Friday, September 21, 2018

By The Power Of My Blanket!



Going to bed growing up, for me, was agony.

It wasn’t because I’m one of those “takes forever to fall asleep” insomniacs, requiring me to go to bed at least an hour before I actually want to go to sleep.

But seriously, I was absolutely no fun at sleepovers.

“Hey guys, I know we’re all having a lot of fun talking about big boobs and imagining what beer tastes like, but it’s already 9:30 pm and I gotta get up early to play with my G.I. Joes and watch Mystery Science Theater 3000.”*

That was my first and last sleepover experience in a nutshell.

And no, it wasn’t agony because I don’t have the ability to turn off my brain like most of you dum-dums, so I could get some rest. I had/have an active imagination and laying tucked into bed in my He-Man sheets was the perfect time to think about our mortality and the concept of the infinite.

As a kid, I used to imagine being dead forever as riding a bike down a street that was always curving to the left. So you could never see what was coming up, you never knew what the future held. This, of course, is because there was no future. No past either. Just an eternity of riding a bike downhill with nothing ever changing and nothing to look forward to.

This is why I dabbled in Christianity for a bit when I was young. I figured if I was going to die, I at least wanted to spend the rest of forever in a place where I could play Super Mario and eat all the Domino’s pizza I wanted.**

No. Neither of those things were the authors of my agony. No.

It was those goddamn monsters.

Look, you’re all rational adults, (probably not if you read anything I write, to be honest.) Let’s say we’re all semi-rational adults, right? We know what’s real and what’s not. Trees? Real. The Snallygaster? Not real. Mr. Brooks? Real. Climate change? Not real. But none of us can disagree on the fact that monsters do exist. Just ask anybody who lives in Tokyo. Or that chick from The Babadook (by the way, that movie was shit.)

There are many types of monsters in the world, from the Jersey Devil to Donald Trump. We simply don’t have the time to get into all of them! So let’s narrow it to the collective monsters of our childhoods: bedroom monsters. They fall into two categories: closet monsters and under-the-bed monsters. I’m not too worried about under-the-bed monsters (UBM). For some reason, they never scared me. I mean, if I slept on a mattress on the floor, they were immediately ass out. My biggest fear was the closet monsters (CM).

The nightly ritual was textbook. After getting rubs and pats from my mom, she’d leave the room and I would gird myself for battle. The set up was simple. I was like the Jason Bourne of frightened children. My bed was set up so that I had unfettered lines-of-sight to my closet door and the door to my room simultaneously. The floor was kept clear of debris in case a quick getaway to my parents’ bed was needed. The door to my closet was closed AT ALL TIMES! For five years I never entered that damn thing, and by the time I had the balls to open the door, everything in there was four sizes too small.

Now, in what may seem like an interesting twist, the door to my bedroom was always open. Why, you ask? Easy. With a closed bedroom, you’re stuck in there with a clown toy possessed by a poltergeist who wants to drag you under the bed for reasons I still don’t fully understand. It’s never good to be trapped in a room with a monster of any type. Why would you do that to yourself? With an open door, you encourage a steady flow of traffic, as any civil engineer would tell you. That way, monsters are free to come and free to go, watch tv and make sandwiches or whatever the hell monsters do when they aren’t scaring kids, (wait, did I just make a Monsters INC. reference? And I didn’t even see that movie! Damn you Pixar!) and everybody’s a happy camper.

Of course, there are times when it’s not possible to placate the monsters with The Good Place and open-faced paninis. Sometimes they’re looking to get their jollies by messing with you. That’s where your blanket comes into play.

Just as every child knows that monsters exist and want to eat you or teach you calculus or whatever, we also instinctively know that blankets and bedsheets are their kryptonite. Protective barriers that keep the monsters at bay and keep you safe. Why is this? Nobody knows. That wisdom has been lost to the ages. But what we do know to be true, what we know to be sacred, is the power of the blanket!
So parents, take the time to sit your kids down and let them know that they are not alone. You have been where they are currently. You know that bedtime and sleeping can get scary, but as long as they have a blanket, all will be well. All will be well.

Now, TIME FOR GO TO BED!



