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Mexico, Part 5 – You Are So Mediocre To Me

Everyone’s a Winner!

“Well, I dooooo declare! Mr. Andrew Lowry, as I live and breeeeeeeth! Time to riiiiise and shiiiiiine!”

That was Luke. He was being loud while standing over me with a sloppy grin.

“Was I not asleep ten seconds ago? Who are you? Who am I? What time is it?”

“Yes. Luke. Drew. 6am. You have sixteen questions left. Let’s go, Bro! We need to put you to work.”

Get lost. I traveled two days to get to this dump. Almost died getting here, could’ve gotten tossed in jail for dragging around a couple pounds of weed (courtesy of your dipshit friend), ran over who knows how many chickens on the drive, spent a few hours in a church mourning the loss of some flea-bag pot dealer and got assigned a hotel room so as not to disturb your domestic bliss, such as it is. Blow me.

“You are evil and you must be destroyed. Coffee. Must find coffee….”

“Café is in a thermos in the jeep where you need to beeeeee! We have a long drive. Rick dropped off all coloring books from your room.”

“Rick? Who’s…., oh, the hotel guy who really, really really wanted to send me two 15-year-olds for some all-night mattress testing. And, no, I didn’t take him up on the offer.”

Luke laughed. “Ah-ha, that’s why he told me you’re gay. So, now that we have solved that mystery, get up. Time’s a wasting.” 

You couldn’t be bothered to come down stairs last night to say hello. Now it’s time for me to be free labor. 

“Yes, Mother. May I, pretty please, go tinkle first?”

Luke pretended to be annoyed. “Oh, sure, fine, there you go. Putting yourself ahead of needy children, as usual. Go ahead. Oh, I forget to mention, it’s great to see you, Big Guy.”

“And, you, my friend. This’ll be an express tinkle. I’ll do the self-service option.”

“Hi-yeeeee!” Sara entered the room. “While you two were busy fondling each other, your Auntie Sara got everything loaded in the jeep. What’s up, Sleepy Head?”

“Oh, me. I’m astonishingly refreshed after my nine solid minutes of sleep. My immediate plan is to go do number one. I shan’t be long.”

Sara jumped up and down in mock-excitement. “I wanna watch, I wanna watch! Pleee-yeeez?”

I feigned grave concern.  “I’m worried about you.”

“Well, join the club!” Sara looked at Luke. Luke looked back and abruptly walked away. 

Two minutes later, we were destined for parts unknown in their 300 year old open-air jeep filled with boxes including the coloring books and my suitcase with all its contents. 

The jeep looked like this except the one I was in had bald tires, a missing grill, dented bumpers and the passenger’s door occasionally fell off.

Luke casually mentioned, “We’ll be staying overnight. It’ll be fun. You get to pass out the coloring books. Every kid in the jungle will love you.”

“Every kid in the what?”

“Jungle. Listen, why don’t you get some shut-eye. We’ll stop in a couple hours and get you some food.”

The jungle. Well. Isn’t that….lovely. 

So, I slept. Jammed between boxes on the flatbed of the jeep while Lukey announced ways to fix Mexico problems, improve the lives of the downtrodden plus return peace and love to the valley. 

Well, that’s fine. You fix the entire country’s problems in five minutes. 

Which reminds me, I am currently working on two critically important projects to better the lives of my fellow citizens. One will, in a matter of weeks, exponentially increase the  country’s GDP. It involves urine.The other will finally unite the political parties in pursuit of one common goal. It involves hats. 

When these projects are complete, I guarantee this here “Land of the Free of the Brave” will ascend to unthinkable heights of wealth and happiness. 

It’s the least I can do for my country. 

This first one is ingenious.  When you apply for a job in the good old USA of America, you have to provide a urine sample. This is because we want to make sure you aren’t taking drugs. This is very important. You can be a violent criminal. That’s fine. We’re good with that. You can storm into work with a machete and threaten to kill all the administrative staff. The worst that’ll happen is a manager might suggest you contact Employee Assistance. However, thou shalt not bring thine filthy drugs to our holy and sacred workplace on accounta drugs are bad.

This fixation with drugs in the workplace is, of course, ridiculous and a complete waste of time. Drugs aren’t the problem. People are. Plus, it doesn’t keep anyone from taking drugs after getting the job. If you stood up in a corporate office and said the drug testing will start in five minutes then 80% of the employees will immediately urinate on themselves. 

There’s a reason for that. 

What corporate America urgently needs is a urine test for stupidity, willful ignorance, laziness and corruptibility. Just think what your company could accomplish if you got rid of those kinds of people. 

Anti-Jackass Urine Test

If you had a urine test that identified the losers ahead of time so you could avoid hiring them then your net earnings would quadruple. 

This is where I come in with my breakthrough AJUT (Anti-Jackass-Urine-Test). I’m getting close. We completed an initial trial with the Nestlé Company. Unfortunately, all the employees at the company tested positive. All of them. Perhaps Nestlé wasn’t the best company to run our beta. It turns out that a consortium of Mafia families refused a merger opportunity with Nestlé on the grounds that, “Yes, fine, we’re criminal but we’re not THAT criminal.”

It needs a little fine tuning but we’re getting there. 

My other project relates to the pathetic state of politics in this country. You see, in the good old USA of America, politicians aren’t elected based on qualifications, accomplishments, experience, expertise or personal conduct. Even the political ads are meaningless because they all say the same thing: “Vote for me and I’ll give you whatever you want. PS, my opponent sells child porn to finance his campaign.” No rational person takes these ads seriously.

(Now, before you get tuned up, I’m neither Democrat nor Republican. I’m Independent. Primarily,  because Democrats and Republicans tend to scream the answer at you before you’ve even had a chance to ask the question. For those unfamiliar with the major political parties in the Land of Milk and Honey, Democrats are the ones who keep making the same stupid mistakes because they refuse to learn from the past. Republicans are the ones who come off as knuckle-dragging morons because they refuse to stop living in the past. The only thing they agree on is they should make it impossible for a third party to get anywhere.)

When it comes to politics in the USA, everything that should be meaningful isn’t. Everything. 

Look at Donald Trump. What public policy experience or political expertise did he have? None. Other than filing bankruptcy a lot, what did he actually accomplish? Not much. Did he mention any specific domestic policy? No. Entire foreign policy? Build a wall. Personal conduct? The guy is an HR manager’s worst nightmare. 

However, Donald had a hat. It was a baseball hat and it said MAGA (Make America Great Again) on the front. Other than the hat, he had nothing. But, he became president because of that hat. Half the people who voted for him probably didn’t know what MAGA stood for. It didn’t matter. People rallied around that MAGA hat. Hillary Clinton didn’t have a hat. Case closed. 

All you need to do is determine a unifying thread. A notion upon which all Americans strongly agree. Identify that one issue, make a ridiculous slogan about it, pull an acronym out of your whatnot, put that acronym on a hat and you, my friend, can be elected president. 

And, I think I found the perfect acronym: 

MEGA – Make Excellence Go Away.

I believe all Americans are prepared to vigorously defend the country against anyone’s pursuit of excellence. On this point, we’re solid. We are resolutely….uh, resolved….in our WASTE (War Against Striving Towards Excellence).

I kid thee not. 

Exhibit A: The MIAC (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference), who govern collegiate sports for the state, recently threw STU (St. Thomas University), a member school, out of the conference because their football team kept beating the other teams in that conference and those other teams didn’t like it. 

You think I’m kidding.  

I am not kidding.

It made the students with other schools feel bad about themselves. They were sad, probably all ended up in therapy, were immediately diagnosed with PTLD (Post-Traumatic Loser Disorder), put on medication and remain unemployed because they can’t pass the drug test.   

Now, I know there may be some lowbrow, mouth-breathing, radical, anti-slothers out there right now asking, “Gosh, wouldn’t the people on the other teams be motivated to work harder, work smarter, improve their performance and become a better team so they can beat St. Thomas University?”

No.

Hell, no.

Are you out of your mind? This is America! Where Amber waves her grain upon these fruited planes [sic] over Dawn’s early light in the home of the bombs bursting in air! We have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of feeling good about ourselves without having to do anything to feel good about! Says so in the first amendment, you EPOYD (Extremist Piece Of Yak Dung)!

Exhibit B – Public Schools. Schools in the States teach all children that everyone’s a winner. Everyone. No one is a loser. Ever. This includes giving all children trophies saying they are winners. 

Of course, there are some flatulent free-market types who’ll make threatening and demeaning statements to the effect of, “If EVERYONE is a winner then no one’s a winner. Stands to reason.”

Fine. Fine, fine, fine. It’s a tie. Everyone is tied. 

Anyway, this is how it works in public schools:

Let’s say you have two 5th graders. One is called Natalie. The other is called Jasper.

Natalie shows up 30 minutes early to school everyday, gets 100% on all her tests, is 50 weeks ahead on her homework, helps her classmates with their homework, is the 3rd ranked chess player in the world and was recently published in the top science journals where she repealed Avogadro’s Law.

Then, there’s Jasper. Jasper shows up 2 hours late because he can’t remember the name of his school, is 36 months behind on his homework, still isn’t toilet trained, has a GPA of -0.5, picks his nose and vomits on his desk. 

As far as the school’s concerned, there is absolutely no difference between Natalie and Jasper. They’re both winners. They both get similar trophies. Natalie gets one for her breakthrough quantum theory of gravity which will enable scientists to determine the origin of the universe. Jasper gets one for zipping his pants up after going to the bathroom.  In fact, Jasper is lavished with prizes and awards when he’s only 45 minutes late to school. 

Jasper gets an “A” for effort and Natalie gets detention because all her good work and success is making Jasper feel bad about himself which is a prosecutable offense under WIGS (Worthlessness Is Godliness Statute). 

The school administrators encourage the other students in the class to beat up Natalie because she’s thoughtlessly overachieving which is in direct violation of the school’s SHIT (Schools Hate Independent Thought) mandate. 

The parents of Natalie’s classmates run a smear campaign against Natalie claiming she slept with the entire high school wrestling team one night and speculating she’s a direct descendant of Satan. 

Eventually, Natalie decides pursuing excellence is more trouble than it’s worth so she goes on a tequila binge for the rest of the school year where she receives a trophy every time she makes it through the day without vomiting on her desk. 

So, now that Natalie has gotten with the program,  everyone’s a winner again. We can all go back to doing nothing and feeling good about it. 

As you can see, everything is back to normal in our public school system:

The best part about this is, even though the student is now in 9th grade, the school system proudly announced he’s on track to graduate high school next year.

One more thing. Did you know, in the good old USA, all children are considered “special?” That’s another insight public schools insist on bellowing:

“All children. Special. No exceptions.”

What no one tells you is when you are no longer special. There must be an age where you migrate from “special” to “just another useless, fornicating little jack-ass who’s holding up the line.”

Where was I? 

Right. Mexico. Driving somewhere to see kids in a jungle.

When we arrived in the town of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Sara woke me up with another kiss on the lips. I surveyed the environment for a minute. We were stopped in front of an open air market. I didn’t see Luke anywhere. 

“Did we just end up on page 20 of ‘Animal Farm?'”  This, to me, was a highly appropriate question because, in the middle of a state filled with extreme poverty, Tuxtla Gutiérrez was home to the excesses and decadence of the state’s filthy rich. These were the privileged few against whom the animals in Orwell’s book rebelled. Nice homes and communities were behind large iron gates and protected by armed security guards. According to Sara, 1% of Chiapas’ wealthiest residents accounted for well over 50% of the state’s income and most of that 1% could be found in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.

In terms of wealth, Tuxtla Gutiérrez wouldn’t have been confused with Monaco. It was comparable to an upper middle class neighborhood in El Paso.

But, juxtaposed with the rest of Chiapas, the residents were billionaires and they looked the part: ridiculously dressed, unaware of their surroundings, flabby and possessed with the same vacuous, dull-eyed facial expressions most bored rich people have. 

Time for another frustrating game of Spot the Rich Mensa Candidate.

Sara’s face was about six inches from mine when I woke up. 

“You’re cute when you’re asleep.”

“You’re cute when you’re awake so we can cover all 24 hours with cuteness cooties. What did you do with Lukey?”

“Uh-oh. I knew I forgot something. I think I left him in a porta-potty an hour ago. Darn. We can pick him up on the way back. For now you’re mine, all my-yiiiine!”

Too much. Something is way off the mark. Comfort level at Def-Con Two. Change the subject.

“Is the youngster okay? From what I overheard last night, it seemed his neurons were misfiring. Badly.”

“You heard us?”

“The entire ordeal including him shouting his eternal love and you doing a fine job faking a big one.” 

“Gawd! I told him to shut the door.”

I smiled. “I heard that, too. Hey, it’s okay. I lived in the freshman dorms. Heard it all before.”

“Do you think he knew I faked it?

Why did I mention this in the first place?

“He was way too busy being self-conscious to notice. I understand he’s insecure but whoa. Why is he pretending to be so happy and can you make it stop? I mean, he’s the one faking.”

She stared at me for a bit and then rested her head on my chest and ran her finger lightly around my face.  

I was worried Luke would see us. “Shall we saunter along the promenade and cast aspersions upon the local hordes?” 

Sara did the nose twitch girls seemed to always do when I said something incomprehensible. “Once more in English?”

“Yew wanna go fer a walk ‘n make fun uh duh natives?”

“If we’re not here when His Hiney gets back then he’ll break into a million-billion pieces and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men….”

“Couldn’t put Hiney’s ugly ass back together again. Got it. Are you two wacky kids actually thinking of staying here and getting married?”

Sara’s facial expression was one of a person who just sat on a thumb tack.  “Oh, pul-eez. This little girl? No, no, no, no, no. Uh-uh.” She continued in a mock Mexican accent. “Ah don wanna get the marrieeeed. Ah don wanna live here ’til I a ol’ señora. Ah don’ wanna deal with all dis sheeeet. Ah don’ wanna be bossed around by Meeeester Perfecto.”

“Hmmmm, what do you want?”

“You.”

Ooooh, shit. Please tell me your kidding. Please, please, please tell me your kidding. 

She gave me a soft smile. “I so wanted to sleep with you last night.”

You’re not kidding. 

I had no clue she found me attractive at all. I really didn’t. For the first half of my life, I considered myself ugly but made up for it by convincing myself I was stupid. And, fat. Don’t forget fat. And, morally defective. Plus, I was certain I’d be dead by the age of 30. 

A positive self-image was not a strength. Not that I felt sorry for myself. I figured those were the cards I was dealt. So, it was always a surprise when someone found me attractive. I figured it was bad taste on their part. I mean, who wants to hook up with a guy who looks like a fat, greasy, low-rent version of Quasimodo after a 6 month heroin binge, with an IQ in the 60s, a life expectancy of 45 minutes and, when he does kick the bucket, is going straight to Hell on accounta the moral defects.

It’s not an ideal attitude to navigate your way through life but there you go. 

I was flattered that Sara took an interest. I really was. 

Sara was charming, funny, unpretentious, good-natured and pretty. However, even in different circumstances, I’m not sure I would have inflicted her with my stunning romantic charm. I don’t know. Probably not. Besides, we had been friends for a few years and I was never interested in rocking that particular boat. In my experience, the best way to muck up a nice friendship is for all parties involved to take their clothes off and exchange recipes for a night or two. Just to make things more convoluted, Lukey had made some recent noises about marrying her. In my opinion, It was a hornet’s nest best left undisturbed.

Before I had time to reply, we heard Lukey in the distance talking with someone.

Sara quickly and inconspicuously moved back to the passenger’s seat. She looked back at me, smiled and said, “To be continued.”

“May not hurt to talk with the young man. I don’t think he knows how you’re feeling about….”

“We’re not talking at the moment.”

Why doesn’t that surprise me? 

Without saying a word, Luke jumped into the driver’s seat, gave me a couple burritos, didn’t acknowledge Sara, started the jeep and floored it. 

This is just duckie. 

The tension was thick with Sara and Luke. I ate and then pretended to go back to sleep. 

Working out pretty well so far. I wonder if this is how people on the Hindenburg felt once they understood there might be a bit of turbulence during the landing.

Nope. Don’t think this one’s gonna have a happy ending.

On the other hand, they’re good people. They mean well enough. Maybe they can find their way together.

Well, no, actually.

———-END OF PART 5———

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How to Commit Journalism: We Want Dirty Laundry

Actually, this is from an actual Mountain Dew ad actually shown during an actual Super Bowl. Actually, was this ad an actual mistake or actually a bad idea?

The below is a text of a first day lecture from a distinguished professor of broadcast journalism to college freshmen:

The foundation of all journalism is very simple. It comes down to one word but that one word is the bedrock of the profession. This single word is our call to action. It is our raison d’etre and it is the pillar upon which this noble profession has flourished. This word is our Excalibur! It is the sword in the stone. It is why we pursue the truth with relentless focus and determination. And, the word is:

Advertising

‘Cuz if’n you ain’t pulling ratings then your sponsors will drop you like a bad bean pie at a Triple-Muslim convention. And, if’n you ain’t got no sponsors advertising on your little news show then you ain’t generating advertising revenue. And, if’n you ain’t generating no advertising revenue then, Chief, you got yourself a problem. 

You see, folks, it’s like this. There ain’t but three kinds of journalists:

1) TV journalists 

2) Radio journalists

3) Gone journalists 

If you aren’t pulling good ratings then you about to become a gone journalist.

Means you gotta make sure your story falls into one of the five tiers of true journalism. 

Tier 1 – Dead People:

“No Bodies, No Bylines.” First rule when you’re about to commit journalism. Don’t know who said it. William Randolph Hearst, maybe. Maybe it was Bill Cosby. Or, Eleanor Roosevelt. Who cares. Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Fact checking not in the job description. 

Hasn’t been for a long time.

One less thing. 

You want numbers? Get dead people. Lots of ’em. A pile of dead people. Dead children are better. A big pile of dead children. Dead children next to a daycare center that exploded after a propane truck ran into it because the driver was killed by a suicidal terrorist and the propane poured down into a valley causing an entire community to go up in flames so people are running for their lives. Children running for their lives. Naked children running for their lives away from the fire until they fall off a 400 foot cliff and die due to global warming. 

Don’t forget to use these time honored phrases: 

  1. “Untimely murder”
  2. “Alleged suspect”
  3. “Terrible tragedy”
  4. “Details are sketchy”
  5. “Alcohol was a factor”

Grieving mother. Get a grieving mother in front of the camera. Any mother. Could be a mother from another county.  Don’t care. Just get one. Tell her you wanna hear all about her despair. And, torment. And, pain. All of it. She thinking suicide? If so then how? If not then why? 

Need politics, too. Ask her what she thinks all these dead kids mean for the Republican Party in the next election. 

That kinda story will get you paid. Hell, you’ll get a Pulitzer Prize. Maybe two. 

You think I’m kidding about the Pulitzer? I am not kidding about the Pulitzer. 

Two words: Janet Cooke.

Good ol’ Janet worked at the Washington Post. Did a groundbreaking report about pre-teens in DC hooked on heroin. Poor kids. Dropping like flies. Major epidemic. She included a nice anecdote about a little 10 year old named Johnny….or something. Seemed little Johnny was hitting the juice so hard that he practically had a syringe hanging out his arm 24 hours a day.

Did she make the whole thing up? Absolutely!

Did she get a Pulitzer? Absolutely!

Did it matter that this whole thing was total fiction? Absolutely not! 

You’ll be glad to know, even though Jimmy didn’t actually exist, the mayor of DC at the time, Marion Barry, said he had found Jimmy and that Jimmy was safe and in protective custody. I’m serious. He pulled a press conference together to let the world Jimmy was doing just fine.

Tier 2 – Blood:

Remember the guy who said, “If it bleeds, it leads?” Me, neither. Doesn’t matter. 

Guns. They’re the best. Get interviews with people who got shot. Ask them what they think about gun control. 

Wars, earthquakes, riots, gang shootings, fires, natural disasters, anything. Don’t care. Doesn’t matter.  The bloodier, the better. Political assassinations. Tortures are good if you can find any.  A good prison riot can come in handy. 

Definitely put you in the first five minutes of the national news way before the first Ex-Lax commercial. 

They guy’s last name was spelt G A D D A F I.

Tier 3 – A Crisis of Epic Proportion:

We’re in the news business. We make the weather, okay? If you’re coming up short on a story then it’s time to make some news, you got it? And, it better be bad. Real bad.  Nobody cares about what’s going right. Want good news? Go to church. Wanna know why there are only eight churches left in the country? Too much good news. No crisis. Bores Americans. You wanna keep getting paid for committing journalism? You, at least, want your story first in the second segment after the Ex-Lax commercials? Or, do you wanna be a gone journalist? Better get a good crisis going. 

You gotta get a little creative on this one.

Happy to tell you, manufacturing a crisis is easy. Nothing to it. Teenagers do it every day. Take a little issue and blow it completely outta proportion. 

Say you find four 6 year olds arguing about whether or not Santa Claus is real. Two kids say Santa Claus is real and two kids say ain’t no such thing. They’re yelling and screaming at each other. 

You don’t have an argument. What you have here is a, “Conflict about to erupt into violent confrontations as young people take to the streets to blah, blah, blah.”

Find a couple idiots and do man/woman-on-the-street interviews. 

The man should be one of those guys in a flannel shirt, big belt buckle, a “Schlitz Malt Liquor” baseball hat and has about eight pounds of chewing tobacco in his mouth so brown saliva is pouring down his chin. 

You want the woman to  have no fewer than 12 missing teeth, preferably wearing the same tube top she wore at age 9 and have a tattoo on her chest of the Waffle House logo.

Wanna know how many times this guy uttered the word “crisis” in a single 30 minute national newscast? 9 times. And, the field reporters during the same newscast? 11 times. Not kidding. I counted.

Tier 4 – Sex:

Weird, perverted, sinister sex and a long trail of semen-stained evidence.

It’s gotta be strange. Maybe a Japanese orthodox rabbi and a Polish Hindu princess. In the Sistine Chapel. Under the Michaelangelo painting. During Lent. Having sex while the princess is repeatedly hitting the rabbi on the head with a Torah and the rabbi is feeding the princess bacon.

Just say an unnamed source saw the whole thing and that the rabbi would neither confirm nor deny it occurred. Mostly because you never asked the rabbi in the first place. 

Americans love weird sex. Trust me. It’s stupid. I understand that. You can do “stupid” or you can do “unemployed.”

Oh, speaking of leaving a long trail of semen-stained evidence:

Bill Clinton.

Eight years in office. Anyone remember the guy’s foreign policy, domestic policy, economic policy, military engagements, Supreme Court appointees?

Hell, no.

When it comes to Clinton, people remember one thing and one thing only:

The intern under the desk.

They remember that part just fine. The rest? No clue. Don’t care. Boring. 

Extra Credit: What the hell is a “Sex Dwarf?” Cite examples.
Do you really want to find out what a “Nazi Orgy” is? No. Of course, not. Do you wanna be an employed journalist? Yes. You do. So, time to launch that Nazi Orgy investigation.

Tier 5 – Toilet Paper Shortage:

Old reliable. 

Find a store that’s outta business. Have the camera guy pan across empty shelves. Say something like, “Once ordinary Americans could always count on toilet paper at this once thriving store. But, today, blah, blah, blah.”

Show some guy selling a roll of toilet paper at 2am in a parking lot behind the 7-11. Say something about ordinary Americans having to buy toilet paper in the black market. 

Brown market, maybe. 

Then interview the same two idiots and ask them how they feel about having to use dried leaves and pine cones instead of toilet paper.

