Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Kindle or iPad? Buy One of My Books

By Pauly
New York City

Congrats. You survived. Merry Day-After Christmas.

Did you get a new iPad, or how about a Kindle? If so, then here's your chance to buy digital copies of my books.

The e-book version of Lost Vegas is only a few clicks away. It's a memoir (of sorts) spanning four years as a poker reporter in Las Vegas.

Click here to buy Lost Vegas for Kindle and iPads.

Click here to buy Lost Vegas for the Nook

Click here to buy a print copy of Lost Vegas on

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Do you like fiction? Many moons ago, I penned a trashy novel. Feel free to indulge yourself with an e-book Kindle version of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.

This young lady had some kind words to say about JTSMD...

I recorded a podcast with Nicky over 30 months ago! She asked me questions about the origins of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Listen below via SoundCloud...

JTSMD - Episode 1: The 10-Day Novel by taopauly 
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Thanks for the support. Hopefully, I'll have a new novel to pimp sometime in 2014.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013 and Auggie Wren's Christmas Story

By Pauly
New York City

I'm a sucker for tradition. Go read "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story." I re-read it every Christmas.

If you're too lazy to read, part of this story was included in the film Smoke...

And before I go, here's a message from Disco Santa and some familiar faces...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Vodka Breath Disappearing into the Night

By Pauly
New York City

It's very early and I'm already buzzed. I blame the holidays.

Like any functioning addict, the environment is an easy scapegoat. If everything was all peaches and honey, I wouldn't have a need to imbibe so early in the day. Roughly 9AM. I used to adhere to the "don't drink until noon otherwise you're an alcoholic." My old man was a life-long alkie and if he didn't have at least one beer by noon, his hands started shaking. Talk about "taking off the edge."

I'm in New York City and in order to deal with the surroundings and the overwhelming stress of "being home for the holidays," I opted for the easy way out.

Coping measures. I'm officially home for the holidaze.

I'm a wake-n-baker. Help clears the mind. It's usually the opposite effect for most people. If they get baked first thing in the morning, they'll want to sink into the couch and watch sixteen episodes of The Simpsons. But a couple of drags actually gets me motivated.

I once worked at the museum with a marathon runner. Just missed the 1992 Jamaican Olympic team by two spots. He told me he rolled a blunt every morning. He smoked half of it then ran 10 miles. He came home, showered, ate breakfast, then smoked the rest of the blunt before he hopped on the train to go to work. He said marijuana opened up his lungs and allowed him to breathe more oxygen.

"Okay, I get the first half of the blunt. But what about the second half?" I asked.

"You have to be stoned to ride the subway from Brooklyn into Manhattan during rush hour. No other way," the almost-Olympian said.

I cannot exactly wake-n-bake in NYC while staying with my mother, so I either have to take a walk around the block to blaze up, or go for plan B... drink rum/orange juice and eat painkillers.

It doesn't sound as depressing as it looks. It doesn't sound as fun as it looks. It just is. I'm a functioning addict, just trying to maintain a specific level of insobriety so I can get through the day.

Writing is a wonder drug. Cures everything. Immensely. It's better than therapy. A really positive writing session and brain dump is like talking to your neighborhood bartender for an hour followed up by thirty minutes on the heavy punching bag. Therapeutic. But if I can't start every day with a writing session and a drag of California's finest herbs, then I'm all out of whack and it's going to be a long, miserable day, especially if I'm in harsh surroundings.

I miss NYC, but I always have mixed emotions about coming home. Too many ghosts. Too many bad memories. I try to focus on the positive things and fun, fuzzy memories. But too many things around to trigger the bad shit. An old sign. An old face. You never know when you're going to be ambushed with your past. You just hope you can hold your own in a mental street brawl.

I haven't been able to write much volume since I returned to NYC, which is why I got blotto this morning. The only quiet time I get is between 1am and 6am, so I had to re-adjust my schedule because I got accustomed to writing between 6-9am the last few months in California.

It was rainy, but unseasonably warm. Yesterday was a record high in NYC. Blame global warming. Blame Karl Rove's weather machine. Mother Nature is so out of whack, I'm worried that she's been eating too much LSD.

I walked over to the local Greek diner. Drizzle and grey. Felt like Seattle weather the last couple of days. The guy who owned the diner is named Spiro. No bullshit. He used to play ball with my brother. He knows I'm sort of a sports-gambling writer and wanted to know my thoughts on a few Bowl games. It was a funny conversation because he hung on my every word. Made me wonder if he was going to bet any of the games, or if his uncle (one of the local Bronx bookies) was going to rake in a ton of dough this Bowl season.

I was the youngest person in the diner at 7am. I was the only one reading a book. Everyone else had a newspaper. A real newspaper. Dinosaurs enjoying a virtually extinct product. I never see people reading newspapers in Los Angeles. I'll see actors thumbing through a script  at the coffeeshop, but never a newspaper. They say the LA Times has a circulation of 1 million plus, but I assume those people read the paper at home, or they live on the East Coast.

The diner was filled with regulars. Old regulars. Like really old old people. Retired Irish cops in newsboy caps. Retired Italian mob guys in Fila sweat suits. Retired Jewish shopkeepers in tweed jackets. The buzz was about New York's head coaches. Who was getting fired? Rex Ryan or Tom Coughlin? Or both.

I went home and I tried to write, but kept getting interrupted. Nicky knows never to bother me if the door to my office is closed. She knows that if the door is closed, then I'm seriously working. If it's open then it's cool to come in. But, my mother has not once respected the entire closed door rule in 40 years. I'd get more work done at Starbucks at this point, which is where I'm headed now so I can finish this post and write some football stuff, while hoping not to run into old classmates with their rambunctious kids in tow.

Anyway, this keyboard is fucking me up. I'm writing on a British-bought laptop that I acquired on the road many years ago when my laptop died in London while on an assignment. I had to scramble to find a new laptop on short notice. My client offered to go 50/50 on a new laptop. One of the few (if not only) times that they made a generous offer. When I got back stateside, I bought a different laptop, but I left the British laptop with family in New York City so I always had a spare laptop to use when I visited. I have a problem with the slightly different keyboard. It's so close to normal, but a few characters scrambled about. So it becomes problematic when I'm buzzed, especially early in the morning, when I'm used to just taking a brain dump and unloading a few pages of unfiltered thoughts onto the page. It's like trying to type on LSD. All the keys are there in theory, but the stuff on the keys is every-so slightly out of sync.

Where's the fucking 'quotation' button? And why is it above the number 2? Why is the Queen trying to fuck with my head like that?

I missed New York City, but I dread the holidays. It took me many years to figure out I was fighting a losing battle against seasonal depression. I guess shrinks never really came up with that term until a decade ago. Maybe more. I think part of what they say is utter bullshit... and just a ploy to shill pills for Big Pharma. I have a theory that there's really only a handful of true diseases and afflictions out there and that 90% of the rest is just bullshit fugazzi ailments that Big Pharma concocted so they can move new pills.

But it's hard to argue against seasonal depression. If you have a crazy family like mine, it's definitely enough to cause severe melancholy, especially when you're forced to interact with them at family meals and gatherings. I never do things that I don't want to do. That's been the key to happiness in life... trying to minimize things you don't like doing. But family shit is something you can never get out of, so it's often one of the few things I hate doing that I actually do. Then again, I decided to cut my losses by skipping Turkey Day and staying in California for that holiday, so I only have to endure a very long week during Christmas.

But when I was a teenager, I dreaded Thanksgiving up through Valentine's Day. Roughly 11-12 weeks. Three month long malaise. Most of it had to do with forced interaction with relatives who hate my guts. The rest of it had to do with enduring January (truly a shitty month weatherwise) and then two weeks of inadequacy leading up to Valentine's Day. If I didn't have a girlfriend at the time, I was made to feel inferior because I didn't have someone special. And if I did have someone, I was freaking out because I was going to come up short in the gift department.

