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Hong Kong, Part 3 – The Fish of Wrath

Actually, before Gary and I went on our little two day debauch, we decided the allure of the dog meat smell at the Walled City made us a bit peckish.  So, Gary insisted we have have some authentic Hong Kong cuisine.   

He decided on the perfect place for me.  That’s what he told me while supressing very obvious urge to start giggling.  I knew I was in trouble.

Don’t ask me where we ended up.  I have no clue. The best I could understand was it was along the coastline to a body of water I think they called “Junk Bay” which pretty well gives you an idea about how dinner went.  

You know those hole-in-the-wall diners you occasionally see in small towns with a beat up sign outside that just says “Eat”? Presumably, because the owner didn’t have the cash for a sign with the name on it or didn’t care enough to even make up a name at all?  That was this place. 

I knew I was in for a real treat when I stepped into the restaurant and hit my head on the door frame.  However, I felt better once we got inside.  It looked a lot nicer than expected and had close to a full house.  

The ceiling in the entire place was six feet high.  This was done specifically to ensure that all tall American half-wits would hit their heads on EVERYTHING. Every time I stood up, my head went through a ceiling tile.  It didn’t matter where I walked.  My head would periodically hit something strategically placed by management as revenge for a history of ancestoral round-eye indiscretions.  As we stood waiting for a table, the customers kept glancing at me briefly before discussing, among themselves, the various aspects of my inferior white-round-eye-running-dog heritage.  

There was a large fish tank ahead of us which I guessed was management’s idea to add a little atmosphere.  The maître ď, looking way too happy to see us,  started making some excitedly odd gestures while pointing to the fish tank indicating that whatever we wanted for dinner was currently swimming IN THE FISHTANK.

The idea was to identify the one out of 50 fish frantically swimming in the tank for honorable chef to prepare it and for me to eat it. 

Now, we’re not taking any fish.  These fish were considered delicacies. Delicacies, in the fish world, are, evidently, fish caught at the sewage treatment facility right next to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  

I mean, these were some seriously fucked up looking fish: eyeballs in various places, thorns sticking out, horns, fluorescent colored skin with major league deformities.  

Quasimodo-type-fish.

I asked for suggestions from Gary.

“Like I care. It’s fish. Pick one.”

So, I looked around for the least offensive looking one of the bunch and selected it before being guided to our table by a stunning looking woman. I was staring at her while we walked before hitting my head on a piece of wood protruding from the ceiling much to the amusement of the other patrons.

The woman gave us menus and I prayed they would have anything I could actually eat which they didn’t. I knew this immediately because the first item on the menu is something called FISHLIP CASSEROLE.  You think I’m kidding.  I am not kidding.  

The other appetizers didn’t look much better.  Fish Balls. That was next on the menu.  The house speciality was Chicken Feet.  Oh, if Chicken Feet wasn’t bad enough then they could’ve always rustled up a basket of Chicken Testicles.  We could always have gotten some Stinky Tofu.  What could be better then some good old Stinky Tofu and spending a couple hours next to a guy cooking dog meat?  I was advised by the waiter that I probably wouldn’t care for the Turtle Jelly as it was a bit of an acquired taste.  We went with the Snake Soup which smelled like wet mulch. It definitely did not taste like chicken.

It tasted like shit.

We ordered a couple rounds of the stiffest drinks they had.  I was hoping there’d be enough booze to kill my taste buds.   I could only handle two drinks because, even though they put in plenty of grain alcohol, the taste was an unfortunate blend of Diet Mountain Dew and formaldehyde.

“Dinner” consisted of something that may have been the totally disgusting fish all cut up but looked no less horrifying than it did in the tank. There were some weird things that look like oysters but were so slimy that I couldn’t transfer it from plate to mouth without putting my mouth on the edge of the plate and shoveling them in. There was, also, some sinister looking yellow, grainy mass.  The idea was to put a little of this yellow crap on your fish before eating to give it a kick. 

This is something you must never do. 

Now, I’ve had spicey food in my life but NOTHING like this.  It was so hot I literally jumped to my feet (putting another hole in the ceiling) much to the amusement of everyone in the place who enjoyed watching Loser-American-Maggot explode into little pieces.  This stuff made my toes hurt.  I was drenched in sweat within two seconds. 

Once I came off life support, I had to eat the rest of it just to show I wasn’t some stupid American who couldn’t handle local cuisine which, as it later turned out, I couldn’t. 

Oh, yeah, desert.  I think the desert was their take on flan.  You’ve heard the saying there’s no difference between good flan and bad flan?  Oh, yes there is. You don’t know for bad flan until you’ve tried THEIR flan.  THEIR flan looked like someone with a horrendous sinus infection sneezed into a bowl a half dozen times and someone with a sense of humor put a cherry on top of it. 

It wasn’t long after we left the place when I threw it all up. Dinner didn’t taste any better the second time. 

It didn’t taste any worse, either.  

I considered the visit to the Walled City earlier that day to be an eye-opening experience especially since it was me that I was eyeing. 

Anyway, we went back to the island where we partied our blues away for the next couple days with 20 or so of my new best friends.  Way too much fun. I’ll spare you the details.  I survived. 

Best we leave it at that. 

THE END

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Stranger in a Strange Land: Raeford, NC.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when God hadn’t yet created mobile phones or GPS.  

When you needed driving directions, you looked around until you spotted a pedestrian who looked like he or she knew the area and asked for help. 

I never could find the right person to ask. For example, if I were to ask some random person for directions to Route 66, then I’d get these sorts of responses:

  1. Oh, yeah….uh, you gotta go….some…where…north, probably on…a…road…pretty much south from, yeah, then you turn…I think…I’m not sure…anymore.
  2. I’m not telling. You need to go buy a map, just like everyone else, and figure it out for yourself. You can’t just rely on others to fix your problems. That’s the problem with this country. People need to learn a little self-reliance….hey, come back here
  3. Deutschland wird wieder auferstehen, du Amerikanischer Schweinehund!  Heil Hitler!
  4. Hey, Baby. You wanna go out on a date? I know you wanna go on a date with me. You wanna have a date?

People got lost all the time.  If you couldn’t find a pedestrian for help then you’d use the position of the sun to get an idea where to point yourself.  Sometimes you followed the cars whose drivers seemed to know where they were going. 

You could buy maps but, after the extensive unfolding process, you had this very detailed and intricate 5′ x 5′ map which did you absolutely no good whatsoever because you had no clue where you were vis-a-vis the map. There was no YOU ARE HERE arrow on the map. Not that it mattered because you couldn’t read the names of the streets on accounta the names were written in 0.0025 point font.

Here’s a map.

People generally scoured the maps for an hour before throwing them in the trash. 

Here’s where you put the map after giving up trying to use the map.

The next step in the process was to call people you knew who might help. This meant finding a “phone booth” which was a very small enclosed space where you stood and used a landline connected phone to place your call. 

The multipurpose phone booth.
The zero-purpose phone in the phone booth.

This was a real hit or miss process for a few reasons:

  1. The handset was often nowhere to be found. All you had was bare wire indicating where the handset used to be. 
  2. The “phone booth” was identified as the “bathroom” by people too drunk to notice the difference and the odor was used as a weapon of mass destruction in wars until it was banned by the UN.
  3. It was also identified as “the office” by drug dealers and pimps who stayed in the phone booth 12 hours a day conducting business. 
  4. Federal law prohibited anyone from cleaning a phone booth so the whole phone apparatus was converted in layers of slime, hair, snot, dirt, beer, vomit and dead flies who got stuck on the slime.
  5. You had to drop in a quarter to make a call unless the call was to someone outside a 500′ radius of the phone booth. If that was the case then you were making a “long-distance” call which required additional quarters at random times and if you didn’t put in enough quarters in time then your call was cut off.
  6. Even if you were able to actually call and actually reach someone then the call would go like this:
  • You – I’m lost. Can you give me directions?
  • Person You Called (PYC) – Where are you?
  • You – I don’t know. 
  • PYC – Uh, well, what city are you in?
  • You – I don’t know. 
  • PYC – Let’s see if I’ve got this right. You want me to tell you how to get from “there” to “here” but you’re missing the minor detail of where “there” is. Not a lot to work with. 
  • You – Okay. This will help. There’s a Citgo on one side of the street across from an office building with two benches in front of it and sitting on one of the benches is a guy wearing a green….
  • PYC – [click]

One day, in the late 1970s, I drove into a town in North Carolina called Raeford. I had no idea how I got there and no clue how to get the hell out. Raeford was quaint, small, quiet, provincial and very Southern. The people were really nice. They’d smile and wave as I drove by.

I did ask a few natives for directions but I couldn’t understand a word anyone said because every man, woman and child in Raeford had a pound and a half of chewing tobacco in their mouths. They couldn’t use consonants. When they spoke, they sounded as though they were at the dentist and the novocaine had kicked in. Plus, pieces of tobacco came flying out of their mouths and huge amounts of brown slobber ran down their chins and onto their shirts.

I thought about the beautiful Raeford bride walking down the church aisle in a gorgeous white dress with brown slobber all down the front of it. Then, I thought about the 20 member church choir singing elegant hymns with pieces of tobacco and brown saliva flying in all directions of the church.

My first official act in Raeford was to find lunch. Easier said than done. The restaurants, such as they were, didn’t look appealing.

One place had a boarded up window and a homemade sign on the door saying, “Beer to go. French Ticklers. Food.”

Another rustic emporium had no name. Just the “Eats” sign above the door with a sandwich board leaning next to the door with pink letters that said, “Today’s Special: Meat.”

I spotted a convenience store. It was rustic, too, mostly because it was gross. There was a flashing neon sign behind a window. It was difficult to read because the window hadn’t been washed since the Roosevelt Administration. Teddy Roosevelt. I was about 4″ from the window before I could finally see the glories awaiting within. “Bait. Tobacco. Beer. Homemaid [sic] Donuts. Enemas – 99 Cents.”

I imagined myself walking into this southern, rural, redneck store and saying, “Yes. Hi, there. I’d like a Perrier with a lime twist, please.”

Then, I imagined the guy behind the counter looking at me and responding, “You pretty sensitive, ain’t cha boy.” Just before hitting me on the head with a crowbar.

I found a place called, “Quick Stop.” Except “Quick” was spelled “KWIK.” Wow, “KWIK,” isn’t that cute? Oh, just the cutest thing ever. Sooooo, cute.

