Privilegmobile 14: Making Do

It was really no big deal.

Last Thursday started like any other Thursday, which is to say like any other weekday except that I also shaved. Monday and Thursday are my shaving days. I go scruffy for the rest of the week. As long as I practice basic hygiene on other areas, no one at work seems to care.

With my face as smooth except for spots I invariably miss, I headed to Muddy’s on the way to the bus stop. I got my usual coffee and bagel, and sat down at my usual table and thought my little thoughts.

By little, I mean they were of no importance. The world would continue to be just as good or bad as it had been regardless of what was bouncing around in my noggin. In some ways though, they were anything but little. They took up my powers of cognition pretty much ear to ear, leaving only enough gray matter for autopilot to function. I was able to walk to Muddy’s without incident, but I had no recollection of getting there.

The topic, unimportant yet all encompassing, was a Joe Don Baker movie called Mitchell. The film was neither a critical nor a box-office success, but it was of great cultural significance to an MST3K fan such as myself. This was the movie that aired on the episode where Joel Robinson escaped from the Satellite of Love and Mike Nelson was sent up in his place.

The heavily edited version on MST3K is the only one I’ve seen so I couldn’t tell you if the love scene between Mitchell and the prostitute played by Linda Evans had any nudity, let alone alone any full-frontal Joe Don. It did have a song performed by someone who was not Randy Newman, but was trying really hard to sound like him.

I couldn’t remember the lyrics to that song for the life of me, so I came up with some of my own:

Just polished off his eleventh Schlitz
He thumbs it into the hole that shits
That’s Mitchell

I considered thinking up more lyrics, but I didn’t think they would be as good as what I had so far. So instead, I repeated them over and over until I was confident they had been etched into my long-term memory. I did this on the way to Muddy’s and while I sat and ate my bagel. I don’t think I said the words out loud, but it’s impossible to know for sure. At any rate, it was getting to be about 6:35 so it was time for me to head down to the bus stop.

The ride down to San Jose is one of my favorite parts of the day. I have my coffee, it’s still dark out (at least for the first part of the trip), and I get to sit in my usual spot way in the back of the bus.

The back has a couple of advantages. One is that I can look at anything I want to on my phone without fear of someone behind me being appalled at what is none of their business to begin with. I am also all but untraceable on the vehicle’s WiFi. Sure, they may log my IP somewhere, but so what? Lots of passengers on the bus. Shrug and deny everything. I’m good at that and besides, it’s highly unlikely the matter will ever come up.

I’m more careful once I get to work. There the WiFi demands login name as well as my password. I know what sites are inappropriate in the workplace. I also know how to turn my WiFi off.

The second thing I like about the back of the bus is that few people want to sit there. Maybe it’s the vicinity to the lavatory. Who can say? All I know is the privacy allows me to break wind without shame. My diet of late has had a lot of beans, eggs, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, often all in the same meal. I’d prefer no one be sitting near me while I sound off like a tuba concerto.

If someone needs to use the toilet and catches a whiff of my morning expulsions when they move to the rear of the bus, they probably assume the odor is coming from the lavatory. Of course, this ruse won’t work if they close the door behind them and find that the smell improved. So far, no one had said anything and in my book, that’s the same as it having never happened.

The bus arrived pretty much on time. I boarded, gave my badge a swipe on the reader, and headed back toward my seat at the rear.

It was not to be. No one was sitting in my usual seat, but there was some guy one row up asleep with his seat reclined all the way back. I couldn’t sit on the other side of the bus because once the sun rose, the light would come in at a perfect angle to ruin my day.

I stared at the sleeping man and for a brief moment, thought him no better than the kind of jackass who parks diagonally across two handicapped spots. I quickly realized that this was nonsense because nobody on the bus gets a reserved seat, not even me.

I found a place to sit a few rows up. There I held in my farts, pulled out my phone, and had a look at BBC News.

I’ve Checked My Privilege and It’s Doing Just Fine

Privilege has gotten a bad rap lately, usually from the downtrodden and those who possess empathy. While I don’t fall into either category, I do see their point. The thought of some rich-kid rapist getting a suspended sentence then high-fiving the judge on his way out of the courtroom makes me weep for the world.

That said, I am not so anti-privilege as to want to give up any of my own. This isn’t the reactionary in me talking. It’s the survivalist. Chances are I would have been dead a long time ago if it weren’t for certain advantages handed to me at birth. I’m white, male, straight(ish), and born into a middle-class family in a first-world country. While that does not ensure a long life free of tragedy, it does allow me a certain number of do overs in all but the most egregious fuck ups.

A prime example of this can be illustrated by looking at two hotel-lobby incidents. The first involved Becca and I in New Orleans last year. We had gotten stinking drunk in a French Quarter bar as one does in such places. On the way back to the hotel, we each got a couple of slices of pizza and ate them as we walked. We were still eating as we entered the lobby. We managed to get more pizza into our mouths than on the floor, but not by much. There were no admonishing words from the guy working the desk. Our behavior was not loved, but it was tolerated.

Contrast this with what happened to an African-American guest at a Portland hotel last weekend. He got the cops called on him simply for standing in the lobby and calling his mother on his cell phone. Never mind that he was a registered guest there. You’ve probably heard about it. The incident was reported on both ABC News and CNN, though probably not Fox News. In case you missed it, the hotel chain recognized the PR nightmare they had on their hands they apologized profusely and fired the employees involved.

Of course, this is an anecdotal comparison instead of a controlled experiment. Not all staff are the same and perhaps the guy in Portland would have been treated better in the New Orleans hotel whether he was calling his mom, sloppily eating pizza, or both. It’s hard to say. Easier to predict is how I would have been treated if I had been calling my mom in that Portland hotel.

I’m not an expert on racism and other forms of bigotry. I’m just aware that they exist. I certainly don’t endorse the injustice that comes from that mindset and I’m not even sure I benefit directly from it. It’s not like there is some fixed amount of abuse that needs to be allotted somehow. All I know is that I dodge a lot of life’s bullets because the guns are pointed somewhere else.

When the stakes are lower, crises are not something one should take too seriously. Yet I often do. It doesn’t last long before I am able to take a step back and realize the absurdity of it all. But before that happens, I am a man obsessed.

