All the Fingers and Toes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bench Warrant (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas night came.

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

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

“You’re poisoning me?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

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

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

Meanwhile, his mother giggled into her napkin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy’s mother died later that night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bitch weren’t shit,” he said.

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

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

Bench Warrant (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begging seemed to be his calling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second was 9/11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bench Warrant (Part 1)

Billy nipped at his flask and stared at his mother’s casket. He was one of 14  guests at her memorial service and the only relative. The rest were coworkers, members of her book club, and a turnip-faced widower who went on one date with her 20 years ago.

She had died from a fall down a flight of stairs a week before. Some thought Billy had pushed her. He hadn’t. He wanted her dead, but not then. It was too soon. He wanted her to die today, five minutes from right now, to be exact.

He would be dead as well. He figured since he had just turned 50, he had lived long enough. A lot of people whose lives would end in five minutes would be a lot younger than him. Some would be children. It made no difference. The kind of death that was coming did not check IDs. Billy figured he was lucky to have a half century. He wasn’t greedy. He had lived a full life, or would have if his bitch mother hadn’t ruined it for him.

Her first crime was robbing Billy of a father. Billy’s dad, like his son, was a drunk. Unlike Billy, he was a violent one. Billy sometimes wanted to smash things, but not people, because things could not hit back. Billy’s mother knew about his father’s nature from the get go. She could not plead ignorance. Billy had seen the wedding photos and noticed how her shiner stood out in sharp contrast to her virgin-white dress.

The father sometimes hit Billy, which Billy didn’t like very much. Mostly he hit Billy’s mother, which Billy liked just fine. He was taken away when Billy was 8 years old. This was Billy’s mother’s doing. She could have hit back. She could have ducked. Instead, she called the cops. It could have been that she screamed loud enough for the neighbors to do it for her. Either way, she was complicit.

There were several visits by the police before they made an arrest so she had every chance to change her behavior, but she never did. Billy, even at his tender age, had a sneaking feeling that his mother had orchestrated the whole thing. When she agreed to drop the charges in exchange for his father not contacting her and relinquishing his visitation rights, Billy was convinced of it.

From that point on, Billy had a dull and uneventful childhood. He did poorly in school though not poorly enough to get him transferred into a special-education program. Instead, his scholastics were the kind of bad that made Billy’s guidance counselors suggest career choices where he would be given a nametag and coveralls, and often a mop. All the while, his mother continued to work the same cashier job at the supermarket and reacted to his report cards with a sigh of resignation.

On the day Billy graduated from high school, he got a surprise visit from his father. Billy was walking home from the commencement ceremony (he would have gotten a ride from his mother, but she couldn’t get off) when a blue Yugo pulled up next to him. The window rolled down and there was Billy’s old man. He had a full beard now and his nose had been broken several times, but it was unmistakably him.

“Congrats, you little bastard. Here, catch!” his father said and tossed a bottle at Billy before driving away, never to be seen again.

It was a liter of Jack Daniels. Billy had almost fumbled and dropped the bottle, but he managed to hang onto it and keep it from smashing on the sidewalk.

He had very little experience with alcohol up to this point in his life, just the odd beer on those very rare occasions when he was offered one. His mother was a teetotaler so he couldn’t get any from her. Some of the other students at his high school threw parties where alcohol was served, but Billy was never invited. Now he didn’t need to be. He had his own bottle.

He unscrewed the cap and took a swig from his graduation present. The brown liquid burned his throat. Then it warmed his insides. He continued walking, taking several more hits off the bottle as he went. The JD started to work its magic. It made life something approaching tolerable.

Billy hid the bottle under the bed when he got home. His mother would not approve. It didn’t matter that he was 18 and therefore an adult. He wasn’t adult enough to buy alcohol yet, but he was adult enough to get charged as an adult for underage drinking and that had to count for something.

His mother would no doubt disagree.  She would probably tell him that if he was living under her roof, he would have to follow her rules. Billy knew that the real reason she hated alcohol was that it made his father hit her. Alcohol was not to blame. The old man hit her plenty of times without touching a drop. Also, Billy was feeling plenty drunk at this point and he had no desire to hit his mother. He wanted to see her get hit, which was not the same thing.

Not just any hit would do. Billy’s father could blacken her eye or split her lip, but fell short of doing any lasting damage. There was a guy on the football team who put a cheerleader in the hospital because she wouldn’t give him a BJ, but Billy’s mother was too old and fat for him to want one from her. Besides, he didn’t punch hard enough for Billy’s liking. The cheerleader ended up too ugly to keep being a cheerleader, but that was the extent of it. Billy wanted real power in the punch and the way he figured it, nothing hit as hard as a nuclear bomb.

This was a logical next step for Billy as he often turned to the prospect of thermonuclear war to aid him in his time of need. If he was failing a class (or even just life in general), he would take comfort in knowing that his shortcomings didn’t matter if he was just going to get vaporized anyway. Billy wanted to see his mother get vaporized as well and he didn’t mind being caught in the blast if he got to watch her go. Of course, it would all occur in an instant so he would have to be alert when it happened. Billy knew that paying attention wasn’t his strong suit, but he promised himself he would pay attention to this.

For the next six years, Billy drank steadily and waited for World War 3 to start. The first three of those years were the hardest because Billy was not yet 21. He knew better than to ask his mother because she would just stare at him with eyes that conveyed profound disappointment. Instead, he relied on the kindness of strangers.

Well, it wasn’t exactly kindness. These were older men who agreed to buy the liquor and pay for it as well. All Billy had to do was close his eyes and let them put their hand or mouth on his junk. Billy only did this in secluded areas because he didn’t want anyone to see this happen and think he was gay. He didn’t have anything against gay people. It was just that homosexuality was not considered cool in the mid-1980s and he felt unpopular enough as it was.