I was desperate so I rolled the dice and entered the KWIK (K….W….I….K….) Stop.

Inside, there were two people who may very well have been employees. Both were sitting, glassy-eyed and practically catatonic, behind the counter watching a TV rerun of, ”The Munsters.” They looked like they had just finished a 14-day, sleepless heroin binge. 

They were friendly, in their own way. 

I asked the two fine young people if’n this here KWIK Stop (K…W…I…K…) had anything to eat.  One of them slowly turned her head and opened one blood-shot eye. Her tongue was hanging out and there was some crusted vomit on her lip. She managed to say  “Ffffffffffffffffffuhhhh,” before her head rolled back. She fell off her chair and went to sleep on the floor. The other employee, looking quite bewildered, slowly turned to me and whispered, “Y tha’ lil’ friggin’ ought ripiz lungs out.” He fell face-first into the TV, crashed the screen with his face and ended up with his head stuck in the TV. Then he went to sleep. 

The “deli” aisle included “pressed meats,” bologna with holes in it, something that looked like it had already been digested called a “pork roll,” and a semi-melted yellow-ish thing with green chunks in it with the sign CHEEZ propped up next to it   (C….H….E….E…Z….). The soup-of-the-day started out, I think, as tuna-salad that had decomposed into a grey, thick liquid with dead flies around it.

Along the wall, a sign said something like SNAX (S…N…A…X…). Under it was an open bag of Doritos covered in chocolate sauce, a few piles of fried dough under a sign saying DONUTS (D…O…N…U…T…S…) and a pink, glow-in-the-dark condom.

I lost my appetite.

A sign saying KOOL DRINKS (K…O…O…L…) was above the refrigerated section which was chilled to a crisp 88 degrees.  Behind the greasy, snot-stained, bullet-hole-ridden glass doors were gallon jugs of PREMIUM WATER with handwritten labels saying, “Water Out Of A Garden Hose.”  I did manage to find a couple bottles of Gatorade that didn’t have any hair on them. 

I brought the Gatorades and some gum to the cash register where the female employee, having scraped herself off the floor, stood   She attempted to enter the information on the cash register.  But she had on 6” long press-on nails so she kept hitting 3 different keys but not the one she wanted to hit.  She decided to resolve the issue by hitting the keys harder. So hard that her press-on nails started flying in all directions. I hid under a table so I wouldn’t get hit by one. One of them got embedded in the ceiling. Another flew into the glass door and shattered it. Another hit her co-worker who still had his head stuck inside the TV. This caused him to wake up, pull his head out of the TV, change the TV station and go back to sleep. 

The cost, once she finally mastered the cash register,  came to $1.50. I gave her a $5 bill. She stared at it, clearly stunned, and didn’t know what to do.  I don’t think she had ever seen a $5 bill. Plus, she couldn’t figure out how to open the cash drawer. Anyway, girlfriend took the $5 bill and slowly backed away to talk with her co-worker who, having urinated on himself when he was hit with the press-on nail, managed to regain consciousness.  They huddled and whispered trying to figure out what to do next. 

She looked at me in sheer terror and said, “Uh, uhnnn, mmmm, gotta talk, errrr, to, uh yeah, like talk to my manager errr somethin’.” She went to a back room and, after about 15 minutes of crashing noises, out comes this guy with jet black hair hanging over his eyes wearing nothing but a necktie, black loafers and a jock strap.  On his chest was a very large tattoo of Betty Boop sitting on the toilet, smoking a cigarette and reading the sports page.

I explained higher mathematics to him and said he owed me $3.50. Another five minutes while he tried, and failed, to figure out how to open the cash register. He went to check his pants pockets for a key to the register until he realized he was only wearing a jockstrap. Finally, one of the press-on nails fell from the ceiling and landed on the cash register causing it to open. 

There was another ten minutes during which the manager just stared at the cash drawer before, after much research, he determined he owed me $3.50. 

I made a solemn vow to myself that if it comes down to KWIK Stop or death then I’d go with death just to avoid the aggravation.

With my hunger issue fully resolved for quite awhile, I hopped into my car, drove a block and turned onto Main Street where, two blocks later, I got pulled over. I was probably driving 0.0001 MPH over the speed limit but the car had New York tags so I’m sure Mr. Nice Policeman Guy (MNPG) couldn’t resist. In my rear view mirror I saw him slowly get out of his car.  This guy looked exactly like Sheriff Buford T. Justice from “Smokey and the Bandit.” Down to the sunglasses and cigarette.

It took him about five minutes to walk from his car to mine. Once he finally made it, he scanned the interior of the car before finally looking at me. 

“Lah-since ‘n reg-stray-shun.”

I gave him my license and registration. He stared at them for a minute and said, “Don’ ‘member seein’ yew in mah fahn city before, Son.” 

“First time I’ve had the pleasure.”

MNPG threw me a sardonic smile. “Well, well, well, ain’t dat sweet. I dew trust yew have found us most accommodatin’. Have we met yo high standards of decorum ‘n grace?” 

“Well, if I actually had high standards then the folks here would have exponentially exceeded them.”

He lifted up his sunglasses, stared at me for a few seconds and let drop back onto his nose. “Yeah, we’ll see ’bout dat. Tell me, Son. To wha’ do we owe duh pleasure of a visit from a dazzlin’ young urbanite such as yo-sef in the humble, God-fearin’ town uh Raeford, Nothe Car-LINE-uh.”

“Me? Right. Yes. Trying to find Fort Bragg to visit a friend but I got lost.” This was a lie but I thought I might score points if I said I had a friend in the Army. Plus, Fort Bragg was close by so it sounded plausible.

“Oh, reeeeely. Wuz his name?”

“Jack Tatum.” Jack Tatum was a safety for the Oakland Raiders. It was the first name that came to mind.

Please don’t ask me any more questions about this.

I thought that. I didn’t say it.

MNPG looked puzzled. “Thought Jack Tatum played fo the Raiders.”

“Different Jack Tatum.

“Related?”

“Highly unlikely.”

“Wha’s ‘is rank, if Ah may be so bold as tuh ask?”

“Private First Class.”

I’m screwed. He’s gonna trip me up. 

He paused, looked all around my car, frowned and asked, “How long yo friend been servin’ in duh Army?”

“Little over a year.” I knew I had to reroute the conversation. “Oh, while I think of it, and if you don’t mind me asking, then….”

MNPG stepped back in mock-surprise. “Now why would Ah mind yew askin’ me anything? Ah would be honored to provide duh answers yew longin’ tuh git.”

“What’d I do wrong? I mean, honest. I’m not sure what I did to get your attention.”

“Glad yew asked cuz Ah wuz quite alarmed seein’ yew cuttin’ in and outta lanes, burnin’ rubber in our thrivin’ bidnis district in yo effort to git outta our fine, provincial, church-goin’, lil’ hamlet. You’ll pardon mah ignorance when Ah ask yew, ‘That how yew people drive in the big city?'”

“We have to drive that way. Less likely to get shot. Survival tactic, really.”

“She-it.” 

I thought this was the moment he’d pull the cuffs and say, “Boy, yew got duh rat to git duh fuck outta dat car and come meet some mah ‘sociates.” 

Instead he frowned and said, “Whadda you got in duh trunk? Got a broad in there?”

“She didn’t fit. Besides, her father made me give her back.”

“Cute?”

“Well, nice legs. Shame about the face.”

I finally got a chuckle out of him. “Yew funny. Ah believe Ah dislike yew a little less. Mo than Ah kin say fo most yew people. Gimme yew wallet.”

I gave MNPG my wallet. After carefully inspecting the contents, he pulled out a $20 bill, put it in his shirt pocket and tossed the wallet onto the passenger’s seat. 

“Ah b’lieve duh appropriate restitution has been made. Ah thank yew. An’, Son, may Ah sincerely say, on behalf uh duh good, decent, patriotic an’ highly Christian folk of Raeford, Nothe Car-LINE-uh, the followin’: GIT DUH FUCK OUTTA HERE. An’, God bless. An’ don’ say one fuckin’ word.”

Seemed like good advice. 

He started slowly walking back to his car, pivoted towards me and said, “Give yo friend at Fote Bragg a kiss for me and tell him I’ll write.”

“Would it be okay if I killed myself instead of kissing him?”

Got another chuckle out of him. “Ah dew b’lieve Ah dew not dislike yew even mo'”

I was still lost, of course. No clue where to go. I looked back towards MNPG as he slowly sashayed back to his car. He stopped, turned around and said, “Drive straight ahead. Then, keep drivin’ straight ahead. Then, go nothe on 295 until yew arrive at the enchanted village of Fote Bragg, Nothe-Fuckin-Car-LINE-uh.”

Then, he belched, turned back and continued walking. 

“Ah, thank you, Sir. Thank you, kindly.”

He looked over his shoulder and said, “N’ ‘member to always keep yo ass to duh sunset.”

This is advice I give people to this day. 

I drove, very slowly, out of Raeford. People smiled and waved. I passed six churches and six bars in the course of five blocks. So, it evened out. Plus, it’s convenient because, when the earth quake hits, all the people in the church can quickly run to the bar and vice versa.

At the last stop light in town, a young mother walked by with a baby girl in a stroller. She walked up to me to say hello. The baby had brown slobber on her bib and pieces of tobacco on her pacifier. 

She, the mother, was very nice especially when she nicely asked me if I had any money I’d care to give her. She looked flat broke. No wedding ring. This was back in the day when single motherhood was quite frowned upon. I thought her story may not have been a happy one.

“Your baby is gorgeous!” I was being nice. I mean, the kid looked okay. I could have said, “Your kid isn’t horrible looking, so that’s good. Potentially, inoffensive. Wouldn’t suggest pursuing a career in modeling unless they’re looking for a ‘before’ picture.” But I went with “gorgeous.”

“Why, thank yeeeewwww.” Where upon she gave me the brightest, most expressive, sincere and saddest smile I have ever seen.

I asked her if everyone in Raeford was a nice and friendly as they seemed to be.

“Why, yes, Sir. We try to be nice to everyone. Do unto others….” She kept up with a smile that was heartbreaking. She was doing her best.

“Is everyone always nice and friendly to you?”

“No.”

She looked at her baby and shrugged.