I have a nagging hang up that I give people terrible presents. So I overcompensate and I give something totally outrageous (which sets me up to fail in the future because I have to outdo myself), or I try to get overly creative and get something quirky that ends up failing. On the flip side, I'm easy to buy gifts for. Get me a book. I'll read it at least once. Maybe twice. Every word. And if it's a boring book, I'll feel compelled to finish reading it if I give up initially. Regardless, any book given to me is an automatic homerun because I devour books at an alarming clip. I wish more people read books because it would be easier to give those as gifts.

That's why for a while I only gave people lottery tickets. Which is weird, because I feel that the lottery is totally rigged and one of the most degenerate behaviors (besides over-consumption) that citizens engage in with the blessing of the government. But it's the point that counts. A dollar and a dream. That's the motto. I'm gifting people dreams.

To combat this so-called seasonal depression, I devised ways to break out of it. Mostly trips to warmer climates in December and/or January. That's why my brother and I flew out to Las Vegas the second weekend of December. We wanted to gamble on football, but I always wanted to get out of the City for a long weekend after a stressful Turkey Day. I also tried to schedule a trip somewhere in January. For a while I was flying down to Florida to visit my bud Jerry. When I got a job in the poker biz, I welcomed assignments in January that took me elsewhere like the Caribbean or Australia, where it was in the middle of summer.

These days if I'm not traveling in January, I set aside a few weeks to work on a new project. That seems to keep my mind focused on positive things. But the bottom line is that I figured out how to handle seasonal depression. But I still have to deal with a couple rough patches.

I moved to Los Angeles several years ago because I hated living in Las Vegas and I didn't want to end up a cokehead degen gambler. I pretty much hate the concept LA, but I fucking love fading seasonal depression because its amazing weather in January. If I'm not traveling, I'm relishing the fact that the rest of the country is miserable and it's sunny outside. My college friend Chicago Bob fled Illinois and moved to SoCal a few years ago. He used to be thrilled to death to wear shorts in January and not have to shovel snow, which he'd be doing had he still lived in Chicago.

Yes, the weather in LA is amazing. But that's about all I dig about the city. Heck, I was wearing shorts the day before I flew to NYC because it was 80+ degrees. Felt weird to be sitting in my living room and staring at a Christmas tree while I was in shorts. I'll never get over that weird feeling of Christmas in LA. In a town that fabricates everything, they still have yet to figure out how to concoct a fake Christmas.

It was warm in NYC over the weekend, but that was just a nice little bonus gift from Mother Nature before the frigid temperatures return. I missed being super cold and having that harsh air hit my face the moment I exit a bar. It's a weird sensation, but it's something that I associate the holidays in NYC with... drinking in bars with high school or college buddies, then walking outside and getting smacked with a dose of frigid air. You could see the dense vapors from your whiskey or vodka breath before it disappears into the darkness of night.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Late Lament

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be freelancers.

I sent that as a text to my pal Shamus, an English professor and fellow freelancer. He understands the vexatious financial ebbs and flows of being a writer for hire. It's important to love what you do, but no one likes it when you don't get paid on time. It's ironic that writers are anchored to deadlines, yet the mega-media corporations they write for often have zero regard for paying their creatives in a timely manner. If they're late, there's zero recourse.

Hypothetically, in Norman Rockwell's Americana, the average citizen supposedly works for 11 months with 1 month off. Using that formula, I tried to game the system. I figured out how to squeeze 11 months of (freelance) work inside 8 months so I can get four months off to travel and write on my own projects. I'm struggling to maintain that balance, but I'm seeking a life of enjoyment without being a slave to it. My rough sketch is this: 5 months on (Feb-March-April-May-June), 2 months off (July-Aug), 3 months on (Sept-Oct-Nov), 2 months off (Dec-Jan). But those 8 months "on" are hectic, but it's worth the sacrifice. I'm fortunate that Nicky works on a TV show and she has time off when it's not in production, so some of our time off coincides with each other.

The key to freelancing is to do enough of it and spread out evenly so a steady flow of income is coming in. Steady gigs are essential, even if they're small because any consistent checks are a godsend during the lean months. I have a few stretches every year when there's limited funds coming in, so things get ugly whenever there's any delayed payments from other clients, especially with bigger projects.

I'm used to getting paid several months after I finish something. Heck, I went a decade writing without getting paid. That was miserable and I had to hump shitty jobs to keep a roof over my head and the Man off my back. But it often defies logic to do work (instantly published) with a deferred payment, but that's the system that's in place originally created in the print media paradigm.

Delayed payments are good because it forces you to stay within your budget because you constantly have a strained cash flow. You have "promises" of money coming in, but you cannot 100% guarantee to get paid, so you really have to live with what you got. If you get stiffed, then you have to hire a thug (aka lawyer) to get it back.

Most of the time you gamble as a freelancer, which you can afford to do with reliable and established clients. I know XYZ will pay me eventually, so I can spend this money now.

Sometimes it's a coinflip on whether you get paid on time. Chasing down outstanding clients is almost a full-time job. You have to be firm, but most of the time I feel less like a creative person and more like a bill collector. If you let them string you along, then you set precedent and you'll never be paid on time. If you bitch and moan too much, they won't hire you back. I had a few instances when I was threatened and essentially blackmailed for wanting to be paid. I don't write for those fuckers anymore.

In an era when it's getting harder and harder to get compensation for content creation, it's increasingly more difficult to get paid on time. It's easy to write, compared to the painful process trying to get paid. I rarely stress out about what I'm going to write, but I can't sleep when I'm wondering when the hell the money is coming in. I would never blow a deadline by 90 or 120 days, but you'd be surprised how long it takes to get paid in some instances.

Corporations and bill collectors don't give a rat's ass about what's owed to you. All they care about is what you owe them.

Most freelancers my age are paycheck-to-paycheck kind of people with car loans, credit card bills, and alimony/child support. I'm lucky because I don't own a car or have ex-wives/kids to support. But my friends with that burden have a hellacious life. No wonder writers are often heavy drinkers. Sweet liquor eases the pain of not getting paid.

Sure, I could use a credit card as a temporary loanshark until I get paid, but I'm already using credit to cover business related travel and expenses. If I don't pay that at the end of the month, then I incur interest. It might take several months to get paid, so many freelancers get screwed by credit card companies charging them juice. Good luck convincing any media outlet (especially if they are on the verge of extinction, or struggling to stay relevant in an over-saturated market) to pay for all your incured expenses, let alone credit card interest. So if you're like me and don't want the big banks to get free cash due to the bizarre "work now, get paid later" freelancer payment system, then you have to pay expenses out of pocket. In full. I want to stick it to the banks, but that kills my cash flow. Of course if I got paid on time, this would not be a problem.

One of the worst experience I had encountered happened while covering an event in London. I paid for the trip out of pocket with the intentions of acquiring several stories and selling them to multiple outlets. But that trip was a disaster and I had lost money on that gig due to ridiculous escalating expenses (hotels and shitty exchange rate of the British Pound at the peak of the financial crisis). It didn't help that I got paid significantly less from one client (they wanted more work for less pay), another client sold their site overnight (and the new corporate overlord didn't want to retain services), and another magazine rejected my work because I got undercut by a sleazy cut-throat hack who stole my column because she said she'd do it for 1/3 of my rate. Shit happens. That's the risk you take working for yourself. At least I got to take a side trip to Amsterdam with my girlfriend, which salvaged the journey.

Most of the time, expenses come out of the freelancer's pocket, so it's sort of an investment or necessary cost of doing business. It takes money to make money, right? If you must travel to get the story, you better earn back enough to cover expenses and make it worth your time. That's the biggest problem facing journalists today... there's not enough outlets willing to pay expenses for them to get a detailed story, whether it's the front lines of a civil war in Western Africa or an extensive investigation into the financial crisis.

I dunno about you, but I lose all ambition to sit down and crank out new freelance work when I'm not paid on time. It's difficult to motivate yourself when you haven't been paid. As a freelancer, you can never have a bad day at work because you have to be "on" all the time. In the 9-5 world,you can slack off and still get paid. You can never get away with that in the freelance realm. Then again, in the 9-5 world, it would be absurd to work more than a pay cycle or two without getting paid. I've had some clients in which I worked for free for almost a year before finally getting compensated. Either I had blind faith, or I was a fucking moron for doing that. That's why prompt payment is the supreme motivator.