The last example of this occurred on the afternoon of Christmas day at the Palms Motel in Portland. Becca and I had returned from a late Denny’s brunch (we’re classy!). Evidently, the 1400+ plus calories in the “Lumberjack Slam” weren’t enough for me so decided to tear into the leftover Chinese food from the night before.

No plastic forks were provided so I polished off my chow mein by tilting its container like a beer stein and sending the contents down my gullet. All that was left was an egg roll, but it was the size of a chimichanga and came with a vat of sweet-n-sour sauce with which to dip the thing.

I sat cross-legged on the floor and started eating. I dipped it in the sauce and took a bite. After dipping again, it disintegrated upon the second bite. With chimichowmein bits in my hands and a sizable gut bomb anchoring me to the floor, I doubted I could get up without creating a huge mess. I was also worried knocking over the sweet-n-sour sauce in the process.

Clumsiness had been plaguing me this entire trip. It began on the flight up from SFO. While digging in my backpack for my charger, I managed to drop my phone under my seat. I was about to go reaching for it when Becca stopped me, pointing out that a small child was seated behind me and any hand grasping on my part would look really bad. Until the kid’s mother woke up and could assist in retrieving my phone, I sat and pondered the grim possibilities. Was the screen cracked? Perhaps the video recorder had somehow been turned on and was now filling the device with “Underoo Upskirt at 30,000 Feet.”

My klutzy ways did not stop there. The next morning, I went to Plaid Pantry (a local convenience store chain I often refer to as “The Fartin’ Tartan”) to pick up provisions. In this case, provisions were a couple of canned coffee drinks, two Hostess fruit pies, a bag of powdered-sugar donuts, and a six pack of 16-ounce PBRs. It was all quite a bit to hold onto and the register was tied up by someone getting cash from a winning lottery ticket. After several minutes of this overlong Oregonian ritual, one of the coffee drinks slipped from my grasp and fell to the floor. Other than a small dent in the side of it, it was no worse for wear. One of the PBR cans was not so lucky. My fumble had somehow put a tiny hole and and a tiny stream of beer was spraying the guy standing in front of me. Before he turned around, he probably thought I was peeing on him.

The third incident occurred during Xmas Eve brunch at the Alibi. I went to pour two cups of coffee at the self-serve station and wound up with one of those cups dumped all over one pant leg. I only had one Bloody Mary when this happened and in the other two mishaps, I had nothing to drink at all. I can see now why it’s a good idea that I never drive: I am expected to do it sober and that is when I’m at my most dangerous.

I was likewise near teetotaling when the Chinese food fell apart mid nibble. I did have a PBR that morning because that’s what the baby Jesus would do, but that was six hours ago. Like before, whatever had gone wrong was all me. Helpless and fearing a mess might make me persona non grata at the Palms, all I could do was howl like a dying animal. Becca wanted to help, but there was only so much she could do with a broken foot and the crippling hilarity of my predicament.

In the end, I got to my feet and disposed of the food without creating a major mess. A quick vacuuming was in order, but nothing more. Looking back, I can now see that it was really no big deal, just like everything else.

Pilgrims

The diner doubled as a gift shop, but I didn’t see anything that piqued my curiosity enough to get up from the booth and have a closer look. There was nothing but dollar-store crap, indistinguishable from what could be found up and down Mission Street back home.

I turned my attention back toward my food, which wasn’t much better. It was not terrible, just not all that exciting. With enough ketchup on the hash browns and enough green Tabasco on the omelet, I was able to shovel it all down my gullet without complaint.

Becca tossed a big snotwad of Swiss cheese on my plate. She prefers cheddar, but Swiss was what came with her Philly cheesesteak omelet. I like big snotwads of cheese so I stabbed it with my fork and shoved it in my mouth.

Outside, the main drag of St. Johns was quiet. It was late Saturday morning on Thanksgiving weekend. People had already recovered from Thursday’s turkey, but Friday’s alcohol was another matter. We had managed to brave the outdoors, but we’re troopers.

I had found the diner on Yelp back at the Palms earlier that morning. Reviews were mixed and I zeroed in on the bad ones. If enough whiny and entitled people pan a place of business, I’ll want to go there out of spite. One reviewer was shocked and appalled that a waitress touched her hair and didn’t immediately wash her hands afterward. I was sold.

Actually, it was enough that the place was located in St Johns. After doing some research (I read the Wikipedia page), I got the impression that the neighborhood had lots of quirky charm even by Portland standards. Becca and I both want weirdness in our environs so we planned to scope the area out.

The St. Johns neighborhood of Portland sits on the east side of the Willamette River and northwest of downtown. A winding waterway can create such a geographical curiosity as it has where Canada is the nearest foreign country due south from Detroit.

St. Johns is accessible via bridge across the Willamette or surface streets through neighborhoods to the east. Our motel was southeast so we took the light rail up to Lombard Street and got on a connecting bus from there. It was a short walk from the bus stop to the diner.

Despite the mediocrity of the food, I managed to clean my plate. It’s an old habit of mine, a holdover from when I didn’t make much money and felt compelled to get my money’s worth from every meal.

Becca, despite being no stranger to a tight budget, did not share my compulsion to devour every morsel whether she liked it or not. A piece of omelet remained on her plate, a silent suggestion to the kitchen staff to try harder next time.

After paying at the register, we headed in the direction of Cathedral Park. My stomach felt a little queasy. The omelet had some role in that, but so did our behavior over the past day and a half.

As soon as we got checked into the Palms that Thursday, our first order of business was finding a bar open on Thanksgiving. Most were, but not until 7pm. That would not do. We found a place in SE Portland to drink and kill time. When it got past seven, we took an Uber to Sandy Hut where we had Thanksgiving dinner (bacon cheeseburger topped with an egg and served with fries) washed down with copious PBRs.

We wanted to go to St. Johns the next day, but the chicken-fried steak and eggs we had for breakfast at the Roxy left us in no condition to do anything that afternoon other than have an extended nap. When we finally got out of bed, it was time for dinner at Miss Delta’s followed by more drinking at the Alibi.

This kind of boozing and gluttony is standard every time we come up here and now I felt the full weight of the excess as we trudged toward the park to look at the pretty St. Johns Bridge.