If Billy were gay, this would have been the time to find out. Instead, he just wanted to put the experience out of his mind. He found that getting drunk afterward helped and being drunk during helped even more. The men didn’t seem to mind that Billy showed no sign of arousal. Even when he tried to pretend he was with a girl, his blood-alcohol content and the reality of the situation ensured that he became no more turgid than a stadium dog that has been floating in a hot-water vat for eight innings.

Billy turned 21, but was not ready to give up his line of work. He was of age, but needed more money to fund his now full-fledged alcoholism than the meager allowance from his mother would provide. The problem was that he was not as popular an item as he had once been.

Being no longer a teenager made Billy less of a hit with the ephebophiles. The customer base was further shrunk by Billy’s weight gain, which was considerable. His mother may have provided little monetary support and no emotional support to speak of, but she did give him a roof over his head and food on his plate. Billy took advantage of the latter with gusto and packed on a lot of pounds he never got around to shedding.

There were some men specifically drawn to Billy’s new look. Most of the chubby chasers were nice enough if a little fixated on his girth, but there were others who demanded he humiliate himself by making porcine snorts and oinks while he was being fondled.

All this made Billy wish for the Soviets to launch their missiles even more. “Kill us all, Mr. Gorbachev” was his nightly prayer.

 

Privilegemobile 10: Backseat Striver

When I get pulled into death’s clown car and taken on a one-way trip to that big circus tent in the sky, what will my biggest regret be? OK, never learning to vet my metaphors will rank pretty high on the list, but what else? Procrastination is the short answer. Like most short answers, it leaves out more than it includes.

It’s a cold, clear Friday morning and I’m on that part of the commute where traffic slows down as it approaches the turnoff for the San Mateo Bridge. I try to expand on the procrastination theme, but find myself distracted by sights and sounds I’ve seen and heard hundreds of times before.

It’s an aha moment and I’m about to pat myself on the back for my keen insight. Then I remember that the stuff about procrastination and clown cars was all window-dressing preamble and what I really wanted to blog about was an almost wholly unrelated topic.

Meanwhile, my decision to double down on my self-referential bullshit by writing about it instead of letting the backspace key work its magic has sent this writing headlong into a morass of meta.

What the fuck was that? I look up from my phone. I’m in Menlo Park already. Outside my window is what was once the corporate headquarters of Informix. I was a contractor there in the early 90s. At a holiday party one year, the CEO decided to treat us all to a home video of his children. This same CEO would later plead guilty to securities fraud and be sentenced to two months in federal prison. I wish the judge had known about the video incident. He might have tacked on another five years.

Now where was I? It was the point of all this. It’s always the goddamn point. Fine, I’ll get to it already.

I promote this blog five different places. The first four I’m sure you’ve heard of. They are Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram. The fifth is a site for perverts called Fetlife.

Fetlifians (or whatever they call themselves) pride themselves on being responsible members of the kink community. Much of the writing there is proclamations of how things should be. If you have the soul of a hall monitor and an affinity for riding crops, Fetlife really is the place for you. Comments to these writings agree or disagree on the rules set forth and pretty soon, what had the potential for intelligent debate quickly devolves into ad-hominem attacks and the occasional death and/or rape threat.

I ponder why my work never generate such interest as the bus passes Moffett Field. The President supposedly lands there when visiting the Bay Area though I’ve never seen Air Force One parked on the runway.

I don’t have have to ponder for long. The reasons why my stuff has failed to be a hit on Fetlife are pretty obvious. For one thing, I post links to my blog rather than copying and pasting the entries. Clicking on strange links is scary and the name poisonspur.com does not exactly inspire confidence. Visiting there could give you a virus, possibly AIDS.

I’m off the freeway now. Levis Stadium is off to the right and there is about 10 minutes left in my commute.

It isn’t just the link. The content itself is not that popular with that audience. It isn’t that I am too vanilla to understand the plight of the kinkster (oh heavens no). It’s just that I steadfastly write about what interests me and what interests me the most is myself. What I churn out has little mass appeal or bullet points to aid in its consumption.

I’m on a bridge crossing the Guadalupe River, which is little more than a creek except after heavy rains. Ahead lies the sprawling tech campus where thousands of us come each day and earn the kind of money that sends the local cost of living into the ionosphere. I’m sad to say I’m only barely complicit in this injustice. Compared to many, I don’t make dick.

I suppose I could learn to write for my market. On Felife, a surefire way to make their “Kinky & Popular” list is to cobble together a bunch of tepid kindnesses and slap on a title like “18 Things Domly O’Leatherpants Can Do To Make Weepy McSubsub Feel Less Like a Sack of Shit.” People swoon over that stuff because people are idiots.

So what’s stopping me? The short answer is procrastination. Those of you have read this whole will see that I’m thematically coming full circle, but only tangentially. Let me explain.

It is past procrastination that drives me. For the longest time, the bulk of what I wrote was scribbled into spiral notebooks and there it remained. That turned out to be fine as most of it wasn’t very good. Later I wanted some people to read what I wrote and thanks to the interwebs and social media, that was easy to get.

The problem was my love of instant gratification. I’m no genius, but I am somewhat clever so I’m able to fire off a mildly amusing quip more often than not. Fellow members of my mutual-admiration society would cough up some praise and I would feel good about myself for a while. That shit turned out to be addictive and I would go for the quick validation and never write anything of substance.

The only way to break out of that was to concentrate on writing what what I wanted to say and to hell with the rest. I wanted readers, sure, but I also wanted them to read what I wanted to write. That required some callousness in my resolve. Does my work not interest you? Tough shit. Are you triggered? Ha ha fuck you.

