A Frond Indeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK, Doreen,” Roger said.

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

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

Roger shrugged.

“I can give you a ride,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Roger is bleeding,” she said.

“Bleeding?”

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

“Is he OK?”

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

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

Fuck. I motioned for him to get in.

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

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

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

“Yes, all over the inside of my car.”

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

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

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

“She doesn’t deserve it,” Roger said.

“Deserve what?” I asked.

“Her bad reputation.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“Joan Jett.”

“Oh yeah, the song.”

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

“Joan Jett?”

“Yes, her reputation should be good.”

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

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

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

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

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

Microchips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a Chimp Shall Wipe Its Ass

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

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

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

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

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

“Suispritle: A ‘Speed Racer’ Tragedy”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s where it all fell apart.

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

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

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

As for other options, I got nothing.

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

Chipping Away at the Cold, Dead Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 GB Or Not 2 GB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my world, this is what passes for adversity.

Happy Landings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future Poo Holiday Special (Part 3)

Yet-To-Come

“Sorry buddy, you can’t come in.”

“Why the hell not? I’ve been here before.”

“Not looking like this, you haven’t. We’re closing early anyway because it’s Christmas Eve. Why don’t you just go home?”

Dick could see that the doorman would not listen to reason. Perhaps he would listen to bribery.

“I can pay the five-cent cover,” Dick said, waving a nickel bag of future-poo black tar in the man’s face.

“You take that scag and get out of here before I call the cops.”

“I’ll be back with a Molotov fucking cocktail, you piece of shit.”

Dick stomped away from the club that tried very hard to be Studio 54. He put the heroin back in his coat pocket and fumbled around in there. There were a lot more bags of the stuff. He vaguely remembered grabbing them, but his recollections have been hazy of late. Even if it weren’t laced with future poo, smack wasn’t his thing. He must have taken it for its barter value, which now proved itself to be limited.

He turned right at the corner and started walking uptown. The doorman’s crack about his looks stung. He stopped and took a look at his reflection in a shop window. Christ, he was a mess.

He was back on the boner blow with a vengeance and his once form-fitting disco pants had their elasticity ruined through prolonged stretching. The fabric under Dick’s tumescence, starched and scaly, flapped back and forth like a pelican’s neck pouch. As unsettling a visual as that was, it was nothing compared to the rash covering most of his face. There was not only redness, but also cracks in the skin and hives that seeped.

It was an allergic reaction to future poo. He had never experienced one this severe and long lasting, but he had never been exposed to it the way he had back in late November. It was horrible and also so unnecessary. Dick thought about the events leading up to it and put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Josef Mengele and Edith Massey.

If Felix got the advance on the South American deal, he was going to spend part of that money to hire Edith Massey to play the older, heavier Tiny Quim. After the Jonestown massacre, Mengele could have at least tried to come up with an alternative plan. Instead, he cut bait. By the same token, Massey could have agreed to perform for delayed payment or equity, but she opted to simply stop returning Felix’s phone calls.

Oscar was undeterred. He was dead set on the scene where the not so Tiny Quim would take a shit on Ebenezer Spooge’s face. And if they couldn’t get the real Edith Massey, they would just have to create one of their own.

After many hours of work, Oscar constructed a bloated papier-mâché replica of Ms. Massey that resembled the actress in so far as she too resembled a bloated creation of papier-mâché. With its chicken-wire frame and heavy weights in the feet, the ersatz Edith was able to remain in a crouched position without falling over.

The big scene was ready for filming. Rhea donned a black robe to play the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come, which required a lot of pointing but no speaking of lines. She was a little short to pull off the Grim Reaper look effectively, but fortunately, this was the 1970s so platform shoes were easy to come by.

Dick positioned himself under her gaping anus and Oscar yelled  “Action.” The papier-mâché figure was loaded with future poo and because Oscar felt no need to limit the amount to what a human being could produce in a single bowel movement, pretty much the entire interior was filled.

The plug was pulled and over 100 pounds of future poo was dumped on Dick’s face. The way his arms and legs flailed about, he looked like he might be in trouble, but it was also movie magic so Oscar kept filming for two solid minutes. When it was over, he scraped the future poo off Dick and slapped his face to revive him (Oscar was not about to attempt mouth-to-mouth).  Dick seemed OK despite having swallowed some of the stuff and almost suffocating. The allergic reaction didn’t kick in until several hours later and had since shown little sign of abating.

