Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil

Wegman Stu is a man whose clear vision became suddenly impaired. Ironically enough, he worked in television.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when he saw things for what they were. In fact, until just recently, his pupils were dilated 24/7. Good things always seemed better. People were always stronger and more capable. And the world was always another opportunity for massive communion. Then he met the devil. And the devil changed Wegman’s life forever.

Now, contrary to popular opinion, the devil loves the feel of the earth beneath her feet. She likes to roam freely. Maybe you’ve seen her. (You’re probably asking yourself –based on my choice of pronouns – whether the devil really is a woman. Well…for Wegman she was. And that should be enough to scare the hell out of you. At least for the sake of this story.) So, the devil didn’t meet our soon-to-be optically impaired hero in some dank, dirty bar, or on the gnarly fringes of evil doing. In fact, the two had their first official encounter just beyond the starting line of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer; although, the devil had been trying to dig her nails into Wegman’s psyche for years, unbeknownst to him.

Wegman was there producing a segment for an upcoming show. The devil crouched ready, in a pair of black Champion running shorts and bright white Nikes. Though Wegman was still wearing glasses at the time and was surrounded by a crew of cameramen, when the devil made her way towards him, a #6 taped to her custom enhanced bosoms, her intentions were anything but clear.

Did I mention Wegman worked in television? I’ll say it again. It was his job – his life even – to discern the truest vision for the people. Now we all know that television is likely the shittiest medium with which to convey the truth. The limitations are obvious. But Wegman believed in the potential of people. He wanted to see a change for the good in the general populace. So he tried his best – in all endeavors – to show humanity what they needed to see. To prescribe the not-too-apparent. And to change the world by overcoming evil. Digitally. Whatever the cost. Wegman was a beautiful, selfless prophet of the airwaves, but he was about to meet his match. And the showdown would be less than epic.

Channel 7 had no particular interest in contestant #6, but the devil had other plans. Wegman was giving directions, in his usually kind way, to the men with the Sony MPEG IMXs. The devil moved in and parted their lenses like the red sea. Wegman’s four eyes focused. Even before she opened her lips, he knew the devil was something special.

“I have a story to tell to the nations.” She stood in front of Wegman like the answer.

Now Wegman was not what anyone would call religious. It was apparent he believed in God, but that was pretty much the extent of things. His sincere and pure heart he chalked up to good genes rather then good God. Once, when he was interviewing a woman whose missing child had been returned to her miraculously unharmed after 7 long days, he was asked by the woman if he prayed on a regular basis. Implying his position as moderator of broadcasted content might benefit from talking to God. The thought never really crossed his mind. He found himself saying, “Well… it’s really irrelevant.” But for some strange reason, staring at this boldly attractive woman before him now, he was compelled to pray. Perhaps to compensate for the feeling of wanton lust that washed over him like greasy sex.

Fucking. That’s what he was thinking about. Fucking and praying. A combination that was driving him to his knees in embittered conflict. And the devil was taking off Wegman’s glasses. And the cameramen were scattering like ants under a magnifying glass. And the devil kept whispering, “Can you see me? Are you sure? Can you see me?” And the devil was leading Wegman around by his striped tie. And the devil had Neilson ratings. And devil wanted to talk about studio changes and content management and the savior of the world.

Some time passed and Wegman realized that the devil had no intention of raising money for breast cancer. She was there for him and him alone. The event was soon over and Wegman was in some dank, dirty bar, on the fringes of evil doing. He was soused with gimlets and the devil was feeding him programming ideas on the tips of olives. She packed his mouth with so much derision; he thought he would burst with emptiness.

Wegman couldn’t see straight. His glasses were somewhere on the finish line, smashed by the weight of a million women in pink. But his mind was lucid. A dream for the future was being birthed under a black velvet picture of a cat with a suitcase. A cat named JoJo. Lies were now truth. War was now peace. Shit was precious. The devil had given Wegman the burden of revelation. The future would come in beautiful, brilliant white lights. Processed information. The people could no longer be trusted as discerners of goodness and truth and justice. It had to be spelled out for them. Force fed 24/7 on giant silver screens. Talking heads. Quantity. Not quality. And they would eat it. And they would love it.

The pupils in Wegman’s eyes shrunk. He thought the dark of the bar had done the damage, but he would discover later that he was forever changed. There was no fucking that night. Nor was there any praying. The devil left Wegman full and contemplative. But then she was gone. There was a Habitat for Humanity event in the morning and she had to attend.

