Saturday, April 30, 2005

Mumbo Jumbo

I had a realization this past week. Not quite an epiphany, because that would imply some sort of world-altering, revolutionary shift in perspective, and that would be a bit of an overstatement.

No, my realization had more to do with the overall state of things in Corporate America. It was what you might call a Dilbert(TM) Moment. I was in a meeting with a client, and I stood up and said the following:


Everyone in the room seemed to understand this. They all nodded in approval, and we all shook hands. I had no idea what the hell I'd just said, but whatever it was, either it made complete sense to all those present or they were each too terrified of being the only one to not understand it, and so they all pretended.

On Monday I will send them an invoice. I am certain they will pay it.

So...what was my realization, you might ask? Indeed, I will tell you.
To quote a Tom McRae song, "Falling feels like flying...until you hit the ground."

We're all on a great big airplane, and the pilots are monkeys throwing shit at each other while we gradually run out of fuel.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Bush and Dick

If, when I was but a wee lad, you'd asked me if I'd live to see the day when fascists would take over the US government in its entirety, rendering the Constitution utterly meaningless and turning the clock back a few hundred years to pre-Age Of Enlightenment serfdom, I would have said two words: "Nixon. Duh."

But alas, though I was merely a youngster during his ill-conceived, paranoia-driven reign, I'm starting to miss ol' Tricky Dick. Sure, he was one of the main architects of the McCarthy Era, practically coining the oxymoronic concept of 'Unamerican Activities' himself. Sure, he barely skirted responsibility for his corrupt-to-the-bone behavior by the skin of his teeth on several occasions before Johnson's big cop-out and Bobby K getting bulleted gave him his unlikely entree into the White House in '68 (thus ushering in a new era of psycho-fascism that started the clock ticking toward what we are, regrettably, experiencing now). Yeah, he campaigned almost entirely on ending the Vietnam War "with honor" and then proceeded to escalate it by attacking the sovereign nation of Cambodia from the air* and thus dragging the war on for another five long years. Sure, he created the whole useless and expensive 'War On Drugs' when the nation was finally leaning toward more progressive and effective drug policies, and yes he was in fact the "crook" he so adamantly claimed not to be, as he resigned in disgrace from the office he'd coveted for so long that he'd forgotten why.

But Nixon had his good points. He opened up relations with China and improved relations with the USSR; that's the achievement everybody usually talks about. That was no mean feat, and the irony is that he was able to do it precisely because the autocratic Chinese and Russian leadership at the time saw in him the ruthless paranoid tyrannical tendencies they themselves possessed -- in other words, he was their type of guy. After all, none of the Chinese or Russian leaders in those days were really 'Communists' -- they were all dictators, which was exactly what Dick Nixon wanted to be.

Dick was a power-hungry, borderline megalomaniac; with Bush I wouldn't use the word 'borderline.' Dick didn't give a rat's ass about religion, which is how it should be, according to the Constitution and the spirit of its founders; we all know that Bush is either a real or opportunistic rabid fundamentalist, using religious biases and narrow-minded Dark Ages superstition to further his agenda. Dick made lists of friends and enemies; Bush makes lists of friends and considers everyone NOT on the lists to be his enemy by default.

But the bottom line is that Nixon was only despised here at home. That's what I miss about him. He didn't make everybody else hate our guts. He didn't make the terms 'American' and 'ignorant Asshole' interchangeable. And believe me, it took a lot to make me miss Nixon. Reagan didn't do it. Bush Senior didn't pull it off. No, I didn't like those guys much, but they were a cut above Nixon. But Junior? All I can say is, he makes me pine away longingly for Richard M Nixon. Doesn't that say it all?

* * *

(*Yeah, just in case you thought, as a friend of mine did before I straightened his ass out, that Bush Junior was the first US Prez to start a war with a trumped-up, largely false pretense, the reality is more complex. That's precisely how the Spanish-American War started under President McKinley, and the Vietnam 'Conflict' itself became semi-official with LBJ's Gulf of Tonkin resolution, based on bullshit reports of attacks on US warships that never happened. Then Nixon came along and carpet-bombed Cambodia, Vietnam's neighbor, because Viet Cong troops were hiding in the jungles there. Never mind that this was completely against international law; such a concept has never meant anything to fascists. I DO believe that Dubya is the first US Prez, however, to carry out a full-scale land invasion of another country without anything more than a few nebulous accusations as provocation. Thus the point of my posting).

* * *

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Online Dating Nightmares 1: Psycho Therapist

As someone who is self-employed at home, I spend a lot of time by myself with my cat. This is not very conducive to meeting new people, and while I have a lot of affection for my cat, there's just something missing in our conversations.

Thus I have found myself more than once dipping into the dark, dank well of the online dating world.

Yes, it's true. Charming and devilishly handsome as I may in fact be, that long line of lovely women outside my front door is deceiving -- they are merely waiting for the bus. Friends have fixed me up occasionally, but I'm usually left wondering what the hell they were thinking. "Well, you guys seemed to have so much in common." Like what? That we're both single? That we both have to shave above our upper lip?

So I have ventured forth into the grab-bag dreamscape of half-truths, unrealistic expectations and downright squalor that the online dating experience can be, if only you'll let it.

Now don't get me wrong; I've met some wonderful folks that way. Some of them are even my friends to this day, and are no doubt reading this missive at this very moment. And I am happy to have met them, surely. But GOOD experiences make for boring stories, mostly, so I am going to concentrate on the BAD ones. OK?

And so, without further ado, I bring you: PSYCHO THERAPIST.

I met her on one of those matching sites that shall remain nameless. You can probably guess which one. No, not that scary E-Harmony thing; the guy in the commercials freaks me out. Would you want to date anyone that guy fixed you up with? I didn't think so.

Anyway, so she wrote me. She sounded cool enough, and her picture was cute enough, so we exchanged a few notes and decided to meet up. Grabbed a drink at a local pub, and it was obvious she wanted me bad. That should have been my first clue that something was horribly, horribly wrong. Call it the Groucho factor if you want, but though I'm certainly not an unattractive or uninteresting chap, I find that the ones who want you right away are usually Bad News.

But did I listen to that inner voice of mine? The one that is almost always right about shit like that (though it can't seem to remember where it left my keys at any given moment)? Nope. Of course not. I listened to the bulge in my 501s, like usual. Goddammit -- I don't want a vasectomy; I just wanna remove the damn thing's vocal chords.

OK, so I played it cool and ended up back at her place. Duh. Rule Number Two: if you're both over 30 and she lets you go to Pootie Town on the first date while claiming to want a Serious Relationship, you are asking -- no, begging -- for trouble. See my 'Male Sexuality' posting for more on this exciting topic. Yeah, the wise, quiet voice in my head said "she's gonna stalk you, man" -- but the Loud Voice Down There said "Me want penetrate something NOW." Guess who won? What a stupid fucking asshole I am.

We dated for a total of approximately 30 days. The first week can actually be considered 'dating;' the last three weeks consisted of me attempting to exit the situation gracefully and without any permanent scarring or vandalism on my car.

The woman (we'll call her K, which can stand for a lot of things but in actuality was the first letter of her name) seemed interesting at first. She was/is a therapist, working with troubled teens. We were around the same age; we had similarly eclectic taste in music, film, and other things that interest me. She seemed pretty intelligent and got my jokes. Even laughed at the really awful ones, seemingly sincerely. That was a good sign; can't be with a woman who doesn't find my shit funny. That's just me. We'd get stoned together and watch 'Plan Nine From Outer Space' with the sound turned off and Iggy playing loudly while we danced on her coffee table and pretended to be Glam Rockers. It was fun. For about a week.

Then her constant sniffling (which she attributed to a sinus infection) turned out to be the telltale sign of a coke problem the size of Conan O'Brien's head. And her constant complaining about the parents that were apparently alarmed at the way she was 'treating' their young daughters in therapy began to smack of denial.

On top of all that, she needed constant affirmation and instant intimacy. In other words, I was supposed to shower her with compliments and romantic gestures on a regular basis. After a week. Call me crazy, but after a week I could barely remember her name -- and she expected me to hire a crop duster to write it in the sky. I mean, she was nice and all, and she had a first-rate body, especially for forty. She worked hard to keep it that way. But simply saying "you look nice" wasn't enough; like I said, she needed CONSTANT affirmation, and she would fish for it in the middle of conversations about unrelated topics in which other people were involved. One time she met some of my friends, and during a discussion about music or something, she said, out of the blue, "Brian really digs my tits -- don't you, Bri?" Everyone sorta laughed it off uneasily.

I dunno. I thought that was weird. Maybe you don't.

Anyway, it turns out that she was all coked-up for the entire time I knew her, which explained a lot. But It took me awhile to figure this out. I hadn't done any powder in like 20 years, but she offered me some once and I said "OK, what the hell" and did it. But this was apparently her green light, since after that she was offering it like every fifteen minutes every time I saw her. Sorry, but I ain't no Tony Montana, babe. Once a decade or so is fine with me.

On top of that, she was on anti-depressants. All I can say is, the synergistic effect was intriguing from a scientific perspective, but not much fun from a dating standpoint. It was like going out with a cartoon character. I forget which one was Ren, and which was Stimpy -- but she was sorta like both of them together in one package. And if she got pissed at you -- oh holy christ you were so unbelievably screwed. She was the type to make a big scene in a restaurant -- which she did, in my favorite place, on my birthday. Because I hadn't complimented her on her new dress. How could I know it was new? I'd known her like 2 weeks. And anyway, I distinctly remember saying something good about how she looked earlier in the evening, but it had been a whole hour since then and she was apparently feeling neglected while I focused on carefully slicing my ornately-presented Chilean sea bass.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I decided it just wasn't working out, and tried to extricate myself from this doomed quasi-relationship without too much collateral damage on either side. I used a variation of the 'it's not you, it's me' approach, coupled with the 'not quite over my ex' approach. The first one was a lie. it most definitely WAS her. But as to the second, I can honestly say that one of my fatal flaws is that I never stop loving anybody, so I can pick an ex at random in my head and still feel a tiny twinge of longing for her, when it serves my purposes to do so. Like an actor, crying on cue in a movie by thinking of something that really makes them sad. Did I call it a flaw? It probably is. But I like to think it adds to my charm as half hopeless romantic and half curmudgeonly jaded bastard (which is really just a hopeless romantic with a few sucking chest wounds to show for his trouble anyway).

