Category Archives: Old Blog

Parmesan Girl

Parmesan Girl, don’t take amiss
No heartbreak of psoriasis
For compliments you won’t be fishin’
Once I see your skin condition
‘Tain’t poison oak or mites or fleas
That makes you slough your dermal cheese
Diagnosis autoimmune
Yeah, you’re the one I want to poon
Up and down I take a gander
At your lovely flakes of dander
We’ll have hot sex when I am ready
But first please top this here spaghetti

Dead Grandmother(s)

One of my grandmothers is dead and gone. That I can be sure about, at least as sure as a person can be without reaching for a shovel. She left this world 11 years ago, give or take. I’m sure she is sorely missed by people other than me.

I got the news from my then wife Laura one night when we were at our local bar. I had met her there after work, which was pretty standard practice. Our marriage was about to end and we were really only nominally a couple. We were pleasant enough to each other, but had ceased communicating on any meaningful level.

After we had been drinking with friends for about an hour, she said, “By the way, your grandmother is dead.”

This was my mother’s mother she was talking about. Laura worked a lot from home and Mom had called earlier that day with the news.

“Oh wow,” I said when I found out, or maybe I just shrugged. We both went to our drinks and conversations with other people.

When I was a kid, my maternal grandmother would come visit and clear her throat in the bathroom. Every morning at six without fail, the sound of her hocking up a consumptive lung nugget would reverberate throughout the house. The rest of the day she put on airs of being a proper southern lady. She even threw in an “I do declare” from time to time. But we had heard her in the bathroom. She wasn’t fooling us one bit.

Apparently dissatisfied with her baseline level of annoying, she kicked it up a notch when she came out for my brother Gordon’s high school graduation in 1978. While Gordon in his cap and gown was shaking hands with the principal and being handed his diploma, she took that moment to have an asthma attack.

This is not to say she was faking. The terror in her watery-blue old lady eyes certainly looked legit, as did the globule of phlegm she had neglected to hock up that morning but had fetched loose later with a mighty wheeze.

Mom left me to look after my grandmother while she went off to call the paramedics. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I was supposed to do. Mouth-to-mouth damn sure wasn’t going to happen. I ended up fanning her with the commencement program. It was a pointless and absurd gesture, which is somehow fitting when you decide to put a 15-year old in charge of a life-and-death situation. The deepening fear in my grandmother’s face showed that she would have agreed with that assessment at least on some level.

An ambulance arrived, Mom arrived with a couple of paramedics, and I was relieved of duty. I made my way to the other side of the stadium where my father and stepmother were sitting. I waved and smiled. Dad peered over my head toward the ambulance and commotion in the distance.

“That’s your grandmother, isn’t it? She just couldn’t pass up the chance to be a pain in the ass for everybody.”

It’s safe to say that Dad didn’t like my maternal grandmother much. Then again, he didn’t much care for any of my mother’s relatives. Before the divorce, he would say, “I refuse to visit your family because they are stupid, boring, and grotesque,” whenever the matter came up.

He liked his own relatives more, if only somewhat. He had sporadic contact with them except for his mother, whom he talked to more regularly. My paternal grandmother was known as “Goose” after a cousin of mine mistook her for the Granny Goose on the potato-chips bag (not all my relatives are terribly bright).

I liked Goose, and not just because she seldom visited after my parents got divorced. When she did come stay, she was decidedly non-irritating. There were no crack-of-dawn phlegm launches, which is surprising considering that she didn’t quit smoking until she was 75.  And there were no Scarlett O’Hara pretensions either. Goose was no southern belle, pretend or otherwise. She had lived most of her life in the almost uninhabitable Imperial Valley of California. The few creatures that actually thrive in that desert heat are the rattlesnake, the scorpion, and Cornelia “Goose” Jennings.

So there was no “I do declare” or anything like it coming out of her mouth. Mostly she’d just sit in the living room with her eyes darting back and forth, a lipless half smile spread across her face, and an assenting “Mm hmm, mm hmm” at whoever was doing the talking. She was usually amenable to a board game or playing catch out in the yard, so Gordon and I thought she was great.

