Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Reluctant Naturalist

Heat waves rip over the canyon wall, a blurred curtain that distorts the broad brown wings of a golden eagle. A single male, the largest raptor in North America, rises quickly on occasional wing beats—in search of a mate perhaps? An unlucky jack-a-lope? Only God and the eagle know. With the passionless sun scouring the desert, seemingly barren, I am overwhelmed; this must be what Muir felt when first laying eyes upon Yosemite. This joy, this longing, this blissful melancholy, an echo of Thoreau at Walden, drives a single tear down my cheek. But the world’s cares soon return and rain down upon me to quench my desert reverie.

I have been watching this bird for close to two minutes and the football game is all but certainly returned from commercial. I press the channel return button and my communion with the eagle, this sky king, is not ended, but rather paused. I have TiVo.

I am a lover of nature; the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and Animal Planet are all programmed as favorites on my remote. I have a shirt with a bear on it. My right arm is tattooed with an eagle, an orca, a dragon and a squirrel, four natural creatures locked, as far as I know, in a battle for survival. I hear the front door open and my fiancé scuffling about in the kitchen. “Hey Babe, want to watch Planet Earth on Blu-ray after the game?”

“I’m pretty beat,” Jessie replies. She is tired from her meeting. Jessie is a leader of the Baltimore Outdoor Sierrans and wants to get up early to go hiking with the girls. Unlike her man, Jessie is not a naturalist. Some people are wired differently. Jessie takes inner city kids camping; I like a bar with a good view of the outdoors. Jessie keeps a whitewater kayak in the basement, a dual suspension mountain bike in the living room and has no problem pooping in a forest. I’ve got an X-box downstairs, a couch in the living room and, as for forest pooping, that’s squirrel work.

For my birthday three years ago, our first together, Jessie planned a great surprise. She took me camping! Here’s the thing. I’m a naturalist, and while we were stuck in the woods, I missed a documentary on the majestic humpback whale, a PBS special on the wolves of Yellowstone and a Meercat Manor marathon. The closest we came to interesting wildlife was the constant yipping of coyotes, or the poor man’s wolf, nature’s most boring animal.

I don’t want to give you the wrong idea, while I am a rather unusual naturalist and, as difficult as it is to admit these days, I genuinely like TV; I am not a complete couch potato. I practice hapkido, walk rather than drive, and I am all about a day on two wheels ripping through the woods. I just prefer my two wheels by Honda rather than Schwinn. I’ve worked for The Audubon Society, been a guide at The National Aquarium and worked on a tugboat teaching kids about riverine ecology, I genuinely like nature. I just don’t like getting it on me.

This split has always been an issue for me. Before I met the love of my life, I dated an environmental engineer and amateur ornithologist, a herpetologist, a string of organic farmers, and a pair of wildlife biologists; I like my ladies like I like my peanut butter. Crunchy. I don’t know what it is about them that draws me or, more surprisingly, what it is about me that draws them. Could be the bear shirt.

Catherine was the second wildlife biologist. Her mom and dad introduced her to nature as a kid and our first date was a hike. I asked her when to pick her up, she said “early.” I replied, “Noon?” She was thinking six a.m. We compromised and met at eleven. Catherine lived in a ranger station on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Once, on a visit, she woke me up before five in the morning (Yup, each day has two fives!) so we could hike miles into the old growth to watch a baby pileated woodpecker make its first flight. After 2 hours of hiking, ninety minutes of waiting, and a combined three and a half hours of me whining, we saw the little bird take flight. It was spectacular. As, I’m sure, were its second, third and fourth flights, which probably took place some time in the afternoon. Her job had her radio tracking bull trout from a seaplane. That’s pretty cool, I guess, but I’ve seen great white sharks breach on three continents, followed a redneck Australian (redundant?) through the Everglades poking eighteen-foot carnosaurs and seen a monkey poop on Johnny Carson’s head. I was introduced to nature by Jacques Cousteau.

Sarah was one of the organic farmers. I hadn’t seen her in years when I ran into her on the other end of the continent at a hot springs near Mt. Hood, Oregon. Sarah had been working her way through Spain following the olive harvest. I’d been telling wiener jokes in nightclubs. Sarah had given up her home in the back of a forty-five year old school bus in NoCal to hike and camp her way through the hot springs of the Pacific North West. I had driven my Bronco up from Portland for the afternoon. What drove us apart seemed clear, what brought us together, more elusive.

These differences might seem trivial, and for a Summer fling, they were, but in a marriage, these basic philosophical differences can cause deep fissures. Like couples from different cultures, say, a Christian and a Hittite or a Dutchmen and someone who isn’t crazy (wooden shoes? Really?), love can bridge much, but it also takes hard work and real compromise. So the question becomes, how do I, a less than avid outdoorsman, satisfy my woodsy woman, yet remain true to myself and avoid having to cut my own arm off with a rusty Swiss Army knife to avoid starvation is a hostile and hideous landscape? Plus, we’ve got a four month old son and I need to know we can work together to instill in him a sense of the horror of the outdoors.