The bus pulls up to my stop and I step off into the cool, crisp air. As I trudge toward the building with my signature thousand-foot stare, I can take pride in being, above all things, honest.

This sounds good, but am I really that honest? I told no overt untruths either about the events of my morning commute or the thoughts running through my head. The lie was pretending that I blogged all this during one morning commute. I started writing this yesterday and the initial draft had “a cold, blustery Thursday” instead of “a cold, clear Friday.”  So what’s the big deal? In purportedly true stories, it is not uncommon to have some compression and tweaking of the facts. For example, multiple people can become a composite. Is it really so different to have two days joined into one? It isn’t, but it does throw bullshit into the mix. The end result is the false claim that I can turn my thoughts into prose in such a short amount of time. I’d like to claim that ability, but I cannot.

Of course, coming clean does have a way of spoiling the narrative so maybe you’re better off forgetting what I said. Just pretend the last paragraph doesn’t exist and picture me whipping out my phone as I walk toward the lobby and hitting the publish button without even bothering to check for typos.

Privilegemobile 9: Not My President’s Day

It was cold enough for my cat to love me last night. She was lying against my outstretched arm and using one of my fingernails as a place to scratch her chin. Lately, she has been down at the foot of the bed or under it, venturing into the kitchen occasionally to have a bite of food or take a dump in the vicinity of the litter box. She’s sixteen and a half, and more or less done with the world.

I know the feeling.

My alarm went off at its usual 5:45 and it was time to start. There was no drinking last night to hobble me this morning so I was able to shower, shave, and get dressed with a minimum of groaning. I gave Becca a goodbye kiss and called my cat a little bitch, taking care not to reverse the two.

It was 43F when I left the house this morning, cold weather unless you’re used to real winters. I am not. I zipped up my jacket, thrust my hands into my pockets, and marched off toward Muddy’s for my hot coffee and a toasted bagel.

I turned the corner from 24th onto Valencia St. and saw the lights in Muddy’s was off and the gate was shut. There was a sign in the window saying that in observance of President’s Day, they would not be opening until 7 am. Crap.

It was 6:23 and I didn’t fancy the idea of trudging to the bus stop and waiting in the cold for the next 25 minutes. Besides, I needed coffee. I walked back to 24th St. and headed in the direction of BART.

There was a cafe right next to the station. The coffee was passable, but I knew from a previous visit that they had no bagels. When I asked, the barista shook his head and gestured me toward an assortment of gluten-free inedibles. I decided not to go through that again.

Fortunately, Cafe La Boheme across the street was open as well. They would have bagels. In fact, they might have a whole variety of things. Unlike Muddy’s, the menu board was one of a full eatery. I didn’t know what was available at that hour though a bagel was a safe bet.

I went in and got a large coffee and a garlic bagel with cream cheese. I like Cafe La Boheme and regret not going there more often. There were only three customers including me at the time, but the regulars would drift in eventually and they are what give the place its character.

It’s an old-style coffee house with more books open than laptops and there are scruffy seniors with hair in their ears who play chess where a piece is moved about once every hour. It’s the kind of establishment that is quickly disappearing from San Francisco and eventually from the world.

After finishing my bagel, I headed to the stop at 26th and Valencia.  The bus arrived more or less on time, but with a different driver. The regular guy was probably on vacation. It seemed everyone but me had the day off. I knew this wasn’t true, but I grumbled about the injustice of it all anyway.

Facebook is my go-to source for what people say when they want to sound like everybody else. My newsfeed has been awash with stuff about how on this President’s Day, folks were going to celebrate 44 out of 45 because Trump sucks. I don’t like him either, but am unwilling to pretend the others were all peachy keen. But if you really want to honor the legacy of James Buchanan, far be it for me to stop you.

So when I said it’s “Not My President’s Day,” it’s not an expression of political solidarity. I was ticked I had to go to work. I was also not happy about having to go to the bathroom, a feeling that kicked in as I started writing this blog entry on the bus. Fortunately, the Privilegemobile has a restroom. Unfortunately, someone removed the toilet seat a couple of weeks ago. I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant, but there business to be taken care before I could concentrate on anything else.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the toilet to be reasonably clean. With the seat gone, I was afraid that greenlight people pissing all over everything. I spread some toilet paper around the outside of the bowl and sat myself down.

I had my phone with me so I read about the recent school shooting in Florida. The CNN site had an article about the victims. They all seemed like decent folks though even if any of them were assholes, I doubt that it would have been reported.

Also, I disagree with those who insist the press concentrate on the victims and not the perpetrator when covering mass murders. I get the appeal of depriving killers their fame, but they are the ones you look to  when trying to understand the crime. The people killed are tragic, but not terribly elucidating.

After I finished, stood up and hit the black flush button. Blue water spiraled the bowl and I wished my former fellow traveler farewell as it disappeared from view.

It was at that moment the bus hit a bump and the lavatory door flew open. I quickly slid it shut and relatched it. It was unlikely anyone saw me as the seats all face forward. Still, it was possible. My underwear was up, but my pants were around my knees. The sight of that could be triggering, but my Stars and Stripes boxers kept my patriotism beyond question.

At least there was that. With no traffic to hold it back, the bus raced southward. I returned to my seat and hunkered down.

Lamb of God

Poison Spur had lied about its age. From 2014 until very recently, the desktop version of the site proudly claimed to be “Serving the creeper community since 1999.” While the assessment of my readership is arguably spot on, the year was not. It has since been corrected.