That was the side of Goose that we saw. Dad filled us in on some of the other details when we got a little older. For one thing, Goose held grudges that predated the Roosevelt administration. Goose became a Protestant while her sister Hazel remained a Catholic. The resulting sectarian feud outdistanced the Troubles in Northern Ireland for duration if not body count.

Though to be fair, this sort of thing is hardly unusual for my dad’s side of the family. My twin uncles got into a fistfight at the dinner table decades ago and haven’t spoken to each other since.

Sad to say, Goose was no stranger to violence herself.  My father never really enjoyed Christmas. This was because when he was a kid, she used to beat him with a broom handle for reasons she never saw fit to share with her grandchildren. Maybe it was living in poverty that was too much for her, or maybe she was just batshit crazy. I’m leaning toward the latter explanation because she did get hauled off to the funny farm for a spell in 1946 when my dad was 15. One thing I do know is that my father made it a point to never raise a hand against my brother or me. Though if he was angry enough, he had no problem telling us how much he wanted to.

The last time I saw Goose in person was at her 90th birthday celebration in late 1997. She had eventually moved away from the Imperial Valley to the comparatively civilized town of Indio, which can be accurately described as Palm Springs without money. I met a cousin or two for the first time and I saw how little I had in common with my extended family. I did try to keep my snobbery to myself since I didn’t want to spoil my grandmother’s big day. That, and the husband of one cousin seemed less tolerant of anyone’s bullshit with every whiskey sour.

I spoke to Goose on the phone one more time after that. It was November 11, 2000 and my father had been dead for about three hours. There were five of us sitting around a table working on a jigsaw puzzle. I had been off bawling in the guest bedroom and my brother invited me to “have a seat and join the denial party.”

Few words were spoken as we worked on the puzzle. Finally, Dad’s partner Karen said, “What about Goose?” That was a call none of us wanted to make, but I volunteered. I figured that if I manned up this time, I’d never have to do it again. The intervening years seem to have proven me right.

I got Goose’s number from Karen and called her.

“Mm hmm, mm hmm,” Goose said as I told her that her oldest son had died.

I assumed Goose died at some point later on, but didn’t think about it much until a few years later when a girlfriend seemed shocked that I had no idea whether my grandmother was alive or dead. After that, my opinion went from “maybe dead” to “probably dead” to “she has to be dead by now” as time went on. During one Christmas I spent at my brother’s, I asked him if he knew whether she had died.

“Good question,” he said.

After that, the matter was largely forgotten. Until yesterday. It was late afternoon and I had done all the work I was going to get done that day. I decided to settle the question of Goose’s demise once and for all. Googling “Cornelia Jennings obituary,” the closest I got was a link to Dad’s obit in Car & Driver (where had had once been editor). Next I tried her name with “Indio,” thinking there might be some news of her death without the word “obituary” in it. What I got was a White Pages listing with her name, address, and phone number, as well as her age, 105.

Of course this doesn’t mean anything. Just because no one has cleaned up the record showing you as alive doesn’t mean you’re not dead. I have an ex-girlfriend who committed suicide in 2008 and her page is still up on Facebook. As for Goose, all I had was a phone number and a question mark.

So what did I ultimately do? Nothing.  There is that sliver of a chance that she might still be alive. That is true. What is also true is that once I got on the phone, I would have absolutely nothing to say.

Addendum 5/2/2013: A friend with a backtraq account looked up Cornelia Jennings. Goose died on May 30, 2009 at the age of 101.

Don’t Call It a “Staycation”

No really, please don’t.  I don’t know why I loathe the term so much, but I do.  Let’s make a deal: You don’t say the word and I won’t start muttering sick and violent revenge fantasies about those who irk me.  Trust me; you don’t want to hear this.  It’s completely evil and not reflective of what a fine person I am otherwise.