For Jessie, entering nature is like finding her way home, “It’s calming. Calming and freeing,” she explained. “In the city, there are structures, routines, and commitments. Obligations. Mechanical things that create a constant hum, an artificial hum, it’s nice to be free of that.” And I hear her. I’ve felt it too, but I also find it scary. “It was a painful realization,” Jessie continued more quietly. “When there’s something that’s essential to you, you don’t even question it’s there in someone else.” There was a pregnant pause, filled with loss, before her eyes slid up to meat mine, and a sly smile crawled across her lips, “Plus, you’d lived in Oregon, which was enough to make me believe.”

I realized then, that Jessie had made a mistake, a miscalculation that many before, who have never seen what I have seen, have made. Much of Oregon is kept indoors. But in that moment, when Jessie’s wit cut the sadness, we shared a moment of communion. Jessie’s love for the outdoors runs all the way through her, but our love for each other runs just as swift and strong. And we began to focus on the things we shared. I asked how she’d change my relationship to the outdoors, “It begins with an appreciation. It doesn’t have to be hardcore or anything that requires skill or adventure.”

Jessie half closed her eyes to imagine nature and the ways I experience it, “He breathes in the air as he goes by on his motorcycle at sixty miles an hour (Authors note, more like eighty) and he looks at the trees and likes them. I think he’s a collector of info­ on all sorts of things, which I appreciate—most of the time—which could come in handy if we actually get him outdoors. I think he’s not comfortable with pain. So, when we hike up a hill, he is really unhappy. So if hills are involved, it causes him pain and I try to let him be on his own. But he does seem to forget about it at the top. Like childbirth.”

We went on to talk about our little boy, Jonah, and I asked how she wanted him to meet nature. “I hope he loves it as much as I do,” She answered, “maybe more so. I fantasize a lot about it, doing things with him outdoors. A friend of mine is going to hike the Continental Divide and I thought, wow! Wouldn’t that be a great thing to do with your thirteen-year-old son? It would be a great fiftieth birthday for me.” I agreed, but reminded her, he probably has a bit of his old man in him. I asked, “How does it make you feel that I am going to teach him that the lion is the king of jungle and that the king of the oceans is Aquaman?”

“I think we’re going to have a very confused child,” she answered

Confused indeed, but, like the lion and the tiger who see past their differences, maybe over a box of wine and a Barry White album, to give the world a liger (or tigon, depending on who’s on top), Jessie and I have overcome our differences. I’ve looked past her stripes and she has looked past my enormous hair, cravings for wildebeest and sandpaper like tongue and together we’ve found some balance, built a life and started a family. I resigned myself long ago to weekend hikes, powerless boats, bikes that require peddling, camping and, yes, even pooping in the woods, and I am better for it (Well, except the pooping part. I really really don’t like that and I’m pretty sure I’ll catch a disease.). And while I look forward to teaching the boy how to kick start a motorcycle and program a remote control, I’m glad Jessie is there to teach him about whatever the hell it is that people do out there.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Game of Groans

Dark riders on black horses emerge from an impossibly huge wall onto a frozen white wasteland in the opening scene of HBO’s highly anticipated new fantasy drama, A Game of Thrones. The riders are members of the “Night Watch” and are in hot pursuit of some runaway “Wildlings” when they discover a gruesome scene of artfully arranged slaughter perpetrated by the mysterious “White Walkers.” The scene teases at Tolkien, imitates the frozen isolation of The Shining and garnishes it all with a heavy handful of Saw III and provides our first evidence that, “Winter is coming,” a phrase oft repeated and only spoken grimly with a heady dose of portent.

Well if winter is coming, I hope it brings a glossary and a seating chart. The night watch and the wildings are only the first five minutes. Over the next fifty-five, we meet the noble Eddard Stark (played by the ever dour Sean Bean), leader of Winterfell, northern most province of The Seven Kingdoms, in the land of Westros ruled by the hard drinking Baratheon (Mark Addy) who is stalked by the scheming Lannisters who want to return home to King’s Landing which lies just across The Narrow Sea from the exiled Targaryens who are hiding in the court of the Dothraki hoping to woo their barbarian king Khal Drogo (played by Jason Momoa and the medical team at Balco) and that’s just the cliff notes . A Game of Thrones is based on George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice which currently stands at 271 chapters and 3,882 pages with 3 books still to come in the planned septology and apparently the producers are trying to get it all in by the end of the second episode.