Perhaps “lied” is an overstatement. I did not deliberately set out to spread a falsehood. I merely said what I believed to be true without any fact checking. In that sense, I am no worse than my idiot Facebook friends who share bullshit political memes without bothering to look things up on Snopes.

For the record, Poison Spur made its debut on August 1, 1997. It wasn’t poisonspur.com yet. That wouldn’t happen until the year 2000. It was part of what was then platypus.org, now dcjweb.com since selling the domain name last year. That’s another story, one that has bugger all to do with the point of this post I promise I’ll eventually get to.

Digging through my archives, I managed to find the nascent Poison Spur. It wasn’t a blog yet. It certainly wasn’t called a blog as the term was yet to be coined. It was a webzine, or tried to be. I wrote the content and with the aid of Microsoft Paint and some shareware that converted bitmaps into gifs or jpegs, created its crudely rendered graphics.

It was, all things considered, a piece of shit. There were three bits of writing and a simple message board I wrote in perl that invited visitors to submit dysfunctional haiku. Gaijin cultural appropriation of haiku for laughs was very big back then and my take on it (“The A-Team of Haiku Bastards”) was little more than jumping on the bandwagon.

The three writing pieces weren’t any more impressive. They were each written with a pen-name byline and assuming a separate persona in the vein of columnists in The Onion. These were:

  1. “The 2 am Report” by Drake Weber. This was the worst of the lot, pure frat-boy Bukowski wannabe dog shit.
  2. “Harassed” by Shithammer O’Toole. An uptight office worker has the moves put on him by his creepy, older, middle-aged, female boss. It was kind of amusing, but the reader quickly became aware that they were not nearly as impressed with the narrator’s cleverness as the narrator was.
  3. “Not Like Those Folks Down the Way” by Deborah Agnes Day. In this story, Ms. Day is quick to point out that those around her are nothing but trash then goes on to tell an unsettling tale about her visit to her dying father in the hospital. This one had promise and it was by far the best of the lot, but it was far from perfect. The biggest problem was one I had with a lot of my writing back then. If I liked an ending, I would rush to get there and attention to storytelling be damned.

So basically, I went one-ish for three on the writing pieces. The first two characters weren’t all that interesting because they were based on parts of myself that are not too far from the surface.  If you’ve met me, there’s a good chance you’ve already been exposed to my self-aggrandizing wastrel or my self-satisfied smartass so nothing new there. Deborah Agnes Day was a departure in that she was inspired by another person, a woman named Debbie I dated in 1991. I chose her fictionalized middle and last name because it was a play on agnus dei, Latin for “Lamb of God.”

I met the real-life Debbie at the Crystal Pistol, which was a bar on Valencia Street. She had been introduced to me as the sister of some famous actor with whom she shared a last name. It was pretty unlikely in retrospect, especially when you consider that she was 20 years his junior, but there was no harm in believing it so I did.

We drank until the bar closed. She asked if I had anything to party with. I told her I had some whiskey and acid. She said fine so we went back to my place to extend our first date with some Bushmill’s and LSD.

When the acid kicked in, I was content to rewatch my pirated VHS copy of Tetsuo. I wasn’t entirely sure what the movie was about, but I enjoyed the screaming and bits of metal being shoved into people’s bodies. Tripping made it even better.

Debbie, however, was restless. LSD was not enough for her. She wanted crack cocaine. I had none so off we went to score some at the Valencia Gardens housing projects about five blocks away. It was around 4 am when we left my place.

“You seem like a nice boy. Let me do the talking,” she said to me before approaching  the two men standing in front of the projects. They wore baggy sweats and neither of them appeared to be in a very good mood. I was happy to stand back and observe because I was frying on acid. Then again, so was she.

Words were exchanged. One of the men said something she didn’t like. She told him to go fuck himself.

“Watch your mouth, bitch,” he said and started moving on her.

Debbie jumped back, slid her hand into her jacket, and said, “Back off. I’ve got a gun.”

She had no gun. Meanwhile, I leaned back against the gate of a shuttered storefront and tried to convince myself that this was all just a movie. If it was one, it had a happy one because she managed to complete the transaction with no further flaring of tempers.

It was a lovely first date, but we never did capture that level of magic again. The problem with crazy is that a lot of it isn’t all that much fun, something I should have realized just from looking in the mirror. After all, this was the year when just a few months before, I was getting sloppy-morose drunk and slicing away at my wrist to see how close I could come to a major artery without actually hitting one. And Debbie was even crazier than I was.

At first, that was comforting. I have often sought out fucked-up situations and people so I could feel sane by comparison. With Debbie, I would close my eyes and relax as she told about her dysfunctional family or people she thought were human garbage and deserved to die (given her family, I was surprised there was no overlap). The problems began when my friends started getting added to her shit list.

She had spite in her heart, but no real violence, so no one was in any danger of bodily harm. I figured she sensed that some of my friends disapproved of her (some of them did) and she got defensive. I would say she got defensive a lot.

However, I think there was more to it than that. Having surrounded myself with broken people for much of my life and being one myself, I’ve seen different ways that we can cope. There are those who have put in the work and bettered themselves. These people are inspiring but hard to relate to as part of their transformation is losing the mindset I used to share with them. Then there are those who embrace what is broken about them and live it as performance art. There is a fatalism to these people, but god damn if they don’t bring joy to my heart. I try my best to follow their lead with mixed results.

Rounding out the list are those who combine the worst elements of the preceding two. They refuse to accept where and what they are, but make no effort to rise above it. Instead, they attempt to make peace with themselves by labeling those a little worse off than they are as trash.

On a societal scale, it’s what makes those on the penultimate bottom rung of the class ladder such eager consumers of intolerance and bigotry fed to them by those who profit from the windfalls of divisiveness.  But let’s not place all the blame on evil, manipulative fat cats. Human nature encourages us to be judgmental and backstabby all on our own.

