Chipping Away at the Cold, Dead Flesh

The story begins, as much as anywhere, atop a barstool in New Orleans back in late December. The bar was called Molly’s, and was a half a block and a world away from the shit show of Bourbon Street. It was a good place to have a drink and even a better place to have another. Rebecca and I drank happily and let the afternoon slip unnoticed into evening.

With my senses dulled, I idly watched the television above the bar with the sound turned off while non-objectionable rock and roll was piped into the establishment. The show was “Highway Thru Hell,” which reminded me of “Ice Road Truckers” with its cute Canadian accents and not-so-cute Canadian weather.

There were some marked differences though. “Highway” is not filmed as far north and the roads are merely icy as opposed to being made of ice. Also, the focus is not on people braving elements to get from point A to point B, but rather on those called to clean up the mess of those who tried to reach point B and failed.

Just to be clear,  the show is not an arctic, reality-TV version of “Emergency.” Our heroes are not paramedics. They are tow-truck drivers and winch operators, forever shaking their heads while pondering how to get a crumpled mass of what was once a motor vehicle out of that deep ravine. If you added a moralizing narrator and some human hamburger, it might have played out like those scare-tactic highway-safety films such as Red Asphalt and Mechanized Death.

I decided right then, several drinks deep and therefore on a mental par with the people who watch these shows, that there needed to be a spinoff where the focal point is not totaled vehicles, but totaled human beings. The show would be called “Car Crash Asphalt Scrapers” and would follow a few unsung heroes tasked with removing skin, giblets, and what have you from the highway lest they detract from the natural beauty of Canada.

My intoxication has dissipated since then and with it any illusion that such a program would be produced and aired on television. The world was not quite ready for “Car Crash Asphalt Scrapers,” but I was and I vowed that it would live on if only in my imagination. This would make me the executive producer and as such, I’d be able to cast myself as the main scraper. “Be the star of your own movie,” a very wise affirmation spouter once said. I assumed the words also applied to reality television minus the reality.

To achieve this, I needed a single-mindedness and clarity of purpose nonexistent among my peers. If I were a man of letters, I would draw my inspiration from great literature. Since I’m not, television would have to do.

In the TV movie The Night Gallery, which preceded the series, the final segment was about a Nazi war criminal who desperately needs to escape the confines of reality. Lacking remorse yet hounded by his past and the fear of being discovered, he sees disappearing into a painting at a museum his only way out. It’s a lovely picture of someone fishing in a small boat in a lake. The Nazi sneaks into the museum late at night and prays to be allowed into the painting. His wish is granted, but unluckily for him, the artwork was replaced by a picture of some guy getting crucified in a concentration camp. The next day, we see the picture with the Nazi up there on the cross, his anguished face a paint-on-canvas version of the sad trombone that is poetic justice.

Minus the switcheroo, this was perfect for me. I took every moment where I could mentally check out (there are a lot of those) and imagined that I was a star of “Car Crash Asphalt Scrapers” with a formidable single-mindedness. Assuming the role of a hunted war criminal and treating the bullshit of my day-to-day existence as my own personal Mossad, I perservered until I finally broke through.

At least that’s how I think it all went down. In any event, here I am.

It’s honest work scraping frozen corpse bits off the road plus you get to drink on the job. I’ve been told to ignore the TV crew and to think out loud. The first part is pretty hard with all the lights on me as I’m crouched down trying to do my job. At least everyone shuts up while the cameras are rolling. Thinking out loud is easy though. I’ve been talking to myself as long as I can remember.

“Frozen blood is just like glue, ya know,” I say, trying not to lazily inject a drawl into my speech. I may be a bumpkin, but I’m a Canadian bumpkin so I am not supposed to sound like Jim Varney.

“It’s a heck of a mess to clean up. That’s for sure,” I continue. “I might consider pouring out some Irish coffee from my Thermos to soften it up, but that would be a waste of good hooch. Good thing I’ve got a head cold. I’ll loosen that road scab with this nice, warm snot rocket, eh.”

I block one nostril and unload the fluid in my sinuses onto the frozen scrap of dead person on the asphalt. I give it a few seconds to soak in then start going at it with my scraper. Just as I thought, the snot rocket is working its magic. The red, meaty ice, combined with the milky white nose nectar, starts to peel off the road looking a little like pink scrambled egg.