His head was dulled with the numbness of alcohol when he returned to channel 7 the next morning, but it was also brimming with ideas. If Wegman was ever going to make a difference in this world, he had a whole lot of changes to make. And time was no longer on his side.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Going Postal

I want to apologize in advance to any of you even remotely affiliated with the United States Postal Service. (These days it’s hard not to throw a rock and hit someone who is.) But this romantic tale of woe is in no way an indictment of our US of A, or its crackpot mail delivery system. It’s just that this particular portion of my life took place one early Saturday morning at a Chicago post office facility. The facts remain as is. Nothing has been changed.

I was going to be a postman (mail carrier, if you want to be pc about it). My latest brilliant idea, at the end of a long list of equally brilliant ideas – government and city options, including librarian’s assistant (book stacker) and transportation management associate (meter maid). There was definitely something oddly romantic about forced exercise as employment. On a beautiful day, my postal shorts and my Ipod, delivering the goods to everyone’s waiting box. Sun shining on my good fortune. You mean, someone would actually pay me to do this?! What a concept! I mean, I had conveniently blocked out the notion of rabid dogs, Chicago’s brutal winters, snow and flooding rain. None of that was considered. I’m not particularly sure if I believe that whole myth about ‘neither rain nor sleet nor…” anyways. I sometimes don’t get my mail on a good day. Maybe my mail man stopped off for a 2 margarita lunch at Garcia’s down the street. I don’t know. But my mail delivery was anything but consistent. If anything, my election to the prestigious position of mail carrier would be an improvement to the established system. But first, I had to take a test.

That’s right. Unlike other normal jobs where you merely send in a resume, have an interview and be done with it, if I truly wanted to deliver the mail, I would have to take a test to prove my worthiness. I was concerned. I haven’t had to prove anything in roughly 7 years. Now I was expected to do the whole ‘2 #2 pencils, no electronic devices and no large bags of any kind’ thing. (Not to get off the subject, but have you even seen a #3 pencil, or a #1 pencil? I never have understood that one.)

Anyway, this test was not your normal aptitude diagnosis. It involved matching labels, finding address errors in seconds and learning a hell of a lot of zip codes. (Do you realize how many zip codes there are just in Chicago?) But, there was a study guide, so…I studied. For the first time in 7 years. And I was prepared to take the postal exam #473.

It was 6:50 in the a.m. They checked my id. They checked it again. Four times. Can’t fault them for being thorough. A lot of crazy people come through the postal system – I imagine. Then they ushered me, via armed security guard, up eight floors (we took an elevator, of course), into a room of people I didn’t know. (Which is not completely true. It’s really just a set-up, so when I give you the big ‘except’…you’ll be sufficiently primed for the big revelation.)

Except Natasha. I knew Natasha. Though I had not seen her in 7 years. Grad school. My creative non-fiction writing class. With Jim Bruner. She’s a girl I went out with. Once. As a group. Some beers with her. And others. We went to see another classmate, who was doing a turn as Deborah in David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” on a tiny stage in the back of Chico’s Pizza. We (Natasha and I) had exchanged a few looks that night. We also had a singular one-on-one conversation for about 5 minutes. Talked about our final class project between the play’s 2 acts and that was that. She intrigued me (as many do), and the fact of the matter is I should have made more of an effort with her. But I never did. The semester ended. We both graduated with liberal arts degrees. And here I was – 7 years later – taking the postal exam with her.

Of course, it was a piss-poor scenario to rediscover the woman who very well could have been the light of my life. There was to be no talking and no looking around. We received our two approved sheets of white scrap paper. The timer was set and we began.

She was sitting directly in front of me. I tried to get her to turn around, but it was kind of difficult in such a controlled environment. I utilized the whole ‘dropping my pencil’ bit, loud sneezing bouts - her name cleverly couched within the outburst - but to no avail. She wasn’t budging and one of the test monitors was looking at me cross-eyed. I was dangerously close to being disqualified and I couldn’t risk it. I decided to bear down, finish the exam and take my chances with Natasha later. Brilliant idea, I thought. But it was the last lucid thought that passed through my mind.

I was gone. The timer was tick-tick-ticking, but my focus on anything related to the postal arts had completely fallen out of my head onto the dirty faux carpet, and was being ground in by the pacing test monitors with their crooked eyes and crooked teeth. Agony. Natasha had consumed me in an instant and I just could not bring myself to match a single, damn address. Fuck these tricky zip codes. I would never be a postman.