OK, so we had The Talk. After all, it had only been a few weeks; surely she hadn't yet imprinted on me like a baby duck, right? Surely she'd be able to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams and move on without too much of a fuss, right?

You know better than that. That's why you're still reading.

She called me day and night. Left messages alternating between "fuck off you bastard!" and "please come back; I'll change." Sent long, rambling, coke-addled emails that were difficult to decipher and seemed to have been written by around 14 completely different personalities, like the Old Testament. She called my friends, who had only just met her a few times and didn't really know her or care to -- and begged them to talk to me about her. How had she gotten their numbers? Well, apparently she borrowed my phone and, um, copied them when I wasn't looking. Yikes.

So finally I was forced to get nasty. I called her up and said, "listen, you're freaking me out, ok? So leave me alone and especially leave my friends alone, or else I swear I will call whatever board is responsible for handing out therapists' licenses and I will tell them everything I know about you, which is way more than I wish I did. OK? Thanks."

Apparently the thought of losing her career was enough of a wake-up call. I haven't heard from her since. I've often wondered if I should have turned her in anyways; after all, she's an insane cokehead who works with TEENAGERS. But then again, if I had to deal with teenagers all day, I'd probably become a drug addict too.

* * *

Friday, April 22, 2005

La Ducha No Trabaja

OK, allow me to take a break from the whole crazy-mother nightmare. We'll undoubtedly come back to that later, as it is a long and ever-continuing story. But for now, the whole travel thing reminded me of an interesting adventure I had, far away from the insanity of my so-called family.

A few years ago, before the whole 9/11 ordeal, I took a trip to Spain -- just me and my backpack, without much of a plan. I'd studied a few guidebooks for sure, and had a few must-see sights on the list, as well as some decently-rated but cheap places to stay in various cities, but no reservations or solid commitments other than a railpass. I landed in Madrid, expecting to spend a month traveling the whole country, or most of it anyway, at random. Wherever the wind, the trains, and my very limited Spanish language ability would take me.

So, after an interminably long flight next to a fat guy who should have had to pay for half my seat since one of his thighs pinned me to the window, there I was in the airport in Madrid, staring at the conveyor belt long after all the other passengers had retrieved their baggage. I hadn't even brought a carry-on; just the clothes on my back and my passport -- yeah, stupid me. Everything else was in my backpack, which was now apparently somewhere other than Spain. Mine was, it would seem, the only bag lost on that flight.

So I approached everyone I could find who looked official, trying to explain to them in my toddler Spanish that everything I brought with me was in that pack -- clothes, guidebooks, maps, my camera, toiletries, sunscreen, etc. As they were airport employees and thus used to this sort of scenario, they were rather unsympathetic. Especially since in Spanish I probably sound like Rain Man. So basically the final word was that I was to contact them when I found a place to stay, and then they would try to find the backpack and get it to me where I was staying.

Having flown from SFO, I was wearing a leather jacket, long-sleeved shirt and jeans. In Madrid it was around a hundred degrees fahrenheit (don't remember what that is in Celsius -- maybe 40?). I had nothing else. Since I didn't have my guidebooks, I had no idea where to find a hostel or anything, so I simply got on a bus to downtown Madrid, which is a bit of a trek from the airport.

I got off the bus and walked around until I spied a hostel, but of course I didn't have a guidebook to tell me if it was a good or bad choice. But I was really tired and very upset at myself for being so stupid as to not bring a carry-on to a fucking foreign country, and pissed at the idiotic airlines for losing my bag -- just mine; nobody else's. That's what REALLY hurt.

But I figured they'd get me my pack in a day or so, and thus I decided to make the best of things. I went into the door of the building and boarded a tiny, clunky elevator to the third floor. I got out and there was this grimy door with a sign on it saying the name of the hostel, and I rang the buzzer. A three-hundred year old man answered the door and I asked "por favor, tienes una habitacion?" The answer was a complete mystery to me, but his gestures indicated that yes, there was a room available. So I followed him down a dimly-lit hallway to the very back of the building. The room was around two square feet. maybe three. There was a sink, a stool, and what some people might describe as a bed. The light was already on. There was once a window in the room, but it had been bricked up. Asking "why" seemed like a futile gesture, since I wouldn't understand the answer anyway.

There was a communal toilet, and shower, in the hall, but I was informed that the shower "no trabaja." Which means that it doesn't work. At a certain point in my desperation I attempted to turn it on anyway, which was a very large mistake indeed, but I will get to that later.

I was informed that the room would cost me the Spanish equivalent of seven dollars per night, and that I had to pay in advance for three nights. I was certain I wouldn't need three nights; that I would get my pack the next day and be off to a much better-rated hostel, but I was relieved at the low price and so I just paid it. Haggling didn't seem like it would be productive, and he looked like someone who needed the money anyway. Boy was I naive.

Okay, so I pay for the room, and I splash my face and head out into the city, still pissed off but relieved that I have a place to sleep. I get some change and find a payphone, call the number the airport employee gave me, and realize that, while conversing in Spanish is rather difficult for me in person, it is IMPOSSIBLE on the phone. So they spend several minutes on the other end trying to find someone who speaks English to talk to me. Meanwhile, I am discovering just how expensive the telephones in Spain are, as I keep having to put coins in the thing (everybody in Spain uses prepurchased calling cards, or their cellphone, but I didn't know this yet). Eventually I run out of coins, and just as some woman finally says "Hello can I help you, sir?" in English, the phone goes dead and I have to go find some more change. So I call again and try to explain that I was just talking to someone in English and the phone cut off, etc -- so finally I am talking to the woman who speaks English, and she is very nice. Before practically running out of coins again, I manage to give her the address of the shithole -- I mean hostel -- where I am staying, and she politely informs me that my bag should be arriving from New Jersey within a couple of days. NEW JERSEY? I scream, COUPLE OF DAYS? Then, of course, the phone goes dead again.

Turns out that when I switched planes in Newark, my pack didn't follow me. Why? Because God hates me. Anyway, now all I could do was wait. and wait. And try to remember I was on vacation and didn't have a care in the world. Yay.

So I bought a couple of those yellow disposable cameras and went out into the Madrid heat in my long-sleeved shirt (left the black leather jacket in my so-called 'room') to try and make the best of the waning afternoon. I saw a few sights, took a few pictures, learned my way around the Madrid metro and bought a pass and a map. I stopped and ate at many little places, and had some gelato and later some tapas, sangria, and Estrella, Spain's version of Budweiser. Cheap piss-beer.

I liked Madrid, but it was hot and very smoggy, and as I may have mentioned before, I used to have asthma as a kid. I've mostly grown out of it, but if I'm in a really smoggy place I sometimes have to use one of those over-the-counter inhaler thingies that I still keep with me, just in case. Only this time, it was in my pack. Which was apparently in New Jersey.

After awhile I went back to the hostel to crash after a long, wearying day. I went up the creaky, coffin-like elevator and Señor Yoda let me in. I went back to my room, turned the key in the door, and turned on the light, which I had turned off earlier. What I saw then made my blood run cold.

When the light flickered on, the room became alive. There were hundreds of them. Maybe millions. Or maybe there were only ten. But they were the biggest cockroaches I'd ever seen, and they scattered across the floor and the walls as soon as I turned on the light. Each of them was around two and a half inches long. I swear. you could actually HEAR them.

I was dumbfounded. I wanted to throw up. But there was nothing I could do; I had given the airlines this address, and the last thing I wanted was to confuse them by moving, perhaps never seeing my backpack and its contents again. Besides, it was now around ten at night, and there wouldn't likely be much of a chance of getting a different place until morning anyway, assuming I could find one.

I decided that I would get drunk, and then I wouldn't care about the bugs. Those of you who know me are surely aware of how little I drink as a rule, but it had been a difficult day. So I went back out to the street and found a bar, ate some more ridiculously cheap tapas and shared a pitcher of sangria with one of the very few ugly women in Madrid. A couple of times I considered trying to go home with her, because I kept thinking that she was downright attractive compared to what awaited me in my room. But I noticed several men at the bar looking over and laughing at us, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I remember wondering what Papa Hemingway would do, but then I realized that Hemingway would have brought a carry-on, a flask, and a gun.

Okay, so I drank as much sangria as I could stand without throwing up, given that I am a serious lightweight, especially by Spanish standards. Alcohol is NOT generally my poison of choice.

I said adios to La Señorita Fea, and I staggered back up the street to face the giant roaches, now filled with liquid courage. I boarded the now-familiar coffin, and woke up ol' King Tut, who let me in with a grumble, something about extranjeros, which I knew meant 'foreigners' -- and I headed back down the hall to the Amityville Room. I paused at the ancient porcelain bowl to rid myself of some of the sangria, and noticed that my chest felt quite heavy, even through the haze of cheap fruity wine that filled my head. I wondered if the grungy stuff that passes for air in Madrid had gotten to me. I turned the skeleton key in the door of my room and flipped on the dreaded light. There they went -- it seemed like there were fewer of them this time, which made me feel a little better until I realized they were probably all gathered in the bed, waiting for me. This thought immediately indicated to me that I hadn't drank enough sangria; that there simply wasn't enough sangria in the world to do the trick. But the room was spinning around by now, and so I plopped onto the bed. there was no need to lift up the covers; it was about two hundred degrees in there, and I really dreaded what I might see under there anyway.

I could swear I heard and felt things crunching under my back as I lay down, but perhaps it was my imagination.

Anyway, I left the light on all night, thinking the little bastards would stay hidden. It worked for awhile. Soon I was lying there wheezing, my lungs unable to fill with air. It got worse and worse, until it was intolerable to lie down. Right about then, the monsters under the bed started getting used to the light, and scampering out for a looksee. I sat up against the wall on the bed, and for a few minutes I watched them all begin to crawl out of their hiding places. I knew they were coming for me, and I couldn't even breathe. Maybe they knew that. Maybe the door would be locked from the outside. Maybe there were bones under the bed, hundreds of them, picked clean. Maybe that's why I'd had to pay IN ADVANCE. The old guy was their stooge!