“I told you that pant-load porn was no good, you nasty man!” shouted a voice behind him.

Dick spun around and saw it was that prostitute from the Chelsea Hotel lobby. She stood with her hands on her hips and laughed at him cruelly. She might have warned him, but she was also very glad it happened. He hated her, but knew he would be on the losing side of a physical altercation, so he limped away toward Times Square where a monster like him would just be another face in the crowd.

He shuffled along the blinking lights of the vice pits while voices in the shadows offered every illicit substance available in 1978. They didn’t have what he wanted, but having stolen all of Felix’s boner blow when he grabbed the heroin, he still had a sizable supply.

He tried to remember why he took the stuff and ran. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but for reasons he could not recall and probably would not hold up under scrutiny. He thought harder. That was it. It was the means to cut loose and start over, and as he suspected, it turned out to be a stupid move in retrospect. On the plus side, this was a good place to sell his surplus smack.

He was approaching the Kaduki Theater, a Times Square movie house that specialized in shit porn. “NOW SHOWING: DICK SPITZ AND RHEA DYER IN YULE LOG HUMBUGGERY” was emblazoned across the marquee.

So the movie was completed after all. Dick had no recollection of that and was curious what happened. He bought a ticket and went inside.

Most of the film was pretty much how he expected it to be. It was just the last scene that surprised him. Ebeneezer Spooge had just seen himself have an old and fat Tiny Quim take a huge shit on his face, killing him in the process. Rather than accept that fate, he embraced the true spirit of Christmas, which meant getting non-lethally shat upon by Tiny Quim when she was young and hot.

There was only one problem. It wasn’t him in the final scene. It was Felix Pynchon and it was not convincing at all. Dick was enraged, but at present, the only outlet for his anger was to go to the box office and demand his money back.

“This is a sham. That was not Dick Spitz at the end of the movie,” he declared.

“How can you be so sure?” said the man selling tickets.

“Because I’m Dick Spitz!”

“Yeah, right. Last I heard, Dick Spitz wasn’t dying from face cancer so why don’t you run along before I’m forced to beat you with a tire iron.”

Dick saw himself running out of options. Just then, Nadine’s name popped into his head. She obviously really liked him when he spent the night at her place. He should go see her and fall in love with her until he was back on his feet. He  trotted off toward her apartment, fingers crossed.

It was very late at night so he had to bang on her door repeatedly to get her to answer.

“Dick, what happened to you?” she said when she opened the door and saw his face.

“I love you, Nadine,” Dick said.

“No, no you don’t. Look, I have to get up early to go spend Christmas with my family in Connecticut. I really don’t have time for this.”

“You’re going to want to make time. You see this rash on my face? It’s from poo, but not just any poo. It’s future poo. And how do I know that? It’s because I’m from the future as well.”

“You and the poo are from the future.”

“Yes! And because I come from the future, I already know what’s going to happen in advance. I know Ronald Reagan is going to be the next president. I know the World Trade Center is going to get knocked down 23 years from now by terrorists flying jetliners on a kamikaze mission. And when you know what will happen ahead of time, you can profit from it. I can make us very, very rich.”

“I thought I’d find you here, you cheating snake,” shouted a voice behind Dick. He recognized the voice immediately. It was Rhea Dyer’s.

“Wait, who are you?” Nadine said.

“I am his wife,” Rhea said.

“What are you, like 12?” Nadine said.

“I am almost 19 and I married Dick three months ago. It didn’t take him long to forget his wedding vows.”

“You know, I don’t need this,” Nadine said and slammed the door in Dick’s face.

Dick turned around and faced Rhea.

“I can explain,” he said.

“Please don’t,” she said. “Oscar has been worried sick about you and Felix, well he’s just livid.”

“What about you?”

“A little of both to be honest. I’m glad I found you before you wound up dead or in prison. We’re moving the whole operation to LA. The San Fernando Valley is the place to make porn flicks these days and there are more than enough junkies out there whom we can get to shoot future poo into their veins. Are you in?”

“Yeah. Hey, you’re not going to tell Felix that I blabbed about being from the future, are you?”

“I don’t think he needs to hear that. Besides, that girl didn’t believe a word of it so there’s no harm done. There’s a Christmas party tomorrow afternoon at the Chelsea, but tonight I thought we’d go back to your place.”