It's not worth the aggravation to deal with perpetually late clients, yet I still lose sleep over it. Given the choice of writing for pay, or writing for myself, I've been consistently picking myself the last two years. So I better finish off Fried Peaches and get that new novel out to generate another revenue stream because it's been a pain in the ass relying on multiple corporations to pay me on time.

I burned out on poker and Vegas several years ago, because I was sick of the rampant unprofessionalism and tired of chasing down delinquent clients. The scumbag, lying asstards at Higher Roller Magazine still owe me several grand for content I generated in 2006-07! I'll never see that money. If you count of all the money that immoral "clients" like High Roller and other deplorable stiffed me on, that number would be somewhere between a WSOP Main Event buy-in and a new Toyota Corolla. Closer to the Corolla.

Imagine the frustration and anger seething through my veins knowing that I generated enough original content to buy a car... but there's no fucking car.

Tough shit. That's life. Lawless and ruthless. Re-read the opening line: Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be freelancers.

Don't get me started about how much bookies owe me. Of course, I gotta keep my yapper shut about that bad beat because I don't want to piss off the wiseguys and wake up next to a severed horse's head.

So, it's the end of the year and I've been banging my head against the wall trying to get paid from multiple clients. They will all pay eventually (with the exception of one outfit which I have no fucking clue is up with those shady mofos), but it would have been nice to get paid before Christmas.We'll see. Eight days away.

I'm not going to be exploited today. Fuck that. I'm gonna go work on Fried Peaches edits and write about how horrible it is to be a Jets fan.

Support independent writers and buy a book today.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dive Bar Sanctuary

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Sanctuary. That's the best way to describe a comforting dive bar.

I'm not talking about a local neighborhood bar, like Cheers, in which everyone knows your name. I like the kind of dive bar in which no one knows my name and I can walk in off the street and disappear for a few hours, as the bar provides a sanctuary for me and my thoughts.

Then again, I walked into a New Orleans dive bar with AlCantHang, and the barkeep shrieked, "Al!" as soon as she saw him.

I spent my fair share of time in dive bars all across America. Dive bars are my favorite kind of bars. I never liked those cool, hip bars. In college, everyone went to the same fucking meat-market bar on Thursday nights, but I opted for a quieter and more laid back dive. That was twenty years ago, when I was in peak drinking shape and could polish off a 24-pack of Schaefer in a few hours. Nowadays, it would take me a week to drink that much beer.

I'm a dive bar guy. I'm now in my 40s and I don't wait in lines with velvet ropes in order to get a drink. Worst thing I hated about Las Vegas. The fucking club scene. It might have been more my speed in my early 20s if I was jacked up on ecstasy, but I don't imbibe much these days, so when I do choose to get liquored up the last thing I'm going to do is wait in line to get in the bar, then wait another fifteen minutes at the bar to get a drink. Or worse, they fall prey to the biggest sucker bet in Vegas outside of blackjack insurance... bottle service... in which schmucks pay an redonkulously overcharged price for a bottle of vodka, just so they can feel like they're somebody. Yeah, you're somebody all right... a fucking moronic mook who is pathetically trying to buy coolness, so they're willing to dish out mega bucks on inflated liquor prices. Hey, but that's why club owners in Vegas are rolling in dough. There's no shortage of brainwashed, desperate wannabes in search of "cool." Unfortunately the only validation they get is a fat SUCKER label stamped on their forehead and a juicy credit card bill.

I hate clubs because of all the anxiety involved. The guy with the clipboard is a judgmental asswipe. The waitresses are snooty. The bouncers are itching to pound someone's head in. Clubs and hip bars are crowded with annoying vapid wankers and chicks more interested in posting selfies than carrying on a semi-legitimate conversation. Plus the DJ is too cool for your tastes and thinks he's Skillrex.

But let's face it... I'm at the right age in which it is socially acceptable to be drinking in old man's bars. It's a little pathetic if I'm hopelessly trying to get into swanky clubs with ropes, or worse, being that middle-aged guy trying to bribe a thick-necked bouncer in hopes he'll let me cut the line for a Benjamin.

I had a bartending stint at an old man's bar. Didn't work there very long. Tips were terrible. Stories were better than average. But these were grizzled alkies with perpetually bloodshot eyes that waited outside for the bar to open every morning. The atmosphere in old man bars was sullen and pathetic. Petty arguments about sports and politics that went no where. But that's what those guys wanted. They were drowning in their own melancholy and afflicted with the disease. They were all waiting to die, so all they wanted was to nurse their drinks and be shielded from the slings and arrows of the outside world. The same world that was happy to keep those sad fuckers hidden away from productive members of society.

Don't get an old man's bar confused with a dive bar. Sometimes they are one in the same. In most urban settings, the old guys drink there during the day and then stagger off when happy hour ends, when the bar becomes a haven for average working folks looking for a low key place to drink. But the problem with some dive bars is that they often get filled hipsters looking to be hip, or party people purposefully slumming. Old guys have a very low tolerance for hipsters. Then again, so does everyone.

A good dive bar attracts the wide spectrum of people, so on any given night you'll have that silent old drunk slumped in the corner, and a couple of sorority chicks doing shots, a poet trying to read a book, banksters in pinstripes (rushing off to the john to do rails), a potential Rhodes scholar or the junkie with the leather jacket that played in that so-called legendary punk band.

A good dive bar is the kind of place you can do blow in the bathroom and its totally cool. An awesome dive bar will let you do it on the bar. My favorite dives are the places where you can fire up a joint in the alley, so long as you invite the bartender.

The bartender at a good dive bar is sort of a cross between a rock star and a prison guard. They are grossly outnumbers by the inmates, but they hold the extreme authority so you never want to fuck with a bartender otherwise you'll never get a drink. The most power I ever felt as an adult happened when I was tending bar and I got to shun a potential customer by making them wait forever before I took their order. It's even a bigger fuck you if there's three people in the bar.

We spent the majority of last weekend in the same dive bar on Toulouse Street in the French Quarter. AlCantHang picked it out. It was in his DNA. It was nestled next to something called The Dungeon, which is exactly what you think it is. Cross between an S&M club and the type of bar that blasts heavy metal so loud that your ears will bleed after five minutes.

At the dive, we befriended one of the locals that we dubbed Will the Thrill. I couldn't tell if he was a pool hustler who was having an off night, or just an average player who thought he was a hustler. One thing is for certain, you never want to play pool against a guy who brought his own stick. A serious hustler doesn't want anyone to know they're good so they play with house sticks, which Will the Thrill was doing.

At one point he tapped me as his partner to play a match against two locals. One kid looked like a meth dealer and the other looked like he lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They all knew each other, which made me a little leery. I spotted myself as the sucker. But Will the Thrill wanted to use me as bait. I was clearly off my game. I haven't played bar pool in a very long time. For one, I never hang out in bars anymore, and haven't been inside a pool hall in years. In our 20s, Senor and I used to go out and shoot pool all the time in NYC. We'd hit up the dive bar circuit in the East Village, and when he wanted to cruise for hot Korean girls, we'd migrate to midtown. NYC pool halls gave non-drinkers a chance to socialize without having to be inside a bar.

In New Orleans, I played the roll as the bad pool player perfectly. It was a performance worthy of an Oscar nod. I didn't even have to try to be bad. I was bad. I think they call that method acting, right?

The dive bar had a pool table with two crooked sticks and a piece of chalk on its last licks. The worn table only cost 50 cents which was a throw back to my college days. Shit there was one hipster bar in San Francisco where pool cost $2 a game, so you better win your games otherwise it was going to be an expensive night out.

But I wasn't that bad all weekend. At one point Iggy and I held the table for over ninety minutes before we lost to Otis and his brother in a rematch game. Then again, we weren't really paying attention much so the games dragged on and on. It was one of those types of games when no one was shooting for a few minutes and you had to walk across the bar and say, "I think you're up.... but I forget if we're low or high."