The room was still spinning, and I felt sick to my stomach, and I could barely breathe. I could smell the day's sweat on the clothes I was trying to sleep in, the only clothes I had. NEW JERSEY? I thought, A COUPLE OF DAYS?

Bugs crunched under my hiking boots as I sprinted clumsily to the door, half-expecting not to be able to open it. But it opened with a creak, and I dashed down the hall and into the elevator and out into the street, which had cooled off to about 80. It was around two a.m., my first night in Madrid.

I don't know if you've ever had an asthma attack, but it feels a lot like drowning. You simply can't get enough air. You panic, which makes it worse. Lying down increases the pressure, but walking around makes you need to breathe more. And wandering around in the smoggy air that caused the problem doesn't really help either.

I sat on a bench for awhile, watching rather seedy-looking men walk by, and worried about the ones who paused in front of me, fumbling for a cigarette or a switchblade or something. Then I would get exceedingly uncomfortable and I'd walk around a bit, trying to relax. Spain is a late-night kinda place, but there don't appear to be any 24-hour drugstores. Nothing was open except bars and nightclubs and places to eat. I wasn't hungry, I didn't need a smoky bar, and dancing wouldn't have been very appealing either.

So I spent the night alternating between sitting on benches, lying on the grass in the park, and wandering the streets, knowing there was nothing I could do until stores opened in the morning, whatever time they open in Spain. At around eight a.m. I became somewhat rejuvenated in spirit, as I'd made it through the night and I knew that soon I would find relief. I had already made note of several farmacias within a reasonable distance. No Walgreen's; no Rite-Aid. Places I normally denounce as symptoms of The Chainstore Virus -- but oh, how I longed to see those welcoming neon lights and windows full of OTC medicines and cheap trinkets.

Soon the streets were teeming with people. I wandered back and forth between the farmacias, none of which had hours posted in the windows. At ten o'clock I spotted one of them opening its doors, and I almost got run over crossing the street to get there. Of course, as soon as I stepped foot in the store, whoever had opened the door disappeared into a back room somewhere. I tried to call out for someone, but by now I could barely speak above a whisper, and I'm sure my lips were probably blue. There was no little bell to ring. So I waited. and waited. The Spanish are rarely in a hurry; normally I admire that about them. At that moment, however, I would have killed for an annoying uptight anal American pharmacist.

There was a chair, so I sat down, my eyes moving between the counter, my watch, and the other farmacia across the street and a block down. At ten fifteen I was about to take a trip over there, when a man with thick glasses said something in a deep Castillian voice that I assumed meant "can I help you?" since the word "ayudo" (to help) was in there somewhere.

I looked at him pleadingly, with blue lips, bloodshot eyes, smelling like sangria and old sweat. It didn't seem to faze him, but neither did my attempts to communicate through a desperate game of charades. "Favor de dame medicina! no puedo -- er -- como se dice BREATHE? I can't...breathe!" I flailed my arms, tried to mimic spraying an inhaler in my mouth, put my hand on my chest and wheezed response. He must have thought I was just crazy or something. He fired off a long string of heavily-lisped Castillian and began to return to the back room when I screeched "Asthma! Por favor? Entiendes? ASTHMA!" Apparently, "asthma" is the same in spanish, though spelled differently, and so that stopped him in his tracks. He actually laughed a little. "Oh, asma! Veo, veo..." Then he mumbled something and reached behind the counter, pulling out a little box of what appeared to be a cortosteroid inhaler -- normally overkill for a condition like mine, which hardly ever appears unless I'm in a foreign country with no pollution laws and without my baggage, but I would have been overjoyed if he'd pulled out a gun and shot me in the head, so I grabbed it, threw a thousand peseta note (this was obviously before the Euro reached Iberia) on the counter and ripped the box open. as I sucked down the gas like it was lobster risotto with white truffles, he placed a five-hundred note in front of me as change. Five hundred pesetas. About three fifty. Drugs are cheap in Spain, I thought to myself, as my breathing returned to a normal state I almost didn't recognize. I thanked him with every Spanish word I could remember, and I took my smelly self out into the brilliant new day. Even the powerful sangria-induced headache I was just now noticing wasn't going to keep me from a state of euphoria. I had survived my first night in Espana, a place I wouldn't normally think of as all that dangerous.

I spent the next two nights sleeping in the park, my money and passport in the bottom of my hiking boot. I couldn't brave the bugs, and my pack hadn't shown up yet. I tried to use the shower at the hostel on the second day, and when I turned it on, at first nothing happened. Then there was a low moan, which turned into a rattle, which became a squeal. Then a trickle of brown water dripped out of the showerhead, and then everything became kinda foggy and surreal. From what I could tell, the showerhead shot off and just missed my head, and I was doused with foul-smelling brownish liquid. Then I heard the frantic voice of the old man screaming what must have been Spanish obscenities aimed at the illiterate little foreigner who was trying to use his obviously broken shower. Not having a towel, I ran past him, completely naked and covered with rusty fluid. I toweled off with my already foul shirt. I left the building, and found a lavanderia and washed my shirt once, but I still couldn't find a place to shower, so I went back and used paper napkins at my little bug-infested sink. The geezer just glared at me as I walked by, noticing that he had put chairs in the shower with several signs taped to them.

On my fourth morning in Madrid, I awoke early and went to have what was now my favorite thing about Spain, chocolate a la taza for breakfast. It's warm liquid bittersweet chocolate, and it is better than any I've had anywhere. I now had five disposable cameras filled with pictures in my room, and two more in my pockets. I already had the beginnings of blisters on my feet that would make for more stories later in my journey.

That morning, almost four days after staring forlornly at an empty conveyor belt, I took the elevator up for the last time. When King Ferdinand opened the door this time, he was chattering excitedly about something, and I assumed it was because I hadn't paid for a fourth day, and I would need to check out. But then I noticed the backpack sitting on the floor by my room, glowing like a Rennaisance painting of the Baby Jesus. It WAS just like Christmas morning. I have never, before or since, been so happy to see a pair of my own underwear.

I changed clothes even though my body was filthy, and I brushed my teeth for the first time in four days, even though the water was brown. Then I hoisted my pack up onto my sticky back, waved adios to the old Spaniard, and began my vacation, feeling like I'd finally reached Base Camp and could now climb the mountain...

* * *

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hell is for Children

OK, I'm back home and quite glad to be here. Did y'all miss me?

Well, I'd like to be able to say I had a wonderful trip, but that would likely make for a boring story, right? And one in which the word "Hell" probably didn't appear in the title. And since obviously my existence is solely for the entertainment of whatever sick and loathsome deities and masochistic mensroom attendants are in on the joke, who am I to question the meaning of it all anyway, huh?

It all started serenely enough. A visit to the family down in the Sunshine State, as they call it. They call it that because it's ostensibly sunny all the time, like Celine Dion. Actually Celine has a LOT in common with Florida -- long, flat, ugly, annoying, makes me wanna throw up, etc. Visited a couple of friends too -- both of whom moved there from the West Coast years ago for unknown and unfathomable reasons, and neither of whom is old enough to live in Florida. I think you have to be old to live there. Or retarded. I think it's the law -- you have to be one or the other. So maybe my friends are there illegally, or perhaps they're older (or more brain-damaged) than I think they are. I don't know. They both read this blog, so I'm sure we'll all hear about it.

Anyway, I hung out with them a bit, which was nice. We went to this area of Tampa called Ybor City, a contrived little "historic" district that was once an old run-down, dilapidated red-light zone that some planners decided to revitalize into a deliberately run-down, pseudo-dilapidated red light zone. It is attempting, consciously, to be a cross between New Orleans, a Santa Monica open-air mall, and Tijuana. It's wall-to-wall bars, clubs and shitty restaurants, all with scantily-clad underage girls standing outside with signs saying "cheap beer!" and "free jello shots!"

As we all know, The Sunshine State seems to be a huge tourist destination for some reason. Well, okay, the beaches are nice -- but we've got nice beaches here too, so that's a non-event for me. I guess if you live in some cold, landlocked place like the Midwest, it could seem like a little slice of Heaven down there -- but then again, so could Afghanistan. Anyhow, Ybor City is where all the Spring Break crowd goes when it's not Spring Break. The later it gets, the more crowded the streets get, and the younger the crowd gets. I don't think any of them actually LIVE there, because like I said, I'm fairly certain you have to be around a hundred years old to get Floridian citizenship. But at night in Ybor, it's post-adolescent partytime. OK, slightly post-adolescent. I swear, some of those half-naked girls walking around freezing (it's chilly at night this time of year) are barely out of diapers. Which doesn't say particularly flattering things about me, since I wandered around gawking at them.

Anyway, I suppose if I were still a teenager or twenty-something, I would enjoy the drunken, sex-crazed MTV atmosphere, but being too old for any of these girls yet not old enough to live in Florida, I felt a little out of my element. I mean, girls half my age look nice, especially when they're wearing the equivalent of a napkin and a pair of chucks. But I feel kinda creepy-uncle staring at them like that, especially when I know that the only ones smiling back are probably prostitutes. I have a feeling that the Hooker Contingent in Ybor is fairly high. You can tell the ones who aren't by the fact that they're walking around with some drunk steroidally-enlarged fratboy or three. So it's basically water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

Alright, on to the REAL adventure.

Got to see my new baby niece, which was the main reason for the trip. Cute kid, but only a couple months old, so basically a squirming larva at this point. And she cries nonstop. I mean, NONSTOP. I think maybe she realizes where she lives.

And my nephew's cute too -- he just turned two. So he doesn't cry that much. I can deal with that. Played with him a bit; that was fun. Highlight of the trip; it was all downhill from there.

Food; we should talk about food. basically, the food in Florida SUCKS. Everything is breaded and fried, even the silverware. Nobody eats vegetables. It's like one big Denny's. And yeah, we ate at Denny's once, along with several other horrid places. Grease, fat, grouper, and breading. Those are the four food groups in Florida. What's 'grouper,' you ask? Well, it's a fish. A bland whitefish that is ubiquitous down there. Everywhere you go, their special of the day is fried grouper. Anyway I came home feeling like a bloated fried fish myself, and my skin is all broken-out like a teenager's. A few dozen Miller Lites and I'd fit right in at Ybor City.

I guess living in the Food Capital of the United States has spoiled me.