“Really?”

“What can I say? I’m a predator at heart. I successfully hunted you and now I want to enjoy the spoils.”

“But what about this?” he said, waving his hand across his face.

“It’s gross, but allergic reactions aren’t contagious. Don’t worry about it. I’ve fucked uglier.”

The two took a cab back to Dick’s apartment. He hadn’t been there in some time and there was the smell of rotting food in the kitchen and an unflushed toilet in the bathroom. He felt embarrassed about the state of the place, but he also felt something else for the first time in his life. He felt grateful.

“You know you’re going to have to quit doing Priapaine recreationally. It’s really fucking you up. That can wait until tomorrow though. It’ll come in handy tonight. I brought some with me in case you ran out. Let me spread you out a line.”

She handed the mirror to him and he hoovered it all in a single snort. His cock stiffened. He felt like he was the king of the world. Rhea mounted him as he lay on his back. She rode him slowly at first then picked up the pace to a fevered pitch.

“Oh fuck yeah,” she said. “Hey Dick, I got an idea.”

“What?”

“I want you to be even higher. I’m going to spread out another line.”

“I don’t want to stop.”

“We’re not going to.”

Still riding him, she leaned over and poured more white powder on the mirror. She made a fat rail and put the mirror next to his head.

“It’s to your left. I’ll hold the straw for you. Merry Christmas, Ebenezer.”

“Merry Christmas, Tiny Quim.”

Dick turned his head, put his nostril on the straw, and inhaled sharply through his nose. He felt the powder burn the hell out of his sinus cavity. He realized this wasn’t Priapaine he snorted. It was pure China white. He thrashed around, but Rhea stayed on him, riding him like a champion broncobuster. After a series of spasms, he lay still, his lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling. Though Dick Spitz was dead, his erection was not. Rhea stayed on him until she decided she had enough.

She gathered her things and headed toward the door. She glanced over her shoulder to have one more look at the dead porn star.

“God bless us everyone,” she said.

The Future Poo Holiday Special (Part 2)

Present

November had arrived and there was yet another delay. The filming of Yule Log Humbuggery was far from over and the deadline was approaching fast. They were a hand short and that put production at a standstill.

This time,  it wasn’t Dick who was a no show. He had taken Oscar’s words to heart and was easing up on his consumption of boner blow. This allowed him to get a good night’s sleep more often than not, which in turn had a beneficial effect on his punctuality.

It was Felix Pynchon who was absent. At first, it was assumed he was off sending mail from one of the other Boroughs. Dispatches from Pynchon-Lohff to the future were done via coded letters to Penthouse. There was an operative at the magazine to ensure they got published, but it would have looked suspicious if a series of accepted letters all bore the same postmark.

It eventually got late enough for Felix to have made a round trip to the far end of Staten Island. He did mention meetings with a potential investor so maybe that was it.

Oscar, Dick, and Rhea decided to make the best of it. There were some post-production reshoots planned to make a version of the movie without the shit. Apparently, there was a substantial market of people who preferred their pornography excrement free. Go figure.

They decided to reshoot some of the Nancy scenes. Nancy, being dead, was unavailable so Rhea donned a blonde wig and filled in. They were roughly the same height (Nancy was five-one, Rhea five-two), but that was where the similarity ended. Rhea was filmed with her face turned away, but that didn’t make it a lot more convincing because Rhea had the physique of an aerialist and Nancy had the physique of a junkie.

Felix finally walked in the door. He was carrying a canvas bag that looked quite heavy.

“Stop production. I have something important to tell you all,” he said.

“We haven’t started production today,” Oscar said.

“Why not?” Felix asked.

“Well, maybe it’s because you’re the Ghost of Christmas Present and you are, you know, not present,” Oscar said.

“Fair enough, but you are going to like what I have to say.  I think our money woes will soon be over. It would be nice if HQ would bankroll us like they do every other operation, but I suppose they don’t want a money trail if we get popped for peddling shit porn or heroin. Like it or not, we have to be self-sufficient.”

“So this investor isn’t one of us,” Rhea said.

“Oh no, he’s an older gentleman named Wolfgang Gerhard who wants us to make a movie for him down in South America.”