No wonder Will the Thrill wanted to use one of us as bait to hustle the other locals.

Besides a pool table, the most important element to any bar is the jukebox. The pool table lures in the degenerate gamblers, but the jukebox is how you woo women. Well, that and some roofies and tequila.

At one point, an incredulous Iggy lectured the tandem of AlCantHang and Bad Blood on their affinity for heavy metal. I had a heavy metal phase when I was a kid, but these days it's nowhere close to my favorite genre. I could tolerate a few songs, especially because I dug the one Tool song that they played, but the bartender turned it down a few notches. You could also sense the few other customers in the bar weren't keen on the thrashing. Iggy lost his cool after one song.

"What up with this crap?" snarled Iggy. "If you want to listen to death metal, go next door!"

The Dungeon next door had a jukebox filled with heavy metal. When I walked in the previous night with Al and Dave, I was bombarded with Iron Maiden. It felt like 7th grade all over again. The Dungeon's jukebox also had Steel Panther, a heavy metal cover band that played weekly gigs in Vegas and LA. They had an original tune called Asian Hooker. Al and Dave put it on, but we had to wait an hour before their songs came up in the queue. By then I was nearly deaf. After seeing almost a thousand loud concerts since I was a teenager, my hearing is not the best anymore. After the Dungeon, I felt like I had blown out my ear drums.

Back at the dive bar, while Iggy was lecturing Al and Bad Blood, I jokingly rallied the troops and told everyone to throw a few bucks into the Jukebox to make sure we didn't have to suffer another wave of heavy metal from the headbangers in the bar. But I offered up my own expertise on selecting the proper Jukebox songs.

"You're essentially taking on the roll as DJ for a few minutes, which means you have a responsibility to entertain the bar, keep the ladies swaying, but most importantly, you have to keep the bartender happy. You can't shove your music down people's throats. In most bars, the bartender has the volume controls. In some bars, the bartender has supreme veto power. Nothing sucks more than dumping a few bucks into a jukebox and then getting cockblocked because the bartender has an issue with whatever song you picked."

If you pay for three songs (it was three songs for a buck), the rule I adhere to is this: one for the bar, one for you, and one deep cut to make the bar go "Wow! Haven't heard this in a while!" The softball pick is the easiest. The one for you is touchy because you want to pick something that you love, but you also want something that you think everyone else will dig. And the deep cut is problematic if the jukebox has a limited selection. But if you can find the right combination, then there's nothing like  jubilant bar patrons singing along to something you put on. I even put on some Sublime to keep my brother interested.

The dive bar's jukebox was filled with standard classic rock, lots of grunge, and more heavy metal than the average bar should have. They also had some bizarre and weird stuff like industrial music from Germany and the Hinterlands. But it lacked contemporary music (I don't think I saw anything older than Pearl Jam) and didn't have anything that the ladies would love like Motown, disco, and other dance-inducing songs.

Old man bars are rarely happy, but dive bars are different. Depends on the ebbs and flows of the clientele and what gets played on the jukebox. A cozy dive might emit good vibes, but it's really a place to hide out for a few hours.

Most bars are depressing because of its clientele or what they are trying to achieve.You can drink at home and its much cheaper. You can drink on the street if you do not have a home, which is also cheaper than a bar. But you go to a bar to be social, but if you go to an old man's bar or a dive bar, you are passive-aggressively looking to be social. We're all lonely. Some of us life-long addicts would rather succumb to addiction in the privacy of your own home, which is why there's millions of Americans every night hopped up on pills and getting sloshed on their couches. For the adventurous lonely souls, dive bars gives them a chance to potentially interact with other lonely souls, who want to hide out but not banish themselves into complete seclusion.

Some bars are technicolor. Most dive bars are black and white. Like stepping back into an old photograph leaping back into the past. Bending time. Sometimes its sepia. Sometimes its blue. Or green-tinged. A proper dive bar has no proper distinction. Perspective is "as is" while living precisely in the moment.

Dive bars are supposed to be a place where kindred spirits gather. Sort of the opposite of a family gathering. Because family holidays have a certain amount of animosity and hatred involved. You usually do not go to places where you're not wanted. You tend to avoid people who hate your guts. Which is why high school is so painful and why holiday gatherings are so stressful because you're forced to interact with people who hate your guts and they do a bad job trying to shine it on for the holidays.

Balance is the key. If a dive becomes too popular then it gets gentrified with hipsters and then it loses its laid back appeal. If it gets too dismal and dark, then it becomes an utter shit hole of misery. The entire point of a dive bar is to find momentary solace from the rigors of life and escape the other shit holes you're stuck in whether its home, work, or school. You don't trade one shit hole for another. You just want a place where you can be yourself and truly relax.

As I started drinking less and less (and more and more at home), I discovered that I missed out on dive bars, which were an oasis from the barren grind of everyday life. Amsterdam had a heady alternative with hash bars and coffeeshops, which certainly appealed to me much more than a regular bar. San Francisco had a few dives in my hood in LoPac, but it was always crowded with hipsters slumming it.

But in New Orleans, Al found the right dive. Which is why we spend more time there than any other place. It was centrally located. A few blocks from where we were all staying. It had a pizza join half a block away and a Lucky Dog cart in front. It was right off Bourbon Street so we could see the lewd behavior of shitfaced tourists like the one 20-something guy who was fingering a cougar right in front of the bar, or the barbacks from a popular bar across the street who wandered over to roll joints in front of the dive bar.

The dive even had bathrooms behind hidden bookcases, so if you went in for the first time, you'd have no idea where you should do your business. Even those secret doors did not have locks, which provided some sense of security of you were dropping a deuce or trying to do a few lines.
The only thing the dive did not have was its own breathalyzer. Luckily one was located across the street inside the Tropical Isle. I somehow got the task of setting the lines of our friends BAC. It was not an exact science. I'd quiz them on what they had drank that day, but more importantly, what did they consume in the previous hour. It was a simple over/under. You'd be shocked to see what some of the crew blew. AlCantHang's BAC was so high one time I had no idea how he was standing, let alone breathing. Then again, that's why he's AlCantHang.

A perfect dive bar never changes. It's a sanctuary for your battered soul.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Return to the Big Easy

By Pauly
New Orleans, LA

Feels weird to be back. But a good weird.

I had not been back to New Orleans since Katrina. Has it really been 10 years since I last roamed the streets of NOLA? I think Jazzfest 2003 was the last time I partied here.

For most of my 20s, New Orleans was my favorite city in America before it was overtaken by Las Vegas. But I've been burnt out on Vegas for a few years now, and San Francisco or Denver have been vying for my favorite city. But walking through New Orleans brought back a flood of memories.

I got hooked on New Orleans during my first visit in college, back when the drinking age was actually 18 and I didn't need a fake ID to get sloshed in bars for Mardi Gras. New Orleans was a quick 6-hour trip from Atlanta. Actually it is seven hours, but you get an extra hour due to the time change. I don't know how many times we made the sojourn.

When you're a young aspiring writer, you think about what will be your first attempt at writing the Great American Novel. For a few years, I thought I was going to write a manuscript about heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras during my senior year in college. Seven of my friends chipped in and we rented an RV. Drove it from Atlanta to New Orleans, and then back to Atlanta with a sidetrip to Biloxi, MS for a little blackjack and poker. Much like the characters in Easy Rider, we were headed to New Orleans but really searching for a short cut to the American Dream.

The ride down was a little hectic. We had dropped liquid sunshine and a friend of a friend invited himself along at the last second. We only let him tag along because he offered to drive half of the way to NOLA. He drove fast, very fast, especially for an RV. My bud Dutch, who was in the middle of his Jim Morrison phase, was concerned about our lead-foot driver.

A RV blazing down an interstate in the deep south, filled with frat boys, weed, acid, and who knows what, was definite probable cause.

