Three on a Match: Second Light

Flash Photography 

“They realized that their god was dead so they reclaimed power through the bomb instead.” -Crass

What I remember most about the early 1980s was that Ronald Reagan was president, everything sucked, and we were all going to die. Death for most of us was to come suddenly in the form of thermonuclear war. The Cold War was still very much a thing and both the USA and the Soviet Union had more than enough nukes to decimate the population of each other in addition to those in any other country unlucky enough to be on the same planet.

Hoo boy, I thought. I can hardly wait.

I, of course, was exhibiting a grasp of reality one sometimes  finds in middle-class college kids who have never faced a serious crisis of any kind. It’s an old story. I was a bored frat boy who didn’t feel like he entirely fit in where he was, but didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere else either. Furthermore, I was in denial about a social awkwardness that has stayed with me all these years so rather than face the discomfort of being a wallflower, I took refuge in binge drinking and stupidity.

Through all this, I remained convinced that a glorious future awaited me in some form or another because of all the people who told me about how gifted I was and how much potential I had. Unfortunately, I had a sneaking suspicion the world didn’t see it that way. Therefore it had to go.

Perhaps a post-apocalyptic wasteland would really give me a chance to shine. In The Road Warrior, I identified most with the Gyro Captain, both for his tactical cowardice and his his discolored teeth, and he did all right. I figured I’d do just as well if I managed to live that long.

Unfortunately, I lived in San Diego, which is about as military as an American city can be. If the USSR started lobbing missiles at us, a lot of them would be coming right at me. I had little chance of surviving even the first hour of the war. Most of my friends had little affinity for life in the wasteland and they would say things like “Dude, I’m glad we’re living at ground zero. If the Russkies ever bomb us, I’m just gonna crack a beer and watch the fireworks.”

There was no arguing with people like that.

I realized the only way I could survive World War III was if I was out of town when it started. A fraternity road trip to the desert would be perfect, but an evening’s run south of the border might possibly work as well. Tijuana was a little close to downtown San Diego, outside the core blast radius but within range of shock waves and radiation. Ensenada would be a wiser choice. Since it was on the coast and prevailing winds eastward not southward, it would be spared much of the fallout. Ensenada also had a nightclub where you could watch a stripper have simulated sex with then stab a stuffed ape, which showed the town had a head start on the post-apocalyptic mindset. I pondered these points and decided that while I was still overall in favor of thermonuclear war, whoever was in charge of it would have to make it work with my schedule.

World War III finally arrived on its own timeline and terms. It came on November 20, 1983 in the form of a made-for-TV movie called The Day After. Its death toll was high but limited to the confines of our television sets. Granted, this was before the days of flat screens so TVs took up a lot more space back then.

The producers at ABC predictably treated the subject matter very seriously so the end result was both depressing and lame. There were no leather-clad S&M bikers with mohawks like in The Road Warrior. Instead, they gave us Jason Robards stumbling around with even more scabs on his head than a non-celebrity his age while the rest of the cast kept boo hoo hooing about their world gone to hell.

The movie did do an impressive job depicting the nuke explosion. There was the obligatory stock footage of actual bomb tests. Those are fun to watch, but I had seen them countless times before. What I really liked were the people caught in the blast who got turned into skeletons an instant before being vaporized. Two of the victims were a mother and her baby, which I thought was a nice touch.

This reminded me of something I had heard about Hiroshima. When the atomic bomb exploded there, the shapes of people were left on walls they were standing in front of when they were incinerated. It was like flash photography, but with a photographer named Enola Gay.

I had never seen any pictures of that phenomenon so I imagined buildings left standing in downtown Hiroshima were decorated with silhouettes of people in interesting poses. Think of Keith Haring murals done in ash. When I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum many years later, I saw an actual section of wall imprinted with what used to be a human being. I expected better resolution. The shape was vaguely humanlike, but I couldn’t make out any individual limbs. If people were caught in an A-bomb blast while using their bodies to spell out Y-M-C-A like the Village People,  they would leave four disappointing amorphous blobs.

People turn stupid when confronted with the extreme. The unbelievable is never unbelievable enough so we need to embellish the facts. For example, people have died in horrific accidents at Disneyland yet I’m pretty sure my childhood friend was lying when he told me about the guy who got decapitated when stood up on the Matterhorn and that his headless body sprayed blood as it did cartwheels in the air before landing in the submarine ride. I believed him at the time because I wanted to. Movies about the Vietnam War seemed bent on outdoing their predecessors in portraying how messed up it was over there. If those films kept getting made unabated, today they’d consisted of two solid hours of US soldiers fucking severed baby heads in the eye socket. I’d probably pay good money to see every one of those movies so it’s really no surprise I expected A-bomb flash photography to show as much detail as my senior yearbook picture.

There was more on my mind than just photographic quality however. After watching The Day After, I started thinking a lot about all the different things people might be doing when death came at them in a blinding flash of light. Most of my thoughts were about guys sticking their dicks into food, pets, or siblings because I knew my sense of humor and I enjoyed amusing myself. I realized that the number of people engaged in these compromising behaviors at any given moment is not great, but it is also not zero.

So here’s my question for you: Would you really like your final moment of existence on this planet to be balls deep in your cat? Or more to the point, how would like an image of you doing this to be blasted onto your bedroom wall so the living can point and laugh? You might shrug and then remind me that I’ve already stated that the image is going to be too low-res to be able to make out anything. No, I said the image I saw in Hiroshima was low-res. Nukes have gotten a lot more powerful since then, tests have all been conducted underground since the early 1960s, and the government is staying mum on this topic.