I have certainly been guilty of this and perhaps I am guilty of it now when I say that Debbie was worse than I was by some measure. Then again, maybe she was just less adept at masking her pissy outbursts in the guise of gentle ribbing, heartfelt concern, or what have you. Instead, she would spit my friends’ names out with venom or act out at social gatherings. In the end, she was a once fabulous disaster that turned into a tiresome one so I called it quits after two months. I held no grudge against her after we broke up. As best I could tell, the poor woman never had a chance.

Debbie left school before or shortly after the  8th grade, never to return. Her father had no problem with this. Her education was a small price to pay for having someone around to fetch him a beer or rub his feet. This was by no means a full-time job, leaving Debbie plenty of hours in the day to cultivate drug dependencies that would chart her course through life.

Whatever one might have said about her father’s parenting skills, the man did enjoy a good cigar. Or maybe he chain-smoked White Owls. In any event, he enjoyed enough of them to develop cancer of the jaw. Debbie told me about visiting him in the hospital and the tale impressed me enough to include it in the very first Poison Spur.

When she visited him, the old man was already a goner. His lower jaw had been surgically removed, leaving him unable to speak and with one heck of an overbite, but the operation had failed to take out all of the tumor. And here was Debbie, the little girl whose future he was instrumental in ruining. She had bought him a get-well card. It had a picture of E.T. on it.

“Look,” she said, pointing to the picture on the card. “It’s you, Daddy. It’s you.”

It’s such a wonderful story of payback and I doubt she was consciously trying to get even. It’s a real pity. She should have been able to enjoy this.

As for me, I wish I had done the story justice in 1997. Not for Debbie’s sake, it turned out. There was no chance she would read it. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had already been dead for over a year. She was 38 years old. It was probably an overdose, but I don’t know for sure.

I found Debbie is listed on findagrave.com. There is photo of her grave marker. It is one of those lawn-plaque things set in the grass. It shows her name as Debra, not Deborah.

I didn’t even get that right.

A Frond Indeed

His name was Roger or something like that. It was a long time ago and I’m shit with names. I’m also shit with remembering details from that far back so I invented some to fill in the gaps and others to make the story more compelling. If you look at life without embellishments, it’s pretty pointless stuff.

Roger was older than me, ten years and change, and he was a semi-regular at Espresso Roma Cafe in Santa Barbara. He wore a corduroy sport coat that made him look like an academic, an impression that evaporated as soon as he opened his mouth.

There was something off about Roger, but for the life of me I could not say exactly what. He would stare with his eyes glazed over, spout some random gibberish, and then lapse back into his happy trance. Sometimes he would say something utterly bizarre and misinformed. Other times, it was fairly normal and banal, but with gravity the words did not merit. “This is some weather we’ve been having” would carry the same weight as “This is Britain’s finest hour.” Then there were the times his jaw would move up and down, but no words would come out like he was a dummy whose ventriloquist had laryngitis.

My guess was that he had one or more learning disabilities coupled with one or more mental illnesses. I didn’t know which ones and it would have been rude to ask. I was plenty rude in my 20s, but not that much of a dick. I did have some modicum of empathy. Let’s say, for example, that I saw some thalidomide dude running down the street with his T. rex arms gyrating like burlesque titty tassels. I would have laughed, but only on the inside.

I was never sucker enough for the magical-puddinhead trope to make the Rogers of the world inspirational to me, but he was nice enough and whatever his limitations were, none of them were my responsibility. If he asked me if I knew where the Chumash moved after they sold Santa Barbara to the Spaniards, I would shrug rather than attempt to educate him about the flaw in his premise. If he decided to eat all the packets of non-dairy creamer or leave the cafe and go wander into traffic, I would wish him the best of luck in either endeavor.

As for wanting to rock the college-professor look, who was I to judge? Who knows? If he sewed some elbow pads on his jacket and learned to shut up, he might have been able to pull it off.

I too tried to look like I was worth a shit. With my tie loosened and the sleeves of my button-down Oxford rolled up halfway to the elbow, I strove for the appearance of someone who had endured a rough day at the office. There was some truth in that. My job did require I wear a necktie and my workday usually sucked, but I wasn’t in any office. I was in a department store selling shirts and ties for $4.50 an hour instead of the usual $4 because I had a college degree.

I didn’t have enough money to hang out in a bar after work so I’d head down to the cafe where I would drink coffee and smoke. It was 1987 so cigarettes were cheap and you could smoke anywhere you damn well pleased. People asked me why I didn’t bother changing clothes before I came out and would tell them my place was depressing. It was, but I also hoped that my attire might impress someone who didn’t know any better.

I guess I was damaged too, maybe not as bad as Roger, but still. People who spend a lot of time hanging out in cafes usually are. They’re a lot like people who spend a lot of time in bars though less drunk. The regulars at Espresso Roma Cafe had formed a loose association like one finds in a group of cats. There was the comfort of proximity, but not a lot of camaraderie. Given an excuse to hiss at each other or scatter, we usually would.

The night where the trip to the beach would lead to a trip to the emergency room started uneventfully. Dave B. had cut out early with his teenage-runaway girlfriend and Holden was at the library, no doubt researching William Burroughs and Aleister Crowley to find some detail about either of them he had yet to put in his zine. There were few other familiar faces at the cafe except for Roger’s.

Roger was fading in and out of his usual stream of nonsense and didn’t seem to care if I paid attention, which was fine. That left me time to pour words into my spiral notebook. Like most of my writing from that era, it was a combination self-aggrandizement and self-loathing with an occasional undercurrent of misogyny. I wasn’t hostile toward all women, just the ones who failed to consider my need for validation to be a turn on.