“See that, ya hosers? It’s important for you viewers to know that this is all-natural, pure human snot. No coke or meth. I say no to drugs and so should you. I just want to thank my lord and savior for giving me the snot-rocket idea so I don’t have to resort to whipping out my Dudley Do-Right and blasting it with bladder beer. I wouldn’t want to do that because this is a family show, eh.”

Indeed it is and like other programs of its ilk, it is the very best kind. The heroes of these shows are presented for what we are,  just plain folks with simple virtues and talents. We may drink in the morning and speak largely in monosyllables, but we are willing to work hard to get the job done. That is a powerful and positive message for the young people watching.

I take my responsibilities as a role model very seriously and that means doing my job the best way I know how. Nobody expects me to perform life-saving surgery with my trusty scraper, but if you need someone to dig into something that’s already dead, I’m your guy.

There is another rule I need to live by. It is the most important one of all. I cannot think about it in realistic terms because doing so would violate the rule and cast me out of this happy place.

Perhaps I can explain it indirectly. There was this movie called Somewhere in Time where Christopher Reeve travels back from 1980 to 1912 so he can bone Jane Seymour. With that out of the way,  he looks through his pockets and finds a 1978 penny. The anachronistic coin breaks the spell that brought him here and Reeve is tossed out of 1912 as unceremoniously as being thrown from a horse.

So there you have it. The same fate awaits me if I let my mind wander from what is going on here and now on this blood-spattered Canadian highway. Unlike Christopher Reeve, I am able to make my way back here when I falter. It is an exhausting process though and there is no guarantee that I will be able to return indefinitely.

I get up and look for the next piece of mess that needs cleaning up. I spot an eyeball, or rather we spot each other because its pupil is pointed right at me.

“Jeepers creepers, time to get that peeper,” I say and approach the disembodied eye, scraper in hand.

As I crouch down, I can’t help but notice something familiar about that eye. This is odd because other than the color of the iris, eyeballs look pretty much alike without the faces that goes with them. I get the feeling this eye has observed me before. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Maybe I knew the eye’s owner before he died (I knew it was a he, having earlier scraped up his dick).

No, there is more to it than that. It’s like the eye is watching me now, not with disapproval necessarily,  but assessing me all the same. It reminds me of…no, I mustn’t think about that. To stay here, I need to be here completely. I refocus and get back to the task at hand. I dig at the eyeball with my scraper, but it too is frozen to the asphalt.

“Hey buddy,” I say. “Lost your socket? Have a snot rocket!”

Alas, I blew my entire nostril wad on the last go so all I produce is a measly trickle that runs down my lip. I switch nostrils and launch the next snot rocket using only partial thrust.  It pays to conserve. A smallish but adequate load hits the eyeball and starts to melt the ice.

That’s when the voices start. The video crew is silent so they’re coming from somewhere else. I try to block them from my mind so they don’t take me with them, but there is one voice that persists. It repeats itself, asking about deliverables, current status, and deadlines. I try to ignore it, but to no avail. It demands answers.

I won’t let It take me without a fight. I close my eyes and scream.

“I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ANY OF THAT. I’M A GUT-SCRAPING MOTHERFUCKER, DABBING THE CHIN OF THE GODDAMN GRIM REAPER. CAN’T YOU FUCKING SEE THAT?”

When my eyes open, I  am still here on this cold Canadian highway. What I did worked. The voice demanding answers won’t be wanting to talk to me again.

The video crew stares at me slack jawed. My outburst was hardly appropriate for a family program. They can edit it out later. I did what had to be done. I was taking care of business. That’s what being a Car Crash Asphalt Scraper is all about.

2 GB Or Not 2 GB

This past Sunday morning, I was sitting in the back room of Trash Muddy’s. It was overcast out, neither cold nor warm, and the sky was flat gray and lifeless like the kind you see in a dream. I sipped my coffee and looked very much like a degenerate with my unkempt hair, bad posture, and Travis Bickle jacket. It’s a good look. It makes people want to leave me alone.

I pulled my phone from my pocket and googled “does angela merkel have down syndrome,” which is a fair question given her hairstyle. I was half hoping to find others who wondered the same thing. The other half hoped I would be alone in my assessment.

