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Learning from Nature’s Mistakes

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding home on BART. The train wasn’t that crowded but I decided to stand near the door rather than risk sitting next to someone with a relaxed sense of personal hygiene. When we stopped at Civic Center station, I woman got on pushing a stroller by me.

I looked down and expected to see an infant or toddler. Instead, what looked up at me was some sort of retarded midget, old enough to have smile lines. This person grinned a mindless little grin, expressing a sentiment of “Hi, what’s your name?” or possibly “I like to go to the pet store and eat mice.”

I never found out which. Like most cowards presented with an uncomfortable bit of reality, I looked away and pretended he wasn’t there.

One of the worst aspects of human nature is our tendency to distance ourselves from the misfortune of others. More often than not, it’s completely unnecessary. That guy in the stroller was dealt a lousy hand but I’m pretty sure that whatever ails him isn’t catching. Yet, we will spare no ugliness in convincing ourselves that catastrophic bad luck could never happen to us.

Some take the morally righteous tack and may react to the stroller guy something like “Only fornication could produce such a vile offspring. They have disobeyed God’s law. Behold the homonculus, proof positive that contempt breeds a familiar.”

OK, most people aren’t that harsh, at least not out loud.

I usually deal with the situation by thinking up something comically grotesque. My coping mechanism in this instance was “To fight terrorism, we’re going to need a lot of these mutants. Imagine a phalanx of them, drooling, gibbering, and armed with meat cleavers. Charge the enemy with that kind of fighting force and we’ll convert every one of those rat bastards to Christianity (after they’ve finished pissing themselves with fear, that is). Praise Jesus!”

I can be a real shit sometimes.

Tequila Sunrise Superman

Superman, at least as an engaging character, died in 1978 when the movie came out. I was a teenager at the time and as such, my attention was directed far more toward Wonder Woman than the Man of Steel. Don’t get me wrong. Truth, justice, and the American way were all laudable goals but none of them could hold a candle to a chick whose anatomy defied gravity and who enjoyed tying guys up with her golden lasso. Still, I went to see the Superman flick and left the theater shaking my head in disappointment.

To be honest, I enjoyed most of the movie. Christopher Reeve, who could not only walk but fly back then was well suited to the title role and Margot Kidder was still on her meds, making her a competent Lois Lane. The biggest problem I had was the Superman character was lame from the get go. He had way too many powers. As long as he steered clear of kryptonite, he could save the world without breaking a sweat.

This does not make for exciting storytelling. When you think about it, the only real challenge Superman ever faces is arriving in the nick of time to stop the forces of evil. In the 1978 film, even that was thrown out the window.

If you recall, Big S missed a crucial deadline, allowing Lois to get buried alive and leaving her dead as a stump. No matter, he just spun the earth in reverse to make time move back to the point where Lois was still breathing.

If you think this just ruined the movie, think about what it did to the Man of Steel’s work ethic. When you schedule gets that flexible, the tendency to procrastinate increases and after a while, your whole life goes to hell.

So let’s move ahead 23 years. It’s September 11, 2001, shortly before noon. Superman is lying in a bed littered with empty Cuervo and Donald Duck orange juices bottles. He wakes up and rubs his eyes. There are 48 messages on his answering machine but his head hurts too bad to deal with them just then. He turns on the TV and sees what everybody else saw that fateful day.

“Well, fuck me with a speeding bullet,” he muses. “This is going to get a lot worse until it gets any better. I’ll do the time-reverse thing and fix all this shit when I’m in the mood.”

The world is still waiting.

Three-Step Program

Alcoholism is a disease. While there is no cure, I have found this to be an effective treatment:

1. Avoid Jager shots. The same goes for tequila, Everclear, or huffing paint thinner in a back alley.

2. Order club-soda backs when drinking whiskey. Not only will a few pints over the course of an evening save you a world of hurt the next day, the bubbles tickle delightfully when vomited through the nostrils.

3. Knock back a Red Bull when you start to flag. You want to feel chipper as the evening progresses and the appearance of other bar patrons starts to improve. Stronger energy supplements, especially those of South American origin, are to be eschewed as they can lead to paranoia, erectile dysfunction, and sophmoric stupidity one tries to pass off as insightful wit.

This has been a Poison Spur public-service announcement. Please enjoy responsibly.

Salad Days Revisited

People who know me now are often shocked when they learn that I was a frat boy in college. I suppose that’s fair. I’m sure my old fraternity brothers experience some sort of cognitive dissonance when remembering that they let me join. No matter. I moved up to San Francisco so I could fly my freak flag full time and they do whatever it is that Republicans in San Diego do for fun. I wish them all well.

