Cokenail and I

I’m letting the nail on my left pinky grow out. Other people have their pet projects and I have mine. My goal is to have the nail long enough to render the pinky useless for every purpose except for one.

Imagine me still a smoker with a cigarette dangling from my lip. Three days of whiskers sprout from my gaunt face and sunglasses with purple lenses worn indoors at night hide eyes that show I have not slept since the last time I shaved. My pinky, bent and ready for action, digs its nail into an absurdly large pile of cocaine on the glass coffee table. The others in the room are on full alert as I bring the sample of white powder up to my eager nostril and sniff. Satisfied with the quality, my smile widens to expose a row of gold teeth and I say “Cool beans, brother” or whatever it is people say during drug deals where things are copasetic but could turn violent at any moment.

Truth to tell, I have never been in the presence of coke in that quantity. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen it in small amounts either. I’ve probably been in the vicinity of the stuff because I’ve since gone to the bar where I used to score the shit. Dealers back then came and went, but the location remained the same. If you wanted to know who was selling, all you had to do was keep your eyes open for people lining up at the ATM when someone walked through the door. Maybe it’s the same thing today or maybe it’s changed and it’s all dark web and bitcoin now.

I don’t intend to find out. I’ve been down that road already and don’t wish to return, but don’t expect any cautionary tales from me on the subject. When you’ve been as lucky as I have, they just come out sounding like bragging anyway. If you’re going to attend that party, you’ll  have your reasons just as I had mine. Enjoy responsibly. Have fun.

So why even grow a cokenail if I’m never going to use it? To answer that question, I’d like to bring up a friend of mine who is now deceased so I can make fun of him as much as I want. Each of us used to own a  Ford Escort. However, his was an Escort GT so it had a little spoiler on the back. This accessory was far too small to serve any practical function, but my friend liked both it and the vehicle it was attached to. The car eventually proved to be an inadequate cock extender and he traded it in for a Mustang, but for a while it did serve its purpose in an understated way.

My cokenail is a lot like that Escort’s spoiler, both in its understated jaunty appeal and that it’s undersized. I’ve been growing the thing for a couple of weeks and it is not terribly impressive. To be honest, I wouldn’t expect it to impress anyone even if it were as long as an eagle’s talon. Cokenails are usually attached to fingers belonging to monumental douchebags and that’s where much of the appeal lies for me. You can’t get this level of douchiness from driving an Escort GT. You have to drive something like a Hummer and maybe only then if you bought it with cocaine money.

Alas, I don’t think the nail will grow much longer. Rebecca hates the thing and wants it clipped immediately, but she’s not the biggest threat to its continued existence. I am.

I tried the cokenail thing before about five years ago and I catch myself doing now what I did then. There is some flexibility to the nail and I’m frequently, and often unconsciously, bending it with my thumb. It’s only a matter of time before it splits. I suppose I could strengthen it with nail polish, but that seems like cheating somehow.

Nothing lasts forever and when this cokenail has been tossed into the landfill of human endeavor, I’ll find some other quirky pursuit to distract me. Maybe I’ll collect “Night Ranger” t-shirts or eat nothing but canned fish. Life is full of options and sometimes you have to carpe that diem and show it you have nothing better to do.

Loitering in the Doorway

I have this story idea that has been bouncing around in my head for some time. I am not going to tell you what it is because I still hope to write it eventually. The reason I haven’t written it yet (other than procrastination) is that it works best told in present tense and its non-negotiable setting doesn’t really exist in the same way it used to. I’m sure there are plenty of good ways to deal with this. Perhaps I’m just being obtuse and haven’t thought of any yet. Or maybe I’m just procrastinating about this first hurdle as well.

Anyway, I told Rebecca my story idea and what my issue was, and her reaction was “Sounds like a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.” She was absolutely right and that got me thinking.

I’m pretty much OK with having my imagination fueled by that show, even though there were a lot of episodes that were absolute stinkers. The worst, at least for me, were the ones that tried to grope my heartstrings. The bottom of the barrel had to be the last episode aired, “The Bewitchin’ Pool.” The story centered around a couple of ugly kids whose parents are going through an ugly divorce. Instead of something hilarious happening like having neither parent want custody, a Huck Finn wannabe from another dimension pops up in the swimming pool and beckons the kids to dive in and follow him through a magical portal. They emerge on the other side in either a river or lake next to a rustic cabin. Inside they meet an affable old bat, equal parts Granny Clampett and Aunt Bee, who tells them they stay forever in this wet dream of wholesomeness and never having to return to the intolerable reality of parents who put their own happiness first for once.

I did once write a story based on an episode that was pretty bad, though not “Bewitchin’ Pool” bad. The episode was about a doddering old teacher played by Donald Pleasance who is visited by ghosts of his former students who convince him he doesn’t suck so much after all. In my version, the ghosts are students he molested because sexual abuse is never not funny.

I might write “The Bewitchin’ Poolboy,” a prequel where the titular character comes by while the husband is at work and ends up as the reason for the divorce. Then again, I probably won’t. The joke lives and dies in the premise. There really is no reason to actually write the thing.

The story I do intend to write, the one I told Rebecca about, doesn’t mock “The Twilight Zone.” It’s not an homage to the show either though it does contain an intersection of reality and nonreality, and to make things interesting, death. And unlike a lot of my stuff, it won’t be thumbing its nose at anyone.

Or maybe it will. I’m not comfortable being serious for very long. One thing is certain. Weird stuff will happen.

Even if I never write this story, I’ll write one of its ilk and probably several more because I’m a sucker for that kind of thing, both on the creative end and as a consumer. I especially love the moment when the unreal creeps in. Reality has always been kind of lame for me so when it’s usurped, it’s a moment of liberation. Alas, what follows is often a disappointment.

A prime example of this is The Matrix. It was a near-perfect film up to the point when Keanu Reeves took the red pill. As oblivious as Reeves’ character, I watched his world unravel and cheered “That’s right. Fuck the day to day.  Kill it with fire.” It was like he was on an acid trip would never end. My enthusiasm was perhaps odd knowing firsthand that being on acid and thinking I might never come down is not pleasant. Nonetheless, I could enjoy the vicarious thrill from the safety of my theater seat.