As I scribbled away, I drank coffee and smoked. Coffee, like cigarettes, was cheap back then. A cafe au lait at Espresso Roma cost 90 cents with a 10-cent cumulative discount for each one after the first. You could theoretically drink enough so they would start paying you, but I never attempted it for fear that my kidneys would shut down.

As it stood, I often had so much caffeine in my system, I would likely spend half the night staring at the ceiling sleeplessly and agonizing over every bad move I had ever made in my life. I was only 25 and therefore somewhat limited in the number of mistakes I could have made, but the ones I did make were doozies.

Insomnia would come later. The first order of business was making sure I didn’t have to go to bed with an empty stomach. When the cafe closed at 11, they’d put out the unsold bagels and croissants for the hungry and homeless. I wasn’t homeless, but I was plenty hungry and none too proud.

Fortunately, you didn’t have to be homeless or even look that way as long as you refrained from pushing and shoving while getting your food. Physical aggression has never been my strong suit so I would ensure a decent share by making others lose their appetite. That night, I accomplished this by grabbing a spinach croissant, splitting it open, and saying “Check it out. Chlamydia snatch!” This visual representation was medically inaccurate, but the intended message came across.

People said “ugh” and backed off, giving me plenty of room to make my move. One person who was not grossed out was Roger. I saw him reach for another spinach croissant and he ate it blissfully, slowly chewing with his mouth open and his eyes shut.

A woman called out Roger’s name as she walked into the cafe. She was a little older than Roger and wore an aerobics getup that was a little dingy in spots. I guessed her way of dressing herself was to pick out an outfit she liked then wear it for weeks on end.

“We’re going to have a bonfire on the beach. You should come,” she said to Roger.

“OK, Doreen,” Roger said.

“Great,” she said and waved in her two friends, a man and woman of indeterminate age and matching perms. One of them carried a paper bag containing what I assumed was lighter fluid and perhaps marshmallows. They waved at Roger as they entered.

“We want to go to East Beach. How are we going to get there?” Doreen said.

Roger shrugged.

“I can give you a ride,” I said.

“Yes, thank you. Come with us,” Roger said. “It will be a good fire,” he added with resolve.

Doreen and the perm couple thanked me as well. My car was parked pretty close and we were soon on our way. Roger rode shotgun and the other three sat in the back.

I didn’t expect to be invited along. I just wanted to do a good deed so maybe I would feel better about myself. This seldom worked, which was why my good deeds were so few and far between.

I was happy to join them though. If Doreen and the perms were anything like Roger (and I suspected they were a lot like him), the conversation would be far from scintillating. I was OK with that. Normal, well-adjusted people talked a lot of bullshit as well and they were, if anything, more irritating because they were everywhere. Besides, there was something kind of cool about hanging out at the beach in a necktie and I would get to watch stuff burn. I was too wired on caffeine to go to sleep yet anyway.

It wasn’t a long drive, maybe a couple of miles. Close to half the time was spent waiting for a light to change.  Back then, the 101 stopped being a freeway as it cut through downtown Santa Barbara and there were traffic signals at four intersections. If you got stopped at one, you were looking at a four-minute wait.

None of my passengers said anything about missing the light. They didn’t say anything period, which was a little eerie but kind of welcome. It gave me a chance to think about my day at work.

It was one of the better days. Sure, I had to put up with rich Montecito dowagers who insisted I help find a shirt and tie to match the Rodney Dangerfield plaid sportcoats they bought for their husbands in a failed bid to breathe life into their failed marriages. All I had to do was hold up one combination after another and say “Hmmm” until they picked the worst of the lot. After the ordeal was over, I would often go into the stockroom and take out my frustration by kicking holes in the drywall or taking underwear out of its plastic-tube package and using it to blow my nose.

But that day, there was no need because something wonderful happened. The store manager, Frank Purcell, liked to make the rounds and remind everyone that he was in charge and we were not. If the condition of a sales display failed to meet with his approval, you’d hear about it and usually with some horseshit about “vision.” He sometimes did this with one arm around his underling’s shoulder and the other outstretched as if pointing the way.

Well, someone gave Frank something to get upset about that day. The PA was such that you could page the entire store anonymously from a phone at any register. Some inspired soul used the touch tone to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Frank was standing about 20 feet from me when it happened. He was livid, and better yet, he was powerless .

The light turned green and we were once again on our way. I drove down State St. to the end and made a left on Cabrillo Blvd. After a mile or so, I pulled over, parked, and we all piled out. There was a strip of grass with picnic tables, a line of palm trees, and the beach and ocean beyond that.

It wasn’t until then that I realized that no one had brought any firewood. That’s the number-one ingredient you need for a beach bonfire. What did Roger and his friends intend to burn?

I wasn’t wondering for long. The four descended on one of the palm trees started tearing it apart. They decided this beach had its own firewood supply and I decided it was time to leave. If a cop drove by, it would not have ended well.

“I just remembered I gave to be at work early. Have fun. It was nice meeting you,” I said.

They waved. I waved back and trotted off toward my car. I got in the vehicle and said “Crazy fuckers” to the steering wheel before putting the key in the ignition.

I could see Doreen walking toward the car waving at me. What the hell did she want? She tapped on the window and I rolled it down.

“Roger is bleeding,” she said.

“Bleeding?”

“Yes, he was pulling on the tree and part of it came loose and hit him in the head.”

“Is he OK?”

“Ask him,” she said, pointing past me. I turned and saw Roger on the other side of my car. He had his hand on his forehead with blood dripping between his fingers.