I sat there – abiding my call to silence – pencils steady – a drone– until a final time was called. I turned in my exam. There was a serious of circles I had colored in with my #2 pencil. They had the design of a sad clown. I was that sad clown. At least I could drown my sorrows with Natasha. Maybe grab a couple of early afternoon drinks. Pick up where we left off 7 years ago. She started to rush off, but I caught her in the hallway before our descent back down to ground level.

“Natasha…hey…remember me? Professor Bruner’s class? It’s been a while. How have you been? This is crazy, right? The postal exam? You and me? Who could have thought it? You okay? Still writing and stuff? Thought we could…I don’t know… ”

I think that’s all I said. Might have been more. Who knows? My synapses were just beginning to fire again. She turned and looked at me. It was not the look she had given me in Chico’s 7 years ago. It was the look of confusion. The look of dismay. The look of a soon-to-be post-woman. And she was not happy.

“Do I know you?” She did, of course. But she made this little clipped sound at the end of her question. It was the sound of disgust. For me, it was the sound of failure. Supreme failure. She moved away from me slowly, and with skepticism, and proceeded down the hallway with the other post-exam revelers. There was no further acknowledgment. I had forfeited all hopes of government employment on a girl from grad school who wouldn’t even acknowledge the mere remembrance of me. And now it was all gone. I wasn’t fit to carry mail.

I reached into my breast pocket and grabbed my alternate #2 pencil – the one with the sharper point – and calmly stabbed myself in the neck. I think this is what they call ‘going postal’. Oh well, on to my next brilliant idea.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Girl Who Couldn't Cry

When she first told me, I thought she was a liar. I mean, even I’m not afraid to admit that I cry. Where’s the shame in that? Life is overwhelming. And when it starts to suck you in, you can do one of two things: stuff it or cry. Yet here was a woman, standing at the plate, who claimed to have a fair amount of disconcertment in her life, but who swore, up and down, that she did not nor would not cry.

Her name was Chloe. She worked in a garage. (Which explains some of her proposed emotional deficiency.) On our first date, she showed up at my front door with a bouquet of assorted beers and cigars. She had on a pair of faded coveralls and a little smudge of brown grease on her cherubic left cheek. I almost asked her if she had forgotten that we were supposed to go dancing at the Have a Nice Day CafĂ©, but after I had accepted my generous gift of alcohol and nicotine, she asked, “Can I use your shower.” She walked past me as if she had been there a thousand times – unbuckling her dirty coveralls along the way. She stood in front of the bathroom door – wearing only a tiny pink tank and matching angel shorts – long enough to figure out where I kept the clean towels, and then she vanished into the water.

Damn. This girl was an original. Unorthodox. And hot. I cursed myself for being even remotely concerned about her lack of weeping. But I had to admit…it bothered me. Just a little. I’m the kind of guy who encouraged emotional vomiting from the women I dated. I thrived on the fragility of instability. Even welcomed a bit of friendly hostility. But this Chloe…she was more together than I was. What could be done with her?

On the dance floor, she was an animal. Rabid. Aggressive. Impulsive. Her movements during “Funky Town” were acrobatic and obscene. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that she performed a series of 3 consecutive back-flips during Prince’s song “Kiss”. And the room was anything but deserted. She almost took the painted face off of a big-chested husky blonde, who was dancing with an even huskier male companion. The blonde yelled out “Bitch” and Huskier’s muscles flexed through his tight t-shirt. I had to get us out of there quickly, to avoid the possibly devastating aftermath. Though I think Chloe could have taken them both.

We walked out into the cool A.M. of late May. Her post-shower ensemble of croqueted, pink knit halter top and flared, gem-studded disco jeans were soaked through with the sweaty rewards of her dance floor escapades. She was so hot. (I mean, she was definitely attractive, but when I say hot, what I mean is that her intense 80’s aerobics had rendered her unable to cool down sufficiently, even though I had begun to feel a bit of a chill coming on.)

We walked along the dock of the bay that ran between the club and my apartment. And, without warning, the girl who couldn’t cry, jumped into the water – fully clothed – removing only her deadly 3 inch clunky heals before doing so.