Dutch was concerned and rightfully so. We had a few extra doses on us and we made a pact that if we happened to get pulled over, then we'd take one for the team and eat the remainder of the doses, which were on sugarcubes.

At one point somewhere in Southern Alabama, we noticed flashing red and blue lights. Then the RV abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. Dutch freaked out. He thought we were about to get pinched. "We gotta do it," he said with his hands shaking as he pulled out the last of the sugarcubes. I ate two, which brought my intake to three since we had left Atlanta a few hours earlier.

It turned out that our driver had to take a leak, so he pulled over the side of the road to relieve himself. The flashing lights? Not for us. We ate the extra cubes for no reason other than sheer paranoia. We were tripping balls the rest of the ride to New Orleans. We must;e got in around 2am or 3am. I wandered around the French Quarter until sunrise before I was finally somewhat right. We ended up parking the RV in front of a church for the duration of Mardi Gras. I barely slept. Drank my weight in booze. And somehow won enough money in Biloxi to pay for the trip.

But that was almost 20 years ago. Memories run deep.

I always wanted to visit New Orleans with AlCantHang. For some reason, we've known each other for almost a decade but we never pulled off a trip.... until now. Life and work had gotten into the way and we could never find the proper time. Luckily, Otis gave us a great excuse to fulfill one of those bucket list items (17. Go to New Orleans with AlCantHang.).

Al found us a quaint local's house to rent. It's in the heart of the Quarter and hidden so much so that it's easy to miss. Feel kind of cool not being in a hotel. No intrusive maids. No industrial soap smell. We can pretend to be locals. There's a corner bar on the corner, a few steps away. One of the oldest in New Orleans, one of the oldest in America. I have not drank much the last few months, but I have a feeling I'll make up for all that missed time over the next few days. At least rum is in my wheelhouse. I'm ready for a hurricane of Hurricanes.

But more importantly, I have all those memories and all those ghosts to keep me company. Anything that can jog and jilt my memory is a good thing. Especially considering how fried my brain was during previous trips. I wish I could write more, but it's time to lose time.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

10,000 Monkey Hours

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I don't buy the 10,000 Hours theory.

Malcom Gladwell came up with that number to quantify how long it will take someone to achieve mastery level of a specific activity, like playing the violin. I've watched 20,000 hours of pro football and I'll never figure it out. Just when I think I have a grasp on it... something happens.

Insert "moving goal posts" cliche here ____.

But the spirit of 10,000 Hours is something I can get behind. It's all about dedicating yourself to something and having the fortitude to follow through. Even if it's a monkey banging away at a laptop.

I'm that monkey.

I banged on a half a dozen laptops in the last decade and even persuaded enough people who would pay me to do something I was doing for free anyway. It's been a great hustle... content creation... while it lasted.

I doubt I can get paid as a writer twenty years from now, let alone two years from now, so I need a new racket. I'm developing a bot that can mimic my writing style and I'll just let that bot run amok in the upcoming years when I finally re-boot Tao of Poker. But in the meantime, it's time to lock myself in my office and rededicate myself to another pursuit. What can I accomplish by blocking out 10,000 hours?

Everyone has ideas but very few actually follow through. Hence, why New Year's Resolutions are bullshit. It's part of that quote attributed to Woody Allen about "90% of success is showing up." It's easy to talk shit and say you're going to do something. But you really can separate the movers and shakers from the shit talkers by seeing who actually follows through on their game plan.

Stephen King once said that if you write one page a day, you will have a novel by the end of the year. It was that simple. One page a day. One page fits into schedules for everyone. Students. Suits. Moms. Dads. Prisoners. Spinsters. Whatever. One page a day is not difficult, but it's the discipline and inability to follow through is what prevents more people from writing more novels.

I'm like Stephen King though because I could never spread out a novel over 365 days. It would drive me insane. That's why NaNoWriMo is more my speed. Only takes a month. Oh and for the record, I did not do any cocaine or Adderall during the completion of Fried Peaches. I was kicking it old school. Just toking a little medicinal weed. Since I wrote most of it early in the morning, I actually smoked very little. Just a quick wake-n-bake and I was off running.

There was a huge period of time in King's career when he was hopelessly addicted to cocaine and he'd write furiously while jacked up to the tits on blow and he'd only stop typing to do another line, or to shove cotton into his nose to stop the bleeding so his typewriter wouldn't get flooded by a bloody nasal drip, due to the horrendous damage he had done to his destroyed nasal cavities.

King even claimed that he had no memory of writing complete novels, like Cujo, because he was so high and fried to the tits.

Anyway, sorry for that tangent.... but if you listen to King and write one page every day, then by Halloween you will have a 300-page novel. You can spend the last two months of the year re-writing and editing, and within a full calendar year you will have produced a legit 300-word novel. And not one of those rushed, over-wordy NaNoWriMo novellas. Sure, I wrote a bunch of those 50K adjective-heavy manuscripts, but I have a short-attention span and don't think I could have enough discipline to write one page every day. Once I get an idea, I want to run with it as fast as possible before self-doubt catches up to me. It's a sprint to the finish line. Luckily, I was almost done with Fried Peaches when I finally got bum-rushed by doubt.

There's several major industries of the "self-help" variety that profit off of laziness. Just take a peek at the billion dollar weight loss industry, yet everyone is drastically overweight in America.

Everyone might have sincere intentions on shedding a few pounds, but how many people own gym memberships and actually go? It's a great hustle. Even one of the most popular TV shows is about people competing on a game show to see who loses the most weight. That's something that 1950s sci-fi writers could only dream up as the most absurd bit of entertainment, yet  a half a century later, The Biggest Loser is one of the top TV shows in America.

Weight loss is a coin flip. You're either going to do it, or not. Simple as that. Any diet will work if you stick to it. So any of those diets can actually claim they work... because it will, so long as you follow through. All of these fancy work out routines and diets are ways for slick hustlers to rake in millions of lazy people looking for shortcuts.

Same goes for religion and spiritual direction. Most of our consumer-crazed society has abandoned organized religion, which has left a huge gap in the spirituality department. People are left to find that out for themselves, but that makes them prey to a vast industry of self-help gurus. There's thousands and thousands of videos and books, yet everyone is still fucked up.

I just look around and think... sweet Jesus... we're totally fucked. Western civilization is being held together by duct tape and credit cards.

If you're someone on a true spiritual mission, you'll eventually find something... you'll find the right road, or the right path to what you think is your spiritual calling. In order to reach that destination, you really have to find our who you really are. It's that "know thyself" mantra.

The ones that can confront the truth, are the truly enlightened ones. But everyone who gets lost in the shuffle constantly trying to "find themselves" yet come up short? Well, they're full of shit because they fail to confront their true reality, so it's no wonder they'll never find what they're looking for because they refuse to acknowledge their own truth.

If you're blind to your own reflection, you're totally fucked and you'll live the rest of your life spiritually bankrupt.

I keep going back and forth deciding if I want to be one of those snake oil salesmen who profits off of the failures of others. It's good money to crank out one of those self-help books for wanna-be writers  that recycles basic (and so blatantly obvious) writing tips and fluffed up by witty quotes from philosophers. I'd feel guilty trying to sell a book that is the equivalent of feeding someone a cold buffet of fluff and tripe, but don't forget the yummy omelet station!

But it's all bullshit.

Because nothing I can tell people will help them if they are not going to put in the time. I also thought about writing a self-help book for wanna-be writers that was 20 chapters, but the title of each chapter is "WRITE EVERY DAY."
Etc, etc, etc. And if someone follows my advice and finally breaks through as a writer, then viola! It works. Who would have thought that I came up with a revolutionary method! So simple that any monkey with a laptop can do it.

I should release Pauly's Half-Baked 420 Writing Tips next October, just before NaNoWriMo so I can take advantage of all of those ambitious novelists. The number of participants is staggering. And then put it on sale around New Years, so people will buy it as a part of a resolution to write a book. Stephen King said it wasn't hard. Just write one page a day.

Seriously, if you put in time and write every day, then you won't need any self-help book. Sure, read On Writing by Stephen King, but that's all you really need and it's not really a self-help book as much as a guide.