Easy, right? Death, blood, crisis, sex and toilet paper. 

Worse comes to worse, jump on TikTok for 30 minutes. Look for the 5 biggest trends going on, find the grossest one and do a segment about the devious ways TikTok is turning the minds of our youth into motor oil. TikTok is a goldmine! Wanna know a typical trend?

Toilet licking.

Not just any toilets. Toilets in public bathrooms. 

You think I’m kidding about toilet licking? I am not kidding about toilet licking. 

Future leader of America.

Millions of kids are licking toilets and getting sick as dogs because they saw idiots on TikTok do it. Now, why are they licking toilets?  Because kids in this country are, let’s face it, imbeciles. Probably because the parents are too busy binge watching “Real Stupid Housewives of Fresno” to bother dealing with their kids so they gave the kids mobile phones and left the parenting to TikTok. 

Of course the parents don’t notice their deviant little preteens are following all the TikTok trends and are running around with:

  • Vodka-soaked tampons in their butts
  • Vampire teeth they can’t remove because they superglued them to their real teeth
  • Cereal they ate out of someone else’s mouth
  • Condoms up their noses after having snorted them
  • Brain damage from OD’ing on Benadryl 

You think I’m kidding about these TikTok trends? I am not kidding about these TikTok trends.

“Vodka Soaked Tampons” is a good name for a band.

Just remember to always blame TikTok even though you know and I know it’s because the kids are dipshits.

“Thanks to TikTok, future leaders of this great country are failing high school as they’re too busy licking toilets. Because of TikTok. And, nothing else. It’s all TikTok’s fault. Concerned parents, who share none of the blame whatsoever, have expressed their outrage by forming MALT (Mothers Against Licking Toilets) and blah blah blah.”

Next thing, if’n you are broadcasting the news then there’s a certain way you gotta talk, right? End every sentence with a preposition. Redundant phrases are required. Minimum of one cliché, one trite or redundant phrase, and one “situation” per sentence. 

“A developing crisis situation has erupted into a plague of uneasy tension that completely surrounds this of working families where they’re pre-planning to self-evacuate from their homes that they live in. Informed sources, familiar with this situation, say authorities are closely monitoring the situation and will begin investigating alleged suspects in this developing situation while police gather evidence where this alleged crime took place at.”

Now, did you actually say anything in that last paragraph? No. 

Did you make any sense at all? No. 

Do people lap that crap up? Hell, yes. 

See, you gotta know your audience and your audience is comprised of:

Morons

You’re dealing with morons because morons watch the news. These aren’t your standard-issue morons. These are a remarkable subset of morons. We’re talking about morons who are remarkably stupid enough to buy something, or vote for someone, based on a commercial. 

This edition sold out. It said “Diana.” That’s all you need.

Have you seen some of these commercials? 

Seen the one with this monstrosity that was part dog, part monkey and part infant in a diaper jumping around with a can of Mountain Dew? Millions of morons drink Mountain Dew because of whatever the hell that was.

Tampons. Seen those commercials? The woman is miserable with her period and all. Until she buys these tampons and now she’s happy and dancing and rolling around on the beach with her boyfriend. Are these magic tampons? No. They’re tampons. But, people bought those tampons. Not just any people. Stupid people. 

In summary, we reviewed the following foundational journalistic points today:

  1. Advertising

That’s it. 

And, we discussed some elements of great journalism:

  • Dead children
  • Semen-stained evidence 
  • Blood
  • Sex
  • Morons
  • Toilet paper
  • Tampons
  • Toilet licking

Tonight’s assignment is for you to tell me what the hell that thing was on the Mountain Dew commercial. 

Remember when Obama tried to ban the National Anthem. No, you don’t. Why? Never happened. That’s why.
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Gothenburg, Part 1 – Helmet-Head, Butt-Hair and The Book of Daniel

Sweden is weird. The whole thing. Weird. Gothenburg is on the southwest side of Sweden. It’s weird, too. It was a summer in 1985. The nighttime temperature felt the same as the daytime. Although, in summer, there’s not much nighttime to be had in Sweden. The natives were very quiet. Just about everyone drove a very well maintained Volvo.

Well, it seemed weird to me.

One Swedish cultural characteristic I quite liked was women were not considered second-class citizens. Women were as close to equal footing to men as you could get at the time. This could have been a  hallucination but I believe I  witnessed a peculiar level of cooperation and respect between husbands and wives.  More often than not, it was the husband pushing the baby carriage.

Remember, this was the mid-1980s where, in the States, a working woman in the corporate world was usually a secretary. Her job was to have all the men at the management level squeeze her bottom and listen to them tell her what she needed to do in order to get a pay raise. In a lot of cases, a woman was stuck being a school teacher. Her job was to babysit the students, have the student’s fathers as well as upper management squeeze her bottom and listen to them tell her what she needed to do in order to get a pay raise. Sometimes she was relegated to being a housewife where she had to babysit the children, have all the men in the neighborhood squeeze her bottom and listen to them tell her what she needed to do before her husband got home. And, once her drunken husband came home, her job was to get beat up by the hubby and listen to him apologize the next morning even though, as far as he was concerned, it was all her fault.

To me, these options don’t sound uplifting. The positive side was police could easily identify perpetrators of most local crimes by dusting the woman’s bottom for fingerprints.

Then there’s Swedish food.

If you’re from The States and you need to lose some weight in a hurry then consider Sweden as a practical first option. The most popular dish there is called “Surströmming” which is Swedish for “War Atrocity.” The smell could sterilize frogs within 100 paces. Surströmming, from what I could understand at the time, is herring that has been fermented for a few years in fifty ounces of pickle juice containing sixty five hundred tablespoons of salt. Oh, the natives will tell you the smell is deceiving and that Surströmming really is delicious.

They’re lying.

Let’s say you’re an American and you are used to a standard American diet of: 

  • Fat burgers 
  • Deep fried Oreos wrapped in bacon 
  • Cheesecake with chocolate sauce + whipped cream + caramel sauce + ice cream + fudge + peanuts  
  • Baked potatoes with butter + sour cream + chili + cheese + salsa + more butter + pepperoni + guacamole 
  • Chocolate-coated doughnuts with glaze that’s an inch thick and covered with M&Ms + Snickers bars + sprinkles + coconut pralines
  • “Milk” shakes made with six pounds of  sugar + extra sweetener + brown sugar + burnt sugar + maple syrup  + sucrose

Now, let’s say you’ve just woken up in Sweden and are starting down the barrel of a plate of Surströmming for breakfast. Your eating habits are gonna change.

If Surströmming doesn’t flip your pancake then you can try their moose balls (sautéed in snot), fishballs made of rubber, smoked sheep’s head (no, I’m not kidding), fish paste (still not kidding) or pudding covered in pig’s blood (not kidding here, either). Eat any of the above and those extra pounds will be going away mighty fast because you won’t want to go near food for months. The smell of toast from your neighbor down the street will make you violently ill.

The country pretty much screamed, “Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.” Everything was way too neat and orderly. Grass was precisely edged. No litter. Not even a gum wrapper. Multiple empty and pristine trash cans on every street corner.  Meticulously cleaned shop windows.  The official psychiatric diagnosis from the World Health Organization as it relates to the Swedish population is as follows:

“Dear People of the Swedish Persuasion Who All Live in Sweden Except for Those Who Don’t,

“Y’all have, like, the worst case of CDO, like, ever. CDO is a lot like OCD except the letters are in the correct order because it’s Sweden and it has to be correct. I’m serious. All you people got issues. Besides, your whole country is, like, weird.

“Maybe you should start taking drugs.

“We gotta go back to sleep so let us know how it’s working out for you.

“XOXO, W.H.O.”

The natives wore tucked-in wrinkle-free shirts. All pants (including jeans), skirts, shorts and dresses were all ironed and fitted. Hair: perfect. Baby’s hair: perfect. Beards were edged with the same tool they used for the grass. The teenagers didn’t even have zits.

There was a dichotomy between Swedes being very shy and being really good looking. Some stereotypes are fact-based such as the one about Swedish women. I mean….whoa. Stunning. Yet, quite reserved. Even the heterosexual men looked ridiculously handsome but, again, demure to the point of stupidity.

Hell, if I looked that good then I’d be passing out resume pictures to strangers and knocking on random people’s doors and saying, “Aren’t I cute?!?!”

There are some things folks might not like about Sweden. I’m told Swedish winters are brutal and dark. Additionally, you’ll have no idea where you stand with any Swede because he or she will never tell you. The government is solely dedicated to taxing its citizens back to the stone age. Conformity was definitely the form and I think that was what I found weird. I felt surrounded by benign robots. Granted, I live in the US where we all act like fools but it was a little unnerving watching obsessively shy people look and act the same.

However, all these potential negatives are categorically mitigated by “fika.” Fika is, in fact, a magnificent gift from God. It’s a national tradition that will compel me and my most excellent Better Half to relocate to Sweden. It’s a simple equation. “Fika” = “Coffee Break [or something close to that].” I think Swedes do this twice a day and it is not negotiable. It’s not an American coffee break where you run down to a cafeteria, grab some coffee from a vending machine and a package of doughnuts that died of old age five years ago just so you can run back to work.

Uh-uh. No way. You leave work. You sit down somewhere, drink good coffee, eat a pastry and chill for awhile. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. You could be a heart surgeon performing life saving surgery on a five year old. The kid’s life may be important but he or she ain’t fika. Fika-time is gone-time. The child may bleed out in the operating room all alone because the parents left for coffee, too. Little Lars or Astrid may be dead but everyone will totally understand because well….fika.

In the mid 80s, Sweden was somewhere in the process of being a socialist state. The Riksdag is Sweden’s national legislature. I think the Riksdag is somewhat like the drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket.” If you want a happy life then just do what you’re told, be as inconspicuous as possible and don’t get caught with a jelly doughnut in your footlocker because if you do get caught then the entire country has to do push-ups. The Riksdag felt strongly about providing free health care, free college, free collective bargaining, free housing and free unemployment insurance to all its citizens. The Swedish government was able to provide these free perks by, of course, taxing the hell out of everyone and everything. One native told me, with a straight face, the tax rate was close to 60% on any income. Once I got up of the floor, I asked him how he felt about that. His view was was, well, it may seem high but it’s really for the best. Swedes seemed pretty understanding and generous to a government that views them not so much as citizens but as ATMs.

Socialism’s track record over the past hundred years leaves a little to be desired. Socialism is the Detroit Lions of political systems. Off the top of my head, you’ve got the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Cambodia, East Germany, Poland, North Korea, Egypt, Venezuela, India, Cuba, Hungary and Nicaragua. You’re 0 for 12 right there. Throw in almost every country in Africa plus the rest of Eastern Europe and you’ve got a serious dumpster fire on your hands.

However, if Socialism can work anywhere then it’s in Sweden. Swedes seemed pretty good at going with the flow, staying within the lines and never complaining about it. I guess it’s called “Stockholm Syndrome” for a reason. We’ve all seen the signs in some office that says, “The floggings will continue until morale improves.” Well, that’s actually true in Sweden. Cheered them right up. During a wedding ceremony, the bride and the groom don’t say, “I do.” They say, “Thank you, Sir, may I have another?” And, if you want Socialism to work then it would really help to have all the citizens ask, “Thank you, Sir, may I pay more taxes?”

I mention the taxation because the person I was hanging out with in Gothenburg, Daniel, was very bitter about the whole thing. He really had his undies in a knot about it. Conversions between the two of us usually started something like this:

Me – Hey, Daniel, how you do…..

Daniel – Why do I work like hell just so this government can waste my money on a buncha deadbeats?

Me – I’m fine. Thanks for asking.

Daniel – People don’t wanna work? Fine. Don’t work. Leave. Right? I work my ass off so these people can go to college for free. And, what do they do?

Me – I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.

Daniel – Steal car stereos. They take my money so they can sleep all day and steal car stereos at night.

Me – Well, maybe it’s a trade they learned in college. So your money wasn’t totally wasted. Look at the bright….

Daniel – Take MY money….

Me – So, come on over to the good old USA of American, where Amber waves her grain and….

Daniel – Americans all suck. Buncha sheep. Idiots.

Me – And, we think highly of you, too….

Daniel – Sweden’s going down the toilet….

Me – Speaking of excrement, did you really dump little what’s-her-name?

Daniel – Yeah. She just wanted me for my money.

Me – Sounds like Sweden. Did you know they take 60% of your earnings? Isn’t that rid….

Daniel – I don’t wanna talk about it.  

He was better once he got it out of his system. The annoying aspect of all this who-ha was Daniel was quite rich and really didn’t work much.

Even though he lived in America until the age of eleven, Daniel believed, with extreme fervor, all Americans were twits. He was bitter about this. He was bitter about everything.

Besides bitter, Daniel was condescending but had one resounding quality:

He had Bruce Springsteen tickets for both night’s concerts.

As far as Daniel’s passions went, Bruce ranked a distant second to a local football team called Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna Göteborg Änglarna. That was the name. I don’t have any clue, either. Sweden’s weird that way. The team logo wasn’t much help. It was a badly drawn picture of either a lion with multiple tails or Satan or Bart Simpson running somewhere looking to stab something with his knife.

This ridiculous drawing was revered by the locals in general and Daniel in particular. I laughed out loud the first time he showed it to me. It remains a sin for which I’ve never been fully forgiven.

We’d met in the States a few years earlier while he was on some sort of work visa which I never understood. His charmless girlfriend knew my girlfriend. He and I sort of hit it off. We had a good natured back and forth.

“Yew lack it here ‘n America, doncha boy.” I enjoyed egging him on.

“Loser Americans suck. Whole country. Sucks.”

“You’re just jealous because we get all the good drugs here.”

“Yeah, but this place still sucks. Go back to your bologna and mayo on white bread with a slice of Velveeta. Right? What concert are you dragging us to? John Denver? Pat Boone? The Monkeys? Music in this country sucks.”

“You’ll see. Oh, and I have just one word to say when it comes to Swedish music.”

“What?”

“ABBA.”

“Shut up.”

It was a Bruce Springsteen concert we attended and, four hours later, Daniel was a convert. From then on, we took care of each other in our home countries when it came to Bruce concert tickets.

Anyway, Daniel liked me and the feeling was somewhat mutual. Daniel was supremely full of himself. Psychotically so, actually. However, he could be very charitable and kind when it suited him.

His charitable urge must have struck because he went on an extended aid trip to distribute food to an impoverished part of Africa. He returned to Gothenburg about three weeks before my visit. There was a Jen and a Victoria, both aid workers, who were tagging along with us to the concerts. Their presence was affecting Daniel’s behavior. He was being suspiciously attentive and respectful. No swearing. Very odd. Plus, he hadn’t yet gone into his standard primal whining about socialism ruining his life. Completely out of character. He had adopted their middle-American accents. I figured he had designs on one of the women. Perhaps, both. So, I wrote it off.

I couldn’t make much sense of Daniel’s new best friends. One had long brown hair that covered the entirety of her derrière and the other had an unfortunate hair-cut in the shape of an American football helmet. I wasn’t sure which one was the Victoria and which one was the other thing. I labelled them “Butt Hair” and “Helmet Head.” They went out of their to look unattractive although they didn’t succeed. Neither wore make-up or jewelry. Neither had seen a hair stylist ever, probably, and they were both dressed like crap: over-sized sweatshirts, long jean skirts and sneakers.

Daniel and the girls never strayed more than a few inches from one another. They kept an invisible three foot barrier between them and me. Another reminder that my life had always been spent outside looking in.

Butt-Hair was 6′ tall, slender and statuesque with military-perfect posture and stride. Her facial expression indicated she hadn’t been to the bathroom in a month and a half. She reminded me of Nurse Diesel from the movie, “High Anxiety.” While we walked, she maintained 360 degree surveillance and scowled at people she didn’t approve of. I had a feeling she was one of those people who devote their waking hours announcing someone’s sins before they’re actually committed. When we stopped to talk, she’d cross her arms and lean back while her eyes continued their anxious look for suspicious activity. She smelt funny, too. Floral body spray mixed with Lysol.

She spoke in a very fast monotone but had perfect grammar. I thought she might have been in the army. It seemed pretty clear she wanted me to step back about 400 yards which was fine because she really was stinking up the place. Her eyes continued darting around looking for someone to kill which didn’t exactly exude much warmth. She would occasionally give me a look as though I just pooped on her cat.

Was she feeling threatened? Paranoid, maybe? Angry? Hard to tell.

She’s probably constipated.

I thought that. I didn’t say it.

Helmet Head clearly had issues. With the hair cut, she was 5′ 3” or so. Her sweatshirt was eight sizes to large. The sleeves extended well past her hands. And, she was happy. Way too happy. Bubbly, giggly, energetic and eager to participate in any conversation even ones where she wasn’t actually invited. Her naïveté was nauseating. She showed signs of being a little light in the lobes. Anything approaching irony, acerbity or sarcasm flew way over her head probably because she was too busy being happy and nice and loving and Buffy Cheerleader and “I’m so cuuuuute” and Up-With-People and caring. It was way too much and I had the very strong urge to tell her, “Just shut up, Cupcake, because you are absolutely killing me.”

“The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.” My father once told me that. It was applicable here because she was trying to exude so much positivity that it was negative. Something was seriously wrong with her picture. The eye of this girl’s hurricane was jet black. I looked at her wide-eyed wonderment and joy about every last thing, her laughter at jokes that weren’t funny, her golly-gee speech and concluded her dark side was something of which I wanted no part.

Besides, in my observations, people aren’t really that happy unless they’re supremely stupid or highly medicated. I was thinking she may have been coked-up big-time because coked-up people can be unbelievably and annoyingly happy.

That’s another one of my observations.

An additional observation I had at that time was, when it came to Helmet Head, Butt-Hair and Daniel were extremely deferential. As a rule, Daniel interrupted you after you’d gotten one word into your sentence in order to explain that whatever you were about to say was wrong. But, when Helmet Head spoke, Daniel politely listened while Butt-Hair’s steely-eyed intelligence gathering increased to Def-Con One.

Among the three, Helmet Head seemed to be in charge. Anything she said went unquestioned and all decisions went through her which I considered unfortunate because any decision she’d make would be fatally flawed by the fact that, as far as I was concerned, she was a thoroughly free associating, hyperactive two year old.

Instead of walking, she liked to skip. I didn’t like that. During one of her cutesy diatribes she actually said, “Okee dokie, Smokey.”

I didn’t like that, either.

Another observation: Bringing up the subject of their Africa trip was verboten. Whenever I asked about it, I got 2 seconds of silence before receiving a way too casual one sentence answer and a sudden topic shift. I couldn’t even find out what country they were in.

Something, I guessed, didn’t go as planned.

My mind, as it truly enjoys doing, wandered as we walked. I started thinking about what may have happened:

Maybe, while in Africa, one of two lucky ladies got unexpectedly pregnant.

Helmet Head was probably so annoying that no one could take it anymore and they threw them all the hell off theiir continent.

Maybe they’re both pregnant.

If they are pregnant then they may as well skip the maternity ward and give birth at the local psychiatric hospital so the kids can immediately go into family therapy.

These women are really weird.

Maybe they don’t know who the father/fathers is/are.

Maybe it was a threesome. Then, again…

We meandered around the city until we came across a large statue of a very muscular and chiseled Poseidon standing proudly in front of some university while holding a large fish in one hand. In the other hand wasn’t his fishing spear. It looked more like a bowl of cereal. Poor guy had no clothes on. If I remember the Greek mythology correctly then Poseidon was always in a pissy mood. Looking at the statue, I discovered why.

It had nothing to do with his father eating him and then throwing him up. Or, with whatever king told him to pound sand instead of letting him take over Athens. Or, with the guy who stiffed him on the bill after he built a wall somewhere. It had everything to do with his little, itty-bitty, teenie-tiny weenie. The entire apparatus didn’t even qualify as “junk.” More like “waste.” Hell, I’d be in bad mood if that’s what I had to work with.

Dude was known for getting jiggy with lots of nymphs but I can’t image any of them bothering to come back for more.

As we approached, Butt-Hair looked at the statue and said, “Who’s THAT?”

Daniel explained it was Poseidon, “The Greek god of [pause]….”

“The sea among other things,” I chimed in. “Also, the god of attitude problems. And, earthquakes, I think. Definitely not the god of second dates.”

Dead silence but I kept going. “Were it me then I’d have gone with gym shorts. Maybe it was cold the day he posed for this. Pretty courageous to stand there with all his short-comings in plain view. Maybe he just got out of the pool.”

Still, nothing. We kept walking.

Tough crowd. Sometimes they salute. Sometimes the don’t.

We stopped somewhere to eat something horrendous. I asked if we might find a coffee shop after “lunch.” Daniel’s response was, “I knew you were going to ask. There’s a good place near Rydbergsgatan and Kungsportavenyen across the street from the Stadsbiblioteket Gotaplasten.” I’m serious. That’s what he said.

“Jolly good. Let’s all go fika ourselves. That is what one does, yes? Go fika him or herself. Do I have that right?”

Daniel responded, “Fika isn’t really a word. It’s a state of mind. Right? It’s spiritual. It’s a way to remind yourself about real priorities.”

What the HELL are mumbling about?Real priorities?”

“Right-O. Well, as spiritual endeavors go, this sounds completely doable. I’m sure coffee in the ethereal world will help you with those pesky priorities.”

Off we walked to enjoy fika with all its transcendent glories.

So, we sauntered some more. The city was pretty. The pedestrians, although polite, avoided eye contact at all cost. The young ladies peppered me with questions which I politely answered.

With Butt-Hair it was more of an interrogation. She wanted to know where I came from, where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to and why I had made certain life choices. Choices that, based on her tone and inflection, indicated my remarkable level of moral ineptitude.

Helmet Head wanted to know how I felt about life and love and children and candy-canes and flowers and sunshine and happy-happy-joy-joy and just shut up, Honey Child.

“Oh, wow. Look. Cool, cool, cool. Can we go in? This is awesome. How cool.”

That was Helmet Head talking. She then started skipping towards a large church that looked 250 years old. Daniel and Butt-Hair picked up the pace. I continued meandering; glad for the space between them and me. I guessed the church was open based on the fact that Helmet Head barged right on in with the other two stumbling in behind her. As I approached the place, I had a sinking feeling.

I hadn’t set foot in a church, at least a traditional looking church, in a very long time. I went to church as a kid but the experience was overwhelmingly negative so I stopped and decided never to return. The place looked like a version of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I approached waiting for the gate-keeper to leap out of the shadows and onto the doorway to say, “We don’t like yer kind ‘round here, Boy.”

But, no gate-keeper to be found. Just a few dozen people walking around or in the pews.

“Oh, my goodness! So amazing. Cool. Sooooo, pretty. Look at this! And, over here. Doves.”

That was Helmet-Head again. And, well, she had a point. It was gorgeous. Grandiose and gorgeous. But, no doves in site. I wondered if she was hallucinating.

I whispered to Daniel, “Doves? Fuckin’ doves? Where’re the fuckin’ doves?”

Daniel shot me an immediate look of rage. “You can’t talk like that in a church.”

I whispered back, “Well, shit-fuck. Who knew?” I walked back outside and sat at a bench wondering why Daniel, the King of the F-word, would be so frosty about me using it. I sat for awhile, got bored and went back in. I spotted the three of them huddled in the front pew mumbling impassioned praise to their Maker.

Oh…..I see. Right-o. Well, that explains that. My boy got religion.

