Murray the Moray Cures Cancer

Murray was not an average moray eel. For one thing, he was much bigger. Remember that moray in The Deep who ate Lou Gossett’s head? Murray was perhaps even bigger than that.

Unlike many morays, Murray did not make his home in a coral reef. Who can blame him? The reefs are in a state of decline. The Great Barrier Reef, which may have to change its name soon, has lost half of its living coral. As is the case with most ecological disasters, humans are to blame. Some of the damage is up close and personal, caused by divers who are souvenir hunters or just plain clumsy. The pieces of coral broken off by these inconsiderate clods in a matter of seconds can take years to grow back.

Some might argue that it was Murray’s moral obligation to defend the reef, to bite the intruders’ heads like so many Lou Gossetts. While satisfying perhaps, this course of action would not be terribly effective. The bulk of the damage done is not from divers, but by climate change and pollution.

Instead, Murray has chosen to make a portable toilet on a city street his lair. In pure Darwinist terms, this was a smart move. For one thing, this habitat was not threatened. Human influence has been proven to increase, rather than diminish, the prevalence of public toilets. Also, the water is bluer than in any ocean.

So it was there Murray lurked and waited, his mouth opening and closing in a manner consistent with a moray eel. He was hungry, but he was also patient, and it was not long before a suitable meal came along.

Casanova Joe needed to poop. All the businesses up and down the street had signs in their windows saying that their restrooms were for customers only. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem. He would duck into a cafe, order a coffee, make a trip to the toilet, and be on his merry way. Today was different. He was late to work. Even if we wasn’t, he had no money because he left his wallet at that woman’s house.

Was her name Marion or Marianne? He couldn’t remember. She was a sales rep for some cheese company. His wallet must have fallen out of his pocket when he was hurriedly taking his pants off. As was often the case when hooked up, he was in an equal rush to put his pants back on so he could slip out of her apartment unnoticed. There wasn’t anything wrong with the woman other than that she was really into cheese and made him sample it before she agreed to have sex with him. The sex was not bad. Neither was the cheese, but he sampled so much of it that it sat in his gut like a brick.

Joe spotted a portable toilet on the sidewalk. Thankfully, it was not padlocked. He went in, latched the door, dropped his pants, and sat down. He grunted. He was looking forward to ridding himself of this cheese log, but it did have one benefit. It took his mind off the dull ache in his testicles. He had an unusually high sex drive, which earned him the moniker “Casanova Joe,” and was prone to painful bouts of blue balls if he went too long without release. He thought he was experiencing that again now even though neither masturbation nor sexual intercourse could make it go away.

Meanwhile, Murray the Moray waited in the dark blue water below, poised to strike.

The fact was that Joe did not have blue balls at all. What he had was testicular cancer. It started to hurt when it hit stage three and like Murray, it was ready to make its move. Any lymph node would do, telegraphing the malignancy to a spot where it might kill him.

Murray was unaware of the tumor as well. What he saw was a juicy morsel, his for the taking. He was not about to let the opportunity slip by. He sprang forward and clamped his jaws tightly on the scrotum.

Casanova Joe shrieked in pain and tried to stand up, but could not. The mouth on his testicles refused to release its grip. Joe’s bowel movement fetched loose in the melee and poked halfway out of his anus, firm as a baguette. Perhaps if Murray had bitten down on his penis as well, the feces would have come out the rest of the way. The professional literature in this area of medicine has yet to take a stand on this issue.

Murray thrashed about in the toilet water while Joe struggled in vain to get to his feet. In this tug of war, something had to give and the weakest link was the flesh of Joe’s scrotum. When it it tore, Murray fell back with a mouth full of testicles and tumor, which he soon swallowed.

Joe burst out of the portable toilet. The half-birthed cheese turd sticking out of him wagged like a dog’s tail, but that did not mean he was happy.  He could not walk very well because his pants were around his ankles. He could not walk very well because his balls had been bitten off.

He could, however, scream perfectly well so he did a lot of that. “Snapping turtle!” he shouted over and and over as blood gushed from his crotch. He wasn’t sure that it was a snapping turtle, but it was the first thing to pop into his head and he was in no mental condition to come up with other options. A passerby took Joe at his word and called the Department of Animal Control.

When Animal Control arrived, they expected to find a snapping turtle in the water. They did not expect to find a creature like Murray the Moray. Murray was no ordinary moray eel. He was not only much larger, he had arms, legs, and a wife and kid at home.

Penny from Heaven (Part 3)

Saturday had come and the news was still abuzz over the plane crash Wednesday afternoon. It had gone down in a wheat field, sending a thick plume of smoke into the sky. Over 200 people were aboard that airliner and the air hung thick with the smell of jet fuel and overcooked meat.

Special media attention was paid to the 16 students in the choir and two faculty members who had died. It was heartstrings gold so the adults were portrayed as saints, the teens as perfect angels.

One news reporter lusting for a Local Emmy stood in front of the wreckage, rattled off the 18 names then said, “They’re all behind me in that twisted metal and debris, hopes and dreams snuffed out by this tragedy.”

He was wrong. Not everyone in the choir died in that plane.

Upwind and a few miles north on the Burrell farm, the air was clear and calm. There was no fire and smoke, no stench of charred flesh. It was there that Penny Nicholls had fallen from the sky and landed almost unnoticed.

Earl was the only witness when it happened. He had just returned from watching the lacrosse team practice. After he parked the pickup in front of his shed, he saw Penny in free fall. She had her arms outstretched and looked like she was trying to fly, but not doing a very good job of it. Then he noticed her tartan skirt and knew she was meant for him.

Three days later, Earl was still madly and deeply in love. Nevertheless, he needed to focus. He had a job to do.

He was in the master bathroom grabbing his mother’s makeup and stuffing it into a pillowcase he was holding. He wasn’t sure what was needed and what wasn’t so he decided to take it all. He also took her perfume and deodorant because those might be needed as well.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” his mother said after walking in on him.

“I’m just borrowing these, Mom. I’ll bring them back when I’m done.”

“Done using them for what? Have you turned into a transectional? Say it isn’t so, Earl. You’d make one plug-ugly girl and it would break your father’s heart.”

“I need them for my girlfriend.”

“You have a girlfriend? Will wonders never cease? Does she have a name?”

She did indeed have a name. It was Penny, but Earl had no way of knowing that. He started off calling her either “Honey” or “Babe,” and the two soon melded together.

“It’s ‘Honeybabe’,” he said.

“That’s a stripper’s name,” his mother said. “Just because you stuff dollar bills in a whore’s panties while she dances with a pole, that doesn’t make her your girlfriend.”

“She’s not a whore. You don’t know her. You don’t know anything. I’m leaving,” Earl said. He turned and walked away with as much a resolute stomp a man missing half a foot could muster.

“Not with my things, you’re not,” his mother said.

“Screw you, Mom.”

Earl descended the stairs and crossed the living room toward the front door. His mother was close behind, yelling how no girl could possibly want him, how worthless he was, and how much she regretted not aborting him.

Earl’s father sat on the couch, not looking away from the TV.

“Earl’s gone crazy and ransacked my belongings. You’re his father. Say something to him,” Earl’s mother demanded.

“Knock it off,” his father said. This was his go-to when Earl got out of line.

“Screw you too, Dad,” Earl said.

“I said knock it off,” his father said. This was his go-to when Earl did not knock it off.

By now, Earl was out the door and hobble-marching to the pickup truck parked on the gravel driveway. His mother stood in the entrance to the house and continued to shout unkind things, but he had already mentally blocked her out. The sound that hit his ears was transformed into how adults talked in “Peanuts” TV specials by the time it reached his brain.

He got in the truck and started the engine. Penny was in the passenger seat, leaned against the window and door.