 Still not convinced? Fine. I’m willing to concede that there is probably no big conspiracy here. There doesn’t have to be. What I’ve spent about 1300 words getting around to is the idea that not only can we die at any moment, we have the notion pounded into our heads that we should be ready for it. And by ready, I mean not doing anything that might make us look bad. Always wear clean underwear. Don’t have anything in your browser history that will make your mother cry. North Korea might nuke you at any moment so keep your nose clean.

Judgment Day has become God-optional. I didn’t fully realize that in 1983 because I was only 21 and still half convinced that death was something that came knocking for everyone else but me. Now that I’m older, I see it as an unwelcome eventuality. What I don’t accept, and I hope I never do, is that I need maintain dignity for the sake of posterity.

We humans are an insane species because we know that we are going to die and we are driven even crazier because we do not know when. The simple solution is of course to not worry about the when and to just savor the not yet. Not many people can manage that. I know I can’t. I have to do the next best thing and hope my exit leaves as disgusting an imprint as possible. Whether I go by heart attack, plane crash, or atom bomb, I’ll leave some kind of stain and I want it to be one of my choosing, not some testament to social norms. I know that’s a tall order. Death can come literally in a flash, but if at all possible I’d like a moment’s warning. I don’t need much time, just enough to strike a pose, or to put it in 80s terms, to Vogue.

Three on a Match: First Light

Throwaway Places 

“I wrenched the nylon curtains back as far as they would go and peered through perspex window panes at the acrylic road.” -X-Ray Spex

Facebook never forgets. It keeps track of all my activity on the site. Over the years, that adds up to a lot. It won’t dump all the data upon request for me to download and I can’t search using criteria of my choosing, but through their filters I can find stuff going back years. For example, I can tell you that on August 22, 2010 at 7:05 am, I used my phone to check into the “Stump ‘n’ Hump Amputee Brothel.”

For the credulous among you, let me say that this place does not exist nor has it ever existed. It might exist somewhere, but certainly not at my home address where I was lying on my bed feeling bored and curious whether you can invent a place with a preposterous name, check in there, and have it appear as a valid location for everyone else to see.

It turns out you can do that, a point I’ve proven many times over.

The amputee brothel is the only fake location I’ve checked into from home. I have also never done it at anyone else’s home. That is a rule I adhere to. In my youth, I lacked this kind of restraint and used to gleefully piss in the sinks of friend and foe alike. I guess I’m all grown up now. Go me.

And oh yeah, I should mention I have avoided this activity at my places of employment because the corporate world is not known for its sense of humor. I’m unlikely to get caught doing it, but I don’t see the point in pressing my luck when there is rent to pay.

With people’s residences and my workplaces off limits, the locations for my check-ins have been more less random points on a map. Whenever what I thought was a witty place name popped into my head, I would whip out my phone and give birth to it.

For the most part, I stayed local. “Loan Gunman Collection Agency,” “If You Encyst Dermatology Clinic,” and “Joaquin Wounded’s Army Surplus Superstore” are in Oakland, while “Murder Most Fowl Poultry Plant,” “Fragrant Vagrant Homeless Shelter,” and “Mike O’Dolences- ‘The Funeral Guy!'” are in San Francisco. Well, as much as any of them can be said to be anywhere, that is.

It is probably no surprise that I am a big fan of “Bob’s Burgers” though my intention was not an homage to the buildings adjacent to the eponymous eatery. That isn’t a bad goal. It just wasn’t mine. For one thing, I started my fake check-ins before I started watching the show so my influences came a little from “The Simpsons” though far more from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which once had a wanted poster for an outlaw named “Joaquin Behindu.” I was not doing an homage to those shows either. Homages aren’t my thing. I am too selfish, too much of an ingrate.

My reasons were far baser. I wanted to fuck shit up and feel good about it. Fucking shit up is relative though. I lack the temperament to get off on doing anything truly malicious. Physical violence has never been my thing and my youthful fling with vandalism was neither satisfying nor lasting. I do however enjoy messing with people’s sensibilities and being a general pain in the ass. I also fancy myself to be a very clever boy.

If I were of an activist bent, I might describe what I do as culture jamming. It certainly has all the trappings of being such. I’m hijacking a communications medium and subverting commercial interests with my campaign of misinformation.  Heck, I might even call myself as a one-man digital version of the Billboard Liberation Front if I were OK with lying to myself as well as everyone else.

The truth is that it was pure mischief at first, but after a while it started becoming something more. If you either know me personally or have read this blog before, you’ll have learned that I reach most of my epiphanies after I’ve crawled up my own ass. This was no exception.

One day while indulging my smugness over my puerile hijinks, I thought about the places I’d invented and I started to connect the dots. I imagined I created a parallel world, one that existed on the material plane of puns, crudity, and cruelty. I liked this world I made though I wouldn’t want to live there any more than God almighty would want to rub elbows with a bunch of smelly mortals.

However, I am not God. I don’t believe God is God either, but that is another topic for another day. If you buy into the God thing, you may find him or her to be benevolent, vengeful, a mixture of the two, or none of the above. What you’re not going to call God is a slacker. Take a look at the world. It’s a total clusterfuck, but you have to admit there is a whole lot of it. Even with omnipotence, a ton of work went into making this mess. To achieve the same end on a human scale, I would have possess a godlike sense of purpose proportional to human form. I would have to be Henry Darger.

