Warren's skull for a moment. "Look at your ears!" This might be my favorite male-to-male comment ever documented. "Look at your ears!" Hey, you can't! Anyway, then Will challenged me to shots of Stroh, an undrinkable rum brine that the Austrians have perpetrated upon society. I of course accepted. It made for a lousy following workday, and my mouth tasted like ants had set up shop there.

I love bar talk. This was not, technically, bar talk per se, but I'll take it, because it 1. happened in a bar, and 2. made me laugh pretty hard.

But let's define our nebulous terms. Bar talk does not necessarily have to make you laugh. It is enough that it makes you uncomfortable or embarrassed. Let me explain.

Warren again. He recently wrote a piece for the web in which he defended the movie Predator 2--against whom I am unsure--and argued that the movie qua movie was actually the best movie ever filmed. Now, this flies in the face of all sense and wisdom, of course. Predator 2 is actually an embarrassing pile of shit that is not worth the thousands of maggots that feasted upon its utterly unwelcome presence in Hollywood. But Warren would not be deterred, and thus regaled us at a bar recently about the unheralded merits of this terrible film. Even Eric, the bartender, was having none of it. I should point out that one of Eric's very favorite films is Cliffhanger, the noisome Sly Stallone mountaineering pic.

"Warren, you are full of fucking shit. Predator 2 is horrible," said Eric. "FUCK YOU!" screamed Warren. Warren likes to point his finger a lot; he was pointing at Eric, just in case Eric was unsure as to whom it was being suggested be fucked. Eric laughed.

Warren then treated us to his latest treatise on film, listing for us his top ten movies which were "ruined by women." Number two on the list was any iteration of Romeo and Juliet. ("Without fucking Juliet, you've just got guys kicking each others asses!") "You are fucking insane, Warren," Eric moaned. The wife by this time had her forehead in her palms. "Warren, you can never talk about this list to any woman you want to sleep with," I said. "The misogyny is horrible. Are you crazy?" Then I informed him, "Anyway, you really fucked up by leaving out Gangs of New York."

"OH FUCK! How could I miss that?"

Bar talk is important. It shows you your friends' true faces.

The other day, my friend Jonah was preparing to leave the bar. For some reason, the word "nutrageous" was uttered in the course of conversation.

"I haven't had a Nutrageous in a long time!" he exclaimed. "I'm totally going to buy one." I farted moodily into my barstool.

Twenty minutes later, I received a text from Jonah. "Operation Nutrageous was an unparalleled success." I read this and whooped. I immediately texted him back to explain that "nutrage" was going to be my new euphemism for a male orgasm. I also explained this latest strategic plan to Eric and the wife. I provided hypothetical examples.

" 'Feel the fury of my nutrage!' is what I'm going to say." Eric chuckled and gripped the bar a little more tightly. The wife was back to cradling her head in her hands.

This says something about me, I suppose. I just prefer to not think about what that is.

Monday, 27 April
World Shut Your Mouth

A MESSAGE FROM THE CDC:

Human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection have been identified in the United States. Human cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection also have been identified internationally. You're all going to die, probably tomorrow. Everyone is encouraged to masturbate before the end times arrive. Hail Dagon, the fish-god! I dreamed that whole hideous crawl, and can yet feel the ooze sucking me down!

An investigation and response effort surrounding the outbreak of swine flu is ongoing. But we've got nothing. [Image of CDC investigator turning out his empty pockets and shrugging.] See? You're fucked.

CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the agency's response to this emerging health threat and yesterday the Secretary of the Department Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, declared a public health emergency in the United States. So don't worry, citizens. We have deployed someone named Janet. But what can she do? She's just a girl.

It doesn't matter. [The CDC begins openly weeping.] I want a lollipop, mother. [The CDC pulls itself together.]

CDC has issued a number of interim guidance documents in the past 24 hours. Take that, flu! Documents! In addition, CDC's Division of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is releasing one-quarter of its antiviral drugs, personal protective equipment, and respiratory protection devices to help states respond to the outbreak. So one quarter of you will be given debatably effective drugs, and the other three quarters will be given not-debatably useless cloth masks and ossified chicken legs. In these stressful times, Janet recommends voodoo prophylaxis.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO STAY HEALTHY

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Do not eat used tissues. Do not rub the tissues into your sister's eyes, unless it's pretty funny.

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. DO NOT wash your hands after you take a shit. Dude, that was your ass. Don't even look at your hands. Pretend you have no hands. Type with your chin.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Also your spouse. You don't know where that skeeze has been. And finally, Barry in HR. That fumbling man-whore would fuck a rotten peach. Barry is also a profligate drooler.

The 1918 pandemic strain has polymorphism from swine and human H1N1 in all eight gene segments. Similar swapping of polymorphism in human co-infected with season and swine H1N1 can lead to rapid evolution. Avoid swine, humans, evolution and polymorphism. Jewish isolationist Republican werewolves may be immune to H1N1.