OK, so now we come to the fun part of the visit. You see, like most people's parents, mine are a little bit insane. I realize that most people probably can't hang out with their parents for more than a couple of days without becoming all itchy, but I think I have an extra-special situation, as I am about to illustrate.

My mother, if she were to possess enough introspective qualities to actually visit a therapist, would surely be considered severely bipolar at the very least, and put on some heavy-duty meds. But alas, she has managed to live for sixty-some-odd years without ever having her completely psychotic tendencies ever officially diagnosed as such. And in fact, she seems to have gotten worse over the years. It takes very little to set her off, and then she just starts wildly screaming at you with a self-righteous energy that you would never guess she had (if you weren't related to her and thus didn't know better). Normally, just walking around, she's as sweet as cherry pie -- overly so, in my opinion, but the other old people don't seem to notice. She's got lots of friends down there, and I'm generally happy about that.

Except that none of them know her at all. You have to be her husband or one of her kids to trigger her psycho side. Which, unfortunately, I did.

Mom lives in a little fantasy world; a fascinating little melodrama right out of some Tennessee Williams play. She came from a pretty fucked-up family herself, and escaped into my dad's arms at an early age. Only problem is, my dad came from a pretty fucked-up alcoholic white-trash background himself, so he wasn't exactly equipped to help her. Enable her, yes. But help? Um, no. She basically browbeats him over every little thing, and has done so for so long that now he is just used to it. He might even enjoy it in some weird deep-seated way. Reminds him he's alive or something. At any rate, he can do absolutely nothing to make her happy, and neither can the rest of us -- but he lives with her, as he's done for forty-three years now, and I feel sorry for him. I only see them occasionally, at which time I'm reminded why I continue to live three thousand miles away.

So anyway, my mom has spent every dime they've ever managed to cobble together. What does she spend it on? Crap. Knick-knacks. Stuff with which to decorate every square inch of whatever house they're currently living in until there's no room left for people. She attempts to create some sort of Family Heritage. There are old tin-type pictures of SOMEBODY'S great-grandparents on the walls, intermingled with pictures of us. We have no idea who these ancient people are, because she found the pictures in antique stores. But it's obvious that a visitor is supposed to assume they are related to us. There are NO pictures of any REAL grandparents to be found anywhere.

And to make matters worse -- as I've mentioned before -- these people are Fundamentalist Christians. Well, Semi-Fundamentalist anyways. Not as rabid as they used to be, simply because they're tired, and Jesus didn't come back soon enough for them to avoid Old Age. I think they might be a little disillusioned by that. But they're still die-hard Believers and they definitely voted for Bush. Ugh.

Well, as their standard of living has gotten forcibly lowered, my parents' living quarters have gotten smaller. But that hasn't stopped my mom from continuing to cover every millimeter with overpriced junk that they can't afford. I have no idea what her monthly knick-knack budget is, but it probably approaches their mortgage, and it's all on credit. Since they moved to Florida a few years ago, her taste in crap has taken on a nautical flavor. I counted 87 tiny plaster lighthouse sculptures, which she buys every time she sees one in every crappy souvenir shop they go to, in every little town they can afford the gas to drive to. They all have the name of some little town in Florida tacked to tiny brass plaques on them, and they all have little paper tags stuck to them with a little story and the offset-printed signature of whomever designed the mold that was then sent to China for mass-production. I'm not making this up. She also has a HUGE Barbie doll collection, most of which she got on Ebay for whatever they're CURRENTLY worth. After all, what better place to put your money? Stocks? Bonds? Real Estate? Gold? Fuck all that; when times get tough, what people are REALLY gonna rely on are their Barbie collections!

OK; I could go on and on about Mom's obsessions with junk and her obvious financial savvy (after all, these are investments), but I think you get the idea.

I swore, like I always do, that I would keep my mouth shut. I swore to myself that I would do nothing; say nothing -- nothing that might have the slightest chance of pissing off Mom. But I failed. She knows how to push my buttons, and she kept pushing them until I slipped-up and actually responded. I took a deep breath, said something along the lines of "Mom, you don't have the right to say that to me. Please take it back and apologize." I really said it that nicely, because I was trying really hard to avoid the inevitable nightmare. I keep forgetting that this is a crazy woman and I should just ignore everything she says, no matter how nasty it is -- like some insane person on the street.

So, as in hindsight I should have predicted, she freaked out. You see, my mom is NEVER wrong about anything. She has never taken anything back or apologized in her life, no matter how terrible or unwarranted the thing she did or said. She's a victim, and everybody is out to get her, and she is simply defending herself from all the attacks. Therefore, how can she be wrong? It's YOUR fault for upsetting her in the first place, and once she's upset, there are no rules. All bets are off. She starts bringing up shit you supposedly did when you were twelve. Or five. She makes stuff up; twists other stuff around. She stands there screaming things that any stranger would be aghast to hear. And all you can do is stand there and take it, walk away, or scream back. Normally I have the good sense to ignore her, knowing that if I don't say anything to make it worse, eventually she'll get tired and start crying and lock herself in her room for a day or so, and then everything will be fine, as if it never happened.

But I was already sick of being in Florida, and I didn't feel good from all the bad food, and I was annoyed that I hadn't been laid in weeks and I'd just spent an evening walking around looking at underage poontang in Ybor. So for a minute I just forgot that my mom is crazy, and instead of going to my Happy Place, I did the unthinkable. I yelled back.

I didn't stoop to her level; I didn't bring up the past, or call her names. I didn't reduce her to the quivering mass of jelly I most certainly could have, by simply pointing out her massive failings over the years: how she nearly destroyed my sister to the point where she hasn't spoken to the family (except me) in years; how she cheated on my father when I was very young and totally screwed-up my trust in women for far too much of my life until (thank god) I figured out the source; how she has spent all their money on useless crap and assured that they are going to be forced to retire in squalor VERY soon. No, if I'd said a few well-chosen pointed words, I could have given her immediate kidney failure right then and there. After all, I learned this vicious technique from a crazy-woman, and I'm smarter -- and more articulate -- than she has ever been.

But I yelled back at her, just the same. I told her she was self-absorbed and mean-spirited and cared about nobody but herself. I told her she was destroying -- or had already destroyed -- her real family while displaying a fake one on the walls. I told her she needed help, badly, and soon. I said that that I knew exactly what she was going to say at any minute because I'd heard it all a thousand times and she couldn't hurt me anymore. I just told her the truth.

My mom has kicked me out of her so-called life before. There have been times when we haven't spoken to each other for as long as three years. But I do believe this time will prove to be the Big One. I could tell by the look in her bitter, pain-filled and childlike eyes. She refused to say goodbye when I left, even though I tried to say I was sorry (even though she was the one who started it). I really WAS sorry; sorry that I had a lapse of judgment and made the situation worse. Sorry that I responded at all to someone so obviously mentally ill. Sorry that I increased the pain in her bitter heart, no matter whether it was my fault or not. I was ashamed that I let her get to me, and that I allowed myself to get in a fight with a miserable old woman who simply doesn't know how to love because she wasn't raised with any.

My mom doesn't know about this blog, and she wouldn't read it anyway.

But Mom, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that your life has sucked so badly, and I'm sorry that there was, and continues to be, nothing I could ever do to make it better. I'm sorry that the only gift I could ever truly give you would have been to simply put up with your shit like my poor dad does, and that I failed so miserably at that task.

But mostly, Mom, I want to thank you. Thank you for giving me a wealth of material to write about, and an edginess that makes people seem to find my catharsis entertaining. Thank you for showing me just how crazy I could have ended up if an introspective nature and a particularly nasty divorce hadn't thrown me a serious dose of reality and sent me into so many years of therapy that, despite my aforementioned edge, I'm surely never going to end up like you.

* * *

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Nobody puts Baby in a corner

OK, so I've got a brand-new baby niece. It seems all the rage these days, this reproducing thing. Everybody's having babies. Everywhere I go, freekin' babies everywhere. This morning I went to this little French Boulangerie down the street for a quiet brunch, and it was packed full of screaming, drooling brats -- and all of them had babies with 'em. I mean, don't get me wrong -- I like kids and they like me. But when they get too noisy or too smelly or too expensive, I hand them back to whomever is responsible for their helpless little stanky asses and get on with my happily childless life.

Anyway, I may not get around to posting for a few days. Why? Because I'm heading to Florida, Our Nation's Flaccid Penis of a state, where my folks and my brother live. My folks retired there, and my brother follows them wherever they go. I, on the other hand, like to keep a respectable distance -- although I would have preferred they move to that other old-people-mecca, Arizona, which would be a hell of a lot easier to get to and wouldn't suck as much when I got there.

But anyways, my brother just had his second kid, less than two years after the first one, whom I visited last year. All I can say is, I hope he understands the mechanics of why this keeps happening. My brother tends to do things without giving much thought to them. I'm left wondering if he's gonna have a kid every year and joing the swelling ranks of the welfare rolls that suck up whatever tax base there can possibly be in a state where everyone is retired and/or lives in a trailer.

But hey; I'm not THAT much of an asshole; I'm excited to see the little tyke(s). I mean, I'm an uncle again, and if there's one thing I really like being, it's an uncle. My other niece is going down there with me -- she's fifteen, and absolutely The Bomb. We've been best pals in the first degree since she was a little tyke herself. But the new one is only a couple months old, so really she's still in that larval stage where they just sleep, cry, and make their own cheese. Who I'm REALLY excited to hang with is the nephew, who is turning two this month. Two's a great age, as long as you can get away from 'em when they stop being fun and switch into EVIL SPAWN OF SATAN mode. That's when I'll hand him back over to his dad or grandparents to deal with. But it should be fun until those moments, anyway. 'Cuz kids are like puppies -- they're the coolest thing in the world until all of a sudden you realize they ate one of your shoes and you only brought one pair.