*Yes, I was a junior in high school at the time. Shut up.

**I also dabbled in Satanism, cause that place had naked ladies and all the Popeyes I could eat.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

All Aboard the Pork Chop Express, Next Stop: Tranquility



So I was sitting at home a couple of weeks ago, watching Big Trouble in Little China for the eight trillionth time, (For this viewing I learned Chinese, so I could make sure the film makers got the details correct. John Carpenter is known to be as precise and exact as Stanley Kubrick when it comes to what appears on screen.) when it hit me: this Jack Burton guy has his shit together more than it appears at first glance. He’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.

Upon further reflection, I realized that Jack Burton (the main character is this flawless masterpiece) approaches life from a very well-defined point of view. He’s a man who has spent years in his truck, traversing the highways and byways of this great country (America?) hauling the sundries that we all so desperately need. Were you able to drink coffee this morning? You can thank Jack Burton for that. Is your lawn well-manicured? It’s people like Jack Burton who smuggled the immigrants into your neighborhood for that very purpose. Did your life-sized John Holmes “Xtra Veiny” black dildo made from Space Age polymers (and Blutooth enabled) arrive on your doorstep this week? That’s right, Jack Burton once again.

It was during his time on the road that a well-worn and time-tested philosophy formed for Jack. And he loves to shares this philosophy with others. He spends the majority of his time in his truck giving advice and life lessons to his fellow truckers. All of it from knowledge and experiences gleaned from years of being a rig jockey. Nobody asks him to, but you can be damn sure everybody within earshot of a CB radio sits in rapt attention whenever Jack Burton’s pitchy voice comes over the speaker.

And his words! The things he says can really open your mind. From the existence of life on other planets:

“Well, ya see, I’m not saying that I’ve been everywhere and I’ve done everything. But I do know it’s a pretty amazing planet we live on here, and a man would have to be some kind of fool to think we’re alone in this universe.”

To dealing with adverse weather:

“Just remember what Ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big old storm right in the eye and says: ‘Give me your best shot. I can take it.’”

To methods of placating obstinate bill collectors:

“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye, and asks you if you paid your dues; you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye and you remember what Ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that: ‘Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yessir. The check is in the mail.’”

To proper driving safety:

“Like I told my last wife, I said ‘Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it’s all in the reflexes.’”

And sometimes he says stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with eyes or vision. But not too often. Any thoughts involving eyeballs or sight are squarely in his wheelhouse.

His attitude on life is so refreshing and unique. His method of coping with setbacks, from his truck being stolen to having to fight demons from the underworld, is to shut up and just get it over with. Sometimes without shutting up and usually without actually getting it over with either. But it never really matters in the end because things work out for Jack anyway.

Thus inspired, I decided to apply Jack Burton’s lifestyle to my very own, to see how a day in his vaguely racist tank top, unnecessarily tight jeans and stylish boots would suit me. But without having to wear any of that stuff, because come on. Halloween it ain’t.

The next day I drove in to work. I don’t actually have a CB radio in my car, but that didn’t stop me from monologuing into thin air about whatever random shit popped into my head, (how the hell did Norm manage to be a regular at the Bull & Finch if he never paid his tab?) This exercise helped to prepare me for the day to come.

As I stepped into the office, a coworker ran up to me in a panic. It seemed that over the evening hours, our systems may have crashed, costing us many important files and potentially erasing the payments of several of our customers. Were this true, it could be a disaster for the firm. I had to act fast. I had to calm this guy down and set his mind at ease. So I grabbed his shoulders as they shook from his feminine crying fit and looked him dead in the eyes.

“The check is in the mail,” I said. And walked away. The company filed for Chapter 11 two days later.

Continuing my Jack Burton experience, I headed to a nearby food truck for lunch. Unfortunately, the line for “Hot Mess” the ironically-named gazpacho food truck, was far too long for me to stand in for a bag of soup (they sell soup in a bag, what can I say?) I just didn’t have the patience for waiting.  And why should I? I’m Jack Burton now goddam it! I’m a VIP! So I pushed my way to the front of the line.