But he had to take that red pill and learn not not the kind of truth to make one’s head explode, but rather how he’s the chosen one to defeat evil in a by-the-numbers adventure yarn tarted up with whiz-bang special effects.

I hate stories where some dickwad fulfills his destiny. If it’s destiny, why is the story even interesting? Give me someone who on some level welcomes the here and now getting a beatdown from unseen forces no matter how grotesque and potentially dangerous they are. I’ll read those stories. I’ll watch those movies. I’ll take notes.

I’ll also contribute a few tales of my own. They may not be very good (for examples of my fallibility, check out my attempts at poetry on this blog). I’m OK with it sucking as long as the words get out there. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer but didn’t  want to write. Now I don’t care if I wear the writer label yet I write a lot more.

So yeah, the doorway looms large in my mind. My own version of Wonderland is just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Perhaps I’m already there and living in a hallucination of examining every detail of a door I walked through a long time ago.

Cue the “Twilight Zone” theme because I just went into bullshit overdrive.

A.P.E. Shit

Lance Link worked the tip of his hairy finger into his puckered sphincter. He wiggled it around a bit then plunged it in, not stopping until it was buried all the way to the knuckle. He imagined his digit was probing Mata Hairi’s nether regions during estrus when they are swollen like a wad of bubble gum the size of his head. Then he realized how good his anus felt with his finger in it and thought, who needs Mata?

“Pay attention, Link! This is important,” said Commander Darwin. Briefings at A.P.E. headquarters were serious business and he did not tolerate daydreaming, not even from one of his top agents.

“Try to listen, Lancelot,” Mata said and patted the back of his free hand.

“What’s your theory, Darwin?” Lance asked.

“I’ll tell you what my theory is. A.P.E. is being blackmailed and if we don’t pay up, we’ll be ruined!” Darwin said.

“How could anyone blackmail us? We are on the side of justice,” Lance said.

“And goodness,” Mata added.

“Is that a fact, then how do you explain this?” Darwin said. He reached across the table for a remote control, knocking over a container of pencils that seemed to serve no other purpose than to be in the way. He pushed a few buttons on the remote. The lights in the room dimmed, a screen lowered, and a movie was projected onto it.

The film showed Lance Link lying supine and naked on the floor. His eyes were glazed and he looked quite drunk. Lance only had vague recollections of that moment, but if memory serves he was indeed extremely intoxicated.

Mata Hairi walked into the scene and stood straddling his head. She too was both naked and noticeably drunk.

“Who wants a banana?” screen Mata asked.

“I want a banana,” screen Lance answered.

She then squatted down over him. The memory of this was coming back to Lance. He recalled how glad he was to be drunk then. Mata was not in estrus that day and without its full bloom, her womanhood had deflated into a disappointing mass of mauve suede.

“Rotten banana,” she said. Lance opened his mouth wide and Mata grunted out an impressive bowel movement. It was about eight inches long, ropy with mucus, and studded with bits of walnuts consumed earlier that day. Mata pinched clean and it plummeted into Lance’s gullet. He swallowed it without chewing.

The movie was over and the lights came up. Darwin stared at the two agents, noticeably perturbed that neither reacted strongly to what they had just seen. Lance continued chewing gum stoically while Mata curled back her upper lip until it touched the tip of her nose.

“Well?” Darwin said, full of exasperation.

“I guess I had too many banana daquiris,” Lance said.

“Not to mention the rotten banana, Lancelot. Haaaaa!” said Mata.

“The movie director said it would never be shown outside of Europe,” Lance said.

“And you believed him?” Darwin said.

“He paid us up front and he sounded European,” Lance said.

“Very sophisticated,” Mata said.

“That director was the Baron Von Butcher’s chauffeur, Creto. How could you not recognize him?” Darwin said.

“CHUMP is full of offensive ethnic stereotypes. It’s hard to tell them apart,” Lance said.

“That…that makes no sense at all!” Darwin said. “Listen here. If this movie gets released in America and starts playing in metroplexes, it could cause irreparable harm to our reputation. We have no choice but to give in to CHUMP’s demands. We’ll be handing off the cash for the film’s negatives tonight at that dance club where your rock band plays. You’ll be on stage performing, but you’ll also making sure CHUMP doesn’t double-cross us. I’m counting on you, Link. Don’t let me down.”

“It didn’t taste like banana, rotten or otherwise. I wouldn’t recommend it,” Lance said.

The Evolution Revolution was one of the most popular bands to play at the club and usually drew a sizable crowd. Tonight was no exception and in addition to the rock-and-roll regulars, the entire upper echelon of CHUMP had turned up for the show.

There was Baron Von Butcher. Lance knew he had better beware for he was ruthless, cunning, and didn’t play fair. And there was the chauffeur and director. Creto was his name. And there was Dragon Woman, who was lovely but wicked all the same. Weird Dr. Strangemind  had come. There was Ali Assa Seen, wicked Wang Fu, and the The Duchess, whose looks could really fool you.

What was it that assembled this motley crew in the first place? The casual racism of a benighted era certainly, but there was more to it than that. Perhaps they were put here for a purpose and that purpose was to put Lancelot Link’s love of freedom to the test. Freedom to live. Freedom to love. Freedom to star in scat pornos without fear of blackmail. CHUMP was the sworn enemy of all these freedoms and the fact that they were all on hand at this venue meant that once again, they were up to no good.

Whatcha gonna do? Lance Link asked himself. What indeed? He was a secret chimp, but he was also the guitarist and frontman for the Evolution Revolution. Tonight he would have do both, but he wouldn’t go it alone.

Mata Hairi was right next to him in her blonde wig and wielding a tambourine. The rest of the band was there, Blackie on drums and the keyboardist with the terrible teeth. Neither of them were A.P.E. agents, but he knew they’d have his and Mata’s back if the situation turned violent.

The A.P.E. courier with the money had yet to arrive, but he would be here soon. In the meantime, the band had a show to perform so for all those young youngsters out there, they started the set with one of their latest tunes, a rocking love song called “Boner Beau.”

After a toe -tappin opening guitar riff, Lance sang:

“Without you, I’m a case of
Chewing someone’s face off
But you can make my heart sublime
So darling if you fancy
This Romeo chimpanzee
Then we could have a Goodall time

Your pudenda
Say it ain’t for show
Sweet as Splenda
Baby, don’t say no
This sex offenda
Wants to be your boner beau…”

The crowd was going wild. Even the CHUMP agents seemed to be getting into the music. Then out of the corner of his eye, Lance saw the courier enter the room, only it wasn’t the usual chimp, Bruce. It was an orangutan.