Don't forget to masturbate! We all die alone. It's okay if you're a little sticky.

Monday, 14 January
Dramatis Personae

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

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

I guess there's always one more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

S: How you doing tonight?

H: I was [garbled].

S: What?

H: [Her mouth is moving.]

S: WHAT?

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

S: OH YOU HAD JAMBALAYA?

H: [Peculiar look, more garble]

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

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

"What?" says H.

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

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

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

Monday, 17 December
All Yesterday's Parties

An uncharacteristically busy weekend for the wife and your humble correspondent! Two, count 'em, two holiday parties to attend! And we went! Believe me, nobody was more shocked than we were, with the exception of all of our friends. "Didn't you move to Prague?" "I heard you stopped shaving and started listening to the voices from your beard." "The ravages of time . . . have really taken their toll." Ho ho ho! All of our friends are assholes, at least the ones we recognized.

First up was our friends J. and S. They live in a snazzy new pad in Fremont with all kinds of nook-y goodness for. . . putting shit into nooks, I guess. Naturally, they're moving out in January, as their rent is being raised by $400. They've been there for eight months or so. FREMONT: Welcome to town! Now get the fuck out and make room for a bunch of shitheads with too much money.

It was a delightful party; not solely because J. is a pastry chef, but it didn't hurt. The entire place was nook-crammed with chocolate-covered whatsits, and he even had a bunch of those dinky little spoons that scream Top Chef all loaded up with foams, gelees, jellies, ices, gorf-blines, unkaboos and the like. The wife was particularly smitten with the unkaboos; I think it had zest in it.

J. and S. also appeared to have some sort of serious hard-on against our friend the pig. The spread consisted of--well, for one thing, a magnificent cheese spread (one of the cheeses looked like a tiny basketball!)--a salami plate, Li'l Smokies, pigs in many blankets, spiral cut ham, obliquely cut ham, suckling pig, chuckling pig, swashbuckling pig, Lynn Thigpen, and, inventively, an evening dress made entirely of bacon worn by the hostess. "Go for the armpit slabs," she murmured to me privately. "They're still warm." Not everybody got those helpful hints! We had been missed.

We spent a nice time devouring all the dead hog as well as the homemade eggnog (or, as far as I know, hognog). The hosts' dog, an adorable little terrier thing, fetched much love from everyone as well as a ridiculous amount of food that slid off of the plates of the hognog drinkers, as the nog was of course also loaded with the brown liquor of one's choice. The dog, Charlie, was in, if I may, hog heaven.

At least until C. and L. showed up. C. and L. are good friends of ours; it was also L.'s birthday that night, which explained why they were, as C. told me instantly, "fucking shitfaced." Yay! Then C. noticed Charlie nosing around his shoe, and immediately plopped down on the ground to dog level. C. began barking at the beast, who immediately backed away and howled. So C. began slithering after him, barking mercilessly. Charlie, clearly unequipped to deal with anything above the level of dead pig fragments (much less a stocky, red-faced man-serpent stinking of corn mash and ill intent) ran shrieking under the coffee table; C. lurched under the table with him, further terrorizing the unlucky beast as well as several people who suddenly found their drinks sliding swiftly to the table's edge--their shrieks joined the ongoing cacophony, adding a nice warbling soprano counterpoint to Charlie's tenor dog-rap and C.'s basso yawps.

Then J. announced that the homemade hognog had run out and he was breaking out the store-bought swill, so we left. The last thing we heard was S. wailing as C. mounted a noisily despairing Charlie.

After all, we had another party to go to! This one was much different: thrown by my friend J.'s girlfriend E., this party was made up of a younger demographic: E., for example, is preparing for her MCATs, which I assume is some sort of audition for a Saturday morning cartoon. I don't really know; I met J. some years ago on the Interplace in a "chatting room" filled with strange young men doing age and sexy checks--it's kind of a blur. Anyway, for reasons unclear to us, they had invited us to their youngster party, possibly out of anthropological interest. In time, our hansom bore us to their charming domicile.

"Skot!" cried J. as we cautiously entered the building; there was some sort of loud din emanating from the walls that sounded like a Sousaphone being violated by robots, and its foreign rhythms curdled my humors a bit. Around us, youths chattered and undulated; I draped a scarf discreetly over the wife's head, and she hooted softly, feeling immediately safer. I led her in the kitchen, where J. served us some mulled wine he had barbarically prepared in a primitive tin pot.

As we settled in to the kitchen, we were introduced to various others, such as L., who immediately inquired--this I am not making up--which version of "Ticket To Ride" I had played, and which version I preferred, and why. I stammered out a reasonable facsimile of a reply while I surveyed L.'s fascinating hairdo; he wore an astounding nimbus of curls that looked almost like an article of exploded clothing. If Mother Courage had been a Yippie, her skull would not have looked unlike L.'s.