“Hey Honeybabe,” Earl said. “I should apologize for not introducing you to my parents, but trust me. You wouldn’t want to meet either of them. All they care about is pretending to farm and getting a fat subsidy check. They don’t know what it’s like to be in love.”

He put the car in drive and drove off in the direction of the public road. Perhaps his parents were going to throw him out of the house for this. It was a strong possibility, but Earl didn’t care. They were his past and the past was time spent without Honeybabe.

That past Wednesday when Penny Nicholls quite literally fell for Earl, he felt like he was the luckiest man in the world. She was just a speck when he first saw her, becoming bigger and more beautiful the closer she came to earth. Did she look at him and smile just before she hit the ground? Earl was pretty sure that she had and there was no way to prove that she hadn’t. Upon impact, she had bounced several feet in the air before coming to rest face down in the rich topsoil of the Burrell farm. Earl ran to her, rolled her over, and smiled. He knew she was 18, of age. He was sure of it. Earl put his hand up her skirt, worked his finger under her panties, and plunged it into her lovin’ stuff.

“Consent,” he said.

Things moved pretty fast from there. He picked her up and carried her to his shed. She was not a small girl and with his handicap, he found it difficult to keep balanced. Still, he loved the way she felt in his arms.

She was a vision of loveliness when she swept downward from heaven, but it was the landing that perfected her for Earl. Nearly every bone in her body was broken. This made her very pliable.

He dumped Penny on the cot in the shed and began to undress her. Dead girls were supposed to be cold, but this one’s body was still quite warm. Earl liked that, but what he really liked was how flexible her shattered limbs were. He could bend them any which way and they would offer no resistance. A girl shouldn’t resist. She should consent.

For the briefest of moments, Earl wondered if a dead person really could consent. He quickly dismissed the concern as ridiculous. Was what he was about to do any different from that time he went to town with a sweat sock stuffed with Libby’s Potted Meat Food Product?

After Penny’s last article of clothing was removed, Earl spent the next several hours doing things he had never done with a woman before. Earl was still a virgin so one of these was simple sexual intercourse. So that’s what all the fuss was about, he thought. Good stuff, that vaginal penetration, but what else could he do? It turned out plenty.

He gave the other two popular orifices a whilrl then found he could improvise many more simply by folding her skin into a receptive crease. Given her corpulence and extensive skeletal trauma, almost every part of her body was a potential field to plow. After traversing her anatomy, he would always return to the original point of entry. It was the alpha and the omega, the homecoming, and the promised land.

Six hours into this marathon lovemaking, things began to go horribly wrong. Her body stiffened, resisting his advances.

“Come on, Honeybabe. You know I love you,” Earl said, but to no avail. Even her face had changed. Gone was the relaxed smile she wore when he first saw her that seemed Do whatever. I’m done caring. It had now hardened into a disapproving scowl.

In the following hours, her muscles tightened even further.  It got to the point where he could not force her knees apart. Even though both femurs were snapped, her thighs were like granite.

Earl gave up. He sat on the floor in the corner of the shed and stared daggers at her. He called her unkind names. He threw an empty Coke can at her head (it missed).

He left the shed and did not return for an entire day. During that time, he went about his routine as if nothing changed. He limped around the fields of the family farm, overgrown with weeds because the government was paying them not to grow anything that year. He sat at the dining table with his parents, eating his food but not speaking with them. The external Earl was as fine as he always had been. On the inside, he was devastated.

The world might have dismissed him as human garbage, but he thought Honeybabe was different. What had he done wrong? Was he really that worthless? He finally could not bear his heartbreak any longer and returned to the shed. Penny was still stiff as a board. Even though he didn’t believe it would work, he begged her to take him back.

“Oh Honeybabe, my heart is in a tizzy and I yearn to get busy,” he said, hoping an attempt at poetry might melt her. It did not. He began to sob and rocked her in his arms. He cried himself to sleep.

When he woke, Penny had relaxed. She was not as limber as when she bounced off the ground, but there was a definite improvement. She also looked a little bloated. Had she put on weight? Earl didn’t mind. He liked a woman to have some meat on her.

“Who’s my little piggy?” he said and gave her a playful squeeze. She responded with a fart that sounded like someone clearing the spit valve on a tube and smelled a whole lot worse. Earl chuckled and let out a fart of his own.

Honeybabe was his again and he decided to celebrate the occasion by taking her out on a date. She did need some freshening up beforehand.  Her eyes looked a little deflated and her once creamy complexion had turned into paisley-like red splotches on fish-belly white. If he took some of his mother’s beauty products, they would fix that right up. It wasn’t like they were doing the old bat any good anyway.

“Tits on a mule,” he said.

An hour later, the makeup and sundries had been procured, and Earl had made his escape and fled the family farm. He grinned and tunelessly whistled as the car continued down the road.  Penny was slouched in her seat, perfectly still except for a bit of pinkish foam bubbling from one nostril. He had stopped a while back to put some makeup on her. He used too much and made her look like the Joker, but he didn’t mind. She was beautiful to him no matter what.

“Out for a drive on a glorious day with my Honeybabe. Life couldn’t be better,” Earl said.

He sniffed.  Had Honeybabe farted again? It sure was something. He rolled down the window. That helped some. He then reached into the pillowcase, pulled out his mother’s perfume. He gave her a few squirts from the atomizer, and realizing this was insufficient, he unscrewed the top and dumped the remaining contents on her head.

“Nothing personal, Honeybabe,” Earl said. “Your womanly aroma is just going to take a little getting used to. What a day I have planned for us. We’re going to a lacrosse game. The girls there think they’re too good for me, but I don’t need them. I have you. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s give them a little show, you and me. It’ll be fun for us and maybe they’ll learn a thing or two. How ’bout it?”

Penny from Heaven (Part 2)

Thirty-two thousand feet above Earl, an 18-year old high school senior named Penny sat in an airplane and adjusted her tartan skirt. It would cover her legs almost to her knees if she pulled it taut and remained still. That was a small victory, but she was willing to take what she could get. If she was lucky, it might be enough to get Mr. Braden to stare at something else for a change.

Penny still did not regret sitting next to the faculty chaperone. At least he kept his hands to himself, which was more than could be said for any of the teenage boys on the trip. Still, it might be nice if he made eye contact with a girl without her snapping her fingers at him first and when he finally did, could he just once not have his eyes red from not blinking and also not be wearing a coat of saliva as lip-gloss?

She would have preferred sitting next to the choir teacher, Ms. Zurbuchen, despite the instructor’s near-constant disapproval of everything and everyone. Another female student would have been fine, but not perfect either. The ones who did not know Penny well would often gossip that she was a slut and a prude (and sometimes both). Penny’s supposed friends weren’t much better, often giving helpful advice like “People might like you better if you lost weight and learned to be interesting.”

No matter what, Penny would on the receiving end of unwanted attention. It was just the way things were and the way it had always been. Her parents were largely to blame for sending their daughter down this path. They meant well, as parents often do when making dreadful mistakes.

Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls chose her name because they thought it would make her popular with other children. As far as they were concerned, there was no way that anyone named “Penny Nicholls” could not be well liked. It just sounded adorable rolling off the tongue and besides, who doesn’t like money? To drive the point home, they often had Penny wear print dresses with pictures of coins on them.

Penny showed up to her first day of kindergarten in such attire. By the time her parents came to pick her up, she was crying. “There is no reason for tears,” they assured her while choosing to ignore the library paste on her dress, gum in her hair, and fingerpaint in her ears.