I had a feeling Butt-Hair and Helmet-Head were of the faith. They seemed to have cast a quite the spell over Daniel.

So, the lovely ladies steered him towards the path of righteousness. Maybe they specialize in lost souls.  Maybe we won’t be bar crawling after Bruce. Maybe we’ll all come back here and recite the sermon on the mount. Maybe he’s just playing the part in order to get in their knickers.

With guys, you never can tell.

We did a quick dinner before the show at the closest thing to a fast food place. I had about given up on Swedish food so I just ate a couple paper plates and the table cloth. Dinner had to be quick because we all had to hold hands for a very long time and pray about….EVERYTHING. And, be thankful. Oh, man, were we ever thankful. Thankful for the extra toilet paper in the public restrooms. Thankful for the matching napkins at lunch. Thankful we weren’t afflicted with hemorrhoids (we had to take each other’s word on that one). On and on and on. Thankful we all weren’t doing 10-to-20 in Rahway State Prison although, having been to Rahway, NJ, I do agree that is something about which we could all be thankful.

Now, I have Catholic relatives who pray before dinner. They pick someone to say Grace and the person who says it does not clown around. Grace takes three seconds and sounds something like, “GodIsGreatFineGreatWhateverBlessThisFoodGottaEatJesusChrist.”

There’s no hand holding. There’s no time for hand-holding or riffing or discussing current events or whatever else is on one’s mind. Just get to the point and then shut up.

With these three, not so much. So, we had to hold hands. I don’t like holding hands with people I don’t know. Nothing to do with germs. It just seems weird. Butt-Hair’s hand was soft and, well, nice. I couldn’t tell you about Helmet-Head’s hand because her grip was so tight that I lost feeling in that hand entirely while she went on and on and on about all those things she was thankful for. And, it was a long laundry list.

Honey, might be quicker to list the things you’re NOT thankful for so we can, at least, catch the encore.

Seventy five minutes later, when she was finished, we only had time to pay the tab and rush off to the concert which was at an old, dumpy football stadium that held 60,000 very quiet, dignified, serious-looking Swedes. Plus, a few thousand loud, low-brow, obnoxious Americans of whom I was one.

Actually, the entire crowd was pretty enthusiastic during the shows to the degree that the stadium broke. I’m serious. It almost collapsed. The repairs cost a few million Krona which the Swedish government funded by raising taxes.

Springsteen must have been very proud.

Breaking the stadium really wasn’t Bruce’s or the audience’s fault. It seems someone decided it was a good idea to build this football stadium on clay soil which is fine as long as the pillars holding up the stadium are embedded in the bedrock under the clay soil. Well, that little detail slipped past the crack engineering team and the pillars only extended down to the clay.

You see, this is why Socialism works in Sweden. The government can do a complete horseshit job on a project and no one will say a word other than, “Thank you, Sir, may I have another and would you please raise my taxes?”

It took a while but we finally found our seats. I ended up between Butt-Hair and Helmet-Head and stuck for a conversion starter. Fortunately, Bruce hit the stage.

There’s not a lot of froo-froo with Springsteen. There’s no elaborate introduction to his concerts. No dancing elephants, no laser light shows, no bubble machines. He and the band just walk in stage. Bruce’s entire concert preamble consists of the following:

“One…two…one…two…three…four!”

And, off they go to fuck up your stadium.

—–END OF PART ONE—–

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Gothenburg, Part 2 – Rainbows, Butterflies and a Kiss on the Lips

I’ve attended well over 100 Bruce Springsteen concerts. If you count all the hours then it probably works out to, at least, 15 full days of Bruce shows.

I’m pathetic. 

I understand that. 

In my defense, the shows are really good.

Bruce Springsteen concerts are not unlike taking a hike up a familiar mountain trail by yourself.  You have a pretty good idea how your hike is going to go and you’re fully aware of how it’ll end. The twists and turns of the trail are expected and even reassuring. You tend to look inward although you’re quite aware of your surroundings.

However, each hike is unique and brings plenty of new insights. The details in those twists and turns are different. In the end, you’re always better for the experience. 

I may be reading way too much into the entire thing. 

Not that I know anything about hiking.  My idea of hiking is walking a quarter mile to the local coffee shop and the closest thing I get to communing with nature is staying at a Holiday Inn Express.

The last time I went hiking up a mountain was with my niece. It took a little longer than 5th grade for us to get up the mountain, then we went down the wrong side of the mountain, so we had to climb back up the mountain and walk down the other side of the mountain. After the first four hours, my knees were swolen and my hips were locked in place so I was waddling around like a penguin. Plus, I was exhausted. I spent the rest of the hike staggering over the mountain like Frankenstein’s monster after a 10-day tequila binge. My niece was having a blast.  She loves hiking. Oh, she was having a grand old time. For me, the whole thing was turning into a religious experience. The hallucinations weren’t so bad until I saw Mother Teresa looking at me, shaking her head and saying, “Loser.” 

In the mid 80s, Springsteen used to play quite a few roles on-stage. In three and a half hours, he was a clean-cut patriotic young American, a very energetic carnival barker, a socially conscious man of the people, a class clown, a highly-intense moralist and an extroverted party boy. The one role I don’t think he played on stage was himself. Off-stage, by most accounts, he was aloof, unapproachable and depressed. The stage was his refuge from himself, maybe. From experience, I can say a stage is an excellent place to escape the person you really are. Or, the person you think you are. The light that can shine very bright while you’re on stage can get pretty damn dark when you’re not on it. It reminds me of Robin Williams or Marilyn Monroe. Or, me. Back in the day, at least. 

On this tour, the opening song was always “Born in the USA.” It’s sung from the point of view of a Vietnam Veteran who was kicked around as a child, got drafted by a government that couldn’t care less about the lives it destroyed, flung into the middle of the Vietnam War and returned traumatized for life. As the song progresses, he comes to the very reasonable conclusion that, in the game of life, he lost. At the end, he admits,  “I got nowhere to run. I got nowhere to go.” 

However, it seemed no one actually heard the lyrics because the audience, as was the case with all audiences, erupted with joyous dancing and singing. Even Butt-Hair was dancing or, at least, attempting as much.  Helmet-Head, who had spent the entire day bouncy and silly and giggly and annoying, stood very still with her arms crossed. She gave an angry glare towards the stage and wiped away a tear. 

At the song’s end, I touched Helmet-Head’s elbow and asked if she was okay. She jumped back into her happy-happy-joy-joy character and assured me she was altogether “fine and dandy” which was another phrase of hers I could have lived without. 

A few songs into the show, the band played “Atlantic City.” Atlantic City’s a beach town in the States where a gambling paradise was built in the early 80s but, as is generally the case with man-made paradises, it didn’t take long for it to start on its road to Hell. The city has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for a long time, the violent crime rate in Atlantic City is one of the worst in the US and the percentage of its citizens living under the poverty line is more than three times the national average.

There’s a line in the song where the down-and-out protagonist declares to his equally down-and-out wife, “Now, our luck may have died and our love may be cold but with you forever I’ll stay.” That line hit me right between the eyes and has stayed with me. A statement of devotion, an acknowledgement that their shared dreams were well beyond their grasp and an acceptance of a bleak future about which they had very little say. Although, the little they could say would be said together. 

Maybe it was the nobility of that statement. Maybe it was the rawness. Or, both. At that moment, Helmet Head looked at me and smiled. It wasn’t her goofy, cheerleader smile. It was sincere but I wasn’t sure what she was smiling about.

During the song, Butt-Hair and Daniel were making googly-eyes at each other,  surreptitiously holding hands and making the occasional, but quick, kissy-faces. I found this sight nauseating because they were acting like 14 year olds. However, they were happily enjoying each other’s company so who was I to pooh-pooh their special kind of love.  

Helmet-Head got teary-eyed again during the next song, “The River,” which is a first person recounting of someone who has managed to fuck up his entire life. She noticed that I noticed she was looking weepy again.

I said, “It’s okay. It’s a sad song. You’re allowed.”

It was too late. She had already reverted back to her bubbly and ridiculous persona for the remainder of the first set. 

Sweetheart, dump all this infantile, simple-minded, overactive, shallow, up-with-people who-ha and just pretend to be a normal human being.  

“Thunder Road,” the final song of the first set, concluded with Springsteen running into the open arms of his sax-player, Clarence Clemons, for a long kiss and embrace. Butt-Hair frowned at the sight of this and muttered something about this behavior setting a bad example for the young, impressionable Swedes in the audience. She wondered why popular musicians insisted on encouraging their fans to “turn into homosexuals.” Butt-Hair wanted to know my feelings about it. 

What is it with people like you spending your waking hours hyperventilating about what the rest of the world is getting up to in bed? Get a hobby. Get a life. The rest of the world doesn’t really care what you think. Give it up. Then, shut up. 

I smiled, shrugged and replied, “It’s not like they’re having sex on stage so I wouldn’t get too torn up about it and I’m sure the young, impressionable Swedes will, in all likelihood, get over it.”

Butt-Hair, with Helmet-Head in tow, immediately stormed off to powder her nose which was a relief because it meant I didn’t have to sit with Butt-Hair and Daniel playing slap-and-tickle to my left and Helmet-Head to my right telling me all about unicorns and rainbows and candy canes and just shut up, Honey.

While the young ladies were off doing whatever they were doing, Daniel and I bantered a bit about his new-found love interest. Daniel was quite taken by Butt-Hair so I figured it’d be best to not give my honest assessment because I found her to be a judgmental bitch. Plus, I had forgotten her name. I mean, I knew her name probably wasn’t Butt-Hair. Although, I didn’t rule it out because you never know. She could have been the daughter of one of the numerous low-life, amoral Hollywood actors who’ll do anything to keep the public’s attention and if it means cursing their children with names that will ruin their prospects for a happy childhood then, kid, too bad. That’s the price of fame.

I asked Daniel about his new found faith. He assured me he was now a God-man through and through. He wasn’t making heavy weather about it. No over explaining or justifying. There wasn’t any Amway song-and-dance and no salesman would be knocking on my door. None of the usual signs of pretense. He thanked me for modifying my behavior so as not to offend anyone’s tender sensibilities. I was glad he noticed. 

I’m pretty good at reading between the lines and I can usually find the pony under all the horseshit. Probably because I spent the first half of my life burying myself under enough horseshit to fertilize the Sinai and still have enough left over to create my own political party. I know what to look for. I found Daniel to be genuine. 

“I’m glad you found each other. She’s very pretty. Striking, actually.” I was trying to be nice. I didn’t like her but no one said I had to like her. On the other hand, we didn’t have to talk about her, either. 

So, it was my turn to change the subject. “Not that you need to tell me but…Africa. Wha’ ‘appen? And, what is up with her agonizingly happy lil’ friend?”

“Jen? You don’t know her. You may think you know her. But, you don’t. Trust me, you don’t.”

Jen. Okay, name’s Jen. Good to know. But, she’ll always be Helmet-Head to me.

“Don’t you get seriously ill of all the giggly-touchy-feely slop? Anyway, Africa. Wha’ ‘appen?

Daniel said he didn’t want to talk about it. 

“Fair enough. Will give that one a miss.”

Then, Daniel told me all about it. 

Seems Daniel, who had a habit of doing this, decided to join a foreign aid agency on a trip to distribute food and supplies to people who couldn’t afford to buy either. So, he hooked up with some agency and off he went to, of all places, Ethiopia. Specifically, a little place along the Red Sea called Eritrea. This is where things get somewhat untidy because, according to Daniel, Eritrea, even though it was already in Ethiopia, was being invaded by Ethiopia. 

(Think about that for a moment. Imagine the Good Ol’ USA of America invading Maine. We send out our troops and kick Maine’s ass. What’s the point? I mean, we’ve engaged in some stupid activities in this country but, at least, we haven’t invaded ourselves.)

Invading yourself makes no sense, of course, and if something makes no sense then a government is usually involved. In the case of Eritrea, a lot of governments because the United Nations managed to slither into the fold. In 1950, the UN, according to Daniel, decided it would be a really, really, really good idea to take Eritrea, which was an independent country, put it in Ethiopia and create some sort of half-baked federation between the two. This meant Eritrea would no longer be a country. It would be part of Ethiopia but would maintain its sovereignty. Daniel said Eritreans were given the promise of independence and autonomy. Unfortunately for the citizens of Eritrea, the promise came from the United Nations.

The memo from UN to Eritrea was, “So, like, the whole thing is, I mean, you do whatever, okay? It’s cool. Like, you do you. The pressure’s off because you don’t have to worry about having to be a real country on accounta you’re in Ethiopia which is great, pretty much. So, now, you can just be you. And, just be out there, you know, doing whatever.  So, it’s cool. And, you know, Ethiopia is all good with it. They’re really excited to, uh, not get involved in your stuff, as such. And we can just, basically, keep it loose. Kinda, just out there. In a tubular kinda way. But, you’re good. Totally independent. Completely. No question. This’ll be great. Pretty much. And, we got your back. Honest. We promise Ethiopia won’t mess with you. The UN will always be there for you. Forever! We promise. Always and forever!”

All seriousness aside, I have no idea who the hell thought this would work and, of course, it didn’t. After ten years of Ethiopia’s harrassment, Eritrea said, “Adios.” 

Ethiopia said, “My ass.” 

And, so began the invasion of Eritrea. I’m guessing the UN boldly stepped up by issuing a memo to Eritrea stating, “When we said ‘forever’ we didn’t mean THAT ‘forever.’ Sorry for the inconvenience.”

That was in 1961. Daniel’s trip was in 1985 and Ethiopia was still trying to take over Eritrea. Twenty four years seems like a long time to fully invade a country the size of Ohio. Especially when it’s not a country but just a place already in your country. Ethiopia was ten times the size of Eritrea, had twenty times the population and its invasion was being generously funded by the Soviet Union. However, after twenty-four years, Ethiopia still couldn’t get out of the parking lot with its own invasion.  

So, what was the major malfunction? I mean, come on. The theory I expressed to Daniel was Ethiopia was just taking the Soviets for a ride to keep the Russian money flowing. The Ethiopian government knew the Soviets wanted Eritrea for themselves. I figured Ethiopia couldn’t have cared less about Eritrea but they really liked getting boatloads of money from the USSR so they, the Ethiopian government, pretended to invade Eritrea.

However, Daniel felt the invasion was quite real but the Ethiopian army kept stepping on its own collective dick everytime it tried to accomplish anything. The Ethiopian military’s tactic was to send a bunch of mercenaries to random Eritrean villages for the sole purpose of committing hideous war crimes against the villagers and, once they were done, running away. If you had money on Ethiopia then that strategy was a little disappointing. Plus, it probably wasn’t the best way to win the hearts and minds of the locals especially because the level of atrocities committed by the Ethiopians against Eritrean citizens would have caused Joseph Stalin to hide under his bed and whimper for his binky. 

This is the setting where Daniel met Helmet Head and Butt Hair. Helmet and Butt were part of a team of Christian missionaries who distributed food, medicine and spread the Good News to those Eritrean villagers willing to listen, which, thanks to the Ethiopian mercenaries terrorizing random Eritreans, happened to be just about everybody. More than once, Daniel and the mission team were caught between invading Ethiopian gangs and Eritrean villagers scrambling for safety. 

In the chaos of one such instance, Helmet got separated from the team, stepped into some sort of dwelling to hide and found herself face-to-face with four armed Ethiopian thugs.

I can’t imagine the thoughts racing through her mind other than the terrifying realization that she’d been caught with her pants squarely around her ankles, with nowhere to run, had no one coming to her rescue and now needed to come to terms about her immediate future which was looking, to be mild, bleak.

As you can guess, she was dragged off somewhere and tossed around like a rag doll among the four fine young men. Daniel started giving me details of her kidnapping. 

“Fortunately, you found her. Or, someone did.” I interrupted.  I didn’t want to hear the details. 

“We didn’t find her. Two days later. You won’t believe this but the four mercs who kidnapped her. Two days later. Brought her back. Right? They patched her up. Carried her back. “

“Huh? I’m guessing that’s not usually how these things go.”

“Oh, no. No, no, no. They sell the women they kidnap. End up a sex slaves. They break them. Right? The girls get locked up and they….”

“Happily, that wasn’t the case here.” Interrupted again. “Did someone intervene or was she able to negotiate on her behalf?”

“She prayed.”

“With ample justification but how did…..?”

“The whole time. She sang worship songs. Recited Bible passages. Praised God.”

“While being gang-banged by a bunch of animals. Who then brought her back and said, ‘Have a nice day. ‘” I tried to not sound skeptical.

“See. I knew you wouldn’t believe it. I didn’t. Believe it. Then.”

“I’m not getting my arms around this one. And, you witnessed them bringing her back.”

“Uh-huh. Exactly. The mercs who took her. Four murdering rapists. In two days. Right? Came back, Born-Again Christians. All four. Begging for forgiveness. Begging God and Jen. She converted them. Right? Then they turned themselves into the [Eritrean] police. And, she did.”

“Did what?”

“Forgive them.”

“Whoa, hang on there, Professor. They kidnapped her at gunpoint. Raped her. Repeatedly. Slapped her around. Repeatedly. During which she sang gospel songs and thanked God for her abundant good fortune. Really? No, wait. There’s more. She forgave them. And, no, wait. There’s even more where that came from. She converts them. From Saul to Paul or do I have that backwards? Okay, good. They find God, patch her up, give her tea and sympathy, bring her back, apologize and fall on their swords. All within 48 hours, give or take. That a fair reading?”

“I was there. Right? When they brought her back. All of it. It was real. Most real thing I seen in my life. It was a miracle. Right?”

“Well, maybe not up there with the Jets beating the Colts but it’s….. I’m sorry….that was wrong. It certainly sounds miraculous.” I felt like a fool trying to make light of all this.

“Me and Vicky. As soon as we could. We took her to a hospital in Göteberg. Twelve days. In hospital. She screamed and cried. And, prayed. For twelve days. We stayed with her. Right? They’ve been staying with me for the past week. She’s going back in a couple weeks.” 

“What?!” I was loud enough to turn quite a few heads. 

“We tried. Talking her out of it. No one can talk her out of it. Right? Me and Vicky can’t go with her. Not yet. Vicky needs to go back to the US and see her parents. Her father’s dying. My passport expired.”

“She’s going by herself?”

“I know. I know. She won’t budge. She’s going back. She promised God. She said that. Now you know. Right? That’s who you’re dealing with.”

“So, what’s with all the fake happy-happy-joy-joy crap? She seems to be in a mighty good mood, all things considered.”

Daniel snapped, “Because she feels….”

“Oops, here they come. Did we have this conversation?”

“No.”

“Will they figure out we did?”

“Probably.”

They both looked much more relaxed but seemed a bit too anxious to find out what Daniel and I were talking about during their absence. 

“Oh, trading war stories none of which we can repeat until the statutes of limitations have expired, what with the arrest warrants and all.”

The girls looked very concerned.  

“Kidding. I’m kidding. No warrants. Honest.”

They both tried, and failed, to appear amused.

No sense of humor, some people.

Butt-Hair, sorry, Vicky, seemed to have lightened up quite a bit. I was about to ask Jen if she pulled the large stick out of her friend’s whatnot. Luckily for all involved, Bruce started the second set.

The concert was, as expected, great fun but I spent most of the time keeping an eye on Jen, wondering when the rubber-band would snap and hoping I wouldn’t be around the day she’d climb the tower in order to gun down as many people as possible.

It’s only a matter of time.

After the show, Daniel and the girls announced they were too tired to go out and play.  We walked for about a mile to Daniel’s car. The the of them would be going back to his place and I was going to walk a couple blocks to my hotel.  Just before they hopped in his Volvo (imagine my surprise), Daniel gave me two tickets for the following night’s concert and casually announced he and Vicky would be joining Jen and me at the show.

Knowing I wouldn’t be receiving this news well, he spouted off the name of a restaurant where Jen and I would have dinner before going to the stadium for next day’s concert. He quickly got in the car and closed the door. They waved.

I was not pleased and didn’t take kindly to them dropping Jen on my lap.  After hearing Daniel’s description of Jen’s adventures the previous month and after observing her ridiculous behavior, I came to the quite sensible deduction that she was a deeply disturbed individual.

Psychotic? I can’t imagine otherwise. Deranged? Who wouldn’t be. Maybe she just went nucking futs from the experience. Two days of the worst possible hell and she’s walking around like nothing happened. Who recovers from something like that in a few weeks? No one I’d trust.

I walked back to the hotel dreading the thought of have dinner with her and reviewed all the possible ways the whole thing would turn into a dumpster fire.

Okay, I’ll make sure the restaurant hides all the knives. Forks. Gotta hide those. No glassware. Plastic spoons and sippy cups for the Chardonnay. Need a strategy. What’s my strategy? Gotta have a….alcohol! That’s my strategy. Get drunk ahead of time. What a brilliant idea. I’m a total genius.

Okay, maybe not. But, at least I had a plan.

—–END PART TWO—–

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Mexico, Part 4 – The Scream of the Wild

It was a little after 7pm. Sara was still fast asleep on my bed. I stopped reading “Sophie’s Choice” because I thought it might look tacky  to kill myself in front of a guest. The sun had set. The temperature was probably 85°F. I had done periodic wellness checks on Sara and confirmed that, while she wasn’t dead, she wasn’t smelling very good. 

Ten minutes later, I woke her up. Without saying a word, she sat up, drank the entire carafe of water I left on the nightstand and flopped back onto the bed. Staring at the ceiling, she looked puzzled and asked, “Did I pee on myself?”

“Yes. Yes, you did.”

“What’s that smell?”

“That would be you.”

“Really? That can’t be….oh…..Mama Bear’s very embarrassed.”

“Here, take a few towels. Take more than a few. The shower’s a couple doors down from the bathroom where, based on the sound effects, you had your supernatural encounter with the Colon Fairy.”

“Okay. Thank you. Oh, ick, ick, ick.”

“I believe a mandatory wardrobe change is in your immediate future.  I present to you the latest in very fashionable t-shirts and gym shorts. You shall be the Belle of the Ball. You’ll shame all the other girls. All the boys will be enchanted and will serenade you with songs of their eternal love and admiration.”

She was gingerly walking down the hall to the shower carrying a white polo shirt and black gym shorts while muttering,”Ick, ick, ick, gross, ick, ick….” 

Did you and Lukey have a tiff? You hardly mentioned him. And, since when did you start wearing skin-tight jeans and half a t-shirt? Who are you trying to impress with the white-trash, trailer-park wardrobe?

I wondered how Luke felt about it. Luke had a heart of gold and was built specifically to provide comfort and joy to the world. He was Dudley Do-Right in thought and deed. But, he was controlling in his effusively positive and highly proper way. Luke was very conservative in manner and appearance. When they first started dating, he mentioned admiring Sara for not dressing provocatively and for wearing no make-up. I thought the new look would have gotten under his skin.

Luke liked to control his environment and the people in it. Sara never seemed to be someone who wanted to be controlled. She was smart, independent and didn’t care what anyone thought of her.  Luke was smart, highly dependent and deeply concerned about the opinions of others.

I didn’t see Sara lasting very long as the demure,  semi-subservient girlfriend. On the other hand, they were nauseatingly gaga for each other which can mitigate many conflicting agendas. 

Until the day comes when it can’t.

Sara re-emerged from the shower. My polo shirt went down to her knees. She was wearing my gym shorts but they were covered by the shirt. I found this look much more endearing than the “Linda-Lou-Looking-to-get-Laid” outfit she had been wearing earlier.

I smiled at her and said, “I do like this ensemble on you very much.” 