Also, “staycation” (shudder) doesn’t really apply.  It is true that I will neither be going into work nor getting on an airplane.  However, I won’t be on vacation at all.  I am fortunate enough to work at one of those companies that pay me while they close the office for a week during the holidays, which makes them 1/52 totally awesome.

Last year, I spent most of the week in Granada, Nicaragua.  It was wonderful for a number of reasons.  First, I got the hell out of the country.  It was the first time doing that in almost nine years. Second, I was able to blow the dust off my Spanish and put it to use.  There were some English speakers there, but not many.  Mostly though, Granada is a cool town and I had a great time there. The people are very nice (and admirably patient about my broken Spanish) and I felt happy to support their tourist industry.  Sorry about the Contras, guys.  No hard feelings, right?

This year, the tentative destination was Victoria, BC.  After the tropical heat of Nicaragua and then Roatán in July, cold and miserable seemed like a good change of pace.  Victoria is supposed to be beautiful with its old-timey parliament building, gardens, and waterfront.  It is also the birthplace of the Dayglo Abortions, a punk-rock band utterly devoid of Canadian politeness.  How could I not want to go?

Well, I just didn’t feel like it.  I had dawdled over deciding where to go for long enough that the cheap seats had already been bought.  I ultimately decided that I’d get out there in the spring, maybe make a four-day weekend out of it.

So what shall I be doing other than growing cobwebs between my ass and chair?  The answer is Dead Sexy, the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2011.  OK, maybe calling it “novel” is a stretch.  It’s a rough draft of approximately 51K words.  It glorifies cynicism and it gratuitously violent.  Those are its good qualities.

I’ve made some preliminary stabs at revisions earlier this year, mostly cleaning up the stuff I wrote when I was feeling dead tired, but determined to make my word-count quota and didn’t care how idiotic it sounded coming out.

What made me unmotivated to dive in any further was that I had a main character who was still a mystery to me.  I understood him on some level and I tried to make sure he didn’t do or say anything completely out of character, but there was always something missing.

Weirdly enough, it was during this year’s NaNoWriMo that it finally dawned on me.  Milo’s motivations in Dead Sexy became clear because of how different he is from Andy in Andrew’s World(the 2012 project).  Without giving anything away, let’s just say that he’s not a bad guy but far from a pillar of virtue.  I know, I know, it’s silly to insist on character-driven narrative when you’re writing zombie horror.  And yet, that does matter to me because Milo is now worth writing about.

So that’s what I’ll be doing.  I don’t know how much I can get done in a week, but I think I’ll have Dead Sexy in a lot better shape at the end of it.  Wish me luck, and pretty please, don’t call it a staycation.

AFS

When I’m at the bar with a pen in one hand and a drink in the other, the plan is to put words on paper as fast as I can.  I know from years of experience that my senses are only going to stay sharp for so long.