“A German. Well, that makes sense. The Germans do like their shit porn,” Dick said.

“So how long has this Wolfgang guy been living in South America?” Oscar said.

“Thirty three years, give or take.”

“Oh shit, he’s a Nazi,” Rhea said after taking a moment to do the math. “That’s hilarious.”

“Ex-Nazi,” Felix said.

“And I’m assuming Wolfgang Gerhard isn’t his real name,” Oscar said.

“If you must know, it’s Josef Mengele. I know what you’re thinking. Maybe we shouldn’t be going into business people with people wanted by the Mossad and who knows who else. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal. We take his money and make the picture. When it comes out, we keep all the profits because he’ll be dead three months from now.”

“Do you want me to kill him?” Rhea asked.

“There’s no need. This coming February, Mengele will suffer a massive stroke while swimming and drown. His death will be kept a secret for six years so his next of kin won’t be inheriting dick. Now help me get this telecom equipment set up. We have a conference call  scheduled with Herr Doktor.”

Felix unzipped the bag and was met by giggles as he hauled out a bunch of primitive speakers, a dialer, cables and whatnot. At least the dialer was touch-tone rather than rotary.

“Need I remind you this is 1978? You’re not going to be talking to any holograms today,” he explained.

After it was all set up, he dialed the number. A hiss came from the speaker and did not stop when the connection was established.

Alo,” said the voice on the line.

Com licença você fala inglês?” said Felix.

“Yes, a little.”

“This is Felix Pynchon of Pynchon-Lohff Productions. I would like to speak with Mr. Gerhard.”

The voice said to please hold and the line went quiet except for the hiss for five solid minutes. Then an old man’s voice with a German accent came on the line.

“Hello Felix?”

“Wolfgang baby, how’s it hanging?”

“It hangs good, danke.”

“Hey, I got the whole team with me. Why don’t you lay down your movie idea so we can figure out how to make it happen?”

“Very well. I want to make a movie called Constipation Camp and need you to handle the production and supply the necessary excrement. Ach, you may ask, why would we need excrement in movie about constipation? I will explain the plot. Filthy Untermenschen fornicate in their own Scheisse so they are sent to a camp where the brave doctor uses superior medical science to try to constipate them. Unfortunately, they continue to fornicate in their own Scheisse so he is forced to exterminate them all. It is good cinema!”

“Wolfgang, I couldn’t agree more,” Felix said. “We may be a small organization, but I guarantee you we can deliver excrement in the quantity you desire anywhere on the planet. As for the actor to play the doctor, you could do a lot worse than our resident star, Dick Spitz.”

“Spitz? That sounds Jewish.”

“Perish the thought, Wolfgang. Dick’s a fine German-American. In fact, he’s sitting here eating pork schnitzel even as we speak.”

“Nom nom nom,” said Dick.

“OK, it is a deal then. I will contact you with further details and I hope we can begin filming next month.”

The call ended and there was a great high fiving all around. Oscar did bring up one possible sticking point. Assembling the cast to play the camp inmates and flying them down to Brazil with the necessary work permits was going to be quite an undertaking. Not a problem, said Felix. Filming was going to happen up north in Guyana where Mengele had found a group of Americans willing to play the inmates. They had no outstanding visa issues and as an added bonus, they all spoke English.

Filming for Yule Log Humbuggery continued the following day. Felix, buoyed by the South American deal, gave his portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present the high spirits it deserved and he sounded downright convincing as he showed Ebenezer the merits of loosening up and having a good time.

His performance was not the only one that was in top form. Tiny Quim’s bar-wench bustier with a tartan schoolgirl skirt might not have been historically accurate for an impoverished child in Victorian England, but her defecation athleticism more than made up for it. Lying on the floor with her legs pulled back so her feet were against her ears, she launched a mud scud that flew for nearly a foot before hitting the floor and skidding to a stop. Looking on, her father Bob Crotch-shit played by Oscar hiked up his Tweedledee pants and playfully fingered his gunt crease. Lastly, Ebenezer looked suitably anxious as he stared through the window like a peeping Tom. This was because he really was anxious. Who wouldn’t be standing out on a sixth-floor fire escape wearing nothing by a nightshirt and cap as a cold November wind swept down from the north?

All in all, it was a perfect day. Like most perfect days, it carried no guarantee that those days would continue.