Whenever I passed grumbling nobodies I would favor them with a smile and say “Ol’ Jack says…what the hell?” This did nothing to help clear up my behavior and actually made a few people more irate. Which, in turn, led to my involuntary gazpacho shower as patrons pelted me with bags of soup. I barely made it away safely.

So far, my experiment had failed me. Jack Burton made it look so easy. He was able to simultaneously quip, smooch the ladies and fight people who shoot lightening from their fingers. Why was I having such trouble?

That evening I went to my favorite watering hole, The Hill, to enjoy some adult beverages and try to piece together where I went wrong. I couldn’t understand it. As far as I could tell, Jack Burton had it all figured out. He was but a few short steps away from Nirvana and complete universal harmony. Meanwhile, here I was, probably out of a job and covered in tomatoes and pureed veggies.

After sipping on my fourth gin and tonic, I realized what I was missing. See it’s not enough to try and just follow Jack’s advice. If one wants to truly know enlightenment, one must commit to walking the same path as that great man. I would have to go out and buy a truck. I’d have to get married and divorced a few times, probably have a bastard child or two out there somewhere. I’d need to get into gambling and playing Mah Jong (probably) at grimy city docks in the wee morning hours. I would need to become stupider and more obtuse. And most importantly I would need the experience and hemorrhoids that only come with untold hours of sitting in a truck. I understood that all of these things were too much for me to attempt as a simple social experiment. I would have commit to a complete life overhaul. And since Love it or List it was going to be on in a few minutes, I just didn’t have the time.

I had to abandon my experiment there. But not all is lost, for I know that someone, somewhere out there, must be replicating what I did. But going further. Trying harder. Somebody out there is close to tasting spiritual oneness with Jack Burton and the cosmos. And to that person, whoever they may be, 

I can only say:

“Sit tight, hold the fort, keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn…call the president.”

Or something like that. Whatever. It’s not an exact science.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

How To Live Like A Universal Local



So there I was, sitting in Zengo, enjoying a nice brunch of dim sum and antojitos and reading the latest issue of LunchBox. There was a fascinating piece comparing the prices and tastes of a Ricky in Chinatown versus a Ricky in NoMa (one locale prefers the more traditional bourbon, whilst the other favors the more plebian gin. Natch).

I continued reading the magazine as I hopped onto the Green Line --while jamming out to some Rare Essence, of course-- past the Borf mural, down to U Street for a quick little nosh at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Following that, I snagged a conveyance from the Bike Share and made my way to Anacostia to pick up an eight ball of Hinckley and a quart of mambo sauce. With those tasks completed, I wandered over to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for my shift running the glory hole in the men’s room.

The magazine article that really caught my eye was about living like a native in this fair city. The places to go, the places to be seen, the things to do and eat, what to wear, what to do, what people to hate and the myriad other things that differentiate living in this particular city from any other city in the world.

And it was all the most egregious of bullshit.

See, I live in the Washington D.C. metro area. I was born in the city proper and grew up right outside its august gates. As far as I can tell, there are at least three separate D.C.s:

1. There’s the touristy portion, full of free --or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, needlessly expensive-- museums, national monuments, hot dogs cooked in toilet water and crappy tee shirts stitched together in Indonesian sweat shops.

      2. The political side of D.C., which is anything around Capitol Hill, (or just “The Hill” as smug, self-important assholes call it).

3. And the actual, honest-to-goodness locals, the groupings of which can be divided into sub-categories, ranging from the scared white people in Georgetown, to the scared black people in South East.

The group that tends to lead the charge when it comes to these stories about being a local and fitting in to the area, is the second group mentioned. More specifically, the people we call “transplants.” These people are usually political staffers in their 20s and early 30s who amble into town for a few years and irritatingly mandate what’s “hot” and “in” around here. Then, after the transplants have left as annoyingly as they came, we locals wash their stink off of us, have a good laugh at their expense and continue to do whatever the hell it is we do. I think it has something to do with driving like insane people.

For years, I would occasionally see these stories pop up on the laziest of “news” websites. But over time, I noticed that those kinds of pieces were appearing more and more frequently, and not just for D.C. but for all major American metropolitan areas. And even non-metropolitan areas. Which makes no sense. I don’t mind that I’m not a native of Abingdon, West Virginia. I certainly don’t need to know the proper local etiquette for asking my first cousin out.