So -- first thing, early morning (which is why I'm writing this so late -- no sense going to bed when the SuperShuttle is picking us up at four AM). Gotta get to the airport in time to stand in line for the body-cavity search, thanks to all those fucking terrorist jerkoffs out there. I mean, I wanna be safe like anybody else; I don't want somebody to pull any of that whackjob terrorist shit on a plane I'M on -- but thanks to those assholes, I gotta wait two hours in line so I can bend over and spread 'em while some incompetent Federal employee shines a flashlight up my ass looking for box-cutters and toenail clippers. Thanks, guys. You couldn't stick with blowing up schoolbuses? That wasn't fulfilling enough? Or how about THIS crazy idea: you sit down, read your Koran, and underline all the parts that talk about peace and love, okay? Yeah, I read the damn thing -- and just like all the Christian idiots who think the word "Rapture" is actually in the Bible, these jokers seem to think "Go blow people up and get yourself 70 virgins" is in the Koran. I got news for ya, kids -- it ain't in there. Read it again. Slowly.

Anyway, I'm the first one to admit that it was American foreign policy that made us targets of these deluded bastards, but that doesn't mean they don't piss me off anyway. And it's time, in my opinion, for Muslim leaders to stand up and denounce terrorism. If most Muslims are peaceful, which I believe they are, then they oughtta take a stand, and the clerics should denounce these radical fuckers as heretics to their religion, instead of encouraging them in their horrid behavior.

So? What about it, Mullahs? Huh? Do me and Salman Rushdie hafta come knock some sense into your asses? Oh shit; now I'm starting to sound like Dubya. And I really don't wanna sound like Dubya.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. Babies. All I can say is, since I'm getting on a plane in the early morning hours in the middle of the week, I hope to Allah there aren't any screaming babies on the 7-hour flight (got a short layover in Chicago, 'cuz the airlines like to justify their high ticket prices by taking the LONG way). There is only one thing worse than a terrorist on your plane, and that's a screaming infant. In fact, rumor has it that on 9/11, the whole thing happened because the kid in back of Mohammad Atta wouldn't shut the fuck up and kept kicking his seat.

But anyhow I can't wait to go play with my new niece and nephew in that backwards-ass limp-dick of a Red State they live in. I'll be sure to bring you all back an alligator, or at least a pink plastic flamingo.

If I manage to get online down there (my folks' place isn't exactly wired for the 21st century; it barely makes the grade for the 20th), then perhaps I'll post again before I'm back. Otherwise, au revoir until Monday.

Kiss kiss.

* * *

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Bad dog; no biscuit.

My bad. I must retract a statement I made yesterday. Alas, there comes a time in every man's life when he must step up to the plate and admit he 'accidentally' screwed the pooch. Yes, folks, even I make the occasional error. I know it's hard to believe.

I was, for some time, laboring under the mistaken impression that my old buddy Sir James was a huge and loyal fan of that oasis of slime known affectionately as Lost Wages. Apparently, I was -- ahem -- wrong.

No, my beloved friend only goes there to play some game called 'Texas Hold 'em' (something that sounds vaguely like what happens to farm animals in remote parts of Dubya's home state, but I digress). Otherwise, he hates it. Probably not on the intense, visceral, lunch-regurgitating level that I do, but nevertheless I accused him of loving the place, and he only goes there for the Poker. He also only reads Playboy for the articles, but that's another story which I have already related.

Anyway, sorry, amigo. Next time I put my foot in my mouth, I'll wash away the toe jam first.

* * *

Monday, April 11, 2005

No fear; just loathing.

Can't post much today. Too busy. I can hear all the wailing and crying now, from all five of my fans.

Anyway, my friend Carol just got back from Vegas and wrote about it, which reminded me of how much love I have in my heart for the place. Ah, Vegas. Seeing those lights in the desert is like being a bitterly thirsty, dying man, crawling with his last bits of inner fortitude toward what seems like a mirage of splendor, a paradise unmatched by Eden itself, a fountain of exquisitely living and breathing water from the Gods, dancing in an endless loop to the golden-throated tones of a digitally-remastered Sinatra from his red-leather booth in Heaven itself...and finding it's actually a big glistening pile of lizard shit.

My best friend Jim actually DOES love the place, and so does this girl I've been crushed-out on for years who shall remain nameless (if you're reading this, hiya P -- yeah, you know I got it bad for ya, despite your inexplicable love of LoserLand). And since I highly respect these people, I have to accept that there must be some redeeming quality to the place that I just don't get.

But to me, if you aren't a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, frivolously-shopping, hooker-renting gambler and you don't like crappy buffets and really bad shows that even a hundred bare breasts can't save, Vega$ is just a neon nightmare. After 2 hours there, I start feeling like I suckled from a garden hose in Guadalajara.

I mean, I don't drink -- not enough to make even the free drinks worth it, anyway. I don't pay for sex, even if it means I go without. I don't like magic shows, or cheeseball animal acts (though I would have liked to have been there when that Sigfried guy -- or was it Roy -- got his head bitten off. That would have been nice imagery to add to my already twisted mind). Anyway, gambling seems like just a great big losing proposition and you can lose BIG fast. I mean, sure, people win now and then -- but only as a marketing device so that everybody else will keep losing. How do you think they pay those electric bills, eh? Usually people who win in Vegas are the type who have already lost ten times what they're all excited to have won, whether it was this trip or the last five combined. The house still wins in the end, or else they'd turn off all those lights.

So what is it? What makes that place so utterly irresistible to all these people, among whom my friends number so I can't make any sweeping generalizations about American collective insanity?

I just don't know. But to me it seems like Vegas represents capitalism at its most disgusting extreme, laid bare without pretense to some bucolic "American Way" or anything like that. People go there to take a big economic shit in public, without pretending there's any point to it at all. In a way, Vegas is America at its second-worst, minus all the bombing and flag-waving. It's squalor encrusted with Christmas lights; it's fast-food that doesn't pretend to be nutritious; it's human excrement spray-painted gold and put in the window as a fishing lure in an ocean full of spandex-leopard-print-wearing bottom-feeders.

OK, I guess that WAS a sweeping generalization. But then, this whole posting is hypocritical anyway. You see, I'm one of the few people who have actually ever WON -- I mean, long-term, NET -- in Vegas. Jim talked me into meeting him there one weekend, and I put three bucks in a slot machine and won $900. Just like that. The only time I gambled the whole trip, and one of the few times I ever did at all. Go figure. Vegas likes me.

But I still fucking hate the place.

* * *

Sunday, April 10, 2005

An Open Plea to Women

Attention, Women of the World:

I love you dearly; I really do. Even when you piss me off, I easily forgive you, because you melt my heart. Just looking at you makes me happy; even the ones who eat too much and then try to wear spandex belly shirts and hip-huggers. I'm so glad you're here; without you, well, we wouldn't be here either.

And this is my point.
I need you to help me -- us, actually. All of us, yourselves included. because it's all in your hands. Are you ready? OK, here goes...

Women are fucking-up evolution. Yes, you are.
Neanderthals were supposed to die out, but they haven't. Why? Because you keep breeding with them.

Everything you complain about; all the stuff men do that pisses you off and messes up the world at large -- you know the stuff I'm talking about -- all the shit you say is wrong with "men" in general: smacking you around, drinking too much, cheating on you with your friends, leaving the toilet seat up, blowing up villages full of children, etc. This is because you keep choosing Fuckheads to breed with. And their kids can't help but have some Fuckhead in them, so when your sons grow up to be Fuckheads, you don't understand. You ask yourself, "how could this happen?"

But you keep choosing Neanderthal Fuckheads to sleep with, and many of you then get pregnant by them, and thus the cycle is perpetuated. Endlessly. And then you blame ALL of us. As if it were ALL men who caused you grief, instead of just your CHOICES in men.

So, my friends -- my dear, female friends, just stop.
Please, just STOP.

Thank you.

* * *

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Surreality Check

A couple days ago, it was Opening day at SBC Park, our still-new local baseball stadium. It's an impressive place, and that whole part of town has been transformed from low-rent broken-down industrial outskirts to Gentrification Central in the past few years. Lots of brickwork and ironwork and cobblestones and such. I barely recognize it. Not being a huge sports fan, I don't get over there much. But back before the Stadium was built, I did a lot of work down in the area. Now it looks a little like Lower Downtown Denver but with a waterfront, and the newly-high rents have driven out most of the small businesses I used to work with. But it looks quite nice, if you like that sort of thing. A few too many tourists for my particular taste, especially on a game day. But not as bad as some of the REALLY touristy parts of town -- the parts that everybody outside of California associates with San Francisco: Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf, the 'crooked' part of Lombard Street, and all those other horrid Vegas-like places that people who actually live here avoid like the plague.

Most people who visit here never see the real San Francisco; they see the Rice-a-Roni version.

Anyway, there I was, getting off the light rail by the Park -- not to see the game but to see somebody in the area about something unrelated, and suddenly the entire Earth seemed to rumble, my very bones rattling and my ears popping from the force of some seemingly impending disaster of Biblical proportions, and I jumped out of my skin.

Was it an earthquake? The Big One, the blind fear of which (thankfully) keeps people in hurricane, blizzard, flood and tornado-prone regions from moving here? No. It was just a tradition. The Blue Angels, the US Navy's Official Propaganda Team, did a very low overflight at insane speeds as the crowd cheered and some sort of metallic confetti filled the air. Opening Day! Baseball! America! Yay!

But call me clueless; I didn't know it was going to happen and I just about wet my pants. The awesome power of those four F/A-18 Hornets careening in perfect formation a few hundred feet above my head was enough to knock my ass onto the concrete, and I nearly had a heart attack -- as did several other unsuspecting people around me, who subsequently pointed to the sky in awe and pride.

Now, the Blue Angels are some talented flyers; and those airplanes are indeed a wonder. One could endlessly gasp at the technological progress they represent in barely a hundred years of powered flight. Watching the spectacle of their performance could be an exhilarating experience in the context of pure testosterone-driven lust for power, and certainly in appreciation as well for the beauty and grace of machines that seem to defy the bounds of nature. I AM a guy, after all. When I was a kid, I loved stuff like that. Part of me still does.

So why, as my heartbeat quieted to a healthier pace and the crowd around me clapped and roared with delight, did I feel so DISTURBED? Sad? Even a little frightened? Why were my eyes welling up, and why did I feel like an alien in an alien world as I made my way in reverse against the game-bound masses toward my destination up the block?

Simple. I'm just not like the others. Not anymore, anyway. If I ever was.