I said, “I’m sorry.”

I gave her the money MNPG didn’t shove in his pocket.

“Oh, thank yew, Sir. Bless you. Thank yew so much.”

As the light turned green, I looked at her, smiled and said, “Mah pleasure. And, just remember, Honey, to always keep yo ass to duh sunset.”

She laughed. “I guess yew met the Sheriff.”

I drove off. In the side mirror, I saw her smile and wave. For that moment, at least, her smile was a happy one.

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The Spy Who Came in from the Casino

Hello, Darnestown Elementary School Students! 

Welcome to Gambling 101.

Now, you might think 4th grade is a little early to talk about gambling but this school system is progressive, Baby, which is why we taught you responsible alcohol consumption last year, why we had you participate in the year long safe-sex lab when you were in first grade and why, in second grade, we taught you all about how you shouldn’t take drugs and followed up by giving you drugs to make you wake up or pay attention or go to sleep or just get you to shut up for a while or to quit acting weird all the time. 

Thanks to the public schools, you now know all about sex and drugs and booze. So, now it’s time to learn how gambling at a casino works. Or, doesn’t work. Depends on whether or not you own the casino.

Okay, you youngsters probably already know governments in every. village, town, zip code, city, municipality, county and state in this entire country want more money. Especially, more of your money. Casinos generate taxable revenue which is why all these government entities are falling all over themselves opening hotels with casinos in them, race tracks with casinos in them, river boats with casinos in them, stadiums with casinos in them, casinos with casinos in them, day care centers with casinos in them and, hell, I dunno, you’ll probably start seeing churches with casinos in them so the congregation can bet the OVER/UNDER on the number of sins you’ll commit this week as well as bet on whether or not you’re gonna go to Hell once your ticket gets punched. For the record, this school recommends everyone take the OVER on the number of sins you’ll commit this week.  Also, the odds of you getting into Heaven are about 2 to 1. That’s if you’re a girl. If you’re a boy then forget about it. You’re gonna go to Hell. No question. Fait accompli. After what YOU will do as a grown up. Oh, you are so going to Hell. 

Anywho, when it comes to gambling, the adults around you are fine, rational, sensible, upstanding, conscientious people who demonstrate moderation and self-control by racing into the casinos and becoming gambling addicts who’ve gone into serious debt because they blew all our cash, including their children’s dialysis money, at the Craps Table to which this school proudly says, “Way to go, A-Hole!”

Now, when you’re an adult and have kids of your own, you don’t want to be the one to suggest to your daughter this would be a good time to drop out of Harvard Law School and become a full-time sex worker because you borrowed, and gambled away, money from a guy named Nunzio who happens to be a lieutenant in the Gambino Family and now you can’t even pay the juice on the loan so Nunzio has discussed an organ donation plan with you even though you may not be done using those organs. 

You youngsters need to understand guys like Nunzio aren’t exactly delicate when it comes to renegotiating a mutually agreeable payment plan. Their way of meeting you half-way is to break only one of your legs.

Anyway, if you turn into a gambling addict then you can end up spending your adult life so far in the hole that you’re living in a single room where the only furniture is a 13″ TV and a roach motel. And, the room’s right above a Texaco station in the northwest section of Detroit. Plus, you’ll spend most of your waking hours hiding in dumpsters in order to avoid process servers, ex-family members, bill collectors, law enforcement, ex-friends and Nunzio.

Now, Kids, raise your hand if you wanna be THAT guy. 

Yeah, didn’t think so.  

First, let’s review the lesson plan for the semester and then we’ll jump right in.

At the end of the semester, you’ll learn how to gamble responsibly at the casinos by using the simple strategy of not gambling at the casinos:

Lesson 1 – The house always wins.

Lesson 2 – Contrary to what we’ve constantly told you since day-minus-one, everyone is NOT a winner. We lied. Sorry.* 

Lesson 3 – The house ALWAYS wins. Period. 

Lesson 4 – If the house always wins then it means someone, somewhere….LOST. 

Lesson 5 – There’s a reason the casino has all this expensive glittery gold stuff everywhere and you don’t. 

Lesson 6 – The house ALWAYS WINS which means someone, such as you, is always losing.

Lesson 7 – The direct causal relationship between you praying to God that the dealer hits you with an Ace and the dealer actually hitting you with an Ace is….ZERO.

Lesson 8 – God doesn’t work that way.

Lesson 9 – You do not stand a f***ing chance….do the math!!! YOU WILL NOT WIN….ever…not happening….give it up.

Lesson 10 – THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

Lesson 11 – “Always,” for our purpose, means “100% of the time.” (Auxiliary lesson – You know how all those athletes talk about giving 110%? They say that because they failed math.)

Lesson 12 – You know how all the big casinos get people like Madonna and Cher and Elton John to do residencies there? Wanna know how those casinos can pay these people  $1,000,000 a night? Because a bunch of losers went there and lost all their money which is why they’re living at the Texaco, sitting in their undershirts, eating chili out of the can with their fingers and drinking Mad Dog 20/20 from brown paper bags. 

Lesson 13 – Don’t spend money you don’t have on something that will make you look around for more money you don’t have that you end up losing to the casino causing you to steal and lose someone else’s money just so you can knock over a liquor store by gun-point and lose all THAT money and lose all your friends who let you “borrow” their money that you also threw in the casino’s toilet and lose the money you got from Nunzio (which explains the broken legs and missing (formerly) internal organs) and lose your job because you got arrested for robbing that liquor store and are now doing 6-to10 at Rahway State Prison where all your cell-mates let you gamble away all your money to them putting you in a very unfortunate negotiating position.

Lesson 14 – You’re not going to win the lottery, either.

Lesson 15 – A review of possible signs a family member of yours is a gambling addict (Kids, chances are it’s your father…it’s true, we checked….why?… because, as you’ll learn next year,  men are scum, that’s why…which is why all you boys are going to Hell):

  1. He pays your allowance with car wash tokens and a post-dated check.
  2. The family car has a sign on top of it advertising “Nunzio’s Bar and Grill featuring Today’s Special: Broken Leg of Lamb.”
  3. He has opened 17 Fund Me sites under different names asking for donations claiming you’re gonna die next week and your last wish is to visit Disney World but it’s too expense because, per doctor’s orders, it must be a non-stop flight, on business-class with an option to upgrade, the hotel room must have a wet bar and the doctor strongly recommends the annual pass to Disney World with free parking included.
  4. He’s taken out 4 life insurance policies on Mommy but he told you not to tell Mommy on accounta “it’ll spoil the surprise.”

Lesson 16 – On-line gambling sites? Please tell me you’re not serious.

Lesson 17 – Increases in depression, bankruptcy, alcoholism, evictions, drug dependency, divorce, child neglect, suicide, spousal abuse, foreclosure, unemployment, homelessness, murder, destitution, isolation, Class-A felonies and other social benefits that casinos consistently bring to all communities.

Lesson 18 – How to find an advertising agency that is also a total, complete, 100% morality-free zone to put a TV ad campaign together that shows people in the casino laughing, dancing, hugging, displaying their expensive jewelry, wearing designer clothes and throwing tons of cash in the air even though the people at the ad agency know casinos do nothing more than bring, to a significant majority of the community, abject misery.

Oh, extra credit is available, too:

Extra Credit – You know all that gambling tax revenue the local politicians swore would go to public schools which is why they insisted we just had to have all these casinos here in the first place? Remember the press conferences where the politicians would stand in front of the American Flag while holding The Bible and, surrounded bunch of pathetic looking 6 year olds, tell us that children were their number one priority and if we didn’t get these casinos then all these children wouldn’t have a school to attend and would soon die due to lack of education?  

Happen to notice that schools still haven’t received dime-one?

Cite examples.

Extra Extra Credit – Compare and contrast how the state politicians implied if you were a bad, bad person who refused to support public education by not going to the casino and losing your life’s savings then there’d be no money for public schools so children would be stranded on street corners unable to cross the street because they didn’t go to school and never learned how to read so they didn’t know when the pedestrian light said WALK versus the same politicians who implied if you were a bad, bad person who refused to help the elderly by not spending (and, losing) your life’s savings on state lottery tickets then there’d be no money to keep any of the old folk’s homes open so Grandma would be thrown out on the street and forced to survive by selling cigarettes that “fell off the back of a truck” at 2am in the parking lot behind the 7-11.

* I know we kept telling you everyone’s a winner, including you, and gave you trophies saying you were a winner even though you did nothing to earn the trophies other than you’d occasionally inhale and exhale. Well, just to set the record straight, you weren’t a winner. You showed up. That was the extent of it. They weren’t real trophies, anyway. Real trophies are for people who actually accomplish something. We just gave these fake trophies to you so you wouldn’t go crying to your parents about not getting a trophy because, instead of using the moment to teach you about aspiring to greatness, your parents would sue the school claiming you’re life was ruined because you didn’t get a trophy as a reward for doing nothing.

Do you also know how we tell you, everyday, that all children, including you, are special? Uh, well, actually, no. You’re not. I mean, not in the grand scheme of things. That was just some more smoke we blew up your silos. Probably because you would go crying to your parents about not feeling special and your parents would sue the school.

What you have probably discovered is 95% of the lies adults have told you were because it made the adult’s lives easier.

The take away here is children are just like adults: you have a few winners and a whole bunch of losers. I mean, it is what it is. The entire “special” thing was just a bunch of happy horse poop we adults flung at you because we couldn’t think of anything useful to say. That’s our bad. Sorry. But, you know….children….not special. Okay?

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Critical Update from the CDC

THE JOHNSON AND JOHNSON VACCINE AS IT RELATES TO DEATH

Dear American People, 

We, we at the CDC, have been providing you daily updates so you can have all the necessary data to make informed decisions for you and your family concerning the Corona Virus. 

Now, we’re quite aware you don’t read these updates and that you are fully dependent on getting your news from two sources:

  1. Three year olds on Facebook where total ignorance of subject matter is considered a resume item. 
  2. Idiot talk show hosts who give you medical advice even though they failed 8th grade biology….after four tries.

We understand that. You’re Americans. And, really, it’s fine. All good. I mean, God bless. We have no doubt Whoopi Goldstien, Kelly Clarksburg, your anonymous Facebook friends and Chance The Rapper all have their medical degrees and are fully qualified to inflict medical advice on anyone who will listen.