The basic winning formula is just putting in the time, following through, traveling, and trying to life as much life as you can.

Success-driven people will forge on ahead no matter what obstacles are in their way. Doesn't matter if it's an Olympic bobsledder or a musician or an aspiring screenwriter. But there's tons of money out there by people with disposable income who are seeking shortcuts.

"Brain dead and made of money, no future at all" is a lyric from one of my favorite songs. Reminds me of all of the sheep who buy self-help books. But I have serious reservations about fleecing angleshooters and lazy fuckers who never saw a shortcut they didn't like. I dunno how all of these so-called religious leaders can live with themselves. I guess when you spend every day trying to brainwash people, it's pretty easy to get brainwashed yourself?

It's easier to con greedy people because their judgement is blinded by their own greed. It's why politicians easily manipulate the populous because there's no shortage of angry citizens who find comfort in blaming someone else for their problems. Today's politicians don't offer up solutions, they help point fingers.

If there's one thing I learned the most from working in the gambling industry for almost a decade, it's that I see so many people, year after year, who think they're hustlers yet they get into something only to find out that they got hustled. Best example are people who read HOW TO BEAT BLACKJACK books, then they go to Vegas and get cleaned out.

Hustle the hustlers.

That's how Tommy Vu made millions with his real estate infomercials in the 1980s. You saw this eclectic Asian guy on a yacht surrounded by beautiful women and thought "I can attain the same success and all I have to do is call this toll-free number and find out how!"

Don't get hustled. Just put your head down and get the job done.

Friday, November 22, 2013

157 Days and 3 Magic Bullets

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"Your pope got shot."

I was shagging fly balls in the outfield of Seton Park, fifteen minutes before baseball practice began. It was a sunny day in May. One of my teammates jumped out his mom's car and sprinted toward the dugout. That's when he called out to me.

"Your pope got shot!"

News of the John Paul II's assassination attempt is a memory that still stands out. I was the only Catholic on a team of mostly Jewish kids. They attended the public school across the street and I went to the tiny Catholic school a few blocks from my apartment.

John Paul I was the pope for a month before he died. Suspiciously. The new pope wanted to honor his predecessor so he took on John Paul II. He was a pope for a short stint before someone took a crack at him. His assassin was a bad shot and John Paul II survived.

In a short period of time during my childhood, spanning 157 days or roughly five months from December 8, 1980 to 13 May, 1981, three of the most powerful men in the world were targeted for assassination. In that brief span... the pope, the President, and John Lennon were all shot. Two survived. The Beatle died.

Lennon was gunned down in front of his apartment building, 18 subway stops away, or roughly 160 blocks from where I grew up. I don't have a solid memory of that incident other than waking up to go to school on a Tuesday morning and watching the news of Lennon's death on a tiny black and white TV that hung over the dining room table. My mother usually watched Good Morning, America while we got ready for school. That morning, it was full-blown coverage of John Lennon's death.

I was at Judo practice when John Hinkley took a shot at Ronald Reagan. I got home and my father was sitting on the couch with my brother and they were watching the news footage.

"Someone tried to kill the President," said my father."He's in surgery. Sloppy hit  job. Shooter was a total amatuer. A pro would have taken him out with one clean shot."

Five weeks later, someone tried to pick off the Pope. As an eight-year old kid, I got a general sense that powerful and highly-famous men were high-profile targets. Then again, I grew up in NYC in the late 70s and survived the paranoia of the Summer of Sam and the darkness of a decaying city. For that entire summer, whenever I heard sirens, I really thought that meant the cops were chasing Son of Sam serial killer. To me, Gotham was not a fictitious city in Batman comics, rather Gotham was a term that described the ugliness of the crime-ridden 70s, where the lines of good and evil were blurred so badly that you had no idea how to differentiate moral from immoral. The mafia and local wise guys were supposed to be bad, but they kept our neighborhood safe. Cops were supposed to protect the citizens, but the local cops were overwhelmed by soaring crimes and the streets of the Bronx were flooded with drugs (mostly heroin courtesy of Frank Lucas, see American Gangster for more clarification). The city was ravished by scandals in the police department, that was infested with crooked and corrupt, so you really did not know who to trust.

Thirty years later, we live in a society in which you don't need brute violence to put forth an agenda. You no longer need a bullet to take a man down. I have witnessed plenty of character assassination attempts almost on a daily basis. Sports. Politics. Hollywood. Wall Street. It's across the board. Everyone has vices, weaknesses and life leaks. But if you can nail someone in the middle of a nefarious act (possession of drugs, child pronorgprahy, or hookers... lots of hookers), then that's enough to sway public opinion. Everyone loves the diversion of a good scandal. Like a car wreck on the freeway, you're horrified, yet cannot look away.

Whether its drugs, sex, or old-school graft... those weaknesses are enough to bring down the most powerful men in the world. An embarassing scandal, I should add, a highly-publicized scandal is enough to remove a man (or woman) from power. The best example is Slick Willy and Monica Lewinsky. Instead of whacking Bill Clinton, those powers that be let him squirm. The jizz on the blue dress was the smoking gun.

Another example, is what happened to the former governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer. He rose to power as a hard-nosed District Attorney in NYC who had the balls to take on the Gambino crime family. As Attorney General, he went after Big Biz, both in the insurance industry and the biggest banks on Wall Street. Had this been the old days, Spitzer woulda got whacked. But in the modern era, he was taken down by his weakness for high-end hookers and a well-timed leak of his vices to the press. Spitzer pissed off the mob, yet they didn't exact revenge. Their power was waning, and it would have been too obvious. My theory is that one of those banksters dropped on a dime on Spitzer. He was about to poke his nose into the derivatives market at the pinnacle of the financial collapse of 2007-08, but he got ran out of office before he could go down that rabbit hole.

Julius Ceasar was knifed to death by his peers. They had blood on their hands. The banksters didn't need a gun to take down Spitzer, the media became the bullet that took him out. Their hands are clean and no one is asking questions about who exactly dropped a dime on him. Spitzer resigned and he became the punchline to numerous jokes on the late night talk show circuit. Mission accomplished without firing a gun.


I've been wasting my morning watching real-time live footage of CBS's coverage of the JFK assassination 50 years ago to this day. As someone who worked in media, I'm curious to see how this information was released to the public. It was an era in which you only had three networks, radio, and newspapers to acquire info on current events. Those whom had TVs were glued to them for the days following the shooting in Dallas.

I used to be obsessed with finding out who really killed the President, especially after Oliver Stone's JFK was released. I saw it in the theatres a couple of times when I was in college. Afterwards, the film got heavy airplay via VCR.

One of the earliest memories of my initial foray into "surfing" the internet for me was sifting through film forums and reading amazing theories about Blade Runner, and then losing endless hours after getting sucked into conspiracy forums that focused solely on JFK's assassination.

But now, the "who" doesn't matter to me as much as what would have happened to popular culture and music/film/literature if JFK wasn't killed and he had two full terms, perhaps followed up by RFK as the President in 1968. Would we have still gone into Vietnam? Would there have been just a sharp rise in counter culture, which was spurred on by the anti-war movement. Would have there been a summer of love? Would the Beatles and the British Invasion have made the same impact if JFK lived?

I have shifted from a JFK amatuer conspiracy theorists into someone who constantly ponders the potential effects of his assassination by shaping the rest of the decade, along with influencing art and popular culture.

 I wasn't born before JFK and RFK were killed. I listened to the Rolling Stones a lot. A lyric from Sympathy for the Devil always stuck out. It's been bothering me for over twenty years.
I shouted out, 'Who killed the Kennedys?
After all, it was you and me
According to Mick Jagger, it doesn't matter who killed JFK and his brother because we're all complicit in one way or another. The machine killed the Kennedys. We're a part of the machine. That's some heavy shit that I haven't been able to shake for several decades.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

NYC Art Pic Dump

By Pauly
New York City

I hopped off the tour and spent a couple days in NYC with family. Wandered over to the Met museum to chat with old friends including  Chuck, one of the most talented painters in America. He works at the Met and I got to talk shop with the acrylic-slinging genius.

