Thursday, January 31, 2013

Undesirables, Hell on Earth, and the Tao of Ned Ryerson

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Painting by Alizey Khan

I've wandered down the boulevard of broken dreams more times than I can count. I know where all the cracks are located on the sidewalk and the parts where the pavement has been thrust upward due to some sort of natural phenomenon like a century-old oak trees and its tangled mangled roots spreading out for miles underneath our paved over cities. It's as though Nature is waging a thousand year holy war against humanity and Nature is slow-playing us (to death). Mother Earth, Gaia, whatever you call it... knows the current score and understand that it is losing in the short-term to the cancerous growth of human kind, but someday, nature will overpower mankind it'll get the last laugh. Eventually the momentum will swing back and nature will run good again and revert back to its dominance that it once had for millions and millions of years.

Something wiped out the big beasts and lizards and birds that roamed the land and patrolled the skies, and after that leveling war (insert your own theory of dinosaur extinction... Ice Age, meteor crash, alien architects re-booting civilization, or God's hand at work), all that was left over were the proverbial cockroaches of the food chain. The dominant ones passed after an agonizing death, while some of the smallest species survived to carry on the good fight. Somewhere along the line, prehistoric-man "crawled out of the sludge" and thus began the cycle of mankind. Hundreds of thousands of years later, we've evolved from monkeys hurling shit balls at each other, to monkeys hurling fecal-covered political tweets at each other.

Whos, whats, wheres, and hows do not matter. The universe is and that's just the way it is. I'm more concerned with the whys. Like why do I continue to wander down the boulevard of broken dreams when I know in the long run I'm gonna be toast?

I ponder that question many sleepless nights and I cannot come up with an answer other than... I know of no other places to wander.... so I might as well enough it and poke fun at myself trying to figure out alternative ways out of this endless loop, like a surly ghost unable to pass over into the light so it stomps and broods and haunts everyone for centuries wandering around in circles. Back and forth. Back and forth. Forth and Back. Back. Forth. Back. Forth.

Buddhists say that I must wander the boulevard of broken dreams until I finally have built up enough karma points to move onto the next life. That's when I'll reach nirvana, and I'm not talking about getting to see Kobain rock out to Polly at a club in the afterlife. I'm talking total and complete consciousness becoming one with the universe. This is why murder and war baffles me. We're all God's children. We're all stardust. We all originated from the same Big Bang. Why is there need to invoke the powerful name of invisible deities to justify death and destruction?

If this is a godless and chaotic universe like so any existentialists think, then what's the point in trying to convince others that there's a fair and just God that cares about your individual choices?

I never had an existentialist knock on my door and try to sell me an existentialists bible. I never had an existentialist wander over to me in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert to talk about Hari Krishna and the path toward enlightenment is not through LSD, but rather through meditation and trying to recruit others into a cult of bald dudes with bells and flowing robes.

Buddhist teaching suggest we must live an honorable life now otherwise we will pay for our sins through reincarnation. I've had a pretty good and fun life and indulged in some of the most carnal pleasures known to humankind, which makes me wonder if this life is a reward for whoever came before me and lived a previous life like a total pious monk. There's something to be said about taking accountability for your own actions.

Act good now, or suffer later. Maybe it's just a bluff that Buddhist monks were trying to pull off on its students so they would not act up and revolt against them, but then again, there's something to this compassion and kindness and respect for all living things. We have to rack up enough karma points to move onto the next step. Ultimately, that is what Bill Murray's character was forced to realize in the film Ground Hog's Day. He kept reverting back to the same default switch for who knows how long... months, years, decades... before he finally got it right with the perfect day by being compassionate, and selfless, and caring... and after he finally transformed from a selfish prick into a Buddha-like person, then and only then was he was able to bust out of the endless loop of repeating the same day's events over and over and over.

The famous French philosopher Sartre said hell is other people. That's such an incredibly French way of morose thinking, but if he's right, then we're living hell on Earth.

I have a theory that Earth is purgatory and that we've all died many moons ago. Our dreams are just flashes of previous lives, but we're here on Earth as a crossroads. If we're good and do good, then we ascend into heaven with a choir of angels and hang out with George Burns and finally learn what's the secret ingredient that makes KFC so fucking addictive. If we do bad, then we get shipped off to hell. Yes, what we perceive as life is just a huge fucking test to see if we learned enough in our previous life to gain entrance to the next level of spiritual enlightenment.

What if "life" and Earth are purgatory? And there is no hell as a specific destination, but instead hell is being stuck on Earth with other people, which fits perfectly into Sartre's line of thinking.

Hell yeah, hell is other people. Have you ever been stuck in line at the post office? Had to sit in a room with co-workers you absolutely couldn't stand? Had to sit at a dinner table with relatives who hated every ounce of your guts? Walk into a room knowing that no matter what you do or say, people are going to feel superior to you because of they way you look, or talk, or sound?

A friend of mine is a shrink and we spoke in arduous detail about whether or not I had a substance abuse problem. In the end, he agreed that I don't have a problem with a desire to get schwasted... rather... I have a serious people problem because I ingest drugs/booze in order to deal with people I don't want to deal with but have to for whatever reason (mostly work/family obligations). When I don't have to deal with undesirables, I'm rather content and have no itching need to self-medicate.

When I'm forced to interact with stupidity and ignorance, well that's when I need to dull the senses. Perfect example... I cannot read Twitter or Facebook unless I'm stoned, otherwise I want to gouge out my own eyeballs (with a spoon1).

I struggled for decades to maintain a semblance of sobriety with satisfying the urge to get uber-blotto whenever I have to spend time at home for the holidays. I found solace numbing my senses every summer in Vegas when I was stuck in the press box trying to crank out hundreds of thousands of words about the "genius of degenerate gamblers", while drowning in douchebaggery. It's not the content that struggled with. Not one bit. I actually enjoyed prying into the gambler's mind and exploring that part of the human psyche.

I'm that kid who got yelled at for taking the toaster apart or opening up a transistor radio to see how it works. As a writer, I try to reverse engineer the human brain and figure out what makes people do the things they do.

In trying to determine whether or not I had a legitimate substance abuse problem, I dug deep inside my head and peeled back layers and layers of my own onion-wrapped mind to figure out why I had the desire to avoid sobriety was due to a prevailing sense of stress created by conflict avoidance.By keeping my mouth shut, I avoided conflicts, but in doing so I got stressed out which I alleviated with various elixirs and the finest herbs in the shire.

I rode the Buddhist high road of tolerance and sipping on a flask filled with my own bitterness for so many years until it wore out. It came to a point when I couldn't be the laid-back tolerant guy anymore. The solution was to re-learn to get along with others and force toleration back into the equation. Yet, I thought it was pointless to have to constantly bend over backwards to deal with the undesirables, but the only way I could remain tolerant was to engage in self-medicating behavior.

The conclusion: I needed to work on my people problem so I wouldn't have the need to get schwasted in order to be around them.

Therein lies the problem about the problem, because I don't have a general problem with people (or sheeple for that matter) because I do what I can to avoid troublemakers and anyone who has a cloud of negativity hanging over their heads.

I cannot see auras (though, that might be pretty cool), but I trust my gut or rather I trust my mind/body interpreting the vibrations that other people give off. If they are radiating dissonance, then I get the fuck out of the way. If they are warm and gregarious and radiating with light, then that's someone I want to be around and as close to as possible. It's so rare to come across people who can invigorate your soul by just being in their presence, so I jump at those opportunities to be around or work with those types of energy-boosters.

My major conflict is with people who are black holes of energy, or emotional vampires who feed off of my positivity and manipulate my tolerance Again, I do everything possible to avoid coming in contact with those undesirables, but due to the nature of how I earn a living, I was forced to deal with them because of obligations and responsibilities. Work and family. Both are royal pains in the ass, which is why I struggle with them most. I cannot get away from family because blood is blood, and I gotta pay the bills somehow.

Every summer for seven years in a row I moved to Vegas for a work assignment, which was more like checking myself into a prison or mental institution. I did not have a choice and was forced to cross paths with miscreants and scuzzy angle-shooters. A few of those undesirables were colleagues that we all loathed and would never let inside any of our houses, but somehow we were lumped together as a group and forced to interact. Hell is other people. No days off. Surrounded by undesirables every day for seven weeks. To complicate matters, some evil entity opened up a vortex over Vegas and the soulsuckers rushed in and they keep coming in... waves after waves of despair and debauchery. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. That was hell, my own personal hell, which I signed up for it year after year because I knew that if I could gut it out, then I would be paid mega bucks and have a few good survival stories to tell.

I woke up one morning and decided that there's no point to walking through the gates of hell anymore. The task took a huge toll on my mind and body. It nearly killed me. If you spend enough time around emotional vampires, you know how they will ruthlessly suck you dry. Thus why I aggressively avoided/severed toxic relationships that pollutes brains and poisoned souls. In order to combat that bombardment of toxicity, I self-medicated instead of realizing I needed to get the fuck out of dodge.

It's like kicking a really horrendous bout of the flu. Imagine lying in beds for days on end with fever dreams and the cold sweats and the spinning sensation and aches/pains all over... until you wake up one morning and feel significantly better than the day before and you know that your health turned the corner and that it's all uphill from there as you crawl out of the hole of sickness a few days later and eventually get back onto even ground.