“We can’t be doing this shit after we move up here,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” she said.

Our conversation then turned to whether we should spend the afternoon in a bar.

Erotica

“It’s a dream…you can do anything you want in here.” -Tommy Ray Glatman

I was having a strange dream that I was on an airplane flying back to SFO from the east coast. I’ve had dreams before where I was on a plane so that wasn’t what made it strange. Rather, it was that in this dream, I was asleep and dreaming that I was somewhere else.

Fortunately, I was awake in that dream within a dream. It would have too weird otherwise, especially if this went on and on with no end in sight, turning my psyche into Russian dolls of states of consciousness. Two levels deep was about all I could handle.

In this second dream, I was hiding under a bunk in some kind of wooden structure. I figured I was in the tropics because I could hear jungle sounds outside the window. I think they were birds, but I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that they had the familiar sound of jungle-wildlife sound effects you hear in movies.

I had not been awake for long. Thankfully, there was no memory of what I might have been dreaming. I must’ve drifted off while hiding, but wasn’t sure what I had been hiding from. There was something out there, that much I knew, and whatever it was wished to do me harm.

Perhaps I’d been hiding long enough and the danger was gone. The jungle sounds were reassuring because whatever the menace was, I sensed it was human.

I crawled out from under the bunk and exited the building. Outside, the ground was littered with dead bodies. There were hundreds of them. There was no bloodshed, no signs of violence at all. It looked like they all just lay down and died. Many held plastic cups in their lifeless hands.

I realized then that I was in Jonestown, and from the looks of things, I had just missed the party. I followed a wooden walkway toward the main tent in the middle of the compound. I knew that Jim Jones would be there, a bullet in his head delivered by one of his faithful. I found myself wanting to see him like that as if his death would somehow bring closure to all this.

I stared down at the dead bodies as I walked along the path. Some of them were old, some young, and some were mere children. I know that a child’s death is supposed to be more tragic, but they were all the same to me. I felt a little sorry for them, but glad I had been spared their fate.

There was one exception.  A young woman I thought I recognized lay in a bare patch of dirt next to the walkway. Perhaps I knew her from somewhere, but she also looked somewhat like the female lead from Brazil with a bit of the adult Christina Crawford from Mommie Dearest thrown in. Most people don’t matter much to me, but friends and movie stars do. I felt genuinely sad.

I heard human voices. I wasn’t sure where they were coming from. I suspected they were part of Jones’ inner circle, wrapping up loose ends before they drank the poison punch themselves. Being still alive, I qualified as a loose end.

Escape was out of the question. It might have been possible in the waking world, but dreams have their own rules, their own certainties. If I made a run for it, I would run right into them. If I stayed put, I they would find me eventually.

All was hopeless though I did have enough time to have sex with this dead woman. I’ve never had much interest in diddling a corpse, asleep or awake, but I felt it was the proper thing to do. After all, I was in a cult so by definition my rights had been taken away from me. Soon even the right to continue living would be gone. Before that happened, I deserved a little me time.

But what about her rights? I’m not a monster so I knew I should at consider them before I hiked up the hem of her peasant dress and started going to town.

Could a dead person consent? If you bought into the notion that consent was something that needed to be confirmed and not implied as is the case with field-sobriety tests, the answer was no. On the other hand, the cup in her loosened grasp was strong evidence that she consented to dying and consent of that magnitude would surely have some overflow.

She was also hot. It was froth-around-the-mouth hot, but hot nonetheless. I still had to say something to make my case though. Not to her, of course. She was not listening. Even to me, it would be a hard go. I knew whatever I said would not hold up to scrutiny so I decided to sidestep the issue and rely on levity instead.

“Ain’t nothing as willing as a girl who’s been punched,” I said.

As soon as the words left my mouth, the most amazing thing happened. I was not in a nightmare. The dream had somehow been transformed into a sexy-time story.

Words formed above me. I could not read the words because you don’t actually read in dreams, but I knew what the words were and I also knew that they were the title of the story in this dream. They were: “Kool Laid.”

My eyes opened and I was once again on the airplane. I was glad to be away from Jonestown, but also a little ashamed of myself. Not for my rapey necrophilia. We are all psychopaths in our own subconscious. No, the problem was with the story title. I knew that Jones’ followers drank Flavor Aid. Couldn’t I come up with anything both amusing and with a factually accurate reference?

No matter, maybe this dream would be more relaxing. Air travel is boring, but there’s no stress to speak of once you’ve made your flight. I figured I’d enjoy an in-flight move and a few in-flight cocktails. Pay for them with my dream credit card and wouldn’t owe a thing once I woke up. What could go wrong?

“Allahu akbar,” said the man with box cutter guarding the door to the cockpit.

Oh hell no.

I looked around the cabin. There weren’t many other passengers, maybe 40 or so. A couple of people lay dead on the floor. Many others sat in their seats petrified with fear or praying to some god who appeared not to give a shit. A few were hunkered down and called loved ones on their flip phones. I overheard “Twin Towers” and “Pentagon” in their conversations. Yep, I was on Flight 93.

There were a few guys huddled around a drink cart. They beckoned me to join them, but I wanted no part of it. I knew what they were planning and I also knew how it would play out.

I turned and headed toward the rear of the aircraft. Though the same fate awaited everyone on board, those farthest back would have it happen to them last. Relocating would not buy me a lot of extra time, only a fraction of a second. It might not even be a noticeable difference, but I didn’t care. I wanted as much lifespan as I could take, no matter how small.

A flight attendant was in the back seat, her knees pulled up to her chest. I recognized her immediately. She was the same woman who caught my eye in Jonestown. I preferred this version of her. This uniform was more flattering than that peasant dress. She was also more attractive here because she was not dead.

Maybe this one would be up for sex. Consent was still not something to be assumed, but at least a living human being was capable of giving it. Unfortunately, she did not appear to be in the mood. Her eyes stared blankly ahead. Her lips silently mouthed words I could not decipher. Poor dear, all this hijacking and terror must have traumatized her.

Maybe some dick would get her mind right. Or not. There was probably no harm in suggesting it and certainly no lasting harm because very soon, this airplane was going to do an impression of a lawn dart in the middle of Pennsylvania and kill us all.