If I stick to beer and pace myself, I can easily last for a couple of hours.  If I’m drinking whiskey, my clarity window is much shorter.  If I’m foolish enough to start doing shots, I might as well put away my spiral notebook and watch sports with the rest of the dullards.
For the last few years, I’ve been sharing the fruits of my labor with the entire world, or at least with the 30 or so people around the globe who actually read my blog.  I try to clean up the prose to some extent though I’ve found that proofing my own work is close to impossible.  Fortunately, I have a few helpful friends who alert me to my more egregious typos.
The masochists among you who read my blog and keep coming back already know what to expect.  For the rest of you, Poison Spur is a mishmash of mini essays, short stories, random musings, and extremely bad poetry.  The latter, I’m happy to say, is in mercifully short supply.  My aspirations to write any but intentionally silly verse fizzed a long time ago.
I didn’t always write in bars.  Back when I first took up scribbling in notebooks on a regular basis, I couldn’t afford to.  I was fresh out of college and working a dead-end retail job so I wrote in cafes.  The house coffee and cigarettes (I smoked back then, a lot) were both cheap, which allowed me to hang out and fill the pages of a notebook for next to nothing. I felt so bohemian back in the mid to late 80s and even sported a beret on a couple of occasions.  Fortunately, there are no photographs of me looking that retarded.
I eventually moved up to the Bay Area and got a better job, but still did most of my writing in cafes.  It wasn’t until late 1993 that this changed.  I had relocated to Amsterdam in the hopes of living the dream of the American expatriate.  It was going be just like Paris in the 1930s, but with the bonus of bering surrounded by six-foot blonde women.
I didn’t really know anyone there except for the others at the hostel with whom I’d go out and get trashed with on a fairly regular basis.  The rest of the time, it could get a little boring when I would go out on my own for a beer.  I couldn’t amuse myself by eavesdropping because the conversations were in Dutch and I could only understand the odd word here and there.  I suppose I could have restricted myself to the more touristed areas, but that had all the appeal of being an expat at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
To combat the boredom, I wrote.  Lacking the talent and determination of say, Henry Miller, most of what I churned out was pretty forgettable and I’m not too upset that most of the notebooks from that era have been lost in the intervening years.  I do remember one passage I wrote after stopping by the American consulate that day for no particular reason.  The embassies are all down in the Hague, but there are a bunch of consulates for A-list countries along the sides of a plaza behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  Although the Cold War had recently ended, I imagined two shadowy figures exchanging code words before engaging in some act of espionage.
“My dick is cold,” said one.
“Yes,” said the other.  “But my ass is warm.  Let’s go somewhere and talk about it.”
OK, I admit it.  John Le Carre I ain’t.
For the most part, I wrote about the stuff going on in my head.  Considering I had plenty of time to just hang out and think, there was never any shortage of material.
Starting a new life in Europe failed to materialize and I found myself stateside again within six months.  Out of recent habit however, I continued taking a notebook with me whenever I would go out for a drink.  That practice has continued until today.
It’s been my experience that bartenders really don’t care if I sit there scribbling away as long as I continue to buy drinks and tip a reasonable amount.  The same can usually be said for other bar patrons.  Usually.  One notable exception occurred at a bar in SF’s Noe Valley neighborhood back in 1994 or 1995.  I was probably drinking a Red Hook (my preferred poison at the time) and smoking a cigarette (my other preferred poison, then allowable in bars) while writing away. One of the regulars did not approve and came over to tell me what’s what.
“You think you’re going to be a famous writer, just like…” and then he stopped and I could see his mind racing.  Comparing me unfavorably to a famous writer required that he name one off the top of his head, not easy for someone who probably hadn’t cracked a book since high school.
“Just like Aaron Fucking Spelling,” he concluded.
There are some forms of stupidity so formidable and monolithic that there is no choice but to stand down.  I closed my notebook and did not write another word for the duration of the evening.  He had won.
And looking back, he was right as much as I hate to admit it. I doubt I’ll ever be famous.  Many try, but few succeed and I don’t try very hard.  That said, I have no intention of giving up.  There’s a satisfaction in writing that the Noe Valley cement heads of the world will never understand.  It’s taking the fleeting ideas and daydreams that float around in your head and turning them into something lasting. It takes a lot of work no matter how talented you are because you want the words to be as good as they can be.  Sometimes the effort pays off and you’ve created something you can be proud of. You’re not just some wannabe.  No one may ever want to publish it, let alone pay you, but that doesn’t matter.  You’re a writer.  Just like you’ve wanted to be since you were a kid.  Just like every soul courageous enough to bare his or her heart upon the printed page for all the world to see.
Just like Aaron Fucking Spelling.

Poll My Finger

Imagine this. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, a volunteer patriot (whom I’ll call “Nathaniel” because it has an old-timey ring to it) takes a British musket ball through his left ventricle.  He drops to his knees, screams out “For Liberty!” and then falls over dead.  Or maybe he screams, “Ow fuck, that hurts!” That fact remains that he makes the ultimate sacrifice to make our great democracy possible.