This is not to say I’ve completely lost contact with the old gang. I still get email from time to time, keeping me up to date with the other alumni. Fortunately, I’m still young enough to not dread the news of someone’s death in each and every electronic newsletter.

Today’s news was about Rob Ilko, who is current running for San Diego City Council. If you live in District 5, you may want to consider voting for him. I don’t know his experience or his stand on local issues, but can vouch for his character. If you’re looking for dirt, I doubt you’ll find any. You see, he and I were at a lot of the same parties and I never saw him do anything truly disgusting. He can behave himself. We need that quality in government.

But what do I know? It’s been over twenty years. I sent this email just to make sure he’s on the up and up.

Dear Brother Rob,

Congratulations on your foray into the world of politics. I have no doubt that if elected, you will prove to be a fine city councilmember. I only have one question. Are you amenable to graft? You see, commercial real-estate development is one of my many interests and I would like to build massage parlors and adult bookstores next to the elementary schools in your district.

Now we both know that such business ventures may cause an outcry among concerned parents and other killjoys, but not to worry. Never underestimate the persuasive power of a burning tire hurled through the living-room window.

You just keep the zoning commission and law enforcement looking the other way and we’ll both be rolling in dough.

Fraternally Yours,

Brother Dave

So far, he has not taken me up on my offer. I am impressed and you should be too. Please vote for him both early and often.

I’m Back

I took some time off from blogging. It wasn’t that I had run out of things to say. It’s just that my words were best said after five or six whiskeys and yelled at some woman at the other end of the bar who wasn’t going to fuck me anyway.

This was a waste of my muse. The world is full of people who won’t fuck me and if I feel the need to yell, the “Caps Lock” is my friend.

God bless

Earth in the Balance

Not to worry. The pugs will return. In the mean time, please take a moment to be enlightened by the following public-service announcement:

Every so often, a movie comes along that really makes you think about the effect we human beings have on the planet. No, I’m not referring to An Inconvenient Truth. I know a lot of you are saying, “Ooh, Al Gore! He should have been president instead of Monkey Boy and even though his wife is a real buzzkill, we just love him.” These are all valid points but just hear me out.

The movie I’m talking about is Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster. Monday night’s bartender brought the video to work with him and played it all the customers. I must say that I was impressed. I was also drunk. That and watching the film with the sound turned off inspired me to read a plot synopsis from IMDB in order to fill in the gaps.

This research confirmed what I began to suspect after my third drink: this was the most important environmental movie ever made.

In the film, a malevolent behemoth piggybacks to earth on a meteorite and starts devouring pollution (hey, it could happen). Now then, reverse logic might dictate that a creature living on a diet of Japanese industrial waste would shit bonsai and cherry blossoms. Not so in this case. Instead, Hedorah (the Smog Monster) spends his after-meal time spewing flatulence more noxious than an old Chevy Impala with a dead rat in the oil pan.

Something must be done. But if you’re familiar with movies of this genre, you already know that the Japanese military is about as effective against giant monsters as it was against the Enola Gay. Therefore, it’s up to Godzilla (née Gojira) to save the world. Needless to say, Big G tears Ol’ Smoggy a new one. The movie ends with people realizing that their polluting ways have brought calamity upon themselves and humanity better clean up its act pronto.

The movie was released in 1971. Think about what the planet would be like if we had heeded its message then. For one thing, we wouldn’t have to endure some political has been who thinks enough of his message to drone on about for almost two hours but not enough to put on a rubber suit and start laying down the smack.

Confessions of a Pug-Room Addict (Part 2)

A taxi came around the corner and pulled up along the curb in front of me. The driver leaned over to the passenger side and rolled down the window. He had a disarming smile that contrasted intense eyes that would have fit nicely in a larger head.

“Pugs?” he asked.

The bullet holes in the side of the vehicle were a little disconcerting but the service was prompt and friendly. I nodded, got into the cab, and off we went.

“I’m Igor,” he said, turning around to shake my hand as we sailed through a red light.

“Dave. Pleased to meet you,” I said. Taking note of his name, I checked his back for a hump. There wasn’t one.

“This is your first time. Yes? Here, you better drink this then,” he said, handing me a shot glass-sized vial full of murky liquid.

I didn’t have to ask what the contents were. Moral crusaders against pug rooms had been all over the news recently, making sure the use of that stuff got plenty of press. Called “pug potion” or “vitamin P,” it was at the time the only illicit component of the subculture. Its ingredients were reputed to be MDMA, schnapps (peppermint or peach), St. John’s wort, and a blend of antioxidants added to appeal to the health-conscious consumer.