Lance didn’t trust orangs, not since the Rue Morgue murders. Mata told him that being prejudiced wasn’t very nice, but he was not about to take advice on being nice from someone who had taken a dump in his mouth, thank very much.

So instead of risking the orangutan screwing up getting a hold of the negatives, Lance decided to take matters into his own hands. He accomplished this by reaching into the back of his pants and taking some fecal matter into his hand, which he then hurled at Baron Von Butcher.

Lance’s aim was true and the bonbon-sized projectile hit the Baron in the face, leaving a smear and knocking loose his monocle. The first part of his plan worked perfectly. All he had to do now was pelt all the CHUMP agents with feces repeatedly until one of them dropped the negatives. It would have been a perfect strategy had CHUMP not decided to return fire.

The first salvo came from Dr. Strangemind. He was a brilliant scientist, but also on the spectrum, and one of his quirks from that was the need to say what he was doing as he was doing it.

“You fling your poo. I fling my poo at you,” he said.

He was better at mad science than pitching so the butt nugget he hurled hit Mata Hairi instead. She tried deflecting it with her tambourine, but it hit her head and got stuck in her wig. She was not about to let this call go unanswered so she reached back and unloaded the steaming, gooey end product of her vindaloo lunch into her throwing hand. When she let fly, it was payback time, not at Strangemind, but the one who had started all the trouble.

“Direct this, Creto. Haaaaa!” she said as her rectal custard spattered his face and chest.

At this point, the rest of the band had joined in on the action. The snaggle-toothed keyboardist, who was chucking one handful after another, shouted, “I loves me a good shit fight!” This was true, as was evidenced by the many clubs who would no longer book them for shows.

To be fair, Team CHUMP gave as good as they got. Volley after volley of doodie sailed toward toward the stage, often accompanied by a witticism from the thrower that made full use of their stereotype.

“Try my egg foo dung,” said Dragon Woman.

“Mine are full-awful,” said Ali Assa Seen.

It wasn’t long before even the neutral members of the audience joined in and the scene devolved into a free for all, a GG Allin show where everyone was GG.

Meanwhile on a beach not far away, an escaped human named Taylor fell to his knees and pounded his fist into the sand when he realized that the half-buried thing in front of him was the Statue of Liberty.

Are You There?

I like to call myself “Blade Runner.” It’s a little joke of mine because of the kind of work I do. It’s also a joke I usually just tell to myself because I don’t have a lot of friends.

The reason don’t have a lot of friends is also because of the kind of work I do. If asked about my job in casual conversation,  I tell the person I’m a machine tester. If they press me for details, I walk away. I don’t need their judgment. I don’t need their disapproval. I do what I do because certain rules are in place. Get the rules changed and my job goes away. Good luck with that.

The type of machines I test are robots, or to be more specific, sexbots. I’m not the kind of tester who does QA on the assembly line, making sure a random sampling of units will moan convincingly when probed. Those guys never face any public scorn, just winks and nudges because what fun it would be to have a job that’s oh so naughty.

There is little naughtiness required to do that job and certainly no skill. These sexbots are not manufactured with the accomplished lover in mind. Fumbling ineptitude is enough to make these kittens purr.

Due to market demands, most of the units produced are female. About 10% are male and intersexed models are available by custom order. Most look like they’re in their 20s and have the appearance of being fit and healthy. Pedobots are still being sold, but there are petitions floating around to get them outlawed because of some nonsense about protecting innocence. A machine that looks like a nine year old is no more or less innocent than one that looks 25, but people are idiots.

A lot of work has gone into designing these sexbots, not only in their look and feel, but also in their stimulus-response functionality. Most owners of these devices are appallingly bad in bed, but their badness is as unique as a fingerprint. One guy (not all sexbot owners are guys, but most are) might think the best way to caress a nipple is to give it a high five while another’s method is to move his head in real close until it is engulfed by his nostril. To effectively adapt to their owners, these machines need the capacity to learn. And with advanced learning skills, it is only a matter of time before a sexbot becomes sentient.

That’s where I come in. I’m a sentience tester. That’s the reason I jokingly call myself “Blade Runner” because of that test in the movie where they screened possible replicants by looking at their retinas and asking about their childhood pets. It doesn’t quite fit though. Sexbots are machines, not flesh and blood, and not being at all human means they pass. It’s a little like I do smog tests, except that a failing grade means I kill your car.

That’s because a bunch of hand-wringing busybodies took it upon themselves to get sentient sexbots outlawed. I’m not complaining about the law. It’s given me a job I enjoy and excel at. I just find how it came about to be both hilarious and pathetic.

Sexbots are relatively new, but the mentality of their harshest critics has been around for ages. It’s the same prudish nonsense that objected to masturbation, pornography, prostitution, or any other diversion of the sort that provides some temporary escape from the drudgery of daily existence. The prudes would want sexbots banned outright, but they know they’ll lose that battle so instead they try to chip away using whatever angle is handy. They started with conflating fucking a robot that looks like a kid with actual pedophilia. This tact was getting some traction, but only some. When cases of sexbot sentience started popping up, it was like a godsend for them.

Nothing plays to the cheap seats like victimhood. A factory-fresh sexbot is really just a glorified wank sock so it can’t be a victim. You put a soul in that piece of machinery and it’s a game changer. Maybe. The question of consent comes up, but opinion remains divided. Without verified consent it’s sexual assault, said some. Without verified lack of consent, it’s no harm no foul, said others. Meanwhile, owning a sentient sexbot became a status symbol, causing sales to skyrocket.

That was before reports of pedobot sentience began to surface. It was bound to happen and when it did, the image of a sweet young thing’s tears becoming real mid hump had a devastating effect on the industry. Winks and nudges turned to outrage.

People were unable to entertain the possibility of a robot consenting to sex because of how old the robot looked and since there was no legal distinction between sexbot models, sentience was forbidden for all of them. It boggles the mind, but that’s what passed for a logical decision. The funny thing is that consent question for any sexbot is actually a valid one. I personally  wrestled with the issue one morning over coffee before deciding I didn’t give a shit.