She twirled and imitated a runway model as she strutted down the hall.  

“Should we track down your lesser half?”

“He’s going to be sooooo mad at me-yeee. Told him we’d be back after lunch. Mama’s in big trouble.”

“Well, I’ll testify on your behalf vis-a-vis the religious experience you had in the bathroom. He’ll understand.”

Sara shot me a grimace that said he wouldn’t. 

“He worries. Then his imagination goes wild. Then he gets insecure. Then he thinks I’ve left him forever. Then he thinks I’ll have sex with all the men in town because they’re better at it than him. Then he thinks everyone’s lying to him. Then he gets angry. Then he pouts. Then he won’t talk. Then he’ll tell me how tormented his life is when he has to wonder if I’ll ever come back. Then we’ll have sex. Then he’ll tell me he’s going somewhere for an hour but some back two hours late just so I can experience the same torture which I don’t. Then he gets insecure again because I didn’t suffer. Then he says he loves me more than I love him. Then we argue….”

“Well, at least there’s a little love making amidst the drama.”

She shrugged. “He tries too hard. I wish he could relax and play and just let it happen. He puts too much pressure on himself.”

“Sounds like our Lukey. He’s going to grit his teeth and achieve inner peace no matter how many times he has to beat his head against the wall.”

“I know….”

She hugged me. I hugged back. She began to cry. We kept hugging and she kept crying. This went on for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything. There’s a great line from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross when All Pacino tells Kevin Spacey, “You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is.” 

This is excellent advice. 

And, at that moment, I had no idea what the hell was going on. Whatever was weighing on her far exceeded the standard annoyances that accompany couples navigating the tunnel of love for the first time. I figured she’d elaborate if she wanted. 

We hit the road to Sara and Luke’s place in their open-air World War II Jeep. Sara drove which was unfortunate because she drove like shit. It never occurred to her that one might gradually disengage the clutch when changing gears. As was the case for every other driver in Mexico, she only applied the brakes as a last resort in order to keep the jeep from flipping over because she was taking sharp turns at 90 miles an hour.  Plus, the jeep, as was the case with every other car in Mexico, had no shocks. The road to their place, as was the case with every other road in Mexico, qualified as a road-hazard. Sara did a magnificent job finding every pothole and driving directly into it which was an experience made even more rewarding by the fact that the springs supporting the seats had completely rusted. 

One hundred yards from a huge police station, while driving 150 miles per hour, Sara turned right and slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a tree. Things went flying forward, me included. My forehead hit the windshield. After stopping, Sara, without saying one word, immediately backed up, navigated past the tree and we arrived at a small house shaped like a box.

Sara glanced at me. “They really need to get rid of the tree”

Do you mean the tree 20′ left of the driveway? The driveway you’re supposed to be driving on?

“They really should have someone read you your last rites before letting you drive.” I muttered that to myself. 

“What?”

“Oh, nothing. Am I bleeding from my forehead?”

“Yeah. Seen worse. You’re fine. Gives your pretty little face some character. Welcome to the Emperor’s Place. His Hiney might be asleep. Poor Dear left to save the world at 4:00 this morning. He’s probably upstairs.”

“Will I be disturbing the Emperor?”

“Nah, he wants to see you.” She opened the door and yelled, “Oh, Ricky, I’m home! Babba-Lou! I got some ‘splaining to doooo.”

Silence. 

I tried, loudly. “Yes, hi. I’m your regional Angel of Death. Our records indicate you should have died nine months ago. Bit of a clerical error on our actuarial table. So, I mean, it’s totally not your fault for still being alive….so that’s good. And, uh, just wondering if you might come down for a, uh, word.”

Deafening silence. 

Sara shrugged. “Guess Mama needs to wake him up. Cerveza in the fridge. Food galore. Don’t go away-yee.”

Again, acting the part of a runway model, she sashayed upstairs. I grabbed a beer, sat on an exceptionally comfortable bean bag chair and listened to fifteen minutes of emphatic whispering. I was too comfortable to care and started drifting to sleep. A very contrite and weepy Sara came back down, told me Lukey was really angry and she felt it was all her fault.  She was upset and apologetic. 

“It’s not your fault. The fault falls squarely upon the hand grenade you had for lunch.”

“I’m soooo sorry. I need to talk to him but I can give you a ride back to the hotel later if that’s okay. I’m soooo sorry. I’ve been a terrible…..”

“You’ve been wonderful. Not terrible in the least. I’m happy to see you and, someday…, hopefully…, Lukey. I’m incredibly relaxed and incapable of moving. All is JFG. Go ahead and straighten out the young man. You’ll know where to find me.” 

She bent down and kissed me on the lips. Not a long kiss but not a quick one, either. She followed up by taking my hand and kissing the back of it. She stood up and asked, “What’s JFG?”

“Jolly Fucking Good, of course.”

She laughed and shook her head. 

I smiled. “Bonne nuit, ma Chère.” 

“Night, night…and…love yeeeew.”

A kiss on the lips, a kiss on my hand and an awkward, “Love you.” 

I considered all this very seriously for about eight seconds. Then, I fell asleep. Only to wake up an hour later listening to the young lovebirds who had, evidently, resolved their differences and decided to mark the occasion by having sex. Loudly. Their bedroom door was open and the bed springs sounded like they were connected to speakers you’d normally use at a Metallica concert. The entire house had no carpet so the sound of every breath, utterance, groan, kiss, thrust and position change ricocheted off the hardwood floor at full volume.

Speaking of the cartoon noises people make during sex, I remember another time I was in Mexico. It was the early 2000s. I was in Mexico City on a business trip.  I was on the top floor of a 40 story hotel.  I had eaten the guacamole earlier that day and I was sick as a dog. I couldn’t even stand up due to nausea. I couldn’t crawl more than five feet from the bathroom for fear of throwing up all over the hotel’s carpet. It felt as if I had a fever of 135°. I had my head on the tiled floor in hopes of cooling off. My entire body felt like I was being visited by the Cactus Fairy.

Guacamole on the rebound, by the way, leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t taste any better the second time. Thought I’d let you know that. If you intend on throwing up later in the day then best to steer clear of the guacamole.

Based on the noises coming from the next room, I must have been in the suite next to the honeymoon suite.

The couple occupying the honeymoon suite were busily consummating matters but I think they were new at this sort of thing because this was a very unrefined attempt at love making. It sounded like one of those professional wrestling matches where one guy gets body-slammed, then the other guy crashes onto a table, then they hit each other on the head with folding chairs, and then they try to pin each other. Pictures were falling from the walls, luggage was getting knocked off tables and the nightstand was getting kicked around the room. 

The dialog wasn’t terribly enlightening:

Her: Hey, wait.  

Him: What?  

Her: Not so fast. 

Him: Ouch.

Her: Not there.

Him: Oh, sorry.

Her: Ouch.

Him: Oooof.

Her: Not yet.

Him: Argh!

Her: Look out.

Him: What?

Her: The lamp.

Him: Lamp?

Lamp: CRASH.

Him: Oops.

If you’re arranging the furniture in the honeymoon suite then I’d suggest against putting the headboard of the bed in the honeymoon suite flat on the other side of the wall from another resident’s bathroom. The sound coming from one side of the wall doesn’t necessarily enrich the lives of those on the other side of the wall.  

They must have heard me throwing up and continuously flushing the toilet. I can’t imagine that was terribly inspiring for Romeo and Juliet on the other side. 

Their headboard kept banging into the wall. But, not in the rhythm you’d expect. It was more along the lines of, “bump, bump……bump bump bump….bumb….CRASH…..bump bump……bump…bump….CRASH….”

What in the world are you two attempting to accomplish?

I thought that. I didn’t say it. But, I did laugh out loud at one point. I quickly flushed the toilet in hopes they didn’t hear me but I had a feeling they did as it was followed by a minute of silence before they went back into action. 

Then, we had an earthquake.  The hotel was swaying back and forth, I was throwing up and losing my balance while Caveman and Cavewoman carried on with their tackling drills.  

Next morning, I walked out of my room just as they were walking out of theirs. They both looked pretty beat up. Caveman had a black eye. I looked at the woman and said, “The earth really DID move, didn’t it.”

She smiled but looked highly embarrassed.

Anyway, while Sara and Luke were making high-volume whoopie, I tried not to listen. I made some noise by coughing, yawning with gusto, walking loudly to the refrigerator and grabbing a beer thinking that might motivate them to close the door, at least. It didn’t. As I mentioned before, a puritan I’m not. I don’t worry about what the rest of the world is getting up to in bed. Plus, I went to college. I lived in the dormitories. Except for “Parent’s Weekend,” you heard people having sex all the time. 

When I was in college, three freshmen were shoved into rooms built for one. People slept in alcoves, closets, utility rooms and any other space that would fit a bed. Privacy concerns were eased by the fact there was no privacy. For the first few weeks of the fall semester, people would attempt to have sex quietly. By the time midterms came along, nobody cared enough to be quiet about anything. 

It was during a Parent’s Weekend that I experienced a painfully awkward moment. One of my roommates, Jason, set up his bedroom in the walk-in closet. Bed, portable TV, small refrigerator and a lamp. And, a girlfriend. A very loud girlfriend. Amy. That was her name. She was affectionately referred to as Screech due to the occasional screams emanating from the closet.

You probably have an idea where this is going. 

It was early Sunday morning. I was staggering back to my dorm room after visiting my girlfriend’s walk-in closet for the weekend. I hadn’t slept in two days and could barely keep my eyes open. In front of my room was a well dressed, middle-aged couple who appeared to be rather appalled. They knocked on the door. As I approached, my temptation was to keep walking and pretend I didn’t live there but I was exhausted and in desperate need of sleep. 

The closer I got to the room, it became very clear, based on the moaning and groaning, Amy was having a grand old time with Jason in their little love-closet. I stopped at my door, indicated to the couple I lived there and asked if I could be of assistance. By this point, Amy, in her very loud way, was letting the rest of us know she was about to reach the top of Olympus, as it were. 

The couple and I stood looking at each other for a moment before the woman started the conversation:

The Woman: “Are you Jason?”

Me: “No, sorry. I’m Drew. Would you like to speak with Jason?”

(Amy in the background: “Faster!!! FASTER!!!”)

The Man: “No. No we would not.”

(Jason in the background: “I’m going as fast as I can!”)

The Woman: “We’re Amy Grayson’s parents. We were told she might be visiting someone named Jason.”

Me: “Ah, yes. We do have A Jason. I’m not sure if he’s….in….I mean, the one you’re looking for. I just got back myself and, uh, well…not sure….”

(Amy in the background: “Oh, oh, Jasonnnnnn, OOOOH!”)

The Woman: “Amy wanted to meet so we could go to church together.”

(Amy in the background: “Oh, God, oh, God, ohGod, ohGod, OHGOD!!!”)

Me: Ah, yes, I do see. Right-o. Indeed. Well, uh, let me just pop in and have a look.”

The Woman: “Do you know Amy?”

(Amy in the background: “Ooooohhhh, ooooohhhh! ARGHHHH!!! YES!!!”)

Me while fumbling with my keys: “Amy? Me? No. Well, I know of her. I mean, we’ve met. But, I don’t know her. Not in the Biblical sense, at any rate. We speak to each other. It’s casual. Completely. Like, I’m not her boyfriend or anything and…. Right. Would you like to come in?”

The Man: “No. No we would not.”

(Amy in the background having hit pay dirt, so to speak: “AAAAHHHHHHHH!!! YES!!! AAAAHHHH!!”)

During Amy’s screaming orgasm, the three of us stood silently looking past each other. That was the awkward part. Her mother looked mortified. Her father looked homicidal. This is where my fatigue became a factor because, when I’m really exhausted, everything seems hilarious. One of the greatest challenges in my life was trying not to laugh in front of Amy’s parents. It was not easy. I was biting my lip, tears started forming and I was praying to get in to the apartment before losing my resolve.

I mean, it really was funny. Here were the proud parents ready to share spiritual time with their young, innocent, delicate, God-loving and pure-as-the-Arctic-snow daughter. Traditional family time in chuch, to be born-anew, sanctified, purified and to reclaim the child-like innocence that comes from true faith. Instead, they have to listen their precious little Amy hammering way with some sleaze-bag in her unholy pursuit to satisfy desires that were definitely, and I’m being mild here, earthly. My very real temptation was to say, “It’s fine. Amy generally let’s us all know when she’s having a good time.”

I really did want to say that just to see their reactions but I was too tired to start that conversation.

Instead, I gave them a smile and said, “Well, let me just take a quick peek to see if you’re daughter…., Amy, might be here….visiting, uh, Jason. Altogether unlikely, to be sure. But, uh, one never knows, do one. Right. Don’t go away.”

I walked into the room, quickly shut the apartment door, grabbed a couch cushion, held it over my face and laughed as quietly as possible. I pulled myself together long enough to loudly announce to the closet door, “Hi, Amy. I hope all is well. Listen, I hate to interrupt your study session but you’ll be delighted to know your mom and dad are here. Now. Right now. You mentioned looking forward to attending church with your parents….who are here. At this moment.”

I heard them both scrambling around trying to pull themselves together.

I opened the apartment door very slightly and told the parents, “Well, turns out Amy….your daughter….is here. Surprisingly so. Shocking, in fact. Of all places. It’s not like she is ever, uh, here. So…, you know. She may be a minute or two. Just needs to, well, get her bearings, and, well, so….uh…..right…..bearings. She’s getting them. Currently…. Would you like to come in? She should be….”

The Man replied, “No. No we would not.”

“Right. Right. Well. I hear Amy’s is doing extremely well. Academically, I mean.  You must be very…..proud. Right. Well, pleasure meeting you both. Uh, yeah….”

I shut the apartment door, flopped face-first onto the sofa and let Amy’s parents seeth in peace in the hall. Amy had flung herself together and was headed out the apartment door. She said, “Thanks, Drew. They upset?”

“Fuming. Good luck with this one.”

“I’m gonna need it.”

“I’ll put some beer on ice for when you get back. From church.”

“I’m really gonna need that.”

“It’ll be waiting for you.”

She left and I could hear the three of them walking down the hall. 

No one said a word.

Where was I? Ah, Sara and Luke. I tried to fall asleep while they were having their full and frank exchange of views but no luck.* 

The weird part was Lukey making very loud and enthusiastic statements to Sara about how in love he was with her, how lovely she looked with her clothes off and how fabulous she was in bed. Sara wasn’t replying in kind.  She kept whispering at him to keep his voice down but he still occasionally chimed in with a statement loud enough for me to hear.

It finally occurred to me Lukey was trying way too hard to make sure I knew what a happy couple they made. But, he didn’t sound happy. He sounded contrived, obvious, insecure and unconvincing. I heard Sara say she wanted to close the door but Lukey insisted they continue their blissful love making uninterrupted. 

Am I in the Twilight Zone? What is going on in my boy’s contorted, cluttered and obtuse mind? 

At that time, I was still clearing off the charred remains of a relationship that exploded a month earlier. Long story, that one. Went by the name of Carolyn. She was looking for someone who’d devote himself to the care and feeding of her voluptuary psychosis. I didn’t meet her expectations in that regard. While listening to Sara and Lukey carry on, I remembered one early evening with Carolyn. Carolyn was a screamer, too. And, she let loose with a scream loud enough that the two retired nuns living next door called the police. 

I’m not kidding. I had two elderly, retired nuns as nextdoor neighbors. They thought I was a total boy scout because I did their household repairs, snow shoveling and whatnot. Plus, I’d pick up the older of the two off the floor when she fell and couldn’t get up. They were two of the nicest people on the planet. As far as any understanding of the unholiness in the carnal world around them, they had none. No clue whatsoever. 

We heard some commotion next door and saw the police lights. The bedroom window was open.  As the neighbors started gathering, we heard the nice nuns speaking frantically to the police.  Both were mortified and terribly concerned for this “poor girl.” Neither one heard a gunshot so they posited the girl screamed while being stabbed to death and asked, with much indignation, who could do something like that to a sweet, young girl. 

We heard the police call their HQ to discuss next steps to locate and save this poor, frightened girl who was, no doubt, the victim of a heinous and violent crime. 

I smiled at Carolyn. “I believe you are the poor girl in question.”

“Huh? What? Huh?”

Carolyn wasn’t exactly a MENSA candidate so her response wasn’t terribly surprising. 

“You came. You screamed. They heard. They called the police. I think that’s the sequence of events. Before they bring in the bloodhounds and helicopters, maybe I should let the police know….”

“Nooooo, don’t, don’t, don’t. Pleeeeeze? This is, like, private. Okay?”

This was the same Carolyn who liked having surreptitious sex in public venues (story for another day) so I’m not sure how privacy became a major consideration. I explained it was best to put the fire out now before the entire neighborhood goes up in flames but I’d be discreet about it. I suggested she put some clothes on just in case. 

She agreed. I meandered outside and spotted a female police officer. Figuring she’d be more discreet and professional about this than her male colleagues, I took the matter up with her. After quietly explaining the key events, she stepped into my house to see that Carolyn was doing just fine, said she’d handle it from here and even volunteered to tell my nextdoor neighbors Carolyn saw a mouse.  

“They’re retired nuns. I don’t think you’re allowed to lie to nuns, retired or otherwise.”

The officer said she’d let them know everything and everyone was fine. She wished me good luck explaining what really happened to the nuns. 

Anyway, Sara and Lukey eventually went to sleep as did I. But, not before wondering if all my future trips would be as strange as this one. 

The answer, as it turned out, was yes.

—END OF PART FOUR—

* As far as euphemisms for sex go, “Full and frank exchange of views” is my absolute favorite. It’s brilliant. I pinched it from one of John Le Carre’s books. I can’t remember which one. Le Carre rarely mentioned sex in his books but, when he did, he had the perfect turns of phrase. “…she astonished him with a joyous and refined carnality…” I mean, how great is that?

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Mexico, Part 3 – Rememberance of Sombreros Past

Ask a card carrying Mexican how to get to Hidalgo Street/Calle and you’ll get a look that says, “Uh, care to elaborate, moron?” That’s because there are around 14,000 Hidalgo Streets in Mexico. It’s true. Look it up. 

At the time, there was no handy GPS app and the maps were worthless because you couldn’t figure out where you were and which of the 14,000 Hidalgo Streets you were on. 

If we weren’t on Hidalgo Street then we were probably on one of the many Juarez Streets or 5 de Mayo Roads or Allende Avenues or 16 de Septiembre Ways or whatever. Mexico can take the example from the Good Ol’ USA of America and name every road based on whatever was there before we tore it down so we could put in the road. Twin Oaks Highway, for instance. There are no twin oak trees to be found on Twin Oaks Highway. They used to be there. Sometimes there’s a little sign with a picture of the two oak trees before we bulldozed them in order to put in the road. There is no creek at Cross Creek Lane. There’s a housing development called Cross Creek Village at the end of Cross Creek Lane which is where the creek used to be. There’s probably a Starbucks there, too. And, a gas station that sells sushi-on-a-stick. And, an all-natural, organic, unprocessed, raw, high-fiber, locally grown, gluten-free, ketogenic, macrobiotic, new age, shi-shi, pretentious food store called Zen Eco Leaf Goddess LLC.

When we hit the fourth Calle 5 de Mayo, I asked Diego if they actually celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. I’m not sure why I asked. Maybe just to get a conversation started. 

Diego gave me a look that clearly said, “Why?”

End of conversation. 

In the States, every year we celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Religiously. We have no clue why but we put on Sombreros, drink Margaritas, eat authentic Mexican food such as Doritos, chili dogs, Campbell’s Hearty Tortilla Soup (with all the goodness of real tortillas*) and Fritos dipped in “Homemade** Guacamole.” We drink the house tequila (which is a very bad idea…story for another day) and stagger around attempting to perform the Mexican Hat Dance. Instead of a hat, we beat up a golfer and take his visor. We circle around the visor and attempt to dance the flamingo which originated in Spain, not Mexico, but who cares. The first person in the Mexican Visor Dance to die from alcohol poisoning wins the visor and two parking passes to last night’s hockey game. It’s a tradition and that’s what makes the US such a great country. 

* – No tortillas. None. Zero.

** – Not homemade. Definitely, not homemade.

And, just to make the occasion even more special, we sing “I Want to Live in America” and “I’ve Just Met a Girl Named Maria” from West Side Story which has no Mexicans in it because West Side Story has absolutely nothing to do with Mexico.

You see, we Americans from the Good Ol’ USA of America don’t hyperventilate over irrelevant details. We figure Puerto Rico and Mexico are pretty much the same in that Puerto Rico is probably the capital of Spain which is part of Brazil located on the continent of Mexico in South America. You can’t miss it. It’s near Peru. Or, Portugal. One of the two. Begins with a P. Pakistan, maybe. 

Look, the point is we don’t know and we really don’t care. Doesn’t matter. We’re busy. There’s no time for us to figure out where Mexico is. Besides, there’s a wall involved, isn’t there? Or, there was? Hard to say.  We could check but we are too busy keeping our economy strong by buying our cats 60″ flat screens with money we don’t have and signing eight year contracts for a Cat TV subscription services that starts at a low, low monthly rate of $2.99 for three months before the standard monthly rate of $119.99 kicks in which, for our convenience, is billed upfront for the next seven years and nine months which comes out to $18,599.07 plus a 15% convenience charge thereby maxing out our third credit card this month for which we will make minimum payments but will never make a dent in the balance because, per the contract we signed but never read, interest on the balance due is compounded at 2% every hour plus a 15% convenience charge just before we lose civil judgments for breach of the contracts we never read so we now have to pay court costs, lawyer fees, interest fees on the judgments plus a 15% convenience charge so we end up blaming society for “making” us run up all this debt during our second bankruptcy hearing this year. 

As you can plainly see, we are too busy to concern ourselves with geography, international affairs, the neighbor’s wellbeing, books, independent thought or pretty much anything else because running up enough debt to file bankruptcy twice a year is a lot of work. We barely have enough time to binge watch our favorite TV series, “The Further Adventures of those Lovable Pandas, Sump-Pump and Yung-Dung.” 

I’m told it’s a fascinating series. The show takes place at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. It stars the two Pandas who’ve been flung into captivity, of course, along with 25 of the sickest people on the planet all of whom were hired by the National Zoo. These 25 deranged and perverted social deviants spend their waking hours trying to force these two poor, dumb, slob Pandas to have sex. 

Now, here’s the sick part. The Zoo put Webcams all over the place so millions upon millions of Americans can watch this entire nightmare 24 hours a day. 

Anyway, back to Mexico. 

It turns out most Mexicans, according to Diego, don’t give a rat’s ass about Cinco de Mayo and quite rightly so because May 5th, 1862, was the day of the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.

That’s right. France. 

What self-respecting country would bother celebrating a win over the French? EVERYBODY has beaten the French. France’s military is the Detroit Lions of militaries. If you gave the French Army a mean look then half of them would roll over and play dead. The other half would hide under the desk. 

Okay, you might say, “Hey, Moron! France has a history of winning wars. More than You Americans.” I might say, “Oh, yeah, they have a glorious history of winning wars against big time powerhouses like Morocco, Crete, Madagascar and Cameroon. I mean, come on, they went to war against Sweden. Sweden!!! Stop that!”

We drove through a couple of decaying ghost towns before Diego announced, “Next stop, Arriaga.” I asked what the story was with these deserted towns.  Diego assured me the towns were hardly deserted. Far from it. There were plenty of people. They were all just hiding from the government mercenaries at the moment so I shouldn’t worry. Everything was fine. 