There was also P. and his lovely girlfriend A. I had met P. before, but not A., and so I of course promptly made some horrifying joke about my ass and "Mexican pornography," whatever that could possibly mean. "I've just met these people!" I crowed; A. simply looked stricken while the wife continued hooting under her scarf-hood and sipped at the mulled wine. P. smiled at the proceedings and said, for some reason, "It's okay. She's a biologist." Having entirely lost my bearings by this point--I found out later that J.'s had doped the wine with large amounts of antimony--I merely polished my pince-nez with my cravat and blinked agreeably.

Presently, the curtains began to flap ominously whisper faint evil-sounding suggestions at me; P. pretended not to notice while he chatted pleasantly about, of all things, ohms. I noticed L. off in a corner talking to an impossibly young woman; his hair waved like hungry anemones. The wife honked forlornly under her scarf, and her nerveless hands let her wineglass roll away.

It was time to go.

"J., we must away!" I screamed as I jammed my stove-pipe hat onto my head in an attempt to restore my dignity; the antimony fog was creeping in darkly. "Skot, that's an actual stovepipe," yammered J. "You've ruined our chimney." I ignored his nonsense, which was made easier by the blood unaccountably running down into my eyes. "I can't even see you, demon," I said. "You can't hurt me now."

Eventually, after a minor scuffle involving a rather obstreperous tapestry, we left. A short funicular ride down Capitol Hill, and we were home. I rolled the gently snoring figure of my wife on the floor next to the bed and then tumbled gratefully onto the mattress, poisoned with both sow and sulfide, and thought no more that night, except for one final thought before the darkness claimed me: Next Christmas, I'm going to poison the world.

Thursday, 14 September
Bar None

Some of my tens of readers who might also happen to be drinkers--I'm going to just go ahead and assume that translates to "all of you"--will appreciate the concept of the favorite dive. Most of us have one.

There's a few bars close to me, and we visit them regularly: the regular-Joe bar, with pool table and daily chalkboard specials advertising things like "$4 Jack and Pabst"; the upscaled new place with the high-toned liquor selections and freshly-squeezed fruity drinks; and occasionally, the delightfully atmosphere-free place that does nothing but serve Belgian beers. All great places, to be sure. But none of them are "our place."

No, "our place," somehow, is a recently-added bar adjunct to a laughably average Chinese food joint. A couple of years ago, the ailing restaurant insanely rented out the abandoned next-door space, knocked out a door in the intervening wall, and set up a bar space, whose layout also happens to be comically inept. It is wholly charmless and utterly without character, except for the large latch-hook thing that hangs on the wall and features a startlingly enormous panda, whose looming presence and penetrating latch-hook gaze stifles rational thought and murders casual conversation. This is the place that, for no earthly reason I can even think of, that we have adopted as our own.

I'm sure it's a lot of intangible things. There are, of course, the regulars, some of whom were rendered barless when the legendary Ileen's (formerly Ernie Steele's) went under: there's R., the ancient would-be raconteur, who nurses beers while telling halting, incomprehensible stories that feature sentences like, "I was, I was . . . (his mouth works stabbingly while making wet noises) . . . there was the boat! This was an admiral, you see? So I'm with this admiral, and he's got this bottle of scotch! And his wife is . . . (wet mouth noises) . . . she's scratching the hell out of his hardwood floors. With her heels! He just gets so pissed off, but he's the admiral! So I don't know." Then he roars with laughter.

Or there's G., a lovely woman who looks to be in her late forties or maybe early fifties. She's delightful and lucid, and tends to nurse what I think are vodka tonics and is just pretty great, and boy were we stunned when we found out that she is actually 73 years old. I hope I look that good when I'm 73, but that's all going to depend on whether or not I draw a quality embalmer.

There are the sisters, both in their sixties somewhere, who always sit next to each other and laugh their whiskey-smoked laughs and look like they're training for the 2008 Olympic Hip-Shattering team. In fact, just last weekend, one of the sisters fainted right in the bar and knocked her noggin a really good one; the noise was shocking and horrible. EMTs were summoned, and while we waited for them, clucking over her prone form, she moaned, "I don't want to see those guys! Oh, I don't want any ambulance!" The EMTs did their best when they got there--her blood pressure was low, and they really wanted to take her to the hospital--but she waved them off magnificently. "I'm fine! You boys are lovely, but I'm fine." They reluctantly left (I think they made her sign a form), and soon she was esconced in a booth (the stool she usually occupies was out for obvious reasons), smiling beatifically as she nipped at her water. I assume it was water. She grinned as she held up gauze on her nasty forehead wound. "I'm not as good looking as those firemen, but if you wanted attention, all you had to do was say so," I said. "AH HA HA HA," she cackled at me, and slapped my wrist.