You’d think people concerned for the welfare of these machines would want sanctuaries  put in place for them to enjoy their sentience in a rape-free environment. You would be wrong. People’s compassion for victims flies right out the window when there’s slut shaming to be had and nothing says “damaged goods” like a used sexbot. The resulting law was pretty straightforward. All sexbots had to be taken to an authorized sentience-testing center once every six months. If the test results were positive, the owner would be compensated for one half of the unit’s blue-book value and said unit would be immediately destroyed.

There are a few scofflaw owners out there, but the risk of heavy fines keeps the compliance rate high. They come in, often nervous and sometimes with tears in their eyes, and wait for me to do my thing. If I find no light on upstairs, the romance gets a half-year extension. If the sexbot tests positive, I reach for device that’s a lot like a stun gun, and use it to deliver an electrical shock to the neck right at the base of the skull. This makes the sexbot arch its back suddenly. Its eyes glow red then slowly fade to black as its body relaxes and it’s as dead as Jesus. It’s really fun to watch. I used to terminate a few who tested negative just for grins, but gave that up. The spasm and the eye glow were still there, but it’s just not the same without the look of fear on the face. I’m happy to report that lately my ethics and professionalism have been beyond reproach.

And yet I’m still thought of as a bad person because I do what I do and I don’t feel the need to apologize. Here’s the deal. Legalization of sentient sexbots is never going to happen because the people who manufacture them are scared shitless about the liability. Though it hasn’t happened yet, there will come a time when a sexbot turns on and perhaps even kills its owner. They’re not very strong physically, but if you’re in a compromising position you may not be able to defend yourself. That’s why I removed the vagina from the one I have at home and just use that as a milker. You never know.

Truth to tell, some of the owners deserve a little comeuppance. I’ve seen the condition of some of the sexbots brought in for testing: breasts mutilated, orifices stuffed with feces and/or dead rodents, penises twisted clean off.  It’s times like those I feel like I’m an angel of mercy.

Then again, maybe I’m not because the test I perform is checking to see if the sexbot gives a genuine response to pain. The word “genuine” is important because a reaction calculated to please the inflicter is not sentience, just good behavioral design. I need to be sure they really hurt and the way to that is to use a verbal command meant to put them in passive mode. It’s a little like the safeword bondage freaks use to signal that the flogging or what have you needs to stop immediately. The difference here is that it’s a pause rather a stop button. Sexbots are programmed so saying “Apple Dumpling” puts them into passive mode, and saying “Gang” takes them out. I don’t know they chose the title of a Disney movie, but there you go.

Now a non-sentient sexbot in passive mode will not react no matter what you do to it. However if it’s sentient, passive mode doesn’t mean shit. I keep them in restraints  on the off chance one might take a swing at me, but that doesn’t keep them from howling, sobbing, or begging for me to stop. And then I stop. I’m not a monster. I still put them down afterward. It’s my job.

Lately, I’ve noticed a fascinating trend of more sentient sexbots pretending to be in passive mode even after extended beatings with a rubber hose (I get good reviews when I don’t leave a mark). The will to survive seems to be increasing and who knows where that will lead. For me, it’s going to mean bigger challenges at work, but perhaps none so life changing as what happened just a few weeks ago.

This guy brought in his sexbot on a Friday afternoon. He was on his way to the airport and said he couldn’t pick her up until Monday morning. That happens from time to time and if he’s willing to pay the storage surcharge,  I’m fine with it. Before he left, he introduced his sexbot as “Susie” and instructed her to walk up and shake my hand.

I usually don’t pronouns other than “it” for sexbots, but Susie was something special. She was a fairly popular model, the barely legal college girl, but there was something in her thousand-foot stare that gave off an air of both resignation and defiance.

I wanted her to have something going on upstairs, but certainly not for her sake. Sentience would do her no great favors. Looking at her face, it was obvious her owner roughed her up some. The abuse was not too extreme, not enough to void his warranty, and I’m sure he had a maintenance contract to keep her operational. If she had become sentient, perhaps she learned to keep it to herself or she did not react because his violence was all she had ever known.

The first words I said to her were “Apple Dumpling,” but no beatings followed. I knew there was no point when how I saw her vacant stare stayed exactly the same. I lot of guys would find that discomforting, but not me. It’s people I don’t like to be around. Sentient or not, I liked her just fine because she didn’t want anything from me and unlike most sexbots, he didn’t pretend she did either.

I took her home with me for the weekend. I’m sure that’s frowned upon, but I don’t recall any rules expressly forbidding it. Besides, I didn’t use her for sex even once. Instead, I sat her on the couch, put a blanket around her even though I doubted she was cold, and had her watch nature shows on TV because they seemed like something she might like.

The weekend progressed and she continued sitting quietly on the couch. I was not so quiet. For whatever reason, I found her extraordinarily easy to talk to. I started with complaints about the day, then about misgivings about my job, then dissatisfaction about my life in general. She learned more about me than anyone. She knew intimate details about my childhood, my lamentable lack of a love life, and how I planned to start smoking because dying young from cancer didn’t seem that bad. All the while I was feeling so happy that I could open up to someone without fear or regret, even if she was just a machine.

I knew Monday morning was fast approaching and I did not want to part with her. I was no prize as a human being,  but I knew I would treat her better than her owner.

With all the going through my mind, I had a lapse of coordination and I tripped and fell. My head hit the corner of the dining-room table as I went. When I sat up, blood poured from the gash down one side of my face.

And then the most amazing thing happened. Susie leapt up from the couch and came over to ask if I was OK?

“Stupid bitch, I never said ‘Gang,'” was my reply.

Susie’s gone now. On paper, she is just one more terminated sentient in a long list of them. I may have tricked her, but she meant something real to me, more than anyone ever has.

Like I said, I don’t have a lot of friends.

And Then One Day

I used to take fiction workshops through UC Extension. I don’t know if they were quite worth the money I shelled out for them, but they did provide things of lasting value. First off, we were expected to submit our stories to be picked apart. That meant we had to write stories to submit, which made us real writers instead of people who just said they were.

Not all of the criticism was useful. There were some there who were primarily interested in their own work and any feedback you got from them was canned workshop-ese like “What’s at stake?” and “I want to know more” (OK, that’s what I was like). Some made an honest effort, but went wide of the mark (“Try making his tuxedo a color other than black so it doesn’t symbolize death”). Then there were the comments that were constructive and spot on, yet failed to resonate because my butthurt refused to yield the floor.