As the year wore on, the bullying leveled off and even dipped a bit, but never went away completely. Penny was clearly not happy, but her parents did not mention anything to her teacher. It probably would not matter if they had. The teacher had been on the job long enough to know that children were pint-sized psychopaths and every so often, there would be one kid in her class who was a lightning rod for abuse. The best she could do was keep the body count at zero until this group moved onto the first grade and became somebody else’s problem.

When Penny got older and she and her peer group hit puberty, many of the taunts became sexual in nature. In the seventh grade, they were more rudimentary. “Penny Nicholls sucks all the boys’ pickles,” kids would say.  Two years later, they had morphed into a comparatively sophisticated “Not getting any? Talk to Penny.”

None of these insinuations were accurate. Other than a perfunctory smooch during an awkward game of spin the bottle when she was 12, Penny had never even kissed a boy. She assumed she would eventually be sentenced to love, marriage, and a baby carriage, but was in no hurry for that to happen. Instead, she was content to have a series of crushes she dared not tell anybody about for fear of being mocked. Most of these only lasted a few weeks. The one exception was a boy named Terrence, whose nickname for her was “Penny Antichrist” and was the only ninth grader she knew who smoked. She was smitten for him for close to a year and felt heartbroken when he and his family moved away.

Penny was mostly a loner in high school. She was a good student, but not exceptional. She was not an athlete, but had the appetite of one and began to put on weight. As her figure became ample, boys would call her a fat pig while lustfully looking her up and down.

It was during her junior year that she discovered her one true talent. Penny was walking home from school with her earbuds in and singing along to a song playing on her smartphone. She wasn’t watching where she was going and almost collided with the choir instructor Mrs. Zurbuchen.

Ms. Zurbuchen told Penny she should audition for the school choir. Penny shook her head no.

“Look, kid. I need a good alto and I think you’d fit in well. Think it over.”

Penny did think it over. The prospect of trying out for anything frightened her,  but she liked the idea that she might fit in somewhere. She was sold. Her parents approved and she felt no need to talk it over with her close friends because she did not have any.

The audition went well and Penny made it into the school choir, but she soon found out that Ms. Zurbuchen was not always gentle in her criticisms. Penny’s singing wasn’t the issue. It was that she kept doing it with her eyes closed.

“What are you, Jim Morrison? Open your goddamn eyes!” the instructor often suggested.

Penny did not get the cultural reference, but did make an effort to comply. That worked for a while, but her eyes would close again as soon as she stopped actively trying to keep them open. Ms. Zurbuchen eventually gave up and remedied the situation by having Penny stand behind Nathan, a tall, gangly youth with an Adam’s apple the size of a man’s fist.

This suited Penny fine. She wanted to sing, not be seen. With the view of her blocked, she found she had less of an urge to close her eyes so it had nothing to do with her singing. In fact, she found herself wanting her eyes shut in most situations that made her uncomfortable, or in other words, most situations.

With the rest of the world comfortably on the other side of her eyelids, she often liked to imagine she was flying high in the air, away from everything and everyone. She would not fly like Superman because her arms would be out at her sides. It would not be like a bird either because there would be no flapping. Instead, they would be stationary like an airplane’s wings. She took care not to have her arms actually do this after that time someone said, “You’re too fat to be Jesus. You’d pull out the nails.”

Penny found the choir to her liking. She knew it was a tall order for her to fit in completely, but sang well and was reliable so no one tried to get her to quit.

By her senior year, her efforts really began to pay off. The choir won a number of local competitions and after securing the regional title, they were invited to Chicago for a big national sing-off just after Easter.

Money was of course an issue, public-school budgets being what they are. A GoFundMe campaign was launched in addition to more traditional ways students raised money such as a bake sale and a car wash. The choir even organized a small carnival and gave Penny the seat of honor in the dunking booth.

The fundraisers were a success. There was not only enough money to fly the choir to Chicago and put them up in junkie-free accommodations, there was enough left over to supply uniforms. Penny’s high school didn’t have much of a dress code, let alone a uniform requirement, but there was a push for the students to look sharp when representing the school. There was an additional push by Mr. Braden that girls should wear a traditional tartan skirt. Boys should wear navy slacks and a white shirt. Maybe a sweater and tie. Whatever.

The students, including Penny, were so excited about going to Chicago they didn’t care what they wore. Even for those who had traveled by air fairly regularly saw this as a special occasion because their parents were not coming with them. For Penny, who had only been on an airplane twice in her life, it felt like the trip of a lifetime.

She did not know how right she was.

About midway through the flight to Chicago, Penny got up to pee. It would give her a respite from the creepy gaze of Mr. Braden, but it also meant she would have to go through the gauntlet of walking back to the lavatory. She wished she could close her eyes and walk straight ahead, but that meant a risk she would trip and fall into the lap of a boy with an erection. Her best option was to keep her eyes forward and soldier through.

As she walked, girls made faces and rolled their eyes. Boys sitting in aisle seats grabbed at her legs. Nathan, the tall boy she stood behind in choir, sat in the back row. He had gotten the idea that Penny chose to stand behind him to check out his ass so when he saw her approach, he grinned at her with unbrushed teeth and thrust his hand down the front of his pants.

Penny wondered how the situation could get any worse and the inside engine on the left side of the plane provided an answer. Back at the airport, there had been some confusion over who was supposed to inspect this engine so no one did it at all. If someone had, they sure would have seen that it was likely to explode, which is what it did.

The explosion took the wing clean off and the plane spiraled toward earth. Centrifugal force threw Penny against the lavatory door. The rest of the passengers had their seat belts on, which was in accordance with FAA regulations but did not do any of them much good.

When the plane dropped 15,000 feet, the tail section came off. Penny was hurled from the passenger cabin into the open sky. She was cleanly jettisoned and did not have any part of her person in contact with the jagged edges of fuselage on the way out.

After an initial blast  of wind that stunned but did not injure her, Penny looked around and realized she was no longer inside of an airplane. She closed her eyes, put her arms straight out, and pretended to fly.

Penny from Heaven (Part 1)

Earl Burrell stood at the edge of a bare section of farmland and kicked at the dirt with what was left of his right foot. He was 36 years old and had spent the last 20 of them missing everything from his mid-arch forward. This was the result of a self-inflicted blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. The buckshot did not remove all of it, but it made enough of a mess that the doctor had to amputate much of what was left over.

Earl grew up as the only child in a farming family. He had little aptitude or affinity for working in the fields and was always coming up with excuses so he could escape the daily toil. It was therefore of little surprise that his parents suspected the partial amputation of one of his feet as just another dodge.

He might very well have blasted off a piece of his foot for an idle existence had he thought of it. Earl was not a fan of running, or even walking, so the pluses did outweigh the minuses. It was unintentional however, something Bob Ross might have called a “happy accident” if he had worked with firearms instead of paint. Intentional or not, Earl was OK with limping from one place to another as long as the destination was where he could do a whole lot of nothing.

His parents’ initial irritation morphed into acceptance when they realized that Earl was destined to be a layabout anyway so not much had really changed. In time, they even believed Earl’s claim that his injury was an accident though they took this to mean he was aiming at his other foot.

A hefty out-of-court settlement from the gun manufacturer set Mr. and Mrs. Burrell’s minds at ease. Telling Earl the money would be put in a “college fund” (he was a high-school dropout), they pocketed the cash except for a small allowance and a shed where he could masturbate in private.

In what was the closest Earl got to ambition, he vowed that his jack-off shed would one day become his love shack. He returned to his high school since this was where girls could be found. He did not start attending classes. He just staked out a spot and the hallway and waited for the moment when he would have the courage to ask one out.

That moment never came. A number of students complained and despite having never re-enrolled, Earl was expelled and told never to set foot on school grounds again.

Earl shrugged and found a new location at another school where he could continue to look at girls.  He was often able to borrow the family pickup truck so mobility was rarely an issue. In time, every secondary school in a 100-mile radius (with the exception of an all-boys military academy) became part of his ogling circuit.