Darger was a janitor by trade, but is remembered as an outsider artist and writer. Having no friends to speak of, he spent every waking hour outside of work creating his world, one that featured naked little girls with penises fighting against the big, bad atheists. This is not a world I either envision or desire, but it was his and he devoted himself to it tirelessly. By the time he died, he left a staggering body of work including a 15,000 word novel filled with hundreds of his illustrations.

I admire but don’t envy Henry Darger. I think I would get very lonely living my life as he did. Perhaps he got lonely too, or maybe he was genuinely happiest alone with his work. I’d prefer the latter were true. By all accounts, he never caused another soul any harm so it would be nice if he had a satisfying life on his own terms.

I can only guess as to what drove him onward. He had some pretty horrendous things happen to him when he was a kid and the news of a child’s murder affected him deeply, but these factors can only explain some of the nature of his work. They provide no insight as to why he bothered in the first place. It certainly wasn’t for fame. He never made any effort for his work to see the light of day. However, he didn’t throw it in the furnace when he was done with it either. He wanted it to live on, perhaps so a piece of him could live on as well.

There is a Dave version of that I can relate to.  My own demise is likely decades away, but I would like to have some lasting effect on the world after I am gone. It doesn’t have to last forever, just long enough to cheat death a little bit.

A little bit is the best I can hope for. I am at my core both a dilettante and an instant-gratification junkie. Expectations of the scope and depth of my efforts need to be adjusted accordingly. In so doing, any comparisons between myself and the late Henry Darger become patently absurd.

My fake check-ins, these throwaway places, are thought up and executed with the same level of concentration as breaking wind. When it comes to effort, they don’t even rate compared to my other modest creative endeavors. I have five first drafts of novels gathering dust on a hard drive and of course there is this blog, an on-again, off-again labor of fickle love that has managed to amass over 200 entries in its almost 11 years of existence. Both the novel drafts and blog are undeniably more substantial yet neither have the reach or staying power of what I do on a lark while walking down the street. The places I’ve created are visible to everyone in the area on Facebook, and in San Francisco terms, that means everyone because I’m pretty sure the entire city has joined the site. And since there is no QA to weed out shenanigans like mine, none of my made-up places have been deleted nor do I expect they ever will be.

It looks like my best shot at a sliver of immortality will come in the form of this smart-ass world created off the cuff by me, a distracted mortal playing God. I’ll just keep adding to it when the mood strikes me and it’ll eventually amount to a legacy I can be proud of. It’ll be an anonymous sort of fame, but I’m fine with that. In my own little way, I’ll take my place with the DB Coopers and Kilroys of posterity. I could do much worse.

Some might argue that thinking there is artistic value to my fabrications or that they constitute a world in any cohesive sense is utter nonsense. They might say that the average person who stumbles upon my contributions to the landscape is more likely to be irritated than anything and that even those who are mildly amused probably aren’t going to attempt to retrace my steps and piece together the mosaic from my digital breadcrumbs. They might further go on to say that I need to get over myself and stop tagging the Facebook map like it’s a Muni bus.

These are valid objections and I would take them to heart, but I am too busy being  up my own ass and having an epiphany.

Retirement Plan

I do not know what year it is. I stopped keeping track of that sometime prior to 2020, back when the hair on my head was not all gray and the face in the mirror did not wear its skin two sizes too big. I’m sure the year appears on bills, financial statements, calendars, and at the top of news stories. Fortunately, I don’t have to look at any of those things.

Life has been kind to me. Some might credit my success to luck or privilege, others to talent and hard work. I prefer the latter because it makes people feel slightly less entitled to my money. I like having money and I like to think I spend it well. Life certainly wouldn’t be the same without it.

It’s a lovely morning to sit outside. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and the sky is overcast so I don’t have to squint or put on sunglasses to look out upon our backyard . Rebecca is sitting next to me and put on her sunglasses the moment we left the house. I think she’s just wearing them so I won’t notice if she falls asleep when I’m talking to her. I find that adorable. She of all people should know by now that when I talk, I don’t always need someone to be listening.

We are each sipping a Pimm’s cup. It is the preferred morning drink for both of us, just one of the many things we enjoy together. I’m on my third and I believe Rebecca is as well. It’ll be nice to be equally blotto when lunchtime rolls around.

Guillaume is in charge of pouring our drinks. In fact, he’s in charge of pretty much everything in the household as well as managing our finances. I honestly don’t know what I would do without him. I also love his name because it the last name of the actor who played Benson, the greatest butler in television history. After adeptly handling the affairs of the dysfunctional Campbells  (or was it the Tates?), Benson went on to run the Governor’s mansion, often at odds with Odo from “Deep Space Nine.”

Our Guillaume is following in this fine tradition. He doesn’t look much like Benson (or Odo for that matter), mostly due to his lower jaw being blown off in a civil war that was going on in whatever country he’s from. I believe it’s somewhere in either eastern Europe or western Asia, one of those geographic gray areas where even the people living there aren’t sure what continent they’re on.

Come to think of it, I am not entirely certain his name really is Guillaume, which is far more common a name in France, half of Belgium, and Quebec than in his bullet-ridden homeland. He did answer “Guillaume” when I asked him what his name was, but his massive-trauma overbite has left him with a substantial speech impediment so everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like “Guillaume.”

No matter, it is almost time for the infanticide air show. I can hardly wait. We adopt babies two at a time and have Guillaume handle all the paperwork. Thanks to draconian anti-abortion laws and human fecundity continuing unabated, babies are practically given away no questions asked if your credit is good. And thanks to Guillaume’s bookkeeping skills, ours remains stellar. He may not be able to enunciate well, but he is a champ at everything else.