But, we need to provide you critical updates.

Updates about death. 

Specifically, yours. 

You could die after getting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.  It’s true. Trust us. You could waddle on out to I95 and get run over after getting the shot because that’s what you people do. You are too busy starting at your phone to notice you’re walking across an interstate where cars are going 85 miles per hour. 

The upside to you kicking the bucket is your family will get an attorney to sue Johnson and Johnson claiming the reason you walked in front of a truck in the middle of I95 and got your ugly ass run over is because you suffered from Post Traumatic Shot Disorder which caused you to act more stupid than usual. 

You being dead is actually not that bad because the truth is you’re much more valuable, in most cases, dead. Believe us on that one.  As long as you’re alive, you’re of no value. We, at the CDC, have already verified this. We have thoroughly reviewed your medical records, work history, personal references and social contributions. It’s true. No one on this entire planet has benefited from you being here. We, at the CDC, have completed a full investigation and came to the same conclusion your family and coworkers came to years ago: you bring absolutely nothing good to the table. In fact, given your narcissism, stupidity, wastefulness, immorality, inflated ego and horrendous personal hygiene, you’re just making things worse. 

Once the curtain has run down and you’re officially dead, you’ll finally bring some value to your family on accounta the lawsuit. 

You see, the CDC believes in openness and transparency. We tell the truth. We understand you’ve lived your entire life with  parents/teachers/clergy/politicians/media/advertisers/talk-show-hosts all telling you how special and important and valuable you are. 

The problem is all these people told you this because they wanted something from you. 

We don’t. 

The numbers are the numbers. There’s no delicate way of putting this. Society will improve once you’re no longer in it. Plus, your family will get rich because Johnson and Johnson will lose the lawsuit for the obvious reason, as our studies at the CDC have clearly indicated, your family’s sleaze-bag attorney will find 12 morons to be on the jury. 

But, that’s not what we wanted to discuss so forgive us that little digression.

We, at the CDC, just wanted to get that off our chests. 

Anyway, we have fielded many inquiries about the 4 people who died from blood clots after getting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. That’s the 4 out of the 7,200,000 people who got the shot. We realize all the newscasters had to put on their frowny-faces to describe these 4 deaths as “a crisis of epic proportion” because if they said “no biggie….probably just a coincidence” then you’d get bored and switch back to whatever TV shows you usually watch which, as our studies here at the CDC have repeatedly confirmed, are one of the following:

  1. “C-List Celebrities Eat Bugs for Money”
  2. “Vaginal Discharge of the Rich and Famous”
  3. “Hot-Tub Trailer-Park Butt Sex Starring Roseanne Barr and Charles Manson”
  4. “The 24/7 Panda Cam Starring Those Loveable Pandas Sump-Pump and Yung-Dung plus 80 National Zoo Employees Trying to Force Them to Have Sex”

Anyway, let’s do the math on this one, kids. Well, we will do the math because we, at the CDC, understand you don’t know how to do math.  Even with the calculator on your phone, you still don’t know how to do math so it’s a good thing we’re here. 

You have a 1 out of 1,800,000 chance of dying from a blood clot as a potential effect of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. In terms of percentages, the likelihood of you dying due to the vaccine is 0.00006%. This also means you have a 99.99994% chance of NOT dying from the vaccine. 

Of course, we don’t actually know if the vaccine actually caused the blood clots. That’s because, in the US, an average of 200,000 people die from blood clots each year. 

The risk of you dying from a blood clot this year is around .06%.

So, higher mathematics (.0006/.0000005), you are ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED times more likely to die from a blood clot that you came by honestly then die from the possible blood clot that may have been caused by the vaccine.

But, that hasn’t stopped half of you people from refusing to get the vaccine because you think it’s too life threatening which is a puzzle for us at the CDC because 500,000 upstanding, family-value-oriented Americans died from covid in 12 months. 

Well, your crisis is our crisis. You’re panicking about this vaccine and we’re here to support you because your irrational fear keeps the CDC funded.

So, all Americans must be aware of the following dangers which are all more likely to kill you when compared to the vaccine (statistics courtesy of cdc.org). For your convenience, we’ll put in the number of times you’re more likely to die from each item below vs. the chance of getting a blood clot as a possible result of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine: 

  1. Stuck by lightning (17 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than die from a blood clot due to the possible side-effects of the vaccine)
  2. Falling down the stairs (3 times)
  3. Getting sun burnt enough to get skin cancer (900 times)
  4. Pogo Stick accident (2 times)
  5. Dog attack (20 times)
  6. Bee sting (50 times)
  7. Gun shot (125 times)
  8. Drug OD (250 times)
  9. Bicycle accident (10 times)
  10. Slipping in the shower (2 times)
  11. Drowning in the bathtub (3 times)
  12. Car accident (22,000 times)
  13. Sexually transmitted disease (10 times)
  14. Walking across the street (60 times)
  15. Workplace “incident” (75 times)
  16. Food poisoning (2 times)

In summary, don’t drive, don’t ride a bike, don’t fly, don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t go outside (except when you’re running from lightning), don’t take the stairs, don’t have a dog, don’t go near people, don’t take any medication, don’t take a shower, don’t have sex and don’t go close to Pogo Sticks. Just one of those activities is much more likely to kill you than getting a covid shot ever will. 

Wear plenty of sunscreen, bug repellant, snake repellant,  bear repellant and human repellant. For human repellant, we, at the CDC, recommend applying plenty of Aqua-Velva aftershave and wearing an anchovy necklace. 

The alternative is living normally and enjoying the fact that you’re alive for another day. 

That’s what we, at the CDC, do. 

Otherwise, the stress will kill you. 

But, we, at the CDC, will remain in panic mode because of the simple fact that you’re 75 times more likely to die from the vaccine than win the mega-millions lottery.*

It’s true. We checked. 

Oh,  yeah, while we’re at it, don’t forget we, at the CDC, believe children are our future. Not that this should surprise anyone since children tend to be younger than their parents (except in West Virginia). I mean, you parents out there are gonna be dead and your lovely kids will still be lingering around doing God knows what. Well, that’s been the going assumption around the office, at least. 

Sooooooo, as a reminder,  the CDC has mandated that all parents must obsess, to the point of complete psychosis, over the safety of their tax deductible children. So, all children, until the age of 25, must wear the following prior to any activity: ear plugs, nose clip, mouth guard, fly swatter, arm pads, mobile phone, hand pads, helmet with multiple floodlights attached, knee pads, hip pads, 9 bottles of water, flack jacket, antenna sticking out of the helmet, sneeze shield, 37 layers of sun screen, shin guards, embedded microchip, elbow pads, dog tags, hip pads, panic button, bulletproof vest, goggles, shoulder pads, butt plug, golf umbrella, thigh pads, GPS tracking device, chastity belt, asbestos suit, 6 cans of mace, steel-toed shoes, a note from his or her doctor saying he or she is permanently disabled due to “bad-bad chafing” on his or her inner-thighs, oxygen-tank, back-up mobile phone, ankle braces, flea collar, plus a chaperone and another chaperone for the chaperone.

These measures must be adhered to for ALL activities. Doesn’t matter what. It could be to see his or her sister in the next room. If the child wants to go to the bathroom then the child must wear all of this crap.

And, don’t forget the chaperone.

And, the chaperone for the chaperone.

We’re glad to see pretty much all parents are adhering to these guidelines.

Keep up the good work. 

XOXO,

The CDC

* You’re not gonna win the lottery. It’s not happening. We don’t care how lucky you think the numbers are because there ain’t no such things as lucky numbers on accounta it doesn’t work that way. And, praying to God you’ll win the lottery isn’t going to help. Stop that. God doesn’t work that way. Cut it out. 

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Riggo and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

For most of my life, a cat has been involved. Mostly Siamese cats. Siamese males act like dogs. They truly enjoy the warmth of human contact. They like to play. They greet you at the door. They are unique and have personality to burn. 

Our current cat is called Riggo. Riggo was the nickname of a famous National Football League running back from the seventies and eighties named John Riggins who was, also, unique and had plenty of personality. 

As a running back, Riggins was atypical in that he didn’t try to run around the opposing player. He ran over the opposing player. It wasn’t just the other team’s players, either. You could be a teammate, cheerleader, coach, family member, townhouse, heavy mining equipment or the Virgin Mary. 

It really didn’t matter. 

When it came to running with the football, John Riggins did not clown around so if you were in his way then it was incumbent upon you to do something about it. If you were a defensive player and Riggins was running at you then you needed to make, as it is referred to in the NFL, a “business decision.”

Business decisions involve a very brief cost/benefit analysis. In this context, they run something along the lines of, “Do I really want to try tackling this guy knowing full well I’ll end up as roadkill just to show I’m willing to lay it all on the line for my teammates thereby earning their undying respect and admiration? Or, are there future considerations upon which I might contemplate thus allowing me the latitude to determine a creative alternative such as getting the hell out of this guy’s way.”

This really is a moment of thorough personal analysis and deep reflection because, when it came to tackling John Riggins, those future considerations would inevitably include the following:

  1. Eating with utensils
  2. Keeping internal organs internal
  3. Not being dead all the time

We figured naming a big, boisterous, outgoing, fearless Siamese male cat “Riggo” would be highly appropriate.

We were wrong.

As it turned out, our Riggo was nothing like the football Riggo. Our Riggo is meek and mild. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. If he tried to hurt a fly then the fly would slap Riggo around because he has absolutely no self-preservation skills. None. 

When we first got him, Riggo was scared of….everything. Ten years later, he’s still scared of everything except people. Oh, he loves people now. This is because my wife and I are pathetic cat parents and cater to his every whim. 

Our Riggo loves playing fetch whenever we sit down to have dinner. I’m serious. He insists on playing fetch. We have to throw a little fuzzy ball down the stairs. Then, he scrambles down the stairs, picks up the fuzzy ball with his mouth, brings in back to us, drops it on the floor and stares at us until with throw the ball down the stairs.

This process repeats itself 15 to 20 times every day. My wife assures me playing fetch is something that Riggo finds cognitively and physically stimulating. I assure her there’s a fine line between “being cognitively and physically stimulated” and “being a moron.”

Cats do help us feel better about ourselves because we can always say, “I may have destroyed my personal life, lost all my friends and forfeited any chance for a promotion but I never fell down the stairs chasing a fuzzy ball and pick it up with my teeth. At least, not while sober.”