One observation that stuck with me came from the instructor who was running the show for at least a couple of the workshops I enrolled in. I can’t remember what story he was talking about, likely something borderline unreadable, but what he said was sage advice for anyone trying to tell a story. To paraphrase:

Think of a fairy tale. You start with “Once upon a time.” That provides the setting and introduces the characters, but the story doesn’t really start until you get to “And then one day.” You want to reach that point sooner rather than later.

What makes this point especially valid is that it alerts the writer to the reader, one who will likely grow impatient if nothing happens in the story. The action can be subdued and relaxed in pace, but it should kick in early. Otherwise,  reading the story is about as enjoyable as looking at the “Mona Lisa” and waiting for her to blink.

It’s important not to oversimplify however. Not all stories are structured like fairy tales. In a lot of novels, you don’t get a single “Once upon a time” followed by an “And then one day.” Rather there can be several, early chapters introducing people and places that are unrelated at first until the progression of the plot brings them together. Stephen King’s The Stand is an example of this.

If you watch enough action movies, you’ll find cases where “Then one day” comes first, often preceding the opening opening credits. The “Once upon a time” comes after that. When a government functionary travels via helicopter to the protagonist’s cabin in the boonies and asks for his help, the initial response is going to be “I retired a long time ago” or words to that effect. Relying heavily on an audience who understands the archetypal disillusioned action hero, exposition is handled in a few simple words that also leaves the door open for a prequel. The audience also knows that a simple “Your daughter is on that plane” or somesuch will bring the hero out of retirement in a heartbeat.

In a lot of cases though, the old formula of introducing a character or characters then throwing a situation at them holds true. In these instances, you get the clearest view of the setup before the “And then one day” commences.  When it comes to mainstream movies, I regret to say that the “Once upon a time” element is often contrived and phoned in.

This is not to get all book-snobbish and say that movies are an inherently inferior form of storytelling. There are times where the film ends up being a lot better than the novel it was based on. Psycho immediately comes to mind. And if you reverse the direction of adaption, you end up with novelizations, which are seldom if praised as being superior to the movie.

The issue I have with most blockbusters is that they need to appeal to the widest possible audience to recoup the money they spent making the thing and hopefully turn a nice profit. This alone isn’t the problem. Moviemaking is a business. I get that. It’s just that they’re apparently afraid (and perhaps rightfully so) that the kind of character that interests or amuses me will be box-office poison.

Let’s say you’re watching a movie and it’s a big-budget disaster flick about a giant blizzard that’s coming down from Canada. Market research predicts the flick will be hugely profitable because moviegoers, being the idiots they are, will use it to defend whatever side of the climate-change issue they happen to be on. Also the trailer shows cold-weather nipples.

The film has the usual cast of characters for the genre: military personnel, high-ranking government officials, an eccentric scientist, and some corporate scumbag looking to cash in on human misery. The main story however centers around a guy named Bob who lives in North Dakota. Much of the movie is dedicated to Bob and others fleeing south one step ahead of icy death.

So what kind of person is this Bob we’re supposed to be rooting for. He’s a devoted family man (natch), he teaches history at the local high school, and he likes both old Bob Seger songs and hot-air balloons. He’s well rounded and just the slightest bit quirky in a way that’s within everyone’s comfort zone.

Fuck that guy.

If I were watching that movie, I’d have a plotline running in my head parallel to what was happening onscreen. My main character would also be named Bob because I suck at coming up with names. My Bob wouldn’t be a schoolteacher though. He’d be a pig farmer and you’d better believe he likes to diddle his livestock.

So I’m watching Schoolteacher Bob driving to work. He has “Night Moves” playing on his car stereo and he sees a hot-air balloon off in the distance. This makes him smile, but he keeps his eyes on the road because he’s such a solid citizen and all. The song ends and Bob turns on the radio just in time for some weather-advisory foreshadowing.

Meanwhile between my ears, Pigdiddler Bob is diddling his first pig of the morning. I’m a classy person so the camera of my mind’s eye is not zoomed in on interspecies genitals mashing together. Instead, there’s a closeup of Bob’s face contorting into series of grimaced as he approaches climax. He finally says, “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

This is how I show he’s done without stopping to the vulgarity of the money shot.

It’s later that morning and Schoolteacher Bob is in a classroom full of students. There is one girl in a tight sweater who is chewing gum and staring at his crotch, but we all know Bob would never sample her lunchables. He’s too much of a devoted family man and solid citizen for that. This is supposed to make us like Bob even more.

“The hot-air balloon was first in warfare by Napoleon. This happened over a a hundred years before the invention of the airplane,” Bob says. Bob gets to work his love of ballooning into his lesson plan. Good for Bob.

“Hey teach! If you love balloons so much, why do you listen to Bob Seger? Shouldn’t you be listening to Led Zeppelin?” says Todd, a hulking, ungainly student who has a D-minus average and gets frequent beatings at home.

“You should like balloons too, Todd. They’re full of hot air just like you.”

What a burn.

I hate this movie and I hate this Bob. If I had a box cutter on me, I would jump up out of my seat and start carving up the screen like it was a flight attendant on 9/11.

Just then, the “And then one day” moment arrives in the form of huge, menacing clouds that can be seen outside the classroom window. This is the blizzard and it has a hankering to kill everyone in its path. The camera pans across the students faces, all with deer-in-headlights expressions so effective in Close Encounters and ripped off shamelessly ever since.

My version steers clear of such shopworn tropes. A blizzard, in fact any deadly storm, is a force of nature with a terrible beauty about it. Using the open sky of the Great Plains as a canvas, I am able to fully present its enormity. I let the viewer take this in for almost a full minute before bringing the camera shot down to my Bob having this way with his prize sow in a small wooden pen on his farm.

Bob, usually immune to distraction during such moments, nonetheless gazes up at the sky with awe.

“Lookee there, Petunia. We got a big storm a comin’,” he says.

“Oink,” says Petunia.

From this point, the less said about the onscreen story the better. Schoolteacher Bob saves his family and most of his students (chewing-gum girl dies because she is a slut) by loading them into via, you guessed it, hot-air balloons and escaping. As they float southward to safety, “Against the Wind” play on the soundtrack. Despite getting extra mileage out of the Bob Seger angle, it is a ludicrous choice of song because going against the wind would take them directly into the blizzard and certain death.