Well, that's what the last couple of years have been.... trying to kick a cold, shake the flu... except the germs were the remnants of poison and other toxic materials left over by the radioactive undesirables. My blood got thinned and siphoned off by emotional vampires, but finally those puncture wounds to my soul have slowly scarred over and healed, while my body regenerated a new blood supply.

* * * *
1 The spoon reference is from a tweet Jess Welman made a few weeks ago about a scene from a really bad Kevin Costner rendition's of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which Alan Rickman plays the Sheriff of Nottingham and wants to carve out Robin Hood's eyes with a spoon instead of a knife because as he describes, "It's dull... it'll hurt more, you tiwt!"

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Time, Shades of Pink, and Modern Consumption

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The first leaf blowers rev up around 8am, somethings cheating five or ten minutes earlier that the law allows, and they won't stop until noon or so. Some of the blowers try to go even earlier. Different neighbors have different landscaping crews and they show up at different times. So there's never a specific hour of the day, or day of the week when the guys with the leafblowers arrive. Most of the time, they're the loudest whenever I crash at 6am, or in my office bright and early and writing something for work.

Appearance is everything. Especially on the streets adjacent to Beverly Hills. Pristine lawns. Lush gardens. Trimmed hedges. Any scraps of dead palm leaves whisked away by the landscaping crews, among the thousands of invisible illegals that are around every morning, yet they're somehow off the grid.

Timing. It's all about timing. In San Francisco, I had to wake up at a certain time before rush hour began and the Muni rumbled down the street and shook the house somewhat violently that you could easily mistake it as a minor earthquake. Nicky and I had our bedroom facing the street, so we could hear the cars and buses and mopeds, but if you could knock yourself out and sleep thru the boisterously loud rumblings and shaking during morning rush hour, then you were golden until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Late nights, the traffic would die down except the stray taxi or two. You could hear the faint fog horn from the Golden Gate Bridge go off at intervals, but the loudest sounds were echos of laughing drunk hipsters smoking cigarettes in front of the bar from around the corner. Sometimes late late nights when the bars closed, we'd watch shitfaced folks meander home and stumbling and bumbling and losing the battle against the steep hills they had to climb to reach their palatial homes in Pacific Heights. My all-time favorite drunk hipster? The one with an internal steering system so skewed that he kept walking off to the left at 45% angles and constantly walked into parked cars. I lost my shit when he smacked into a telephone poll and fell backwards. The funny thing was he did it twice. It was like a really bad Tom & Jerry cartoon or something. I couldn't believe what I saw. I wish I had something to record the drunkard. That double-tap into the pole woulda been the perfect gif to play on an endless loop for eternity.

Timing. It's all about timing. If I don't crash at a certain time in L.A., then I'll get awaken by the can fairies and the dumpster divers and the landscappers with their machines and the neighbors (married couple upstairs feuding before work and the volatile couple across the alley at each others' throats). If I awake from any sort of slumber... then I cannot fall back asleep.

I tried keeping a dream journal (which entails me picking up my CrackBerry seconds after waking to email myself keywords and phrases and as many details as possible from a dream). Almost 30 nights into 2013 and I only have two dreams that I can recall (recurring wandering around hallways of a hotel dream). I didn't write down either and I already forgot the other one. This project is going nowhere, but I'm hoping to get more information over the next few months... provided I get dee enough sleep to produce dreams.

Time. That time thing is messing with my head again. Never have enough time to get stuff done... get everyone done. In the 90s when the average person did not have email but had an answering machine, I had a friend at work who had sunk into a deep depression over the simple fact she would not be enough time in the world to read every book on her reading list, not to mention new releases. I thought that was total horseshit at the time. I'm one of those people with the lemons/lemonade philosophy and make the best of what you got, so that felt absurd that someone who be crippled by sadness over lack of time.

Seize the moment. Don't bitch about it. Live now.

Instead of being frozen in a state of melancholy, the sad woman should have spent the time reading as many books as possible instead of worrying about not having enough time to do the things you enjoy, or fretting over a Sophie's Choice about what book gets your attention at that particular time. That's why I was dubious of the assertion about being depressed over not having enough time to read books. That was a cover story. Like a bogus "weather balloon" story at a UFO crash site concocted by a high-ranking Air Force media liaison. The real root of the depression was laziness caused by fear of dying. My friend never read books because in the end, the concept of death was so terrifying to the point that it seriously rendered her incapable of enjoying idle time with a book on a park bench, or on the subway, or sitting on the shitter, or thumbing through a few pages while stuck at the post office.

Death, dying, mortality... or I should say, fear of all of those (or on the flip side, incorrigible and huge recklessness flirting with edge) is valid enough of a reason to sink into a phase of melancholia or paralyze serious life decisions. But to drag books into it... or some claim sort of lack of ambition is horseshit and a bad excuse.

My advice didn't sit well. I come off too honest sometimes. "Just read the fucking book. Seriously, open it up and read."

She didn't talk to me too much after that. I guess I wasn't being sensitive enough, or she knew that she couldn't illicit sympathy from me. I mean, if your cat died and your sad... well, that's really sad. But if you're sad because you don't have the time it takes to do everything you want to do, then that's tough shit. Such is life. That's why you have to wake up, drag your ass out of bed and start living life instead of sitting on the sidelines worrying about not having enough time to live.

It's challenging to choose to be an active participant in life by creating things instead of buying things and opting out to become a glazed-over sleepwalker overlooking planned obsolescence because it's much easier to accept the ill effects of consumer shell-shock and PTSD that lingers after a blitzkrieg of Christmas' driven hyper-consumerism for two months at the end of every year, before the mass consumption machine ramps back up again in January with a well-coordinated bombardment of Valentine's Day propaganda that even the joint efforts of Goebbels and Draper could never pull off an multi-industry-wide holiday coup by forcing the public to lay siege once again during a month-long carpet bombing of the dreaded, hackneyed "red heart symbolism" followed by an invasion of pink.

Punk pink, off-pink, light-fluffy pink, orchid pink, flesh pink, rose, light red, cherry blossom pink, light-medium baby, hot pink, deep pink, Sex Pistols pink, carnation pink, Barbie pink, Danish pink, purple pink, Lewinsky pink, retro pink, royal pink, Santa Fe pink, post-mod pink, and crystal pink.

Any combination of pink and red and pink pink pink to remind you about Valentine's Day. Yes, a friendly reminder that you don't quite fit in unless you buy more shit you don't need.

Modern consumers (anyone born after 1970) were conditioned by the television from the earliest age not to desire mental challenges, rather under the guise of a brief commercial break in between their favorite programs, children-teens-young adults are prodded and provoked into impulsive behavior and satisfying the id and letting go of their own self-control and pampering themselves by letting them know it's okay to be self-indulgent because everyone older than them is doing it.

Yet, you create unhealthy connections whenever you create a false link between buying stuff and personal achievement. Material items can never make up the emptiness of someone lacking substance. Yet every day, day after day you buy something you don't need from a place who doesn't give a shit about you, which in the end means some corporation paying less taxes than you is going to make a quick buck off of your worst addictions whenever you buy something made in China (or some other Pacific Rim country) for slave wages.

The fear mongers scare the shit out of you, knowing that you'll find solace in superficial consumerism, so then they'll offer you a cure for your shortcomings in life (, Chevy trucks, ear wax vacuums, penis pills, terrible film version of a book). The fear mongers and their pals in big business profit from your worst social anxieties. They prey on your fears that you don't want to be the odd one out or be the only one to stray from the flock. They also know how to press the right buttons... and entice you to take a short cut and satisfy a desire to feel superior than everyone else, so you spring for a high ticket item to impress fake internet friends or mentally constipated neighbors who really don't give a shit about anything. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sugar-Plum Stealing Cannibals and Swaying Palm Trees

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"Check out the spooky moon!"

Nicky rushed into my office and gleefully announced the arrival of the looming evening moon, just only one day after the ominous full moon came and went. The spooky moon glowed like a big-ass off-white dot in the dark grey sky. You could only see the spooky moon if you looked out our kitchen and dining room window. It was not visible from my office.

On Sunday I took the picture above. Nicky was working (from home) and I insisted she take a step outside to look up at the sky. It was one of those typical late winter sunsets in Southern California. Pink. Orange. Purple. Pink-Orange. Purple-Pink. Sherbert Orange and Orange Orange. Bright Orange hues reflecting off the bottoms of the clouds hovering above the palm trees gyrating to their own diverse rhythms. You can't blink otherwise you miss the skies soak up one last breath of light before it fades away and becomes ravished by the aggressive darkness. For the few minutes... I stood in the street and looked and gazed and gawked at the smog mixed with chemtrail soup which make a hearty gumbo of think man-made gooey clouds.