One day, we thought he might enjoy watching something called “Cat TV.” Cat TV features tranquil nature scenes where birds and other small animals come and go. Your cat is supposed to find this very calming. 

So, we turned on Cat TV to let him enjoy some serene television. 

Riggo looked at the TV, saw a bird on the screen and proceeded to go, and I’m being mild here, nucking futs. The cat who’s afraid of bugs attacked a 50″ television.

He jumped off the couch, sprinted towards the TV and flew, headfirst, into the TV. He smashed his face on the TV screen, bounced off it and crashed onto the floor.

He looked around for a moment with a facial expression that said something along the lines of, “Huh?”

Remember those old Road Runner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote kept crashing into a brick wall whenever he tried to catch Road Runner?

Well, that was Riggo.

Now, when we first got Riggo, I don’t remember any of the medical certificates saying, “Potential MENSA-candidate.” He has a walnut-sized brain. I understand that.

But, I would think he’d have gained a little wisdom what with crashing into a television to get a bird who really wasn’t IN the television. 

However, even though he’d clearly established there was no actual bird behind the TV screen, Riggo backed up, got another running start, launched himself, headfirst, towards the TV, smashed his face on the screen, bounced off and crashed on the floor. 

Again.

Remember those old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons where Bullwinkle kept trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat but kept screwing it up? But, he kept trying and would always say, “This time for sure,” right before he’d screw it up again and pull a rhino out of his hat instead of a rabbit?

Well, that was Riggo.

In his infinite struggle against reality, he took another stab at it before I turned the TV off which really confused the hell out of him because he couldn’t figure out where the bird went. 

My wife and I became suspicious. We checked the liquor cabinet just to make sure he wasn’t drunk. We didn’t see any of our prescriptions missing.  So, we figured the needle must have been stuck on “dumb” and wrote it off. 

Later that day, we opened the desk drawer where we keep his toys and noticed an entire bag of catnip was missing. 

This wasn’t just your cheap Mexican-Dirt-Weed catnip. This was some serious high-octane, Bob-Marley-Type ganja catnip. 

After discovering the catnip was missing, we casually asked him if might have taken it by accident.

Riggo replied, “Uh….catnip? Ummmm. What’s catnip? Is that, uh, like….uh, never heard of, whoa, anyth.., ‘cuz I wouldn’ta known, like, huh? I don’ unnerstand, who, ME? Take the, uh, can’t remember….ummm, I gotta go to, uh, the, uh, can you turn on Cat TV again?”

Riggo proceeded to go to the basement for about 20 minutes. When he came back,  he was looking a little wobbly and unfocused.

We asked him what he had been up to. 

“Oh, yeah, uh, nothing. Haven’t, err, done, like, so, like, whoa, heh-heh, are the floorboards moving? This…I like Chinese food, and, so, why is France so far away? I think the new iPhone cameras suck. So, if you’re traveling the speed of light and you turn the headlights on then do you see them? I’ve always wondered about that and, oh look, a chicken.”

And, he stumbled off. 

Our cat has been smoking catnip.  

He’s a niphead.

It was a shocking discovery but explained some of his recent behavior.

The last few nights, he’d been asking us to go to McDonalds and get him 3 or 4 cheeseburgers because he’s always hungry after dinner.

One time, after we said no to the cheeseburger idea, he tried to steal my phone and order from Grub Hub.

We couldn’t help but notice he’s been repeatedly listening to a vinyl copy of “Dark Side of the Moon.”  It has the album cover that opens up and in the middle we found some catnip seeds. Plus, he always gets startled when the alarm clock goes off on that one song even though he’s listened to the record 400 times by now.

We just found a lighter, rolling papers and some of his catnip stash hidden under his cat box. There was a little kitty-bong behind a couple books. One book was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The other book was “Alice in Wonderland.” Let’s face it, you’ve got to be high-as-a-kite in order to read either of those books. 

Smoking all the catnip has killed his taste buds. We spotted some empty Keystone Light beer cans mixed in the trash along with a big half-full bottle of a Carlo Rossi cabernet that smelt like a cross between a sewage treatment plant and a couple of month-old dead bodies.

Then, there were the Altoids.  And, the Visine.  And, the rolled up towel to keep the catnip smoke from seeping out from the crack between the floor and the bottom of the bathroom door.

We know it’s bad because we saw a spiral notebook where he tried writing some poetry. The first line said, “There once was a cat from Nantucket.”  Everything else was in ashes probably because the catnip joint he was smoking fell out of his mouth, landed on the notebook and set it on fire.

So, we decided to have a little discussion with the young man and have him explain himself.  

All he said to us was,  “Uh, whoa….dunno where all, of, you know….this stuff, uhnnn, came from on accounta this is, like, out there…. and, uh, yeah, no, um, kinda like, you know, out there….but, in a tubular kinda way….uh, whoa, this ceiling is completely, like, outta hand.  So, yeah, it’s like, pfffffffffft, gotta….I think I gotta lie down and, for, uhhhhh, can you make me some home fries?….[pause]…wait…..what was the question?”

We’re not sure how to handle this.

We could ground him but he’s an indoor cat so that won’t accomplish much.

We sent him to bed without his dinner but he was stoned to the gills and, on accounta his taste buds were shot, he ate some cardboard out of the recycling bin and did not even notice.

Plus, he was so blotto that it took him all night just to find his bed. Once he did find it, he needed to jump to get on the bed because his bed is our bed.

Due, I’m sure, to his condition, he totally misjudged the jump.  His first attempt was well short of the mark and he crashed, head first, into the side of the bed and belly-flopped onto the floor.

For his next attempt, he got a running start and, perhaps, over-compensated just a bit because, instead of landing on the bed, he went flying over the bed and crash landed on my wife’s vanity which is about 10 feet from the bed.

He managed to crack the mirror, smash about 20 bottles of very high-class perfume, cave in the top of the vanity and break the chair. I can’t quite describe the sound this made but think about that large chandelier in the Commodore Hotel in Vegas. It has about 2,500,000 crystals, is about 500,000 cubic feet in size and weighs, I dunno, a few thousand pounds. Now steal it, take it up to the top of the Sears Tower (you may need to take it up the stairs depending on the size of the elevator) and drop it off the side of the building. 

Think about the sound it’ll make when it hits the pavement. THAT was the sound the vanity made after Riggo flew into it. 

After hearing that noise, a non-stoned cat would have panicked and, out of sheer terror, sprinted out of the room. Riggo, instead, surveyed the damage while still on his back and said, “Cool. Can we watch ‘Beavis and Butthead?'” Then he grabbed a perfume bottle and started drinking from it. 

I just looked at him for a minute and finally asked, “Who wants nachos?”

Hey, I was in high school once. 

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My Sincere  Apology

I’d like to sincerely apologize for my recent statement in what may or may not potentially and/or conditionally be construed or, most likely, misconstrued, within reasonable limitations, as somewhat lacking in human sensibility or perhaps, given agreed upon definitions, “insensitive.”  

This highly sincere apology is made even more sincere in that any misunderstanding on your part is not my fault plus the statement I may or may not have made was taken entirely out of context but, to the best of my recollection, I can’t seem to remember what the context actually was.  

That is to say, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall.

But let me be clear to the American people on this important point:  There WAS a context.  I’m almost certain of it.  Identifying this context is my top priority.  And, yet, this hostile, disingenuous, radical, so-called news media will not disclose this reputed context and, instead, are promoting their. Right-wing-and-or-left-wing agenda. Be it right or be it left, my fellow Americans, the key is a wing is definitely involved.

However,  I’m willing to boldly step up and take provisional responsibility with this extraordinarily sincere apology for any theoretical harm my statement could have conceivably been misheard by those who possess a high level of cognitive insufficiency. 

This apology, this sincere apology, is made even more sincere as this alleged statement was entirely, completely and totally due to the Percocet addiction caused by media-bias as well as terminal irritable bowel syndrome due to workplace stress and severe childhood trauma when Mom was 15 minutes late picking me up from my equestrian lesson one day about which litigation is pending.  

This really, very sincere apology is my first step to recovery along with my everlasting, unquestioned, exemplary and magnificent faith I have in my Lord and Savior, Jesus H. Christ, who is my top priority and who has forgiven me even though many have chosen to incorrectly understand my above referenced statement which means I really didn’t need to be forgiven in the first place. 

Now that I’ve overcome these dark and troubled times, I will make it my top priority to move on. The American people have spoken by their silence that it is time to end this witch hunt over some illusionary, relatively non-heinous and non-contextual expression as I proudly defend all our First Amendment rights because protecting the Constitution is my top priority.

But, let me be very clear. No one is sorrier than I am in that valuable time has been spent on this witch hunt even after my previous statement wherein I clearly stated, “As I was given to understand, a rigorous internal investigation by this office has been conducted and there seems to be the outward appearance of a latent, contingent probableness that, perhaps, pending a full audit and subject to modified situational conditions as outlined in my previous statement, within this office and/or third party contractors, it may cause some to conclude that somewhere, within this very large office, mistakes were made. Maybe.”

Getting to the bottom of this situation is my top priority.

And, yet, I am taking a stand and am offering this heroically sincere apology which, of course, absolves me of any misperceived transgressions over my 20 years of public service in as much as her library card said she was 21.

On a personal note, this witch hunt has taken a terrible toll on my all-American family who are my top priority including my all-American-family-value-oriented wife, who, I’ve been advised, is most likely living in Paris at the moment.  But, no one has suffered more than my all-American son who is an altar boy with excellent personal hygiene habits and my all-American daughter who loves ponies and is, based on her recent testimony, a virgin.

And, I remain resolute in my love for this country and my commitment to defense of our sacred institutions which is my top priority while my critics continue their mission to destroy this great democracy by accusing me of saying things I may or may not have said pending this office’s internal review of processes and procedures in this office. 

Besides, I thought this was America!!! What ever happened to, “innocent until proven guilty”?  Isn’t this America? I thought we were in America.  What happened to America?  The real USA of America. Where Amber waved her grain and we could proudly sing, “This is the home of the land and the land of the bombs bursting in air.”   

My critics, most of whom are adulterers, refuse to take on the tough issues of our times such as the fact that the shortage of 256GB iPhone 12s in blue is an escalating national crisis .  Because, instead of helping this office do the work of defending the American people, they are burning the American flag in our churches during services.