Because, you see, while everyone around me howled in excitement and American patriotic pride at the splendor of Game Day and the overflying supersonic circus of blue-painted steel, part of me was cringing. Part of me was imagining myself a terrified man in Iraq or elsewhere, frantically searching for his children in the chaos as these fearsome machines blasted across the sky, not in fours but in hundreds. I imagined the deafening roar multiplied a thousand times as buildings exploded around me and the panicked tears that streaked my face blurred images of blood-spattered wreckage and twisted limbs and dead animals and babies blocking my path. I imagined falling to the ground and praying to whatever god would listen for it to stop, please just stop.

And I watched in slow motion as all the happy Giants fans scurried by in an endless parade, all waving banners and wearing their colors and marching toward the stadium without a care in the world on this beautiful sunny Opening Day of baseball season, rubbing my eyes and pushing through the crowd as I wept silently for my country and my world and my fragile yet powerfully self-destructive species.

And I felt more alone than I've ever felt in my life.

* * *

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

O Canada/Dead Pope Society

Well, folks, I learned some valuable lessons this past weekend. I learnt them from a Canadian girl who shall remain nameless. Yes, I said "girl" -- because she's only 12. OK, technically she's 28. But on the inside, she's 12.

I was going to write the whole story, but that would be giving her that much more of my time, and she already wasted a few of my hard-earned American dollars and an entire weekend of my busy life that I will never get back. So instead, I will delete her from my cellphone and my memory, as if she never existed. Poof!

But I WILL take one thing away from this that is probably a very valuable lesson, and that is this: people are fucked-up everywhere. I guess (strangely enough for a cynic such as myself), I was naively laboring under the misconception that, because it is we Americans who are currently creating the most havoc on the planet, that somehow there must be something inherently wrong with us alone. But no, I realize now that there are assholes and idiots everywhere, sprinkled among the teeming masses within every imaginary border, and especially in the strange grab-bag netherworld of the online personals.

And so, my former friend from the Great White North, whose Scrabble skills and character fall far short of my own, I bid you adieu and I wish you the best, knowing that your confessed lack of self-worth is quite truly warranted, and I can only hope that someone someday will be as kind to you as you have been to me.

* * *

Now, on to more important matters.

OK, so the Pope is dead. Those of you who know my deeply religious convictions will no doubt think I am sitting here in sackcloth and ashes, mourning his loss. Well, I scraped my bong for some ashes, but I couldn't find any sackcloth, so I gave up on that. Instead I'm selling authentic organic-hemp replicas of the Shroud Of Turin, handmade with care in China, with a limited number signed by Jesus Christ Himself. Write me for more details -- act now, before I raise the price and put 'em on ebay. All proceeds will go to benefit the starving bloggers of San Francisco, or at least ONE of them. What does this have to do with the death of the Pope, you might ask? Well, I'm glad you asked that question. Because I'm going to explain it to you.

Way back before my folks became nutcase fundamentalists (see my 'Dogma' posting), we were raised Catholic. I was pretty young and didn't really fathom the whole thing, but I remember sitting in those uncomfy pews saying "and also with you" a lot. Then we'd have to kneel on the little cushioned collapsible prayer thing-a-majig (does anybody know what those things are called?) to pray silently and cross ourselves over and over again in an apparent attempt to beg for our worthless little lives from some deity who was always on the verge of crushing us for our evilness. But then they would talk about how God was Love, and Forgiveness, and Grace, and all that -- unless you pissed him off, which you were bound to do every five minutes because you are Scum. We weren't always Scum, you see, but that nasty bitch temptress Eve (from whence comes the word 'evil') force-fed Adam the only fruit he wasn't supposed to eat. You know the story, right? If you don't, I ENVY you.

Anyway, we've all been Scum ever since. Original Sin, they call it. Or at least that's what they started calling it after Saint Augustine had his fill of fun and decided his own lusty tendencies weren't his fault; they were the fault of Eve and her wicked hold over Adam. Personally, I can totally relate to Adam -- a beautiful naked woman hands me something, and I will just fucking eat it. Like Jack Nicholson said in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' when you have that little pink beaver in your face, you don't ask it any questions. Or something like that.

OK, so here we are, all Scum, subject to the Vengeful Wrath Of God at any moment, with the only thing standing between us and Eternal Damnation being a bunch of self-appointed Ambassadors To Heaven, all wearing some variation on the Funny But Holy Hat. One must NEVER laugh at the Hat, no matter how Funny. In fact, the Funnier the Hat, the Holier the Wearer. This had to be an act of ironic brilliance on the part of some medieval Merry Prankster Scribe Guy, the idea of the Funny But Holy Hat. Because whomever he was, he had to know that it is nearly impossible to avoid laughing at a funny hat when it is worn seriously. When a drunk guy wears a funny hat to be funny, he just looks stupid and you try to avoid him. But when such a hat is worn in complete earnest, especially with some sort of implied reverence, it is fucking hilarious. And so the nameless inventor of the Funny But Holy Hat, whether intentionally or otherwise, created the perfect ploy for the endlessly repeating mobius strip-like phenomenon of Self-Loathing that is essential to the perpetuation of any successful religion.

Because laughing at the Hat, even to oneself, makes one feel guilty and fearful, and one must sprinkle oneself with Holy Water and cross oneself over and over, and pray the rosary, and beg for God to forgive and not boil or roast us or break us on the wheel for the fowl of the air to pluck out our eyeballs, etc. And, of course, God is not only a Forgiving God, but He can also be bought off, so we put our hard-earned cash in the collection plate in the hopes that God in His mercy will forgive us for snickering ever so softly at the Hat.

Which brings us to the Pope, for centuries the wearer of the Funniest And Therefore Holiest Hat of all. You see, I have no problem with the Pope himself. I'm sure He, like other Popes before Him, truly believed in His office as the representative of God on Earth, saving souls and collecting money to fund the Second Coming (because we all know that such an event would be ridiculously expensive these days, making a typical Presidential campaign look like a Mississippi baby shower). But from MY perspective, as Bono so eloquently put it in 'Bullet the Blue Sky,' "The god I worship ain't short o'cash, Mister." So His Holiness the Pope can be as sincere as a fly laying eggs in shit, but that doesn't make it any prettier. Get me?

After all, that Hat is surrounded by opulence that Donald Trump couldn't make a downpayment on, and all at the expense of desperate, fearful little people who for centuries have watched their children starve in the shadow of the Hat because God's Chief Spokesman refused to allow them birth control while He bled them for ever more protection money in a racket that the entire Mafia could never hope to match. Suddenly the Hat doesn't seem so fucking funny anymore.

I remember when Sinead O'Connor did her little ripping-up the picture of the Pope anti-publicity stunt. I say 'anti' because, while we all know that in the music biz, any publicity is generally good publicity, I do believe that little episode DID actually hurt her career. I got what she was trying to say, but I don't think it was well thought-out, kinda like Michael Moore's diatribe at the Oscars. Choose your battles, and choose where to have them. Otherwise you're just masturbating in public, and unless you're Angelina Jolie, nobody wants to see that.

I remember seeing footage of John Lennon publicly 'apologizing' for his statement that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus Christ," though I think his explanation was deliberately, brilliantly ironic. He was one smart cookie, and he knew the dry British humor of "I meant 'more popular' because there are more people now than there were then" would be taken literally and seriously by clueless American audiences. The Beatles were forgiven their 'blasphemy' and went on to become the legends we all consider them to be. Now THAT was some nice spin. It was a guy like Lennon who invented the whole Hat thing. Maybe they were even related.

Madonna did it twice, first with the whole 'Like a Prayer' controversy and then by becoming Jewish and pushing the whole Kabballah thing. Brilliant. She's the only single individual in the world who does better marketing than the Catholic Church, and she does it without selling guilt. And she's never had to apologize, which is more than I can say for Sinead or even Lennon. But I'm getting off-topic.

Where was I? Oh yeah. The Pope. What, did they think he was gonna last forever? The guy was like two hundred years old! Of course he's dead! He's not God, people! If you want your Popes to last longer, ya gotta do like they do with the Dalai Lama -- he's reincarnated into some little kid, and they find the kid, and voila! The kid is the new Dalai Lama. That way, instead of starting with an old guy, your Spiritual Leader is all fresh and spry, but with the wisdom of the ages behind him. I think I'll write a letter to the Vatican and suggest it. I was there once but didn't see a suggestion box. As a matter of fact, that's a whole other story I need to mention: my trip to the Vatican, when a guy with a submachine gun threw us out after we waited in line for 2 hours in hundred-degree heat, because my girlfriend's shirt fell just slightly short of her belly button. Yeah, they don't let you in there if your belly button is showing, at least not if you're an adult female. Maybe if you're a preadolescent boy, they let you in naked, and you get a backstage pass to meet the Pope Himself. I don't know; I'm just guessing. All I know is that God, or the Pope, or whatever, isn't supposed to see your belly button -- the scar left by your umbilical cord, which SHOULD symbolize your birth into this world, right? I mean, I'm sure Jesus had a belly button, right? The belly button is almost a holy thing (ooh, bad pun) -- and my girlfriend had a pretty nice one too. She's gone now, and I really don't miss her for the most part, but I DO miss a few parts of her, one of which was that oh-so-perfect belly button.

Anyway, I started arguing with the guy, but like I said, he had a submachine gun. Not smart of me. I can see the headline now: MAN GUNNED DOWN BY VATICAN SECURITY IN ST PETER'S SQUARE; RAISES BELLY BUTTON CONTROVERSY. Actually, they'd never let it get out like that. They'd simply say I was a terrorist trying to take down the Pope, and my name would go down in infamy, while my girlfriend would be locked up forever in some Vatican dungeon to keep her quiet. Actually in retrospect, considering how unceremoniously she ended up dumping me later, that might have been a cool way for it all to have ended. Call me vindictive if you must, but vindictive is pretty romantic -- and besides, while she'd be suffering in the same ancient vaults as prisoners of The Inquisition itself, I'd just be dead. She'd have the rest of her life to enjoy a (small, confined) part of the rich history of the region.

So...finally we walked across the piazza and down the tourist-tchotchke-lined street (what is it about Religious Kitsche, anyway? It's a whole crazy multibillion-dollar industry that rivals Catholicism itself!) and bought a big scarf, which she wrapped around herself and then we returned to the line and waited another 2 hours to get in. What can I say? She wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. Of course, she didn't realize that you need binoculars to see the fucking 900-foot ceiling from the crowded floor. I knew that, but I didn't want to pee on her parade after the whole belly button ordeal.