“No trans fat,” Igor assured me.

I unscrewed the vial and knocked back the liquid in one gulp. The schnapps was peach. I would know about the rest of the concoction soon enough.

Igor said it was going to be long ride, all the way to the Outer Richmond district but told me not to worry about cab fare. Transportation there was complimentary for first-time customers. He asked me if I wanted to listen to some music and I said OK. Techno blasted from the car stereo and made conversation impossible for the rest of the trip.

When we reached our destination, we were way out in the Avenues, just a few block from the beach. The cab pulled into the driveway of an auto-repair shop with the sign:

KHRUSCHCHEV’S TUNE-UPS
“We denounce stallin’!”

Igor said the entrance was in the back and I was expected. I thanked him for the ride and pug potion and got out of the taxi into the cold night, blanketed by fog.

There was no light along the side of the building and I stepped on some guy passed out in the walkway.

“Pugs,” he said and went back to sleep.

I reached the door at the rear of the building without further incident and knocked on the door. A middle-aged man who wore his toupee at a rakish angle answered.

“Oh do come in. I am Anton, the habitat’s liaison, ” he said with an accent that seemed to come from someplace in Europe but it was hard to tell exactly where. I’d traveled quite a bit on the continent but never made it Andorra so I decided he must come from there.

I stepped past him and into a room that was decorated in such a way that could only be described as “International Pug.” Shelves were adorned with Asian figurines of the breed and Delft Blue plates depicting them frolicking with their clog-shod owners. On the far wall hung a large velvet painting of an Aztec warrior in full headdress cradling a lifeless, supine pug in one arm. His free hand was pinching a teat.

Like the room, Anton was dressed to impress. His decision to greet visitors in a robe and smoking a pipe was no doubt an effort to impart a Hugh Hefner mystique. If he had opted for satin instead of terry cloth, the overall effect would have been a little more Hef and a little less Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man. Still, I had a hard time faulting the man because he had the most adorable little pug at the end of a leash. I wanted to be sociable but not knowing quite what to say to an Andorran, I struck up a conversation with the dog instead.

“What’s shakin’, girlfriend?” I asked, crouching down to pug level.

“It’s a he, and he’s not one of the love pugs. He is my personal pet. That’s why he is neutered.”

“You don’t do that to the others?”

“Oh no. We found that there is greater enthusiasm from animals who have not been fixed. By the way, is name is Fenrir, from the wolf in Norse mythology.”

“Hiya Funrear,” I said to the dog. ” Do you know what I am? I’m intact. You’re not. And I see that look in your eye. Yes I do. It’s envy. That’s one of the seven deadly sins. Yes it is. And do you know what the punishment for that sin is? It’s castration, so I guess you have nothing to worry about.”

“Please sir,” said Anton. “We’re on a bit of a tight schedule. If you could kindly disrobe completely and place your clothes in that basket, the attendant will be with you shortly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some matters to see to.”

He led the dog out and I got undressed. I stood there naked for a minute or two before a door opened and Classy Lady asked me to follow her into another room. I never did catch her name and refer to her as “Classy Lady” because that is what was tattooed on her neck.

She was American, which almost seemed out of place at this point. Judging from her twang and how she did not remove the lit cigarette from her mouth when she spoke, I guessed she hailed from somewhere in the rural South.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” she said. “You ain’t got nothing I ain’t seen plenty of. I had five brothers.”

We entered a carpeted room with the walls and ceiling painted black. A steroid-enhanced Russian stood in the corner with his eyes crossed, eying me. Classy Lady told me to stand on the tarp laid out in the middle of the floor.

“Now spread your goddamn arms out. You know, like Jesus,” she added. “I’ll be back in a second.”

She returned with a pewter soup tureen and a paintbrush. She then started basting me head to toe with lukewarm beef bouillon.

That’s when the pug potion hit me. Every stroke of the brush sent a tidal wave firing synapses through my brain. I began to hyperventilate. Classy Lady finished up just before I thought I was going to have a seizure. I barely had the mental wherewithal to acknowledge her telling me it was time to lie down on the tarp.

I got on the floor and looked up to see the large man smiling at me with an impressive array of gold teeth.

“You party now,” he said.

Both he and Classy Lady left the room, turning off the light and closing the door behind them. I lay there staring into the darkness, hearing nearby snorting and grunting. Then there was the sound of a metal panel sliding open.