The highlight of the first episode lies in the truly stunning opening sequence. The camera sweeps dynamically across an ancient map as clockwork gears build castles and raise cities. It’s a scene setter that hints at the much-ballyhooed political intrigue yet to come, but if you were expecting All the King’s Men or even The West Wing, you might want to set your sites a bit lower. Think Passions meets Porky’s. There are whisperings and innuendo, plots and machinations, heaping helpings of skullduggery and more misogyny than a Girls Gone Wild boxed set. Frankly, by the time we get to child murder, it’s a welcome relief from all of the rape and incest (one episode, two West Virginia love triangles).

HBO does television better than anyone else on the planet, and they’ve got a lot here to like. The sets are breathtaking and the digital effects, seamless. Costuming is Emmy worthy and manages to seem organic and earthy while still being otherworldly. The acting is more than solid with some notable highlights. Peter Dinklage alternately sings and sulks as Tyrion Lannister, the Queens dwarf brother and Michelle Fairley adds grace and strength to Catelyn Stark, matriarch of Winterfell. But it’s not enough to overcome a plot that is a hodgepodge of elements thrown together for forty-year-old teenage boys.

Serious men with swords and dire wolves (Played ably and adorably by a bunch of Alaskan Malamute puppies) plan the path of the kingdom while whispering women agonize over their arranged marriages. Knife fights and gang rape are chuckled off as wedding entertainment and it’s all inartfully wrapped up in stilted dialogue from flat archetypal characters. HBO has given us The Wire, Dead Wood, and Boardwalk Empire, the best of modern television drama, and maybe that’s part of the problem for A Game of Thrones. If it were on STARZ opposite Spartacus: Blood and Sand it might wear a bit better, but in the end A Game of Thrones isn’t HBO, it’s television.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Scientists Continue to Grease Path to Hell

In an attempt to seal their role as the fourth horseperson of the apocalypse, scientists at the China Agricultural University have bred 300 cows that make human last! Once they teach those cows to change a diaper, give a hug and walk in on you while you're masturbating, we'll no longer need human moms. Thanks Science, what other tedious tasks can you warp animals to do for us? Maybe invent a lemming that laughs? A spider monkey that makes perfect omelets? How about a dugong that has ferocious orgasms so I wont have to?

Seriously Science, I'm on your side. I think what you did with that whole polio thing was fantastic and I love my ShaveMate Titan (Six blades and shaving cream in the handle? I feel like a wizard from space!), but have you considered rethinking your focus? How about cobra-proof glass? Some sort of Man-Spatula for defatguying a barcalounger? Shoes that dance so we don't have to? Instead you make a cow that can feed 6 toddlers at once, omniscient dating robots that hook us up with our sisters and the flowbee.

Science, can we talk frankly for a moment? Man to intellectual pursuit? You've really let us down. I was supposed to have a rocket belt by now, instead, its getting harder and harder to find one that's even black on one side and brown on the other. We were supposed to travel in tubes and work on the moon, instead, nearly 70% of Americans are Walmart greeters. My car was supposed to drive itself, travel through time and make me a Perfect Manhattan (Note to stupid car and bartenders at Golden West, "Perfect" when applied to a Manhattan is not an adjective, it's a directive, but I'm going to give you a pass and blame science for this one too.). But my car still makes me drive and now when I go to the coffee shop I have to specify half-and-half, 2%, or homo sapien.

Science, this is your last warning; stop giving animals exciting new features like the glow monkey and the pig with the person spleen (Also the title of my upcoming children's book) and find a way to make cable cheaper.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Challenger Deep, Home to SuperOceanLAd

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Missive to Those Who Survive

As most of you know, current predictions call for between 18 inches and 73 feet of snow, some sort of time/space vortex and the end of life as we know it. As directed by The National Weather Service, I have transformed into a polar bear. For many of you who waited, this will not be an option, and even for those of us who did prepare, these giant shambling bodies, powerful jaws capable of bighting through quarter inch steel plate and taloned claws built for deblubbering a walrus may not be enough.

Bob Turk tells us that after the snows come the harrowing times. A new economy will form. The paper monies of the before times will be as nothing, kindling for our smelters and engines that drive our tunneling machines. A can of corn will be more precious than gold. A woman of quality breeding stock will be worth half a shoveled parking space. Then will come the blighted ones. Roving bands, more beast than human offering to shovel your walk for $20, but when you give them $20, they won’t shovel your walk, and they’ll laugh at you and call you a stupid polar bear whose terrible paws can’t grip a shovel and take all of your coca cola and they will do worse. I’m not sure what, but something really really bad. Like they will begin caroling, but not good songs. They will be playing blue grass and doing Little Feet covers.

I ask those of you who make it, who persevere in the face of insurmountable odds/minor inconveniences, to REMEMBER US! Remember our laughter, remember our tears. Remember the way we smelled when we got back from the gym or the way we went into anaphylactic shock after eating shellfish. Pray for our souls, but more importantly, keep us in your heart. Carry us with you and let our example be a reminder to you to stock up on canned goods and toilet paper.