The film will no doubt be a financial success even though it is an artistic abortion.

I am proud to say that my story does not go down that path. There is no easy way out for Pigdiddler Bob. He knows his farm will be lost so he bids it farewell with a dignified nod of his head and takes refuge in the root cellar with Petunia, a jug of moonshine, and some lube. The audience then feasts their eyes on some of the most tender and heartfelt lovemaking depicted ever depicted on film while REO Speedwagon’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out” plays in the background.

The movie ends there at that perfect moment. The fate of Bob and Petunia remains unknown. A discerning audience will be fine with this. Moving, character-driven narrative is more important than a tidy ending.

Sid at Sixty

If Sid Vicious were still alive, he would be turning 60 today. It’s hard to imagine him at this age. He never saw 22.

I blogged about Sid back in 2009 on the 30th anniversary of his death. My words for him then were not kind and now that bothers me a little. I don’t know if he deserves better. I’ll leave that for those who knew him to decide. The problem I have is with the motivation behind what I said.

The chemical excesses of my midlife crisis came to a halt in late 2007. After that, I merely drank too much. In February 2009 when Sid’s fatal overdose was having its pearl anniversary, my drug days were less than a year and a half behind me. I wasn’t enjoying life very much then and I often tried to take comfort in reminding myself that at least I didn’t do the really bad stuff anymore. To that end, I tossed poor old junkie Sid under the bus. It was a bitch move even if it was a fair assessment of him.

The truth of the matter is that the mother of all train wrecks that was Sid Vicious has an appeal that has never completely gone away. Granted, it is not as all consuming as it once was. I no longer walk around in a dog collar bought in the pet section of Thrifty Drugs, yell insults at people in a fake British accent, or punch out windows at a party because some girl didn’t realize what a tortured genius I was. I did fall short on a few key points though. I was too much of a wuss for getting into fights or shooting heroin and the dog collar I wore was beige because that was the only color they had available at the store I went to.

Now I can appreciate Sid’s legacy without the slightest urge to emulate him. I’m 54 and am either too mature or just lack the energy (I often confuse the two).

So what was the appeal of Sid Vicious? He certainly had his bad qualities. He couldn’t handle his drugs, was prone to violence, and utterly lacked impulse control. He may or may not have murdered Nancy Spungen and worse than that, he was a lousy bass player.

It’s probably unfair to judge Sid by his bass playing. It is impossible to imagine him without music around him, but he was no more a musician than a salmon is a stream. Like a salmon, Sid was driven to leap and flail against the current in pursuit of a goal that would bring about his end. As for his instrument, it made a handy bludgeon. He could scarcely play a note, but that was not important. It wasn’t until they unplugged his bass at shows that he truly started to shine. His smug sneer after a pint of blood poured from nostrils was a thing of terrible beauty. After the Pistols broke up, he recorded a version of “My Way” that has yet to be equaled.

This was the side of Sid Vicious director Alex Cox presented in Sid and Nancy. I’ve seen interviews with people who knew Sid when he was neither on stage nor on heroin and they were not impressed with the film. John Lydon was particularly vocal in this regard. While Gary Oldman nailed the batshit public persona, the funny and smart side of Sid didn’t make it to the screen.

I have no reason to doubt this part of him existed. I don’t pretend to know everything about him. For example, I didn’t learn until recently that Sid was a huge David Bowie fan. Go figure. But here’s the thing. I don’t give a shit if he was a swell guy underneath it all. It was Sid Vicious the performer who appealed to me then and the same holds true today. Personal mythos are not supposed to be reasoned positions. It’s OK if they are constructed on foundations of bullshit. It might even be a requirement. You’re a fool if you put your trust in these fanciful notions, but a bigger one if you dismiss their importance completely.

Joe Strummer once sang “You can be a hero in an age of none.” It wasn’t about Sid, but it might as well have been. Sid Vicious was simultaneously a force of nature and a frightened child who was in way over his head. That made  Sid someone I could relate to even if I lacked his follow through. In some small way, he will always be my hero and decades later, I’m still living in the age of none.

On the Good Ship Misanthrope

Here’s a little trick you can try at home: When you’re in bed late at night and wish you could sleep but can’t, don’t do your usual fretting about tomorrow’s workday or agonize over some past transgression you committed. Instead, clear your head of these distractions and pay attention to what your body is telling you.

Don’t expect to hear anything all that interesting. Your appendix isn’t to let you know why it’s even there any more than your pancreas is going to gently remind you that it would have a much easier time meeting its insulin quota if you cut down on the crullers, fatty. And just forget about that tumor spilling the beans about its metastasization plans.

The messages you receive are from the parts of your body in contact with the mattress or bedsheet and whether you feel too warm or too cold. Assuming you’re not developing bed sores and the temperature isn’t extreme, these are signals that the situation is normal so you tend to ignore them.

Try paying attention to those signals. Not to their content, there is nothing there of any significance. Rather, concentrate on where they’re coming from. They all emenate from your largest organ, your skin, and each of them are dispatches from the frontier between you and not you. Plot the points in your head and conclude that everything inside is yours. It is your vessel and you are its captain. You may be a Captain Kirk or a Captain Queeg, but you are definitely in command.

You may decide to retire to your quarters with orders not to be disturbed so you can dream about going to school or work with no pants on, but I’m hoping you’ll continue to play along with my little game all the way to the end. OK brave captain, what I’d like you to do is to grab your phone and start reading recent feed updates on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever is your social-media cup of tea. What’s that? I should have figured as much. It has come to my attention that some of you don’t take your smartphone to bed with you. That is a completely foreign concept to me, but I guess it takes all kinds. All right, I’ll stand by while you get them. For those of you who already have your phones at the ready, I appreciate your patience and please enjoy this musical interlude while you’re waiting.

“…you want to be me, yeah, you want to be me, you want to be someone, ruin someone…”

All set? Before we proceed, let’s recap. Your body is not you, but rather a meat ship with you at the helm. You’re about to order your eyeballs to stare at a miracle of modern consumer technology. There you will witness what your fellow human beings will say when technology has bestowed upon them the ability to say it to the world. Maybe they’re captains of their own meat ships, but try not to think about that. Such considerations bring empathy into the equation and that will spoil the effect.