So anyway, what I'm trying to say is, "Hey Pope, buh-bye! I hope it's everything you thought it would be, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. And, oh yeah -- you forgot your Hat."

* * *

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Let’s talk about sex, baby

OK, so if you've followed my annoying little rants at all, you will know that I was raised by fundamentalist Christian parents who were more fucked-up than The Manson Family, but with slightly better intentions. And hey, I love my folks -- because, well, they're my folks. If I had the opportunity to choose them in advance, I don't know that I would have picked them out of the catalog, but I'm sure they're not even close to the worst I could have ended up with. A cursory rapid-fire remote-control click through all the various daytime talk/freak shows assures me of this. besides, I'm all grown up now, or so I like to believe. So in retrospect it's all pretty fucking funny.

Case in point:

When I was a kid, we moved around a lot. I'm not sure why; I think my parents were descended from nomadic tribespeople or something. I attended so many different schools, it's amazing I ever completed an assignment or passed a test. They'd pick me up in the middle of class and throw me in the car, where I would notice all our shit packed carefully in boxes. I think I remember once asking if the buffalo-hunting grounds had changed again or something, and I think I remember getting smacked for it, so I never questioned again. I just accepted the constant change after awhile, and it became an adventure of sorts. The weird thing is that we never moved very far -- like around the corner, or 3 blocks down. Always just barely inside the zone of a different school. Weird. One time we moved from out in the boonies (Simi Valley when it was still a big cow pasture) to The Valley, which was quite a distance. That one I understood; my dad was sick of his commute. Otherwise, the rest of it was a mystery to me, and I've even asked about it as an adult and gotten no coherent response. It was probably economic, or else some really complex, HUGE case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people have to have their desk arranged a certain way or they freak out. We just had to keep moving. Somebody once told me that perpetual motion had yet to be invented; I begged to differ.

We also went to church or some church-related function almost every night of the week in addition to the usual Sunday stuff. Because we moved around, we always ended up trying out different churches that were close to home. Even if we'd only moved a block. I guess laziness is next to godliness. Anyway, It was at one particular church that I met my good friend (and fellow blogger) Jim, whom I've now known for just about a lifetime. I was already becoming a bit of a Bad Seed at that point, while he was still a good little PK (preacher's kid, for those of you fortunate enough to have been raised outside of the church world). I can still remember that annoying little fucking halo around his blonde head. Anyway, I was what parents, Christian or otherwise, like to call a "bad influence" on him.

OK, so we were both teenage boys, right? So despite all the fire-and-brimstone crap we were getting on a daily basis, we still had wild fantasies about every girl that walked by and many more who didn't. And, of course, they taught us that not only was sex outside of marriage a sin, but even THINKING about it was a sin. So I knew that if there was really a Hell, they had a red-leather barstool there with my name engraved on it. Because I thought about girls 24 hours a day. I woke up with sticky sheets every damn morning, and my mom wondered why I was so conscientious about doing my own laundry. I think she thought I had a bedwetting problem or something, and didn't want to embarrass me by asking.

Anyway, things were different back then. This was the seventies, and there wasn't every conceivable kind of porn available at the push of a button. I don't know how kids today handle the sensory overload of the Web, but back then it was a huge ordeal for a young boy to get access to proper whacking material. Hell, I remember excitedly thumbing through the underwear section of my mom's Montgomery Wards catalog. Yeah, it was that bad. But I was a smart kid. I devised a plan.

Our latest dwelling was this nondescript pink-stuccoed ranch-style house in Granada Hills, which is just another boring suburb in the middle of the suburban Hell called The San Fernando Valley. I've mentioned that place before. It's beautiful, if you're a sewer rat or you just got back from Beijing. But anyway we were constantly getting mail for the previous occupant, some guy named Robert Something-Or-Other, and my folks would just mark it "doesn't live here anymore" and stick it back in the mailbox for the mailman to deal with. So I saved up twelve bucks from my paltry allowance and a few illegitimate teenage activities that I've mentioned in previous posts, and I sent off a subscription card for Playboy magazine. Using the name of the former resident Robert guy so that, just in case my parents ever intercepted the mailbox before I did, they'd think it was supposed to go to him.

All worked pretty well for awhile; a month or so after sending in my card, the magazines started coming, wrapped in a plain brown sleeve. They arrived pretty predictably each month, so I was able to get to them before my folks did, and soon I amassed quite a collection. At last, a virtually limitless supply of naked girl pictures which, to a horny teenage boy in a devout Christian household, was like finding El Dorado. I would go through each one slowly, savoring every luscious photo and stretching out the experience until the next month's arrival. I can remember forcing myself not to look at the centerfold until weeks later, just so I could keep the experience fresh until the next issue without any gaps in the newness of it all. Ah, to be fourteen again...

But then it all came crashing down.

See, naked pics of girls are fun, but it's even more fun to share them with your best friend. And Jim, as saintly as he might have appeared, was the same age as me, and surely he had the same equipment, though it too probably had a halo around it before he met me. Because I was Bad Boy. Black Sheep Christian. And so I shared. Now I know what you're thinking, and you should be ashamed of yourself. It wasn't like that 'Nico and Dani' movie (which is a pretty good film, by the way). Nope, we didn't have any circle-jerks or anything; we just looked at the pictures together. I didn't know what he went and did after looking at them, though I probably would have felt better knowing he was as 'perverted' as me, because I felt pretty alone surrounded by all those supposedly asexual Church People. But I knew what I did. And I thought I was the only one. Not much in the way of Sex Ed back in those days. And it wasn't even Kansas.

Anyway, I'd found something in common with my friend that we couldn't really talk about with anyone else, because, well, Christians aren't supposed to think about naked girls. Or about doing whatever it was we thought we wanted to do to them. I'm not sure we even really knew, now that I think about it. But whatever it was, we wanted it bad. So one day, after several of these 'viewing' sessions, my loyal and trustworthy friend asked if he could have one of the pictures to take home with him, since I had so many. "Sure," I said, carefully ripping out the page that had so enamored him. After all, what are friends for?

Except that the bonehead had folded up the picture, put it in his pocket and forgotten about it. So when his mom went through his pockets before washing his jeans, a typical 'mom' thing to do, she found the offending Graven Image Of Disgust and nearly had a heart attack right there in the laundry room. As far as she was concerned, it was as if she'd found a severed head in his backpack. How could such a hideous, horrible thing have been in her precious son's pocket? Who could have hypnotized him into looking at such filth? Why, it must surely be that Bad Influence Brian kid, the one she just KNEW was bound for the flames of eternal punishment; she could see it in his eyes! Why, oh why, had she let her son be his friend? How could something like this have happened?

For the record, Playboy in 1977 was about as pornographic as a Victoria's Secret catalog is today. Maybe less so. There wasn't the slightest hint of pink anywhere in the publication. But I digress.

The details of what happened next are a bit fuzzy, but I believe that his family held some sort of Crisis Meeting and gently but firmly coerced him to admit that it was indeed I, the Bad Seed, who had given him the picture -- forced him to take it against his will, I might add. Of course, at this point, chaos ensued.

Parents were called. The prayer chain was alerted. I came home from school to find my room ransacked, every vestige of teenage maleness removed, including my oh-so-well-hidden (or so I thought) magazine collection AND the few non-Christian rock records I had formerly been allowed to have (like The Doors and The Beatles, two bands known for their open cavorting with Satanic Messages when played backwards at 45 RPMs). Even my perfectly G-Rated Charlie's Angel's poster had been ripped -- RIPPED -- from the wall, as well as my beloved Raquel Welch poster (from One Million Years' BC -- oh gawd that strategically-torn suede bikini was the main reason I hadn't yet killed myself). That one had been thumbtacked to the ceiling above my bed. But not anymore; now there was just a big white rectangle in the otherwise yellowish acoustical textured crap with the little sparkly things in it. Strange people came over to my house to 'lay hands' on me. All I could think of were two things: 1) the bastard COULD have just lied; he could have said he found the picture in the street someplace, goddammit; and 2) one of the people 'laying hands' on me was a really cute 20-something girl, and though her complexion could use some work and she wore glasses and a 'Jesus Saves' t-shirt, I wanted her hands off my back and on my front.

I had a third passing thought, which was "why aren't they just glad I'm not a goddamned homo?" But I let that one go, because, again, just thinking about shit is, in the Christian tradition, the same as doing it.

OK, so is that the end of the story? No, it actually gets weirder. Are you still reading? Because this is the best part.

My parents never mentioned the incident. Never said ANYTHING. Just tore up my room like it was a crackhouse on 'COPS', had me prayed over like I was Linda Blair, and seemingly dropped the subject. No birds-and-the-bees lecture; no sitting me down and reading Song of Solomon together; NOTHING.

And then, about 2 weeks later, my folks announced they were going on some weekend retreat, and that my bro and sister would be staying with relatives. I, on the other hand, would be going to hang with some really old folks from church who lived way out in the middle of no-fucking-where. Why? I didn't know. This was new. Since at this point I was beginning to consider my childhood as an anthropological and sociopolitical study that must surely have meaning someday though it seemed meaningless in the present, I didn't argue. I just threw up my hands and said every teenager's default word, "whatever."

So they drove me out to Lancaster. If you don't live anywhere near L.A., that name will be meaningless to you. But if you do, you will realize that, at least back then, that was essentially the open desert outside of the sprawl. Just past Lancaster, it was believed, the Earth ended and you could hear, in the distance, the gradually dissipating doppler effect of people screaming " O..H.....S..H...I....T " as their cars tumbled off the sudden drop and into the abyss. I think there may have been a sign with an icon of a car falling off the end of the world, but if YOU saw that sign, do you think you'd stop in time? No, I don't think you would.

As my folks drove away, waving, the sound of rubber tires on gravel ringing in my ears, this very nice couple with very white hair welcomed me into their lovely (ranch-style! what a surprise!) home, even carrying my small suitcase for me. I knew them, at least at the level of attention a teenager pays to really old people who aren't related to them, and I knew they were nice folks. The kind who called you 'son' even though you're not their offspring, and if you were, you'd likely have grandchildren of your own. Yeah, they were THAT old. And what's really weird is, I think they're still alive. Which means that they've gotta be pushing a hundred and thirty or so, both of 'em. All I know is, their house smelled like a combination of freshly-baked bread and a methane refinery.