There was no point in being suave about it either because there never is. You can polish your approach all you want and it won’t change her mind. She’ll dig you or she won’t. That’s something the incel dipshits will never understand. They cannot grasp that her choice of partner only needs to make sense to her and sometimes not even that.

That said, I found myself more interested in the proposition than in the sex itself. She had veto power over my actions, but not my words and the ones that came into my head were perfect. They riffed on a phrase uttered by a drink-cart hero, transmitted through a cellphone, and used to both galvanize a nation and inspire Neil Young to write the worst song of his entire career.

“Let’s roll…in the hay,” I said.

Just like Jonestown, words appeared above my head. “Nine E-Lovin’,” was the title of this dream’s story and as was the case before, the title ended the dream.

I woke up thankful I was lying in my own bed. Something seemed off though. The bedroom seemed smaller than it should. Also, the house isn’t usually on fire.

I leapt out of bed and ran out the door. Looking around, it wasn’t just my place that was on fire. The other mobile homes were ablaze as well. Apparently, I was living in a trailer park now. Why couldn’t I dream about being some place nice?

At least it wasn’t one of those dreams where I show up to work naked. I wasn’t wearing much because I didn’t have time to dress, but at least my naughty bits were shielded from public view by my Old Glory boxer shorts. Flag burning usually doesn’t bother me, but it was a different matter when it was an article of clothing I wore. I headed toward the street to put more distance between myself and the flames. That didn’t work because everything around me was on fire.

A pickup truck came barreling down the road toward me. It screeched to a halt beside me and the door swung open.

“Get in,” called a woman’s voice. It was that woman. She was in a park ranger’s uniform now and neither dead nor incapacitated by fear. I liked this incarnation of her most of all, mostly because she was intent on saving my flag-clad ass. I climbed into the truck and off we went.

“Didn’t you get the evacuation notice?” she said.

“I must’ve been asleep.”

“You’re lucky to be alive. I’m taking you down to a shelter down in Oroville. They’ll have a bed and some clothes for you.”

There was a wall of fire rising up on both sides of the road. My rescuer stomped the gas pedal and we raced forward, trying to outrun the flames that threatened to consume us.

We did not make it far. All four tires blew out from the heat and we were dead in our tracks. With flames in all directions, there was no chance we could make it out on foot.

“Fuck,” the woman said, slamming her fist on the dashboard.

She may had just run out of options, but I had not.

“I can think of something else that would be hot,” I said.

From past experience, I thought that cheesy come on would have been my ticket out of there. Instead, all it got me was a confused look from the woman in the driver’s seat.

“Care for some hunka hunka burnin’ love?” I said, upping my game.

“What the hell are you talking about?” she said.

“Hang on, give me a sec. I’ll have an awesome line for you.”

“And how is that supposed to help us?”

“It isn’t us that I’m concerned about,” I said and followed up with “Thanks for the ride and speaking of rides, wanna be my pony I call Wildfire?”

That did the trick. The words “Paradise Lust” appeared above us and I felt myself being spirited away. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the woman, but I somehow knew I would be seeing her again.

Chinga Las Vegas

From the air, the landscape surrounding Las Vegas looks a lot like Mars. To be more exact, it looks a lot like what I can remember from the 1980 TV-miniseries adaption of The Martian Chronicles, which also had Rock Hudson and a disco soundtrack. These two elements were of course missing from the southern Nevada terrain, but a similar desolation was there.

Becca and I were flying Frontier, an airline on the cutting edge of the industry’s trend of reducing amenities. The seats felt like they were acquired secondhand from hospital waiting rooms. They did not recline, which was bad in itself, but the FAA-mandated spiel about returning them to their upright positions added insult to injury.

We decided to take a shuttle from the airport to our hotel downtown. On our last trip in 2015, we took a taxi and got a driver who treated us to a circuitous route that put 10 extra bucks on the meter. This time we knew better.

Or so we thought. The vehicle and driver were both fine. The problem was the other passengers. There were a lot of them and they were all going to get dropped off before we were.

If you want to get downtown in a reasonable amount of time, you get on the freeway and avoid the Strip entirely. Of course, that doesn’t work if you have to take people to a bunch of destinations on the Strip beforehand. For close to an hour, the bus weaved its way through a warren of connected parking garages and the snarled traffic on and around the Strip.

To make matters worse, one passenger kept bothering the driver, asking him to recommend a good bar (he said he didn’t drink) and restaurant (he mumbled something noncommittal). She then turned to her friend and talked about how she was here to celebrate her 30th and wanted to make it a weekend to remember. Her friend no doubt knew all this, which probably explains why the words were delivered at a sufficient volume so everyone else in the van knew about it as well. I didn’t care about her birthday plans, but I was curious how she managed to last three decades without being murdered for the common good.

Becca and I had broken a promise to each other by even being here. After our 2015 trip, we mutually concluded “fuck this place” and vowed not to return for at least five years. Not returning for the rest of our lives was also an option.

We found ourselves having a good reason to break that promise. Our dear friend had gotten engaged to a wonderful guy and the two decided to get hitched at the Elvis chapel in Vegas. Since our high opinion of the couple outweighed our disdain for the city where the wedding would take place, we decided to attend.

Being there for a reason made the place a little more tolerable and we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves to some degree. Sure, the streets and casinos were packed with douchebags who spoke in monosyllables and reeked of Axe Body Spray, but we were on a mission to help our friends celebrate the beginning of their life together.

We were also there to get drunk. Neither Becca nor I have any interest in gambling, but we do like to drink. Las Vegas has an endless supply of booze if you’re willing to pay inflated prices in bars that have piss-elegant ambience and are staffed with silicone cyborgs.

After some back-and-forth messaging and miscommunication, we met up with our friends at one of the bars in the Golden Nugget for a little socializing before the wedding the next day. They had family and friends in tow. The bride was pleased we could all be there though a little embarrassed as if she felt unworthy of all the attention. At first, I thought she was drunk. Then I remembered that this was just how she is. I was tempted to say, “You deserve every good thing that comes your way. Now shut the fuck up and drink.” It was probably a good thing I didn’t, what with her mom standing right next to her and all.