Didn’t sound fine to me. I asked what the fine representatives of the Mexican government do when they decide to visit. Well, in Diego’s experience, they, the fine representatives, were a little unpredictable when it came to human interaction although a common thread during their visits was quite a lot of violence.  Sometimes death, destruction, mayhem and consensual sex by gun-point were involved. But, not always so there was a silver lining in there. Somewhere. 

Once in Arriaga, Diego said we really should go to his local church and pray for his dear friend Paolo and Paolo’s precious soul. This would be the same Paolo from whom Diego, after verifying his dear friend was quite dead, stole all his pot, a couple bottles of his top shelf tequila and bolted. Yeah, THAT Paolo. 

My thought was, spiritually speaking, Paolo’s train had already left the station a while ago and it was a little late in the game to ask his Maker to give good old Paolo a break. Not that I was an expert on such things but I was thinking anyone who can create a universe wouldn’t have a tough time making decisions about Paolo. My guess is it’s not like a referee in the NFL. I don’t see God calling the New York Office to make sure He got the call right the first time.

Presumably, the Mexican Government’s Goon Squad hadn’t stopped by Arriaga recently to spread the cheer and good news because it was pretty crowded. We were in a business district. The building facades, most of them crumbling, were about two feet from the curb. The streets were beat up. Some buildings had phone lines. Most didn’t. The cute phrase the World Bank would use to describe the economic conditions in Arriaga is, “Relative poverty.” Well, if’n this here poverty is relative ‘n all then to what is it relatively relative?

Excellent question. Glad you asked.

The World Bank seems to think if your average household income is half your country’s average individual income then you’re  living in relative poverty. The measurement is arbitrary and stupid because if the average household in your country is already living in abject poverty then that “relative poverty” looks mighty close “total despair, deprivation and destitution…relatively speaking.” (Wait, there’s more. If you want something really arbitrary and unbelievably stupid then we can discuss “absolute poverty” which, per the World’s Bank, is currently a daily income on or below $1.90 when translated to US currency.  Think about living in the land of milk and honey on $1.90 per day. At the moment, close to a billion people on the planet are living in absolute poverty.)

In 1980, I think the average monthly individual income for Arriaga’s residents was a little under $100 US. So, chances are, you were living in relative poverty. Now, you can index it or determine the present value however you want. You can make up inoffensive phrases but, at $100 US per month, you’re not having a “temporary liquidity issue,” or a “negative cash flow,” or an “asset insufficiency.” You’re definitely not in a “state of penuriousness.”

You’re broke. Period. No money. Outta cash. Screwed.

In the States, we would have classified Arriaga, or the parts I saw, as something much more severe than “relative poverty.” “Hell-Hole,” maybe. It could have passed as Skid Row but without all the tents. 

Those living in the Arriaga version of a hell-hole were much more friendly than the ones in American hell-holes. Perhaps that’s changed over the last 40-odd years but I tend to doubt it. The locals we came across were nice and polite. In fact, there was an intangible quality about them that ran contrary to their surroundings. Folks had a sense of personal pride and dignity despite their highly undignified circumstances. Their country’s government was dedicated to oppressing and humiliating those living in “relative poverty” but all outward appearance of the good people of Arriaga was one of confident optimism. Diego told me a few times that Mexicans are generous which was something I discovered a couple years later. Gangs, according to Diego, were the exception when it came to generosity or anything else resembling acts of kindness but that’s true of gangs in every other country on the planet. 

We found a place to park, got out and walked a few blocks to the church where Diego would have his talk with God about having Paulo not burn in Hell for all eternity. 

Got a lot of Catholics in Mexico. Figured I should let you know that. Arriaga was no exception. I say that based on the number of Catholic churches we passed by en route to Diego’s church of choice. These weren’t like American churches built with stone, stained-glass windows and a big sign in front. In the good old USA of America, the signs in front of churches are never digital so someone has to slide letters into the sign in order to say something clever. It’s an interesting and little known fact that, once America declared its independence, the religious leaders in the country met and, after eight or nine jello shooters, decreed that every church in the country had to find the stupidest person in the congregation and give that person the job of putting the message on the sign. No one can get the spelling correct and they can not get their message across very well. So, you get signs saying:

GOD DOES NOT MAKE MISTEAKS

Or,

DUE INTO OTHERS AS YULE WANT THEM TOO DO YOU

Stuff like that. 

One church sign I saw said (and, I’m not making this up, honest, I have a picture of it somewhere):

MEN STAY STRAIT BECAUSE THEIR MOTHERS GOT ON THERE KNEES

There are very, very few subjects upon which we all agree. By “all,” I mean everyone on the planet. Conceptually speaking, “Men are straight because their mothers got in their knees,” is a place no one, NO ONE ON EARTH, ever wants to go in a million years. We can agree on that.

It’s a safe bet that church folded mighty fast. Attendance probably went down (no pun intended) 100% in a week.

I understand the point Dude is trying to make but come on! Maybe people were too embarrassed to say to the guy, “Listen, Chief. Let me just paint you a figurative picture of what that sign is saying….”

Another actual church sign:

FORGIVENESS IS SWALLOWING WHEN YOU WANT TO SPIT

I wonder what attendance was like that Sunday. Probably increased just because people would be interested in how the paster would sermonize about blow jobs.

Anyway, the churches in Arriaga were the same dumpy buildings as all the other buildings except for the crosses and some impassioned orators standing in front of them. 

We walked past a row of very utilitarian businesses: a law office, an electronic repair company, a couple clothing stores, a check cashing place, a consignment shop and dentist’s office.  In the States, this stretch of road would have been classified as “absolute, unbelievably absolute, absolutely absolute poverty.” The experts at the World Bank, United Nations and the like would have classified it as, “Kinda eh’, relatively speaking. At least it’s not Camden, New Jersey.” Then, they’d formulate an effective strategy to improve conditions in Arriaga with the following bold initiatives:

  • Issue a press release saying,  “Someone really ought do something about this.”
  • Blame everything on America.
  • Buy new office furniture. 
  • Go to Morton’s for lunch and don’t forget to order an extra bottle of Dom because that company expense account isn’t going to spend itself. 

We found Diego’s church which actually looked like a church from the outside. Inside it was sparsely but elegantly decorated, exceptionally well maintained and unpretentious. Diego asked me to sit next to him in a pew, he knelt and recited prayers for quite awhile during which he crossed himself about eight hundred times. When it comes to praying aloud, Catholics talk really fast. At the time, I thought maybe they figured God probably had a lot on His plate and was getting pulled in a lot of different directions so they were being considerate of His time. Rather thoughtful of them.  

In the middle of his prayers, Diego started to cry. If you have two guys who don’t know each other too well and one of them starts crying then the other wants to run like hell in the other direction. It’s kinda like standing side-by-side whilst tinkling in a public restroom. It’s awkward. If you have a row of four hundred urinals then the first guy will always make use of urinal #1 (no pun intended) and the next guy will walk all the way down to #400. Same thing with crying. The first guy who’s crying goes to #1 and the guy goes to #400. I learned very early in life that if I didn’t know what to say then it’s better to keep my mouth shut. So, I patted him on the back while leaning away as far as possible. 

We finally went back outside and walked back to the car, such as it was. In the US, there’s always a slight sense of danger when walking in a poor part of town.  The mood of the residents isn’t always uplifting. A thick cloud of anger, sometimes rage, hangs in the air. 

During our little romp through Arriaga there was no sense of anger or danger at all. None. The people were easy-going and, outwardly at least, content.  Deliriously happy? No. It was easy to see that every day was a struggle for most folks. Their eyes told that story. But, that didn’t alter either the dignified persistence required from the town’s citizens just to make it through today or the belief that tomorrow would be better.

On the walk back to the car, Diego said, “I sorry.”

I thought he was referring to crying in the church. “Es Bueno. No problemo. Perder amigo fue….sad… triste”

“No, no. No he sido amigable. Not….nice with you. Lo lamento. Is sorry. Tan cansado ahora.” 

He felt bad about not being friendlier to me during the drive. He was clearly exhausted.

“Gracias. Y gracias por conducir…driving so long.”

I planned to stay with Luke and Sara. I’d take the couch and they could carry-on in the bedroom. So, when we stopped in front of a building with “HOTEL” painted on the front and Diego pulled my suitcase from the car, I said, “¿Por qué?  No entiendo.” Diego didn’t share my perplexity. He assumed I knew there was some issue with the place where Luke and Sara lived so they decided I should stay here. The hotel owner and Luke were friends. Luke gave the owner some American dollars so I could stay there. Diego figured I’d quite like the hotel because he had sex there a couple of times and found the experience highly rewarding. He said, as far as amenities go, there was a  phone at the front desk and the shower usually worked pretty well. Plus, the hotel had a restaurant that served frejoles which were really good especially after sex. 

I was put off about being dropped off at a hotel. I gave Diego an incredulous look. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Orders are orders.” I asked what the issue was with Luke and Sara’s place. Another shrug. I was too tired to inquire further.  Diego left my suitcase at the front desk, gave me a hug that lasted way too long, and said Sara and Like would come over in the morning. I asked what time in the morning. His answer was, “Before 12pm.”

In our back and forth before my little excursion to Arriaga, I did ask Luke if I should find a place to stay which brought an immediate response from him saying absolutely not, no way, they had plenty of room for me and I shouldn’t think about staying anywhere else. 

Furthermore, all I heard before the trip from them both was, “Oh, we can’t wait to see you. Just get here as soon as you can. Oh, oh, oh, please come soon. We can’t wait [blah, blah, blah].”

Well, I guess they could wait. 

The hotel owner, Rick….Something, was very nice. He wanted me to know the room was really clean and that he put new sheets on the bed. He didn’t say the sheets were clean. Just new.  I figured as long as they weren’t the ones Diego used, I could manage.

Oh, yeah. Girls. Rick wanted to know how I felt about girls. I said, overall, I was in favor of the gender but if he would give me a little context to work with then I could give him a better answer. Well, Rick was offering, in the name of good customer service and for a reasonable fee, to dispatch a couple girls to my room so the three of us could have a full and frank exchange of views for the night. 

I guess I was looking “spoken for but available” although neither was true. Before I could say anything, Rick said both the girls had recently gotten rave reviews and, since they were only fifteen years old, were quite energetic. 

“Quince?!?! Oh, hell no! De ninguna manera. Not happening.”

Rick said not to worry. The age of consent was fourteen in Chiapas so this was my lucky day although, yes, if you really wanted to get technical about it then it’s eighteen but that’s only in extenuating circumstances. Rick said there was a very simple work-around because, as long as you’re not trying to be tricky or deceitful about it ahead of time, the green field of fourteen-to-seventeen year old girls was open to all. I guess ìn Mexico you can’t ask a fourteen-to-seventeen year old girl, “Wanna come over to my cheap hotel room with potentially clean sheets and see my watercolors?” As a prelude to making whoopee, this was strictly out of bounds. I guess when the princess turned eighteen, you were allowed to lie through your teeth. But, according to Rick, I’d get a pass because there would be no deception at all. Hey, the girls would be coming to me and I’d be paying them to have sex with me so it wasn’t like they planned on coming by just to look at my watercolors. He felt I should sit back and enjoy the hospitality. In Chiapas, it was like the NBA: no harm, no foul. Plus, I shouldn’t disregard the rave reviews or the fact they were really energetic. Rick felt Mexico was rather progressive about these things compared to us tight-assed Americans. 

Now, I’m not a prude. I really am not. I’m definitely not holier than thou. Quite the reverse. At the time, I figured my worldwide holiness ranking was in the bottom two percent. But, come on. Fifteen? These are 9th grade school girls. I’m not sure any fifteen year old girl really understands what the hell she’s consenting to when she’s giving that kind of consent. I’ve met thirty year old women who really didn’t know what the hell they were consenting to.

I let Rick know I would have to give the youngsters a miss. He frowned and wondered out loud if men were more my speed. I let him know of my blatant and, most likely, terminal heterosexuality but that I really wasn’t open for offers these days. Rick took that to mean I had a little señorita back in the States so that did put an end to any magnanimous future offers to send minors to my room.

I got a carafe of water from el restaurante and staggered to my lovely hotel suite which consisted of a bed (with clean sheets), a wooden chair, a wooden desk, a lamp and, thankfully, a working window-unit air conditioner with a bucket underneath to catch the water occasionally dripping from it. I went down the hall, took a very cold shower and fell onto the bed. Looking at the ceiling,  I thought about the two girls Rick was pimping and how their lives had probably gone to pieces. I thought I might help Rick accessorize his wardrobe by having half my boot shoved up his ass. Then I wondered what was up with Lukey and Sara who weren’t all that anxious to see me after all. Then I fell asleep. For fifteen hours straight.

I woke up still wearing a towel. It was sunrise. The town didn’t look any better than yesterday. For the first time, I wondered why I made the trip.

It was probably around 9am when I decided to walk around the neighborhood which was in serious disrepair. Most of the businesses were out of business. There was a bar, of course. It looked open. As did a gas station and a small store with quite the eclectic selection of goods. Beans. The store has lotsa beans.  Piles of them. Sorted by suspiciously bright colors. I thought they were spray painted. Next to the beans, bullets. A pile of bullets. Beans and bullets – useful but hardly interchangeable. After the bullets, there was a pile of what may have been burritos. Hard to tell. They were long and cylindrical with something resembling food inside them. Beans, probably. Or, bullets. There was a little fluorescent green ooze on them that might have been nuclear waste or the product of a severe sinus infection. 

After the disgusting burritos, vibrators. What else would you have expected? Long and cylindrical. Larger than the burritos. Much larger. Burritos and vibrators – useful but hardly interchangeable. They weren’t in a pile. I think they were sorted by feature set. Some had attachments that defied my most bizarre imagination. Anatomically speaking, they didn’t accommodate any female with whom I was familiar.

Well, you go, Girl. Whatever flips your pancake. Your very weird and, I guess, surgically altered pancake

I left the emporium and walked back to my humble hacienda still not sure when,  or if, Sara and Lukey would pop by. I fell onto the bed just in time for a knock on the door.

“Hi-yee! Open this door right now! Your Auntie Sara is here to save the day-yee.”

I opened the door. It was Sara but not quite as I remembered from 8 months earlier. In college, Sara, by and large, looked like an unmade bed: baggy clothes, early-model sneakers and fairly wild hair pinned in random places. The Sara in front of me was in a very short t-shirt, a pair of black spray-on jeans and pink tennis shoes. She’d even put on a little makeup.

“Whoa! Aren’t you the gorgeous one!!!”

“I thought you might say that, you naughty man.” With that having been said, she jumped into my arms, squeezed her legs around me and we hugged. She rested her head on my shoulder and whispered, “Thank you sooooo much for coming. I’m soooo happy you’re here. You have no idea.”

“No place I’d rather be.”

For the next 30-odd seconds I stood with Sara wrapped around me during which we remained silent. I could feel her heart. I was holding her tightly. She and I had never slept together or even headed in that general direction. So, this probably should have felt awkward but it didn’t. It was a very comfortable moment and one certainly worth living in. 

She disembarked and panned my very meager and seedy room. “Looks like Ricky got you into the honeymoon suite.”

“Well, he did offer me the services of two fifteen year old girls for a night of spiritual insight and meaningful conversation.”

“Thought so. I told him that wasn’t your style. Twins.”

“The girls?”

“No, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Yes, the girls. Oh, now you’re interested. Uh-huh, I see.”

“Uh, no. Sex with children is way, way, WAY down on my to-do list. Right after bobbing for chain saws. Do they have names? I mean, ones that can be repeated in public?”

“Laverne and Shirley. I dunno. They’re the talk of the town. Four out of five former husbands agree the twins caused the divorce.”

“Their parents must be very proud.”

“They’re in business so they can take care of their mother. She got hit by a car and the family couldn’t afford the medical bills. Now they can. They can probably buy the hospital. Luke disapproves. He would.”

“Speaking of Lukey…..”

“Off to save the world, of course. But, you’re here now, so….”

Another lengthy, quiet embrace just before Sara announced, “Mama’s hungry! Your treat? Why, thank you! Let’s go!”

“And, where would mademoiselle care to dine?”

“Downstairs, of course. Where else is there to eat?”

“There’s the market up the street where you can have snot-covered burritos filled with florescent beans.”

“Did you see the vibrators?”

“Indeed and I have a few concerns about those.  And, some logistical questions that I may not want the answers to. Have you….”

“Oh, no. I’m sticking to my little white girlie ones. Those look too dangerous for little old meee.”

The food, much to my surprise, was really good. Sara decided to try something spicy. It must have been hot as hell because, after one bite of whatever it was she ordered, she was drenched in sweat, her nose was running, her eyes were watery and her lips were bright red. We were less than an hour into lunch when Sara turned green and announced, with some urgency, she needed to find the nearest bathroom. The only unoccupied bathroom was next door to my room. She scurried off. I paid the bill and went back to my room. The wall between my room and the bathroom was probably made of cardboard because I heard some of the most horrendous noises imaginable emanating from that bathroom. At full volume. Noises that haunt me to this day. 

If you are interested in losing all possible notions of the feminine mystique then listen to a woman suffering an industrial-strength case of lower gastrointestinal distress. Oh, that’ll cure you.  It sounded like she was passing either live organs or live animals followed by the delicate sound of thirty whoopee-cushions going off simultaneously. There was the periodic reverberation that plastic explosives make upon detonation. Then more whoopee-cushions. I was about to ask if she’d inadvertently left an incendiary device in her bottom but she didn’t seem in the mood for much dialogue.

Thirty minutes later, a very pale Sara emerged and walked into my room. She appeared to have been run over by a truck. She stared straight ahead with a sad-puppy facial expression.

“Oh, dear. Would you like a little lie down?” She nodded.

“Does el baño need some tending to?” Another sad nod before she flopped onto the bed. 

I did clean up duty in the bathroom which, considering all the pandemonium, didn’t look that bad. When I got back to my room, Sara was fast asleep. I put my hand on her forehead. She wasn’t running hot. I put some water on the nightstand. I wasn’t sure what to do next. A book had fallen from her handbag. It was in English so I grabbed a couple pillows, found a place to lie down on the floor next to the bed and thought I’d give it a read.

The book was, “Sophie’s Choice.”

If you’re going to read Sophie’s Choice then my strong suggestion is to have a support group in the room with you while reading the book. Make sure a psychiatrist and a grief counselor are present at all times. Wouldn’t hurt to have someone practiced in suicide-prevention because that book is brutal. If someone gives you a copy of Sophie’s Choice then do what I should have done which was drop it on the floor and quickly back away. 

Sara didn’t move for four hours. I occasionally checked to make sure she wasn’t dead. 

So, that’s how I spent my first full day of daylight in Arriaga: looking at vibrators, listening to someone deal with the worst case of diarrhea on record and reading Sophie’s Choice.

I figured things would turn for the better that evening.

Well….no, actually.

—END OF PART THREE—

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Mexico, Part 2 – The Chariots of Fire

Mexico, in 1980, wasn’t the healthiest place to do business. The Dirty War was still going on. Key government officials, in the name of keeping peace and tranquility throughout the country, dispatched death squads to capture the hearts and minds of the citizenry by torturing and killing thousands of people they didn’t like. These days, the PC-police prefer we refer to these as “extrajudicial executions” instead of “mass murders.” I don’t know why, either. 

If you can get past the mass murders then you’ll see Mexico’s ruling party for most of the 20th century, the PRI, was exceptionally successful in providing its beloved citizens the benefits we generally associate with large, high-functioning dictatorships: economic chaos, thorough corruption, voter fraud, unbelievable incompetence, extreme poverty, property destruction, domestic terrorism and the standard repression of free speech. I figure, at some point, half the population was under arrest. They weren’t charged with anything. It was just the PRI’s go-to strategy to spread the misery. 

I don’t know if this is still true but, at the time, you could get tossed in the clink if you didn’t sing the Mexican national anthem the “right” way. I think that’s really all you need to know about the country’s government.

And, killing journalists. Oh, man, they had “extrajudicial journalist executions” down to an art form. You got your throat cut before you could even get your press credentials. It’s a tradition that the Mexican government proudly maintains to this day. In 2020, The Guardian voted Mexico, once again, the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. 

The police didn’t have time to investigate any of the murders because they were too busy committing most of the murders. The police recruitment posters must have said, “Tired of the day-to-day humdrum of being a decent human being? Do you enjoy killing people? Would you like to make fun new friends and torture them to death? If you said YES to any of these questions then do we have the job for YOU! So, come on by and learn more today! Bring proof of criminal insanity and your prison record. Experience in homicide, arson, assault, rape, theft, B and E, kidnapping, extortion, child molestation, false imprisonment, terrorism, drug dealing, wreckless endangerment and property destruction preferred but we’re willing to train the right candidate. EEO.”

The word, “Feminicidio,” entered the Mexican vernacular in 1980 due to the horrifying increase in women and girls being murdered for the crime of being female. The Mexican government does nothing to discourage this. Never has.

I was aware of the sad state of affairs when I decided to visit but thought it was a risk worth taking. 

When packing to fly to Mexico in 1980, I had to keep a few things in mind if I didn’t want to get thrown in a Mexican jail cell with 15 guys all named, for the occasion, Juan Garcia. No music cassettes on accounta rock and roll was banned what with it being subversive and having naughty sex stuff in the lyrics.  No books because, depending on the mood of the customs agent, a copy of “Anne of Green Gables” could be considered porn and “The Little Engine That Could” might be viewed as a direct threat to the Catholic Church. No magazines, no newspapers, no t-shirts with words or numbers on them, no jewelry, no medicine (prescription or otherwise), no cameras and no electronic devices as bringing any of these things would indicate my obvious intent to overthrow the government and I’d end up in the big house with my 15 new best friends. 

I had a year of Spanish as a freshman in college but forgot most of it so I brought an English/Spanish translation book for the trip. That was my light reading on the flight.  I thought about that Monty Python skit where some person writes an English/Hungarian translation phrase book but intentionally screws up the translations. As a result, this Hungarian guy walks into a British shop to buy some cigarettes, looks at the book with the intention of saying, in English, “May I buy a pack of cigarettes?” But, he ends up saying, “Please fondle my buttocks.”

I think the airliner was called “Bueno Como Muerto (Good as Dead).” The pilot must’ve had an acute central nervous system disorder. He couldn’t keep the plane straight. He’d veer to one side before over-correcting to the other side before over-correcting the other way for the entire flight. My coffee kept spilling left and right onto my shirt the entire time. Plus, altitude maintenance was a challenge. The plane would drop straight down 200 feet for no reason other than it was exactly when I was attempting to drink the coffee so, instead of going into my mouth, the coffee went up my nose. Of course, the pilot would immediately over-correct causing me to spit the coffee out of my nose directly onto my pants. The flight attendant (referred to as the air hostess at the time) was nice enough to sell me eight shot-bottles of vodka. I had pretty much come to terms with the idea that this flight wasn’t going to end gracefully and I was fully prepared to die. 

I could have prepared for my certain death by asking God to forgive my multitude of sins. I could have written a goodbye note asking everyone I knew to forgive my multitude of sins. I could have asked the air hostess to forgive me for the lovely sins I contemplated each time she walked by. 

Instead, I got drunk. 

Flying was different in 1980. The cabin was completely filled with smoke because airlines allowed smoking back then. Cigar smoke, cigarette smoke, pipe smoke and blue smoke because someone forgot to check the airplane’s oil. Seat belts were pretty much optional which enabled anyone under 8 years old to scramble around on the aisles and over the seats in attempts to steal food from the food-cart and from the other passengers. The pilot was able to land the plane on his 2nd try but slammed the brakes so hard that anything not nailed down flew to the front of the plane and caused the rest of my coffee to spill on my shoes.

