Penny from Heaven (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She did not know how right she was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penny from Heaven (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earl just loved those skirts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Privilegemobile 11: A Better Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bet that sounds familiar as well.

Backup Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cat Who Cheated Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All the Fingers and Toes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bench Warrant (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas night came.

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

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

“You’re poisoning me?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

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

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

Meanwhile, his mother giggled into her napkin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy’s mother died later that night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bitch weren’t shit,” he said.

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

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

Bench Warrant (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begging seemed to be his calling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second was 9/11.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.