The seed for disaster had been planted earlier that year. It came in the form of a small piece of future poo that failed materialize over the Bermuda Triangle in 1984 and was bounced nearly years off course. It was no larger than a walnut, but when it materialized inside a man’s cranium, it drove him insane. The man was the leader of the people who were slated to play the inmates in the South American project. His name was Jim Jones.

On November 18, he snapped completely. He and over 900 of his followers committed suicide. Constipation Camp had no campers so Mengele pulled out and the deal was dead, the last casualty of Jonestown.

Felix delivered the bad news to the team and asked if they wanted to take the day off to mourn. Everyone kind of wanted to, but they all said they should keep going. The days ahead seemed a lot less rosy, but it was the here and now that mattered. They had a movie to finish. They would soldier on.

Felix and Dick stood in front of the gray tarp for the last scene of the “Christmas Present” segment.

“And what will become of Tiny Quim?” Ebenezer asked.

“Are there no women’s prisons? Are there no whorehouses?” the ghost said. “My time here is short. I look ahead and see a crutch that has broken because it can no longer hold the weight of a cute, young girl who has grown old and fat.”

Ebenezer, quite off script, began to cry.

The Future Poo Holiday Special (Part 1)

Past

Dick Spitz strutted across the Chelsea Hotel lobby on an October Day in 1978, his gold lamé disco pants tented to design limit. Loitering prostitutes took notice of his manhood at full sail and catcalled him with “Save some of that for me, sugar” and “My tuna salad sure could use more mayo.”

One of the older whores who worked the lobby regularly was less impressed. Resting her hand on a meaty hip, she said, “Mmmhmm, you don’t want to be touching none of that. He does that pant-load porn. He’s nasty.”

Dick had no time to argue. He was supposed to be upstairs in Room 602 a half hour ago. With a wave of his hand and a curt “ladies,” he made a beeline for the elevators.

It had been a very long night. He was out until four at this club that tried very hard to be Studio 54 and catered to a clientele who had no hope of ever getting into Studio 54. From there, he went home with a girl named Nadine who said she worked somewhere and aspired to be something or other. At any rate, she was a mediocre lay. At least no one was pointing a camera at him, which meant there wouldn’t be any shit involved.

Regular poop sex was bad enough, but future-poo fucking was even worse because of the rash it gave him. Dick was allergic to excrement. A lot of people are, but it largely goes unnoticed because the nutrients neutralize the allergens. Future poo has no nutrients so any reaction to it is severe. Nadine had asked about the redness covering one side of his torso. He told her to shut the fuck up and suck his meat pole.

One might think a porn actor would be all tapped out at the end of the day. However, Dick had an arsenal of Priapaine at his disposal. Only people who had come from the future could get their hands on the stuff because it hadn’t been invented yet. Even primitive medicines like Viagra and Cialis were a long way off from being available. Priapaine was far more advanced. The erection it gave you stuck around as long as you took more of the stuff and if you snorted it, it got you high like coke. Dick called it “boner blow” and did lots of it both on and off the job.

Dick’s current film was Yule Log Humbuggery, a shit-porn retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Like the other two Pynchon-Lohff productions, The Prince and the Pooper and The Masque of the Brown Death, it was a loose adaption of a literary classic. This one, however, had seasonal appeal so everyone was on a tight schedule to get the movie finished so it could be shown in the stroke houses before Christmas.

Dick Spitz was cast as Ebenezer Spooge.

The elevator doors opened. Dick walked down the hall and into room 602. Inside was the movie set and steps were taken to make the place look more like 19th Century England. The TV was wheeled off camera and a likeness of Queen Victoria was put up on the wall. It was a poster, but at least it wasn’t a blacklight one.

Everyone there, except for the woman with the bleached blonde hair and New Jersey accent with affected Britishisms, was from the future. She had been cast as young Ebenezer’s fiancee because she would work for drugs and lived in the hotel so she was easy to fetch if she forgot to show up. Drugs were always on hand because Pynchon-Lohff had a sideline distributing black-tar heroin made from China white and future poo.

“So glad you could join us,” said Felix Pynchon, who was the producer of the film. Yesterday, he had onscreen time as Jackoff Marley, in costume, clanking chains together, and overacted up a storm. Today he was back to wearing his usual lime-green leisure suit and burgundy ascot.