She was under the water for a solid minute, but it felt like 10. I was scared. Not only because I was just beginning to enjoy her company, but I was also realistic – I didn’t want to be blamed, in any way, for her watery death. But then something else kicked in, just about the time she finally surfaced. Something I wouldn’t be able to discern until much later. I helped her up the safety ladder and back onto the dock. She pulled up her now sagging halter to avoid flashing me, and wrung out her sopping brown hair. She leaned against me for leverage as she slipped her heels back on. Then she told me something I already knew” “I was hot.”

There wasn’t much talk on the way back to my apartment. She held onto me because the wetness had left her cold. When we arrived, she got the towel from earlier (already dry) and wrapped her head. But she didn’t put her coveralls back on. Instead, she helped herself to one of the flannels from the closet in my bedroom and cloaked her still damp halter top. It was around 3:30. She told me she had to go. A busy day at the garage tomorrow. Well...in a couple of hours, really.

I caught her at the door. She dropped her bag of things. I reached over to her cheek – the one that sported the grease smudge only 5 hours ago. There was a single drop of water that had escaped from under the towel, down her forehead, over the bridge of her nose, down the side, and was clearly rolling down the tear track of her left eye. At least where the tear track should be. I collected the drop and showed it to her. It balanced perfectly on the tip of my finger.

“I thought you never cried?”

She quickly ate it with her strawberry mouth. “No salt,” she said calmly.

I didn’t hesitate. “Let me taste,” I told her, and immediately kissed her mouth with forceful abandon. Her back was pressed against my apartment door.

I pulled my face away from hers after maybe 45 seconds. A shorter period of time than she had been under the water. Revealed was a Chloe that I had yet to meet. She looked terrified. She informed me – once again – of her need to leave. And then…she did. Taking my towel and flannel with her.

I never saw her again after that night. She wouldn’t return my phone calls and that was that. We had connected that night. I felt it. I was sure she had too. And when she jumped in the bay, I was never more attracted to a woman than I was in that moment. These things just do not happen every day.

Maybe I pushed too hard. Who can tell? I would never be able to know for sure whether Chloe’s tear ducts continued to stay dry. Or whether it was all just a sham in the first place. But I will tell you this. In the few hours of night that remained after she left, I opened up one of those imported beers and fired up a red-banded cigar. I sat in my window sill and a pair of synchronized tears began their trek down my saddened visage. The initial wet troops, for who would come plenty of reinforcements.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hey Joe

The first time I tried to kill my wife, the justification was overwhelming. It was that old clichĂ©. You know the one – caught her messing around with another man. Okay, well, I didn’t really ‘catch’ her…but I might as well.

She worked in construction, which, I know, sounds weird in and of itself. She was a larger woman – at least, she had grown to be – and man, could she handle some sheetrock. Evidently, she had been handling more than sheetrock, however. I received a panicked phone call from her boss’ wife one afternoon. My wife was sleeping with her husband. Did I want to meet?

HOLD UP…did I want to what? To meet? For what purpose? I mean, granted, it all became very clear in that moment: the unexplained late nights, the strange moods, the mysterious billings on our credit card looking conspicuously like Motel 6. Now I knew why I had been beating my head against a wall for the past few months. Trying to make something better, which really had no chance in hell. But please tell me why, oh why, would I want to meet? She seemed to be implying some sort of tactical revenge sex. Poor, sick lady. She was distraught with emotion. I really wished, on some level, that I could have obliged her, but her husband was 25 years older than my wife. Which made him…well, it made him a senior citizen. Which, no doubt, made his wife a candidate for the nursing home, as well. I heard the elderly quiver in her wounded voice. I responded with pure candor.

“Sorry, maam…thanks for the information, but…I really can’t meet you. Good day.”

Good day?! Good day?!! What was going on in my head? My wife had betrayed me with a big, fat, old, skinned-head, right-wing, red-neck, Rush Limbaugh championing, Republican Nationalist, brick-laying bastard, but I was perfectly calm. I think some might even call it cold. I was not about to stoop to her level, and I had no intention of sleeping with some geriatric just to level the playing field. Besides, I didn’t want her to have to live with any regrets. Mine or hers. That just seemed cruel. So, I decided that she wouldn’t live at all.

The idea of ‘turning the other cheek’ is such a foreign concept to me. Of course, I realize that not only did Jesus say it, he lived it. But while I try to be a good guy in this life, and to maintain some of these oft ignored commissions, that particular one always sticks in my craw. I mean, was I now supposed to invite this affair into my home? Maybe encourage her boss to sleep over once or twice a week? Killing her just seemed a whole lot less painful. For both of us.