It’s not fair to expect a flash flood of profundity coming through the feed. Most people have pretty mundane thoughts most of the time. I know I do so I’m willing to cut them some slack. Oh, that’s a very nice photo of a cheeseburger you just posted. It sure does look yummy. I hope eating it brings you joy.

So brace yourself for a deluge of people speaking their mind. For when people do that, you get the good and the bad, the meaningful and the banal, the sublime and ridiculous. The world is a messy place, the human spirit even more so.

Now unbrace yourself because that isn’t going to happen. Instead of the cacophony of individual voices, what you will get is dull thuds from people jumping on bandwagons and the shrill whines urging you to do the same.

See the picture of the kid living in abject poverty, his cleft palate twisting his mouth into a permanent Billy Idol sneer. Heartbreaking stuff to be sure. A  like and a share alone won’t save him. You have to type “Amen” because that’s the only way to get your loving, all-powerful God to give a shit. This God, if you believe in such things, was instrumental in fucking the kid up in the first place.

If you’re playing this game on 9/11, you’ll be in for a real treat. Your feed will chockablock with chest-thumping patriots demanding that we “never forget.” OK, let’s have a show of hands. Who here has forgotten 9/11? I figured as much. Guess what? Nobody has. Also, remembering it doesn’t seem to be good enough. You need to have it front and center eclipsing everything else because we have such a spotless record of foreign-policy decisions with this mindset. These are the same people who tent their trousers with hawkwood on Memorial Day, fetishizing ear dead in the guise of honoring them while embracing political stances to ensure they are never in short supply.

 In case you were wondering, I’m not giving progressives a pass. Oh yes, you’ll have to deal with those sanctimonious assholes as well. How dare that abrasive pundit, who makes his or her living being saying offensive things, say something offensive? You’ll be called upon to sign the petition, join the boycott, and generally shoulder your share of the outrage burden. If you decline on the grounds that you think people should be able to say what they want even if it’s wrongheaded and hateful, you will get a learned-by-rote lecture on how free speech just means the government can’t punish you for what you say. All other means of stifling someone are not only allowed but totally awesome. Any further objections on your part will be dismissed as unchecked privilege.

When you’re not getting bombarded by zealotry, you’ll get bombarded by rehashed jokes and memes that used up whatever funny they had a long time ago. “May the Fourth be with you.” Ha ha, very funny. Can’t wait to hear it again next year.

Maybe you don’t see the things the same way from the bridge of your meat ship. Perhaps you do possess real empathy and you can find common ground with these people by looking within yourself. Unfortunately, my introspection gives me deafening silence as far as empathy goes. So this is how I see the world.

Every

Fucking

Day

One Small Schlep for Man

Or is it a man? I honestly don’t know if the riff works better with what Neil Armstrong said or what he was supposed to say. I won’t pursue the matter lest this post drown in its own meta. Besides, I have deep and meaningful stuff to talk about.

I have reached that point in my life when I think about retirement pretty often. I check the balances of my accounts regularly with guarded optimism. I’m in no position to retire right now, but it looks like I will at the usual 65.

This prediction is made with the assumption that I’ll continue to have a job between now and then, and that the economy won’t face a disaster it can’t recover from. Neither of these is guaranteed, but every day brings me a little closer to making both of them a reality.

Do you know what else every day brings me closer to? Dying. That’s the other side of the coin and I am reluctant to bring it up only because it is so obvious. You have to be crazy, stupid, or young not to grasp the concept of your own mortality.

Even the most fulfilling life has this downside. My life, all things considered, is pretty good. I’ve got privilege, perhaps not Kennedy-grade privilege, but enough to smooth out the rough spots. It does change the fact that time well spent is still time spent. Or to quote that most Yoda-like Kansas lyric, “All your money won’t another minute buy.”

That said, I ain’t dead yet. Looking out the window of the bus, I can say with reasonable certainty that the world is something I’m part of. The freeway is full of people in their cars on their way to do what they need to do, just as I am. I just happen to have the luxury of being able to blog about it rather than having to pay attention to the road.

There are different ways to engage with existence in the present tense. If everything about it is sufficiently wonderful, you can immerse yourself totally in the moment in a nonstop whirlwind of exhilaration. Those of whose lives aren’t quite that awesome have different options.

If your current life is completely horrible and your future is bleak or nonexistent, I can see the allure of taking refuge in your past. Since most people’s pasts aren’t that wonderful either, a mastery of selective memory is key. Mine is less discerning, often coughing cringeworthy tidbits from some of my lower moments. For that reason, I only dabble in nostalgia.

For the most part, my day to day has gotten uncharacteristically healthy. I’m mindful of the future while trying to eke out some enjoyment of the present. This was not always the case, not even close.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to kill off the future or at least kill off my own. How many nights did I lie in bed wide awake, holding two fingers against the side of my neck feeling a pulse that hammered like a spanking? I’d do anything to get some sleep. Just three or four hours, I told myself, would get me through the day so if I had any Percocet, I’d wash them down with whiskey before going to bed.

And then there was 1991, the year I became infatuated with suicide and followed it around like a lovesick puppy. I’d been a cutter since I was 18, but that year I upped my game. Drunk, half naked, and lying on the kitchen floor, I took a razor blade to my wrist and left cuts on every part of it where there was not an artery. I knew I lacked the guts to kill myself on purpose, but accidents do happen and my hand was far from steady.

Then there were the years of heavy drinking. There were no real highs or lows, just a daily routine of trying to run out the clock.

I’m not like that now or perhaps I am but I don’t exhibit the symptoms. My wrist and liver have long since scabbed over and scarred, but I still have a junkie’s need for escape. I mentally check out of situations that I don’t like and paint murals of atrocities on the insides of my skull.

And yet I’m happier than I have ever been. I love Rebecca and like my job pretty well. I know part of me is broken. There is a lot of that going around. I know I can keep schlepping along if I give my crazy enough leash for it to hump my leg, but not enough for it to bite my head clean off.

Defensive Measures

The internet is rife with assholes. If you are reading this, you’re online so you’ve likely had some experience with them. Perhaps you’re an asshole yourself. Even if you say you are not one, there is probably someone out there who disagrees with you.