“Sorry, I overslept,” Dick said.

“The important thing is you’re here now,” Oscar Lohff said. Oscar was the director of the film. He was also the main cinematographer. He was wearing an androgynous white hippie robe that hid his considerable girth. He would be playing the Ghost of Christmas Past later in the day.

Rhea Dyer sat on the floor in the corner of the room, flipping through a magazine and staring daggers at the blonde. Rhea was 18 when she got sent back in time, but looked much younger. She had been cast in the role of Tiny Quim.

“So when do I get to a shag scene with Ebenezer?” the blonde said.

“Nancy, I already told you there wouldn’t be one,” Oscar said. “Once again, what you do is writhe around on the floor and smear shit all over yourself in an effort to entice Ebenezer, but he is too busy measuring a piece of poop floating in a fishbowl and writing the results in a notebook to notice you.”

“Oh yeah, I knew that,” Nancy said.

“You don’t know shit,” Rhea said.

The day’s shooting progressed. Oscar the ghost guided Ebenezer Dick through the world of  Christmas past. Their verbal exchange was delivered while standing in front of a gray tarp intended to represent fog.

Dick was no great actor. He managed to get by in part because he was easy on the eyes and possessed the requisite mustache for this genre in this decade. Far and away, Dick’s greatest asset was dick. His wasn’t freakishly large, but its Priapaine-induced tumescence was enough to make the average adult-film patron take note. Still feeling the effects of the drug, the scenes with Oscar were shot from the waist up to avoid any homoerotic overtones.

Despite Dick Spitz’s lack of thespian chops, his performance during these scenes was surprisingly good. Perhaps he had to make a real effort rather than let his shvantz to the acting for him. Also, he was in some way playing himself, a lonely time traveler in an era he did not truly comprehend.

It was time for the big scene with Nancy. With his ruler, quill, and leather notebook in hand, Dick crouched behind an eight-inch croissant of future poo floating in a fishbowl that sat atop a wooden barstool. If he had to work with future poo, Dick thought, this was the way to go. He wasn’t going to get a rash just from looking at it.

Nancy stood naked in the middle of the room. She was handed a pile of future poo on a paper plate and told to put it on herself. She took it into the bathroom to satisfy an inexplicable need for privacy and emerged a few minutes later with a fine layer of shit applied over her groupie-whore slathering of mascara and lipstick. The rest of her pale self had nary a smudge.

“No, no, a thousand times no!” Oscar said. “This is shit porn, not beauty tips with poop. The character you’re playing is a dirty bitch and I expect you to look the part. Now please smear yourself real good, OK?”

“And what if I don’t wanna?” Nancy said.

“Don’t worry, chief. I got this,” Rhea said. She put down her magazine, stood up, and walked over to the table where a supply of future poo was kept. The poo in the bucket she selected came from the future Third World so it was extra runny.

Rhea spun around and tossed the contents right into Nancy’s face. She stood in shock as it ran down all over her. She then began to cry. It was an aggrieved, selfish sobbing, the kind of crying that elicits not sympathy as much as a punch.

“Tears are good. Tears are very good,” Oscar said as he,started to film and zoomed the camera in on Nancy. “That’s it. Cry for me, you little cunt.”

“How dare you,” Nancy shrieked. “I quit. I know you’re all drug dealers. I’m going to report you to the narco squad.”

“I understand how you feel,” Felix said. “Things got out of hand and I apologize for that. Go home and think it over. If you still want to quit tomorrow, that’s fine.”

He reached into his jacket pocket, handed Nancy a nickel bag of future-poo black tar, and told her this should help her relax.

“There better be a whole lot more of this tomorrow or I’m going straight to the narcs,” she said. She got dressed, pulling her clothes over her shit-streaked body, and left.

“Dick, I need you to kill that bitch,” Felix said.

“Kill her?” Dick said.

“Yeah, but it can wait until tonight. She’s got a bag of smack so she won’t run to the cops until it’s gone. If you get her while she’s high, it’ll be extra easy.”

“I’ll kill her,” Rhea said. “Let me do it.”

“I don’t care who does the job as long as it gets done,” Felix said.

“Looks like we’re done for the day,” Oscar said. “Hey Dick, let’s go get a drink as soon as I change out of this drag-queen get up.”

It was late in the evening. Dick and Oscar were seated in a quiet dive a few blocks from the hotel.