The soothing sunsets are what make the city palatable for a few moments before aggro-darkness falls prey upon the city. Millions of dreams are assaulted by the troll-like cannibals that steal sugar-plums from your refrigerator while you float in the nether world between your waking life and dreaming life, which you experiencing a teleportation cycle back and forth between dimensions while the whole time your brain interprets the experiences of popping up in random places as a mere series of dreams, but in reality you're zipping across the cosmos and visiting other planes of consciousness, or physical planets, or wandering through colonies on the moons of Jupiter, yet you think you're sitting in a classroom in the Cleveland suburbs reliving the time you were in fourth grade and you stole Missy Murphy's Capri Sun and drank it during recess when no one was looking, but it's not Cleveland but somewhere in a different solar system.

If you're like me who spent a significant time traveling a lot for business and living in hotels for long stretches at a time, then you must have similar recurring dreams of getting lost in large, sterile hotels or wander around the lobby looking for someone to help you, or you're riding elevators with strange travelers with lots of luggage, but keep getting off on the wrong floor, or you're riding elevators on that are broken, or won't stop at the right floors. I won't waste your time delving into the (obvious) symbolism behind the elevators, but I have too many elevator dreams than the average person should have. Anyway, I also have random recurring dreams about waking up late in a hotel and having less than ten minutes to check out and catch a taxi, or train, or flight somewhere else, but I can't find all my stuff that's scattered throughout the room and I can never find that one thing that is missing which is the source of plenty of drama and anxiety, but then other times I get lost walking around the hallways in a Ramada-hell-like maze with ugly red-maroon-shiraz color and the rugs have that new smell, but it's super soft to walk on, but there's maid cart obstacles blocking hallways or wet paint signs on doors, or broken elevators or you get the wrong directions from another suit with a carry-on on bag and take the turn at the wrong corner and wander down a creepy hallway like something out of The Shining, and you hope you don't run into the kid on the big wheel.

Yeah, those dream-like moments are so vivid when it's happening that you cannot distinguish a dream state from a waking state, but you forget 99.9% of the dreamy details moments upon waking until make that 0.1% flashes back to you while you're in the shower grabbing a bar of soap, or on your way to work while sitting on the subway and you see an old man with a newspaper and you recall the same fucking old man was reading the same fucking newspaper but he was sitting in the lobby during your previous night's dream when you were waiting to check out of the Ramada in Berkeley, CA. Sometimes I wonder that you forget almost 99.9% of your dreams instantly upon awaking in order to protect your uber-sensitive waking life from getting jealous of all the endless possibilities for anything in the netherlands of your in dream-world compared to the banality of the real world.

Before I fell asleep, I was lulled into an almost trance-like state by listening to the sounds of palm trees echoing through the alley. The wind began to pick up over the afternoon and intensified over the evening. The way the wind sounded in the alleys was a little troubling. Howling wind tunnel. The swaying palm tree leaves whipped back and forth and sounded like waves crashing on the beach on the cusp of high tide. Crashing swaying. Swirling. Howling winds. A couple of loose boards on the alley fence smacked and slapped up against each other. If the winds picked up another 5-10mph, the whole fence might had blown over. This is not what you call wind country, and we're on the Eastern side of Century City so we never catch anything blowing in from the ocean.

It's mostly tranquil in this nook (a.k.a. the Slums of Beverly Hills, or what the hipsters would call "The Adjacent") nestled in between Cheviot Hills and the outskirts of Beverly Hills. We're prone to the occasional light breeze, but nothing that would huff and puff and blow down my fence. Then again, the slumlord is a little cheap and the makeshift fence is probably as old as the apartment complex, but with lots of holes decades-old patched up with recycled pieces of wood.

I considered asking for his permission to paint the fence, but it wouldn't be a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn whitewash. Rather, I'd like to tackle a more ambitious abstract paintings similar to Gerhard Richter's squeegee pictures.

Or maybe that was all just a dream. The spooky moon. Or the orange-creamsicle clouds. Or the swirling, howling winds. Or painting the fence with smudge-like patterns.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Transportation and Fucked-Up People

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Photo courtesy of If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger...

"Public transportation is not made for fucked-up people."

Q told me that one morning after he peeled his eyes open with a second cup of bodega sludge. He looked perpetually hungover, but that day he looked run ragged seven miles past Shitsville.

Q's group stumbled through a set of jazz standards around the corner from Tompkins at a dinky club filled with well-to-do NYU kids from the Midwest sloshed on PBR and Ritalin, who thought they were cool by seeing a sloppy jazz-fusion bands.

Later that night, Q sat in with a couple of  guys he knew from Boston, who were in town gigging near Union Square. They were scheduled for two full sets starting at Midnight and Q was invited to play bass for the last song of the first set.

Q was only supposed to play for one song, but the band's bass player, Van Gelder, shot up in the bathroom during setbreak and nodded out for forty or so minutes. When the bass player finally woke up after the busboy doused him with a pitcher of cold water.

The second set started without the bass player and Q had taken over. Van Gelder didn't care. He was focused on one task: buy cigarettes for his depraved soul, and perhaps get a chocolate bar for his thirsty blood sugar.

Van Gelder got lost (walking around the block) and ended up sitting at the counter of a tiny Cuban restaurant on 1st Ave. The bass player nodded out in a bowl of beans and rice and spicy shredded pork.

Q finished the entire second set around 2:30am and was in a good mood because his friends from Boston were superior musicians to the trio of lazy drunks he was trying to gig with at really shitty bars in the East Village and Hoboken, and Q hoped that he played well enough to impress his friends so they'd ask him to join them on their rest of their tour.

I left with Maya and Hoffman around 3am because we all had to work the next day. Q was having a rare good night so he wanted to keep it going, which he deserved to do. He didn't have any sick days left, but we've both show up to work in worse condition.

Q supposedly closed out the place at 4am and went to his brother's apartment to party (which meant sitting in the kitchen and smoking whatever drugs anyone had and drinking vodka from a never-ending jug of throat-scorching, generic vodka that was kept in the freezer).

At 5am, Q's brother's girlfriend Simone flipped out and ended the post-party and kicked everyone out, even Q's brother. He persuaded her to let him back in.

Q stumbled home and passed out on his couch with his clothes still on. He woke up at 8:33 still drunk.

Q took a piss and thought about his bass. It was missing. He assumed he left it at his brother's apartment t it in the hallway. He called Simone and his brother but neither picked up. Q didn't leave a message. Q showered hoping to sober up but that didn't work. He called his brother's apartment and got the answering machine. He left a message about a missing dog.

At that point, we all assumed Q said "Fuck it" and waked-n-baked before he got on the subway.  I mean, that's what we all did before going to work. Breakfast of champions.

Any sane person couldn't deal with all those crazy commuters squeezing you out of your assigned space unless you were wasted. Millions of half-alseep drones shuffling around on autopilot? Either assholes walked too fast and knocked you over, or fucktards moved too slow and you got stuck in a Bataan death match trying to transfer trains at 14th Street.

Q nodded his head and regretted his decision and how he wished he pulled the wake-n-bake, but instead he buried his face in a white line.

"Bolivian marching powder. Fuel for revolutionaries and field workers of the Bolivian nation of Bolivians. If it's good for the proletariat, then it's good for me."

Q's morning got somewhat illuminated. He walked double-time to to corner. He gargled half a cup of lukewarm brown-sludge and half-jogged to the subway but masterfully did not spill the rest of the cup on himself.

Q hopped on an newly arriving uptown express train and caught in the last dense wave of rush hour a few minutes past 9am, filled with other tardy fuckers who overslept.

Late to work. Late to school. Late to life.

The train screeched into Grand Central. Q spilled half his coffee all over his pants and boots.

"For fuck's sake."

Q got stuck standing in the farthest corner near a really smelly, obese Portuguese guy. Q insisted that he heard the smelly guy call him a "slimy faggot" in Portuguese.

I didn't think Q spoke any other languages other than some French, which he said he learned in school because he grew up in Maine so close to the Canadian border.

The train doors slammed shut at 59th Street and Q felt a small nuclear explosion detonate in his stomach.

Sometimes over-cut blow gives you the runs and you run to the toilet. Q fucked up and forgot about that huge detail. He remembered why he never did lines before he left his apartment and always waited until he got to work before he could get lit and shit (if need be).

Q panicked.

Sheer terror is shitting your pants while underground and stuck on a packed rush hour train for 25 blocks.

Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.

Q stood his ground and he clenched butt cheeks. He prayed.

To God. To Jesus. To Buddha. To Jimmy Fallwell. To whatever higher being could help him out the most.

Didn't the Catholics have a patron saint for bodily functions? Saint Gertrude of the Heavenly Toilet?

Q tried not to think about the worst-case scenario -- an ass-explosion in which he'd squirt all over himself and the surly Portuguese guy next to him, who would instantly lose it and beat him senseless with a shoe, and then he'd wake up at the end of the line in the Bronx, covered in blood and shit and missing his wallet after getting rolled by a couple of truants.

The train whizzed by 77th street. Q only needed nine more blocks to go. Q had a shootout with his own troubled mind. He visualized all of the blocks he was traveling underground.

78th Street. His stomach tumbled. He clenched. Harder. Sweat built up on his brow.

79th Street. He held back the horrible thoughts. He held his breath.

80th Street. The "thought terrorists" blew up the first line of defense. He got images of shit running down his legs and wondering if he'd be crying upon expulsion?