My first instinct was to start the engine, stomp the gas pedal, and get out of there fast. The problem was that Roger was standing real close close to the vehicle, close enough to have stepped off the curb and press his junk against the passenger-side door. If I drove away, I would have run over his feet. That might have funny, but only if someone else had done it.

Fuck. I motioned for him to get in.

“I think I better take him to hospital,” I said to Doreen.

“OK. Roger, we’ll be here when you get back,” she said.

“Palm fronds are sharp. I’m bleeding,” Roger said.

“Yes, all over the inside of my car.”

That was an exaggeration. Roger mostly bled on himself. He took off his corduroy sport coat and used it to wipe drops of blood off the glove compartment. I could see the wound now. His receding hairline provided ample room to showcase the four vertical punctures in his forehead from the frond’s thorns.

We drove off. Through my review mirror, I could see Doreen waving goodbye and the perms continuing to attack the palm tree. I wondered if they would eventually give up, hose down the tree with lighter fluid and set it ablaze. Would they stop at one tree? They might torch a big, long row of them and make East Beach look like the opening scene from Apocalypse Now. I was no longer there so it wasn’t my concern. They could do as they pleased.

I drove toward Cottage Hospital. The emergency room was probably unnecessary, but it was the only place I could think of that took patients at this hour of the night and I wanted Roger to be their patient, not mine.

“She doesn’t deserve it,” Roger said.

“Deserve what?” I asked.

“Her bad reputation.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“Joan Jett.”

“Oh yeah, the song.”

“I met her at a party and she was very nice.”

“Joan Jett?”

“Yes, her reputation should be good.”

I hoped Roger was either lying or delusional. I didn’t want Joan Jett to be good. I wanted her to be bad, to be mean. More to the point, I wanted her to do mean things to me. I had assembled a list of those things over the years. It wasn’t very long, but it was specific. However, there was no point in sharing my thoughts with Roger on this. It was extremely unlikely he would understand so left it filed under Things That Were Never Going To Happen Anyway.

We pulled into the hospital parking lot and I got him into the emergency room. After sitting him down, I went to the desk and explained his situation to a nurse there. She said that someone would see to him, but since his injury was minor it might take a while.

That suited me fine. It could take all night. I had already done my job. I left the hospital without telling Roger goodbye.

I didn’t see Roger for some time after that, which may or may not have had anything to do with the events of that night. People come and go all the time.

I eventually ran ran into him one afternoon when I went for a burger at Wendy’s. Roger wasn’t wearing his corduroy sport coat because he was working there. There was a mop in his hand and he was cleaning up the floor where a child had vomited. He smiled and waved when he saw me. The holes in his forehead had completely healed.

Microchips

The ten o’clock hour was approaching. We would soon have to put away our phones and pay attention to…well, it didn’t matter what we paid attention to as long as it wasn’t our phones. On Thursday night at Aunt Charlies, that was the rule.

This rule was by order of the evening’s deejay. I’m not sure what the reason was behind it. Maybe he wanted to create an atmosphere of a simpler time. There is evidence to support this. His musical selection was disco and the posters he hung on the walls were scenes from cruisy bars in the pre-AIDS 1970s that featured men sporting Tom of Finland fashions and Barry Gibb hair. Then again, perhaps the deejay was just a fascist attention whore.

A bigger question might be why I was hanging out there. Not because it’s a gay bar. I already had that worked out. No, the question was why an unapologetic smartphone junkie such as myself would willingly deprive himself of his Wikipedia and Google fix.

There were two answers for that. One was that I had been going out every night so one more wouldn’t hurt plus I had just blogged so celebration was in order. The second was I wanted to write something scathing (or at least pissy) about these anti-smartphone scolds and figured close proximity to one of them might give me some insights.

I had been to Aunt Charlies on the first Thursday of January and managed to stay well past 10 pm. That excursion too came on the heels of posting to my blog. The difference was that on that night, I wanted to stay off my phone as I was fast approaching the limit on my data plan before getting hit with an overage fee.

On this past Thursday though, there was no data-usage crisis so insights be damned, I decided to bail. I took BART back to the hood and went to Mission Bar where nobody gives a shit what you do with your phone.

It should have been a slice of heaven, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t too far into my first drink there when I realized that I just wanted to go home. I had no complaints against the bartender or the bar. I had just hit my saturation point and was sick of it all.

That’s what launched me on my journey through the next four nights of near sobriety. I wasn’t completely on the wagon. I had a glass of wine at home on Saturday night and another one on Sunday, but there was no scotch, no bars, and no walking through the Tenderloin hoping its crusty denizens congregating on street corners would leave me the hell alone.

So what did I do? Mostly I hung out at home and binge watched “Bojack Horseman” with Rebecca. She was taking a breather from barfly duties as well so we got to enjoy each other’s company as homebodies.

I have a number of friends who have given up drinking for good. They each had their own reasons and from what I can see, it was a wise decision for every one of them. I may have to go that route one day myself, but I hope I don’t.

I enjoy the dissipation of seedy bars and drink. I just don’t have it in me to pursue it full time. Or even most of the time as was the case in my liver-spanking heyday. Now I need to periodically step back, let my triglycerides drop, and brace myself for what a lack of alcohol does to my brain.

For the most part, it’s the dreams that ambush me. I don’t know if the Terri Schiavo cerebral flatline of booze-brain slumber creates a backlog of things to dream about or if it just erodes my ability to deal with what my psyche throws at me when the dreams return. All I know is that first night has me jolted awake in the wee hours feeling a little traumatized by a combination of personal demons and plain old weird shit.

So I guess you could say I get high on life. Tripping balls on life also works. Overall, these little spells of sobriety or near sobriety do me a world of good. It’s like rebooting a computer. You don’t know what it does exactly, but it sure does something.