SING SURVIVORS! Dance and smile and when you cry for us, let it be with joy in your hearts for we are with you, watching you, often when you pee or masturbate or look in someone else’s medicine cabinet or listen to Celine Dion and cry. We, the generation lost in the Blizzard of Aught Dickity. The Snow Angels.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Footprints in the Sand

I dreamt I was walking on the beach. I looked back, and there was only one set of footprints.

They were dog footprints. I asked the lord, "WTF?"

He replied, "That was my dog, carrying you, or perhaps another dog, though, in a sense, they are all my dogs. Either that or you make dog footprints instead of people footprints. It happens."

"Really?" I replied.

"Sure, whatever," said the lord. "I wasn't there, I was making lunch. Tacos. It could have been my dog, or a different dog, but you could make dog footprints. I really don't know."

" Taco?" asked the lord.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Federal Health Care Will Travel Backwards Through Time And Kill Us All

The Government should stay out of personal decisions like health care and stick to telling us who we can marry. For a long time, I made the decision to be too poor to afford health care. Man it felt good to not have The Government getting involved in that decision. I want the freedom to break a leg and set the fracture with bailing wire and part of my Rock’em Sock’em Robot set.

First we let The Government run national defense and look where that’s gotten us? We’ve lost eleven world wars and been overrun by the French, Portuguese and Dutchmen. Now the Canadians are right at our border and I saw a Mexican in the parking lot with some sort of whirring blade weapon destroying American weeds.

Good job, U.S. Government.

Next we let them handle public utilities and there is not a single road, the trash has never been picked up and I have to travel over 1500 miles to get a cup of water. The Government can't do anything as well as all of those benevolent multinational corporations who run our banks, our car companies, and our ponzi schemes.

Just the other day I was waiting in line for my new phone at the Verizon Store and thinking, there is no way The Government could pull off this kind of efficiancy. Have you ever picked a health plan from your job? Man, if The Government was involved, it would be so complicated. I don’t want some heartless Government running my healthcare. I want a company that is going to be responsive to my needs, that doesn’t look to cut corners, that won’t interfere with my schedule and will do whatever they can to be there for me, like Delta Airlines for instance.

Most of Western Europe let their governments get involved in health care and look what happened? They are all now dead. Have you ever met a Luxembourger, Lichtensteinian or German? I rest my case.

Do you know what “Dr.” “President” Obama’s favorite movie is? Logan’s Run. Just sayin.

When Orly Taitz and I used her Way Back Machine to visit Obama’s manger in the back yard of Bin Laden’s Kenyan estate, I heard his first words, “When I grow up to be president, I am going to provide national health care as a means to destroy the fabric of our society and cause grand scale live action reenactments of my favorite movies Logan’s Run, Soylint Green, Desperately Seeking Susan and The Rescuers Downunder (he WAS only 45 minutes old). Then I am going to harvest stem cells for school lunch marmalade. Viva La Islam, Comrades!” Next he wrote the first e-mail asking you to send him your bank information and another with a picture of a kitten praying and said if you didn’t forward it to 100 of your closest friends, confused coworkers and distant cousins, he would legalize gay marriage.

Have you read this damned plan? Line 4373? We all have to share ONE TOUNGUE DEPRESSER! Think about THAT when you are filthy 44 millionth to say “ah.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ef Bicycles

The Urbanite Magazine is trying to start a flame war between bicyclists and internal combustionites. No one wanted to write anything dogging bicycles, so I gave them this. Enjoy (or not).

My one time home, Portland OR, is a wealth of innovative transportation solutions. One of my favorites is bike racks on the busses. Anything to keep those things off the roads. Bicycles, or fleshy speed bumps, like rickshaws, roller skates and pogo sticks, are a quaint technology best left in the 1950s or Asia.

Many folks believe there is something about two wheeled transport that amplifies the self-righteousness in human beings, something about gravitational harmonics intermingling with the brains snoot receptors. I ride a two wheeled conveyance and have been unaffected by this blight. Of course, my two wheels came with a motor making them fit for travel on public roads. I think a more rational explanation is that spandex doesn’t allow excess arrogance to radiate naturally through the body and instead squeezes it out the mouth.

By the way, I love Batman and the power rangers too, but I don’t feel the need to dress like a low rent super villain with a foam hat and tap shoes. Does all of that gear make a difference for you? This isn’t the Tour De France, its rush hour (or it is for the rest of us). I’ll get behind anything that makes you less slow, but that 3/100th MPH you’re gaining don’t seem to be worth the CFCs generated shipping your space suit from Indonesia.

Listen, I ride 695 on a 400 pound motorcycle surrounded by crazy cagers talking on their cell phones and text messaging their friends to complain about the guy shaving in the Honda next to them. I understand the frustration and danger of autos, but it is nothing like the frustration of sitting behind a herd of bicycles creeping along at a pace that would anger the Amish.