81st Street. Or maybe he'd be all twisted and laughing when he couldn't hold it back any longer?

82nd Street. Maybe everyone else on the train would feel sorry for him and laugh along?

83rd Street. Because they'd think it was a part of a TV show or something like a stunt for America's Funniest Home Videos.

84th Street. The trained started to slow down. Q almost made it. He wondered where he could go to the toilet when he got outside. Work? Bar? Diner?

85th Street. It was five blocks to work and two blocks to the old man's bar, but he had no other choice but the diner. The front door was three feet away from the subway entrance/exit.
86th Street. The shrill brakes halted and the doors popped opened. Q boxed out an old lady in a beret and won the sprint to get off the car first.

Q bolted up a flight of stairs, nearly slipping when he tried to skip a step, but super careful extra not to allow too much separation occur between his cheeks for fear of tragic fecal seepage. Q forgot that he took the express so he had two flights of stairs to climb before he reached street level.

Q hip checked at least four people, including a small child, on his way out. He didn't feel remorse. When you were about to lose your mud, it's was a life and death matter. No one wants to soiled themselves on a Friday morning; it's an awful start to the weekend.

Q made a dash for a small diner next to the donut shop and shoemaker. He didn't even acknowledge the tiny Greek guy at the front who seated everyone. He hobbled through like Quasimodo and scored an empty toilet.

Q kicked the door to the stall open and popped a squat. Q let it rip. His eyes swelled up with tears of joy.

Q lived 28 years on the planet and he ha not shit himself since kindergarten. His 23-year streak continued. Saved. With one second left on the clock.

This story could have ended on a bad note, but that's what happened. It coulda been worse. Q coulda got to the diner and the toilet would have been occupied and then he woulda shit himself waiting in the diner. Or, he could busted ass on the subway and then faced the embarrassment of standing in his own soupy mud while angry New Yorkers spat on him and pointed and jeered and sneered and leered.

"Public transportation is not for fucked-up people," said Q.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cats, Dogs, and Piss Cams

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I'm a cat. That's my primal correlation and my animal personality.

How did I come to that conclusion? When I lived in San Francisco, one evening while hanging out with Nicky and Halli, I stumbled upon a "moment of clarity" and figured out that all three of us were cats... and we were able to live together nicely because we all just wanted to be left alone and didn't need constant attention. Serious emphasis on the wanted to be left alone part, which is what happened most of the time. We all hung out in different parts of the elongated apartment for long stretches of time without being made to feel weird to force a social interaction. When it was time to hang out... we hung out and had fun, lots of fun, which I think was directly related to how much space and room we gave each other. Sometimes living situations can be smothering or suffocating, which is why you need to make sure you live with people who have cat-like personalities.

We determined that human personalities fall into two categories: a cat or a dog. You needed constant attention (ergo... dog), or you wanted to be left alone (ergo... cat).

Pick one. Cat or dog.

Everyone has that one friend/family member who cannot be alone. It's frustrating because you often get sucked into becoming an unwilling "dependent" in a co-dependent relationship whether you want to or not. That's troubling because it's incredibly selfish for the attention whore and utterly suffocating for the victim (friend, family, spouse, etc.). Dog-core people are often those co-dependent types and cannot do anything serious without assistance... food, shelter, urination/defecation, socializing, exercise, etc.

For most of my life I identified with the inner-dog... for the sole reason I enjoyed pissing outdoors. It's a passion of mine. I have a weird compulsion to urinate in wide open fields. When I lived in NYC, I used to get drunk and go on long walks to try to sober up, but end up always having to piss (especially after "breaking the seal"), so I had devised a perfect way to alleviate my bladder issues by pretending to make a call at a payphone (pre-cell phone boom when every other corner had a bank of payphones) and pick up the receiver with one hand, yet I'd be unzipping my pants and draining the lizard with my other hand. Presto. Fake phone call... instant urinal.

The streets were my toilet. The world was my toilet.

I only got busted once. It was on 95th Street. A young black woman wandered by and said, "I guess you had to go really bad?"

Yes. And no. Yes I had to pee. But I could have wandered into a bar and used their toilet. But I enjoyed urinating outdoors. During college, I loved stepping outside to the back porch and pissing off that area. I wizzed on a couple of fraternity brothers on more than one occasion.

Which brings me to this particular (and unusual) topic which I turned into blog fodder... I might enjoy public urination, but I had misidentified my inner-animal. I'm not a dog, but instead a cat that wants to be left alone.

Seriously. That's how I usually am. Bugger off. Leave me be. I don't want anyone to bother me until I'm ready to be bothered. Which explains why I get super pissed if I'm sitting in a cafe trying to read a book, or sitting in the farthest corner of an airport at an empty gate and almost always I attract some douchebag who wants to have a lengthy conversation on his phone. There's plenty of other places... why invade my quiet space?

The fun parts of Twitter is the one-sided nature of it. It's like an open mic night... I can walk up... tell my story, sing my song, tell a joke, get on a soap box, or shill the fuck out of something. Most of the time, I'm shilling for myself. I like having conversations in real life and not through social media filters, so I use real life means of engaging in those conversations by talking to someone directly and not on Twitter or Facebook. Some folks have no problems having multiple public conversations at once, but I'm not that kind of person. Twitter limits what you can say and what kind of things you can convey. That's the opposite way of communicating. Anything that hinders communication is kinda bad... which is why I sometimes have mixed feelings about the 140 character limit (even smaller if you address someone with a super-long twitter handle).

I understand why Twitter was birthed and how the original vision of its creators didn't quite turn out as expected. Twitter is useful in a brief spurts to convey small bits of information in one-way, two-way, or multi-way means of communicating. But the mob of users took over and turned it in to what its become.... an endless stream of static. The beauty of Twitter and other tentacles of social media is that you can use it anyway you want -- just like life -- it's yours to use anyway you see fit. It's just sad to see people abuse it and become bullies, or trolls, or cannot figure out that there's a lot of information that is best withheld for public consumption.

Some folks are like dogs on Twitter. They need constant attention (if someone has an ungodly amount of tweets that start with an @reply to someone else... they're a dog and crave attention). You have to take them outside for a walk or they'll piss all over the place. Other Twitter users are like cats... or herding cats...  it takes a lot to impress them but most of the time, they just want to be left alone, hang out in the shadows, and lurk around in the darkness.

I haven't figured out how to urinate in public with Twitter. I can tweet about it... "Walking up to make fake phone call; pissing all over ground"... maybe even send a Twitpic of myself in midstream (which I believe I did once and may or may not have accidentally revealed the tip of my penis). Maybe I can just get a account or create a UStream account that caters to public urination. The piss cam would be a huge fucking deal for events like Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day.

One man's half-baked idea is another man's fetish. If you stream public pissing sessions, someone out there will find it perversely erotic and start spanking themselves. I dunno... some of those Scandis have weird hang-ups and get off on it, and don't get me started about those German pissing/bondage videos that were a huge hit when I worked at an adult store called the Booty Shack. Man that was many many moons ago, but like I said... you might find public urination repulsive, or find it natural, but some freak might find it sensual.

How the hell did we end up where we ended up? I started talking about dogs and cats and personalities and I ended up ranting about the static on Twitter and how Eastern Eurotrash get their freak on by watching others urinate in odd places. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Road Trips, David Foster Wallace, and Really Good Cocaine

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

You either really love, or really hate David Foster Wallace. He's been dismissed as too verbose, or overly pretentious for using superfluous foototes1, or a pompous elitist for shoving down your throat just how much smarter he is, or trying too hard to demonstrate he's hip and cool by mixing proletariat vernacular with big, bourgeois words that you need to look up in the dictionary.

I'll put David Foster Wallace up against the Holy Trinity of my favorite literary heavyweights -- Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Pynchon. He holds his own because of his versatility to write exceptional journalism, essays, short stories, novellas, and novels. Thomas Pynchon is probably the closest writer that comes close to being in the same head space as Wallace... or I should say, Wallace is the closest anyone has gotten to Pynchon.

When I lived in Seattle in the late 90s, one of my friends who was a painter2 absolutely adored David Foster Wallace and Spalding Gray. Being a New Yorker, I was aware of Gray and his infamous monologues, but I never heard of Wallace. He told me Wallace had a new book coming out (Infinite Jest) but I needed to start with his first novel The Broom of the System. He loaned me a copy but warned me it was heavy. Interesting choice of words. The copy of The Broom of the System he gave me was hardcover and it was certainly heavy in weight and heavy-handed in Wittgensteinian philosophy. The Broom of the System became the perfect rainy weather book because I couldn't put it down and it gave me something to look forward to reading on my porch while mist surrounded my house and the rain trickled down and I got lost in DFW's world.

Not too many writers can pull off a sensational novel at age 22, but The Broom of the System was an auspicious start to DFW's writing career. He penned Broom while working on a philosophy degree at Amherst and wrote the novel as his thesis. DFW's friends insisted he ditch the philosophy thing and focus on writing full-time because he had an uncanny knack for words and opening up the tap to his inner dialogue and letting all those thoughts quickly flow all over the place. He thought he was on a path toward becoming a full-time professor and part-time philosopher who published  every few years, but the raw talent demonstrated in his thesis/novel turned heads in the literary world, which was craving the next new big thing. After reading excerpts of Broom, DFW attracted a literary agent... and the rest is history.