Years passed. The girls would eventually graduate and get on with their lives, only to have a new set take their place. The one constant was Earl Burrell.

So here he was today doing what he did best. He took a bite from his pulled-pork sandwich and stared through his binoculars at the girls’ varsity lacrosse team. They were having their afternoon practice before the big game against the league champs. If they were victorious, they stood a good chance of winning the league themselves.

Earl did want the team to win, but he was mostly just happy that they were able to play at all. Most public high schools had their budgets slashed and few teams other than football and basketball. Fortunately, this was a private school so its athletic program was kept intact to attract enrollment. Fortunately for Earl, this was a Catholic school so tradition was important. The team uniform, including the tartan skirts, had not changed in decades.

Earl just loved those skirts.

He would have preferred to sit in the bleachers like a civilized human being instead of having to watch from the far end of an open field. He feared violence from the fathers (and some mothers) for what they thought was an unhealthy interest in the girls practicing.

This bothered Earl. If the parents wanted to fear for their daughters, it certainly should not be because of him. There were some real creeps out there like the ones who liked to watch the JV team. Earl wasn’t like them. He only watched the varsity team, which was largely made up of seniors with many of them having reached their 18th birthday. Some of the mentally slower players may have been held back a year or two and would even be older than that.

Earl placed a high value on consent so being of age was crucial. It was a non-negotiable first hurdle on the sexual-satisfaction roadmap, but not the only step. She of course would have to say yes. Persistent unwanted advances might enrage the objects of his desire and there were a few of the larger girls who looked like they could inflict serious bodily harm.

There were a lot of guys who would enjoy such punishment, but not Earl. He was no masochist and he preferred females who were pliant and demure, bordering on catatonic. Her yes was a must, but only a slut uttered it loudly and with unabashed enthusiasm. Instead, Earl wanted it delivered as a simple nod while looking away and tears in her eyes that showed that she was a lady.

The absence of a no would do in a pinch as well.

Although he didn’t want a woman much older than 18 (one’s better half should be half one’s age, he reasoned), a reverse “The Price Is Right” rule was in effect. She should be close to the age of consent without being under. For this reason, Earl put a lot of effort into being able to guess a young honey’s age.

So far, he had yet to be proven wrong. He had never been proven right either, but that did not erode his confidence. He scanned the lacrosse field, deciding who was 18 and who was not.

“I want a cheeseburger, not veal parmesan,” he said, when in fact he would not get either. All he’d get was pulled pork.

It looked like the day would end like countless others. He would retreat to his shed, have a tug, and convince himself that the next day was somehow going to be different. If he were a praying man, he might look to God and ask for a miracle.

What Earl did not know was that a miracle was about to happen. Whether divine intervention was involved was up for debate, but Earl’s miracle was unfolding where God was said to live, way up in the sky.

Privilegemobile 11: A Better Tomorrow

I don’t know much of anything about my bus driver’s personal life. I don’t know if he’s married, what books or movies he likes, or his preferred vacation spots. Everything I do know is expressed through how he drives the bus.

I know if another bus is ahead of him at the bus stop, he will wait patiently at the intersection rather than pull up right behind the other vehicle and block 26th Street. When he does pull up to the bus stop, it will be at the same spot day after day. If I see a deviation from either of these behaviors, I’ll know the regular driver is taking a sick day or is on PTO.

It’s the stopping at the same spot that I care about. With people boarding different shuttles for different companies, nobody cares about forming a single line. Instead, we just find an unoccupied spot along the sidewalk and play with our phones until our bus comes.

Whenever possible, I have a place staked out so I am right in front of the bus door when it opens. This almost ensures that I will get my preferred seat, all the way back and on the right. Sometimes it’ll be claimed by someone who boarded at an earlier stop, but that’s rare because of its proximity to the lavatory. My sense of smell is not great so I don’t much care. Blast away, party people. It’s all the same to me.

That’s what I do early in the a.m. Waiting for the bus is pretty innocuous as activities go, but not everyone sees it that way. This past Monday, a concerned San Franciscan decided to take action.

The woman was older, perhaps my age or even more than that. She carried a sign that said “Illegal Street Activity” to let us all know we were in violation of the law. No one paid much attention to her.

My bus arrived shortly after she did. I took my seat in the back and looked out the window. The woman was gone, but her sign was leaned against a trashcan, facing out toward the street.

I wondered what happened to the woman. Maybe she was eliminated by a tech-bro death squad. Maybe their throbbing cocks were in on the assault. None of that seemed likely. The privileged rarely have to resort to force to maintain their position in the social hierarchy when they have the system to do it for them.

She probably just planted the sign then left on her own volition. Her statement made, she was free to go back to her support group who would tell her how brave and proactive she was.

In some ways, I applaud what she did. Her methods were perfectly acceptable. She could have hopped the curb in her hybrid and mowed us all down, our dying screams drowned out by Joan Baez blaring from her car stereo. Instead, she chose to express her displeasure without violence. Good on her for that.

I’m not even completely against the reasons behind her action, if I’m right about what they were. I’m not talking about the explanation she’d give if asked why our presence was illegal. She would probably lie her ass off about that, citing traffic and loitering laws of her own creation.

Tech buses have already been barred from using municipal bus stops, and with good reason. However, there have been no laws passed barring them from the city in its entirety. As for loitering, perhaps she’d have a point if only because the definition is so arbitrary and enforcement so selective. Anybody standing still in a public place could be called a loiterer. Usually, it’s the grubby and impoverished who get busted for it instead of techie scum like me unless you have a serious ax to grind.

I’m guessing she does and I can’t say I blame her. San Francisco has changed a lot since I first moved here and not all for the better.  It used to be affordable as big cities go. If you wanted to pursue some passion that didn’t pay well like music or art,  it was doable with shared housing and a lame-ass job. If your passion was simply to stay up all night on drugs, that was doable as long as you made it to work in a semi-functional state. Sure, the streets were more dangerous back then, but I wasn’t exactly behaving like I wanted to live forever.

I used to walk down Valencia Street and see poor people pushing shopping carts down the sidewalk. Now I see rich people pushing strollers. “Faulty wiring” frequently causes fires that gut low-income apartment buildings and have luxury condos rise from the ashes. The transformation of SF wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for tech douches with a sense of entitlement as bloated as their bank accounts.

So yeah, lady, I get it. You don’t like what’s happening. You want to turn back time, like Cher, or put it in a bottle, like Jim Croce. I don’t like what’s happening either. The difference is that you want keep the ship from sinking after it has hit an iceberg. I’m just trying to make my way to a lifeboat.

That means working in tech and stashing enough money to cut and run before my luck runs out. And it will run out. I’ll eventually lose my job due to a layoff or quitting in a huff because my undiagnosed mental illness staged a coup. My rent-controlled apartment won’t last forever either. This is not a good town to grow old in.

Fortunately, I doubt I’ll have to. Becca and I plan to relocate to a city about 600 miles north of here. It’s called Portland, Oregon. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

We go up there whenever we can, feeling a little more at home each time. Some locals don’t much like people moving in and making everything more expensive. That no doubt sounds familiar to you. And while I can see where they’re coming from, Becca and I are still going to do what’s best for us.

I bet that sounds familiar as well.

Backup Plan

I awoke in the wee hours of Monday morning last week. I do that a lot. Often it’s because I have to pee, but sometimes it’s my waking from a nightmare. The week prior, I had a real doozy that had a werewolf that sprang in front of me and grew so large, it blocked out all traces of light. I woke up screaming. Becca, understandably concerned, asked if I was OK. I was fine because I was awake. That meant the monster was gone.