When I am on the road it’s because I am trying to get somewhere. It’s great that this is play time for you and you have time to kill, but some of us have places to be. A two lane road caught behind the Wyman Park Pedalphiles or whatever you call yourselves is the first circle of hell. The rest of us are burning 50 times the fossil fuels and getting a head start on an aneurism fighting the urge to pass over you.

The bicyclists will whine that they are riding a legitimate form of transportation. Well so are kayaks and we don’t allow those on Charles Street either. I personally like to make my way around my house on an office chair using a plunger oar. It’s clean, efficient and keeps me in shape, but I don’t think I should get my own office-chair-plunger-oar lane on the freeway. Ban bicycles from the roads today! If they were in a hurry, they’d be driving anyway so put them on the sidewalks where they can battle pedestrians. That’s a fairer fight anyway.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Eveyone Who Thinks Jail In Texas Probably Sucks Say "Eye!"

What follows is a quite from Yahoo News, “HOUSTON – A Texas death row inmate with a history of mental problems pulled out his only good eye and told authorities he ate it. “

Now we all know prison food is bad. Sometimes it’s so bad you don’t even want to look at it, but this is an extreme reaction to say the least. The thing that truly struck me about this sentence though, even more than the act of self de-eyeification, is the phrase, “Pulled out his only good eye.”

One of two words needs to leave this phrase. If you say, “Pulled out his good eye,” I would assume that it is his only good eye. If you go to the trouble to add modifiers like “good” to an eye description I’m assuming it’s because there is an eye that is bad or, at least, less good. Further, I know we’re living in a multi cultural society with people from all over the Earth, but I’ve ridden It’s A Small World dozens of times and all of those kids are two-eyed. I may be naïve here, but when reading without the aid of pictures, I assume the subject is not or was not tri-clopsian.

If you wish to read the whole article you can check it out here, but I highly recommend you skip it. It’s an awful tail. The one point made that is relevant, however, is how his delicious eye became his good eye. He had previously plucked out the other. This guy is a habitual eye-plucker and we can all be thankful that he took his own two first making him less of an eye-plucking danger to the world at large (and by at large I mean roaming death row in Texas [and maybe it’s just me, but isn’t all of Texas essentially death row without the conjugal visits?]).

Hearkening back to my word selection diatribe of four sentences ago, if the guy had only one eye, do we need to say it’s his lone good eye? It’s his lone eye, period, further qualifications are superfluous at best. I could make the case for calling it his one bad eye if it was a particularly bad eye. Maybe he had one eye that didn’t work or smelled weird, then it would be a lone bad eye. Otherwise, one eye is eye description enough.

So I’m through my linguistic freak out. Now I’m left with the empty feeling you get when you run into a true head scratcher. This guy consumed fifty percent of his own eyes in Texas prison without making news. What the hell is going on in Texas death row that you need to eat both of your own eyes in separate sittings to get a little air play? Is it like Thunder Dome with twangy guitar?

“Um, yes, I was bored, so I removed and ate half of my eyes.”

“Yeah? Well the guy in the cell next to you sawed through the bars using a contraband copy of Tiger Beat magazine and escaped using a parachute made out of his own scrotum. Better luck next time, Captain Boring!”

This is the reason I confine my felonies to states above the Mason Dixon line. This weekend, for instance, I am traveling to Pennsylvania to commit regicide.


Friday, January 09, 2009

Hot Soup Coming Through!

Hot Soup was six foot three inches and two-hundred-seventy pounds of crazy.

He was also my roommate.

We were living in a small flat in Southern Maryland. I know saying flat is pretentious if you’re not a limey, but the building really was flat. It had a nickname, “the flats” so I stand by my original proclamation. It was a little two bedroom dump nestled behind a cocaine biker bar. Soup had always been an eccentric, but he picked our time as roommates to completely fucking lose it. At various points he thought he was Jesus Christ, Luke Skywalker and Apook the Destroyer who could blow up cars with his mind.

Soup had lost about a hundred pounds in six months. They say when you lose a lot of weight it squeezes the residual LSD out of your fat cells. He was also taking 24 credits as a neuroscience major, volunteering at the hospital and giving up booze, drugs and caffeine, so it’s really tough to put your finger on what exactly drove him round the bend, but whatever did it was driving like Luke Perry in a stolen Ferrari.

It started out kind of cute. He became obsessed with Zeno’s Paradox. You know, Achilles can travel a mile, but first he has to travel half a mile, and before that a quarter, before that an eighth and so on and so on. The gist is, space is infinitely divisible and movement should be an impossibility. Now a sane person will think to themselves, “Huh, that Zeno was a clever sum bitch, but I am currently watching my dog cross the room, so clearly he was full of shit,” and move on with their life. An eccentric might puzzle for a bit, maybe lose a night of sleep. Soup? He filled note books, stayed up all night making calls to other continents, he was Matlock on a mystery.