The catapults have been calibrated and the babies have loaded into them. OK, maybe the launchers are more like trebuchets, but that lacks the alliterative allure of “calibrated catapults.” I am but a simple old man and should be allowed allowed a few simple pleasures.

Rebecca is not entirely on board.

“Have you considered finding a new hobby?” she asks with her sunglasses pulled down on her nose to give me a better view of her raised eyebrow.

“If you were around in the 70s, you’d understand,” I say.

“Yes, you’ve told me all about the skeet game at the pizza parlor in Oxnard. Projected on a big screen, bonus points for hitting two with a single shot. I love you and appreciate your nostalgia, but babies are just gross.”

At this moment, the two infants are sent skyward from their respective launchers. The calibrations prove perfect as the projectiles collide at 50 feet in the air before plummeting to the ground where they are feasted upon by Myra and Ian, our two pugs.

“That’s 100 points in 70s video skeet,” I say with pride.

“That’s all?” Rebecca says.

“Those are clay-pigeon points. I’m sure baby points are higher.”

“You do realize that skeet isn’t skeet without shooting.”

“Yeah, but I’m a lousy shot. Besides, look at the pugs. See how much fun they’re having?”

It was true. Even at a distance, I could hear their playful grunts and belabored breathing as they tore loose and devoured mouthfuls of dead-infant flesh.

“Aww, I love seeing them having such a good time. OK, you can keep killing babies,” she says.

I am about to say “Well actually, it’s gravity that kills them,” but I hold my tongue because she is being such a good sport. I really do love her and should never take how she indulges me for granted. I decide it’s time to talk about what interests her, like her recent volunteer work.

“So how are things at the homeless hospital?” I ask.

“Couldn’t be better, thanks for asking.”

“And how is the divine Ms. Mittens?”

“Her star continues to rise.”

Mittens is the hospital cat. She was feral until she wandered into the emergency room after a paramedic pushing a dying wino on a stretcher. Now she has full run of the place and her litter box in one of the operating rooms. In hospitals for regular people, this would not be allowed because of sterile-environment nazis calling the shots, but things are far more lax with nonpaying indigents filling the beds. Besides, the patients who are not at a high risk of infection just love having her around.

If Mittens’ star is is on the rise, the same must be said for Rebecca. I’m so proud of her. She turned her community service for a road-rage case into something really special. She could have kept to her task of waving hand puppets at patients having second thoughts about their cash-for-organs deal to distract them until the anesthesia kicked in, but then she would have never started her webseries project.

It’s called “Doctor Kitten MD” and if you haven’t already guessed, Mittens plays the title role. Rebecca says she wants to have at least half a dozen episodes completed before she starts releasing them for public consumption. The first two she’s done are both quite good. In “Scritches and Stitches,” Doctor Kitten is standing on the chest of some guy who just came out of surgery and starts pulling out his sutures in reaction to Rebecca reaching out and scratching him behind the ear. And in “Stay Gold, Ponybum,” the cat pees on the face of a patient who is in a coma.

“Is there a new DKMD I should know about?” I ask Rebecca.

“As a matter of fact, there is. Would you like to see it?”

“You know I would!” I say and get up to go sit on her lap as she pulls her tablet out of her bag. She hits play and the episode begins.

The credits scroll up the screen. “Doctor Kitten MD starring Mittens and co-starring a bunch of people at Homeless Hospital you don’t much care about. Written, produced, and directed by Rebecca Peachschnapps. Episode three: ‘Cat Eye.'”

“I love your showbiz name,” I say.

There is something blurry and shaking in the background as Mittens, aka Doctor Kitten, is playing with a human eye that has been pulled from someone’s head. It’s amusing enough seeing her bat it back and forth between her fore paws, but the real comedy starts when she picks it up in her mouth and tries to eat it.

A key element of Rebecca’s talent is her ability have all of her work be so fresh and new. She can do this because the magic she creates never gets old for her. She has undoubtedly watched this scene countless times, but shows the enthusiasm of a first-time viewer.

“Oh goodness! Oh goodness!” she says as we watch the eye stuck in the cat’s mouth like an apple in a luau pig.

It is then that I notice the optic nerve coming out of the eye and the blurred, shaking form in the background is the head it is attached to. A lesser video maker might have included the screams of agony that were no doubt going on in the room, but Rebecca wisely chooses to have “Pop Goes the Weasel” playing over and over as audio. It comes as no surprise when Mittens ultimately biting down and popping the eyeball like a cherry tomato is perfectly timed with the music.

“This is brilliant” I exclaim. “Have you shown this to Guillaume?”

“The thought never crossed my mind,” she says. “So far, my only viewers have been you and the pugs. And Mittens, but she pretends not to be interested. She’s a real Greta Garbo, that one. Do you Guillaume would like it? He seems too serious for such lighthearted fare.”

“He’s been through a lot. I bet he needs something to help him lighten up a little.”

Both of us are on our feet now, snapping our fingers at Guillaume and beckoning him to come over. When he arrives, Rebecca holds the tablet screen in front of his face and plays. I hear Rebecca say “Oh goodness! Oh goodness!” once again with undiminished enthusiasm. It’s hard to fully guage Guillaume’s reaction because facial expressions aren’t his strong suit, but the widening of his eyes says something.

When the episode is over, Rebecca says, “How did you like it. Isn’t Mittens just the cutest thing?”

“Guillaume,” says Guillaume.