I tried to get her to confess her illicit deeds, but she denied the allegations adamantly. I believe her exact words were, “BITE ME! BITE ME UP AND DOWN!!” We had begun to grow further and further apart. That’s when I decided on the whole ‘hair dryer in the tub’ thing. You’ve seen it a million times in movies and books. Electrify the bath water, killing the occupant instantly. Pass it off as an accident. As clumsy and as careless as my wife was, the authorities and all of our friends would have no problem believing such a tale. So, I drew a nice, hot bubble bath for my soon-to-be ex-wife.

It was a Thursday night. Friends had just gone off. This plan of mine was not thought out beyond actually getting the hair dryer into the tub. When I offered this luxury, (the bath – not the killing), my wife was strangely amused. We were practically estranged at this point, though we lived in the same house. But she could not resist my kindness. She conceded with a confused smile and settled her naked construction worker body into the sudsy catacomb.

She had already knocked back half a six-pack of Heineken with her high starch dinner of chicken pasta and mashed potatoes, so by the time she hit the water, she was out. This would be much easier than I had imagined. She never even saw me plug in the hair dryer. I stood there completely still. Staring at my wife. She was so vulnerable. No protection. No covering except for a handful of bubbles. I held the dryer like a gun and stared at her shuttered eye lids. She was even more beautiful in this moment than she had been on our wedding day. I was recaptured for a second. Suspended in time. And then I thought of her boss, climbing all over her. Ruining a thing that once was good. There must have been some look in my eyes – my weapon lifted up with one hand, the other wiping steamed sweat from off my brow. I never even heard him come in behind me.

“Blow me, daddy! Blow me!”

I lowered the hair dryer. My wife’s eyes popped open like Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein, when she awakens for the first time. She was, in fact, alive. Very alive. And so was I. And so was our 2 year old, who I loved deeply.

In that momentary flash, my wife knew what had been averted. She knew it all. My ill-conceived and selfish plan. My intent. And my complete disregard for the family I had been graciously blessed with. Yes, things were fucked up. Things would always be fucked up. Such is life. But I had a lot more to consider then I had already.

I turned the hair dryer on and kneeled down. A cool, high blast tousled the curly, blonde mop of my beloved son. In whom I was well pleased. He was enthralled. And for those few moments, so was I.

Of course, my wife’s surprise death had been halted, and she would go on to divorce me, conceiving an illegitimate brat from the seed of her boss’ archaic loins. But I learned something that evening, while standing in that bathroom, seconds from becoming a full-fledged murderer: The love of your own child can not only change your heart. It can push you one step closer to a life of selflessness. What can I say? I’m a work in progress.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I'm Not Okay

I want to tell you that it’s all going to be okay. That when the night comes there will be one to retire beside you. One who understands you and can offer the comfort you will need. One to circumvent the pain of completion that must needs be rendered. One to lie to your face in pure and honest love. But alas, all of this is considerably more than I can insure.

What I can tell you is this: you pay for your sins. And not only for your sins, but for the sins of those around you. The sins of those you love. And the ones you might have loved. So, I am sorry, but I can offer very little consolation for the coming night. Only that sometimes, out of the fog, walks a last minute pardon. And she looks nothing like you imagined.

Winter returned to Chicago today and we were not prepared. Not one to rush the post-resurrection fashion stipulations, I had planned on waiting until Wednesday anyway, to don my Caucasian chinos from last year’s Old Navy clearance. Easter clearly in the past, I anxiously pulled a pair of stiff white cargo pants out of their dark hibernation in the back of the closet. I had to run a lint brush over them several times in order to remove all the hair my cat, Jason Hill, had freely contributed to the din. Little did I know that Jesus had seen his shadow upon exit from the tomb. There would be at least 3 more weeks of winter in store for us all. And just for icing, today he dropped 2 inches of the wet, cold fluffy stuff on the city’s unsuspecting citizens.

So, it was a pain in the ass getting up and out today. I really wanted to sit inside, make some soup and watch this documentary on Jimi Hendrix that I had picked up at the library. What I didn’t want, however, was the shitty feeling bound to overcome me if I freely donated one more day to my chronic incompletion of necessary and vital tasks. I put on a pair of legitimate blue jeans and my anti-Starbucks consumer whore t-shirt and made the trek to Panera Bread. I am such a blatant hypocrite.