From there, things took a turn. William S. Burroughs was just about dead. Soup had a plan to kidnap him and record his final words. I think Soup identified with Burroughs. Burroughs was able to throw himself into writing because he was living off his grandfather’s fortune. Burroughs the double-elder had invented a mechanical adding machine and Soup was a collector. From there he started collecting old type writers.

Sometimes I give Ol’ Soup Chain the benefit of the doubt. People say our little flat was haunted. The dude who lived in Soups windowless hole the year before had gone mad. The guy who lived there the next year squirreled himself away and covered every surface of the apartment in nails, pointy side up, until he was in the windowless room farthest corner from the exit. There was a weird little nook in the apartment, a strange rectangular divot where my husky dog Mojo would stare and growl viciously. The wolf mix that lived there next would do the same thing.

That corner is where Soup built his alter. I don’t remember what all was in the alter, but it was topped off with a typewriter.

Things were getting weird in the apartment. I woke up to find soup hiding in the corner of my room. Naked. I don’t know if I can paint this picture using words. I think I would need oils, canvas and access to the darkest recess of your mind. My room was about ten by twelve. Three feet from the foot of the bed is a nude two-hundred-seventy pound man wedged in the corner peering coily over his shoulder. When I saw him, the giggling began.

A few days later at the bar Lara, the editor of the literary magazine, asked if I was really ok with the poems Soup had been writing. “What poems?” was my response. He’d assured her I knew, and for some reason she believed him. The first poem was about killing my dog and burying him in the back yard next to me. This was just one of many that established a theme.

Now, we’ve all had roommates that have done something to irk us. Perhaps I was noisyand certainly I was messy. It’s tough and I know I’ve uttered the phrase, “I’m gonna kill him,” but I’ve never taken the time to set it to meter.

This next bit requires some background. A year prior, Curt Cobain had shot himself. I told everyone that I was bummed because I was going to kill myself with a shotgun. Now everyone would think it a tribute to Curt Cobain when really it was Hemmingway. My suicide note was to read simply (and in fitting tribute, if I do say so myself) “Hemmingway not Cobain.”

I got home from the bar and nothing had changed save one minor detail. The typewriter in the altar had been fed with a sheet of paper and marked with a single line of text, “Hemmingway not Cobain.”

I called everyone I knew to tell them I was not suicidal.

Most people at this point would have gotten the fuck out of dodge, but I was twenty-two and dumb as a box of rocks. I confronted Soup. He explained it was an allegory, a tribute to some bull shit and I shouldn’t worry. Since the conversation was rolling now, I figured it’s time to get it all out on the table. You see, Soup had stopped flushing the toilet. I don’t mean when it’s yellow let it mellow. When it was brown he was not flushing it down. Our tiny flat was stinking. I had put notes on every surface so no matter where he turned in the head it read, “Flush the toilet.”

Post-it notes were powerless against his madness, so I asked him about the toilet. He answered with an imperious flourish of his hand, “I’ll never flush the toilet and I’ll never use toothpaste again!” Not the response I expected, but I wasn’t going to fall for the red toothpaste herring. There was much back and forth and no headway on my part. Even the, “Can you close the door? Can you put the seat down?” compromises were failures. Finally I pointed out that my dog drinks from that toilet and I didn’t know if he has sense enough to lay off when it was filled with Hot Soupian filth. I’ve got to defend Mojo here, I don’t think he was drinking out of the toilet anymore, but I didn’t want to take a chance.

Soup had a plan. He could get this chemical from the science lab, it would be harmless but would make the water taste terrible and keep Mo from drinking. Now I didn’t see how this was any easier or how it made half a lick of sense, but I was tired, the smell was getting to me and I retreated to my room to be confused another day.

Later that week I was at a party. Without giving any background I asked Andrea, who was a biology/chemistry major about this chemical. What would happen if you were to consume it? Well, turns out it would cause severe brain damage. I walked out front, tears streaming down my face, to the little gaggle of people surrounding Soup. I threw him to the ground and kicked him in the ribs. “If you hurt my dog, I swear to God I’ll kill you!” He tried to answer but I kicked him again, “I swear to fucking GOD I will kill you,” gave him another kick and walked away.

Things were getting tense in our little flat and exams were fast approaching. After the last day of class, I came home with a lot of work to do. I pulled into the parking lot we shared with the bar. The whole neighborhood was filled with the sound of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This was another of Soup’s obsessions. They’d become hard to keep up with. Somehow he was working on his own incomplete masterpiece or he was to finish Beethoven’s, I don’t recall and it’s inconsequential at this point. The point is that it was earsplitting even outside. The only sound that rose above was Mojo howling.

If you haven’t caught on by now, he had crossed the crazy Rubicon. He’d been working on a paper and calling all of our neighbors, “I am at work. Please refrain from using any extraneous electricity. Thank you.” The rest of the flat was sitting in the dark whispering to each other telephone requests to breath less and other absurdities, but they did it. They turned off their lights.