 

Make It Your Canvas

I don’t really understand quantum mechanics and I’m OK with that. It’s enough to know it’s out there messing with our preconceptions about reality. By this, I mean even more than science has done in the past. If you think about how everything is made up of atoms, you realize that solid surfaces aren’t as solid as you think they are. That’s trippy enough, but when you introduce quantum mechanics and start looking at the behavior of subatomic particles, you’ll find them breaking just about every law of conventional physics.

That’s about all I know on the topic. There’s also something about mere observation affecting results because dead cat, which just compounds the weirdness. Being a freak myself, I felt drawn to the subject and attempted to read up on it. I can’t remember the title of the book, but the forward was riveting. It promised a look into a world where my long-held beliefs about reality would be blown out of the water. Neato, thought I, only to be disappointed early on in the first chapter where equations and graphs appeared.

Higher math is not my strong suit, which is strange because the word “engineer” has been part of most of the job titles I’ve had over the last 20 years. I do know that a logarithm has less to do with regularity than the name would suggest and that discrete math is different from discreet math, which involves people multiplying in motels under an assumed name. Oh, and “The Quadratics” was an awesome band name in Welcome to the Dollhouse. I don’t know enough about calculus to even make jokes about it.

Most of my knowledge of physics and quantum mechanics in particular was gained from listening to my friend Kirk talk when we were both whacked out of our minds on blow. Kirk worked at a national lab where a bunch of physicists were researching new ways to blow up the world. He loved the work they were doing and, unlike me, had the math and science skills to grasp what was going on.

Kirk also had periodic infusions of disposable income. He was always being sent off to some conference and was given more cash for expenses than he needed. Since returning the money meant unwanted paperwork, he blew it on drugs instead. And since the money bought more drugs than he wished to do on his own, he was happy to share.

On these occasions, Kirk was unsurprisingly quite talkative and he often talked about physics. He’d wipe his nose, clench his knee with a hand glistening with coke snot, and yammer on for hours. Fortunately for me, he skipped over the geeky, hard stuff and focused on the whiz bang and far out. Tiny subatomic particles, I learned, were doing what wasn’t supposed to be possible like existing in two locations at the same time and arriving at a destination just prior to when they left their starting point. It was wonderful.

Kirk and I are still close friends. The drugs days are long gone and good riddance to them, but lessons learned during those late-night benders have stayed with me. I’d have to say that my two biggest takeaways are that if you look close enough, you’ll realize that your perception of reality is pretty much a crock of shit, and if quarks don’t play by the rules, why should I?

These are both potentially liberating ideas, but it is important to temper them with practical considerations. For example, I’m not about to stand on the railroad tracks and scream “Your outdated Newtonian physics doesn’t scare me!” at an oncoming train. There are safer ways to thumb your nose at superficial reality. I am of course referring to lying.

Lying is wrong, you might say, especially if someone you are trying to impress and/or fear is within earshot. I commend you for your noble concern. However, it is important to remember that you may not actually be lying even if you think you are. If you believe that reality is governed by the laws of physics, know that there is currently no set of rules that apply to both large and small objects, and realize that you are made up of tiny protons and electrons as well as your femur, taint, and other big things, anything you say or do is going to be outside of one rulebook’s jurisdiction. Top physicists are working on a unifying theory, science’s version of Sauron’s one ring to rule them all, but until that’s found you can pretty much lie your ass off with impunity.

It’s how you lie that’s important. Survival lies, the kind where you feign belief in a God or ideology no matter how ridiculous just to save your skin, are necessary though it’s important not to overdo it. Reluctant complicity is fine, but being a true believer is unseemly. Rabid flag wavers, anti-porn crusaders, and staunch Myers-Briggs proponents are just three examples of people who should kill themselves.

So what’s left? There are plenty of lies worth telling. They need to be believable because what good are they if they crumble under a moment’s scrutiny, and they need to be art.

We humans have a lot of potential, but on average we are a pretty insignificant lot. Most of us live and die in these little regimented roles imposed on us by our fellow human beings. Sure, you can react to this injustice by going on a killing spree, but all that does in the end is make people afraid and take solace in the kind of narrow-minded thinking  that pissed you off in the first place. This is where lying as an art form comes in. People gain sustenance from what they perceive to be true. It is their wellspring. Make it your calling to poison that well.

Kellyanne Conway gave us the phrase “alternative facts” and bless her for that. A lot of people don’t like her, but I think that’s just because her boss is such a piece of shit. I personally have a bit of a crush on her because she reminds me of Dee Reynolds from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” America deserves to have its own Sweet Dee. I just wish it were under better circumstances.

Even with Ms. Conway giving the green light, that doesn’t mean you should lie all the time. People are stupid, but they’re not that stupid. After a while, no one will believe you and all your lies will be for nought. Ideally, you want to keep your lies on hold until they are most likely to be accepted as truth.

September 11, 2001 was perfect for this. Events on that day were so horrific and inexplicable that people were able to buy into all kinds of bullshit in the hope of making some sense of it all. “Irony is dead,” said some. “This is why we should invade Iraq,” said others. All of it was nonsense, but we ate it up because we were desperate nitwits.

These are not the kind of lies worth telling unless you are in power and have something to gain from controlling people. The other kind of lies not worth telling about this day are conspiracy theories. This isn’t because they dishonor the fallen or other such sentimental gibberish. No, the reason these lies are no good is that nobody but the unhinged will give them credence. They also embolden true believers as much as the killjoys and right wingers do.

I think the perfect place for the perfect lie on 9/11 had to be on board Flight 93. Think about it. Here you had the chance to upstage what may have been biggest lie of the day, “Let’s roll.” What was really said might very well have been the more utilitarian and less action-movie cheese “Let’s roll it,” but Neil Young and countless other slogan mongers were not to be denied. If I were on that flight and all was lost (which it was), I would have hung back from the heroics, pulled out my phone, and texted:

MILE HIGH CLUB FUCK YEAH!