So this morning it was my time to do my bit by voting, admittedly pretty small potatoes compared to poor long-dead Nathaniel.  I almost forgot to do even that.  I was sitting in a cafe this morning with my coffee, bagel, and laptop.  I was checking email, Facebook, Twitter, anything to avoid finishing my latest fiction endeavor that’s taking way too long already.
One of my Facebook friends updated his status as having just finished voting.  I had completely forgotten that it was election day.  OK, I thought, I’ll read up a bit on the candidates and initiatives during lunch so I won’t be a complete idiot when I go vote after work.
Then I started to reconsider the whole vote-after-work thing.  I was pretty sure I was going to need a cocktail and the folks at the polling place are likely to give me serious stink eye if I show up there with a drink in my hand.  I therefore had no choice but to give myself a five-minute crash course on the issues and take care of my civic duty in the AM.
As for initiatives, there was some shit about term limits and a proposed new cigarette tax. Yeah whatever.  I then moved onto the primary candidates.  I knew I couldn’t bring myself myself to vote for Dianne Feinstein.  Hell, I’d vote for Charles Ng if he were running against her.  I took a look at who else was on the ballot and decided to go with David Levitt.  I didn’t know much about him (still don’t) but he’s apparently a pro-weed computer geek and that’s good enough for me.
Boom! I was an informed voter and off to the polls I went.
Everything was going as planned as I was marking my selections on the ballot until I got to the section for the US House of Representatives.  I supposed I could have voted for Nancy Pelosi and probably would have if there were no one more amusing to choose from, but there was one opponent named “Summer Shields” and I just couldn’t help myself.
I left the polls thinking, “Sorry Ms. Pelosi, but I had to go with the candidate most firmly committed to feminine hygiene.” What a clever boy I was and I couldn’t wait to brag about it online.
On the BART ride to work, I googled “Summer Shields” on my phone.  I was surprised to learn that he is male, which is no big deal, and also found out that he is a follower of Lyndon LaRouche.
Oh dear fucking God!  I actually voted for a LaRouche crazy.
I’m OK with other kinds of crazy.  One of my greatest joys came in 2003 when I got to cast my vote for Larry Flynt to be governor of Calfornia. I also made it a habit  to vote for Ellis Leonard Keyes, a perennial mayoral candidate who was also the founder and (I believe) sole member of the Party of Life. “Life’s a party. Spread the word,” he would often say regardless of context. But Larouche crazy is just plain ugly. It’s paranoid, psychotic, anti-Semitic, and oh yeah, they say the Brits are out to get us as well.  If I had just put a moment’s forethought into what I was doing, I could have avoided emboldening one of these assholes.
So Nathaniel, there in your resting place for these 237 years, I really must apologize.  You and others like you gave your lives so people could live in a country where we can freely choose our representatives and leaders.  Of course, you don’t get to chose whose freedoms you die defending, and as luck would have it, you died defending mine.
Sucks, doesn’t it.

Progress Report

Nobody says “Life begins at 50.”  Maybe they will someday, but they don’t do it yet.  The understanding is that when you reach the half-century mark, you are supposed to have something to show for it.  You don’t have to be rich or famous, but you should have accomplished at least something along the way.  You could have raised a family, built up a business, or gotten a letter to Penthousepublished.  Pretty much anything will do,

I’m going to be hitting that particular milestone in August and I have had a few “What the fuck have I done with my life?” panic attacks as I close in on 50.  For those who are younger than me, let me explain.  These are very much like the “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” you experience as you approach your 40th birthday or the “What the fuck am I going to do with my life?” as you approach your 30th.  In short, they suck.

I think what makes them so bad is that you can’t just dismiss them out of hand.  No matter who you are and what sort of life you’ve led, there’s going to be some sliver of truth to them.  We as a species just aren’t all that perfect.  Fortunately, the converse is also true.  You may be a failure, but you’re not a complete failure.