There's some other weird cats, of course, like the guy whose name I do not know who solemnly grips my shoulder as he passes to go outside to smoke; the signal means, "We're going to smoke." It feels oddly conspiratorial, like "Join us outside for information about the rebels," but not creepy, like, "It's time for your alley blowjob." There's also the blown-out disaster drunk, who is there every single afternoon until six or so, and then slants his way over to the corner store where he buys more beer and his nightly provision of corn dogs or Hot Pockets.

And of course--of course--there is the tall blonde woman who is also seemingly always there, the one who could drink Rasputin under the table. She invariably wears things like alarmingly unflattering halter tops and denim skirts; her voice sounds like tectonic disagreement. She frankly terrifies me. I suspect that at some point in her life, she fucked some guy named Manny to death, and then chopped off his hands and head and threw them into Puget Sound.

It sounds seedy, and it kind of is, but in a harmless way (Ileen's was the definition of seedy). I mean, the place is clean, but it's also not-clean. It's sort of like how Pixar would depict a seedy bar, but with more profanity. And there is this feeling of . . . I don't know. Comeraderie? Last Christmastime, we would be in the place, and all of a sudden, here's our waiter, placing upside-down shot glasses next to each of our drinks. "G. over there just bought you guys a round. Merry Christmas." Things like that. R. is frequently fond of clipping out filthy cartoons from . . . well, I don't like to think of where . . . and gleefully sharing them with us. The last thing he showed me was some awful thing involving a guy getting his ass eaten out by a whore. I don't even remember what the hell the joke was; he watched me searchingly, waiting for my reaction. I stared for a while, and then manufactured a laugh. He clapped me on the back happily and said, "I knew you'd love that!" "That's awesome!" I yelped, and handed it back without showing the thing to the wife. And somehow, to me, this is charming? Lord.

And then there's the owners, D. and his wife S. The wife and I frequently have a friend join us at the place--in fact, he eats a lot of meals there, prompting D., a Chinese immigrant, to declare him, at shattering volume, "THE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD!" D. has a horrible limp and spectacular arthritis, so watching him walk is sort of like watching some horrible, endless Noh theater performance. And S., whose English would verge on racist parody were it not of course completely genuine, is a tiny, energetic spitfire, given to shrieking things like, "YOUWANNABILLOKAYIGOGETFORYOU!" S. also does things like, if she's tending bar and wants to go home, will, at 11:00, simply dim the lights down to black hole levels and sit placidly, waiting for the remaining customers time to realize that they can't even find their drinks any more, and hey, I guess it's time to leave.

I used to play the horribly addictive MegaTouch games at this place, but then they were suddenly removed. I asked D., the owner, "Hey, are you getting new ones?" D. waved his arms as much as he could in obvious disgust. "Those things," he sneered. "Assholes, they sit around forever. They drink coffee!" He was spitting mad. "I tell them to fuck you," he continued, and then added a pricelessly spot-on Moe Szyslak moment, "People sit there and they don't drink so much."

D. would also invite us in for special events. "You here on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving? You come up here for free food! We're going to have our friends here! You bring any friends you want! It's a big feed!" And sure enough, D. would prepare massive quantities of fried rice, barbecued pork, etc. Very Thanksgivingy! A couple years ago, when I invited a bunch of friends, one couple unfortunately showed up before we had gotten there, and D. attacked them like a Doberman. "Private party! I'm sorry! You must leave!" My friends stammered, "But--but Skot said to come over . . ." D. instantly transformed. "You friends of Skot? Sorry, sorry!" Then he shooed some people out of an occupied booth for them while my friends skittishly wondered what the hell I had gotten them into, and were occasionally terrorized by D., exhorting them to "EAT! EAT! WE HAVE SO MUCH FOOD!"

D. died of a massive stroke last weekend. I doubt if he was in his sixties, and his arthritis was so advanced, so crippling . . . it was awful to watch him try and move. My wife saw him last when she was shopping at an Asian food store; she said his knuckles had swollen to the size of overripe grapes. He must have been in agony. His wife is still tending bar; his daughter quietly invited us to the funeral. Some people are going; some, like proud G., the ageless grandmother, are not: "I'm not going. That's for family. I'll be right here." Dive bar as church. We worship in the ways we know how.

I didn't say what I thought at the time when she said that, which was, "But that is being family."

So long, D. I don't know if I'll go to the ceremony or not. I might just join G. at the bar and sit and talk to her for a while, and then maybe pay for poor D.'s too-late last drink, an upside-down shot glass in front of the empty stool next to me to represent. And I'll leave it there until I go home, and maybe it can stay there until S. dims down the lights, saying without words that it's time for everyone to go home.

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.

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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