After stopping by a dinner buffet for decent chocolate cake and mediocre everything else, we called it an evening. Becca and I walked back to our hotel, the El Cortez.

“I wonder what a tez is,” I said to her. “And why it is an alternative to elk.”

“Bitch,” she said.

I woke up the next morning hung over and dehydrated.  Vegas tap water doesn’t taste great, but I should have forced myself to drink some regardless. More sleep would do me good and had plenty of time after breakfast to work in a nap before the wedding. Becca was not yet awake. I grabbed my phone from the bedside table to see if the world was as awful as the last time I checked.

It was worse. Eleven people had been killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The photograph of the suspect showed a man with uninquisitive eyes and John Wayne Gacy-esque pudge. Like a lot of anti-Semites, he probably sucked at life and took comfort in scapegoating others for his own shortcomings. Most of his ilk are content to be misinformed and unpleasant. The more virulent engage in acts of vandalism. He felt the need to do murder.

It was the kind of act that most of us should and do condemn, but the effect is not the same across the board. It is one thing to deplore brutality and quite another to deplore it and worry that you could be next.

I’m a gentile so anti-Semitic violence is not something that poses a personal threat. The closest thing to one occurred in Cape Town back in 1999. Like this weekend, I was there for a wedding. The bride had recently converted to Judaism and I attended a ceremony to welcome her into the community a few days prior to the wedding itself. After it was over, a bunch of us gathered outside to shoot the shit before getting on with the rest of our day. PAGAD was up to its nasty tricks at the time so someone came out and asked us to socialize inside because a synagogue had been firebombed a week before. Since none of us wanted to get hit in the head with a Molotov, we readily complied.

I’ve told that story to a lot of people over the years for the same reason I told people about the British soldier in the troop carrier in Belfast pointing a machine gun at me. It’s world-traveler bravado of the best kind because in neither case was any bravery required. The danger was as hypothetical as it was temporary.

There was a near-zero chance anyone would be firebombing the wedding that afternoon. An Elvis chapel is not exactly an inviting target for hate criminals. I’m sure most bigots like Elvis. If any shit went down, it would be more akin to what happened at that country-music festival a year ago where the murderer did it just to be an asshole.

Becca was awake at this point and we both needed food. Since we planned on going back to bed after breakfast, showering could wait. We left our room and walked down the stairs into the casino, each of us with the kind of hair one sees in DUI mugshots.

Las Vegas is not a morning town. On Fremont Street, pedestrians were sparse and moving real slow. A few vomit splashes dotted the sidewalk. Without the neon, the hotel facades were comically ugly. It was a sad carnival.

We entered a Denny’s and were seated in a booth looking on a side street. It is not usually a place I want to eat unless it is and then it’s perfect. Vegas Denny’s is extra perfect because it has a full bar. We each ordered the “Lumberjack Slam” and a couple of Bloody Marys. The menu dutifully informed me that we would be consuming upwards of 1500 calories. I walked out of there feeling like my heart was full of sand.

On the way back, we stopped at Walgreens and picked up some bottled water to rehydrate and energy drinks for later on. We crawled back into bed and before going to sleep, I checked to see if there was any further news on the Pittsburgh murders. I learned that the shooter, shot multiple times by police, was expected to pull through. The medical team apparently went that extra mile to make sure he lived. Personally, I would have poured Pop Rocks into his wounds.

We woke up in early afternoon, feeling much better than we had that morning. There was plenty of time to shower and put on clothes that did not smell like last night. We ventured out and took a Lyft to the Aria, the hotel on the strip where our friends were staying.

There was a reason we stayed downtown instead of on the Strip this time around. All of Vegas is tacky as hell, but at least downtown is an amusing kind of tacky, like a pole dancer who is missing a limb. The Aria is far too upmarket to provide that kind of fun. It’s a glass-and-steel citadel that would make an excellent movie for where the privileged live in a dystopian sci-fi. After downing an $18 scotch and soda, we met up with our friends and piled into a limo that took us to the wedding. We listened to an all-Elvis radio station on the way there.

The chapel and the wedding itself were both lovely. This is no mean feat. There is an inherent silliness to having an Elvis impersonator administering the service, but you have to remember that what is felt between the people getting married is important and not to be trivialized. The people running the show were obviously aware of this so it all struck the right tone. You didn’t care that the Elvis looked more like Tony Robbins than the king of rock and roll. He had the voice and moves down pat from the moment he chauffered the bride and groom right into the chapel in a pink Cadillac.

It is worth noting that the Caddy’s vanity plate had “Elvis” and the number two after it, fitting for a man who died on the toilet.

After the wedding, we all went back to the Aria for the wedding dinner. Becca and I did not know too many of the other guests, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It was great to see the newlyweds having the time of their lives, being so happy and perfect for each other.

We later took a stab at more drinking downtown, which was a mistake. It was the Saturday before Halloween and the mass of revelers looked intent on swallowing us whole. We begged off and fled back to the El Cortez.

The next morning, Becca and I had breakfast at White Castle. It was 7:20 in the morning and the breakfast menu was available, but we weren’t interested. We wanted those little hamburgers and split a bag of ten.

Our flight out of here was a few hours away. We were glad we came, but we were also glad to leave. I thought about the Vegas of yesteryear, of the Rat Pack glory days and the freak show described so well by Hunter S. Thompson. Both those Vegases were gone now. Gone too was the Vegas that the 80s frat-boy version of myself visited and enjoyed from the comfort of being up my own ass.

After graduation while I was flat broke and living in Santa Barbara, I drew a little comic called “Chinga Las Vegas.” It featured Drake Weber, my alter ego at the time, who looked like a crudely drawn Steve Dallas of Bloom County. Drake got into a lot of mischief and somehow ended up directing animal porn. The comic wasn’t very good. Maybe someone today can create a better one. Not me though. I’m done with this town.

 

Encroachment

The concrete seating made my ass hurt. Most of the people around me wisely brought seat cushions, but the only padding I had was the kind I packed on myself. Too many nights of poor choices in food following poor choices in drink can do that. Unfortunately, cushions made of ass fat also contain nerve endings so they are not nearly as comfortable.

There had been both kinds of bad decisions the night before. After some immoderate drinking at Iron & Gold, Becca and I stopped by McDonald’s on the way home. It had been years since I’ve been there and I regretted it even at the time.