As much as I appeciate likeminded people, I also like to think I’m an original thinker even though evidence points to the contrary. Years ago, I posted some joke on Facebook about Fatah and Hamas joining forces and being known collectively as “Fatass.” A friend asked me if I came up with that myself. I said as far as I knew, yes, which was true enough. I wanted to be sure so I googled “fatah hamas fatass.” Someone else had made pretty much the same the joke. I didn’t plagiarize, but I did get beaten to the punch.

After that, I didn’t put much hope into being the first to come up with anything. Someone else must’ve seen Merkel’s hair, put two and two together, and come up with 47. If someone had, I didn’t see it as the top query results were flooded by a connection between her and Down Syndrome that I had not anticipated.

Apparently, a woman with Down Syndrome confronted the presumably pro-choice Ms. Merkel this past September and told her that she didn’t want to be aborted. I can kind of relate. The idea of having never been born is appealing to me maybe half the time tops. As one can imagine, the right-to-lifers had a field day with this though I’m not sure Merkel was swayed. Germans have historically not always been merciful toward the differently abled.

Ordinarily, I would have liked nothing better than to start clicking links and amuse myself with what these fetus fetishists had to say. Unfortunately,  the two gigabytes in my phone’s data plan was all but used up and the new billing would not begin until the end of the following day.

I suppose I could have used the Wi-Fi there, but I really don’t like to. It’s not like the Muddy’s at 24th where the password is written on a sign next to the register and is changed maybe once or twice a year. At Trash Muddy’s, you ask the barista and get handed a slip of paper with the password on it. The password is good for three hours so you mustn’t dawdle. Drink your coffee and get the fuck out.

Trash Muddy’s is no doubt more wary of loiterers because of the homeless who congregate around 16th Street. Vigilance is stepped up so not even the homeless with mobile devices are spared. As for me, I prefer to use my own data there. I never hang out for a duration even approaching three hours, but I don’t enjoy the time allotment and the watchful eye. I am 55. That’s old enough to feel like I live in a world where I have worn out my welcome.

Still, I did not want to go over my two gigs so I turned off my phone and put it back in my pocket. The previous day, I had told Rebecca about my data-plan woes. After completing her eyeroll, she dutifully informed me that the overage charge would be $15 for another gigabyte of data. I knew I could afford that. I also knew that there were hidden costs, ones that would make no sense to anyone but me.

I am not what one would call a disciplined person. I am lazy, slovenly by nature, and I am more likely to get my feelings of accomplishment through delusion and drink than by actually accomplishing something. However, my ego cannot run on pure bullshit. I need some elements of merit, trivial and easily achieved, that I can inflate until they make me feel good about myself.

One of these is not incurring data overages on my phone. With available Wi-Fi at home, at work, and on the bus, it should really be a slam dunk. Mostly it has been, but recent events threatened my thus far perfect record.

The problem started at the beginning of the billing cycle. When I said that I had Wi-Fi on the bus, I should have qualified that by stating I have it in the morning and intermittently in the afternoon due to more passengers trying to use it. I was working on “Future Poo 2: Electric Boogaloo” on my ride home and I switched to mobile data so I could regularly save my work. Blogging doesn’t use much data. The problem was that I neglected to turn Wi-Fi back on when I got home and proceeded to hit the YouTubes with a vengeance. By the next morning, I had burned through 400 MB of data.

Then came rationing my data consumption, which got me back on track. There was some slippage during the NOLA trip, which was neither unexpected nor excessive. By New Year’s Day, I was on track once again. That is, until we lost Wi-Fi at home that evening.

So there I was with eight uncertain days ahead of me. Did my DSL modem go belly up or was there some outage I didn’t know about?  More importantly, would the problem be rectified before the following weekend or would I have to resort to avoiding an overage by engaging in such antiquated activities as watching TV or reading a book?

The prospect made me shudder so I bit the bullet and spent an hour and a half in total on hold with AT&T customer service on Tuesday. I eventually was told that the problem was on their end and a network engineer would get around to fixing it no later than Thursday. Probably.

By Thursday evening, service was indeed restored. Good for AT&T. With only moderate stinginess of data use, I could stay below the 2 GB mark.

In my world, this is what passes for adversity.