In the early 1980s, the literary machine had a hard-on for minimalism3 or K-Mart Realism which was the complete opposite of David Foster Wallace's lush style. DFW and Broom had come out of nowhere and altered the new direction of the contemporary American novel. For better or worse. If you had to classify DFW, he's a post-modernist. I think DFW wanted to be called a post-post-modernist (e.g. post-Don DeLillo). I always viewed DFW, Dave Eggers, and the Jonathans (Franzen and Lethem) as post-modern anti-minimalists4. They rebelled from literary fetish du jour -- minimalism -- and shied away from the succinct manner Richard Ford and Raymond Carver described the banality and tedium of suburban malaise.

* * *

In early 1996, Wallace's highly-anticipated and hyped second novel, Infinite Jest, finally hit the shelves after it took him almost a decade to write. The monster-manuscript clocked in at almost 1,100 pages. Seriously. That's like 6x or 7x the size of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.

Readers tackling Infinite Jest are mountaineers trying to climb Mt. Everest. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to ascend the peak of the highest mountain top in the literary world. A complex behemoth like Infinite Jest, which had more characters than the Bible, is what you've been training for your entire life as a reader, so you accept the daunting task of tackling Infinite Jest knowing that you might never reach the summit, and if you don't die on the way up, there's an even huger risk of dying on the way down.

I tried to read Infinite Jest more times than I can count. The first time I started it, I never got pass the 420-page mark. I failed to finished it in one continuous attempt, but finally completed it in the days leading up to the millennium (spread out over eight or nine months with several breaks in between). The novel was so big (like bigger than the Holy Bible) that I refused to carry it around because it was so bulky. I read it in bookstores (mostly in airports or at Barnes and Noble) or borrowed a copy from friends.

I tried to re-read Infinite Jest a couple of years ago after I came across a companion website for the book. Man, too bad an Infinite Jest wiki page and resources guide did not exist the first time I took a crack at Jest. Anyway, a couple of years ago I was traveling a ton for work and came to the realization that I didn't have the necessary time to dedicate a serious deconstruction of Infinite Jest. I lost interest in trying to climb that mountain, because I had a pile of other books I wanted to read at the time and faced a conundrum (read 3-4 books, or attempt to re-read Jest). I didn't want to abandon DFW, so I was happy to find his collections of long short stories/novellas like The Girl With Curious Hair or Oblivion and collections of non-fiction essays like Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

* * *

David Foster Wallace was 46 when he committed suicide in 2008 by hanging himself, presumably because he had set the bar so high with his previous novels that he was miserable and despondent trying to outdo himself. He battled depression for over two decades and finally gave up the struggle. He never finished the manuscript which was supposed to be his highly-anticipated third novel. The work in progress ballooned and swelled to a bloated manuscript (much like Infinite Jest's first draft that was over 33% bigger than the publication draft).  

The Pale King, DFW's third novel was published posthumously. His wife and his agent found a typed (but unfinished) manuscript in his office. It was massive, but undone. It was accompanied by hand-written notebooks filled with notes other passages. Presumably, he ran into a dead end and was stuck.

DFW became too depressed to write. Too depressed to finish his third novel. His worst fears and lofty expectations helped strangle him. The one thing that he loved the most -- writing -- caused him the most pain. He took a leave of absence from teaching and hoped to get his shit together by finding the right cocktail of anti-depressants. It didn't work. He couldn't write. He couldn't make decisions. He froze up. The task of trying to finish the book killed him.

I know the anxious, panicky feeling of looking at a mountain of pages on your desk and it feels like you can never untangle that huge ball of mess. You set out on a path to follow your heart and end up blazing a few trails along the way, but you get so far out there that you get so far lost and realize you can never find your way back home and that your original mission has been hijacked and re-calibrated to keep both sides of the art vs. commerce argument satisfied.

Instead of trying to write his way out of his own personal hell, DFW took the alternative route.

DFW-heads wondered what could have been if he never killed himself. Maybe he would have still been on the turtle-like pace and only published a novel every decade? Which if the case, his fans would have happily waited every ten years for 1,000 pages.

Novels aside, I enjoyed DFW's nonfiction immensely and miss his perverted Maoist sense of humor and his enlightened wit and "awww shucks" manner in which he embraced pop culture and our consumer-driven society, yet tackled it as a true philosopher. One critic described reading essays by DFW were like snorting really good cocaine. You felt euphoric and warm and fuzzy everywhere, but you wanted more and more and more and more. That's a great fucking analogy. DFW is un-cut pure Colombian cocaine.

Maybe if DFW did cocaine, he would have finished his book sooner and not sunken into a horrid depressive state? Or perhaps Adderall? It's good enough for air force pilots, so maybe Adderall would have helped DFW write and edit at a much faster speed and he'd crank out manuscripts every 18 months like Stephen King jacked up on blow5?

DFW didn't like drugs except the happy pills prescribed by his shrinks. He was not addicted to money and had a love-hate relationship with fame. He didn't need the money that badly to give him a financial incentive to finish The Pale King (like what happened to Dostoevsky, when he was drowning in gambling debts and cranked out The Gambler in installments to get the shylocks off his back). DFW had a good job teaching creative writing at Pomona and had a flourishing freelance career writing essays for random high-brow magazines like Harpers, New Yorker, and the Paris Review. The more time passes, the more I'm gonna miss that excitement of stumbling upon a random copy of the New Yorker and discovering that DFW had written a short story or essay, and then flipping the pages quickly to find out where it starts and then flipping again to see where it ends and how much DFW I was going to get.

* * *

One of my all-time favorite pieces6 of non-fiction writing is DFW's infamous cruise ship piece A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. It appeared in Harper's with the title Shipping Out. A magazine sent him on a lavish cruise and hilarity ensued. DFW was grossed out by the over-consumption and pampering, he lost a chess match against a nine-year old, got irked that the ship had Dr. Pepper instead of Mr. Pibb, and used the word "bovine" or a derivative of "bovine" numerous times to describe his fellow self-indulgent Americans. I'm not a cruise guy and if you read DFW's article then you might understand how we share a similar attitude and opinion about cruise ships and the downfall of American society. FYI... You can entire essay in PDF format via Harper's archives.

I re-read the cruise ship article at least once a year. True story. It was a vital part of my "spring training regimen" every May (from 2005-2011) in which I read three things that reminded me of what good writing is supposed to look and sound like. For seven summers in a row, I lived in Las Vegas and covered the World Series of Poker, but to mentally prepare myself, I re-read DFW's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Al Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town. There's something else I read, but I'd rather keep that third influential book7 to myself. I don't want to reveal all my tricks. But yeah, DFW helped prepare me for desert warfare in Vegas. He was one of my big secrets how I got ahead.

* * *

The other day I finished reading Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky. In 1996, Rolling Stone magazine sent Lipsky to profile DFW right around the time he was doing a press tour for Infinite Jest. Lipsky spent five days on the road with DFW and recorded every conversation. For some reason, the piece was never published in Rolling Stone... much to the delight of DFW who was nervous about coming off like a pretentious jerkoff. Even though the story was killed, Lipsky kept all his notes and recordings. When DFW killed himself in 2008, Lipsky dusted off the road trip tapes and listened to them. He decided he had enough material to write a book about those fives intimate days he spent with DFW. Most of Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself was transcribed conversations the two shared in DFW's house, or while driving from Normal, IL to Chicago, or hanging out in hotels in Minnesota, or sitting in airports waiting for delayed flights.

Lipsky's book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself gave a rare tour inside the twisted mind of DFW, close-ups of his insecurities, and expanded dialogue about his problems with over-analyzing everything. Lipsky included couple of juicy nuggets about his writing process and how he used words and characters to work out his own problems and make sense of the past and figure out how the world worked in the present, while constantly anxious about the future. My favorite parts were little bits about DFW explaining the complex yet seductive relationship between readers and writers.

Here's some of my favorite revelations from Lipsky's roadtrip with DFW...
- DFW was addicted to candy and nicotine. He smoked American Spirits and also dipped constantly, using old cans of Diet Pepsi to spit in.

- DFW was addicted to TV and really bad TV, so much so he tried not to own a TV. But he often went over to friends' houses/apartments to lose himself in bad movies (he liked movies in which "stuff blew up") and sitcoms. When he was on the road promoting his book, his favorite thing to do was stay in his hotel room to watch TV for hours on end. Like a full-blown junkie, once he started... he couldn't stop.

- After his brief stint in AA, DFW stopped drinking but he hung out at halfway houses and talked to addicts because some newly sober people are very friendly and want to open up about the truths of addiction.

- DFW wore a bandana to combat an unusual sweating problem, which intensified when he grew nervous. The bandana helped soak up the perspiration and often wore it at home when he wrote so he wouldn't get the pages wet. Almost of the pictures of DFW on the web were taken at public appearances and he's wearing a bandana because he go super nervous before interviews, readings, and book signings.