Most of us are somewhere in between and when our inner voice tells us we suck, there is plenty of ammo for both sides of that argument.  It’s a completely pointless way to spend your energy and for those of you who have the mental fortitude to put that nonsense out of your mind, I admire and applaud you.  For the rest of us, read on.

There are some well-meaning souls out there who suggest that our trouble is that we are mired in our own little worlds, that we need to take a step back and take a look at the big picture. Looking at the big picture has taught me one thing.  The bigger the picture I’m looking at, the less I matter. So no, that isn’t going to help me at all.
Instead, I’ve been concentrating on very selfish pursuits.  My current one is a story I’m writing.  I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be great literature or even be publishable. In fact, the only people I expect to read it are my friends and anyone else who chances upon it.  So why bother? Well, it interests me.  I could have hastily dashed it out like a lot of my other efforts, but I decided to slow down with this one.  I tinker with it a little each day and progress, while slow, is happening.  When I’m finished, it will be time well spent.
People around me may not much give a shit. I’m OK with that. I may not have had any effect on my entry on life’s great scoreboard. I’m OK with that too.  I can marvel over the speck of dust I’ve created among the vastness and take comfort in the fact that denial can sometimes be a beautiful thing.

Those Ould Turds in the Liffey

This past weekend, I was rummaging around in my closet and found a notebook I kept during the sixth months I spent in Europe. I wrote this poem while I was in Dublin in April 1994.  I think it captures the spirit of what was in my head and heart at the time. Enjoy.

Those Ould Turds in the Liffey
By D. Leary O’Tremmins
Cabbage and potatoes and o’ercooked carrots
Pigs and sheep that are led to the slaughter
Digested by boyos after too many pints
Hang their arses off quays and unload in the water
As the river e’er flows taking them eastward
This dung that the soused lads have been shittin’
I pray to Lord Jaysus that the Irish Sea waves
Will whisk them godspeed to those Fuckpigs in Britain

Augean Stability

It’s been over half a year since I’ve updated this blog and I suppose some sort of explanation is in order. I blame Bush. Oh wait, he’s not president anymore. In that case, I blame Obama. Or better yet, God. Admittedly, it’s not terribly brave for an atheist to point an accusing finger at the almighty. What’s he going to do, exist?

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I were put in charge of anything.  I’ll use command of an army as an example here because there’s a bunch of cool stuff that goes with that like spiffy uniforms and killing, things not associated with say, being a regional manager for an office-supply company.  So here I am, General Dave, and the situation is an unmitigated cluster fuck, but it could be worse.

I’m not the kind of spit-and-polish malevolent swine whose evil plot (e.g. a face-melting plague, human-lamprey hybrid supersoldiers etc.) has been leaked to the major news outlets and finds himself driven to suicide, reaching for the loaded pistol he keeps in his desk drawer for just an occasion. For one thing, the instrument of my demise will be a slower and less-hidden bottle of cheap hooch I keep on my table.  Despite my outlandish epaulets and unkempt hair, I would be a sympathetic and all too human tragic figure, one who cannot enitrely be faulted for incompetence and bloodlust in such a dysfunctional and violent world. One of my junior officers, Lt. Rhea, is here to give me a full report of what is happening at the front.
“Is the situation dire, Rhea?” I ask. Even in the hell of war, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to unleash this pun.
“I’m afraid so, sir. The casualties are mounting.”
“And how is the morale among the able-bodied?”
“Horny, sir. They’re mounting the casualties.”
At this point, I spout a few world-weary nuggets of old-warhorse wisdom before inviting young Lt. Rhea to join me in a drink. It’s too late though. Shrapnel from a nearby mortar explosion has sailed through a window and lobotomized him.
“I like pudding,” he says.
Now where was I? Oh that’s right, I was going to bring you up to date with all the stuff that’s on my plate:
  • The first item of note is that I sort of wrote a novel. What I actually did was to put down 51K words of a rough draft. In its current state, it’s not even readable let alone publishable. It does, however, have some excellent gross-out scenes.
  • My first site, platypus.org, will soon my migrated to its new home on the same server. I’ve configured a spot for in in httpd.conf. What it needs is a rewrite. It’s been gathering cobwebs since 2001.
  • This blog, the one you’re looking at. Poison Spur has proven itself a good place for me to tart up my crazy for public viewing and I need to do more of that.
Anyway, that’s about it for now.