I figured the least I could do on such an unexpectedly nasty day was get a little writing done. I sat down in a corner booth with my legal pad and a breakfast Panini. There was not a damn word on that page when I saw her sitting there. Reading a trashy novel. Hunched down at the two-top right next to me. A blue knit cap with protruding pigtails and a pair of frosty pink lips. Hands cupping her steaming coffee. A lover I hadn’t seen in over 10 years.

I didn’t want to get into it with her. Not that we had ended bad. It’s just one of those things. You let sleeping dogs lie. You leave the past alone. And definitely, if you were lucky enough to have had a fairly amicable parting, then that shit should stay sealed and buried. Otherwise, things get awkward. Well…

She said she was okay. Just okay. She wasn’t with anyone currently, but that could change any day now. (These were her words and not my gross assumptions, mind you) There had been many assholes in (and subsequently out) of her life since our breakup, but she assured me that I had could hardly be considered a part of that group. I caught her up on me, and the pathetic existence I was eking out as an actor/writer/rock star/chef. She didn’t seem to be too interested in it all. There were two burly, young commodities traders in $1000 suits having their lunch immediately diagonal to the two places we occupied and I think she was trying to elicit their stares. In fact, I know she was. She kept doing this thing with her frosty lips and pigtails. She was pretty successful. Four rich eyes were on us. Well…on her. But when she reached into her purse for a second, I kind of intimated that we were together and the two suits backed off. Damn those arrogant commodities traders. Who do they think they are? They have all the money and they want all the girls too. I’m sure they were frightened at the thought of my 150 pound frame forcing my size 9s into their collective ass. Oh yeah, they were scared.

We talked a while longer (my old lover) and then we were done. It wasn’t like that song by Dan Fogelberg – Same Old Lang Syne – I mean, we didn’t meet in a grocery store and drink a six-pack in her car, talking about our new loves and reminiscing about the old times, until we laughed and cried and stared regret in the face before passing into the sad night. And no – the snow did not turn into rain. This was Panera bread – as I stated before. The undigested pig on that breakfast Panini was beginning to weigh pretty heavy in my gut and I still had not accomplished one solitary thing.

It was strange when we ended it today. I remember it was the same 10 years ago. We both gave cordial “nice seeing ya”s and admitted we both had things we had to do. Pressing things. I leaned back over into the corner booth I had been straddling for the last hour and she stuck her head back down into the pages of her bustier ripping rot. But not before she laid a final statement on me. A statement I wont soon forget.

“I know you think you’re okay right now. And you very well may be. But when the night finally settles on you – and it will – you better remember to pray.”
This from a girl reading escapades of heroic oral pleasure and trying to land a pair of beefy downtown traders at the Panera bread.

I finished off my second cup of coffee and begin to pen what would eventually become this essay. She sat there reading as if we had never met.

Post script: Several more hours have passed now. I’ve finished my piece and she is long gone. Blew out like the wind with not another word spoken. No acknowledgement. No head nod. Just a blind exit. Even now the whole encounter strikes me as so odd. I don’t believe in coincidence so I just keep asking myself “why”.

The snow outside has become more sparse. It is no longer white, but gray. It is April. Our days are longer now, but somehow, I don’t trust that logic today. I must get back before dark.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

Good Friday? What’s so good about it? A completely innocent man dies and we deem it good? I mean, I understand it from the point of religious necessity. It is, after all – coupled with the coming Easter – the crux of most westerner’s faith. The one act that validates it all. But what really makes it good?

We fucked up. I mean we fucked up big time. From the crunchy bite of that first questionable apple, to that grave ‘moral error’ you farted out in your private bedroom last night. So, collect all that shit. All the genocide, lies, sexual abuse, arrogance, wars, senseless taking of lives – from all ages: past, present and future – until time has made its last stroke. Collect all that and dump it on one man. A perfect man. Bathed in humility and exuding love in bushel baskets full. Make all the white turn black one bitter afternoon across the side of a rock two thousand years ago. A singular slaughter of a willing innocent. A horrific and brutal execution. And we call it Good Friday. Good for who? Certainly not good for him. Don’t get me wrong. I realize the significance. But it just looks like – from the outside – a pretty bad Friday to me.