I spent much of the next day lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and feeling two kinds of poisoned. Becca headed off to Berkeley early so she could be first in line (or near enough) for the Interpol show. I was free to show up whenever, as long I arrived by the time the doors opened at six.

I made it out the door sometime after four and arrived at Berkeley BART around five. From there, it was a mile hike uphill through the UC campus to the Greek Theater. It was warm out, in the upper 70s, and I zigzagged to take advantage of every bit of shade along the way.

When I got there, Becca was there with her Interpol friends (whom she calls “Interpals”) near the start of the line. They were dressed in black and eager to get in. I was sweaty and eager to sit down. In my defense, I’m old, over twenty years older than most of them.

My job when the gates opened was a simple one. I was to carry Becca’s purse and deal with any delay from its being searched for contraband while she made a beeline for the front of the stage. The plan went as expected. Becca secured her spot at the railing. I handed back her purse then went off to buy an energy drink and find a seat in the old-people section.

The first of the opening bands had yet to take the stage so the crowd was still sparse. I found a spot one section over and about 30 feet left of the soundboard. As one could guess from the venue’s name, the place was laid out like a Greek amphitheater with a semicircle of tiered seating in front of the stage.

There was also an open area for people to stand. I don’t know if that’s part of a traditional amphitheater. My knowledge of ancient Greek is limited to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and I only know about that because of the Tom Lehrer song.

The first band, Sunflower Bean, got on stage and started playing. They started with something pretty Joan Jett-esque. The rest of their set had some songs I enjoyed more than others. Overall, I liked them pretty well, as was the case with the following acts, The Kills and Interpol.

When I really the music at a show, whatever else is going  on in life seems unimportant. I get into my bobblehead, knee-bend dorky dance and I am immune to worry. A rocking Dave is a bulletproof Dave.

Oddly enough, there is a similar effect if I really dislike the band. Then I focus all my mental energy on inwardly heckling the act. I sneer at a band member’s resemblance to some D-list celebrity, even if the resemblance is slight at most. I mentally rewrite the lyrics so the songs are about something violent and/or degrading. This activity creates a sort of Kevlar against what might be bothering me at the time.

If something is bothering me, going to a show where I like the music just OK is problematic. The tunes are neither engrossing nor off-putting so they fade into the background. That leaves the brain free to wander into unpleasant territory.

The territory on that day was particularly unpleasant. It was not the usual work-related paranoia or agonizing over some idiocy of mine from decades ago. This was something more tangible and dire.

My landlady had sent me an email saying she was going to inspect the back deck. Seeing the kitchen was less than wonderful, she announced that she would be inspecting the rest of the place. How bad is bad enough to merit an eviction? I wasn’t sure. I made arrangements for a junk-removal service to haul way years of accumulated crap and hired a house cleaner as well. Would that be good enough? Would anything be? I knew that being in a rent-controlled unit, I was paying way below market rate. It was not in my landlady’s best interests financially to cut me any slack.

Thinking about this had kept me up much of the night before. As drunk as I was when got home, I told myself, parking myself further back would allow me enough personal space to relax and put my worries out of my mind.

What I failed to consider when I first sat down was not everyone shows up at the same time. More and more people arrived before and during the opening act. As the amphitheater filled, a design flaw in the seating plan arose. There was no set width of an individual’s space allotted, but that’s not what bothered me. Some folks are fatter than others and I’m OK with that. The issue was there was no set boundary how far you could sit back and how much legroom you got on the tier in front. I found myself wedged between one person who sat way back and another who liked to stretch his legs.

I tried to shrink away, but the more I did, the more my neighbors fore and aft took advantage of the space made available. I looked to the side of me to see if the person next to me was in the same predicament. He was playing air guitar and seemed to not to have a care in the world. How I envied him.

After the show, I moved to the front as the crowd dispersed and found Becca. She said that she and her friends were going to stake out the exit and hope to spot one or more members of Interpol. I wished her the best and headed back toward the BART station.

I moved briskly through the campus so I could make the last train back to the city. The charge on my phone was all but dead so I had to make the trek without use of the Google Maps app. It turned out I didn’t need it. To reach my destination, all I had to do was keeping going downhill.

Life During Wartime

I was sitting on the couch when the shots were fired. I was not sure they were gunshots at first. They could have been fireworks. I am not an expert on such matters and besides, I had a somewhat stressful workday and was deliberately not paying attention to the goings on of the outside world.

Instead, I refocused on the game I was playing on my laptop. Some time later, Becca came into the living room and told me that there were gunshots at the corner of Elizabeth Street and San Jose Avenue, half a block from our home.

“I read it on Citizen,” she said. Citizen is an app that sends alerts of local crimes and other unpleasantness. Becca uses the app to help fuel her disenchantment with San Francisco so when the time comes to move up to Portland, there will be no second thoughts.

I decided to install the app as well, but not for the same purpose. It’s not that I lack disenchantment, far from it. It’s just that I was already acquainted with the city’s nastiness back when my fondness for the place was unwavering. Besides, the app would likely only alert me to the misfortune of those I didn’t care much about. In the end, all it would fuel is my schadenfreude.

The post-installation payoff was immediate. As I was was reading comments about the alert (at least one person was decrying “snitches”),  the cops arrived and investigated the scene as they are wont to do when shooting is done by non-cops.

Of course, shots fired neither by nor at me only hold my interest for so long. I like a little quirkiness in the crime I read about. The more an incident resembles a scene from Reno 911! the less real danger it presents because it does not seem quite real.

Florida has traditionally filled this need. Whenever I read a news article with a Sunshine State dateline, I expected there to be some guy high on jenkem and naked as a jaybird, running down the street with a meat cleaver in his hand and a rubber chicken hanging out of his anus. I giggle at these stories, but know deep down that every one of them is a peek inside the soul of America.

Or something like that. Your soul-of-America mileage may vary.