A Night of Bourgeois Horror

There are maybe 200 calories in a ceviche tostada, give or take.  I was eating two of those and was on my second pint of Trumer Pils.  Each beer was also 200 calories.  Combine that with the dressingless salad and however much sugar I dumped into the coffee I drank throughout the day, I figured my total calorie intake was somewhere between 1200 and 1500.  Wait, my tostada came with tortilla chips.  so maybe the maximum for the day was more like 1800 calories.

Still, that wasn’t so bad.  A sedentary fat bastard pushing 50 is supposed to burn over 2000 calories per day.  Doing the math, I could honestly say I was slowly but surely getting myself back into shape as I sat at the bar, swilled beer, and stuffed my face with toasted corn and fishy bits.
Meanwhile, the others in the bar were making disapproving groans at the wide-screen TV as our own SF Giants continued to get their collective ass handed to them by the Arizona Diamondbacks.  I already had my evening’s fill of baseball that night.
It’s usually more than the evening’s half-inning saturation point, but i think a lot of that was because I was eating at the time.  I get self conscious about my table manners, especially when the food is difficult to eat without being disgusting about it.  Rather than be careful in how I consumed my meal, I instead sat off at the other end of the bar where I could have food fall out of my mouth without getting any dirty looks.
It was still early, not yet nine pm, but I knew I’d be going home soon.  Two pints, or maybe three, was my limit most nights.  It was enough to pay lip service to my alcoholism, but not enough to prevent me from doing a little reading in bed before I fell asleep. This was not always the case, not even close,  but I’m more grown up now.  At least that’s what I tell myself.
I tossed my food container in the trash, said goodbye to the bartender, and headed out the door.  As I walked down the street toward where Valencia runs into Mission, a 49 bus rumbled by me heading north.  I used to get on this bus about this hour of the night.  There was a variety of mischief to be gotten into at a couple of stops along its route.  None of that had much appeal anymore, too exhausting.  Maybe that’s what maturity is all about.  You don’t really get any wiser.  You just get tired.
I crossed over to Valencia Street and started walking up toward my house.  The night air was cool and misting, not uncommon for an August night in San Francisco.  It was the kind of weather that conjures up that Mark Twain quote we’re all sick of by now, bullshit he never actually said.
To the left of me was the old stone-and-brick portion of St. Luke’s Hospital.  Even during daylight hours, the doors and front gate are locked and bolted.  It is as if that wing of the hospital served no purpose other than to lend character to the rest of the institution.  If that were the case, it was doing a damn good job of it.  It looked like either the admissions office of Miskatonic University or perhaps an insane asylum run by Christopher Lee.
The main wing facing Cesar Chavez Street looked more like what you’d expect from a hospital: parking, ambulances, and an emergency room open for business.  The chances of my getting wheeled into one of those have gone down since my behavior has improved.  It would certainly go up again when I got old and feeble.  For the time being though, emergency rooms were for those less fortunate than myself.
It was times like these when I felt reasonably satisfied with my life.  After a productive day at work, I had a bite to eat and a couple of well-deserved beers before heading home.  Tomorrow I’d be ready to do it all again.  I might not have been a great success in life, but I wasn’t a failure either.  If nothing else, I was able to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from having no great crises on the horizon.
I got the mail before climbing the steps to my apartment.  It was junk mail mostly, except for one thing from the company that managed the 401(k) from my last job.  It was probably the quarterly statement with some less-than-stellar news on because the market’s been in the toilet lately.  After I got in and let the cat inside, I opened the envelope and read the letter inside.  It informed me that the entire balance of my account had been withdrawn.  If I had a problem with this, I could call them at 8 am eastern time to discuss the matter.
There had to be some mistake.  I had withdrawn nothing.  I got on my computer and went to their website, hoping to find what was going on.  I tried logging in but failed.  I then followed the forgot-your-password link to a page that prompted me for my username.  It dawned on me that I wasn’t 100% sure of that either.  There was another link for forgotten usernames that took me to a page informing me that my username would be made available by talking to a customer-service representative start at 8 am eastern.
I went to the bedroom, lay on the bed, and stared at the ceiling with the light on.  Maybe they’ll be sending me a check, I told myself.  This didn’t seem likely so a number of other scenarios entered my head, all of them involving identity theft.  Some involved an elaborate crime syndicate while others were the work of a lone hacker a local meth addict who’s been stealing my mail.  Very few of the possible outcomes included the perpetrator being arrested.  Fewer still included me getting my money back.
I slept about four hours that night.
When 8 am eastern rolled around (which was 5 am for me), I dialed their 800 number and got put on hold.  At this point, my mental state had deteriorated to the point where every detail no matter how small pointed to a worst-case scenario.  There mere fact that they said there was a high volume of calls meant that they were dealing with a major crisis.  Maybe everybody’s money was gone, sucked dry by Al Qaeda operatives or handed over to Haliburton in the interests of national security.
When an actual person got on the line, I tried my best not to freak out.  When she asked me questions to verify my identity, I took a moment to remind myself that this was perfectly reasonable and not some phishing ploy because she was in on it too.  Eventually the truth came out.  My money had actually been transferred from one internal account and they, in their infinite wisdom, only thought it was necessary to tell me about the withdrawal.  It isn’t often I feel like I want to simultaneously thank and kill someone, but this was one of times.
So there it was. a crisis that never was.  I was now free to go back to my life of counted calories and rationed alcohol.  The only difference was the lingering feeling that this little glimpse of hell could one day come back, maybe next time for real.