They set me up in their guest room, which had a desk, a bed, a nightstand, and a vase with flowers in it that were identical to the flowers growing right by their front door. There was a window facing the front gravel driveway, which was right off the main highway so you could hear cars rumbling by, when they came by, which didn't seem that often. And there were books everywhere in the room -- a wall of bookshelves and several books strewn about on the nightstand next to a lamp that was a cowboy boot with a lampshade on it. If I were seven, I think I would have gotten a kick out of that lamp. But I was almost fifteen, and all I got a kick out of was naked girls and science fiction stuff. Neither of these things were in evidence in this house where I was trapped for the weekend.

So I was unpacking my stuff (luckily I brought whatever Sci-Fi book I was reading at the time), and the old guy came in, asked me if I wanted a soda. I said "Yeah. Root beer." And then he said something really weird; something that I was going to hear a LOT as the weekend wore on. He said, "Now if you have any questions, feel free to ask us and we'll talk about it." I couldn't imagine what questions I might ask, other than "Why the fuck am I here?" so I just said, "OK. Thanks."

He took awhile with the root beer; I think it was in the garage and he had to search for it, because when he brought it, it was warm but served in a glass over ice like a cocktail. So while he was gone, I began to look around the room a bit. Everything was clean and prepared for my visit, as if I were the guest of honor or something. In a way, I thought that was kinda nice. Maybe my parents just wanted to help these old people out by having me stay with them; maybe they were lonely and their grandkids never came over or something. I started to feel kinda proud, like maybe my folks thought so highly of me that they figured I was just the kid to make these people's lives fuller, richer. Like a pet. For a minute I wondered if they were ever coming back -- but I quickly dismissed that thought as just my Dark Side coming through. It did that sometimes. Usually got me in trouble. Now it's there all the time, and usually keeps me OUT of trouble. Or maybe I need some antidepressants.

OK, so just when I was starting to feel like this wasn't so bad, Methuselah came back with my kiddie-cocktail and he again said the same creepy thing: "If you have any questions, feel free to ask us." Then he said, "Make yourself at home" and he left the room, closing the door behind him. It was then that I noticed that the door locked from the outside. In a moment of surreal paranoia that one gets as a wisecracking fourteen-year-old Sci-Fi fanatic, I ran over to the door and turned the knob to see if he'd locked me in. It opened. I was relieved. I snickered to myself uneasily. And then I looked more closely at the books on the nightstand, and I almost peed my pants.

Running around the room, I looked at ALL the books that were placed within my reach. The shelves were filled with books, every one of them about something Christian-related, like speaking in tongues or The Second Coming or whatever. Some were more mundane -- like Bible Concordances, biographies of famous Christian figures like St Augustine, daily meditations by Billy Graham, shit like that. But all the ones that were so carefully placed around the room at kid-level, flat on the desk and the nightstand, were about SOMETHING ELSE.

They were about SEX. Or, more appropriately, Young Christian Boys' Guides to Suppressing Sexual Urges. None of them were actually titled that way; they all had prissy little titles that skirted the issue, and they were all from the forties or fifties. Probably seemed recent to these people, who had likely known St Augustine personally. But there were several of them, and they all looked like someone had gone to great lengths to strike a balance between making them visibly available and yet somehow just haphazardly sitting there at random.

So all of a sudden it all made sense. "Oh my fucking god," I distinctly remember thinking. "You've got to be kidding me." The bible was right, after all. I had thought about girls, dwelled on the topic in fact, and now I was in Hell.

Yes, rather than sitting me down for 'the talk' as some parents might, they sent me away, to the house of these ancient people, who had probably last had sex in the back of a horse-drawn buggy, so I could learn the proper way for a Christian Boy To Handle His Urges.

It all dawned on me at once, so horrifying and absurdly funny at the same time, that I started laughing out loud. Whereupon there was a knock on the (as yet) unlocked door and, without a pause for a response to the knock, the old woman came in. And just what do you think she said? "Hi sweetie. If you have any questions about anything -- anything at all -- feel free to ask us, OK?"

"Um, OK. Thanks." I stammered out, not knowing what else to say. I wanted to hurl myself through the window and run screaming down the highway for someone -- anyone -- to stop and pick me up, the shards of glass poking out of my bleeding teenage face perhaps creating the sense of urgency needed for someone to actually pull over and help. She left the room, closing the door behind her, and I thumbed through one of the books just for the hell of it. It was ridiculous. There were even drawings in there, but not detailed drawings, lest they defeat their intended purpose of SUPPRESSING one's urges. Basically, masturbation is bad, and thinking about sex is bad, and the thing to do is think about something else (yes, they actually suggested baseball) and perhaps immersing oneself in cold water. Picturing Jesus on the cross, suffering for your sins, is also presumably an effective way of changing the subject in your mind -- or, from a gay friend of mine's perspective, an effective way of getting yourself a crucifix fetish. Right now there are doubtlessly thousands of gay men who re-enact 'The Passion' as part of their foreplay. It might not be a coincidence that 'stimulus' and 'stigmata' have the same latin root. After all, I don't think I need to belabor the point that the whole Priest/altar boy thing is seeming more and more the rule than the exception. I heard a rumor that they're going to kill 12 young boys and bury them with the Pope, all wearing nothing but swaddling clothes for the afterlife...

Anyway, after contemplating jacking off into every one of the books to make the pages stick together for the next poor sucker who gets sent here, I finally just decided to lie down on the bed and read the sci-fi book I brought with me. I don't remember which one it was. At some point there was another knock, and Moses asked me if I was ready for dinner. "Yeah," I said, both hungry and relieved that he wasn't coming in to ask me if I had 'any questions' again.

So I sat down with the two of them and ate fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans. Actually it was pretty good. Grandma could cook, as you would expect. And there weren't any little surprises in the food, like anti-masturbation bible verses printed on the plate under the potatoes. Everyone was real quiet while we ate, except when the Old Guy said grace before we started in -- and they didn't make me hold their hands, which I appreciated. I've always hated that shit; if somebody wants to pray, give thanks for the meal that was handed to them by God after they went to the store and bought all the ingredients with their Social Security money, that's fine. To each their own. But ninety-nine percent of the time, they wanna grab your hand while they're doing it. I don't even really like shaking someone's hand; I don't know where it's been, but I certainly know all the disgusting places my OWN has been and I can extrapolate.

So dinner was overall pretty quiet. lots of crunching and slurping and the occasional "How is everything? Would you like some more?" To which I always replied "Yes" because I was a fairly small but rapidly growing boy, and because as often as I masturbated, I needed the fuel. It's amazing how many calories you burn doing that. Fat guys should quit buying crap they'll never use like the 'Ab Lounge' on TV and instead buy a couple of 'Girls Gone Wild' videos. That'll burn those extra pounds in no time, as long as they use both hands and don't use one to snack on popcorn while they're doing it. Sorta defeats the purpose AND decreases the chance they're ever gonna meet a REAL girl to 'go wild' with.

After dinner, things were a little weird. We were all stuffed, and The Boys retired to the 'living room' while the oh-so-traditional white-haired granny did the dishes. I wondered if we were gonna light up some cigars with Bible verses on them or something, but then it dawned on me that, unlike MY house, which disgustingly smelled like stale cigarettes because my parents were fucking chain-smokers, this place didn't smell like that at all. No wonder my asthma wasn't bothering me for a change. Go figure.

But I could see the wheels turning, and I knew that Old Spice was gonna ask me the question again. You know, the one that asks if I have any questions. I actually DID have some questions, but these were kindly old people, and I really did like them, and I knew their intentions were good even though the whole thing was freekin weird, so I abstained. Because my questions wouldn't have been appropriate. I would have asked things like, "Can you still get it up after all this time?" or "Does Granny like it better from the front or behind?" or "When you guys are going at it, which is really hard for me to picture, do you speak in tongues and shout out 'praise Jesus' and shit like that?" But instead, of course, I was just quiet, except for the occasional "Man, that sure was good chicken, eh?" Then I noticed they had a jar of black licorice whips, which I love, so I asked for some, and they were happy to hand me a couple of whips. All I can say is, never eat candy that old people keep around. The licorice was so hard, I couldn't bite it. It would snap in half easily, but the pieces weren't chewable. These were antique licorice whips. Probably worth some money on that Antiques Roadshow thingy. "Yeah, carbon-14 dating reveals these to be the actual prototype for all other licorice whips. These were the first. Hold onto these a few more years and you can retire."

I've already mentioned this was 1977, and 'Star Wars' had just come out. The marketing was pretty esoteric on purpose, but those of us who were big into sci-fi already had some of the scoop. And we were all excited about it, because it was supposed to have the greatest special effects ever. Yeah, go ahead and laugh, but before that, we had crap like 'Logan's Run' which looks like it was shot in a toy store with a WebCam.

Anyhow, so Father Time asks me if there's anything I'd like to do that night; anything I'd like to talk about. And I could tell he didn't wanna pressure me, and we had all of Sunday ahead of us (which I dreaded) the next day. So I said, "Well, I'd like to see 'Star Wars'-- that would be fun." And he said, "Star Wars? What's that?" And Grandma shouted from the other room, "That's that movie that all the kids are talking about -- the one with Alec Guinness in it." And he said, "Oh, I like him. He's a great actor." So they took me to see 'Star Wars' at the closest theater that was playing it, which was about fifty miles away.

And they both fell asleep halfway through it, so we stayed in the theater and I saw it twice. The rest of the series has been a bunch of happy meal commercials as far as I'm concerned; George Lucas is the luckiest and least-talented bastard ever to create an accidental moneymaking scheme. But the first one will always be a classic, because I was almost fifteen and it was Science Fiction, sorta, and because it saved me from a night of sex-talk with old people.

The next morning we went to church, which was all the way back in The Valley. And my parents were there, and I had never been so happy to see them before. Nobody said anything; I assume that my folks spoke to the old folks and they all figured I'd read the books and hopefully learned about the Facts Of Life from a 1940s Christian perspective, and didn't have any questions. So the topic never came up again. But my Playboys stopped coming in the mail, and I knew I was going to have to go back to using my imagination.

But now I had Princess Leia to think about...

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