- The original Infinite Jest manuscript was 1,700 pages. He tried to pull a fast one on his agent and publisher by printing it up single-spaced in a smaller font. That didn't work and his agent/publisher got pissed off and made him re-print the manuscript double spaced and in the proper font size. It took DFW three days to finish the print job.

- It took five months for DFW to write the first draft of The Broom of the System and it was 700 + pages long.

- A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again contained 170 footnotes. Some of the footnotes could have become separate essays and fiction pieces, particularly his lengthy footnote about the seven other people he was forced to dine with every night for a week straight on the cruise ship.8

- DFW was obsessed with Alanis Morrissette. He had a poster of her on one of his walls.

- DFW ate a lot of acid in high school, but he persistently denied rumors that he was addicted to heroin. Some of his (most jealous) peers were convinced DFW's writing prowess and inspiration came from shooting dope. Turns out he smoked black tar heroin once (it was on a joint) and he actually enjoyed the experience, but he was not a junkie9, much to the dismay of his peers.
* * *

This concludes a lengthy post about DFW. He's an acquired taste and not for everyone. Some of his peers were among his biggest haters. Bret Easton Ellis loathed DFW and thought he was the most overrated writer who ever lived. It's taken me at least a decade before I fully appreciated DFW's talents and contributions, but I still haven't figured everything out yet. DFW is probably my most favorite writer who I don't push onto other people because he's intense and his material challenges the reader. That's something I look for in books... a challenge... and I'm always turning to DFW to fulfill that role.

I pass through phases every few months when I'm constantly reading something from DFW's archives. Last week, I purchased a used copy of The Broom of the System for only $4. Awesome deal consider it's over 450 pages long or less than a penny a page. I started re-reading Broom (I forgot it starts with the the main character refusing to smoke a joint) and I'm excited to jump back into it 15 years after my initial introduction to DFW because when I originally read it, I had hair down to my ass and I was your typical lost 20-somthing, angst-ridden Gen Xer living in Seattle as an aspiring screenwriter. Today, I have such a different mindset and frame of reference after a decade of roaming through the existentialist meat grinder of the Vegas scene and somehow ending up a poker reporter and novelist along the way.

Infinite Jest is a huge and intimidating book -- both physically and mentally -- but it's gotten a second life due to Kindle and other e-readers. A few friends wanted to give DFW a second chance and picked up an e-copy of Infinite Jest because having it on Kindle would encourage them to finally finish it, plus they won't have to lug it around on the toilet, or subway, or have it take up space in their carry-on bags, of get confiscated by the TSA for being a potential weapon for a terrorist. If you're reading Jest for the first time, there's a few websites that offer assistance on how to read Infinite Jest.

I haven't read all of the The Pale King, but I acquired the first couple of chapters through a free preview on Kindle. There's also an except of The Pale King titled Backbone that appeared in the New Yorker.

If you enjoy tennis, here's DFW's piece in Esquire (c. 1996) titled... String Theory.

* * *

1. I learned how to code footnotes specifically for this post about DFW.

2. My buddy Todd played trumpet and created paintings using tar. He was an awesome resource for book/film suggestions and turned me onto Jose Luis Borges and Hal Hartley films.

3. The most notable Minimalists (a.k.a. K-Mart Realists) were Richard Ford, Anne Beattie, Raymond Carver, Frederick Barthelme, and Joy Williams. You can also add Chuck Palahniuk to that genre, but he came around a decade later. Author Tao Lin recently wrote a few essays on K-Mart Realism.

4. Post-modern anti-minimalists = PO-MO ANTI-MINS

5. In his help-book On Writing, Stephen King admitted that he had long stretches when he was so far gone and fucked up on cocaine that he had to stuff cotton balls and tissues in his nose to stop the bleeding so he wouldn't get blood on his typewriter. King also admitted he didn't recall writing many classic books because he was under a heavy fog of cocaine, pills, and booze.

6. "All-time favorite" is a bold fucking statement.... but true.

7. I assure you the elusive third book is NOT Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or anything from Hunter Thompson.

8. The footnote about the DFW's dinner table could have been its own book. DFW devoted a couple of pages to the actual footnote describing how he liked six of his fellow tablemates but hated the youngest -- a spoiled-rotten, rich high school girl named "Mona" -- who spent the entire time in the disco/clubs or donking off money at the slot machines inside the ship's casino.

9. Wallace supposedly never drank again after he got out of rehab, however, I suspected he smoked weed on and off over the years. How else would you be able to cover McCain's 2000 Presidential campaign without going apeshit crazy?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Freeze Time (Fiction)

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Late 1950s.

Most nights: Smoky clubs, sweat boxes, unhip people (white man's overbite) trying to be hip, culturally slumming, ready to fly but no airspace, constantly have to remind yourself that a gig is just a gig.

Every night: standing on the sidewalks between sets, sniffing the brisk but clean air, lots of sips and nips, and always keeping one eye out for the coppers and another for the delivery boy who is never on time and always an excuse to why he's indefinitely delayed and slowed down by the heavy flow of abusers.

"If the world wasn't as harsh as a trip as it is, perhaps they'd be less to escape?"

Horace always like to talk in What ifs. It almost made for interesting chatter, but rarely did you ever get a read at that cat's perspective. Sometimes you wondered if Horace was pro this or con that, but it never matter. What if's became everyday speak. But Horace was just an old junkie from South Philly, barely hanging on to his own bones.

Sometimes, out of the blue Horace was the one who spoke the truth. Truth speaker. It would always cut a long silence. His voice comforted us. His messages? Not so much. They burrowed itself underneath your skin and stayed there for days and weeks and months on end. Decades later I can still hear his soothing voice offering up quips about humanity that I could never left go.

"I'm one of those people trying to find a way to escape from constantly trying to escape."

Another Horace-ism. He had somethings right. Other things? Not so much. Junkie's wisdom can only get you so far. But he was dead on about the he daily grind, which is all about trying to escape. Making enough bread to buy something that will help you escape. A vacation. A house. A wife. A life. If you're grind is all about copping some devil's juice, then you spend your afternoons and evenings and hours in between soused at the end of a bar... somethings surrounding yourselves with intoxicated poets, or inebriated philosophers, and shitfaced know-it-alls. But most of the time, your elbow-to-elbow with other bums down on their luck. Down on their life. Down on every thing and one step from slipping away down the drain.

"Detachment in liquid form."

Tavern owners have profited off of escapism for centuries. Drug king pins in Harlem got rich selling tickets to paradise. One ticket at a time. If there's a way to avoid reality, then the herd will find away to make it so. Escapism is like trying to manipulate time. Heroin. Booze. S&M. Apple pie. Bible study. TV. All those activities are attempts to suspend linear time in a way that all everyday debilitating miseries and truckloads of emotional baggage have suddenly disappeared while you blast off into another tangential universe, or wherever you whisk off to whenever you dive into the warmth of your escape pod.

"Don't matter how you get out; it just matters that you do get out."

Sometimes your willingness to escape is so dire that you get so far out to the edge of the universe that you lose your way on the way back. That's when you're caught in a perpetual cycle of aimlessness. Constantly loss. Can't find your way home. Lost in space.

"Freezing time again? Only fools try to freeze time."

Escapism is just freezing time. That's how Hollywood and Motown bilk millions and millions and millions every single day. Escape fetishists line up to give away their money. Give those charlatans two hours of your time and 1/6th of your daily wages, and they'll try to make you forget whatever internal conflict, loneliness, melancholia, or indecision was making your head spin. The big screen tries to erase those memories temporarily. Fade to black. Flush it all down the toilet.

Cheap vodka does the same thing, but a truly reductive movie doesn't give you a nasty hangover.

"Fools try to freeze time."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Morning Lurid Glaze

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Happy Monday morning, Los Angeles. The time is 9:17am. The temperature is 68 degrees.

We have a set of neighbors who argue all the time. A young actress and her boyfriend live across the alley. Both are highly entertaining because you never know when they are going to go off on each other and start hurling drunken insults at each other like a scene from a Tennessee Williams play.

The young actress across the alley has had a really bad string of boyfriends. She can't pick the right one and they end up in shouting matches at odd times. We met the first boyfriend when she first moved in. They relocated to sunny L.A. from whatever Midwestern hamlet they originated from. He was your typical high school jock that barely kept his head above water at a local community college, and she was a budding actress who starred in a couple of Oxygen/Lifetime movies. Nothing to sneeze out in Hollywood terms, but for a small town girl it was pretty huge. She was going places. She had star-like potential with girl-next-door looks. Her boyfriend dropped out of college and they made the trek to L.A. together. Somehow they found an apartment next to ours in the Slums of Beverly Hills.

She had lofty aspirations. Perhaps a sitcom, or national commercial, or maybe even a role in a major feature. She wanted to build upon her not-so-impressive imdb profile. The boyfriend was much less ambitious. He once told us that his main goal was to work in a marijuana dispensary. At the time, weed shops were exploding in the greater Los Angeles area. He was a total stoner "bro" but at least he was in a good market to find work. Except reality sunk in; he couldn't find anything and he ended up humping a min-wage job in a smoke shop that sold rolling papers, blunts, bongs, and pipes. I think the smoke shop sold cigarettes and porn mags, but it mostly looked like a front for some sort of criminal enterprise. There's two smoke shops within walking distance of my apartment but he worked at one somewhere up in West Hollywood.