When it came to getting off the plane, there was none of this courteously-waiting-for-the-people-in-the-row-ahead-of-you-to-exit nonsense. People just ran over each other to be first off the plane which caused a great crush at the door. 

Unfortunately, we had to wait while airport employees threw all the luggage from the plane onto the tarmac which meant all the suitcases, crates, boxes, livestock and children were now in one big pile.

No one actually opened the door. I think the law of physics finally kicked in and the door just broke off its hinges due to the force of the crowd. Once the door broke off, people burst out of the place where the door used to be, fell down the stairs and landed on the tarmac. Then they made a mad dash to get their suitcases from the luggage pile. People were crawling all over the pile looking for their stuff. Fights broke out as people tried stealing each other’s suitcases.

Thanks to my 8 little vodka shots, I wasn’t looking real sharp. I was covered with coffee stains, my shoelaces were untied, my sunglasses were crooked, half of my shirt was untucked and I had a cigarette hanging off my bottom lip. Plus, I still had coffee coming out of my nose. I wasn’t walking with a whole lot of purpose, either: two steps forward, one step sideways to get my balance, two steps forward, one step backwards to make sure I didn’t fall on my face, two steps forward and so on. 

I found my suitcase and meandered on over to the customs line only to discover there was no line. It was another pile of people crawling over each other to be next to get through customs. I was in no rush because I understood that, as a Yankee-Pig-Dog-American, I’d be getting special treatment from the very happy customs guy who, once we finally met, pointed at the table and said, “Bolso. Ahora. Ahora! Abrelo! Ahora!!”

I put the suitcase on the table and opened it. He tore through everything while maintaining a look of total disgust. Then he got to the approximately 50 coloring books I bought per Lukey’s request. He looked appalled. He picked one up, looked at me and said, “Que carajo?!?!”

This is where my rust with the Spanish language, as well as my extensive inebriation,  became an issue.  I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t figure out how to say it in Spanish. 

I said, “Libros para colorear, uh, uh, mierda.”

What I meant to say was, “Coloring books.”

What I actually said was, “Books to color your shit in.”

The customs guy asked, “Por qué?”

I replied, “Well, uh, a, uh, proporcionan muchos orgasmos a los niños.”

What I meant to say was, “Kids really enjoy them.”

What I actually said was, “They provide many orgasms for the children.”

The guy looked confused. “Por qué traes estos? Huh?!”

I tried to explain, very slowly, why I was bringing coloring books. I semi-smiled and said, “Uh, yeah, uh, see, engo amigos que quieren, um, enseñar y y y niños y niñas porque, uh, like, hmmm,  quieren colorear los libros con crayones, so,, en los libros donde no dejan arena en la ropa interior.”

What I meant to say was, “My friends teach young children. Coloring books and crayons help them teach the children.”

What I really said was, “I have friends want to teach and and boys and girls because they want to coloring the books with crayons in the books where they keep sand out of their underwear.”

The guy was clearly dazzled by my grasp of the language. He stood and stared into the distance for about 30 seconds and finally said, “Maldito idiota. Empaca tu mierda y piérdete. Maldito Americano.”

I’ll spare you the translation. 

“Right-o. Well, Muccous garcias, et tu, Bruté.”

I always try to be polite. 

My point-of-contact was a teenager called Diego. He was supposed to be holding up a sign with my name on it. I walked around for a long time before spotting a half-asleep, petulant looking young man leaning against a pillar with a cardboard sign at his feet that said, “Draw.”  

I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was Diego. He looked at me, pulled a Polaroid picture from his pocket, studied it, studied me and, with the formal verification process concluded, took my suitcase and motioned me to follow. He led me through this tangled mess of cars, pedestrians, chickens (dead and/or alive) and street vendors before we approached something that, from a distance, looked like an antique metal sculpture. Up close, it sort of resembled a car.

Actually, it really was a car. Well, “car” might be stretching it. It was a 1972 Ford Pinto and, as such, was really more a “crime against humanity” than an actual “car.” 

In the 70s, American car manufacturers churned out plenty of wretched cars: the Plymouth Violator, the Dodge Fallacy, the GMC Discharge, the Jeep Languisher II and so on.  But, none of these car models came close to the dumpster fire that was the Ford Pinto. 

Some unique features of the Ford Pinto were:

  1. The entire car body was made out of tin foil.
  2. The available horsepower averaged between zero and negative four.
  3. Sometimes the steering mechanism worked. 
  4. If you gave it a mean look then one of the wheels would fall off.

What really separated the Pinto from the rest of the field was the fact that if you hit the back bumper of the Pinto at a speed in excess of 2 miles per hour then the car would instantly explode leaving nothing but a mushroom cloud in its wake.

As we stood silently admiring that worst car ever produced, Diego pulled a ring of keys out of his pocket, tossed them to me and said, “Usted conduce.  Estoy muy cansado.”

“Do what? Me? Drive? Uh, I mean, no puedo, no debería tener una licencia mexicana, no tengo una y la policía con pelos en la nariz terminará en la cárcel con muchas cosas Juan Gracias, malo, no es una buena, apesta.”

What I meant to say was, “I don’t have a Mexican driver’s license. I don’t want to get pulled over and end up in jail with a bunch of guys called Juan Garcia. Not good.”

What I actually said was, “I can’t shouldn’t Mexican license don’t got one and police with nose hair will dead  end up jail with many plenty Juan thank-yous, bad, not good, sucks.”

Diego shrugged, opened the passenger-side door, threw my suitcase in the back seat and hopped in. 

I think the car started out white but that’s a total guess. It was held together with an abundance of duct-tape to cover up the rust and coat hangers to keep things like the hood from flying off the car while driving.  I thought it would have made a for a great coat hanger TV commercial:

Woman: “Hey, Bob. Look at all the Johnson Coat Hangers holding the neighbor’s car together!”

Man: “That’s right, Becky! No driver should ever be without a 50-pack of Johnson Coat Hangers! You can use ’em to hold down the hood, be a state-of-the-art antenna, keep the rear doors from falling off, hold the wheels in place, secure the top from flying off, make sure that darn engine doesn’t fall out and so much more!!!”

Woman: “Gosh, Bob. Every car owner needs plenty of Johnson Coat Hangers!”

Man: “Heh, heh. You’re so right, Becky! Johnson Coat Hangers are also great for relieving constipation, clearing your sinuses and hitting the kids on the side of the head whenever they’re being total douchebags!”

Woman: “You know, Bob. That’s real value! They’ll make the perfect Christmas gift this year!”

Opening the driver’s side door involved me putting my foot flat on the side of the car and pulling the door as hard as I could which caused a creaking sound that could have been heard in Honduras. 

The car continuously shook, rattled, belched and backfired. That was before you even started the engine. 

It eventually started and I drove while Diego drank beer, slept and gave occasional directions by pointing at the next turn about 8 feet before I needed to make the turn. I think I ran over 12 taco stands and 40 chickens on the drive. I thought it best to stay away from the beer while driving so I opened a can of the Mexican version of Coca-Cola which tasted like two-week-old carbonated cat litter. I took one sip, spit it out and yelled, “Cerveza, cerveza!!! Por favor!!! Ahora!!!”

Diego gave me a beer. I slammed it. He gave me another. And, another. 

As mentioned in the previous chapter, there was no road. Just one continuous road-hazard which took over forever to navigate. The car bitched and moaned the entire time. There was a severe latency issue.  When I hit the brakes, nothing would happen for a couple of seconds before the brakes would start screeching causing the car to shake violently until it stopped which would then cause the engine to turn off.  The steering mechanism, when it worked, had a 5 degree turning capability so making a right hand turn was a 10 minute proposition which meant numerous stops which resulted in the engine turning off. Hitting the accelerator caused the engine to produce the kind of noise you’d associate with 300 jackhammers. The zero-to-sixty speed could have been timed with a sundial.  Plus, all the coat hangers rattled like crazy, smoke came through the air vents, the glove compartment door kept falling off and the horn would randomly blast just before the engine shut off. There were no shock absorbers so every dip in the road resulted in a huge shock which resulted in the car backfiring followed by the engine shutting off.  

The only thing in the car that worked correctly was the AM radio which Diego insisted on playing way too loud. This was highly unfortunate because the popular music in Mexico in 1980 was some of the most hideous crap you could imagine. Every song was a ballad with a very bad opera singer bellowing over a few trumpets and an out-of-tune string section. The subject of the songs were women all named Maria. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Perhaps they were all singing about the same woman who happened to be named Maria. If that was the case then she must have been quite a girl. Anyway, it seems Maria kicked the singer to the curb for a guy who who was deceitful, mean, selfish and ugly but made up for it by being rich so Maria, being quite shallow, fell in love with the rich guy who was only interested in naughty things like doing drugs and having premarital sex. However, the day would come where she’d realize how miserable she was because the rich guy didn’t really love her the way he, the opera singer, did and she’d return to him which is why he would spend every night standing under the moonlight in his cow pasture because he just knew some enchanted evening she’d come running back into his arms. He, the bad opera singer, just knew this day would come. 

Well, I mean, I dunno, perhaps Maria wasn’t a total ditz, after all. Maybe she completed a cost/benefit analysis and came to the conclusion that a life of endless sex, high-class cocaine, expensive vacations and designer clothes was preferable to standing in a pasture with cow manure between her toes in the arms of a pathetic loser.

“Hmmm,” Maria probably thought. “Would I prefer eating caviar, drinking champagne and taking in a Broadway show every night or am I better off in a house with lousy plumbing, eating beans and farting all night with Loser-Boy while watching Celebrity Bowling on a 13″ black and white TV?”

Some decisions are easier than others. 

Anyway, the drive just to get out of Mexico City took a little longer than 4th grade. 

Most of the roads in the city had the requisite markings indicating specific lanes. Lanes on a road are pretty easy to understand. You get in one and you drive in it. If you want to make a left turn then you get in the left lane. If you’re on a two-lane highway then you don’t want to take your half in the middle. Easy.

Well, no, actually. Lanes, at the time, meant nothing in Mexico. If there was room for your car between two other cars then you shoved your way in there. You could be in two different lanes, on a service road, shoulder, slip road, emergency road or half-way into oncoming traffic. Didn’t matter.

To me, this seemed to present a challenge because if you’re on the far right side of a highway that indicates there should be four lanes and you want to turn left soon then you have to navigate across multiple cars none of which are in anything resembling a lane. Turned out the locals were able to overcome this by not caring. When it was time to turn left, you turned left. You could be on the right shoulder of an eight lane highway and immediately turn left. It really didn’t matter. This made intersections a lot of fun because you had cars coming at you from all directions. 

Which brings me to my next point. Intersections, in Mexico, weren’t called intersections. They were called, “Encrucijada de la Muerte [Crossroads of Death],” mostly because half of the traffic lights in Mexico City didn’t work. Mexicans developed a clever way to manage this by, again, not caring. Every driver assumed the traffic lights were there for decoration only. So, the traffic light could be out, could be blinking, could be red, could be green, could be pink with a stripe down the middle or, and I did see this, could be on fire due to faulty wiring. 

So, driving through the intersections was a Mexican version of Russian Roulette except Russian Roulette is much more humane because you have only one bullet for six chambers. The chance of you not blowing your brains out is 83.33%. That’s pretty good. And, okay, let’s say things didn’t turn out as well as you hoped and you failed in not blowing your brains out while playing Russian Roulette. Fine, Negative Nancy, be that way, see if I care. But, look, assuming you’re holding the gun directly on your head, the time between you pulling the trigger and you entering the homeland, so to speak, is really limited. It’s quick. Done.  No mas.

Mexican Roulette was a bitch because you had cars coming at you from all directions whose drivers had no intention of slowing down or stopping because no one’s brakes worked. 

Which brings me to my next point. The cars being driven in Mexico appeared as if they’d been active participants in World War II but hadn’t been serviced since World War I. They all looked like that one weird piece of bacon on the bottom of the package. You had cars with crushed front ends, crushed back ends, crushed doors, dents, rust, missing sideboards, broken mirrors, cracked windshields/no windshields, rear bumpers dragging on the road, bald tires, broken headlights, smoke belching from where the exhaust system used to be, mufflers dragging on the road, more smoke coming from under the hood and sparks flying what with no brake pads (on those very rare moments when someone attempted to apply the brakes). 

Once we got outside city limits, Diego immediately suggested a little side trip to Acapulco where we might complete a rather complicated transaction that involved me giving Diego some American money, Diego giving some guy the money and the guy giving us a healthy amount of weed. Acapulco Gold. I was delighted to oblige. I had heard nothing but good things about Acapulco Gold. I remembered Cheech and Chong’s advertising jingle on the subject:

“No stems, no seeds that you don’t need / Acapulco Gold is [long toke] bad-ass weed.”

As the crow flies, it may be a little over 200 miles from Mexico City to Acapulco. Owing to the Mexican Government’s excellent upkeep of the highway system, the trip took seven hours. 

The first time we stopped for fuel was in the sticks. The gas station consisted of one gas pump next to a very old house with three elderly gentlemen sitting, side-by-side, in front of the house. They could have easily passed as the Three Stooges. Curley had a shotgun on his lap just to ensure good customer service. 

I got out of the car and walked towards the gas pump. The only indication that actual gasoline that might come from the pump was a sign saying, “Ga ol na.”  Seemed close enough for our purposes. I went to pull the nozzle and noticed the guy who looked like Moe from the Three Stooges was standing about 10″ to my left and giving me a deadpan stare. 

Now, this is 1980 and self-service gas stations in The States were just becoming all the rage. Until the late 70s, some poor, dumb slob employed by the gas station had to pump the gas for you and was required to take a 400 year old squeegee so he/she could slop some muddy water onto your windshield and attempt to remove the water by scraping the squeegee across your windshield. Because the rubber side of the squeegee no longer had rubber on it, the net effect was you now had a muddy windshield with long horizontal scratches. Then, for reasons I never understood, he/she insisted on checking the car’s oil level by popping the hood, pulling the dipstick, wiping it off with a towel that hadn’t been washed since the Spanish/American War, putting the now very dirty dipstick back from whence it came and dropping the hood as hard as possible in order to break the hood’s latch.

Fortunately, you now had enough gasoline to drive to a repair shop to get a new windshield, a new hood and an oil change. 

I guess you can see why market acceptance of self-service gas stations was so strong.

It seemed the self-service concept hadn’t reached Mexico which explained Moe standing next to me at point blank range. We stood facing each other in silence, nose-to-nose, for 10 seconds like boxers before a fight. 

I broke the ice. “Sí, oye.  Entonces, necesitas gasolina muy rápido…[no response]…¿Llenas la grieta o hago gas?….[silence]…Uh, ¿ahora tengo gasolina o después?…[still nothing]….Right-o. ¿Monies America es aceptación de dólares?…[more deafening quiet]…Okay. ¿Dónde está el baño con los hombres?”

What I meant to say was, “Hi. We need gasoline. Do you fill the car or do I? Do I pay now or after? Do you take American money? Where is the men’s bathroom?”

What I actually said was, “Yeah, hey. So, uh, You need gasoline alot quick. Do you fill the crack or I make gas? Uh, now I got gas or after? Monies  America is dollars  acceptance? Where is the bathroom with the men?”

The entirety of Moe’s response was, “¿Qué?”

I pulled $3 out of my back pocket and said, “Gasolina?”

Moe grinned, grabbed my money and filled the car with something that may have resembled gasoline. 

After we got back on the road, Diego said he traded a couple beers with Larry for a pack of cigarettes which seemed like a fine idea until I smoked one. It was a Mexican cigarette. I think the name of the brand was “Caca de Bebé [Baby Poop].” If you took a rotting corpse, set it on fire, stood over it and inhaled the smoke then you’d get an idea of the taste. I got ⅓ of the way through the cigarette, pulled over, jumped out of the car, threw up, gargled with some beer, grabbed a pack of Marlboros out of my suitcase and smoked 3 or 4 in a row just to get rid of the rotting corpse taste.

Just before dawn, we arrived in Acapulco. Diego toodled off, with my money, to score some Acapulco Gold. I was still wearing the clothes I wore on the flight and I’m sure I smelt dreadful.  I jumped into some gym shorts and went to the beach.  I started swimming in Acapulco Bay at sunrise. This still qualifies as a lifetime highlight. The sunlight bounced off the bay. There wasn’t a soul in sight. No sounds other than those of the waves rolling into the shore. The water was pristine. I thought about telling Diego to drive to Chiapas by himself and come back to pick me up in about 5 years. I swam for a while and dreamed of a new life on the beach in Acapulco. 

I did finally manage to pry my way out of the bay and started walking back to the car.  I made a stop at a little tiled area where there was a hose, soap, shampoo, conditioner and a mirror. I don’t know who thought to put this little cleaning oasis on the beach but I thought it was a nice touch.

I got back to the car but saw no sign of Diego. I was lying in some grass near the car when I saw Diego sprinting to the car, large brown bag in hand, speaking a mile a minute in Spanish. Clearly agitated and making frantic gestures indicating we needed to get out of Acapulco right now. He threw the bag into the back seat and jumped in the driver’s seat while continuing his Spanish psycho-babble and his spastic arm movements. 

I barely made it to the passenger’s seat before Diego hit the gas.

Not that hitting the gas in the Ford Pinto returned any immediate benefits but, eventually, it managed to pick up some speed. 

Diego continued his ranting in Spanish. Do you remember the I Love Lucy sitcoms where Ricky Riccardo would start a rapid-fire monolog in Spanish whenever Lucy did something supremely stupid?

Well, that was Diego.

I picked up pieces of what he was yelling. I heard him exclaim, “Dios mío,” every 10 seconds or so.  “Mierda,” made an appearance four times per sentence, at least, as did the exclamation, “Está muerto.” 

“Diego, no mas. Stop. Who’s dead? Uh. I mean. ¿Quién está muerto, I mean, muerto dead?”

Diego kept stammering, “Él estaba muerto.  Muerto.  No lo sabía.  Disparo.  Muerto.  ¿qué puedo hacer?  No lo sabía.  Mierda, mierda.  Esto es malo.  Mierda!”

“Whoa, whoa, hang on, Sparky. Who’s dead? ¿Quién está muerto?”

It took awhile before I could piece together the story.  It seems my boy, Diego, went to see his pot-dealing friend with the intention of buying an ounce of Acapulco Gold. Easy enough. The door to his flat was ajar and music was playing. Probably a song about Maria. A song where you want to gently tell the singer, “Amigo, Maria ain’t coming back. She’s outta your life. Gone for good. Not gonna happen. There are, evidently, plenty of Marias in the ocean. Stick your little pole out there and see what you can catch.”

Anyway, Diego walked in and saw his friend, Paulo, lying on a sofa but not looking too well what with having been shot in the head and all. Diego’s expert assessment was his friend was quite dead.

Now, at this point, I might have called the local authorities or family members or, at least, a mutual friend. I mean, someone really should have gotten an update on old Paulo’s current metabolic state.

Instead, Diego, being a really good friend,  rummaged around the flat until he found the dead guy’s entire stash, dumped it into a grocery bag, left, had second thoughts, went back to the flat, took a bottle of tequila and left again. As he left his good yet extremely deceased friend to begin decomposing, he heard a noise that scared him so he ran back to the car. 

I didn’t know the Spanish way to say, “You are really and truly a morality free zone.”

To his credit, Diego was developing a guilty conscience. He even considered going back to provide aid and comfort to his dearly departed friend. 

I didn’t think that was a solid idea. I clearly explained this to him, “¿Qué estúpido puedo traerte? ¿Qué vas a hacer, irte a la cama con él para que tengas una historia?”

What I meant to say was, “How stupid can you get? What are you gonna do, read him a bedtime story?”

What I actually said was, “What stupid can I get you? What are you go do, go in bed with him so you have a story?”

Diego spent a long time trying to figure out what the hell I just said and forgot all about going back to Acapulco.

I looked in the shopping bag. There was around a pound of high-grade pot and a large sealed bottle of tequila. Also, as a nice touch, my boy stole two shot glasses which was, all things considered, rather considerate on his part. 

We weren’t being followed so that was good. Diego rationalized away any guilt by saying that he, Diego, didn’t kill anyone and if Paulo had already shuffled off this metal coil then he, Paulo, really didn’t mind Diego taking all his pot and tequila. Besides, God was probably cool with everything since the only sins he committed were against a guy who was dead so they didn’t count nearly as much. And,  let’s face it, Paulo was most likely going to Hell so it was quite unlikely that God would give a rat’s ass in the first place. 

After much back and forth, Diego agreed we needed to dump the pot. In return, I agreed to not mention any of this to Sara and Lukey. I poured us a couple shots and we toasted the fact that we weren’t dead. I laid back in the passenger’s seat while Diego navigated the continuous road hazard. I could see the Pacific Ocean from time to time. Everything seemed peaceful. There were no signs of death squads or poverty anywhere. Okay, it wasn’t the Upper East Side. I didn’t notice any Jags on the road but the modest houses were in good repair, people moved around at a leisurely pace and the ambience was hardly threatening. Plenty of open space.  The people we drove past looked fine. Happy, even. 

Maybe all the reports about pain and suffering were blown way out of proportion. Most likely by the aid agencies wanting more donations. 

After a while, I closed my eyes and contented myself with profoundly naughty visions vis-à-vis that air hostess. 

I must have slept quite awhile because, when I finally woke up, we were in another hemisphere. There were no ocean views and definitely no cute haciendas with contented families in front of them. We were in a thick forest. In the mountains. I wondered if Diego missed a turn which explained why we ended up on the Appalachian Trail somewhere in the middle of West Virginia.

“Uh, Diego. ¿Dónde the hell estamos?”

Diego, looking very tired, “Oaxaxa. You sleep. Largo tiempo. ¿Conducirías el coche? Por favor.”

“Sí,” was my entire response. And, as requested, I took over driving duties. Oaxaca is the state next to Chiapas so we were heading in the right direction. However, according to Diego, we had to go up country due to a road closure. I figured out was probably due to a half mile long pothole.

We were definitely in the sticks. Plus, the road we were on was built by people who must have been blind because the entire drive involved a rapid series of ridiculous hairpin turns. We drove passed plenty of cars that tried and, based on the condition of the cars, failed to navigate one of the turns. The occupants of those cars probably just stayed in the cars until they dropped dead because a slow death would be much more rewarding than driving on this road.

Scattered along the way were little towns and communities that were in ruins or headed in that general direction. This was the first time I had an unfiltered, first-hand view of abject poverty. Stark, frightening, hopeless, humiliating, crushing poverty. Now, I’m not going to pooh-pooh urban or rural poverty in the States but, in terms of scale, depravity, danger and severity, this was something for which I was utterly unprepared. 

I saw people with nothing except a house that looked like it would cave in at any moment. No money, no shoes, no hospitals, no sanitation, no electricity, no businesses, no food and no hope. Nothing. Those we drove past looked devastated. Their facial expressions were blank but you could see the desperation in their eyes. Some folks were slowly shuffling around. Others were sitting near the side of the road and staring straight ahead. The only people walking around with any purpose were those with guns. 

In a panic, I woke up Diego and said, “¿Que the hell esta pasando aqui? This is a nightmare. Uh, pesadilla.”

His casual response was, “Socialism suck. No money. Muchos barrios marginales. Much poor. Malo.”

“Is it this bad in Arriaga?”