But back to the D.C. articles; I would quickly look over their checklists of local behavior to see how I measured up, and I often found myself wanting. I would panic, because I felt that I wasn’t living right. Yet, like an addiction, I would feel compelled to read about how I was a failure as a native Washingtonian. I would pick up a newspaper, --or, more likely, click on a link, because we live in Buck Rogers times now-- and thick, sour rivers of sweat would pour down my face as I read about the restaurants and bars that I’d never heard of, but everyone was going to, including my loved ones and family pets.

I was forever baffled. I couldn’t understand how I, as an indigenous dude, had missed the double-decker tour bus on all of these wonderful things that absolutely everybody I’ve ever known had been doing for years. And then it hit me: these lists aren’t written by, or meant for, locals. They’re written by outsiders. The Unbidden. Those who have weird geography identity issues and are OCD about classifying humans. And, on top of that, the lists are so esoteric as to be meaningless to anybody who reads them beyond a two-block radius of the author’s pretentious coffee house of choice.

You see Washington D.C. is a large city, using land appropriated from more than one state. It has about nine dozen distinct neighborhoods and a population of “oodles” according to the US Census Bureau website. The point is that the day-to-day life of a citizen in Tenleytown can be the polar opposite of that of a resident of Ward 8, but they’re still both inhabitants of the same city. Just two different parts of this multicolored, patchwork quilt we call The Former Murder Capital of these United States.

Anything I have done as a local is automatically something that a local does. It’s one of the simplest truisms to ever make itself known to me (the other being Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy). And it’s one I wish I was famous enough to abuse. Because then I’d be constantly walking around town in footie pajamas, walking my pet llama on a dental floss leash and eating only pineapple rinds, making sure that all the tourists got a good steaming gawk at me. And then, when I was sure I have everybody’s attention, I’d scream at the top of my lungs “Welcome to the Nation’s Capital! I’ll be your guide!”

I can see it in my mind’s eye. My “Living Like a Local” tour would be a smash hit. Buy your tickets now.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

WANT Part II



That night during dinner was the second time that Duncan saw the captain and it was a more telling encounter.

            At the end of a long and raucous dinner the captain struggled to rise from his table. He managed, but only after grabbing onto Esten for support. Able’s eyes scanned the assembled crew and he held his hands out in front of him almost as if he were about to conduct an invisible orchestra. When he talked, his hands became very animated, jabbing the air to accentuate each slurred word the captain said.

            “Greetings to all here tonight. As you all know, my name is Capt. Vincent Able, and I am the big man on this ship. What I say goes and you will all follow my directions implicitly.”

            Duncan looked down at the area on the table in front of the captain. The place was filled with empty glasses.

            Uh oh, Duncan though. Looks like the captain enjoys a drink or 10 with dinner.

            “What you don’t all know,” continued Able, “is that this is my first time as a captain of a cruise ship. All of my previous nautical experience has been at the helm of a whaling ship. But, now with those stupid, pointless international whaling laws putting decent guys out of good, hard work, I’ve had to hop on a different boat, as it were.” Able paused and swept his eyes across the room once more.

            “Because this is my first time, I want to make a great impression on everybody and do a great job. So what I want out of you people is dedication and loyalty. Do as I say and I think we’ll all have a really great summer this year,” he said. “It’ll be great.”

            Able faltered at that moment, and it was apparent to Duncan that all the alcohol the captain had drunk during dinner was going to get the best of him. Mr. Esten sensed this and took the captain by arm and led him away.

            Duncan wasn’t happy about finding out the captain was a drunk, and neither were the other people at his table; all members of Mr. Brooks and The Floating Troubadours.

            “I’ve heard that Able was actually fired from his last job for getting drunk and shooting a harpoon gun at his own men,” said the bassist to his left.

            “Yeah? Well I heard that he got really drunk and tried to make a pass at his male first mate,” said the drummer to his right.

            “You’re both right in that he’s a big drunk. I heard from another guy that Able was the actual captain of the Exxon Valdez,” said the triangle player across from Duncan.