This past dream was not so bad. I had escaped my abductors in SF and was sneaking around some dream version of Oakland that’s a lot nicer than Oakland really is. I wasn’t sure about the people I escaped from. Maybe they wanted to own a hostage the same way one might want to own a dog. There was certainly nothing to indicate they wanted to vivisect me or use my fingers and toes as a pizza topping. I was happy to be rid of them, but never felt any real fear. I woke up relaxed.

I checked my phone and it was just after three in the morning. The VM where I host my blog had one job scheduled to run at two on Monday and another at three. The first job dumped the contents of the blog’s database into a file in a backup directory I had created. The second job uploaded that file to a remote storage account I recently set up.

For the briefest of moments, I felt like a grownup. I behaved prudently. Poison Spur is the only endeavor I’ve pursued with anything approaching a sustained effort and now it had a means of disaster recovery. Never mind giant werewolves and pizza chefs who wield bloody tin snips. Losing this blog would be a real fucking nightmare.

It happened once before. Roughly ten years ago, there was a disk crash and I had no recent backup. Sifting through both Google and disk cache, I was able to piece most of it back together. It was a painful experience and I should have learned my lesson right then. Instead, I pushed my luck for another decade.

So what changed? What motivated me to do something smart after all these years? The answer is what made my feeling of maturity so fleeting.

Back in January, I upgraded my DSL to a high-speed fiber-optic thingamabob. The new modem had a router built in, which meant I had to learn how to configure the thing. You know the five-second rule when food hits the floor. I have a five-minute one when it comes to figuring out a technical task. Of course, figuring out technical things is what I do for a living so I make an exception whenever money is involved. Otherwise, I say fuck it and either play a game or catch up on what’s happening in the world of porn.

The five minutes elapsed so I declared partial victory. There was Wi-Fi access for our phones and desktops, and my desktop computer could access the internet via an ethernet cable to the modem/router/whateveryoucallit. What I didn’t have was the means for a device to access the desktop through the Wi-Fi.

I bought my desktop in 2010, which makes it about as modern as a horse-drawn carriage in as far as computers go. Lately, it had pretty much been relegated to a backup device for my phone. I would launch my rsync app, tap a few buttons, and my pics and whatnot would get backed up. I didn’t even have to get out of bed.

Those days were gone and I realized it was all for the best. If my shit is worth anything at all (a debatable point, granted), shouldn’t it be recoverable even if there’s a burglary or a fire? I did a bit of googling and decided to go with IDrive (not an Apple product, note uppercase “I” #fuckthecult) because there’s no limit on number of devices and it works easily with Linux.

For my $69/year, I get 1 TB in cloud storage. I don’t process that figure well. It’s bigger than I can mentally size in anything but abstract terms, yet it’s too small to be infinite. That left me with the perplexing task of deciding what to back up.

My music collection was a no brainer. The same went for my writing projects. Conversely, there were some things I had no desire at all to back up: downloaded installer files, CPAN modules, and the like.

The jury is still out on porn. There are no legal reasons not to. Even if is law enforcement subpoenaed my encryption key from IDrive or the company gave it up just to be dicks, there is not much that can be done to me. Child porn ain’t my thing and the mere possession of other kind of obscene material is not prosecutable. I think snuff porn might be another criminal no-no, but I doubt I have any of that either. I’ll need to check my archives.

Legal issues aside, I don’t see much of a point. Most of that crap lives in folders that have been opened in years because I have no interest now. My old friend, the late great Ray McKelvey of the band Stevie Stiletto once said in a song, “I’m sitting on the toilet thinking about a girl I used to know. Like a pornographic movie, she was only good the first time.” There is a lot of wisdom in those words, largely because of the near-universal truth of their foundation. Porn serves a purpose and then we move on. There are exceptions of course. I have a friend who automated his Usenet porn downloads back in the 90s and lovingly catalogued them into burned CDs with titles like “Redheads Vol. 4,” but his level of devotion is a rare thing indeed. I’d say doubly so now that we live in an era when there is convenient access to live, streaming whatever the hell you’re into.

So porn, like anything, will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis and because storage devices will someday fail, I have the power to decide what ultimately lives or dies. I’ll be like God with my own personal rapture roster. I may make a few mistakes along the way, but there is one I do know: Most stuff, whether it is on a planet or a hard drive, is not worth saving.

The Cat Who Cheated Death

I worked from home on Tuesday so I could take the cat to the vet. I wanted to bring her in that following Saturday, but they were booked solid. Becca and I would be in Portland the next weekend and I didn’t want to put it off another week.

Kitty (full name “Acoustic Kitty”) hasn’t been doing well lately. Her appetite isn’t what it once was and she’s lost a lot of weight. Kitty will turn 17 this summer and that’s getting up in the range where a lot of cats drop dead. I’d rather that didn’t happen to Kitty right away because I like her better than I like most people.

After dialing into the daily stand-up meeting for work, I loaded the cat into her carrier, bungee corded that to a cart, and headed off toward Mission Pet Hospital.

Becca had the day off so she tagged along. I appreciated that. I could use the company and also the emotional support if the diagnosis was bad.

The cat carrier is way too big. It is intended for a dog and a large one at that. I bought it at a flea market in the parking garage beneath the big church at 24th and Valencia. On October 31, the church would hold a “harvest festival” in the same space and beckon children to come enjoy a Halloween free of ghosts, goblins, and other manifestations of Satanism. Unsurprisingly, attendance was quite low at these events. It was better at the flea market because the junk sold there did not exist to spoil anyone’s good time.

I used to have a cat-sized cat carrier, but it was too small. I got it at a thrift store back in 2002. Technically, Kitty could fit in the thing. Whiskey dick can also fit in a condom, but not without a comparable level of difficulty getting it there.

I suppose if I follow the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” model, I’ll eventually purchase a cat carrier that is just right. There is no rush on that though. A trip to the vet is going to suck for the cat no matter what. Riding there in something less spacious than a barn won’t make it any better.

Kitty hunkered down and stared through the bars of the carrier. Other than roaming the network of backyards behind our place (a privilege that got revoked in recent years), trips to the vet are her only glimpse of the outside world. I would like to think that there is some small part of the experience she enjoys, but I doubt it.

I’m sure it’s one big assault on her senses. There’s the sound of traffic on the street and footsteps on the sidewalk, the smell of car exhaust, and the sight of unknown people and the occasional dog.

If there was any noise that comforted her, perhaps it was the sound of the wheels on the concrete. It comforted me. It was the sound of progress being made. We would soon be at the vet and past having to maneuver around people who choose the middle of the sidewalk to congregate and talk about their bullshit, as well as the constant threat of one the wheels hitting a pebble and sending cart, carrier, and cat tipping sideways.

I doubt Kitty thought much about the destination. That would entail some grasp of the concept of the future. Cats live wholly in the present and this cat’s present must have seemed unendurable.

In a way, I envied her that. Not knowing anything is often preferable to knowing just enough to worry. In my case, I knew there was a chance that Kitty would have to be put down. If I had also known the visit would result in blood and urine tests, a change in medication, and a wait-and-see, I would have been more relaxed.

I’m not trying to pretend that showing some concern for my cat makes me a good person. It doesn’t work like that. Hitler was nice to his dog. I just know what it feels like to have an animal put to sleep.

Back in 2005, I used to leave my bedroom open so Kitty could go out whenever she pleased. This also meant other cats (and the occasional raccoon) could come in. There was this orange, feral who came by on a regular basis. As time passed, the cat became less skittish. He also began to stumble around as if he were drunk. I don’t know if the two were related.

Anyway, he came to visit one day and started rubbing against my leg as I sat on the toilet. He did not look good so I caved and took him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with advanced liver disease and cat AIDS. I said OK to the suggested euthanasia and gave him scritches while he died.