“Sometimes. Depends.”

That really wasn’t the answer I was hoping for.  At that very moment, the Pinto backfired. I thought, Yup. Couldn’t agree more. 

Diego gave me a beer. 

“Ah, yes, right, thank you. Don’t mind if I do.”

Once the shock wore off, my mind ran in a million directions but would always return to one thought:

What the hell have I gotten myself into?

—End of Part Two–

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Mexico, Part 1 – The Chicken and the Glory

Everything I learned about driving I learned in Mexico.

While transportation in Mexico City is a thorough fuster cluck, you can, eventually, get from Point A to Point B. The same can’t necessarily be said for the rest of the country. 

The more rural you get, the more exciting the adventure.  

So, if it’s your first time in Mexico and you’re stupid enough to drive a car while you’re there then there are a few helpful driving tips I can offer. 

(These driving tips were learned long ago but I just have a feeling they still apply. Last time I was in Mexico was 2002. The conditions were the same as they were in the 1980s. Worse, actually.)

Lesson 1: If you come across a “road hazard” sign in the States, then what follows, should you keep driving, is something, or a series of somethings, that make driving extremely dangerous or, sometimes,  almost impossible. Huge craters in the highway or large rocks that fell off the side of a mountain or mangled pieces of cars strewn along and aside the road. Any of the above would constitute a “road hazard.”  

Well, in Mexico, that constitutes “the road.” 

The roads in Mexico City are a mess.  The roads in the rest of the country are a catastrophe. 

The key is don’t look back and don’t look sideways because what will kill you is generally straight ahead. Usually, in the form of a pothole on a bridge. Pretty much every bridge in Mexico has required urgent maintenance since the Mexican Revolution. 

Potholes in Mexico generally run 10 yards in diameter and you only have two ways to navigate them:

Plan A – Build a ramp right in front of the pothole, backup up a mile, then put the hammer down, accelerate to about 200mph when get to the ramp and fly over the pothole just like Evil Knivel used to do in his motorcycle when he’d fly over 25 school busses parked in a row.

This results in a total catastrophe and instant death because, when Evil Knievel jumped over all those busses on his motorcycle and landed on the other side, he’d always lose control of the motorcycle, crash and tumble down the road for a mile or so breaking around 250 bones, crushing his spleen, collapsing both lungs, puncturing a kidney, suffering permanent hearing loss and cutting himself up to the tune of 2,500 stitches.

And, HE knew what he was doing. 

You don’t. 

So, you don’t stand a chance

Plan B – Drive 3 mph and slowly, carefully navigate through the pothole.  This, also, results in total catastrophe and death because the pothole on the bridge is so deep that it has gone all the way through the bottom of the bridge so you and your car just ends up falling through the hole on the bridge. 

Your death won’t be quite as sudden because there’ll be a brief lag between falling through the bridge and landing on the meth lab 800′ below. 

It doesn’t have to be a meth lab. Could be anything.  It doesn’t matter.  Because once you’ve crashed into the ground, it’s over. In terms of vital signs, you’ll have none. 

Lesson Two: Chickens. Be alert for chickens. You know how, when you see a ball roll into the street, you immediately hit the brakes? That’s because you assume a child will appear 3 seconds later chasing the ball. You’re usually right, of course. 

In Mexico, it’s a simple answer to, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“To get the hell away from the child who’s chasing it.”

In Mexico, the kids run around and learn safety tips on the fly.  No Mexican parent specifically tells a child not to run into the street.  A Mexican child learns not to run into the street without looking because he or she was already hit by a car once while running into the street without looking and learned it was an experience not worth reliving.  

So, if you see a chicken run into the road then you can assume a child, one who hasn’t yet been hit by a car, is chasing it. 

The reason the kid’s chasing it in the first place is strictly due to the following equation:

Chicken = Dinner

If you manage to run over a chicken then etiquette requires you to buy the chicken-owner, and his or her family, dinner. The average Mexican household consists of 18 to 25 family members so this is one reason you should bring some cash before getting in your car.

This is not information you see in Fodors so it’s a good thing you’re reading this. 

Lesson Three: Don’t run over the child who’s chasing the chicken. 

Residents of rural Mexican towns practice something you might refer to as “self-policing.”  This is useful knowledge because, while Mexican parents allow their children to “live and learn,” they take the “live” aspect personally. 

A fine example of self-policing was the National Hockey League 50 years ago.  In those days, the last thing the referees did was enforce the rules. The players did. Each team had “enforcers.”

One rule in hockey back then was, “If you hit my best player then I will have my enforcer pay a little visit on your best player.”

You didn’t need a referee for that.  

Mexicans are smart enough to understand that involving the police only slows the wheels of justice.  Besides, if the police happen to show up then they’ll just take everyone’s money and leave. Better to resolve matters without the needless delays of a jury trial. 

Mexican villages have their enforcers, too, you see. And, when it comes to self-policing and enforcing the rules, these guys are no less subtle than the ones playing hockey. One particular rule reads, “If you run over one of our ‘niños’ then we will ‘kill you very completely.'” 

This means, in terms of fitness and longevity, yours is limited. This is because the “trial” only lasts a long as it takes to kick you around for a while, drag you up to one of their bridges and drop you through a pothole. 

Having seen the inside of a rural Mexican jail, I can assure you death is a much more rewarding experience.

So, in a way, they’re doing you a favor.   

Lesson Four: If you are an American then everything is your fault. Everything. You could be legally parked somewhere with no other cars within 200 yards. If someone goes out of their way to find your car and then drives into the side of your car at 180 miles per hour causing the driver and all passengers to fly through the windshield because seat belts are prohibited in Mexico then it’s your fault.

You don’t even have to be in the country. It’s still all your fault. 

Here’s another fine example:

Let’s say some guy comes staggering out of a bar after winning an all-day gin guzzling contest, falls down 300 yards from your parked car and dies of cirrhosis of the liver because he also won the gin guzzling contest for the past 856 consecutive days.

It’s still your fault. 

You see, there is a geopolitical aspect to this because Mexicans, as is the case with almost all countries these days, blame everything on us ‘Mericans from the Good Ol’ USA of America where the bombs are bursting in air so we can form a “more perfect” union which is an interesting phrase because either you’re perfect or your not and there ain’t no such thing as “more perfect” than perfect. 

Anyway, I’m not sure why the rest of the world hates us. One possible reason is the shared view among the 8,000,000,000 non-US citizens on this planet that we Americans are rude, whiny, self-indulgent, hypocritical, thoughtless, uncouth, mean, willfully stupid and uninformed, cowardly, dishonest, self-entitled, shallow and pampered pigs-in-clover who possess an unconscionable unwillingness to do anything that we might consider an inconvenience especially if it’s something that might help others because we have no character.

I simply can’t imagine where they got that idea. 

Fortunately, in almost all countries, Mexico included,  “personal liability” runs in a very clear indirect variance to “the amount of American money you have on you.”  In Mexico’s case, it doesn’t have to be a lot of American money because, thanks to the Mexican government’s spectacular intrusion into the country’s financial matters, the Mexican Peso is worth all of 5 cents US.

Drop $100 American on the ground and you are generally no longer considered at fault. You might call this a scam but to quote Marlon Brando from a movie called The Freshman, “Scam? This is an ugly word. This is business. And, in business…this is what you do.”

Lesson Five:  If you are an American then every road is a toll-road. The road’s not necessarily marked and, for your convenience, there are no toll-booths. Instead, the police identify a car driven by an American, pull you over, stand next you with a gun in one hand while extending the other hand, palm up, towards you. That’s your signal to pay the toll. 

How much is the toll? You have no idea. Last time I was there, $20 US generally covered it. I never got any change back from the upstanding police people so I must have guessed right. 

If your IQ is lower than room temperature and you contest the toll then, in the spirit of protecting and serving the community, the conscientious officer will hold the gun to your head, tell you a kilo of cocaine was found in the trunk of your car even though the trunk was never opened and let you know the toll is now $100 US.

You’ve heard people talk about a “come to Jesus” moment.  It’s a moment where you have to make a significant life choice in a hurry. Sometimes your entire future rides in that single decision. 

Well, Tex, welcome to your “come to Jesus” moment.  Are you going to stand on principle and refuse to give in to blackmail thereby compromising your personal health or are you going to fork over the $100 and get the hell out of there with your socks on?

I have no doubt integrity can occasionally come in handy  but I’d cough up the cash, get back to my hacienda and throw down 12 shots of tequila. 

The alternative is not quite as uplifting because the cop will drag you out of the car, arrest you and announce the following:

“Tú fornicando, idiota perro cerdo americano, no puedo esperar a patearte el trasero, rata bastarda bolsa de vómito!”

I don’t know what that means but it ain’t good because you’ll then be locked in a jail cell with 15 guys who, for ease of identification later, are all named Juan Garcia.

Oh, and how did the cop know your American? Because you were stupid enough to obey the stop signs and traffic lights. 

Don’t ever do that. 

Especially at night. 

If it’s night and if you ever want to see your family again then do not stop. Period. If you stop then you’ll be descended upon by:

1) The helpful police person looking for some toll money.

2) The carjacker wanting to drive you to various ATMs so he/she can withdraw all your cash.

3) The lovely and very friendly dama-de-la-noche trying to take you to her boudoir where you will get assaulted by the pimp who takes your wallet and clothes. 

4) The kidnapper hoping you’re worth something on the open market. 

5) The town’s mayor making sure, regardless of outcome, he/she gets paid.

One more thing: when someone is honking at you it’s because the driver wants you to know the car’s brakes don’t work. 

I’m able to speak on this subject with clarity because I lived the nightmare that is driving in Mexico. My first experience was driving about 600 miles southeast of Mexico City to an unlovely municipality called Arriaga in the highly confounding state of Chiapas.  

In the States, assuming you keep the stops to a minimum and the terrain is fairly flat, you can go 600 in just about any direction in well-under 9 hours

In 1980, that 600 mile drive took me almost 20 hours on accounta I had to dodge all the potholes, boulders, dead people, enormous chunks of asphalt, roadkill, children (not yet dead but not for much longer), garbage, broken tequila bottles and father-of-the-year candidates blocking the way attempting to have me marry one or more of their daughters.

And chickens. 

What the hell is it with all the chickens? 

Everywhere. Chickens. Darting around moving vehicles and moving children chasing them. 

Mexican chickens have issues.  You could probably do extremely well opening a chain of psychiatric chicken hospitals (Casa de Pollos Locos) because these were a unique breed of suicidal, attention deficit disordered, drunk, hyperactive, speedballing, Mexican Idiot Chickens.

I only got pulled over once. I was completely guilty in that I had to stop in order to not run over some child. Total stupidity on my part. Mister Policeman was nice and only it only cost me $10 which, at the time, probably amounted to 1,326 pesos.  Which I considered a bargain.

There was a reason I went to Arriaga.  I mean, it wasn’t because I thought it’d be fun to summer there. I went to visit my friends Sara and Luke. They were a couple. I met them in college. Luke was an earnest, model-citizen who made it a point to view all things in a highly positive light.  Sara was grounded, easy-going and provided a calming influence on Luke. I had known Sara for a couple years and we developed a good-natured, comical flirty banter which was easy to do because we had no romantic interest in each other. 

Luke and Sara were serious do-gooders doing do-gooder type things through some do-good agency committed to helping children of families who didn’t have 2 pesos to rub together. They were 6 months into an 18 month commitment. In return, the agency would finance some of their grad-school once they got back to the States. Something like that. 

I liked them both. I was interested to see what they were doing. 

The pre-trip planning was mostly done by mail because working phones were hard to come by in Arriaga. 

They had to drive some place to get a phone that actually worked for more than 5 minutes. 

“So, Lukey. What trinkets can I bring you from the Mother Country? Soap? Guns? Toilet paper? You do have toilets in Arriaga, correct? Bail money?”

“Coloring books,” was his reply. “Kids here love, love, love coloring books. You’ll love it here. It’s great. You’ll love the people. The beach is amazing. We love it here. We might stay longer.  Sara’s happy we’re living here. Together. I think she’d stay here forever if she could. We might start a family here, too.   Um, so, yeah, coloring books. As many as you can find. The kids love coloring books.”

Hmmm, somebody’s trying way too hard. I’ve heard better sales pitches at mattress shops. Plus, Sara’s letters didn’t seem nearly as enthusiastic about the place. And, she never hinted at starting a family. 

“Coloring books. Message received. I’ll see what I can scrounge up. So, how’s the government oppression coming along? Any college students left in the country?”

“It’s not that bad. I mean, where we live. You’ll see. The government is really pretty helpful. You know better than to believe the news. The ocean is amazing. People here are great. The best. Like I told you, we love everything about this place. Really. It’s beautiful. I really think we may end up living here.”

Yes, I do remember you mentioning that already. Reiterating the point is for my benefit, yes?

“Jolly good. And, how’s the Better Half? Eating well? Good coat? Not going outside the litter box, I hope. “

“Sara’s fine. Here.”

Well, that was blunt.

He gave Sara the phone. 

You’re there because pretty much everyone lives in total poverty but it’s beautiful.  The government, who is currently at war with its own citizens, is ‘really pretty helpful.’  And, oh, yeah, Sara’s fine

For Luke, the glass was always half-full but he sounded like someone trying to convince me all was well in his kingdom even though, deep down, he knew something wasn’t. 

Sara sounded much better than Luke. 

“You naughty, naughty man.  Get down here right now.”  I heard the smile in her semi-whispering. 

“Yes, Dear.  So, what night do you plan on wining and dining me just so I can say, ‘No.'”

“We both know you could never say ‘no’ to me.”

“Now, look here! I’m perfectly capable of telling you, uh, you n….n…., I’m willing to consider the possibility of telling you n….., I can stand my moral ground and tell you, unconditionally, that I’m prepared to, um, say my, uh, it’s like, okay, ‘yes.’ When do I start?”

“Miss me?” She was still speaking quietly.

“Terribly. I’ve been pining at the border. Built a statue of you in El Paso. Quite stunning. Are you wacky kids really thinking of laying down roots in Tierra del Fuego or wherever it is you are. Is that what one does with roots? Lay them?”

“Sure are. Are we still handicapped with that unsuitable girl friend?”

Two word answer and a sudden change of subject.  Why, “unsuitable?”

“Alas, we parted. These days I comfort myself by arising with thoughts of thee. You’re really thinking of staying in Muerte, Mexico?  Or, whatever?

“Why not? Luke really wants to. So, yeah, maybe.”

“What am I going to do with your statue?  Actually, I need to do something with it because it’s a nude. Very tasteful.  Would you send me some highly inappropriate clothes I can put on your statue? She looks cold.”

She maintained the low volume. “You’ll just have to come down here for some of the real thing. Love me?” 

“Eternally.”

What’s with the hushed tones?

I got the feeling Luke was rushing her off the phone.  “Good. I love you. I’m getting hairy eyeballs. Get your squeezable little butt down here now. Bye-yee.”

” Au revoir, mon cher.”

Odd. Very odd. What was the whispering all about? Was there something Luke wasn’t supposed to hear? “Squeezable little butt?” Why was Lukey blowing so much sunshine up my silo?  

Nah, reading too much into this one. Gotta quit looking for something that isn’t there. Probably too many people standing around listening to the call. Made it awkward for them. If everyone seems happy and everything seems fine then just accept things as they are.

But, I was pretty bad at accepting things as they are or were. Besides, I understood, with very little reservation, nothing is ever as it seems.

Never was.

***END OF PART ONE***

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Hong Kong, Part 1 – The Concrete Jungle

There was a very respectable and responsible reason we ended up in the Walled City of Kowloon.  Because that’s where the good cocaine was. 

At least, that’s what Gary, my laconnic and wayward pal, insisted at the time. “I know a guy.”

Upon hearing “I know a guy,” I should have put the brakes on immediately.  Nothing good happens when someone knows a guy. 

But, I wanted the coke.  So we went to the Walled City about which I knew nothing. 

I should have asked first but waited until we were half-way there before hitting up Gary for, what turned out to be, the dreadful reality of place.

The first thing he told me was the place was commonly referred to as “The City of Darkness” and things could get “a little rough by the local standards.”

“So, let me get this straight.  We’re already in a violent town, we don’t speak the language, we’re sticking out like two stupid round eyes and going to a place called the City of Darkness where things could get a little rough.  Have I captured the salient points?”

“Sounds about right,” he said way too casually for my liking. 

“Great. Fantastic.  What could possibly go wrong?  Other than being kidnapped and forced to work 28 hours a day making fake Rolex watches or, just on principle, being shot in the face, this’ll be a fun little nature walk. What the hell are we getting ourselves into? May I ask you a very serious and timely question?”

“Yup.”

“How good’s the coke?”

“You’ll see.”

I immediately felt better. 

Just to give you perspective on Kowloon’s Walled City, it was so horrific that the Chinese government had it demolished a few years after my visit. The whole city.  Gone. And, replaced by a park where you can walk your dog. 

According to Gary, it seems someone built a rectangular concrete wall. I’m guessing he was drunk at the time because I’ve seen two year olds draw better rectangles. The wall was about 13′ high, ran 700′ by 400′ and was built to provide protection from the typhoons. 

If you’re looking for protection from typhoons then you’d think a roof would have come in handy at this point but my guess is the guy who built the wall finally sobered up, looked around at his creation and had a lightning-bolt of an epiphany. Probably something along the lines of, “What the fuck am I doing?”

Then he went home. 

Shortly thereafter, according to Gary, the government  decided it was time to take action. Whether it was the British government or the Chinese government was a mystery.  It doesn’t really matter because one fundamental principle remains true regardless of nationality, race, sex, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, lifestyle or culture and it is simply this: 

If the government gets involved then the whole thing is going to go sideways and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Were it my shot to call, I’d go one of two ways:

  1. Tell the guy who built the wall to come back and make it go away. 
  2. Hire someone to put a roof on it on accounta the typhoons. 

Well, the government officials, who’d also been hitting the sauce hard for a few months, decided let people build a city within the wall. In an area no larger than 280,000 square feet. A whole city. There ain’t no “Suburbs of the Walled City” because there is a wall where the suburbs would have started. 

You see where I’m going with this. 

Your first question is probably, “Okaaaay, who is going to want to actually live within a wall with no roof that was built because of all the typhoons?”

Morons.

Morons would have been my first answer, too, but, having been in the place, I didn’t spot any.  Any morons, that is. I guess Hong Kong didn’t have many morons. 

What Hong Kong did have was drug dealers, rapists, addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, gamblers, pimps, gang members, murderers and convicts on the run.  Oh, they had plenty of those and they all moved to the Walled City of Kowloon.

Remember, within this rectangular wall you’ve only got 280,000 square feet to play with. If you allocate each person a 6′ by 6′ area, then you’ve got room for a little over 7,500 people.  The actual number of people living inside the wall eventually went over 50,000. Think of being in the pit of a Bruce Springsteen concert except you’re there for four decades instead of four hours.

This is where both governments really stepped in decisively by refusing to assume any responsibility for this disaster and sending memos to each other saying, “I’m not taking it.  You take it.” I guess they came to the very sensible agreement of pretending it wasn’t there in the first place. 

The city residents probably should have hired an outside architectural consulting firm to work out ways to build nice high-rise condos. They decided to go DIY all the way. Yet again, massive alcohol intake must have been involved when it came to the vertical expansion because you had this tangled mess of rooms teetering on top of each other up to 150 feet high. The tops of these buildings were being held in place by leaning on the building next to them. In a place that gets hit with typhoons.

Here’s my favourite part of this whole catastrophe.  The wacky Hong Kong city planners decided something that transcends alcohol abuse.  These people must have been living on a strict diet of pure heroin, speedballs, LSD, paint thinner and angel dust.  There could not be any other reason behind making the decision to put an AIRPORT a half mile away from this mess of high-rise buildings.

Airplanes were probably flying thirty feet over these buildings in an attempt to land or take-off without killing anyone. 

That’s the history as I understood it at the time. 

Getting anywhere in Hong Kong was always a nightmare. The island part made Manhattan look like Boise, Idaho.  And, it was getting mighty crowded as we approached the pretty little town called the City of Darkness on the mainland. We were in the middle of a mosh pit.  It was getting difficult to move. 

Now, I don’t mind fear. I kinda like it. I have a fear of heights. Always have.  My way of dealing with it is to go sky-diving, zip-lining, parasailing and hot air ballooning.  But, I was seriously scared and not enjoying the experience. 

“Uh, Gary.  We don’t seem to be moving.  I think we’re stuck here permanently or until someone kidnaps us and forces us to work 49 hours a day making fake Gucci purses….”

“Stop. Just stop.”

I had no sense of relief once we finally entered the Walled City.  Actually, I had no sense at all because the place itself made absolutely no sense. The locals were, at least, a foot shorter than I was and they were all scrambling, shoulder-to-shoulder, in random directions like 1,000 cats on adderall and anabolic steroids. The buildings were separated by a maximum of three feet and water was pouring down the sides of them. There was a maze of small tunnels and alleys all of which smelled like spilled bong water.  It kind of reminded me of my freshman college dorm room.  

We were moving at a pretty good clip which was a challenge because it was dark and the walkways were built for people under 5’4″. I was staggering along hitting my head on drain pipes, concrete ceilings, door frames, light fixtures, cross beams and all sorts of wires hanging from the ceiling.  Plus, I kept tripping over everything so I started lifting my feet higher when walking which resulted in me stepping on things like rodents, dogs and little old ladies. I ended up walking like a cross between the Phantom of the Opera and Igor from Young Frankenstein except I was dancing around trying not to step on someone’s grandmother. 

“You’re sure this is the right place.  I mean, you’re really, really sure we’re not going to get kidnapped and forced OUCH!!!”  I had hit my head on a flower pot that was stuck on the ceiling. “What the hell is a flower pot doing…”

Gary interrupted, “Shut up. Be cool. Try blending in, Scooter.  Everyone keeps looking at you.” 

“Try blending in?!?!  The only reason they’re staring at me  is because they need a center for the basketball team.  They’re probably going to kidnap me and force me to play basketball 361 hours a day just so….”

“Would…you…please…SHUT…THE…FUCK…UP? Now, wait here. I gotta go upstairs and score and there’s no way we’re getting shit if YOU’RE anywhere near me. Don’t wander off too far.  Oh, don’t make eye contact with anyone. They serve great dog meat over there if you’re hungry. Tah-tah.”

I stepped backwards to put my back against a building but not before hitting my head on some bricks where the bottom of the second floor of the building stuck out over the first floor. 

I looked around. 

It wasn’t chaos I was watching.  It wasn’t even lunacy. It went well beyond that.  This was a city that caused your frontal cortex to stop and just go black. It defied intellect. It was a city that made it impossible to think. I was in the fight-or-flight part of my brain but quickly realized I was screwed either way so I just stood and watched. 

Gary ran up a ladder as I continued looking around.  Brothels everywhere. Tons of opium dens. Gambling parlors. There was, of course, Dogmeat R Us. People scattered on the ground in various states of drug withdrawal.  Enough sex trafficking to feed the Russian Army. Masses of pickpockets running around. Pimps getting in scuffles with other pimps.  And, a Pentacostal Church.

That last sentence is not a mistake.

There were a couple round-eyed white women leading a room full of locals in singing some sort of very serious and quiet hymn.  The song started in English and ended up with everyone going into random psycho-babble. And, they kept babbling. Some were jumping up and down. Others were falling, getting back up and flailing around for a while before falling down again.  A few were laughing, dancing and crying all at the same time. Then they all got ecstatic. At the same time. Deliriously, so. 