I decided to use the Citizen app to find a bit o’ Florida in my own backyard. I did not have to wait long. The next morning, I saw an alert about a “MAN ARRESTED FOR TRYING TO STEAL BABY.” Then there was “AGGRESSIVE NUDE WOMAN THROWING ITEMS AT TRAFFIC” and later, “MAN PERFORMING LEWD ACTS” at a BART station. It was wonderful and I wanted this kind of entertainment to continue. Being as crazy as I am isn’t always easy, but there is some comfort to be had by being surrounded by stuff that’s even crazier.

It didn’t work out that way for long. Some wise, old grumpy pants once said, “The problem with the common man is that he is unbearably common,” and the same holds true for the common criminal. In the end, the Citizen app proved not to be showcase for warped performance art, but rather for dull, violent people doing dull, violent things.

The app inundated me with robberies, fistfights, stabbings, and whatnot, all at an alarming rate. Since I was used to getting my news through conventional news outlets, someone has to consider it newsworthy for it to appear on my radar. With the Citizen app, there is no baseline threshold to speak of so I get everything. On one level, I really shouldn’t find this all that surprising. I’m no stranger to this kind of misbehavior. People suck. I have known that for years.

This is not just armchair misanthropy talking. I have personal experience to back it up. Though I  am not prone to committing acts of physical violence, I have often been sufficiently impaired to make myself an inviting target. As a result, I have been in a few unfortunate situations. None of them made the papers.

Another thing I noticed is how random and senseless the violence is. Again, it’s a case of confirming my suspicions rather than surprising me with some  great revelation. I never for once thought there was a grand choreography at play yet something in my brain expects some modicum of rhyme and reason.

I think that’s a holdover from how I’m used to getting my news. I don’t think the outlets are concocting overall themes as part of some media conspiracy, but the themes exist nonetheless. Some stories get reported because they’re a big deal all on their own. Other lesser stories might get omitted if not for being somehow related to the big-deal stories. As soon as you have related stories as part of editorial decisions, cohesion is manufactured. Real life makes a lot less sense.

As depressing as Citizen can be, I am not about to remove it from my phone because of the treats it occasionally throws my way. Just two hours ago, there was a report of a man at 17th and Capp throwing used needles at pedestrians.  Good for him. AIDS and darts should go together.

Like an abusive partner with a box of chocolates, this app knows how to keep me coming back for more.

 

Have Most of You Reached a Verdict?

I read a news story recently that disturbed me. It was about a man in Oregon who was freed after serving his first year of a 50-year sentence for molesting an underage girl. I don’t know how underage she was. Given the stiffness of the sentence, my guess is plenty. Or maybe he had priors. I have no idea.

The man was convicted by a non-unanimous jury. He may or may not have been innocent. One thing is certain. The girl was lying her ass off.

The story was centered around a dog (no, the dog did not fuck the underage girl). According to the girl’s testimony, the man threatened to shoot her animals if she went to the cops. To demonstrate he was serious, he gunned down her pet Labrador Lucy. It was a vile act of villainy. It also never happened.

While the man languished in prison, the Oregon Innocence Project was hard at work trying to clear his name. They managed to enlist the help of the prosecutor, who was both admirable and uncommon for holding justice in higher regard than his conviction rate. Through their concerted efforts, they found Lucy very much alive and living with another family. The prosecution’s case relied  heavily on the girl’s. testimony. With that testimony now proven to be false, the conviction was overturned.

There are unanswered questions here. Was the man innocent? Quite possibly. The girl’s credibility was blown so unless you’re willing to cherry pick what parts of testimony to believe, you have to dismiss her as a liar. And what about her family?  They apparently believed her when she said the man molested her. Fair enough. But believing her story about the man killing the same family dog that they later put up for adoption? That’s a tough sell. Then again, trying to convince the world that you’re not a kid fucker is also a tough sell. Accusations of that sort come with an assumption of guilt.

However, the wrong conviction is not what bothered me about this news story. For one thing, I cannot see it happening to me. Creepy as I am, no one is ever going to accuse me of molesting children because I think they are gross and I can’t stand being anywhere near them. “Susie, can you point to the part of the doll that the man wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole?” See how ridiculous that sounds?

No, my issue was with what I see as the backward idea of non-unanimous juries handing down guilty verdicts. I did not even know that such things existed in this country. It turns out they do in two states: Oregon and Louisiana. Louisiana I can kind of understand. It’s not like it’s part of the civilized world. But Portlandia-progressive Oregon with its legal weed and an openly bisexual governor? That just doesn’t seem right.

With 12 Angry Men and countless lesser efforts, we are acquainted with the hoary trope of the lone, holdout juror preventing a gross miscarriage of justice. This rarely happens in practice of course. Most jurors want to be done with it as soon as possible. If that means convicting someone who only probably committed the crime, so be it.

I can see their point. I have been summoned for jury duty several times, but have never been selected to serve. Even though I’ve been lucky so far, each time is a period of dread.

The prospect is not that bad now as I work for a company that pays for the first four weeks of jury duty. Back when I was contracting, there would have been a sizable loss of income. You can be excused for severe financial hardship, but you’re at the mercy of the judge for that. Judges are not known for their merciful nature.

Despite the dent that jury duty can put in your finances, there are people who take its civic-duty element way too seriously. One time, I was in a bar griping about a recent summons and some guy admonished me with “your country asks so little of you.” He happened to be a career officer in the US Army, an organization that routinely asks people to die, so I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Still, I’m willing to do what I can to avoid sitting on a jury. One way is to call my impartiality into question. I don’t outright lie, but I strategically give parts of the truth top billing. There was this one personal-injury case where I pulled out my opinion on tort reform and wore it like a codpiece. The judge was unimpressed by this dodge, but the plaintiff’s attorney saw it differently. Being on that jury was going to cost me money, but it was going to cost thatlawyer a whole lot more. He quickly asked that I be excused.

There may come a time when I may be forced to sit on a jury and if it’s a criminal case, I have one last card to play. I’ll be the holdout juror, but motivated by spite instead of justice. I’ll hang that jury like it’s Anthony Bourdain and there’s not a goddamn thing anybody can do about it. I figure there’s a list of known assholes who should never be summoned again and if they put me on it, they will never have to worry about me again.

All that goes out the window once I move to Oregon. Unless it’s a first-degree murder case, they don’t need a unanimous verdict. I won’t be able to cause any mistrials up there and that is a sobering thought. Fortunately, sobriety is a treatable condition.