I climbed our single stair and opened the door to be hit with a wall of sound and heat. It was sweltering in our little flat, the oversized gas heater probably pulled off a battleship was cranked to Mojave. Mojo didn’t miss a beat. He sprinted past me, leapt into the open window of my car and shot me a look that said, “There is nothing for you in there. It is time for us to depart.” “Sorry Mo, I’ve got a lot of work to do,” and turned only to be met by Soup, stark, raving mad Soup glistening with sweat and wearing only a bed sheet tied cape-like about his neck.

Words were exchanged, voices raised and I realized I had two choices, leave or battle naked crazy Soup. Either way I wasn’t getting any work done, so I split.

From here, my part is largely complete. I called his folks to come get him, his brother showed up that night and took him away. He left saying “I am not going to live in that room anymore, you should find a new roommate.” I was OK with that.

His mom showed up the next day, I told her he was gone. I made an appointment with the school councilor who was clearly a bit annoyed. I told him I’d been having roommate issues. He asked me who my roomy was, when I told him, he got me incompletes in every class. Turns out Soup is the reason St. Mary’s put a psychiatrist on staff.

You know the word Crestfallen, right? I’d arranged for a new roommate, split for a few weeks, and when I got back, Soup had redecorated. He’d gone home to DC where he believed the Jesuits and the Free Masons were battling for his soul (Apparently my Loyola High School background marked me as an agent of the Jesuits). He ran up some big bills at fancy French restaurants, called his family and pled crazy, they’d pay, he’d split. Finally he hit up a psychiatrist who gave him a choice, “You can be schizophrenic or this can all be residual post traumatic stress disorder from a bad trip at a dead show.”

He chose PTSD, got a bunch of drugs and was stamped “Sane.” He moved back to St. Mary’s and redecorated our apartment. That’s when I learned the true meaning of crestfallen. See, now he’s sane and we had to live together. Oh sure, there were flair ups. Once there was a party where people were wrestling for hats. I drew Hot Soup and whenever I’d pin him I’d begin to punch him vigorously about the back of the head. I told him we should stop or I might sort of kill him. He acquiesced and I got the hat (A very nice wide brimmed straw number. Had it for years. There’s a silver lining to every grey cloud.).

About eight months later Mojo disappeared. I still wonder if Soup was involved. He claimed Mojo saved his sanity. When he was at the depths, Mo would stare at him, when he started slipping Mo would bark. He was a great dog. Soup said he loved him and would never hurt him. I still wonder though. He was such a good dog.

Tomorrow I’m watching the Ravens game on the TV Soup gave me when he moved to Poland.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Good News

Hey all, those of you who know my mom and have been there for us these last few weeks, I want you to know how very much it has meant.

The doctor was extremely pessimistic going in. We are not out of the woods yet, the next 24 to 48 hours are critical, but we've got the best news we could have hoped for.

Mom had 5 bypasses and a cryo procedure where they froze and heated parts of the heart to restore a healthy rhythm. I don't want to get my hopes up to high, as the surgery was only the first step, but it looks good.

Thanks everyone.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Byes

My mom gave me the goodbye speech today. It was beautiful and so full of love. I didn't no what to do, but I gave one back. It was awkward and didn't say any of the things I wanted.

How do you say I love you to the person who brought you to the world? What words convey that? How do you say thank you to someone who's given all they have for you? How do you let them know you really want them to stick around, but if they can't, to go on and be OK with it?

God, I hate words. We know so many. They mean so little.

I'm sorry.

Who gives a fuck. Everyone is sorry.

You don't understand, I am SORRY.


I love you.

Heard it.

No, you don't understand. I LOVE YOU.

God, why don't words work? They work for baking a cake. They work for getting to Glen Burnie, but when we want them to work the most, they work the least.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Top Ten Funniest Moments of 2008

I was asked by The Mobtown Shank to put a top ten list together for 2008 and here it is.

10. Billionaires Apparently Worlds Worst Panhandlers

In desperate need of billions to stay afloat until next year, the CEOs of the big three packed up their Louis Vuitton bindle sticks, hopped a ride on an east bound Learjet and started singing for their soup where congress greeted them with all the understanding of a three-toed drunken Pinkerton.

Apparently, not only do they not know how to make cars or run businesses, they have absolutely no idea how to illicit sympathy. They may as well have held signs that read, “Will continue to do exactly what we've been doing with no changes whatsoever to our life style for food.” They should have hired that dude who panhandles the corner of Pratt and President with no legs and no arms. That guy knows a thing or two about sympathy. He could hold up a sign saying, “God damn it I want crack!” and he’d make a decent living.