Here are some pics I snapped....

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Another Pic Dump

By Pauly
New York City

Here are a few images from a blurry week  on the road in NYC and New England...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Cocktail of Optimism for Taylor Hicks

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The mornings, well the pre-mornings, when everything is still foggy and its still a little dark out and there's the first hint of daybreak tearing down the edges of the sky. The stillness of the early mornings present the most promising moment of the day. It's when you're full of hope and optimism. Overflowing and overjoyed about the possibilities. It's because you forgot about all of the stuff that weighs you down and all of the bad shit that was bugging you out was momentarily erased from your memory banks. Eventually reality sinks in and you quickly remember everything you wanted to forget, and that optimism is shredded into little frayed pieces of pessimism until you make the conscious decision to ignore it.

Some mornings I'm staring at a picture, a signed picture, of Taylor Hicks playing the blues harp. For a two or three week period, he was one of the most famous people in America. But fame is fleeting. The southern guy with salt-n-pepper hair had a shot at winning American Idol many moon ago when the show was the most talked-about program in the land of the free. Hicks used up the majority of his fifteen minutes of fame with Idol. It was more like fifteen days of fame. I had seen him once before at the same coffeeshop while his star was rising and rising and rising. I guess he was staying in the general vicinity and liked the food. I know I do. Greasy spoon diners are getting harder and harder to find. Maybe the comfort food helped him feel a little more at home while he was basking in the ubiquitous sunshine and helping fabricate reality by being a main ingredient for the entertainment biz machine. I wonder if he knew that that moment in the photo was "as good as it gets" before he woke up one day in some generic, sterile motel room in the middle of nowhere, wondering where his entire career went off the rails.

I looked up at the picture of Taylor Hicks and got an unhealthy dose of reality. I was filled with optimism and promise until I saw the picture and remembered how brutal this town is for creative people. It swallows up more people every day and they disappear into obscurity while a fresh new batch of dreamers step off the tarmac at LAX, or exit the freeway. The minute they arrive is the minute their dreams start dying.

The mornings are always the most ambitious before I remember all of the bad, crusty shit that can drive you nuts... if you let it. I shrug it off. Most of the time, I'm teflon and just gut it out. Yes, the world is a dark, chaotic, and meaningless place but that doesn't mean I can't have a good time. There's a certain amount of safety in know all of this means jack shit. But every once in a while, I wake up with a glimmer of hope that's quickly shot down out of the sky like a paper airplane trying to win a dogfight against an F-15.

I woke up this morning and wandered over to the coffeeshop. Along the way, I saw an old Russian lady smoke a cigarette while scooping up a pile of shit with a plastic bag from Ralph's. Around the corner in the alley behind Jack in the Box, a homeless man bundled up in a blanket was trying to catch the last bit of shut eye before he was kicked out of the alley by the morning sounds of commerce, whirling leaf blowers and grinding garbage machines. At the coffeeshop, I could not stop looking at Taylor Hicks while I ate my pancakes. Sure, there were other pictures of actors on the wall. Some much more famous than Hicks will ever be. But they're not out on the road somewhere with a bunch of other burned out musicians completely weary and wondering how long they can stay awake before remembering about how miserable life can be trying to scrape together a paltry paycheck on the road and thousands of miles away from home.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Alley Puke, Grasshoppers, and Passed-Out Suits

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

A circle of puke. Dark orange. Oatmeal texture. I couldn't tell. Human puke? Or cat puke?

I had not seen alley cats in weeks, maybe months. Something happened to them. My mind wandered. Maybe it was a deranged homeless person living in the alley behind Jack in the Box who cooked up the cats one night. There's a couple of restaurants in the area and times are tough. Hate to think that the soup special is really boiled alley cat.

Crickets invade our apartment every autumn. The cycle of nature. Very vexing. A few sneak through and I have an minor internal crisis because I'm convinced that killing crickets is bad luck and it's 100% my fault that the teams I bet on miss field goals because I mutilated a cricket while running to the defense of my hysterical girlfriend.

The entire concept of insects freak out Nicky and she screams like a little girl and it's during those moments I'm reminded that she used to be trained in the theatrical arts and she can belt it out.  And those grasshoppers are jumping ones too. The bigger they leap, the louder the scream.

The insect-induced screams are almost blood curdling. I jump up and fall right into assassin mode. I'm a cold-blooded insect killer. Doesn't matter if it's a spider or roach or silverfish. I'm the iceman and dispose of the critter and that's that. However, I freeze up whenever I see a cricket. It's bad luck in most Asian cultures to kill crickets. Disney brainwashed us as kids and made our generation think of crickets as these sage-like creatures that guide us out of peril. All I want is to cover the point spread man, and if scooping up crickets and taking them outside is going to help the cause, then dammit, that's what I have to do.

Crickets turned me into a compassionate bug squasher. So am I getting karmic retribution for all those killed spiders? Do all of those missed free throws have anything to do with all the cockroaches I stomped on in my day?

Protecting crickets is bad superstition. Once you give into a superstition, then you become a slave to obsessive-compulsive behavior. If I had a cat, then I wouldn't have to worry about this. If the alley cats were still around... the crickets wouldn't be an issue.

The alley is infested with crickets and more are getting through the cracks than ever before. I suspect it's because of the lack of alley cats. The cats fed and feasted off the crickets. Those crickets only flourish because their main predator, a group of feral cats, was living in the crawlspace underneath the apartment building next door. But those cats have disappeared. We have no idea where they went.

I saw one cat scurrying across the street late one night but aside from that, no cats. Where the hell did they go? I assume they found a better spot to live, maybe a block or two over where a crazy cat lady goes out and feeds them regularly. Or maybe someone found the cat(s) and adopted them and gave them a great home. Or maybe they were picked up and fixed? I doubt that scenario because something of that nature costs money and the City of Angels is too broke to send out people trapping feral cats. In all probability, they were picked up and euthanized.

The orange puke was not a cat. It was human puke. Someone booted. It was Friday night. Totally probable. But who did it belong to?

I went out to sushi in Beverly Hills. Something I never do. But Showcase was in town and he wanted to take Nicky and myself to a relaxing dinner. It was fun to catch up and hear stories and tell some more. But the last thing I wanted to see when I got home was the circle of puke.

I totally forgot about it until I woke up early the next morning and went for a walk. On my way back home, I noticed the orange circle, which was sort of dried out. That's when my neighbor (BMW douche) opened his front door and out stumbled a "bro" in a disheveled suit (minus the tie). I can only suspect those wanna-be execs drank heavily after a shitty week of work and the bro puked in the alley and then passed out on my neighbor's couch, only to get kicked out at day break. Well either that, or my neighbor is secretly gay and was sending someone home a booty call and I totally busted him.

But where the fuck did the cats go? My alley smells like puke and grasshoppers are everywhere.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Worm Buffet (Fiction)

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

He played one of those cops from Barney Miller.

After sustaining a diet of coma-inducing, watered-down happy meals, life hit the skids. The ubiquitous greyness rained down. Sometimes it violently pelted the ground, causing divots the size of swimming pools.

Long days bled into endless nights, that bled into week-long blurs of sepia-tinged benders. Three and four day periods of vacant self-indulgence led to month-long gaps in time. Lost in a warp, a wormhole where ambition was strangled by the stillness of melancholy.

He was out on the street, or the street reached out and grabbed him. Hard to tell.

From the generous gestures of the kind-hearted, he'd collect sacks of old bread and could be found down at the pier feeding seagulls while sipping a can of warm Budweiser out of a torn paper bag.

Sullen groupings of sour notes played on a loop inside his head. Ghosts hovered like a polluted cloud of torment.

He knew he could never sustain the numerous trips to the hole. If you know where it is, then you're a rare survivor. The hole rarely releases anyone from its grip. Anguished visitors were lured in by an endless hunger, yet snared themselves in industrial fishing nets.

Shit sinks to the bottom. Dead weight.