The benefits are subtle because the nights when I do misbehave are not too extreme. On weekends, this means getting up early and walking to Trash Muddy’s with a spring in my step rather than stumbling into the kitchen and get my coffee from the Keurig with its individual plastic containers to rape the Earth with each serving.

On work days, the current presence or absence of a hangover (really a hangover lite) has more to do with how I feel than any impact on my job performance. If I tied one on the night before, I may blink a few more times while putting a thought together, but that’s about it. Gone are the days when I would duck into the restroom and have the dying-allosaurus sounds of my dry heaves echo throughout the office.

I wonder if there is something akin to AA for people who want to stop drinking, but only for a short while. The Big Book would be excessive.  A flashcard would do. Much smaller poker chips would be awarded for staying sober a couple of days, or perhaps just a few hours. (The poker-chip thing has always struck me as a bit odd. Are members of Gamblers Anonymous awarded mini bottles of booze? But I digress.)

The funny thing about moderation is that it too should be done in moderation. Tuesday evening was upon me. Soon enough I would be perched on a barstool and having well scotch work its magic upon my brain. It would be worth braving the elements and the walk through the sketchy neighborhood to get there. I put on my boots and headed out the door, secure in the knowledge that a thousand miles of going in circles begin with a single step.

And a Chimp Shall Wipe Its Ass

I make good use of the Memo app on my Android. Much of this is jotting various passwords that would have been hard enough to remember in my prime and now almost impossible to as the merciless onslaught of years and booze turns my brain into pudding.

Another use of the app is to jot down ideas to write about. Years ago, I would take a spiral notebook to the bar with me and scribble away as I drank Jameson, trying to commit as much as I could before my brain fogged over entirely. The next day, I would salvage what I could, clean it up a bit, and post it to my blog.

Now  I do most of my writing sober during my long bus commute. Ideas still pop into my head while I’m out drinking, but now I just write enough so I can remember them later. Few of them merit more than a brief glance the following day. These include liquor fueled outpourings of self-pity (“I am old and gross. I need to die.”) and attempts at pithiness with the kind of profundity that dies in a sober brain  (“It’s not a conspiracy, but it doesn’t need to be.”)

Others are amusing enough as quips, but I’m not quite sure what to do with them. Both “A dwarf vampire hunter named ‘Minivan Helsing'” and “A woman in wooden shoes whom you can shit on. Her name is ‘Toilet Clogs'” are chuckle-worthy, but I can’t think of a story to put either of them in. OK, maybe Ms. Clogs can make an appearance in some future installment of the “Future Poo” saga, but she’s not going to get a starring role. Rhea Dyer she ain’t.

There was one note, jotted down too long ago for me to remember where or when I thought of it, that seemed to have some real potential. It was simply a title, but one of a story that demanded to be told. The title was this:

“Suispritle: A ‘Speed Racer’ Tragedy”

This would not be the first time I had blogged about “Speed Racer.” Last August, I wrote about how the cartoon show would be vastly improved with the addition of tentacle porn. I wasn’t exactly going out on a limb there. Tentacle porn improves everything. It is the bacon of television and film. Heck, I bet it could even make The Breakfast Club watchable.

I also threw in a bit about Spritle and Chim Chim in a bucking 69 because a child and an animal engaged in a sexual act is never not funny. Now the party was over and I wanted the kid to kill himself, if only to make use of that delightful “Suispritle” wordplay.

There was just one catch: I wanted the story to not suck. This may come as a surprise to many of you who are familiar with my work and I am the first to admit that I am no perfectionist. Still, my blog is not a bathroom wall or some survivor support group I have decided to troll. I am not anonymous here. My name is on everything I post so it’s important that I do my best to produce a piece of writing that succeeds on its own terms. I don’t bat a thousand, but at least I make the effort.

One of my first steps is to get mentally familiar enough with what I want to write to dive in with confidence. This does not always mean I have to have the whole thing mapped out in my head. Often I just have a general direction of where I want to go and the destination turns out to be no less a surprise to me than it is to the reader.

This was not one of those times. I had a pretty clear idea about what the beginning and the end were going to be. Spritle has committed suicide and Chim Chim has found the body. A suicide note is in Spritle’s lifeless hand. Chim Chim opens the note and stares at the paper. The middle part of the story is the note itself, in which Spritle explains why decided to take his own life. Unfortunately, chimpanzees cannot read so Chim Chim wipes his ass with the piece of paper and throws it in the trash.

I liked that ending a lot. It deals with two of my favorite subjects: pointlessness and excrement. The only thing I had to do was was come up a suicide note a ten year old kid would write.

And that’s where it all fell apart.

I thought it would be a breeze to write that note. Though I have never attempted suicide, I am no stranger to its ideation. I know what it’s like to want out. The thing is that the appeal of doing myself in didn’t happen until I was considerably older than Spritle so I had no personal experience to draw from.

Perhaps Spritle saw suicide as the only escape from an endless cycle of abuse. So who was his abuser? Maybe Pops Racer liked to lift up his beer gut and plow his youngest child’s pooper with his throbbing four-inch pork nub. Or maybe it was someone else.

It hardly matters because that scenario won’t work. So a young victim is unwittingly silenced by his simian friend, allowing the guilty party to get off scot free. It’s amusing, but not what I’m after. I want his pain to be an indictment of us all, not some tiresome #metoo pablum. Besides, it’s lazy writing to ignore everything about his being a mischievous, high-spirited glutton with a simple “yes, but ass rape.”

As for other options, I got nothing.

In the end, he gets to live because I lack the chops to properly kill him off. That’s a depressing thought, one a cheerful little scamp like Spritle would never understand.