The young actress and the stoner bro didn't last very long. Too bad. He was kinda cool to hang out with. Very chill. Laid back. He liked some of the same bands and had a STS9 sticker on his car. I could tell it wasn't going to last very long. They didn't really mix. He was a fish-out-of-water and she had her eyes elsewhere. Nicky and I both knew that as soon as some hot hunky guy from her acting class, or sleazy studio exec put the moves on the young actress, she'd ditch her pothead boyfriend and embrace the local pool of potential mates, while casting her high school sweetheart aside.

I wasn't around when they broke up. I was in Vegas for a work assignment (the World Series of Poker). I left at Memorial Day and by the time I returned to L.A. at the beginning of August, stoner kid was long gone. His car and his STS9 sticker were nowhere to be found. The young actress replaced her boyfriend with a roommate... an aspiring singer. Less than 24 months after moving in, the new roommate made a deep run on American Idol. True story.

But the aspiring actress? She's still aspiring. She was humping a series of shitty jobs while she auditioned and faced rejection after rejection. I think she was a waitress for a while, then a massage therapist, then a yoga instructor. It was never something concrete, but with enough flexibility that she could take off a few hours and fight traffic for an audition. Then rejection. Then more auditions. Then more rejections. She never gave up, though.

Her latest boyfriend is an alcoholic, out-of-work actor. She opted for a pretty boy but with a serious edge. His drinking escalated over the last year or so. His career never took off and he struggled immensely. He dulled the pain with the bottle. She was working a day job more than she had hoped and was supporting him most of the time. She taught yoga more often than she was auditioning. She'd come home from class only to find her boyfriend slumped in front of the TV completely bombed out while watching really bad reality TV. Or worse, she came home and he wasn't there... instead out at some hipster bar getting bombed with other out-of-work actors. She'd call and text and worry, but he'd ignore her all night before coming home in the wee hours. That's when the most vicious fights happened. She'd ambush him at the door and they'd rumble with their voices booming across the alley.

One evening around 4am, I heard her hitting him. Hard. To his credit, he didn't fight back. Maybe he was passed out cold and she was just screaming at him just to scream at him. I thought she might stab him or something. That was the closest I came to interfering and calling the cops. But I also knew better... it's none of my business.

Things were hot and cold the last few months. It sounded like she was auditioning more and more. She was practicing vocals... a lot. The other day she was singing loudly. Nicky recognized the lyrics. It was the Rizzo songs from Grease. Sounded like she was gearing up for a musical.

They screamed back and forth this weekend, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then things got ugly fast this morning. I sat down at my desk to cover an online poker tournament, but I was distracted by the cacophony of screaming. My office is adjacent to their bedroom. Her screams were flooding my office. It all started when she got up to go to work and he was hungover to all hell and presumably puking in the bathroom. She lost her shit. It was only 9am.

"Shut the fuck up! Don't speak. Ever!" she screamed as it echoed through my walls. "You're crazy! You need help. You need therapy. I'm not going to date you anymore unless you get help!"

"Stop being disgusting and dramatic," he howled.

 "You have the time and energy to get trashed, but you never have time for me."

"Maybe if you weren't such a selfish bitch!"

"Shut up. Shut the fuck up. You're not a man! NOT! A! MAN! All you've ever done is promise me the world and all you've done is fuck me in the ass."

"I don't love you."

Ouch. At that point everything dulled down. A few minutes later you heard her in the bathroom. Sobbing. Uncontrollably. Guttural sounds. Like she was choking on her own tears.

Happy Monday morning, Los Angeles. The time is 10:08am. The temperature is 70 degrees.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mad Shitter, Mad Pisser, and the Fat Naked Guy

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I have two "Mad Shitter" stories. One occurred in high school and the other one happened in college.

I went to a Jesuit high school on Park Avenue in Manhattan. It's the kind of environment that bred good manners because if you got out of line some of the priests would either give you detention (a.k.a. JUG an acronym called Justice Under God), or worse, they'd beat the shit out of you.

Mostly every freshman bought a maroon book bag with the school's insignia (with a Latin motto and seal on it). I had one. All the kids in my homeroom had one. The bookbag became prey for someone with serious mental issues.

The Mad Shitter roamed the locker room area and other parts of the school looking for unattended book bags. He'd steal book bags, go into the bathroom, and drop a deuce in the bag. Sometimes he'd take it back to the original scene of the crime. Other times he left the book bag in a random place like a stairwell or in the lower gym. Whenever a student found his lost book bag... he'd open it up to discover a large turd sitting on top. Sometimes the books and turds shifted during transport and you had shit smeared everywhere... on your notebooks, on text books, etc.

One of my friends couldn't find his book bag. He freaked out. Like crying, swearing, and sweating kind of a freak out. He thought about the worst case scenario... the Mad Shitter... stole his bag, then shat in it. He got a note from the school's main office. They found his book bag. It had his name scribbled in big black marker on the side. He sprinted to the lost and found office and picked up the bag. He shook furiously as he unzipped it. He opened up the bag and was relieved to see it was feces free. He was one of the lucky ones. Another friend had his stolen a week later in the cafeteria. It was discovered in the quad with a couple of pebble-like turds. He's fortunate the Mad Shitter didn't have a larger fecal arsenal that day, or worse, ate Thai food for lunch and had an ass-explosion in his bag.

The Mad Shitter stopped one day and no one ever heard from him again. We assumed it was a senior who graduated and moved to a new university and tormented his new classmates. Or the Mad Shitter was one of the trouble makers who got kicked out at the end of the year for bad grades and/or disciplinary reasons. One rumor suggested the Mad Shitter was a disgruntled teacher. Yes, a man of the cloth. I attended a Jesuit high school, so you can image the horrific image of a drunken priest stealing his students' book bags to defecate in. Perfect revenge.  

In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti... SHITHEAD!

The second Mad Shitter story happened in my dormitory during freshman year. One day, someone went around and took a huge dump in the toilet... but left a massive-sized turd without flushing. I'm talking like legitimate foot long salami. Near perfect shit-torpedoes. It was like a giant bear broke into the bathroom, went into the stall, and deposited a log without flushing. One kid discovered it and knocked on everyone's door so they could see it themselves. It was like finding a dead corpse or paying your respects to a deceased former Head of State's open coffin. Everyone on my floor lined up in the hallway and quietly took turns going into the stall to gawk the shit-sculpture.

Afterwards, we gathered in someone's room and played Nintendo baseball while discussing the culprit.

"It's definitely bigger than a baby's arm."
"Dude, it's bigger than a baboon's arm."
"At least they got all of it in the toilet."
"Better the bowl than in your bed."
"I betcha it was that fucker, Peck." 

Over the next month, someone would randomly stumble across an unflushed log. It happened on my floor numerous times before the Mad Shitter expanded his territory and dropped a bomb in the first floor bathroom. My friends and I made a list of potential subjects. We didn't rule out anyone at first and casually inquired everyone's eating habits and daily diet, while we slowly vetted everyone in the dorm.

Each floor of the my dorm was either all-male or all-female. The males lived odd-numbered floors and the women lived on even-numbered floors. The Mad Shitter had clogged up toilets on the first and third floor (where I lived with Skippy). Things got really weird when the Mad Shitter struck on one of the ladies' floors. That really freaked them out, but it offered a huge clue for us. My amateur-detective friends were instantly suspicious of all the girls in our dorm. They could navigate men's floors with ease and no one would think twice if they went in/out of one of our toilets. We shifted our mode of thinking. Perhaps the Mad Shitter was a gal and not a guy? Could we set a trap? Were we really going to stake out all of the toilets? How could we get away with hanging out in the ladies' toilets without getting arrested for pervert peeping tom abbe rant behavior.

We made wanted posters with sharpies and posted them in the hallways and stairwells.
 Most of the posters included rudimentary drawings of shit piles or banana-like turds. We never caught the Mad Shitter. He/she stopped dropping mammoth-sized deuces before Spring Break. The toilets were log-free for the rest of the year. The Mad Shitter disappeared. He/she got away with it, but must've got spooked out that we were hot on their trail.

At the end of the school year, I moved into my fraternity house. I never thought about the Mad Shitter until two and a half years later. One random night, someone discovered a ginormous unflushed turd in the upstairs toilet. Perhaps it was one of my fraternity brothers who also lived on my freshman dorm? The list was small. Three or four guys. Maybe it wasn't a gal after all? Twenty years later, I still have my suspicions. Who was the Mad Shitter that terrorized Atlanta in the early 90s?

* * *

Bonus story...

When I lived in Seattle in the late 90s, I shared a big-ass house in the University District with seven other people. We had a roommate who was the "Mad Pisser" and would urinate on the upstairs bathroom floor. He had bad aim and splashed everywhere. I made a sign on yellow legal pad and a green marker.
One of my roommates fessed up to the problem. He turned himself in and revealed that he was afflicted with a sleepwalking problem and would get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom to leak without watching where he went. He couldn't control himself. During normal hours, he hit the bowl without any problems, but during his sleepwalking trance, he had terrible aim.