But like the rapper said, when your soul hits the bottom, it doesn't stop and keeps going and seeping through the cracks in the ground with the rest of all of the rotting waste. Your soul doesn't whisk itself away up into the heavens, it's a buffet for the worms while the rest of it leaks into the upper echelons of hell.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Big Air

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I caught The Birth of Big Air over the weekend. Yet another remarkable ESPN 30 for 30 Documentary about a remarkable story in the 1970s or 1980s that flew under the radar before the internet's explosion a few decades later, and way before the 24/7 sports news cycle took control of the airwaves.

The Birth of Big Air chronicled BMX legend Mat Hoffman. I grew up during the BMX craze but never really got into it as much as some other kids in the neighborhood. But it was short lived because most of the kids I knew jumped over to skateboarding after Back to the Future hit the theatres.

One of my friends, Scott, had a bunch of BMX magazines and I thumbed through them when I hung out at his house. Mat Hoffman was always pictured in the magazine doing a crazy stunt. I totally forgot about the BMX craze until I caught the documentary just as it was starting, and then got lost in nostalgia for an hour.

The Birth of Big Air brought back a flood of flashbacks about growing up in the BMX era. It reminded me of those halcyon days pre-Nanny State when kids could be kids and ride bikes without helmets. This was a time before all these shyster lawyers and rising medical costs kicked in and the government decided to intercede in day-to-day parenting, which took all the fun out of childhood.

Then again, I grew up in the Bronx during the crack invasion. I almost had my bike stolen twice as a kid and the second time was by a crackhead looking to make a few extra bucks by stealing my Mongoose knockoff. I think it's crazy to think that my parents would allow me and my brother to roam the neighborhood on bikes in the 80s... but that was the culture. All the neighborhood kids had to find someway to entertain themselves (pre-cable, pre-internet, and at the beginning of the video game era), which is why playgrounds and parks were filled with kids. Yep, kid being kids. My brother and I pedaled our bikes to Seton Park, where our Little League games were played. Behind the baseball diamonds was a hidden and makeshift area where kids rode their bikes and did jumps and different stuff. We spent hours and hours doing stupid shit back there and I rode all over my neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods and learned every nook and cranny and street in my area of the Bronx. All of this was without a helmet. The older I get, the more I cherish those idle afternoons riding around without a care in the world and without Big Brother telling me how to protect myself.

The Birth of Big Air told the story of BMX pioneer Mat Hoffman. He flourished in obscurity of Oklahoma, whereas his contemporaries were mostly from Southern California, which was always a hotbed for extreme outdoor sports like skating and biking (and of course surfing). Hoffman had a "secret" practice space inside of a warehouse where he whipped up new tricks. All trial and error. Hoffman was the sports first mega-star before the scene fizzled out. By the time ESPN 2 created the X-Games, Hoffman was a dinosaur and could never really compete with kids half his age. Besides, his body was all banged up after all the hideous damage he put himself through over the years.

Early on in his career, event before he turned pro, Hoffman won over the respect of his peers, especially the pros from SoCal. Hoffman paid a huge price by putting his body on the line. He broke more bones than he could count and supposedly suffered over100 concussions. He busted his spleen and almost bled to death. Personal safety is something that he shrugged off because he was searching for the next big moment -- whatever that might be.

Hoffman got as close to flying that a human could get while only using a bicycle. Once he caught that "rush", he was hooked in for life. The hardest part about being an adrenaline junkie is that you're constantly seeking a new fix, but one that is bigger and more dangerous than the last. In the end, all it leaves you to do is jump off of cliffs and out of airplanes -- both activities that Hoffman accomplished later on in his life after he retired from BMX racing.

Underneath all the daredevil stuff, you got to hear the story about a guy who never gave up when he was told he couldn't do something. Hoffman persisted and pushed on despite the overwhelming odds and detriment to his health. Maybe he's reckless and a little bit crazy, but all you have to do is watch a few minutes of this documentary to realize that Mat Hoffman is the epitome of the human spirit. He lived a dangerous life but followed his dreams even though it almost killed him... numerous times, but we need people like Hoffman to test the boundaries of humanity and push the edge as far as he could take it.

Watch the trailer here:

What the entire doc here before the YouTube police yanks it down:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Writing to Live and Feeding F. Scott's Vampire Monkey

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

This article hit a little too close to home: Writing to Live in Hollywood.

I saw a few haunting parallels between Fitzgerald washing up in Hollywood and myself and Las Vegas. I sold out and ditched my original artistic prime directive in order to make a quick buck and earn easy money shilling online poker to essentially keep the party going.

Fitzgerald ended a long chapter in his life as a novelist in New York City and headed West to sunny California. One of America's premier fiction writers sold his soul to the suits running the big studios during the golden era of Hollywood. Fitzgerald wasn't stupid; he was a washed-up writer and following the money. They were printing so much money in Hollywood that even a neophyte screenwriter with zero experience like him had a crack at a few bucks, so he signed a contract with MGM and cranked out a bunch of crappy, passion-less screenplays. I think I read somewhere that Fitzgerland was making the equivalent of $1,000/week (in 2013 dollars).

Every week, Hollywood fat cats raked in millions and millions and millions of dollars from box offices all over America and flowing freely right back to the bank accounts of the major studios. Fitzgerald was not the only novelist who supplemented their income by writing (or ghost-writing) for the studios. William Faulkner was so far gone at that point in the twilight of his career that he was perpetually shitfaced so his assistant handed in his pages.

Fitzgerald was stalked by demons the majority of his adult life. Large mutherfucking demons with claws and roving band of starved, blood-sucking monkeys. He could only slay those beasts with the bottle. He wrestled with those fierce alkie demons and always lost. Night after night. The vampire monkeys jeered and shat in their hands and threw it in his general direction. It was an expensive war and cost Fitzgerald his health and dragged him deep into debt.

Fitzgerald died at the age of 44 of a heart attack, but he drank himself to death. Fitzgerald got caught up in a nasty cycle of abuse and self-doubt and could not escape. Quicksand. Instead of sand, it was booze. He headed to Hollywood because it was the only place that could pay for his rampant alcoholism (in addition to medical treatment for his bat-shit crazy wife Zelda), but being stuck in Los Angeles and struggling to write shitty dialogue for pathetic third-rate B-films drove him even more insane. He got stuck in a rut, which sent him into a deeper depression, so he drank even more. And more. And more. Poor fucker never had a chance.

I sort of turned to poker and Vegas to cover the tab for my addictions -- mostly travel and music. I felt as though I had to go through hell for 2 months every year so I could have a groovy 10 months. That was the sacrifice I made... but I was also selling out. I flocked to Vegas every summer to follow the money. It was the only place I knew where I could get paid rather well to write (and be myself) and I was stuck in that cycle because of lifestyle maintenance. It took me seven years, but I finally realized it wasn't worth it.

I got into poker by accident. I thought I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience covering the 2005 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The plan was have one crazy summer and that was it then return to NYC and the dream would be over. It turns out I never went home. The dream continued... and continued. I headed out West and stuck around Vegas, like so many other innocent people who got seduced by the gambling scene, or sucked into the Vegas' black hole of depravity and immorality.

I bailed from Vegas before I became a full blown junkie or lost all my money betting on sports, and washed up in Hollywood of all places. I considered myself one of the lucky ones. I actually left Vegas with some money in my pocket. Most of the people I know who moved to Vegas chasing the Dream Americana either went broke, or went crazy, or got totally ambushed by a nasty addiction and fell prey to "The Sickness" which is full-blown immersion into a vice that totally sucks your soul dry. Pick one... a) drugs, b) alcohol, c) gambling, and d) sex. The Sickness comes in multiple choice form.

Fitzgerald passed away unable to fade depression  and demoralization and the lingering effects of hardcore alkie abuse. He arrived in Hollywood mostly forgotten as a novelist and dismissed as a "one-hit wonder." Even when he died, the critics were not extolling Fitzgerald's virtues like many college professors do today.

Check out Writing to Live in Hollywood.