I have proof of this and will make it my top priority to share it at the appropriate time based on poll results.

Further, there have been reports of my critics being fully funded by Russian Muslims and telling children in Sunday Schools they are no longer allowed to believe in the time-honored institutions in that made this great country the envy of the rest of the world such as Punxsutawney Phil, the Great Pumpkin, Ken and Barbie, and the Electoral College.

Well, I’m on tentative record saying children are my top priority and they deserve to be protected from this witch hunt conducted by my critics who, we’re given to understand, are financing their witch hunt by selling child pornography to ISIS.

I have suffered enough by apologizing with extreme sincerity and utmost integrity for previously retracted statements I did not make because my political future should not be negatively effected by statements I made especially if I did not make them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go pray.

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The Spanking of the Lambs

I’m not a parent.  To the best of my knowledge, that is. I mean, if I was a father then someone would have mentioned it by now.  I know I’m not very good on details but I think, within the first 3 years, I’d notice a child especially if he or she was around all the time.

Young children are hard not to notice.  They keep getting underfoot so you trip over them all the time.  They scream and cry over the least little thing.  Babies display very little in the way of subtlety and nuance when it comes to communicating. They’re programmed to have hissy-fits during the following times of day:

  1. Waking hours
  2. Sleeping hours
  3. All other times
  4. Twice on Sundays

And, they smell like, well, like, well, not good.  This is because they are highly inconsiderate and don’t use the bathroom.  Now, you, being of sound mind and tolerable personal hygiene, wouldn’t choose the exact moment when the bride and groom were exchanging wedding vows to let forth while in the 2nd row of pews.  Which is precisely what some 6 month old baby once did.  

No courtesy announcement beforehand. No two minute warning. Dude just went boom and the odor quickly disintegrated any shred of social order.  People were trampling each other in order to get the hell out of the church.  The stained-glass windows started cracking. The priest got as far as saying, “Do you, Carl, take Ellen to be your WHAT THE HELL? WHAT DID YOU FEED THIS LITTLE RAT BASTARD?! Forget it. I just retired. Bye.” 

Carl and Ellen should have gotten the divorce right then and there because their marriage was doomed thanks to some baby who couldn’t be bothered to wait until an appropriate time to use the restroom.  

This failure on the child’s part to use the facilities is generally blamed on “toilet training.”  Or, the lack of it.  This “explanation” is widely used to excuse this behavior to which I say, “How about LEARNING how to use the toilet, you lazy maggot?”

As far as I’m concerned, this “I can’t help it because I’m not toilet trained” is a stalling tactic and only encourages irresponsible behavior in later life. If you let this toilet training issue slide then what’s next? Well, I’ll tell you what’s next:

Socialism.

Because children won’t get an honest job since being toilet trained is usually a job requirement so they will sit around and collect disability because some politician will get a bill passed to say “the untrained” are too disabled to work plus they’re being persecuted so they’ll spend all their time getting Hollywood actors to wear brown ribbons and they’ll get lobbyists to force all us God-fearing, patriotic, hard-working, Americans from the USA of America to replace the word “toilet” in all buildings with the phrase “commode of oppression” in order to destroy yet another sacred institution plus we won’t be able to call them “the untrained” because that won’t be politically correct so we’ll have to call them “practitioners of otherly enabled hygienic achievements” and our hard-earned tax dollars will go to a large segment of the population who are simultaneously pooping on themselves and burning the American Flag because instead of getting toilet trained they’ll just vote for Bernie Sanders instead. 

Anyway, got no kids. This leaves me free to play with other people’s kids. I use the opportunity to get the children completely wound up.  Once the kids are fully foaming at the mouth, bouncing off the ceiling, speaking in tongues, destroying anything not nailed down and gnawing on the furniture, I give them back to the parents.

“Here, I’m done. Gotta go. Ciao.”

In the early 1980s, I was friends with a couple who had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Victoria. Not Mike and Vicky.  None of this nickname nonsense. The parents were very clear about that.  Michael and Victoria were two of the kindest and most conscientious children on the planet.  Suspiciously well behaved, these two.   Occasionally, I’d come over and play babysitter on weekends so the parents could get some alone time. 

On one such weekend, I arrived at 5pm Friday and the parents were already flying out the door. Just as they were getting in their car to take off, the mother stands up and, in front of the children, yells, “Okay, Drew. What are your most important rules for this weekend?”

“Uh, I dunno…buy low, sell high?”

“I’m serious. There needs to be some rules that can not be broken under any circumstance.” 

“Huh? What are….oh, uh, how about this?  Don’t do anything that might injure yourself and don’t do anything that might injure someone else.”

I had no idea where this was going. 

The kids immediately said, in unison, okay. What I said seemed fair and, given the kid’s good-nature, fairly benign ground-rules.

The mother then yelled to the kids, “Okay, you two. Those are the rules. And, if you break one of those rules then Drew will have to give you a spanking.”

The kids immediately said, in unison, okay. 

I immediately said, “Huh?”

“Drew, this is important. They need to learn that actions have consequences.”

I was ready to say she was completely out of her mind but they were about to shut the car doors and leave so I just said, “Yeah, sure, fine, great idea, whatever.”

“Okay, you two.  You heard what he said.” 

Again, they both immediately said okay.  In my defense, this is back in the day when spankings were a standard free service offered by most parents so, at that moment, I really didn’t think anything about it

I figured Michael and Victoria were such sweet kids that there’d be no issue so I didn’t think it was worth arguing the point.  Michael was 6 at the time. Victoria was 7.  As far as I was concerned, they were old enough to know how to keep within the lines. 

I do remember thinking these two youngsters were a little too cooperative.  It didn’t concern me but it didn’t seem quite right, either.  I had encouraged them, here and there, to act up but they were having none of it. 

The parents were spastic about the rules.  Bedtime was, I think, 9pm on weekends which meant being in bed at 9pm. 9:01 was too late. Not negotiable. 9pm. 

Only acceptable television shows were allowed to be watched. I was given a list of them. 

Subjects of “questionable content” were never to be uttered by them or me. I wanted to tell them to give me a little credit. I knew to keep it clean in front of the youngsters.  

For example, I had a girlfriend, Carolyn, in college who had a 6 year old step-brother called Jason.  When I first visited her house, I made sure to tell Jason, in a very family friendly way, I was going to Carolyn’s room to study and he shouldn’t worry about the noise coming from her room because that was just part of the studying process which was something he’d understand once he got to college.  

Also, in the mildest terms, I once told him, “Carolyn especially enjoys doing her BIOMECHANICS homework and she might get really excited testing her theories on, well, CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM DYNAMICS and on…oh, let’s call it TISSUE ENGINEERING.

“And, Jason. Just a heads up, if we’re able to, well, RESOLVE properties of kinetic energy with the muscle responses to external forces in stimulated, uh, I mean, simulated conditions then you might even hear her delightfully scream….in the…..joy….of….academic…..accomplishment.”

Can’t get more subtle than that. 

I figured this weekend would be fine and we wouldn’t get sidetracked by any spanking controversy. 

Well, wouldn’t you know….

It wasn’t even 6pm when Michael, during a momentary yet horrendous lapse of total reason, tossed a very sharp knife at Victoria.  He didn’t throw it hard. It was an underhanded toss but, had it hit her, could have done real damage. It was completely out of character and, once he did it, he looked mortified. The knife was barely out of his hand before he looked around to see if I noticed.  I did notice and I also noticed that he noticed that I noticed while Victoria noticed that I noticed and Michael noticed that she noticed that I noticed.  Then both kids stared at me. 

I was staring at the ceiling and saying, under my breath, “I need a beer.”  No booze in the house. Another rule.

Again, I’m not a parent. I didn’t know much about kids but one thing I did know was when you tell a 6 year old that if X happens then Y will result then Y had better result should X happen.  Kids catch on to adult inconsistencies faster than adults. And, when they do, they’ll lose all respect for you and for all those things that make this country great such as whoopee cushions, government corruption, racial hatred, glow in the dark condoms and credit card debt. 

Which meant I was now going to have to spank a child who wasn’t mine (to the best of my knowledge).  I immediately got angry at myself for so casually agreeing to such stupidity. 

“Uh, yeah. Right. Right-o. So. Okay. Okee-dokee. So. Hey, Victoria. Would you like to go back outside and play a little more soccer with your pals?”

She looked very concerned.

“It’s all good. Have fun. We’ll join you guys in a couple minutes.”

She slowly walked back outside while Michael looked at the floor. 

I suggested he and I sit on the living room couch so we might review the current state of affairs.  I still had no idea how I was going to handle this.

I decided to keep the temperature as low as possible just in case Michael decided to aggressively defend his actions.  I started with, “Well, maybe a career in family relationship therapy isn’t in your cards but…”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m thinking ‘mob enforcer’ could be a profession you should consider…”

“I’m sorry.”

“Right. Right-o. Got it. Message received and understood. You’re sorry. Let’s cast our minds back in time,  shall we?  Do you remember the part about not doing anything to injure anyone?”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Ah, I see. Well, we all do stupid sh….things we didn’t mean to do.  Drunk drivers generally don’t mean to run people over. But, they were careless and, after sentencing,  ended up being voted the Sweetheart of Cellblock C.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Good. Point is, if we do something then we gotta deal with the sh….stuff that comes after.  Drunk drivers still end up paying for their recklessness by going to jail.”

“I’m sorry.”

Maintaining my friendly demeanor, I said, “Yes, I remember you mentioning that. Alot, now that I think about it.  Just because we’re sorry we fu…..did something wrong doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with the sh….what was the word your mom used?”

“Consequences.”  He sounded defeated. 

“THAT’S the word.  Thank you. There’s a lesson in this for both of us, isn’t there.  Yours is we’re all still accountable for what we do if it breaks the house rules.  Wanna know what my lesson is?”

“Did you do something wrong?”

“Oh, yeah.  My lesson is not to agree to do something I know I shouldn’t agree to.  That was a bad move on my part.  I know that now. And, please believe me, I’m really sorry, too. I hope you accept my apology.  I didn’t think we’d be stuck having to do this thing.  I’m feeling pretty dumb at the moment”

“It’s okay.”