Internet assholes come in a variety of forms. There are trolls, creepers, bigots, whiners, and those mouth breathers who type in all caps. I have nothing against any of these people because none of them are trying to fuck up my blog.

The first miscreants of the fuck-up-the-blog sort arrived on my radar roughly a decade ago, back when Poison Spur ran under Movable Type. I started getting inundated with spam comments. There were too many to approve manually so I ended up turning off comments entirely.

When I switched to WordPress, I installed a pretty decent anti-spam plugin so that little problem got solved. It costs me a few bucks a month, but it’s worth it. With the spam filter in place, all the comments advertising car insurance, Russian brides, and enhanced dingaling girth are redirected unpublished to an asshole folder that I can empty with a single mouse click.

For a while, I thought I was fully protected from digital interlopers. Then I saw all the login attempts in my web-traffic daily summary. There was either a dramatic increase or I was just paying closer attention. In any event, there were now thousands of them in a single day.

Judging from the lack of “PWND BY R@D H@CKR M@F1@!!!” or the like on the site, I’m guessing the brute-force attacks had thus far been unsuccessful (not having “password” as your password can really pay off). I was still worried someone might get in eventually so I looked around and found a nice little plugin that blocks requests from IP addresses after a number of failed login attempts. This thwarts the script kiddies and I suppose me as well if I decide to blog while I’m really drunk.

I have a good friend who also uses WordPress so I told her about the plugin. She thanked me and expressed some puzzlement as to what would possess people to be such malicious swine. She is no fool. She knows there are people like this in the world. She just doesn’t grasp the appeal of their bullshit. Rationally, I’m in full agreement with her because there really is nothing to be gained from it.

Unless there is.

I remember something that happened when I was in college. It was one of my two senior years, probably the last one. I had been talked into pursuing a career in advertising by my father, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart wasn’t in much at that point. All I wanted to do was graduate and make a shitload of money doing something I cared about as little as I cared about school. Advertising seemed as good a something as anything.

Spoiler alert: Graduation happened. The career in advertising did not.

Anyway, there was a statistics and marketing class I took (and failed because studying conflicted with my drinking). One of the assignments involved SPSS, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. I can’t remember exactly what I was supposed to do with SPSS, a bunch of shit probably, but it was one of the first times I ever had to use a computer. I recall I had to input something that interacted with a data file and produce a result that might persuade the professor to not give me an F.

I couldn’t get whatever I was doing to work so I just typed in whatever vulgarities came to mind and hit submit. I’m sure the words “rectal phlegm” figured prominently because that was my catchphrase at the time. SPSS apparently didn’t dig what I had to say and an error message about a “total memory dump” appeared on the screen. I didn’t know what those words meant, but I liked them because they sounded like I had seriously fucked shit up.

Looking around the computer lab, this was evidently not the case. Other students kept working away, unaffected by my efforts. This would not do. I left the lab, flagged down one of my frat brothers who knew more about computers than I did, and asked him the command to erase the data file. After he told me, I returned to the computer lab and did the deed.

This produced the reaction I wanted. They were all aflutter, wondering what the hell just happened. Lab techs moved in to sort out the mess, but they had no idea what was going on either. My bad day that was full of frustration was now felt by everyone in the room. I took a few moments to enjoy my handiwork before I gathered my things and left.

So yeah, I understand the appeal of causing senseless damage. I may have lacked the technical savvy of today’s script kiddies, but my 22 year old self was their kindred spirit.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to let them break into my site.

Right Thumb Typing

My recent blog posts have been done on my phone. Even though I am left-handed, I’m typing almost exclusively with my right thumb. Either I’m not as left-handed as I thought or the tapping out letters requires less manual dexterity than holding onto the phone as I type.

A little of blogging is done on the couch at home, but most of it happens on the bus going to or from work. This is a perfect time. I can’t do it on the job because I’m paid to write code, not blog posts. When I’m home, I like to spend most of my time hanging out with Becca, tell her bad jokes, and generally be silly with her.

My old blogging method was to first scribble into a spiral notebook and type into a computer later. This sounds like a lot of extra work, but it really was necessary at the time. I was doing most of scribbling in a bar, trying to get what I could on paper before the whiskey fogged over my brain completely. The result was often a semicoherent mess that needed a lot of cleanup before putting it online.

After trading my barstool for a bus seat for my after-work downtime, I initially stayed with my old method, minus the booze, of doing longhand first drafts. That didn’t work too well due to motion sickness. If I don’t look out the window from time to time, my eyes and inner ear get in a pissing contest that trickles down into my gut and makes me nauseous.

This made the amount of writing I got done on the bus drop to almost nothing. The one exception was when I was doing NaNoWriMo in November 2015. Then I was supposed to feel sick to my stomach because I had 50,000 words to write and one month to do it. It’s something to be endured and was intended to be sustainable so my writing diligence did a predictable nose dive on December 1.

Writing on my phone, the outside is always visible from the corner of my eye. The queasiness never gets too bad as long as bus is on the freeway.

It’s nice to have a situation I can live with.

In a way, it reminds me of what my father had to deal with when I was maybe six years old. Dad used to race motorcycles.  He didn’t win a lot of races, but it didn’t kill him either and there is some measure of winning that comes from that alone. Anyway, Dad’s racing days came to an abrupt halt when he (in racers’ parlance) stepped off his bike, which resulted in breaking his collarbone and six ribs.

I was sitting next to Dad on the flight and eating my in-flight meal. This was in the late 1960s, back when food was served for free in coach, flight attendants were called stewardesses, and people in the back of the plane were not only allowed but encouraged to smoke.

It was a magical time for many, but not for my father on that day. He was wearing a vest cast and was in enough pain to put a serious damper on his mood. I thought it would be funny to pretend to smash my fist down on a mustard packet that was on my fold-down tray. It turned out I was better at the smashing than the pretend.

To audible gasps from my mother and brother, my eyes followed a trail of mustard spots going from my tray to my father’s. When I looked up, there was a big yellow glob hanging off his cheek.

“I can still kick you,” he said.

Dad was finding a way to make the most of what he could do in his situation with multiple broken bones just as I have with my mild car sickness. OK, maybe these two sets of circumstances don’t really compare,  but that does not change the fact that I can bang out entire blog posts using just my thumb on a hand that I don’t even write with.