A puerile move, sure, but maybe that’s what the day needed. A little silver lining might have made people little less gung ho to go off and die in a pointless war. And if it didn’t, so what. My final act would have left an indelible mark upon the world and sparked a lively debate whether it was better to go out dutifully pushing a cart other getting some strange in the lavatory. All because of a lie. My lie. A lie backed up by science if you don’t think about it too hard.

Tower Lands Revisited

The mystery of the abandoned buildings near my work has been solved. I wasn’t looking for an answer to that riddle. I would have been happy to remain ignorant and let outlandish conjecture run free.

My old college friend Lani told me on Facebook. I don’t blame her. I did not specifically tell her not to tell me so there was no way she could have known. It’s just like when I’ve taken a huge dump and wish to describe it in detail over lunch. I can’t be expected to read minds and neither should she.

And since none of you have voiced any objections to my divulging the secret of the Tower Lands, I’m going to go ahead and blab. The truth may disappoint you, but the truth usually does.

Back in the nineteenth century, a mental hospital was built in what is now the city of Santa Clara. In the spirit of the times, it was a large, brick structure that resembled both a fortress and a prison. Dubbed “America’s Great Asylum” (in your face, British Bedlam), this citadel of sorrow stood menacingly in the then-pastoral valley until the 1906 earthquake. Over 100 patients and staff lost their lives and were later buried in a mass grave because fuck it.

The hospital was rebuilt as Agnew State Mental Hospital in the same Mission Revival style that makes Santa Barbara look both cute and annoying. It was laid out as a village with little shops and services, much like the TV show “The Prisoner.” Over the years, focus was shifted from the mentally ill to the developmentally disabled. In 1926, a second campus was added adjacent to where I work.

Both are gone now. The west campus closed in the 1990s and much of the land was sold to Sunday Microsystems. The east campus stayed in operation until it too shut down in 2009. I think building a new school is planned.

So much for my land of nightmares. The west campus at least had old-timey psychiatric care to inspire many a horror show. The east campus’ problems, and it did have them, were mostly caused by understaffed and budgetary constraints. Modern issues rooted in financial reality don’t make the best ghost stories.

Also, the developmentally disabled don’t have the same mythology surrounding them as the mentally ill. Even if I reject the tired trope of the ax-wielding escaped mental patient, there is a wellspring of bullshit to draw from the schizophrenic and their ilk. Maybe it’s because I can more easily picture myself as mentally ill. I may not hear voices, but I’ve directed the same self-loathing words inward. My delusions may not be as extreme, but I do have them and knowing they’re there keeps me second-guessing myself. In my heart, I identify with Billy Bibbit, not Nurse Ratchet.

As for the developmentally disabled, they’re kind of a mystery to me. I can imagine frustration where learning and doing things is difficult when it seems so easy for everyone else. That I think I get, but I understand it at a distance. It’s hard to empathize when you’ve squandered your mental gifts on laziness. My own challenges, from feeling like a fraud most of the time to either panic or disaffection in most social situations, makes the mentally ill more my kindred spirits. Admittedly, it’s a bond best experienced with no real proximity to them.

So there you have it. There are no stories in those abandoned buildings that would hold my interest and I don’t see myself inventing any. For the previous inhabitants who are still around, I wish them well but only give a shit in the most abstract sense. I guess I feel that way about most people.

Dateline: Up My Own Ass

I sort of had a whiskey moment last night when I was doing the dishes. No, I don’t mean I threw up in the sink. It was more like the whiskey mindset that holds the door of my brain open and beckons certain thoughts to come inside . Here is the thought I had:

I died a long time ago, but my coping mechanisms soldier on.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. If I want to know how many people read this blog, all I have to do is count the number of eyes rolling and divide by two. I’m right there with you and can happily report that the thought collapsed under the weight of its own bullshit before scrutiny could throw the first punch.

Though if I had my phone handy, it might have lived on as a Tweet and/or a Facebook post. Nihilism is a parlor game for me much like anarchy used to be so the fun element of posting it is there. As for its inherent cheesiness, I’d be fighting fire with fire. I’m talking to you, social media. As soon as you stop with your saccharine affirmations, copied-and-pasted drivel masquerading as reasoned political opinion, and unconvincing proclamations of what caring and enlightened person you are, I’ll stand down. Until then, fuck you.

See, this is how sober Dave repurposes his laughable ideas. And by sober, I mean a current state rather than way of life. I haven’t quit drinking, I just don’t do it nearly as often as I did and rarely to excess. There will be exceptions. A trip to Milwaukee at the end of this month will almost certainly be one of them.

None of this is intended as a slam against people in recovery. And while 12-step programs in particular have elements that do not sit right with me, I cannot completely dismiss their efficacy because they seem to work well for some people.

As for me, I guess my higher power turned out to be routine. I get into ruts. It’s what I do. Going to a bar after work was one rut. Not doing that is another. I like this one better. Perhaps it will last.

Still, I do sometimes feel homesick for the old barstool. It was a place where the whiskey mindset was working the door and my evening’s companion was whatever notion happened to wander in. I still have some of that mindset now, but without the whiskey and without the bar. It happens most often during my commute on the bus. It’s not the same though. The self-pity shit doesn’t resonate the way it did five to eight years ago.