It was a room full of around 40 people going off the rails. 

My first thought? “This is fucked up.”

Second thought? “This is totally fucked up.”

Now, here’s the strange part. No one, other than me, noticed. It wasn’t like there was a closed door.  There were these forty-odd people piled on top of each other flailing around screaming in ecstatic baby-talk and no one batted an eye. The masses just kept walking past this place with facial expressions that said, “I wonder if I’ll have duck sauce on my dog-meat taco today.”

Just as quickly as it started, it ended and they went back to singing the same hymn that started this riot in the first place.  The round-eyed women were putting their palms on the people singing presumably to take their temperatures. It would have made for a great Lithium commercial. “As a doctor, I recommend Lithium to all my patients otherwise they’ll go bat-shit crazy like these nut-jobs in that church.”

I tried not to stare. I really did but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t intend to but I made eye-contact with one of the round-eyed women so I gave her my standard plastic smile but received no acknowledgement. Instead she summoned the other round-eye over so both could stare at me. One of them, looking very displeased,  started marching directly towards me. I wasn’t sure what was up her silo but I figured she’d tell me soon enough.

“You’re the press.” She wasn’t asking. 

“Uh, me? Press? Uh, no. Definitely not. No. Okay. Actually, my colleague is upstairs at the moment trying to score some blow and I came along just to pick up a couple dog-meats on rye.”

“You expect me to believe that.”  Still not asking and looking quite stern.

“Uh, yeah. My previous statement, as I reflect upon it,  was made on an expectation-free basis and is, in fact, accurate except I’m thinking of giving the dog-meat sandwiches a miss.  But, definitely not the press. My current ambition is to get the hell out of here very soon.”

She looked around briefly and said, “You better come with me.” She grabbed my arm and led me to the room where forty people just had simultaneous orgasms. 

“I’m Jackie.” She still looked annoyed. 

“I’m mystified.”

“Your name.” Still not asking.  She sounded Australian. Or, British. 

“Mine? Uh, yes. Right. Wait, it’ll come to me. Uh, Drew, actually. I mean not ‘Drew Actually.’  Just Drew. I actually need to stop saying actually all the time. May I ask a question?”

No answer.  Just raised eye-brows.

“What just happened in here?”

She paused. “So you’re not just here to be demeaning and cruel?” Finally, a question somewhat in the form of a question but one that surprised me. 

“No. Not at all. No. Just wasn’t sure what to make of it all. I was watching and wondering what in the world was going on.”

She almost smiled. “It WASN’T of this world.”

Well that really narrows it down, thanks a lot, Sweetheart. (I didn’t say that. I just thought it.)

“Oh.”

“We can discuss while you wait for your colleague.”

“Oh, him. Yeah. As I said, he’s completing a, uh, little transaction. His attorneys are probably reviewing the paperwork as we speak.  He should be back once the contracts are notarized.”

Almost a smile again as she motioned towards a couple chairs. 

We sat down. 

She was ready to explain.

And, I was ready to listen. 

—— END OF PART ONE —– 

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Hong Kong, Part 2 – Losing My Religion

The setting was simple enough.  I was sitting on a folding chair by myself.  In a church.  In the middle of the most deranged and lawless city I had ever visited.  Jackie, the woman who corralled me, had stepped away.  I sat alone while Gary went upstairs to buy some, allegedly, top-shelf cocaine.  I wondered what Jackie had on her mind. 

Other than no altar, no stained-glass windows, no carpet, no pews, no enormous crosses, no drapes and no religious statues, this looked like any other church.  

It was a rectangle space around the size of a two-car garage with some very old folding chairs. The total lack of froo-froo scored some points with me.  The walls had some torn up posters of Jesus in happier times. Otherwise, the place looked like shit. Definitely, Better Trailer Homes and Gardens material. The room was at an angle and looked ready to collapse at any moment but so did the rest of Kowloon City.

Everyone in this church was suspiciously happy and friendly which was something I had never seen in a church. I was used to over-dressed people looking highly annoyed.  Folks came over and to speak with me about what I have no idea because they only spoke Chinese but they were smiling at the same time so I figured it was all good. I felt welcomed there which was more than I could ever say I felt in a church before. At least, these church folks were thrilled to have this time together. I probably hit my head on the ceiling 6 times when I’d stand up to greet one of them. They found that very amusing.

The other round-eyed lady approached me.  Apparently, Jackie had an urgent issue to tend to. My guess was she went with the duck sauce on her dogmeat taco and probably had the runs. Anyway, I stood to greet the replacement round-eye and, for the 7th time, hit my head on the ceiling before following up with a resounding, “Jesus Fuhhhhh….uh. I mean, Heavenly Father, forgive this ceiling for it is low.”

The RREL (Replacement Round Eyed Lady) frowned while looking me over.  It tried to look composed but I had hit my head hard enough to see stars and was having some balance issues.  I must have looked drunk. She asked if I was okay. 

“Me? Uh, yes, right, well, once I get my bearings….gotta cut out the vodka martinis before 9am.”

I was hoping she’d find some amusement with my reply.  She didn’t. 

I was so tempted to ask her, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a dump like this?” If I had then she most likely would have, with ample justification, pimp-slapped me upside the head.

What I did say was, “I really didn’t mean to stare.  The noise and….activity….threw me for a loop.  Spirited bunch of folks.  Couldn’t help but notice.  And, couldn’t help but wonder….well….I mean….wha’ ‘appened?  Uh….a church?  Here?  I mean, this place makes Vegas look like Vatican City.”

She gave me a look to clearly indicate she thought I was a moron and said, “When was the last time you saw a Meals-on-Wheels truck in Beverly Hills?”

“Point.”  I hate rhetorical questions.  

She said people in this walled city came to this church in a last-ditch effort to end their drug addictions.  The idea was to end the addictions through Jesus and communicating to God which was what all the yelling and screaming was about.  Before I could say anything to pooh-pooh her, she wanted me to tell her what I knew about God and Jesus.  Got downright pushy about it when I tried to disregard the question.

Out of annoyance, I said, “You probably don’t want to know.”

Oh, yes she did. 

So, I told her the cold, hard truth. 

For a couple years, as a child, I was shoved out the door every Sunday morning to go to church.  My parents had absolutely no interest in going but, since all the other kids in the neighborhood went to church, they felt it was in everyone’s best interest to keep up appearances.  For reasons I’ll never know, I was, at first, quite interested in learning about church and God.  It looked communal.  Being part of a community was something I hadn’t experienced in my life.  I wanted to be included, for once. 

It was not a sentiment shared by anyone else in the entire church.  The adults were all too busy trying to manufacture facial expressions to clearly show they were serious and very holy people of God.  To me, their sour looks made them appear as a bunch of people sitting on the toilet and whatever they were trying to accomplish while sitting on the toilet wasn’t working out well.  And, they were not nice at all.  Mean, in fact, in all their holiness.

Constipation will do that to you. 

The priest-type guy wasn’t much better.  He’d glare at me with a look that said, “What are YOU doing here?” I never got too close to him, anyway, because he had the worst case of dog-breath on the planet.  It was horrifying.  You could smell it from 20 feet away.  With a single belch, he could immediately remove all the wallpaper in a 5,000 square foot house.  

As I learned years later, there was a reason all these church people were so pissy.  It seems my father angered a couple members of this church.  I don’t know the circumstances but the conversation among them went south one day.  Now, my father had a frightening ability to completely figure someone out in under thirty seconds.  And, he was never wrong.  I’m serious.  He knew you better than you knew yourself.  

If Dad’s assessment was negative then he’d never let on.  He’d continue a conversation without giving you a hint of what he thought of you.  He’d keep it to himself UNLESS you were stupid enough to commit the following act:

Piss him off. 

If you did manage to get him to that stage then there was no going back.  You were not going to put the toothpaste back into THAT tube. Reconciliation was not in the cards. 

Well, it seems these two yahoos said something because my father told them both their major character failings.  Succinctly put, he body slammed them. I have no doubt he included all the words and phrases below when he described their distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Hypocrite 
  • Two-faced
  • Masterbating
  • Vacant
  • Limp
  • Flatulent 
  • Pigs-in-clover
  • Parasite 
  • Penis envy
  • Perversion 
  • Toilet training
  • Moral impairment 
  • Dysfunction

When it came to arguments, you didn’t stand a chance against Dad for the simple fact that he was bigger, louder and more intimidating than you’ll ever be. I am certain he was bang on target with these two and they must have cringed hearing it.  I’m guessing he hit to close to home for their comfort. 

Well, word got around so when the congregation saw me coming, I think everyone remembered I was the son of an EHSM (Evil-Heathen-Sinner-Maggot) thereby making me an EHSM-in-Training and obviously highly unfit to attend their very exclusive church.  So, they decided not to roll out the welcome mat. 

Another significant challenge was priest-boy’s sermons.  They flew well over my head. Plus the Bible isn’t the most child-friendly reading on the planet. Passages the priest-dude would quote made no sense to me.  He’d stand up there and say something like:

“Then the king’s countenance was changed and his thoughts troubled him so that the joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another.  The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And, the king spake and said to the wise men of Babylon, ‘Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet and have a chain of gold about his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.’”

I’m not sure what an 11-year-old is supposed to do with this information but the guy wanted me to solemnly consider how that passage applied to my life. I might have spent some time in deep reflection wondering who put joints in the guy’s loins but that probably was the extent of my contemplations on the subject.  

Still, I tried to be in their club.  I think I just wanted to belong somewhere. 

Anywhere.

Priest-dude had a horrendous fixation on sins. Everyone had to cut it out with the sins.  And, if we kept up with this tacky sinning then we had to confess them to God before asking for forgiveness and we had to sound convincing or else.  Problem was he never really told you what qualified as a sin that required this request for forgiveness.  I finally came to the conclusion that everything I did was a sin.  That message seemed to be directed at me because, while the rest of the congregation nodded in eager agreement, I just thought about the massive lifestyle change I’d have to make in order to catch up with everyone else. 

I mean, this wasn’t a “think I’ll cut down a little on the booze” or “I’ll stop being so mean to the kids” lifestyle adjustment.  If I was going to make the cut then I was going to be climbing a very steep hill which was only made more difficult by priestly-type-dude not telling me what I was doing that was so sinful.  This meant I had to ask God for forgiveness for actions that may not have qualified as sins which was probably a sin so, either way, I was screwed. 

Getting right down to it, the sum total of the message, the overwhelming message, I received over the 2 years of church was that, as far as God was concerned, I was a class-A fuckup.  Highly unworthy and, based on the behavior of all these church people, unwanted.  Plus, I’ll be going to Hell because I wasn’t working hard enough asking for forgiveness in the proper manner for all the sins I wasn’t aware I committed which were so bad that Jesus had to suffer and die thanks to all this  sinning on my part that, chronologically speaking, hadn’t actually occurred yet so I must really suck and I could do a better job praying but it probably wouldn’t help because me going to Hell was pretty much a done deal.  PS, I should stop staring at girls wondering what they look like naked on accounta covetousness. 

That was the extent of my Christian education.

Judaism, by the way, made my head explode.  I say this because my exposure was limited to two events I attended when I was 12 years old:

A bat mitzvah

A bris

Becky was a classmate and the center of attention at the bat mitzvah.  She was obsessively shy and would barely say a word to anyone during school.  However, as I found out, once she felt comfortable around you then she would not shut up.  Anytime she saw me, I knew I was in for a 20 minute deeply-disturbed monologue about being the victim of some recent atrocity such as her mother being 5 minutes late to pick her up after violin practice. 

My father did a very elegant job explaining what a bat mitzvah was as we drove there.  He said this was considered a “coming out party….or…..some damn thing” but it really was just another way to make people give money to Jewish families because, “Jews make a federal case out of everything including the fact that blood is coming out of your friend’s vagina on a periodic basis.  Then there’s a party where a bunch of drunks dance in a circle. Probably have some nice kosher fruit juice and kosher pie at the party so it won’t be a total loss.”

Now, I was pretty young at the time and this new fun fact about Becky and her bleeding vagina caught me way off guard.  I wondered how he knew about this issue.  I thought that might be information she’d want to keep to herself. I’d considered asking him how badly it was bleeding but I figured it was a detail I could live without.  I was thinking I should ask her if she was okay but quickly overruled that idea.  As conversation starters go, “How’s your vagina doing?” just sounded wrong.  Besides, if I did ask her then I’d get a 20 minute rant about all the blood everywhere.  

Hopefully, it was just a paper cut.

Regardless, does this not seem like a very feeble excuse to have a party?  (“Oh, look!  Someone’s vagina is bleeding!  Let’s put the guest list together!”).  On the other hand, I mean, whatever flips your pancake.   At the time, I had the impression Christians never had a party so this was a step in the right direction. 

Before I got out of the car, my father gave me an envelope with money in it.  “Here, give her this.  A little something for the college fund or the abortion, which ever comes first.  But, don’t tell her that. If they try to give you gefilte fish, run.  Call me whenever you want to get the hell outta there.”

The ceremony was weirder than church.  Becky came out with something that initially appeared to be bagpipes but turned out to be a large roll of wallpaper with words on it.  Becky looked about as comfortable as someone sitting in the electric chair.  She read the wallpaper for a while and then started to sing.  Or, attempted to sing.  The noise coming out of her mouth sounded, at the time, like someone who either was intentionally singing as poorly as possible or like someone trying to sing properly but was unable because of the blood coming out of her vagina. I checked the floor for blood splatter but didn’t see any so I figured she was singing like that on purpose. 

The party wasn’t very enlightening, either.  It was true that a lot of adults and children were joyful dancing around.  Laughter certainly filled the dance floor.  I was amazed how one little vagina could bring so much happiness to so many people.  

I stayed on the boys side of the room.  It just seemed safer.  Across the way Becky appeared in fine form except when some adults would descend and talk at her all at once.  Sometimes a pair of parents would take her aside for a very serious conversation. (“Listen, Becky.  If you ever, ever need anything at all….for your vagina… then you can call us anytime.  Day or night.  Just remember we’re always here for you….and your vagina.”)

While the bat mitzvah seemed weird, I thought the bris was just downright fucked up.  I mean, talk about pulling a reason out of your silo to have a party.  Circumcising an infant didn’t sound party-worthy to me. 

It was about a month after Vagina-Gate.  The scene of this crime was about a half-mile away from my house. Eddie lived a few doors from me. We walked together to the poor little fella’s home with various adults 20 yards ahead of us.  

Eddie’s father ran a trash removal company during the week and was a preacher on weekends.  He conducted Saturday night revivals in a big tent where you could buy fireworks during the week. Eddie’s father gently and kindly helped Eddie in seeking God by repeatedly beating Eddie to a pulp until he got with the program.  Eddie decided, as I would’ve, that it was in his best interest to follow his father’s footsteps by using his classmates as his test market for spreading the Gospel thereby making himself insufferable.

Just before we left, I asked my father what this shindig was about and why we had to get all dressed up for the occasion. 

He explained it was just another way to make people give money to Jewish families because, “Jews make a federal case out of everything including having someone stop by to cut a little skin off a baby’s dick.  Probably have some nice kosher soft drinks and kosher cupcakes at the house so it won’t amount to a total loss.”

“Why would they tell people to come over and.…”

“First thing’s first.  Very important. I’ll never survive the party without this.”  He grabbed a bottle of scotch, slammed two very large gulps, and let out a very expressive, “Ahhhhh….., whoa. Jesus. That should do the trick.”

“So, why does everyone have to be there?”

He pondered this question.  Staring out the window,  he said, “Something about Abraham….and a covenant…some damn thing…so you can claim more descendants which is useful knowledge for estate planning purposes, I suppose….but if you don’t have it done then you can’t have Passover dinner.  Makes a lot of sense to me, too.  Probably in some scripture. ‘Thou shalt not eat thy gelfilte fish less’n thou hath thine wee-wee sliced for why we do not know.  Amen.’   Better off going to McDonald’s in the first place.”

“Does blood come out of anyone’s vagina at these things?”

“Hell, you never can tell.  Wouldn’t surprise me.  We can ask around just to make sure.  Probably be a little blood on the kid’s dick.  Good question.”

The event itself involved a very strange little man who marched in the house, did the deed, muttered something and left.  Everyone was so thankful for his presence.  I’d have had him arrested.  Then, everyone started congratulating the parents and telling them how happy we all were.  You’d have thought condolences would be in order. (“Gosh, David. Sorry about your kid’s penis. Just remember, if there’s anything… ANYTHING….Gladys and I can do for you….and your baby’s dick….then let us know.”)

Back to Christianity, I walked with Eddie to the penis-slicing. Eddie was certain about two things:

  1. When he dies, he’ll go to Heaven.
  1. The rest of us won’t. 

Eddie was never subtle.

“These Jews have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior and they will die and burn in Hell for all eternity!”

“Do they know that?”

“I told the Coleman’s like 20 times they got to get their minds right and either accept Jesus with all their hearts or end up in agony forever because of all their sinning.”

“What’d they say?”

“They got a lawyer.” 

Eddie didn’t seem like the best person to attend a bris. 

I told him, “I don’t want to go to church anymore.  They don’t like me there and I don’t think I can be mean enough to join their club”

He spewed out a ten minute reply.  His monologue ran something along the lines of the fact that my parents didn’t go to church and they really weren’t believers so I couldn’t be, either, because faith is hereditary so that’s why he [Eddie] would be going to Heaven but not me plus people in the congregation didn’t like my parents because they were all certain that,  while my parents had values, they didn’t have the right values so I must have been sent to bring Satan into the church and only Godly people should be allowed in church and I was bringing impure thoughts to God’s House as evidence by the fact that I wondered what girls looked like with their clothes off and if I wasn’t allowed in church then I’ll be going to Hell because I didn’t go to church. 

I knew he had no idea what he was talking about and I didn’t blame Eddie for saying any of this because it was a matter of survival in his case. But, he did sum things up rather well by confirming for me that Christianity was a game I stood no chance of winning and, from the moment I stepped into church, everyone knew it was just a matter of time before I’d throw in the towel which would verify what they firmly believed all along:

When it came to strength of character, I didn’t have nearly enough to join their club. 

The priest-guy, the church leaders, the congregation, the church staff, the janitorial department and Bob from accounting unanimously agreed that I was well below the standards to which they had become accustomed.

Their strategy to remedy this problem (me) was three-fold:

  1. Treat me like a low-life
  1. Pretend I’m invisible
  1. Hope I go away

With Eddie’s very clear and logical message ringing in my ears, I went to church that following Sunday for the last time.  The people I saw around me were no longer the clergy, the choir and the congregation. 

They were the enemy. 

I glared at them as they prayed and sang.  I thought, “Fuck you.  Fuck your club.”

Then, I gave up. I got up and left half way through the service. 

When I got home, I told my father I didn’t think church was working out for me. 

He shrugged as he rummaged through the pantry. “Hell, run these things up the flagpole.  Sometimes they salute.  Sometimes they don’t.  No great loss. I wouldn’t give anyone in that dump the sweat off my balls.  Give us more time to get ready for football.  Where the hell does your mother put the popcorn?  Nothing is where it was two days ago.  No more church?  Good.  Fine.  Their loss.  Not sure I remember why the hell we wanted you….A-HA!!! What hath God wrought?!?  Finally!  Some popcorn.  What was the question?  Oh, church.  Right.  Hell with them.  Bunch of losers.  Speaking of losers, when are the Cowboys playing?”

I was glad.  He summed it up perfectly.  

I relayed all this, with significant editing, to the round eyed lady whose name, for the life of me, I don’t remember as a way of explaining how I lost interest in Christianity and really wasn’t entertaining the idea of revisiting it.  I was glib.  And, casual.

The first sentence of her response got my attention. “That was not a church.  Tell you why.  Want to know why?  I’ll tell you why.  I will.  When those people rejected you, do you want to know who else they rejected?”

“Pat Boone?  Guy has ‘Satan’ written all over him. ”

Nothing. No chuckle. No smile. Nothing.  

I started feeling very itchy to get out of there. She was making me very uncomfortable.  Plus, I wasn’t ready for a religious lecture on how I was an evil heathen sinner boy.

“Jesus.  They rejected you?  They rejected Jesus.  That was never a church.  What kind of church rejects Jesus?”

“A synagogue?”

“You know what?  I’ll tell you. Think of a raft with people in it.  Floating in the middle of an ocean with no sails and no udder.  And,  you know what?  That’s where you went instead of church. And, do you want to know something else?”

“Not really.”

“There’s no humanity in a church without Jesus.  That place you went was inhumane.  You stayed human.  And, I’ll tell you something else.  You want to know something?”

“Actually, I think I need to flush the car radiator.  It’s urgent.  So I’ll just be….”

“You’re angry.”

That was news to me.  I thought I had made it clear this was all something I dismissed with bemused scorn a long time ago.  

But, she wouldn’t let up.  “Let me tell you something.  You want to know what?”

“Well, maybe next time.  You see, I need to go back to the island to get my medication.  It’s urgent….”

“I’ll tell you something.  I will. Let me tell you…”

“It’s just that I have acute Twenty-Four-Hour-Tourette’s-Syndrome and if I don’t….”

“You try to be funny but that bitterness won’t go away….”

“Uh, oh. The Tourette’s. It’s coming back.  I really….”

“You’re taking on all that shame. It’s taking a toll….”

“NippleScrotumCunnilingusOrgasmDogMeatTaco.  I’m sorry. It’s the Tourette’s talking.  I wish I could….”

“But, you won. Want to know why? Let me tell you why. It’s very simple you….”

“Hey, Gary’s back.  Looks like he scored, so I’ll be shoveling off…”

She kept at it.  “You kept your humanity.  They couldn’t take it from you.  Your soul.  You wouldn’t let them…..”

“Now, you know that cocaine isn’t gonna snort itself so….”

“Because you knew you didn’t want to become one of them. Know what? I’ll tell you.  I think you rejected them more than they rejected you. Want me to tell you why? It’s….”

La-la-la-la, I can’t hear you….”

“Jesus didn’t play their game. Neither did you.  You kept your humanity.”

Well, she had a point.  I never did let myself play their game. I had plenty of opportunities to truly integrate myself with them but I knew enough not to. I rejected them, too.  It wasn’t a one-way street. 

It was her mention of my humanity that hit me.  Humanity was something I thought I lost long ago.  Probably, in a custody dispute.  I was always the aloof, semi-amused, cavalier hiding behind my mask of light-hearted disapproval aimed towards…well, humanity.  She was still talking while I zoned out. 

Humanity. I thought maybe that was the sub-text of the message the old-boy was trying to get across before getting crucified for his trouble.  He maintained his own humanity under circumstances you could mildly call inhumane.  My conclusion was I had no reason to have faith in someone else’s humanity. 

But, I just needed faith in my own. 

Gary barged in and said, loud enough to be heard by everyone in the church, “Let’s get the fuck OUTTA HERE!  C’mon, Dude. This shit ain’t gonna snort itself.”

I stood up without hitting my head on the ceiling and shook the woman’s hand.  I probably stared at her for 10 seconds before saying, “Thank you.”  It was at that point I turned away and took one step before hitting my head on a cross-beam that was holding the ceiling up.  Big time.  Drew blood and everything. Everyone there laughed. I shrugged, took a bow and left. 

Gary and I managed to finally get out of Dodge and back on the island part of Hong Kong where, for about two and a half days,  we partied like it was 1999.  

But, during that whole time, all I thought about was my humanity. The same one I assumed I lost a few lifetimes ago.

END OF PART TWO