“Reminds me of old times,” Oscar said, slapping his own thigh and letting out a fat-man belch.

“Does the future count as old times?” Dick said.

“You know what I mean. We used to go drinking every night after work and I kept trying to get you to go back in time with me, and you always said no.”

“I was married.”

“Yeah, but your wife was a bitch.”

“That she was, but still.”

Dick remembered the going-away party for Oscar. Despite her demand that he not stay out too late, he ended up closing the bar that night. That’s what saved his life. When the the massive poo transfer intended for the 1984 Bermuda Triangle went awry, the bulk of it peppered the space-time continuum roughly half a decade in either direction. However, a sizable chunk of it ricocheted to its point of origin, a man-made diarrhea lake called Laguna Del Poo. The sudden influx of fecal matter caused the dam to burst. The residents below in Charmin Canyon, including Dick’s wife, never had a chance. It was the deadliest diarrhea flood to hit North America in weeks. Now a widower, Dick had nothing holding him back. His application was quickly approved and he was on his way. Dick thought his doodie duties as an operative would be largely clerical. He never imagined he would end up as a porn star. If it weren’t shit porn, his assignment would have been a dream come true.

“Dick, I’m saying this as a friend. You need to ease up on personal use of Priapaine,” Oscar said after making sure the bartender was out of earshot.

“I don’t do it that much,” Dick said.

“You do it all the time. Hey, I get it. You like to fuck a lot. I like to eat a lot. We both like to have fun. But Felix, he’s strictly business. You don’t want to get on his bad side.”

“And what about Rhea?”

“She likes to have fun. But with the kind of fun she likes to have, you don’t want to get on her bad side either. You know, we should hang out like this more often. It’ll be good for both of us to be distracted from our vices. Maybe you won’t knock up anybody and maybe I can avoid bypass surgery. What do you say, Ebenezer?”

“Sounds like a plan, Ghost of Christmas Past.”

Felix and Rhea came into the bar. After the bartender checked Rhea’s ID, the two sat down at the table with Dick and Oscar.

“I want you both to congratulate this little go getter. She just popped her murder cherry,” Felix said.

“Piece of cake,” Rhea said. “She was far too wasted to put up a fight and I was really looking forward to wringing that bitch’s neck.”

Dick nodded. He’d gotten a hand job from Rhea before. That girl could strangle.

“But then I saw a knife just laying there,” Rhea continued. “And I thought, hey, that’s as good a murder weapon as any. One thrust to the abdomen and she was toast. Icing on the cake: Her junkie boyfriend was passed out in the room. He’s going down for this one.”

“Ew, she actually had a boyfriend?” Oscar said.

“Yeah,” Rhea said. “Some English guy. Name’s Sid, I think.”

Memories Blackened Like Catfish

California is on fire again, but you probably already knew that. The ones burning now are comparable in size to the October fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, but with a much smaller body count. As of this writing, the Thomas Fire  (the largest of the SoCal wildfires) has two people confirmed killed (it was only one prior to Thursday). That’s comparatively good news unless you happen to be the two people.

When I blogged in October about the fires burning then, I trivialized the tragedy with a fart joke so I could reduce it to mere window dressing so I could focus the attention of my writing on myself. I think that backfired. Even though I wisely refrained from making fun of that one fat kid who couldn’t waddle fast enough to avoid getting engulfed in flames, some readers might still have thought I was being insensitive.

Live and learn. This time around, it’ll be different because I won’t be focusing on myself. Instead, I shall look to the fire and think about how it can best be leveraged to improve my personal brand. Unfortunately, I am unable to offer any material assistance to those in need because money does not multitask. Cash cannot simultaneously be a charitable donation and pay for my next drink. Thoughtful commentary, on the other hand, doesn’t cost any money and is worth every penny.

The fire is getting close to Santa Barbara and my friends living there are alternating between wheezing from the smoke and being scared shitless. Photos are going up on Facebook that show my home town, so lovely they named a soap opera after it, in stark contrast to the backdrop fiery glow in the hills. Maybe the fire will be contained in time or maybe it’ll roll on through Santa Barbara, sneering “You ain’t so pretty now, are you bitch?” before setting its sights on Goleta.