Even though this was a cat I didn’t care about that much, it kind of fucked me up. That probably explains why I was in a partial state of denial about my cat and would have put off her trip to the vet even longer if Becca hadn’t reminded me. God knows how I’ll react when it comes time for Kitty to get her hot shot.

Maybe I’ll handle it with dignity, only tearing up in a subdued manner reminiscent of manly men watching the end of Brian’s Song. A more likely scenario is that I’ll freak out, perhaps even grab the needle from the veterinarian’s hand and plunge it into the side of my neck.

OK, that last part is not all that likely, but what if it happened? I doubt a cat dose would kill me, but it might get me really high. Better yet, it might give me a red-pill (more Matrix than MRA) epiphany that allows me to see the world as it really is. And if seeing reality turned the vet into a lamprey and Becca into a chimp, so be it. Kitty would still be alive and I would still love Becca even if she started eating my face.

When you have an aging cat to care for, you need to be ready for all eventualities.

 

All the Fingers and Toes

I awoke from a bad dream a little after four in the morning. I knew I probably would not get back to sleep before the alarm went off so I resigned myself to enduring insomnia for the next hour and a half. To be honest, it wasn’t so bad. I got had gotten enough sleep so I wouldn’t feel like hell for the rest of the day, and it felt nice and cozy in the dark bedroom. Just as it’s true that nothing good happens out on the streets at that hour, nothing bad happens when you’re hunkered down under the blankets.

I was thinking about what goes on when babies are born. Not childbirth, that’s nothing I’ll have to go through thanks to my lack of the requisite equipment. Instead, I thought about the phrase “all its fingers and toes.”

For those put off by my choice of possessive pronoun, I can explain. Using either “his” or “her” shows gender bias, and using “his or her” reinforces the gender binary. By using “its,” I can avoid both while expressing my disdain for babies.

Now that that’s settled, I can get back to the issue I was dealing with at the time.

If I had been more awake, I might have imagined “all its fingers and toes” being the meat of a question a parent might ask the doctor who delivered the baby. It’s a legitimate concern. Also reasonable would be the doctor volunteering unprompted that the baby has the full digital complement, and if addressing the mother, perhaps adding “You really dodged a bullet. Next time, try to go easy on the thalidomide.”

I picked neither of these options. Instead, I pictured the fingers-toes question being asked of a parent by a friend or acquaintance. Who would ask such a thing? I might, but only because I have no social skills. It’s the kind of question that might earn a chuckle or two, provided the kid popped out of the womb healthy and with all its parts. If not, the situation could turn awkward.

“So, does your baby have all its fingers and toes?”

“Nope, it’s pretty much just a dick and an eyeball.”

See what I mean?

You may think I’m an idiot for having this as a default scenario, regardless of the early hour. In my defense, I did just wake up from a bad dream that got me fixated on fingers and toes. It was also sufficiently unsettling for my transition to wakefulness to be rushed and not entirely smooth.

The dream began pleasantly enough. I went into a pizzeria for a bite to eat. The family who ran the place were welcoming and full of smiles. The next thing I knew, I was tied to a chair and my digits were being cut off. Through a one-way mirror, I watched bits of them fed to the other customers.

I managed to get away from the pizzeria. The actual escape did not happen in the dream, but I somehow found myself out on the street. I knew I was not out of danger and if I stayed where I was, I would be recaptured.

I ran up to someone and started pleading for help. He looked at me like I was insane and I must have appeared that way, waving my arms and ranting about forced amputation and unwitting cannibalism. Just then, a man from the pizzeria showed up to take me away.

He was an affable brute, apologizing for any trouble I may have caused. He said I was not a bad person, just very disturbed and in need of constant care.

I was not about to let this happen. I held out my hands in front of the man I approached to show him the missing fingers. Only now, none of them were gone. Undeterred, I took off a shoe and sock, and presented my foot. All five toes were there. Before I could take off the other shoe, I was hauled away.

I woke up soon after that, but before I did, the voice of a narrator chimed in. My guess is that whatever part of my psyche that was running the show must have seen that even Dream Dave knew this made no sense.

“Little did he realize that it was not his, but someone else’s fingers and toes that were cut off,” the narrator explained in a tone reminiscent of Criswell.

My eyes opened and I immediately called bullshit. If all the nastiness happened to someone else, then what was I running away from? I felt shaken and more than a little cheated. Not only did I have to endure a terrible nightmare, it had a stupid ending that added insult to injury.

We quickly forget most of our dreams, and with good reason. They don’t hold up under the scrutiny of the awake world. Maybe they do for some, but only the sort who also believe that Sandy Hook was an inside job.

Bless their magical-thinking hearts. Proud that I was not like them, I turned my attention toward amusing myself with the subject of birth defects.

 

Bench Warrant (Part 3)

“Christ, what?” he would often ask as he awoke, sliding around on or (on a day) stuck to the upholstery cover his mother had put on the couch because he kept soiling himself. She objected to what he was doing, but never verbalized it. Billy hated her for that. It was the same passive-aggressive crap his ex-girlfriend pulled the night they met, when it was plain she didn’t like what he doing yet still grunted an assent that paved the way for statutory rape.

Drawing any parallel between Billy’s mother and a woman he had sex with (the only one, which was neither here nor there) upset him even more. The mere eventuality of a terrorist raining death upon him was no longer good enough. Billy wanted to know when.

He didn’t need it to happen right away, but the date and time were important so he could plan accordingly. It was mandatory that he be in her presence when it all went down. He would have to make sure she knew what was about to occur because it would spoil the fun if she were caught unawares. Fear of impending doom would inspire her to embrace him, a show of affection and bonding too little too late.

“Joke’s on you, Mom. I want to die,” Billy would say, pushing her away.

Billy hoped by thinking hard about the issue, an answer would come to him so he made a pact with himself to do just that. Any time not spent drinking, sleeping, or watching TV was dedicated to this task. That time added up, sometimes topping an hour in a single day. Even so, days turned into months and months to years without a breakthrough.

He came to realize he had no talent for predicting the future. If he had, would he have allowed his life to turn out like this? Probably, but it still would have been nice to have had a heads up.

There was no shortage of mystics and seers who claimed to have the gift of prophecy, but few of them were reliable. If they had any real talent, they would be soothsaying hot stock picks instead of operating in dingy offices above pawn shops and porn outlets.

If you measured by personal success, Christianity was the way to go. Sure, there were some shabby sidewalk prophets predicting doom on their sandwich boards. Those were the outcasts. The established churches had done very well for themselves, commanding a huge flock who filled their coffers with donations and provided a formidable voting bloc lest any politician try to curtail their racket.

Few Christians called themselves psychics and have historically caused all kinds of unpleasantness for people who did. The answers about the End of Days, and everything else, they claimed, was in the Bible.

There was a New Testament in the house where Billy and his mother lived. It had belonged to Billy’s father, who bought it so he could have it in hand when the cops arrived on a domestic-disturbance call.

Billy started reading it to look for answers and wished he had the CliffsNotes. It was the King James Version and Billy scratched his head over the word “begat.” He had no idea what it meant, which bothered him because there seemed to be a whole lot of begatting going on. Realizing he was never going to be a biblical scholar, he decided to let the History Channel find the answers for him.

‘It was 2009 and the show “Decoding the Past” had just run its course, but the network that once had the reputation of being “all Hitler, all the time” was not abandoning its recent focus on serving up paranormal speculation to the credulous. “The Nostradamus Effect” was now airing and there would be many others.