I used to work in the retail world, where the Friday after Thanksgiving was called (is, in fact, still called) Black Friday. Having to be out in the midst of these rabid, frenzied consumers, hopped up on whoring advertisements and beating the shit our of one another for a chance at a $25 dvd player, was not my idea of fun. The bleakness of that day was overwhelming. I knew why it was Black Friday to me. Having to enter a Walmart at 4:30 in the a.m., after a day full of turkey, football and family, was enough to make me want to kill myself. But, evidently, retailers came up with the name Black Friday because it marked the official emergence from the ‘red’ (negative) of their annual operating budget into the ‘black’ (positive). From this dark day in November, until around January 2nd, they would make enough blood money to balance out the rest of the year’s losses. Aha. Mystery solved.

So what’s the secret behind the name given to the Friday before Easter? It’s clear what’s bad about it. Where does the good come in?

For starters, somebody else got killed for all the shit I’ve done and all the shit I am bound to do. Evidently I deserve the death penalty. Evidently I deserve worse. But I got out of that one. Which makes me feel pretty guilty, but pretty thankful all at the same time. That’s good, right?

Then this guy – the guy for whom the holiday’s named – he came and influenced people for the better when he didn’t even have to. He told the truth when he could have lied. He was a man of convictions when he could have wimped out. He explained to his friends that he had something to do, and then, what do you know, he did it. Not only was he true to his word, but look at what it cost. He was a martyr, but he didn’t just die for an idea. He died for all of us self-consumed bastards who find it difficult just getting out of bed in the morning. That’s definitely good.

Finally – and I guess all of these things are kind of inter-connected – he made the future brighter. Actually, he turned the lights on for the first time. All because of one selfless act. Before he suffered to the death, we were all, pretty much, fucked. First you get shit on for roughly 75 years down here. Then you get shit on for an eternity in the after life. You might think it easy for me to knock something I have yet to experience, but “no thank you”. I’ll take my chances with the free gift. The unknown is a bitch. I may have to slip on some shades on my journey to the beginning, but I’ll be singing a new song all the freaking way. Fuck all that “on my own” shit. He died so that I could live. You give me that! That’s good.

I wont pretend to understand that I know how all this works or why today is really good. Some sources say that Good Friday came as a mispronunciation from what used to be called God’s Friday. In any case, it’s easier just to accept the name as it is. To receive it. Just as I am. So while I spend my days obsessing about women, dwelling in my excesses and making an ass out of myself continually, today I consider myself pretty damn lucky. And grateful. And humble. And that’s good. Even if I’m not.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Samuel Clemmons Redux: Or This Visiting Kitty is a Little Bitch

Remember Mark Twain’s two prominent ‘heroes’? There was Tom Sawyer and there was Huck Finn. Huck was the one with the strong moral center. He wanted to live free, but he also wanted everyone else to live free – despite pre-emancipation standards. He protected old Jim – was even willing to risk his own life to save him – until the bitter end. Tom, on the other hand, had a semi-good heart, but he was misguided, mischievous and often, mental. You see Tom was, ultimately, only concerned with fun and adventure. Getting in trouble was a way of life, with the consequences expended to everyone but him. He was a selfish little bugger, but he was never satisfied remaining the sole proprietor of his evil ways. No – he had to get Huck Finn involved in the sticky messes again and again.

What does all this have to do with temptation? Let me explain. We have a cat named Jason Hill. He is black and he is fat, but it is not our fault. He receives the recommended daily allowance of urinary tract infection kitty food that comes by way of a $32 prescription. The largeness of Jason set in years ago, due to inactivity. He is large, primarily because his days consist of lying around on his fat, hairy ass, waiting for his next meal to be served. He is, however, a very obedient, very friendly feline, with the personality of a small dog, and we love him so. He is 3 times the size of a normal, healthy cat, but it is his only real flaw. I am convinced that if our apartment was engulfed in the flames of death, and I was trapped inside, Jason would save my life. For the sake of this essay, let’s call him, our proud fat kitty, Huck Finn.

A week ago, a very different cat came into our lives. He was much younger and smaller than Jason (a.k.a. Huck), therefore, he was also much more frisky. He is Asian, and his name is Stitch Chong. Luckily, we will only have Stitch for a few remaining days. His master, for whom we are cat-sitting, will be back from China, but it will not be soon enough. You see, Stitch (who we will call Tom Sawyer), is a bastard cat. I believe he was sent to this earth by Satan himself – his devious mission being to do the bidding of the dark lord.