Happy Landings

Any landing you can walk away from is a good one. Chuck Yeager said something similar to that. I googled it. I don’t know the origin of the exact words I used. Seeing as I rarely hang out with real pilots, I probably heard it from a pilot in a movie or TV show. The phrasing is smoother than the Yeager quote (look it up and judge for yourself), which is not surprising. Make-believe pilots have script writers.

I am not a pilot, not even a make-believe one, so I’m going to use the words figuratively. I’m sure you’re all fine with that. I’m guessing most people’s experience with actual pilots is restricted to commercial air travel and this sort of derring-do verbal shrug  is not the sort of thing to want to hear coming through the intercom.

The landing I’m walking away from is 2017, now slipped entirely into the past and immutable by non-revisionists. An entire year is a big topic, far too large for me to attempt tackling it in a single blog post. I’ll narrow my scope to the final week and a half. Those ten days were among the least productive of my entire life and that made them doubly significant. When I look back and say “I regret nothing,” it means two things.

Accomplishing jack shit was no accident. I needed a break from life’s responsibilities, or maybe I just wanted one. It’s absurd in either case. If I’m good at anything, it’s avoiding responsibility. I have coasted through much of my life. There have been a few spots where I’ve had to suck it up and actually make an effort. This happened in the middle of December and it was an ordeal.

I won’t go into detail because much of it was job-related and I don’t want it to get back to my employers that I’m anything other than a happy little worker bee. Let’s just say that after it was over, I needed a drink.

Well, it wasn’t quite over if you want to know the truth. The job stuff was as done as it was going to get, but the third part of “The Future Poo Holiday Special” still needed to be written. I had a basic idea of how I wanted to wrap it up, but there were some details that needed hashing out. Drinking is an excellent companion activity for that.

I went to what is fast becoming my not-so-local local, a lovely little dive bar in the Tenderloin called Aunt Charlies. The drinks are cheap and they seem to be tolerant of people passing out on their stool as long as they keep their head off the bar and refrain from falling over and hitting the floor.

There’s a drag show there each Friday and Saturday with a $5 cover unless you arrive early. It’s also customary to tip a buck as the performers strut their stuff past your barstool and no, that doesn’t buy you a lap dance.

One of the performers I like is the first to arrive and is there for every show. She is perhaps my age, possibly older, and takes drink orders from the tables along the wall in addition to being part of the act. She is not the MC, but I like to think of her as the Grand Old Dame of the show.

Her performance is a delight. With her bouffant wig and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane makeup job, she moves up and down the bar with grim determination while lip synching  to “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” If you neglect to tip her, you have no soul.

I can’t remember her stage name. It should be “Countess” or “Duchess” but is probably neither. I don’t know anything else about her and frankly don’t need to. She is out there doing her thing every weekend and that is enough. She is a goddamn inspiration.

Thanks to her example, I knocked out the last blog post the following day with renewed duty and focus. The holiday could finally begin.

Rebecca and I got some Xmas provisions including a 10 lb. ham that seemed like a real bargain at the time as it had been discounted to be just under a dollar a pound. It wasn’t until we got it home that found out how much of it was fat. It was not so much a ham as an enormous ham-shaped lipoma. Live and learn, I suppose.

On the 26th, we got on a plane to New Orleans so we could step up our drinking game with earnest. It was cold, not Chicago cold, but colder than SF. Fortunately, there is no shortage of bars in the French Quarter to duck into and take refuge from the inclement weather. Bourbon Street is a frat-douche hell on Earth, but there are some lovely charming dives less than a block away.

We became temporary regulars at Molly’s on Toulouse Street. I had my first Yuengling there and liked it well enough to keep drinking it. After depleting their supply, I switched to Rolling Rock with the occasional scotch and soda thrown in. Rebecca had some beer, but mostly stuck to her usual Tequila and soda.

We spent our vacation eating and drinking far too much, and feeling good about it because we had made a pact to not give a shit. January was coming at us fast and with it the return to relative drudgery. Until then, prudent behavior be damned.

We put NOLA on our list of cities to return to, but only to visit. We couldn’t live there. That would just be inviting diabetes and cirrhosis to get into a race to kill us off first. Neither of us has that kind of death wish.

Part of the charm of regrettable behavior is living long enough to regret it. It is 2018 and neither of us is dead. Mission accomplished.