“I really don’t want to do this thing except we both promised your parents and we don’t want to be known as people who don’t keep their promises. I know you don’t want that.”

“Uh-uh”

“So, now we gotta do this thing.”

Silence. 

“Okay, let’s do this thing so we can go outside and play.  You know I hate the idea of doing this thing….we gotta do. “

“I know.”

“You believe that, yes? I mean, this just seems wrong.  This thing. I really don’t want to do this. You know that.”

“I know.”

“Okay, right. So, uh, got a question. How are we supposed to do this thing?”

Michael explained the process involved him lowering his pants, lying over his father’s lap and getting his naked bottom spanked for an extended period of time with a large wooden hair brush which, if very distant memory serves, stings like hell.  On a desk across the room was a hair brush big enough to use in a street fight.

“Yikes. Well….ouch. Right. Right-o. Okay. Well, so….hmmm. Let’s give the hair brush a miss and, please, PLEASE, keep your pants on because ick.”

What followed was a very quick and cursory effort on my part.  A mild experience compared to what the poor kid was used to.  I threw in a reminder to cool it with tossing knives at people. 

Michael was fine. I was relieved and very happy I wouldn’t have to do anything like THAT again. We went outside to see how soccer was coming along. 

We just stepped outside when I looked up and saw Victoria run into the street, without looking for cars, chasing the soccer ball. I tried to yell for her to get off the street but, thanks to the total terror that took over, I couldn’t get one word out. She picked up the ball, turned around in time to notice that I noticed that she noticed that I noticed and the other kids noticed that she noticed that I noticed that they noticed and now I was in deep.

Because it’s one thing with boys. It’s another thing with girls. I knew this because the above referenced Carolyn talked about the disgraceful way the numerous spankings from her father were handled. All aspects of her life were negatively impacted but none more so than intimacy. It screwed her up quite a bit. Our first attempts at sex resulted in her shutting down and sobbing.  

I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the cause of any shred of damage.

And, yes, thank you, I fully realize she could have broken down in tears due to the magnitude of her disappointment with me in bed so shut up. Besides, we barely got to the clothes-off part before she fell apart so I didn’t have enough time to disappoint her so there!

So, there I sat.  On the livingroom couch. Again.

Victoria chose to stand. 

Starting the conversation with an inspiring and informative statement, I said, “Well……”

I had no clue what to say.

“Hmmm, I was….uh….what the…..well, sh…..shucks.  Ah, got it.  Let’s see if we can agree on….this. To me, running into the street, something your parents really don’t want you to do, without looking for cars and possibly getting run over kind of equals ‘doing something that might injure yourself.’  I’m guessing you knew it was against the rules because you looked guiltier than Richard Nixon when you saw me.  So, uh, what are your thoughts on that?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, I heard that alot from my previous customer.  But, no fair apologizing.  It’s this learning actions have consequences thing that has your parents ridiculously….I mean, seriously concerned.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Would you please stop apologi….”

“I was bad.”

“Whoa!!! Time out!!! Stop. Who said anything about you being bad?  You aren’t bad.  You have never been bad. Never, ever, ever. Uh-uh. In this case, you would be, how do I put this, WRONG.”

Silence. She stared at the floor and looked sad. Not the staged-sad look that kids will give you. Just sad. And, scared. Just as Michael was. She was putting up no fight or argument. Just as Michael didn’t. 

There was something in the way she said, “I was bad.” It hit me. I didn’t say anything for a minute. I just stared at the floor.

It occured to me the message they received from their parents early on was, “If you don’t do what we tell you to do or act the way we tell you to act or speak the way we want you to speak or not be perfect all the time then we will make you suffer.”

They were operating in fear. 

I asked her to sit next to me and she did. 

“What I’m about to say is important because it’s something you have to remember for the rest of your life. Always. Listen very carefully. Are you ready?”

Quick nod. Still looking down.

From about 2 inches from her ear, I whispered, “You have never, never, never been bad your whole life.”

She thought for a moment and gave another quick nod.  No eye contact.  I figured it was the first time any adult ever mentioned this to her. 

“Repeat after me: ‘I am Victoria.’ I’m serious, just say, ‘I am Victoria.'”

After a pause, “I am Victoria.”

“‘And, I am good.'”

Another pause and getting teary, “And, I am good.”

It took some prodding but she said the entire sentence while continuing to stare at the floor. 

“Now, Victoria.  This is going to be hard but you need to look at me and say that whole sentence.”

That was a challenge. But, she managed, eventually. 

“Keep looking at me and say it like you mean it.”

She was doing her best not to cry.  She tried a couple times but not convincingly. Then, she started crying. 

I was thinking how absurd this had gotten. I was about to say, “Young Lady, you are NOT getting a spanking until you convince me how good you are!”

To her credit, she was finally able to say it with a little conviction.

I threw out anothet challenge. “Let’s replace ‘good’ with ‘strong, beautiful and wonderful.'”

More tears.

And, it took awhile but she said it almost as though she meant it which was good enough for the moment. I was thinking it was time to get this over with because Michael was probably wondering what I did with his sister. 

“Here’s something I think you should do every day. Look in the mirror and say, “I am Victoria and I am strong and wonderful and beautiful.”

She said she’d “try.” “Try,” in kid-speak means, “Don’t hold your breath.” That was another thing I knew about children.

There was a handheld mirror on the coffee table. I held it in front of her and pestered her to repeat the sentence a few times. She did and didn’t look quite so fearful. 

I did the same preamble as before: this isn’t about you, it’s about actions and consequences, I hate being put in this position and I really apologize but a promise is a promise and blah, blah, blah. 

I should have mentioned her parents were completely deranged but I didn’t. 

“Right-o, let’s do this thing and let’s go back out and HEY! NO. DON’T TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF. NOT GOOD. And, let’s give the hair brush a miss, too.”

We went through the motions and decided we’d do pizza and ice cream for dinner. 

I remember thinking it might have helped for me to have someone tell me I was strong and good and wonderful when I was 7 but no such luck. 

Because, as a child, walking around thinking you’re worthless and bad is a bitch. 

Not much fun as an adult,  either. 

THE END except…

There’s a post-script. 

The reason I’m writing this is, not long ago, I got a call from Victoria. Out of the blue.  We completely lost touch when she was 8. Her family moved and we hadn’t spoken since. But she tracked me down. 

To thank me for how I handled that very awkward moment. She told me, ever since Spanking-Gate, she repeated, “I am Victoria and I am strong, beautiful and wonderful,” everyday. In front of a full-sized mirror.

She is in a management capacity for some big bank. Happily married. Two children. Two happy children who were never afraid to be themselves.  Her parents were at the very edge of her picture. I got the impression she didn’t have much to do with them. 

Her friends, family (excluding her parents) and co-workers all call her “Vic.”

“Mike” said hello, too.

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Sky of Fullness, Sky of Blessed Life

I knew this very good-natured and boisterous guy named Andy in college. He was, an I’m being mild, an enormous Bruce Springsteen fan. All Bruce, all the time.

Once, when we were recording a video presentation, Andy REFUSED to let go of the boom microphone because he had to sing “Badlands.”  Twice.  In full.  With gusto.  Very loud.  Excruciatingly off-key. EXCRUCIATINGLY off-key.

One Sunday morning, he banged on my door demanding, in his perpetually happy and friendly way, we go “get some grub.”  In order to be my alarm clock for the occasion, he sang “Thunder Road.”  Twice.  In full.  With gusto.  Very loud.  Excruciatingly off-key.  EXCRUCIATINGLY off-key.

And, it WAS alarming.

The first half of “Thunder Road” requires a little delicacy and the last thing you could describe  Andy’s version was “delicate.”

For, a few years, I don’t think Andy actually had conversations:

Me: Hey, Andy. What’s going on?

Andy: Sings the entire lyrics of “Born to Run.”  Twice. In full.  With…..

Andy died September 11th, 2001.  He was in one of the World Trade Centers.  Fifteen minutes after calling his wife to assure her he was okay, the building collapsed.

The world was a better place with him in it. I think about him this time of year.  And, the joy Springsteen’s music brought him.  

Despite the sadness I feel about the friends I lost that day, I can’t help but smile a little thinking about those hideously tuneless versions of Bruce’s songs.

And, the huge grin on Andy’s face when he sang them.

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Au Revoir, Big Man


Originally written on June 18th, 2011, and posted here by request.

I’m a pathetic Bruce Springsteen fan. Been one since, pretty much, day-minus-one.  I can’t count the number of Springsteen concerts I’ve attended.  In the low hundreds is my guess.

Springsteen’s saxophone player’s name is Clarence Clemons, a very large and muscular former football player who could knock over Stonehenge with a single solo.  His  presence and personality are integral to Springsteen’s shows.  His powerful, soulful sax solos take some great songs and make them extraordinary.

Clemons and Springsteen are a sight to see on stage.  Every night Bruce introduces Clarence as The Big Man. They freely share the fun, energy, music, excitement and love between them with their audience.  Especially, love.  A very real, fraternal love.  One average-sized Italian-American and one enormous African-American.  Devoted blood brothers who, together, bring the very bright light of their friendship to their entire audience.  The Big Man and the Boss.  There are, of course, plenty of bosses in the world.  But, only one Big Man.

Clarence Clemons died today.

He’d suffered a major stroke a few days ago.  Appropriately, he didn’t linger in a significantly compromised state.  Legend has it Clarence decided to introduce himself to Springsteen by going to the bar where Springsteen was performing and, when he entered the bar, the doors flew off their hinges.  Guys like that don’t fade away.  He kicked the door open to show up and he kicked the door open when it was time to go.

I have quite a few concert recollections of Clarence but there is one indelible memory I  have of him from a 2009 Bruce Springsteen concert in Baltimore, MD.  At that point in his life, he was rundown and in poor health.  A shell of himself, he was arthritic and could hardly stand for more than a few minutes at a time.  For most of the concert, he sat on a bar-stool stage right but still managed to cast quite a presence. A smile from Clarence Clemons could light up a small country.  He did his best to look happy and engaged but it was clear to see he was running on empty.  At first, his musical contribution for this particular concert was, at best, pedestrian.  He was tired.  And, due to the pain, probably a little distracted.

Clarence’s saxophone can be heard often embellishing Bruce’s recordings but there is a particular song  where his saxophone solo is elemental.  Without it, there’d be no song.  It’s quite a long and very challenging solo requiring equal parts power, determination, delicacy, focus, precision and endurance.