            “Well, if what any of what you guys say is right,” Duncan started, “then it looks like we’re going to have a wild ride in store for us.”
                                                           
***

            The night of the storm proved how prophetic Duncan’s words were. The captain was drunk that night, again, and refused to listen to Esten’s warnings. It wasn’t until the Rose started listing five degrees starboard that Able finally admitted that they might be taking on water. But it wasn’t until two ensigns drowned trying to confirm the reports about sinking that the captain finally did something about it.

            Drenched by the storm and yelling at the top of his lungs so that his crew could hear him through the cacophony of the storm, Able oversaw the evacuation of the ship. He launched all of the life boats, with the cruise guests aboard. Then, once the guests were gone, he saw to the needs of his crew. Unfortunately, by then, there weren’t enough boats for everybody. Not that it mattered anyway because before anybody had a chance to do anything, the Rose lurched violently starboard, spilling the captain and everybody else in the bridge into the shark-infested maelstrom below. The EPIRB hadn’t even been engaged. Without the position indicator, the rescue teams wouldn’t know where to search for survivors.

            Duncan was in bed when the ship started to sink. He was groggy and a little hung over from his own drinking binge earlier that night. By the time the screams started he was able to collect his thoughts. I want to live! He said to himself.

            During earlier forays, poking around the bowels of the ship, Duncan found a storeroom with rubber life rafts still in boxes. He ran there now, shoving other people out of his way to make it there quicker. After breaking down the door to the storeroom, Duncan grabbed a box and ran out to the main deck. With the storm thrashing around him, tossing people and deck chairs around like rag dolls, Duncan pulled the raft out of the box and prepared to inflate it.

He had his hand on the rip cord when he was broadsided and knocked unconscious by a bunch of shuffleboard sticks that had been torn from their locker.

                                                ***

That was the last thing Duncan remembered from that night. The next thing he knew it was morning and he was adrift in the lifeboat.

            Land…land…

            That was all he wanted. An end to this interminable drifting.

            It was the morning of the sixth day when he finally spotted the shore. At first, he didn’t want to believe it. He just assumed that it was another figment of his imagination, (he had already had a long, thought-provoking conversation with Genghis Khan the previous night. The man had a great recipe for meatloaf.) and would soon disappear, just as his night-time cooking companion had done. But two hours later he realized that he had drifted closer and could actually make out features of the land.

            Duncan was ecstatic. The sight of ground renewed his strength and sent his optimism soaring.
            LAND!

                                                            ***

            By the afternoon Duncan was close enough to stumble onto the pebbled beach. It was the first time in a month that he had touched the ground, and he was loving every second of the sensation. Step by step he made his way up the beach and collapsed onto the hot sand. He had made it; he had survived a sinking ship and more than five days at sea. He had the one and only thing he could possibly want, a place to stand, sit and lay down. Terra Firma. There was nothing else he wanted. Nothing at all.

            Except, maybe…water.

            Water…

Water…WATER! 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

WANT



            Land…land…LAND!!!

            It had been five days so far. Five days since the combination of a very brutal sea storm and the captain’s drunken inexperience at the helm led to Duncan’s abandonment on a life raft and the death of a few dozen of his band mates. Since then it had been five days of pure agony and loneliness in the apathetic embrace of the neon orange life raft.

            Five whole days, which can be translated into 120 hours, or 7,200 minutes, or 432,000 seconds. An eternity. Hours upon endless hours of being tossed around by the sea, bouncing from wave crest to wave crest.  Whether it was under the blistering, energy-sapping gaze of the sun, or the cold, darkness of the moon, Duncan had no protection, no way of alleviating the harsh conditions of the Pacific Ocean.

            Including the three weeks spent aboard Her Majesty’s Rose, it had been almost a whole month since Duncan had set foot on land, and he didn’t like it. The endless rocking back and forth had left him very ill and uncomfortable. He had lost count of the hours he spent with his head over the gunwale of the raft, where the salty spray of the sea kept his forehead cool and wet his brown hair until it was plastered to his face.