That’s some heavy Irwin Allen shit right there and quite frankly, I have no desire to be upstaged by it. Instead, I prefer it to be the opening act where I am the headliner. The connection is that the fire and I share a piece of real estate, albeit at different times. Since I also don’t wish to be upstaged by Santa Barbara, I am choosing the more modest Ventura as my location. My father and stepmother used to live there and it is where I spent the summer of 1981. It’s a nice town other than the parts that are burned to a crisp.

Imagine the story I’m going to tell you, my trip down memory lane, as a painting with a disaster from decades later serving as its frame. Or better yet, think of the story as a piece of catfish blackened by the fire. The blackening enhances the experience, but it’s the catfish you want. A plate of nothing but soot does not make the mouth water.

Now I have to pick what memory I would like to share. I can’t just drone on about everything that happened over the summer. That would be dull. I need to narrow it down to a single topic and run with that. The girl I had a crush on? Not reciprocal, nothing happened, so a nonstarter. My first LSD experience? Transformative as all get out, but disqualified because it happened during a weekend up in Santa Barbara.

There was one incident that happened toward the end of the summer that seemed like the perfect thing to write about. It was the closest I’ve come to having a #metoo moment (as a victim, I mean *wink*). I ran into some guy while I was hiking around the riverbed. I climbed a hill near the freeway and stared at the traffic for a bit. When I turned around, I saw the guy looking up at me and yanking his pud. He blew his load and I bolted like a gazelle.

Brave victims are very in this year so you’d think I should take this and run with it, but here’s the thing. People don’t really like victims. What they like is being wrathful and victims provide the means to justify that wrath.

It’s not like becoming a victim is any great achievement. Let’s say I write a novel. Good on ya, Dave, folks would say. If I write a second novel, even a lesser work, it will add to my total worth as a novelist. Now let’s say I am a college coed who gets raped at a frat party. Right-thinking people will thank me for my courage and demand the rapists be held accountable. If, however, it happens again and again all the way down fraternity row, people would start to wonder what the hell is wrong with me.

However, there is a larger reason why the incident at the riverbed simply will not work. Just before I ran like hell from my personal Louis CK, I saw an unfathomable sadness in his eyes. It didn’t soften my heart and make want to stick around, but it was there. It is quite intriguing in retrospect. It’s far more interesting than my part of the encounter. I saw what I saw and hauled ass. Big whoop. But that guy, was he so broken that was the only way he could meaningfully reach out to another person? Wow.

Sorry proto Louis. As I said, I don’t like to be upstaged.

Fortunately, I am not out of options. There is one left that fits the bill perfectly. It has quirky characters. It has slumming dressed up as character building so 36 years later, you can be suitably impressed by my false humility. Read on.

The Great Central Steak & Hoagie was my first experience with the Philadelphia cheesesteak. They were served with pizza sauce. Even today, that is how I believe it should be done. During the summer of 1981 after my first year of college, I had a job there. The pay was minimum wage plus all the cheesesteaks I could eat. I was in heaven.

The owner introduced himself to me as Mac, but everyone else called him George. Maybe he was trying out a new moniker and nobody was going for it. I wasn’t either and started calling him George as well. George liked dealing with the public so he usually ran the register, both his cigarettes and his gun within easy reach on the shelf underneath.

George’s wife Muse (pronounced “moose”) trained me on my first day. She was not very mooselike. She hailed from Singapore originally and had a no-nonsense demeanor peppered with eccentricities. While showing me how to work the meat slicer, she told me you could kill a person with a piece of meat and not leave a mark.

And then, wait, who the fuck am I kidding? For this story to tie in at all, the Great Central Steak & Hoagie needs to burn to the ground. Maybe it will someday, but not from the Thomas Fire, which never got within a half mile of the place.

It’s a pity too, because George provided plenty of choice anecdotes like how he hated “that hard-rock shit” so we were all treated to a country station during the time when  The Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” was in heavy rotation. Then there was that time heshaved off his Michael Rooker curls when the weather got hot and ran out into the parking lot to compare bald heads with Lou Gossett when the actor was a customer. And how could I forget how he playfully called my buxom coworker “Nipples.” That was a hoot and a half.

Now his story probably never be told nor shall I be able to strut my writerly stuff telling it, all because of a fire that couldn’t see fit to burn for six more goddamn blocks.

Fuck you, Thomas Fire. Fuck you in the ear.