A moment later, the pugs were all over me.

Confessions of a Pug-Room Addict (Part 1)

It was my first time inside of a community center and it was every bit as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was in a classroom of sorts with cracked walls and water stains on the acoustic ceiling tiles. There were posters with rainbows and platitudes and the desks where we sat had gang logos carved into them. The woman leading the meeting was much like the center itself, underfunded and beginning to sag.

I didn’t want to be there but when you’ve been charged with a felony sex crime and then offered a deal that will keep you out of jail, you take it.

“We have a new face among us,” the woman said, leveling her laser pointer so it put a red dot in the middle of my forehead. “Why don’t you stand up and introduce yourself?”

“Uh, my name’s Dave and I’m a pug-oholic.”

“HI DAVE!”

Jesus.

How did I manage to sink so low so fast? It was not all that long ago that I was at the top of my game with a good job and an awesome girlfriend. Sure, I also had an active interest in dog porn, but no more so than one would expect from any man with a healthy libido.

It all began one night after an especially stressful day at work. I had managed to delete some vital data files by accident and was unsuccessful in my attempts to delegate blame to an intern. The subsequent ass chewing I received soured me on all of humanity.

“Tough day?” asked asked Betty when I got home, noticing my clenched fists as I walked in.

“Fuck you,” I explained and headed into the room with the computer, closing the door behind me. There was only one thing that would improve my spirits, danceswithlegs.com. God bless the internet.

Betty was no stranger to my mood swings and had learned to adapt accordingly. I heard the low hum of her vibrator from the bedroom as I booted the computer and went to my favorite website.

The latest “Mutt of the Month” looked quite fetching. “Fatima” the Saluki had long, beautiful flowing ears and despite the name, not an ounce of fat on her. She was wearing some sort of weird leather bondage harness, which I thought was completely unnecessary. However, I was open minded enough to realize that they had a business to run and therefore must cater to kinky perverts as well.

At the top of the page, there was a banner ad that would change my life forever. It read:

Forget Pug Room Ripoffs! Ours Is The Real Deal!!
Our Pugs Give Their All!!! That’s 700% in Dog Love!!!! (Visa/MC)

Pug rooms had been making the headlines lately as the latest craze for those into pushing the erotic envelope. The practice was in a gray area legally. You didn’t actually have sex with the dogs. Instead, you took advantage of the breed’s affectionate nature by lying on the floor naked and letting them do all the work (perfect for me). The first pug room opened at a kennel in the red-light district of Amsterdam. It wasn’t long before the Russian mafia muscled in on the operation and expanded the business into a word-wide phenomenon.

The legal status was about to change. Shortly after pug rooms began to spring up in major cities across the United States, there was an outcry among religious conservatives, animal-rights activists, and other groups given to outcries no matter what. Dianne Feinstein (an obvious cat person) drafted legislation to make ownership, operation, and participation in a pug room a federal crime. Needless to say, the bill sailed through both houses of Congress and was sitting on the president’s desk waiting to be signed into law. As a born-again Christian, there was no way he was going to veto the thing. If I was going to try the pug-room experience,waiting around was not an option.

From the bedroom, the vibrator notched up a couple of settings. Its drone was quite audible now and from where I sat, its message was loud and clear: Betty was making the best of a dreary evening and so should I. I mentally thanked her for her wise counsel and clicked on the ad.

I was redirected to a page that asked me for my credit-card information (to be billed to “Best In Show Productions”), my home address, and a phone number where I could be reached. There was also the option of booking a date and time for an appointment or simply clicking a box marked “ASAP.” In light of a law-enforcement crackdown on the horizon, I chose the latter.

Ten minutes later, my cell phone rang. The voice on the line had a heavy Russian accent.

“David Charles Jennings?”

“Speaking.”

“Your credit is goodnik. Are you home now?”

“Yes.”

“Da. Please wait outside. We send car to acquire you.”

That was fine by me. Betty had cranked up her toy to a level where I could feel the vibrations in my molars. I wanted to be out the door and on my way before it went to maximum power and started setting off car alarms.

I left my apartment and stood on the sidewalk to wait. A cold, unforgiving wind was blowing in from the north. For a moment, a thought ran through my head that I should just go back inside and forget the whole thing.

That notion quickly passed. It was too late for that now. I had already paid my money. If I was in for a penny, I was in for the pound.

Quatrain in Vain

I’ve been itching to weigh in on the Nostradamus controversy. OK, there is no controversy to anyone without boundless credulity but that hasn’t always been the issue, at least not with me. Back when I was addled by youth, I wanted to believe that the predictions were more than the opaque ramblings of some crazy old French guy. Scoff if you must, but Nostradamus touched my heart.