Billy vaguely remembered Nostradamus from “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow,” a 1981 movie narrated by a bloated and cigar-smoking Orson Welles who wheezed out dire predictions for humanity when the third Antichrist came to power. World War III was scheduled to light up the planet in the late 1990s. That never happened, but Billy admired this Nostradamus character enough to give him another chance here in the 21st century.

It was the “The Nostradamus Effect” that introduced Billy to the Mayan prediction that the world was going to end on December 21, 2012. This made a lot of sense to him. Along with the ancient Egyptians, the Mayans were pretty much air-traffic controllers for extraterrestrials. They had to pick up some insider’s knowledge on the job.

The Mayans didn’t actually predict the end of the world, but the show said they did and that was good enough for Billy. His mother could give him as many disapproving looks as she wanted and it wouldn’t bother him. He now had a real date to look forward to. It was his Christmas.

For the next three years, Billy drank contentedly and let time tick down. December 21, 2012 finally came. Then December 22 came and Billy was still here. So was his mother. He hated the Mayans for lying to him and was glad they were all dead.

Billy spent the next four and a half years drinking and watching television. The History Channel failed to come up with any concrete predictions and the “Not if, but when” often uttered by the show’s solemn narrator had long since failed to comfort him. The situation became so dire that he began watching actual news programs.

There was some hope there, but not much. Billy learned about North Korea, who had nukes, and other nations who just wanted them. The old-guard nuke havers like Russia and China had too much to lose to start World War III. Kim Jong-un, on the other hand, ruled a garbage nation and therefore had nothing to lose. Billy developed a serious man crush on the North Korean leader, but no missiles were launched so his love so far was unrequited.

Billy was more depressed than he had ever been. His fiftieth birthday was approaching and doomsday was no closer than when he was 18. Just when he thought his life could not get any worse, his mother brought home a dog.

The new arrival was an affable mutt from the animal shelter and if had been anyone else’s dog, he would have liked it just fine. It wasn’t just any dog though. It was his mother’s dog and she named it Billy.

“You’re such a good boy, Billy,” his mother would often say. “I love this Billy. This Billy never makes me cry. This Billy never makes me feel ashamed.”

Billy the human started thinking up different ways of killing the dog. Poison, beating with a hammer, and throwing from a freeway overpass were all briefly considered then rejected. It wasn’t a moral objection. Billy simply did not have it in him to be a killer.

Then in early December, an idea came to him. While his mother was at work, he grabbed a jar of peanut butter from the cupboard and went into his mother’s bedroom. He then kicked over the clothes hamper and started spreading the peanut butter on the crotch of all of his mother’s panties. He made sure to slather plenty on because he figured the dog didn’t want a mouthful of that nastiness any more than he did.

Billy’s mother said nothing, but two days later the dog was gone. There was no mention of it during dinner that night, which was not all that odd because Billy and his mother rarely spoke while eating. Billy wanted to bring it up, but he could wait until Christmas. His mother may not have loved her son, but she did love Christmas dinner. She cooked a big ham and everything.

Christmas night came.

“So Mom, what did you do with the dog?” Billy said, slurring his words and talking with a mouthful of food.

“I killed Billy,” his mother said. “Or rather the veterinarian did, but I was the one who asked him to be put down. I tried to love him, but he crossed a line and proved himself unworthy. I thought it would make me feel sad, but I found the experience liberating. It turns out that killing Billy was the best decision I could make. A little poison and Billy was gone from my life forever. So tell me. How does your food taste tonight?”

“You’re poisoning me?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

Billy did not know how to react, but picking up the Christmas ham and hurling it through the living-room window was the first thing that came to mind so he did that. The hole it made was not big enough for Billy to jump through and make his escape like Chief Bromden in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest so he ran out the front door instead.

You can’t outrun poison that is already in your body and if Billy had thought this through, he might have reconsidered. However, Billy was not forward thinking. He was also not poisoned, which explained why he was able to keep running instead of collapsing and dying on the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, his mother giggled into her napkin.

Billy did not return home. If he did not live in California, he might have frozen to death on some park bench. Instead, he stayed warm and alive enough to deal with alcohol withdrawal. Once an accomplished panhandler, Billy’s brush with what he believed was attempted murder rendered him too agitate to ask for spare change with screaming obscenities.

Rescue missions and nondenominational soup kitchens kept Billy fed, but what he really wanted was a drink and for the first time in his adult life, he was unable to get one. Going home was out of the question. He welcomed death, but did not want to give his mother the satisfaction of doing him in.

After a week or so on the streets, the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal began to subside. That did not kill the cravings though. Billy had spent so much of his life hammered that the sober world was an alien and terrifying place.

Opportunity presented itself in early March. It was a damp, cool evening and Billy was wandering the streets with his donated sleeping bag and looking for a place to bed down. He spotted a snoring figure curled up in an overcoat and clutching a half-drunk bottle of Royal Gate vodka. Billy was more of a bourbon man, but these were desperate times.

He reached down to liberate the bottle from its owner. As he tried to pull it away. The hand holding the bottle tightened and Billy felt a punch connect with the side of his head. Billy hit the ground and the next thing he knew, he was being kicked repeatedly in the head. He covered his skull with his arms to protect himself, but one of the kicks hit home and it was lights out.

Billy did not know how long he was unconscious.  It could have been minutes or hours. Thankfully, his attacker was gone and he was alone on the cold sidewalk with blood dripping from his ear and his head hurting like a thousand hangovers. He had suffered a concussion and possibly something worse, but he felt his thinking was clear and he was absolutely clear about two things: Objects on the sidewalk are more awake than they appear and the exact date and time when a North Korean nuke would hit.

It wasn’t surprising that the truth had eluded Billy for so long. North Korea was never mentioned in the Bible and yet it was now the country most likely to make an American City wear a mushroom cloud as a hat. Billy reviewed the facts:

  • The city Billy lived in was the largest target within North Korean missile range.
  • Donald Trump recently made a speech reciting poem based on the fable of of a snake who fatally but a woman who tried to help it. Though his speech was widely believed to be targeting immigrants, North Korea was a larger threat so the poem should actually be about them.
  • St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday celebrating an eradicator of snakes was coming up.
  • Dragons in Korean folklore look pretty darn snakelike.

Billy nodded over his revelation as more blood dripped from his ear. The most strategic time for Kim Jong-un to strike would be right before St. Patrick’s Day began. That would be 11:59 pm on March 16 in Ireland, which would be 4:59 pm in California.

Hot diggity, Billy thought. Billy had it all worked out. He would go meet his mother at her work on the afternoon of March 16 with the pretext of making amends. He would show up a little before 4:59, but not too early because he didn’t want to spend much time around her. Since ground zero would certainly be downtown, he would position himself so she was just a little closer to it than he was. This would give him that fraction of a second of watching her die before the blast hit him. It was not a lot of time, but in that single moment it would truly be the rest of his life.

With the details worked out, Billy decided to celebrate. He wasn’t going to attempt lifting a bottle from another homeless guy.  He would go to a corner store and buy a bottle there. He had no cash on him, but he would explain  his doomsday scenario to the shopkeeper, who would quickly realize that caring about money was now pointless. Billy got to his feet at set off, his head injury causing him to stagger like a man who was pleasantly drunk.

Billy’s mother died later that night.

When she didn’t show up for work the next day, police were dispatched to her house and found her body at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The trouble between her and Billy was no secret so he was immediately suspected of pushing her.

The suspicion did not last long. Billy could not have killed her because he was in jail at her time of death. His trip to the corner store had not gone according to plan. The shopkeeper was unconvinced that the city was going to be vaporized so he demanded Billy pay for the liquor. Billy had little patience with party poopers so he grabbed the bottle and made a run for it. Fat people are seldom fast runners and Billy was no exception so the shopkeeper quickly caught up to Billy and put him in a headlock while making a cellphone call to the cops.