I forgave him and told him to buy a mop and clean his piss up. After busting the Mad Pisser, we never had any other incidents.

P.S. If you're a super-fan of Tao of Pauly, then you know I have told stories about the "fat naked guy" who was one of my weirdest roommates of all time. He was much older than us... in his 50s... and he was down on his luck, which is why he had to rent a small room with a bunch of college students and 20-somethings. Anyway, he would sit in the his darken room (only a desk lamp as the only light source) with the door slightly ajar while listening to classical music but he was naked while sitting at his desk. Hence, he was the fat naked guy. Shortly after the Mad Pisser incident, I had to give him a talking to on behalf of a couple of my female housemates who were utterly appalled at his nakedness. He apologized. Fat Naked Guy continued to listen to classical music while naked, but at least with the door closed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Emo Pandas, Jesus Fence, and Jack's Obituary

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Not too many things are worst than eating at Panda Express, with the exception of say working at Panda Express. Don't send me hate mail about me being insensitive for poking fun at the min-wagers at Panda Ex or PandEx (either is appropriate slang that insiders call the joint). I was relieved to discover that PandEx doesn't sell pandas, but General Tso's might be some sort of pigeon and or dog meat (but at least it's not horse-meat like the burgers at Tesco).

I sincerely admire and respect anyone who can suck it up and work a shitty job slinging fast-faux-food, especially in today's bleak economy. Humping a crap job is a badge of courage. Sometimes you have to hump three or more and most of those jobs pay in the single digits. Yeah, you know things are tough when you get excited about making double digit dollars per hour. Sadly, it's impossible to pay down student loans when the only job you can find involves wearing a name tag or asking a customer if they want whipped cream with their mochachino.

One of my former roommates in Vegas (hello Grubby!) worked as a mystery eater at Panda Express... er sorry, PandEx. I think he got $60 per review. Maybe it was $75? Anyway, he got free Panda Express at least once a week. Sometimes it was once every three or four days. I tagged along a few times and sampled the goods at different PandEx around the Las Vegas valley. He always took diligent notes and sample different dishes. It was almost like being a spy during the Cold War, except you're eating fast food Chinese food and ratting out shitty employees who do incorrigible things like wiping their nose on their sleeve before serving you a plate of orange chicken, or give away free drinks to jail bail high school girls in the hopes of getting a rim job in the parking lot while a Ke$ha song drowns out life's emo-soundtrack that rattles around inside your head... that is, if you're the type of $9/hr cashier who doesn't care if the suits at PandEx HQ find out he's a rebellious college drop out, who lacks any qualms about giving away free soft drinks in exchange for perverse favors in the parking deck. Whatever it takes.

* * *

The faded wood on the fence looked like an image of the Virgin Mary, or some other religious figure than making Mexican grandmothers weep at the sight and say the rosary four hundred times before they pass out from exhaustion. The slumlord is Jewish, but not one of those super pious Jews who wears a kippah, so he's not ultra religious when it comes to things like driving on Saturdays, or hiring an illegal Mexican with a cross around his neck and a tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his forearm, to paint the fence in the alley. When the painter saw the piece of the fence that resembled Jesus' mother, he freaked out and refused to paint over it. Instead he returned with one of those seven-day candles featuring Jesus' bloody face (with a crown of thorns). The candle burned for twelve days and the alley cats wouldn't go near it... they were scared off by something not of this realm. A gust of wind knocked the candle over and wax ooze out onto the concrete. The controversial image on the fence that may or may not be a part of a larger intervention from divine beings. You know, like Touched By An Angel. Or it's just a bizarre coincidence. Or it's like a bad interpretation of a Rorschach test.

* * *

I read an old New Yorker column from the 1970s and the author snuck in a Bob Dylan quote about twenty years of schooling and getting stuck on the day shift. Bobby D was afraid that all our education was a false hope because we'd all end up humping a shitty manufacturing job. But Bobby D was a sick poet but he could not see into the future like we had hoped. Sure, going deep into debt to acquire secondary educational seems futile when there are not even crappy, labor jobs to be had. In the roaring 10s of the 21st Century, it's the service sector or the service sector. That's it. You're either a customer with money or a working class stiff with a name tag. It's more like twenty years of schooling and and you're on the Caramel Macchiato and Cinnamon Dolce Latte shift.

Dylan is in his 70s and he's on the road. On the bus. Well, probably on a swanky jet plane. No way Dylan flies commercial. He's private all the way. No TSA is gonna grab Dylan's junk. Dylan tours... for the love of the game? Maybe a few bad real estate investments? Times are tough. Dylan acquired forty years of education at the hard rain's gonna fall school of life... and he's still stuck humping the day shift, playing the Hollywood Bowl for super fans willing to fork over $500 for a seat within spitting distance of Dylan himself.

Dylan liked speed back in the day. Before supersonic jet planes. When you're on the road, bouncing up and down in the back of an old school bus converted into a tour bus. The speed let him stay up late nights and pen those magical Dylan raps. He channeled the beats from decade before with flowery, bold, let-it-all out imagery, and had the layered ideals of the Enlightenment from the Romantics from across the pond circa in the 18th Century, and then Dylan tugged upon the occasional Shakespearean sonnet, or twisted the story lines from Ancient Greek dramas to fit the 60s hip-cat jargon. The speed kept him awake, it kept him rambling. He eventually figured out he was strong enough to get cooking on pure adrenaline... and it took a while to finally kick the pills, but when he did... things were alright mama. well, aside from the Jesus freak stage... but we all don't talk about that time and overlook it like when your friends went through a phase when they were cult-like about yoga or rolling your own sushi.

Jack Kerouac liked speed. Too much so. He never had access to the Walter White primo-ice. Jack resorted to more pedestrian means by cracking open Benzedrine inhalers.

Jack was born an addict. He was no dilettante when it came to ingesting the visceral experiences of sadness. He thrived on raw emotions and shot them into his veins. He snorted up jagged edges of life and knocked back shots of misery and chased them with melancholia cocktails. Life loved Jack; life killed Jack. Jack's emotional radar drew too much interference. He became numb trying to block out his own loneliness and his inability to accept that he didn't fit in to the post-war Americana that everyone else gleefully followed along. One by one by one. Jack needed a boost. Something to get him fired up. Mad about life. Mad about speed. Speed about mad. Speed. Mad Speed. Mad.

Jack? A total speed freak, yes indeed. He wasn't alone. Truckers loved it. Dock workers loved it. Housewives loved it. GIs return from WWII had gotten addicted to the "GO!" pills which gave them enough pep to help rid the world of Hitler, Fascism, and the Nazis. Funny... in an ironic way, because German lab geeks invented speed and Japanese scientists perfected it. WWII was the supreme battle of the speed freaks. The winner... got all the speed and access to the rich oil fields of the Middle East, and a fat-ass credit card bill from the Banksters which paid for all the guns and oil and speed to begin with.

He drank, chain-smoked, and gobbled up as much Benzedrine he could get his hands on. He cranked out On the Road crocked to the tits. Capote thought Jack's genius was hogwash and all he wrote was gibberish. "Fast typing from a drug-crazed speed freak!!" Jack didn't give a fuck. He dug it. Cassady dug it. Ginsberg dug it. Coltrane would have dug it. So that's all that mattered. Jack got paid. Pay the sad speed freak his money. The sad sack Jack bought more speed, jugs of wine, and cigarettes and hopped in the car whenever he could and chased his own ghost from highway to highway. When he lost all ambition for the road, he holed up at his mother's apartment in Queens and cried a lot and paced around and made frantic phone calls at 3am to whomever he could get a hold of and he was hopelessly searching for the vein... the right vein to put the spike back in and hope that stirs up the wordmaster inside the hallways of his mind. When it's time... it's time... to open up the hose and let the thoughts, images, faces, notes, scat, horn toots, and whistles and farts and chatty jive-talkers, and let it all run out onto the paper like it happened so many times before. And like so many times before, he'd hit a wall. Hard brick wall. Bloodied his nose, yet he could never get the same rhythm and magic flowing like the long days that bled into nights when he typed out his manuscript on one long roll and was chopping down on his lips, jacked up on Bennies and cranking out thousand words chunks of On the Road in a single breath. He'd inhale a cigarette and hold it in until he wrote five hundred and fifty-five words then he unleashed a howl as he exhaled a plume of smoke and tapped his feet on the floor like he was sitting in a jazz club on Swing Street listening to Bird's bebop revolution, but all that pitter-patter on the ground was just Morse Code that Jack deciphered with his fingertips as he pounded the keys with courage and excitement and fury and each word jumped off the page and smack him in the face so he wrote fast and faster and faster so he'd get numb to all the slapping so it was one fiery sensation tearing off the skin on his face and the rest of his arms and legs itched like fire ants burrowing just below his skin and scalp and lodged in between his finger tips. The speed made him feel alive, made him feel invincible, made him feel feelings. Feel. He felt it. The speed was him. He was the speed. Mad speed. The madness flowed. He sprung to life. The speed-turbo-boost allowed his mind to finally catch up with the collective consciousnesses of the universe.

Then Jack died. His obituary did not have many run-on sentences.