In Defense of Bullshit

Prior to the Great System Crash of 2008 (See Back from the Dead for details), I used to categorize my blog posts. I had reminiscence posts.  I had poetry posts.  I had fiction posts.  I had a category called “misc.”  I’m not sure what purpose a “misc” category was supposed to serve, but I had one anyway.  All in all, the “fiction” category was the one that gave me the most trouble.

The line between fiction and non-fiction is not as clear as one might think.  There is the kind of truth that a person is supposed to tell while under oath: purely factual, unembellished, devoid of opinion, and dull as dirt.  It doesn’t tell a whole story and it was never intended to.  It’s sole purpose is to give juries facts to chew on before they vote their emotions and preconceptions anyway.
So a little embellishment is to be expected even in a true story, but how much?  For example, it’s allowed to have composites of non-central characters and events without crossing the line into fiction.  Some movie marketing makes an end-run claim to truth when it says the film is “inspired by actual events.”  It is important to remember that by this logic, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure would qualify as a documentary.
I’ve never claimed that anything in Poison Spur was inspired by actual events because when it comes right down to it, everything is so the phrase means nothing.  Of course some material in the blog is truer than others.  I ultimately gave up labeling some work as fiction because I told myself I didn’t need to.  I figured my readers (all 30 or so of you) would know when I’ve been making stuff up.  After all, you’re not a bunch of idiots, right?
I mulled the idea of reviewing my blog and assigning the category fiction or non-fiction to each entry.  That certainly would clear up any confusion, but as I said before, where to draw that line is a bit arbitrary.  An invented sibling is clearly in the realm of fiction, but what about those accounts of nights at the Argus where some details had to be invented to replace the memories that drowned in my whiskey glass? Ultimately, I decided not to bother.  I think I made the right choice.
In conclusion, I would like this blog entry to serve as a disclaimer.  Please assume everything I write here, going forward as well as in the past, is a complete load of hooey.  Or if that takes the fun out of things, feel free to believe what I write is inspired by actual events.  That’s true enough, I suppose.