This was the late era of my serious boozing. Closing the bar and serious misbehavior were just memories of a few years prior, years that failed to either bring lasting joy or kill me outright. I was now doing almost all of my drinking between six and nine in the evening. Granted, I packed a lot of it into those three hours, but a ritual of drinking a lot of water before bed kept me functional the following day.

From my barstool I would think my drunken thoughts and nod approvingly at my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I attached a lot of wisdom to what was running through my head back then.  The whiskey had something to do with that, but there was more to it. In that time and place, there was truth in those dark, ugly thoughts. It was especially so as I walked home along just then streets coming alive with revelers looking for the good time I’d already given up on.

I don’t really want to go back to those days except for the little part of me that does. It’s the part that, when all is lost, will continue to soldier on.

A Nod to the Gnawed

It happened either in 1974 or 1975 when I was living in Oxnard. I can’t remember the exact year. I do know I was in the 7th grade so that would have made me 12 years old. My birthday is in August so I was always the same age throughout the school year.

It’s a good time of year to have a birthday except when you’re a kid and you meet some adult in early summer. The two questions I invariably got asked were how old is was and what grade I was in. I would then prepend each answer with “going to be,” which I didn’t like saying because it made me sound desperate and insecure and I knew I was both those things. Also, why would anybody ask what grade you’re in when it’s July? Do they not know how school years work? My contempt for the grown-up world began at an early age.

Anyway, what I’m going to tell you happened in the 7th grade for sure because of what was said the next day in gym class. I had no gym class in the 6th grade or prior and had moved to Santa Barbara by the time 8th grade rolled around. So I was definitely 12 years old. Many of the other details are hazy so I’ll have to lie my ass off to fill in the gaps in the story.

It was late afternoon or early evening and I was playing over at a friend’s house. I’ll call this friend “Todd” instead of his real name because I’m going to say terrible things about his parents.

So Todd and I and some other kids are playing tag, hide and seek, or some other game I was borderline too old for. Todd was 10 or 11 at the time, as  were the other kids. I was either chasing somebody or being chased (I don’t recall which), and I managed to trip and fall face first into some bushes growing along the side of Todd’s house. I’ve always been a klutz so this event wouldn’t be noteworthy except that one of the branches poked me a good one in the eye.

I howled in pain because eye injuries hurt like hell and I was a wimp (still am). Todd came running over to see what was wrong. I think he was genuinely concerned even though he looked like he was smiling. Todd had large teeth so his mouth didn’t always close all the way. They weren’t Gary Busey big, more akin to Jake Busey or George Thorogood, but large enough to affect his facial expressions.

The perceived smile made me cry even more, but I did trust Todd enough to heed his suggestion that we go in his house and let his mom have a look at me.

I remember Todd’s mother as being a lovely woman who had all of her beauty on the inside.  Todd got his teeth from her side of the family though hers were bigger and her Scottish upbringing had given her the sort of dental hygiene one usually associated with the British Isles. Her teeth were formidable things, unlikely to fall out anytime soon, but they did look like she flossed with baling wire. Despite all logic to the contrary, it was difficult for me to feel completely comfortable around someone with teeth like that.

She saw me bawling with my hand over my eye and asked me what was wrong. I told her and took my hand away from my face so she would know that I could be blind, dead, or both very soon.

“Oh dear, you did  do yourself a mischief, didn’t you,” she said. “Roy, come have a look at David, could you?”

Roy was Todd’s father, whom I called Mr. Wilford to his face and Fatso behind his back. Unlike Todd’s mother, he was American. He was roughly the same height as his wife and weighed twice as much. Hot weather could make him lose his temper over almost anything. It was cool and breezy that day so he seemed only vaguely menacing. The cigar and can of Schlitz he had in his hands helped to soothe his mood.

“So what happened here?” he asked Todd.

“David fell in the bushes,” Todd said.

“All right then,” his father said and sat down at the kitchen table. Todd’s explanation was satisfactory to him. Apparently, so was my injury. I didn’t like Todd’s father so I didn’t mind him not wanting to get involved, but I kind of wished someone did.

Todd’s mother came back into the kitchen and poured me a glass of fruit punch, the kind from concentrate that gives you a red mustache when you drink it.

“Here you go, David. Maybe this’ll help,” she said and walked out of the room.

I was feeling a little panicked. I was pretty sure I needed medical attention, not a glass of Kool Aid. Was this how they treated kids who got injured around them? How many brothers and sisters did Todd have before his parents started culling the herd?

I needn’t have worried. What Todd’s mother had failed to mention was that she called my parents to pick me up when she was in the other room.

My folks arrived with my brother Gordon. While the grown-ups were off talking amongst themselves, Gordon backhanded my shoulder to get my attention and pointed at the cigar in the ashtray on the kitchen table. Rather, he pointed at the chewed end of the cigar.

It was horrifying. If it were just a mass of mulched tobacco and spit, that would have one thing, but mixed in was something beige and lumpy. It was no doubt bits of Todd’s father’s latest snack, or perhaps the last few. I couldn’t make out what it was exactly. It looked a little like the fat cut away from raw chicken and also a bit like American cheese. I was disgusted, but just like seeing a deformed person on the bus, I couldn’t look away.

My parents came back in and took me home with them. My father checked out my eye and when he found it could see through it just fine, he decided I didn’t need to go to the emergency room.  I trusted his judgment because he was a smart man who knew fancy words like “hematoma.”

The next day, I woke up  with a huge shiner and my eyelid swollen half shut. I got dressed and went to school looking like someone had beaten the shit out of me. Fortunately, this was the mid 1970s so there was little risk of anyone assuming the worst and calling CPS without bothering to find out what happened.