It was close to ninety minutes into the set when that song started.  Clemons was sitting at stage right in darkness for the first part of the song before gingerly moving to front and center for his solo.  He looked exhausted but when his time came, he stood and, with what he had left to give, he delivered.

He delivered with majestic power and emotional force.  The solo was just a few minutes in a show that lasted over three and a half hours but those few minutes took that concert to an exceptional level. The sound of his saxophone filled the arena and provided ample evidence that one person’s spirit can throw a very large shadow.

Near the end of the sax solo, my wife whispered, “Look around.” What I saw was thousands of people standing and giving Clemons their complete attention.  There was no dancing or talking or milling around or walking towards the restrooms. People just stood still and focused their attention on Clarence Clemons. Almost no one said a word.  Now, there were around 14,000 people in this arena about half of whom were drunk.  Included in the 14,000 were plenty of kids who, until this moment, appeared to be poster-children for attention deficit disorder.  And, they all stopped talking in order to just watch and listen. I had never seen anything like that at a rock concert before and haven’t seen it since.

After I stopped scanning the crowd, I looked back at my wife who is, also, a Springsteen fan. She looked at me and said, “He earned that silence.”

He did. He really did. His body of work with Bruce Springsteen earned it.  His performance that night earned it, as well.

Once Clarence’s solo was finished, Springsteen helped walk him back to his position on stage, they had a very long embrace, had a brief conversation and Clarence, clearly exhausted, sat down on his stool.  It was the last time he ever performed that solo on tour.

There was something about that solo with the audience’s full attention and respectful silence that was almost overwhelming.  It was a brute-force, mind-over-matter effort by Clarence and it’s a memory I hope I don’t lose anytime soon.

I don’t doubt Springsteen will carry on although I’m not sure how.  What I am sure of is if you’re looking for the ultimate challenge in your professional life then be the person who replaces  Clarence Clemons.  Good luck with that. Because no one can. I don’t know what Bruce’s band will look like.  It’ll certainly be different.  It may even be better.

But it will never be the same.

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I Dreamed a Little Dream

In my dream, I walked through my life in reverse chronological order. I started today, in a village, and just kept walking through my past.   It was silent and I was alone. No cars, no people.  Just me.  It was sunny, the grass was green and the road was newly paved.  Trees were everywhere and they were magnificent.  The houses were modest but well cared for.  The whole place was clean.  And, nothing was out of place.

The only sound I heard was of me breathing as I walked. Feeling pretty content. 

A block ahead of me were two people.  As I got closer, I recognized them.  A couple coworkers at a previous employer from 30 years ago.  Two people with whom I shared mutual disdain.  They weren’t moving. As I walked closer, I could see them glaring at me. I got within 10 yards of them, stopped and said, “Well, uh, hello.  Yes, right. And, how’ve you both been?”

The only reply I got was their continued somewhat hostile looking stares.

I always found them annoying and this was no exception. “Oh, me? I’m doing fine. Thanks so much for asking.”

 Still nothing. 

“Well, listen.  It’s been thrilling speaking with you, your limited vocabulary not withstanding.  No, really, I must be going.  I gotta go…flush the radiator. Yeah, it’s urgent. You know how that goes. Cheers.”

I walked past them.  After 100 yards, I looked back and saw them still standing and still staring. 

After walking another block, I came across an old girlfriend. After our unpleasant breakup, initiated by me, she stalked me and even threatened bodily harm if I didn’t take her back. I always wondered what her thought process was with that strategy.

Next to her were two other women I had cast aside in previous lifetimes.  I gave them a nod of recognition but they just glared at me. I kept walking and, appropriately in their cases, never looked back.  

At this point, the day had turned overcast.  The wind was beginning to pick up. The houses weren’t nice and tidy anymore. The vibrant color at the beginning was now getting gray. I walked towards 8 or 9 people standing together. They were ones who died when I was in my 20s.  I was close with many of them. I wanted to run over and hug some of them but I didn’t because they were all throwing me some very angry looks. I didn’t stop to say anything. 

I picked up the pace.  It was getting darker and colder. As I walked back in time, those houses and buildings were decaying quickly The road was breaking apart.  The warmth of the day was gone. The grass was brown and the trees were bent over with only a few leaves remaining.  There was almost no color at all.  

And, the people.  All those people. The ones I left behind, the friends who died, the girlfriends I discarded or who discarded me. They just stood and stared at me. Angry, contemptuous stares.

I stopped. I didn’t want to walk further.  I wanted to go back where it was sunny and warm. I turned around but all the people and places I walked past were gone. All gone. Instead, there were huge, random piles of trash.  I couldn’t go back.  

I stood in the cold darkness. I couldn’t return and I couldn’t escape.  I had to keep walking but that was becoming difficult. The ground was cluttered with debris, potholes and broken pavement.  There were now hundreds of people surrounding me.  I had to sidestep them as I continued.  They still said nothing but I felt their rage.

I walked past my college. The friends and teammates I left behind stood and stared. Sides of buildings on the campus were missing. Houses looked as though they were beginning to cave in.  I walked faster.  Past high school.  It was too dark to tell for certain but it looked like someone torched the place. I tried running but kept falling down.  I saw my elementary school.  It was gone. Reduced to rubble. 

I was exhausted and thirsty.  My legs were tired, I wanted this to end.  I thought about giving up. But, I kept going.  

I ran into a clearing and stopped.  I saw my childhood home to my left. It was barely standing. The windows were broken. I looked behind and saw thousands of corpses piled right behind me.  All those people died.  I looked at all the dead bodies and wondered what happened to them.  Did I kill them when I left them behind?  I looked ahead and saw blackness.  There was nothing in front of me.

I turned back to my run-down and battered childhood home. The front screen door opened and Ken appeared.  Ken died when we were seven. He was my best friend. His mother was behind him but partly obscured by the screen door.

I only saw Ken’s mother once. She had bruises on her face. Other than that, she was a voice behind a screen door.  Ken never talked about his life at home and, even though I was only seven, I knew enough not to ask. 

He walked towards me.  He was still seven years old.  He had on his favorite sweatshirt but there was blood all over it.  He came closer.  His eyes were jet black. There was a messy bullet hole in his forehead.  He looked me over for a long time before he spoke.  He stopped four feet in front of me. He was looking amused.

“What the hell are YOU doing here, you pariah?”  

He tilted his head and smiled. 

“Nice to see you, too,” I replied.  We stood motionless and stared at each other. 

“So, decided to visit the scene of the crime, did we?  Or, are you just checking property values?  Perhaps I might interest you in a dame de la nuit. Got a dozen of ’em ’round back.  Take two, they’re  small.  Maybe you feel like getting your ass kicked some more. I’m sure I could find hundreds of people willing to help with that.  In fact,  I could….”

“Why are you talking like this?”

He snapped back, “Why are you here?!” 

I had no answer. 

“C’mon, Squire!  What sayeth thou, eh?”  He’d adopted a British accent. “Didja walk all this way with a purpose or have you simply lost the plot entirely?  Out with it,  Mate! Why…are…you… here?”

“Well, I can’t exactly turn back what with the big pile of stiffs behind me. I could have kept going, I guess.”

Ken looked puzzled.  “And, yet, you didn’t keep going. You stopped. Right here.  Of all places.  Why didn’t you run when you saw this place or me?”  He had dropped the British accent. “I would’ve. I’d be gone already. So?”

I glanced back to the bodies and wreckage behind me. I looked at what remained of my childhood home.  It looked so damaged. Pitiful. And, sad.

“Ya know, Ken. Ever thought of doing a little makeover on the old homestead there?  Not to be critical but this place looks like….”

“Shit?”

“That’s a good starter word. But, I’m here. I got nowhere to go.  It’d take months to climb over the dead bodies behind me and this definitely looks like a dead end street. So, I’ll help you fix the place.”

I got the puzzled look again.  “Fix it? Make it better?”  He paused.  “Did you come all this way to fix things around here?”

I said, “Well, no. I was just trying to get away from…”

“Well, YES!!  That’s exactly why you came back here!!” 

My unclever retort was, “Uh, okaaaay.  Well…hell, who knows?  Maybe that is why I’m here. I dunno.”

Ken smiled.  “It could use some fixing, no doubt. Do you think you can fix all this?  Things did get pretty bad here.”

“Well, okay.  I, uh, suppose…”

“Good. Where do we start?  We need to get rid of all this garbage once and for all.”  He actually looked anxious to start.  “Everything that went bad goes.  How about everything that went wrong? That’s gone, too, right?”  

“Uh…..”

“The pain?  The hurt?  Would you be able to get all that out?  I mean, you came here for a reason.”  He sounded excited.

“Ken, I don’t quite know what you’re…..”

“Oh, and the shame. Gotta fix that, too. Fact’s a fact. You came here to fix this whole thing. I know it even though you don’t want to admit it.”

“I think you’re making more of this than there is. I mean, well, I just….”

“Dude.  You came all this way just to exchange recipes?  No. No way. You are here to fix things here that have been broken for a very…very long time.  And, you know it.  Took you long enough. Shit, you’ve been wanting to fix everything here for decades.”

I stood staring at the house while Ken continued. “Finally! You’re here! Right here, right now. It’s time to get to work and get this taken care of.  You KNOW you want…”

“Okay, fine!  Dammit.  You win.  I’m here to fix the whole damn thing!  All of it.  I have to fix it and I’m going to fix it.  And, when I’m done, I’m gone.  Outta here.  I’ll fix this damn thing, make everything right and never come back here…ever.”

“Great.  Let’s get moving.  If we’re gonna fix all this. No time like the present. To make it right,  you said?  Well, good.  Oh, just one small thing about fixing this and making it right.”

“What’s that?” I asked. 

“You can’t.” 

He shot me a big grin and turned around. 

I watched as he slowly walked back into the house. His mother opened the door to let Ken in. Before he walked in, he turned to me, smiled and said “See you on down the road. Or, not.” 

After Ken walked into the house, his mother threw open the screen door and stepped out.  She stood before me.  Before going inside, she smiled and waved goodbye.  There were no bruises on her face. 

I looked back. The bodies were gone. I turned to look at the house again but it was gone as well. I looked ahead and saw a road. 

Nothing but road. 

I started walking.