Actually, it wasn’t Nostradamus himself who did the touching. His writings, simultaneously overwrought and and vague, are a painful read. But did he predict the future? Well, if you believe a passage like “In the wake of the storm, one shall reign supreme” specifically points to Napoleon, Hitler, or the last guy to win on “American Idol,” the answer is yes.

I would have written off Nostradamus and his paranormal hooey if it weren’t for the fine 1981 film, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow. Not only was this movie on a credibility par with such gems as Chariots of the Gods and The Legend of Boggy Creek, it was hosted by filmdom’s most glorious has-been, Orson Welles.

The first third of the flick, dealing with the life of Nostradamus, is the least watchable. Much if it consists of interminable scenes of Ren Faire background music and some guy wandering around in a rented robe and fake beard. The next part, showing how spot-on his predictions have been, had some nifty archive footage of death and destruction, but where the movie and Orson Welles both shine is the final third. Here the viewer was treated to all kinds of grim predictions for the future.

For a man who looked like he just made four trips to the buffet table and polished off a couple of bottles of Paul Masson, Orson still had plenty of appetite to chew the scenery. Nowhere was that appetite more ravenous as when he warned of the dire shitstorm that awaited us all. His eyes bugged and his jowls quivered as he told us that life was going to start getting real nasty in 1987 and downright apocalyptic by 1991. What lay in store included earthquakes, thermonuclear war, and the resulting wasteland populated by mutant cannibals.

“Sign me up!” was my reaction the first time I saw the flick. I was a piss-poor student at a Z-list university back then and my future prospects were pretty much limited to mediocrity or suicide. Global catastrophe, being a great equalizer, would change all that. The playing field would be level. I wouldn’t have to worry about some Ivy Leaguer giving me attitude, even if circumstance forced me to gnaw human femurs in my irradiated hovel. “Don’t throw stones, Biff. Your last meal came from sucking an infant’s brains out through its fontanel.”

Alas, such events never came to pass. There were to be no mushroom clouds or human entrees, just rent checks due and the inevitable decline that comes from growing old. Nostradamus was relegated to false prophet, a role shared by punk rock, romantic love, and the failed promise of all my hopes and dreams. Thank goodness drugs and alcohol never let me down.

Years went by without even giving Nostradamus a passing thought. Then a few weeks ago, there was new show about him on the History Channel. Maybe the old boy deserved another chance. Besides, I was too hung over to do anything else that afternoon.

I was expecting Armageddon with a 21st-century makeover, but no such luck. A total meltdown of the planet is so Cold War. If civilization is to be brought to its knees these days, it is going to be done piecemeal. Current worse-case scenarios may include a radiological bomb in one city and an anthrax outbreak in another, but there won’t be any ICBMs crisscrossing the globe and reducing it to a cinder. Like it or not, the earth is going to stick around for a while.

So what did the show tell me? Well, I learned more about Nostradamus himself than in the 1981 film, that he was basically a quack who earned his living practicing medicine without finishing school and taking credit for any event that bore any resemblance to one of his murky prophecies. Nice work if you can get it.

He also predicted the JFK assassination, Hitler (this was the History Channel, after all), the obligatory 9/11, and a number of other events most viewers could easily recognize without having to think too hard. No mention was made to Rwanda, Darfur, or Chechnya. It would appear as though Nostradamus and CNN have the same views on what is newsworthy.

Knowing what I do of human history between his day and now, I am of the opinion that Nostradamus’ predictions are hardly worth notice even if he did possess some level of clairvoyance. He was always too fond of bright shiny objects to prophesy anything about developing trends, changing economies, and gradual changes in global power. If it couldn’t fit neatly in a Jerry Bruckheimer film, he didn’t want to know about it.

Sure he could point out that mass destruction is bad, but how about some advice that’s not completely obvious? Should we aggressively pursue renewable energy? Or to compete with our economic rivals in China, should we concentrate instead on renewable organs, dismissing any outcry over prison donors with a conciliatory “Can’t we all just get a lung?”

We’d be no less clueless if he had never existed.

HPL Remembered

It is a topic not openly discussed, even among antiquarians and scholars of forbidden tomes, who admit no direct connexion to the event but only refer to it in hushed tones and coded innuendo. For words cannot describe the unspeakable dread one feels when reflecting upon the passing of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who succumbed to the vilest of afflictions three score and ten years ago this very day.