Dad never hit me so the thought of that hadn’t crossed my mind. However, other kids had plenty of times over the years because I was both scrawny and mouthy. I didn’t want anyone to think it happened again so I made it a point to tell everyone at school the real story.

Everyone seemed to believe me except for my PE teacher, who balled his meaty fist and said, “It looks like you ran into one of these.” The other kids laughed when he said it. They probably still believed me, but his version was more fun.

I wanted to argue the point, but didn’t have it in me. My brain couldn’t shake the visual of the chewed end of that cigar. The image stayed with me, periodically grossing me out for a long time afterward. Decades later, I can still remember it in far greater detail than I would like.

So that was my take away, not that I was being a crybaby, not that I shouldn’t judge people based on how funny looking their teeth are. It’s hard to learn life lessons when some bright, shiny object distracts you. Or if nothing bright or shiny presents itself, chewed up and disgusting will do in a pinch.

The Tragic Fall of Balok Eaglebauer

Balok Eaglebauer was too focused on how the corpse’s eyeball felt against the tip of his penis to notice the cops coming through the door. He let his situational awareness lapse and that was his undoing. As someone who fancied himself a field agent, he should have known better.

Every detail of what he was doing at the the time  of his arrest went into the police report. Like most police reports, this one was done with the goal of securing a conviction rather than a pursuit of the truth. As far as law enforcement is concerned, the truth only gets in the way. Tell it to the judge, they say, but when you have your day in court the judge can and will disallow any testimony that threatens the established order.

Balok Eaglebauer knew the risks. If not, he should have. I never told him, but I didn’t think I had to.

I only knew him by his code name. That’s not uncommon. Most people only know me by mine, the one given to me by my parents. His might have been given to him by his parents as well though that seems less likely. Whatever the origin, it suited him. The first name is a character Clint Howard played in an episode of “Star Trek.” The last name is a role the same actor played in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. If you are acquainted with both these performances, I am sure you can draw a pretty clear mental picture of him. If not, I’m sorry. I have neither the time nor inclination to educate you.

Balok Eaglebauer’s assignment was supposed to be straightforward. He was to infiltrate a secure location and gather evidence. Once that was done, I assured him, my associates and I would handle the rest.

When I first recruited him, I asked him what he knew about the woman dubbed the Dumpster Damsel. He said he had never heard of her.

“It was reported by the lamestream media,” I said.

He shrugged.

I went on to tell him about a homeless woman in her early thirties who died from heart failure, likely from years of substance abuse. Her body was found next to a dumpster behind a bar and she was dubbed the Dumpster Damsel for that reason.

Ordinarily dead homeless are not considered newsworthy, I said, but there were two factors that made her an exception. One was her looks. The public just loves a pretty face and she was remarkably attractive given her circumstances of being both homeless and dead. The second factor came after the news report of the preliminary autopsy, which said that she had been sexually penetrated post mortem by no fewer than 20 men, likely passers-by on their way home from work.

“Who was first?” Balok Eaglebauer asked.

“Huh?” I said.

“Which guy got to go first? Being first in line is better,” he said.

I had expected a different reaction from him, perhaps one of moral outrage, but I could see now that he had his hand down his pants and he was licking his lips.

“Nobody went first,” I told him.

“Somebody always goes first,” he said.

“No,” I said. “Because it never happened. A homeless woman died and she was hot. Those things are true, but no one had sex with her dead body.”

“So the men were lying.”

“No, why would they do that?”

“Guys like to brag sometimes. I know I do.”

“Someone did lie, but it wasn’t men bragging,” I said.

“It wasnt?”

“It was misandry.”

“Who’s she?”

“A fucking bitch, or rather a bunch of them looking to further their agenda, but we’re not going to let that happen so I need you to pay a little visit to the morgue. I bet if you swab the insides of the Dumpster Damsel’s lovin’ stuff, you’ll find no evidence of the potpourri of man mayo that’s been widely reported in the news. Here’s some Q-Tips and a sandwich bag. Good luck.”

That’s was the last time I ever saw Balok Eaglebauer. After his arrest, the police report was leaked to the media and they did a hatchet job on him. He became the new face of toxic masculinity.

It was kind of sad, really. Here were a bunch of reporters so intent on being judge, jury, and executioner, they couldn’t be bothered to act like journalists. They had no more interest in objective truth than went into the lurid police report that was handed to them. As a result, there remained unanswered questions.

I had one question of my own. It was not about why Balok Eaglebauer was doing what he was when the cops arrived. That’s pretty easy to figure out. We live in a big city so our morgue has a lot of bodies. I’m guessing the task of finding the Dumpster Damsel was so great, he abandoned his mission and let his proclivities take over. It was pretty obvious what those were, not that I’m judging. While my appetites differ, I can see the morality of his with nuanced view.  While it’s true a cadaver cannot consent, it cannot say no either. When a person dies, he or she stops being a person and becomes dead flesh. Therefore, necrophilia is arguably no less moral than fucking a cheeseburger.

Unfortunately, the law does not see it this way. Balok Eaglebauer will no doubt be convicted and given a lengthy sentence. And what will happen to to him then? How does a corpse diddler fare in the general prison population? I honestly don’t know so I sent an inquiry along his photo to a number of immates serving life sentences in prisons where he is likely to be sent. I have yet to receive any responses, but I fear the worst.

But where was I? Ah yes, my unanswered question. How could my whopper about a radical-feminist plot to fabricate a necro gang rape sound plausible? And yet it did to him. Can you imagine?