When little Tom cat first arrived and instantly began his unbearable tirades of savagery, I believed it stemmed from a simple problem of adaptability. In a few days, I imagined, he would be fine. He just needed to settle in. How wrong I was. The bloody reign of terror continues to this very moment. And his realm of treacherous influence is spreading like an epidemic. None are immune. Especially poor Huck.

At first, the tiny declawed minion exerted his power through the sheer force of his jaw. Little Tom would bite, accompanied by vicious growls, anyone who attempted to pet, pick up, move or speak to him. Personally, this form of behavior I can manage. I just get out the water bottle or lock him in the bathroom for an hour or beat him senseless with the back of my hand. Problem solved. (Please PETA don’t hurt me – this is just some friendly satire) Unfortunately though, brutal little Tom cat produced several large gouges in the soft underbelly of our boy Huck, and has been removing clumps of hair by the mouthful. All of this, I would come to understand later, was merely initiation.

Although there was some pain involved in the process, part of me was pleased with this temporary addition to our family. For our fat Huck was exercising for the first time in his life. I guess it was that, or risk losing one of his nine lives to the visiting Asian warrior cat. The chase was on, but Huck was growing scrappy and was beginning to fight back. After the violence had begun to subside, however, and turned into mere sadistic play, I began to notice a slight change of tactics, by way of the devil cat.

Both cats were exerting extra energy – previously used only for storing fat (in the case of Jason) – and seemed to develop more ravenous appetites. Feeding time was already strictly monitored. Huck can eat only hospital food, while Tom has his standard Kibbles and Bits. Unfortunately, they both exhibited a severe desire to indulge in each others meals, so they had to be sequestered during dinner time. What was left at the end of each shift would be taken away until the next serving – to prevent unnecessary hog-age. Of course, our Huck would always tend to bitch a little over meals that he believed the least bit unsubstantial, but that was always the extent of it.

Imagine my surprise this week, upon hearing a loud ruckus in the kitchen, and discovering this awful scene: Our boy – our baby –was on top of the refrigerator munching out on Tom Sawyer’s remaining bits from the previous feeding session, which had been hid away (I thought) for safe keeping. I truly believed the top of the refrigerator to have been a sufficient hiding place, considering the fact that it is 6 feet off the ground and Huck is pretty much grounded, due to obesity. Even more disturbing though, is the fact that this aberrant behavior was prompted and cajoled out of a normally mild-mannered, well behaved cat. The evil one, Tom, was just lounging there on the kitchen floor, staring up at the entire escapade. It was as if he was saying, “you stupid shit”. I didn’t know whether it was directed at me, or at Huck, the newly initiated bandit. I should have figured something was up earlier, when I saw my kitty gobble his meal time bowl down so quickly that he developed severe hiccups; then quickly padded to the dish of our visiting feline, before I had the chance to take it up. He sat there in kitty food lust, hoping to scarf down any remaining kibbles. And now, here in the dark of night, he had performed a feat of vertical wonder, under the duress of possible ‘starvation’ and the bad influence of Satan’s little furry spawn. Now I had to lock up Stitch Chong’s bowl in the cabinet, lest it be a temptation.

Last night…(before I describe this incredible incident, I must give a tiny bit of back story regarding our Huck. Other than his dry pee-pee food – and obviously the visiting feline’s $1.99 variety – our kitty has strange tastes. Vaseline intensive care, makeup and makeup remover, oily vitamins – these are the treats that Jason Hill longs for.) Now you will understand a little better what happened last night. For when I awoke and arrived in the kitchen (the place where most of this wrong doing has been occurring) for my morning pot of coffee, I discovered a terrible mess. About 200 or so flaxseed oil vitamins had been strewn across the floor. Many were chewed open and were oozing. Greasy patches of liquid dotted the hardwood. The vitamin bottle itself had been dragged out of a basket on top of a 3 foot high countertop - through the kitchen, dining room and hallway. It sat – in an upright position – at the guest room door. An offering, I guess, to appease my wrath at finding such a disaster. I was not appeased.

There is no logical reason that justifies the recent behavior of my pet – other than the presence of this fuzzy Beelzebub. But I do not want to try and figure it all out. I just want this Stitch Chong to leave. I want to shove him into his carrying cage and return him to his rightful owner. I…dammit! Sorry, but as much as I relish these stories about the nefarious seduction of our cat, I must cut this short. Looks like our little Huck is currently riding the nasty old Tom cat like a bull rider in a carnival show, and I think he may have bitten off his front paw, due to lack of sustenance. The games continue until Tuesday.

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