 

 

 

2 in 1

I been very tempted,
To grab it from the till,
I been very hungry,
But not enough to kill.
-The Clash

Somebody took a dump in the urinal at work. It was not the kind of thing I expected to see, not in the restroom of a Silicon Valley tech giant. Since this was not my doing, I can only conjecture as to its when, how, or why.

Of these three questions, when it happened is the least up in the air. Barring any “Future Poo” scenario, I do know for a fact the defecation occurred prior to August 15, 2018 at 8:16 am. I know this because I took a picture and that was the tinestamp.

“Fight the power” was the caption when I sent the pic to Becca via Facebook Messenger.

“Whoever did this, urinal lot of trouble,” I later mused.

Lacking forensic expertise, I cannot be sure if it occurred late in the day of August 14 or in the wee hours of August 15. That’s a big time window and I am curious who else knew about it. Let’s see. There’s me, the perp, and the poor bastard who had to clean it up. Who else? Was it ever reported and if so, is the Poo Division of HR conducting some kind of investigation? If requested, I would be more than willing to cooperate. I would also be willing to speak to the media as an eyewitness.

“It was like a movie,” I would say.

The how is not without its mystery either. The mechanics of taking a shit are pretty straightforward and the urinal is at a height to allow any non-dwarf to accomplish the task with relative ease. The question is not how it was done, but rather how it was done without detection.

The restroom sits between two parallel walkways with an entrance on either side. To pull off this urinal pooping without someone walking in on you, you need to get in, pinch clean, and get out with Ocean’s Eleven precision. I managed to get away with pisser shitting when I was 10, but that was at summer camp with the other kids and counselors gathered around a campfire singing insipid songs.

Now comes the biggest question: why? What would possess someone to do such a thing? Anger and frustration seems the most likely answer. After all, large corporations do create their own dystopias and although you’re technically free to leave anytime you like, financial realities dictate otherwise. So you hold it all in for as long as you can. Some people eventually snap. If you have no regard for other people’s lives, you show up to work with a gun and start blasting away. If you’re less murderous, but have no qualms about ruining a toilet cleaner’s day, you shit in the urinal.

Of course, there could be any number of other reasons. It’s not like the person left a note. I can only guess what would have motivated me if I were at my worst (i.e. what I was like around 30 years ago). These days, there is little appeal to joining the dumpenproletariat with such a garbage move.

So yeah, a job can be infuriating. I get that. I just don’t want to take it out on someone who had nothing to do with souring my mood. If I want to incorporate poo into coping with the prison of the workplace, I’ll stick to elective turtling on the toilet, enjoying an intimate moment with my cellmate Mister Bran.

What the Fuck for Under a Buck

I hit the publish button for Hot Flashes eight days ago. It was a big moment for me. I could now call myself a professional writer since anyone who wanted to read my eBook had to cough up 99 cents to do it. So far, 12 people have.

Technically, it isn’t the first time I made any money through my writing. Back in the 1980s, I interned at a weekly paper in Santa Barbara and was paid 10 bucks a pop for a couple of fluff pieces I contributed. Perhaps somebody scanned them and they’re still out there, gathering dust in a digital archive somewhere. I wouldn’t bother trying to find them though. If memory serves, they weren’t very good.

That was over three decades ago so I figure there’s some kind of statute of limitations in effect. Besides, it’s not about the money. I already have a job to keep a drink in my hand and a roof over my head. I just wanted to have a showcase for my stuff other than my blog and since I doubt any legitimate publisher would have anything to do with me, Amazon KDP seemed like the best bet.

The idea for this eBook has been in my head for at least five years. I was inspired by Etgar Keret, whose fiction tends to be very short and twisted. Hey, I told myself, I write very short and twisted stories. Never mind that my work lacks both the literary value and underlying human decency of Keret’s stuff.

I decided to put out a collection of flash fiction. To make sure I was doing it right, I looked up flash fiction on Wikipedia (which had already become my go-to to learn about anything). To paraphrase, flash fiction is a story with a length of 1000 words or less.

I pulled the fiction posts off my blog to use as future eBook fodder. Stories short enough to be flash fiction would be candidates for Hot Flashes. The rest would perhaps be included down the road in a collection of longer pieces.

It soon became obvious that as is, my eBook would be no longer than a pamphlet. I looked at my other work to see if any of it could be trimmed down enough to qualify. Some stories needed tightening and fit right in. Other stuff was legitimately bulky or morbidly obese. In either case, there was nothing to be gained from trying to editorially shoehorn it into a pair of skinny jeans.

In the end, I still needed more material so I set about churning out new stuff. Over the next year, I wrote 14 stories to flesh out the collection to an even 30.  A lot of attempts along the way were discarded, either for being appallingly bad in their own right or just an inferior rehash of stories I had written before.

Nearing completion, I secured permission to use a photo I liked for the book cover. All that remained was a little cleanup before I unleashed it upon the world.

Then I walked away.

Four years passed without my giving the project more than a passing thought. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I was browsing my cloud backup out of boredom and came upon those writings. They weren’t bad and some of them actually made me feel proud of myself.

I spent the next week polishing these 30 little turds and handed them to Becca to give it a proofread. On the night of August 13, I submitted them to the Amazon Kindle Store then Becca and I went out for a celebratory drink.

One of the buyers of my eBook was an old, dear friend who dutifully sent me screenshots of typos. There weren’t many, but enough for me have another look at the manuscript. I found some more. I asked Rebecca to have another look. She found a lot more.

It was a learning experience. One lesson was that I can’t proof my own work for shit. Maybe it’s because they’re my own words, they look all right to me even when they are wrong. The other lesson is that checking for errors takes time. Becca did a rush job at my urging. Stuff got missed on the first go and that’s on me.

Last night, I submitted the updated work and it became available for download at around six this morning. I’m sure there were a few errors that went undetected. Even major publishers churn out books with a blemish or two. It is better now though thanks in large part to Becca’s diligence and patience.

As for the 12 of you who bought damaged goods,  sorry about that. Try to think of it as a collector’s item like a postage stamp with an airplane flying upside down. Typos or no, I hope my debut effort can still manage to offend you in the best possible way.

Serving the Creeper Community since 1997