Billy’s mother fell down the stairs at the exact moment he raised both middle fingers for his mugshot photo.

When Billy’s innocence was established, those who falsely accused him felt guilty about it and asked him to speak at her funeral. Billy was no longer homeless. He had just moved into his mother’s house, which was his house now. He wouldn’t have it for long, which was OK because no one would. Sure, he would speak at her memorial. He told them he would be honored. Secretly, this would be his chance to set the record straight and it was only fitting that the service would be held when the missile was scheduled to hit.

The day had arrived. His mother was laid out in her casket, as dead everyone else would soon be. Billy was invited up to say a few words. It was 4:55 pm.

Billy took one more swig from his flask and approached the podium. He no longer wore the bandage on his head. Unlike North Korea, the kicks to his skull were not life threatening. He cleared his throat and spoke into the mic.

“Bitch weren’t shit,” he said.

The grammatical error was deliberate. Billy knew fully well that “Bitch wasn’t shit” was technically correct, but he wanted to tell a greater truth so he spoke the language of straight shooters who placed blunt honesty above subject-verb agreement. The people in attendance stared at Billy with confusion. They thought he said “Bench Warrant.”

Outside the funeral home, a cloudless blue sky spread out in all directions, empty of everything except a failed promise and a broken dream.

Bench Warrant (Part 2)

Historical events made sure that his prayers would remain unanswered. The trouble on the horizon could first be seen with the opening of the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 and culminated with the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The Cold War was over. Smaller, warmer wars took their place, but none of them held much promise of an ICBM free-for-all.

The 1990s were not kind to Billy. No decade had been really, but it was extra depressing now that the world lacked a kill switch to make it all go away. Lacking other options, Billy made an attempt at living life like a regular human being. Who knows? If all went well, he might someday be able to move out and forget his mother ever existed.

All did not go well. Billy’s stab at being a working man came crashing down when he was caught dipping into the till. His stab at being a dating man suffered a similar fate when he was caught dipping into a 16-year old girl. Such a gaffe might be treated with a shrug when the perpetrator was 18 or 19, but Billy was 28.

Fortunately for him, her parents were not as angry as they might have been if they had someone else as a daughter. Like Billy, she was none too bright and built like a beanbag chair so their prospects of eventually marrying her off were limited. They told Billy they would not pursue criminal charges if his intentions were honorable and he was serious about the relationship.

Billy did not love the girl. He was thumb-it-in drunk when they had sex and if he had it all to do over again, he would have just thrown up on her and passed out. He was not serious about the relationship. However, he was serious about not having to go prison and/or register as a sex offender so he did something he had never done. He asked his mother for advice.

“It’s not like you can do any better,” she said.

So that was that. For the next three years, Billy went over to her house a couple of times a week. They stopped having sex pretty early on with no complaints from either party. Instead, they would sit and and watch TV, rarely saying a word to one another. Billy drank from her father’s liquor supply while she ate whatever diabetes-inducing snack food that was at the ready. Billy imagined the rest of his life playing out like this and it didn’t seem so bad, mostly because it meant he would be intoxicated most of the time.

Alas, it was not to be. At some point, the girl realized that she was a lesbian. “Tough shit,” she wrote to Billy in a carefully worded breakup letter before coming out to her parents. They promptly disowned her because they were homophobes and told Billy he was partly to blame for “turning her diesel.”

Billy was heartbroken. He had a steady supply of booze and now it was gone. With no source of income, he had to get creative to bankroll his alcoholism.

Pawning his mother’s engagement ring brought temporary relief, but the money was gone faster than predicted and she had little else worth stealing. Billy then gave panhandling a whirl.

Begging seemed to be his calling.

He was fat, but it was not the well-off fat of the expense-account business traveler who has gorged himself on so many thick steaks and baked potatoes he has trouble fitting through the door to his room at the Marriot.

No, Billy was the kind of lardbottom who looked like he dived too many dumpsters and always went for seconds and thirds at the rescue-mission buffet line. If he looked emaciated, passersby with his best interest might be inclined to give him food instead of money he would surely spend. Instead, they just threw cash at him in the hope he would unblight the sidewalk by drinking himself to death.

He didn’t look terribly homeless off duty. He exercised basic hygiene and his clothes, though unfashionable, were clean-ish. Prior to going out begging, Billy would give himself a full wino makeover. He rubbed dirt on his face, combed margarine into his hair, and changed into some filthy duds he kept under the desk.

Billy’s panhandling career was lucrative, but not without its downside. He was frequently told to get a job even though he had one and this was it. Children pelted him with insults and occasionally small rocks. From time to time he spot one of his clients from his teen years and these men, now in their 60s, would walk by with their boyish trophy wives and never so much as give him the time of day. He figured he deserved a little something for his silence if nothing else.

Billy sank into an even deeper depression than usual. Fortunately, the year 2001 brought with it two happy tidings.

The first was that his mother said she would start buying him alcohol. Her decision came not out of maternal concern, but embarrassment. Like all panhandlers worthy of the name, Billy had picked the most conspicuous spot he could find to wiggle his change cup and look sad. It didn’t take long for word to get back to her and it often came with a shake of the head and a condescending smile. When she’d had enough, she cut her son a deal. In exchange for a stocked liquor cabinet at home, Billy would give up begging, keep the noise down after 10 pm, and make an honest effort not to throw up in the sink. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The second was 9/11.

It was about a month into the new arrangement and Billy was sleeping off the effects of September 10 when the planes hit the buildings. He hoped to spend the day watching cartoons, but every channel was chock full of breathless coverage of the terrorist attacks. Comparatively little screen time was given to the Pentagon because the damage had been done and there was not much else to see. The Twin Towers were another matter because you got to watch them fall and you got to watch the footage again in case you missed it three minutes ago.

Billy postulated a theory why it happened while it happened. It wasn’t because the terrorists were Muslim. He had dealt with plenty of Muslims working in the corner stores where he went to buy booze and none of them had terrorized anybody. They were odd to Billy though because they did not drink. Their religion forbade it and like all religions, they got judgy. Billy knew all too well their exasperated sighs whenever he lost his footing and went careening into a shelf of Doritos. The way he figured it, the Muslims in Muslimland also needed to get judgy, but had no outlet because everybody around them were nondrinkers as well. Eventually, they snapped. The more Billy drank, the more sense it made.

It wasn’t so much the attacks Billy liked as the threat of more to come. This wasn’t the Cold War, there was no threat of global annihilation, but it was better than nothing. It also had possibilities Billy had not yet considered. He didn’t unnecessarily have to get vaporized when there were dirty bombs, nerve agents, and anthrax.

At first, the prospect of dying in a terrorist attack was little more than an idle pipe dream. Billy had it pretty good.

His daily routine started with sleeping in until ten, eat a few bowls of Cap’n Crunch, then fall back asleep after drinking some bourbon and orange juice. This was followed by a late lunch consisting of three or four baloney sandwiches washed down with bourbon and Coke. By the time he awoke from his afternoon nap, his mother was home from work and in the kitchen cooking dinner.

The main courses varied, but mashed potatoes and gravy were a near constant and Billy’s favorite part of the meal. He had lost a few teeth by this point and preferred not to worry about guiding his fork full to a part of his mouth still capable of chewing. After dinner, he drank straight bourbon and fell asleep at some unknown hour after blacking out.

Unfortunately for Billy, his mother could not stand to see her son living his life as he saw fit. After a mere half decade, she launched into a campaign of showing her disapproval. Billy’s days of waking up to the sounds and smells of dinner being made were over. She still prepared his evening meal, but not before her daily scowling ritual. He couldn’t tell how how long she had standing in front of him. He only knew she was there when he woke up.