The worse part was that he had run out of stomach contents to vomit up days ago. Now, whenever the need to vomit occurred all it did was bring stinging stomach acid up into his throat, the bitter taste of his own bile reminding him of how little he’d eaten since the quick bite before his last show, that fateful night. A couple of small, unidentifiable (at least to Duncan, who had no idea what the names of different fish were) fish and what was either a piece of wood floating by, or a petrified sea snake. Duncan didn’t know and he didn’t care.

             He was hungry, he was thirsty, he stank and his skin was peeling from the brutal force of the sun. All Duncan wanted was land. As far as he was concerned once he put his feet on the ground everything else would be fine. Getting to land was the cornerstone of a good survival plan. After all, he’d spent his whole life on land, he was familiar with its moods and how it worked. There was little to no fear of the ground suddenly buckling and gyrating enough to make him sick. Absolutely no chance of a grass and moss-covered hill appearing out of nowhere to crash down on him like so many waves had done.

            Land was his biggest desire and main concern. Nothing else mattered.
Land...

You’d think that with this being the 21st century and all, that cruise ships would have the proper equipment to detect all types of nautical problems, including storms at sea. And oddly enough, Her Majesty’s Rose did have first-rate weather tracking equipment, including state-of-the-art computer relays which interfaced with GOES-11, a geostationary meteorological weather satellite positioned over the Pacific Ocean. And in case of trouble there was the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which would let people back on land know where the ship was positioned if it ever went down. Yet, all the equipment and machines in the world aren’t worth a damn if the captain doesn’t know what he’s doing. From what Duncan could tell, Capt. Able was the epitome of nautical incompetence.

                                                            ***

            Duncan had only met the captain twice. The first time was when Duncan first set foot aboard the Rose. Able stood at the top of the gangplank with his second-in-command Mr. Esten. Able grabbed the hand of each crew member as they stood in front of him and shook it vigorously as he welcomed everybody aboard. His starched, white uniform looked impeccably clean and had crisp edges and pleats. Duncan supposed that the cleanliness of the uniform was Able’s way of making up for how squat and ugly he was. As if hiding his gut and jowls was possible.

            As Able grabbed Duncan’s fingers between his two meaty hands and began pumping up and down while smiling a little too enthusiastically, Duncan could see bits of food lodged in between the captain’s teeth and it made him shudder.

            “Welcome aboard Her Majesty’s Rose, young man!” the captain said. “What’s yout name and what do you do?”

            “My name is Duncan Hills and I’m the alto saxophonist for the ship’s band.”

            “Ahh, a member of Mr. Brooks and The Floating Troubadours, eh? Excellent. I hope your music adds the right touch to this summer’s cruises. Thank you for coming aboard. Mr. Esten will tell you your birthing arrangement,” Able said.

            Duncan switched his attention to the man standing next to the captain to find out where he would be sleeping for the next three months. Mr. Esten was a tall, swarthy man, very angular in appearance, with a nose that looked down-right aerodynamical. He had small, shifty eyes that made him look like an evil cartoon villain. Because Esten was aware of how he looked to others, he tried his best to get along with everybody. He really wanted to overcome the effect his appearance had on others.

            “Hello Mr. Hills, you will be on the third deck, room four, birth eight. Follow this ensign next to me and he’ll take you and your bags to your new room. There will be a crew meeting and then dinner in the main galley at seven thirty. This is where the captain will introduce you all to each other and begin this year’s cruise season with a motivational speech. See you then.”

            Duncan and the ensign made their way down three decks to find his room. Along the way he got a good look at some parts of the ship and he decided that he was going to enjoy his summer. Her Majesty’s Rose had three restaurants for the guests, two movie theaters, two casinos, a smattering of gyms and workout areas, three pools and even a sauna. Of course, as an employee of Royal Star cruise lines Duncan wouldn’t be able to go to a lot of those places, at least, not during the times when the female guests would be there. And he knew that he’d only get to see the restaurants while performing. The galley would be where Duncan would eat.

But even with a bit of segregation between the guests and employees, Duncan felt that it would be a great summer. It was his first time on a boat, but he wasn’t too nervous. Royal Star cruise ships had an excellent record of safety. Sinking was the furthest thought from his mind.