Of course, the timing could have been better. After giving billions to the banks only to watch AIG execs take a $400,000 spa retreat, the U.S. of A. was feeling a bit like it just caught the woman we’d given five bucks to for her nephew’s funeral coming out of the bar.

Bad timing big three, but even worse planning.

Desperate auto companies, you're number ten!

9. People All Over America Pretend to Give Two-Shits About Swimming

OK, he’s the greatest Olympian EVER! He’s more important than Bruce Jenner! Seriously, who gives a shit about swimming? The McDonalds commercials with the girls obsessing over Michael Phelps are the funniest things I’ve seen in a fortnight. What is it that drives you mad, ladies? Is it his freakish ears? The fact that his head is nearly as long as his torso? Maybe it’s how smooth he is on the mike? Man, that guy has the wit of a young George Bush.

I understand that we are all but drones no longer capable of independent thought, but swimming? Was there no bee keeper worthy of the celebrity? Perhaps a competitive eater who deserves such praise?

Don’t feel bad, America, we’re not the only ones. In India, Abhinav Bindra is almost as big as Shiva and curry after winning Olympic gold in the ten meter air rifle competition. That’s right BB gun master Abhinav Bindra is a house hold name in the second most populous nation on Earth.

OK, maybe I shouldn’t have narrowed this down to Phelps. Perhaps this should have gone to the Olympics in general. There are 5 categories for badminton, 4 in walking, 2 for trampolinists, 2 more for handball, and ten for BB guns, none of which were won wielding a Red Ryder.

29th Olympiad, you're number nine!

8. Spain Grants Rights to Great Apes, Average Apes Left Hanging

We’ve all heard about the plight of Spanish apes, one of the most downtrodden populations on Earth. The great ape population of Madrid, for instance, has been driven to almost nil thanks to random anti-ape violence, discriminatory hiring practices and the fact that apes have never lived there.

Mikel Garikoitz Aspiazu, jailed leader of the Basque separatist ETA, when asked about the new rights granted to Spain’s great apes said, “Huh? Seriously, what? No, I mean it, what the fuck! Apes? Where are these apes? And you wonder why we want to separate.”

Of course, some feel that these new laws protecting great apes don’t go far enough. Some hippy says, “That’s all well and good for great apes like King Kong, Mighty Joe Young and Koko, the signing gorilla, but what about Lancelot Link, Magilla Gorilla and Grape Ape, you know, the average apes? Who’s fighting for their rights?”
Spanish apes and your new rights, you're number eight!

7. Inspired by Jonny Depp, Piracy Makes Comeback

What could be funnier than thousands of men driven so far by poverty and starvation that they are willing to take to the high seas in rubber rafts and fiberglass skiffs with secondhand RPGs in defiance of every navy on Earth? Well, 6 more things, obviously, as we’re only at # 7 on this list. Why are you so impatient?

Seriously though, ignore all the geopolitical ramifications and try to imagine the swishy star of twenty-one jump street boarding a Croatian freighter, it’s kinda funny. It’s at least as entertaining as Pirates of the Caribbean 3 which became available on Blu-Ray in 08 and was snubbed by this list. I needed to give Piracy a nod since zombies seem to be on the decline.

Somali Pirates, you're number seven!

6. McCain Picks VP Using Ouija Board

Wow, this one writes itself. How could a woman who apparently reads every news paper on Earth know so little about so much.

Africa you ask? It’s a nice country. Russia? I can see it from here. Experience? I sold a plane on E-bay.

You’d think a woman used to staring down the Russian bear and tempered in the fires of the Q&A portion of the Miss. Alaska Pageant wouldn’t whither under the hardball questioning of Katie Couric (???), but you’d be wrong . We should have been scared when she claimed energy independence would be her baby. I’m sorry, but doesn’t your baby have down syndrome?

Sarah Palin, you're number six

5. Russia Invades Georgia, Americans Wonder How They Got Through Kentucky

So Georgia made a push into the disputed provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We can all agree, dick move. Russia decides they haven’t had a good war in months and invades Georgia. America freaks out even though none of us can find Georgia on a map. Either Georgia. I’d wager that several of you are still wondering if Georgia and Kentucky are next to each other.

Honestly, the Georgians never stood a chance in this one. Their army arrived for battle in blazing orange Dodge Chargers wielding bows and arrows and being followed at ten by Dallas.

The hilarious backdrop to all of this was Georgia’s floundering application to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S.’s near impotence in foreign policy debates. What could Condoleezza Rice say? “Russia, You’d better get out or we’re gonna kick you out!”

“Oh yeah?" Replies Russia, "You and what army?”

Georgia-Russian Conflict, you're number five with a bullet!

4. Europe’s Science Fare Project Nearly Ends Universe

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, a group most certainly run by a bald man in a wheel chair stroking a cat, built an enormous underground particle collider designed to hurl particles at one another very near the speed of light and I don’t have cable.

I ask you, aren’t their better uses for all this bleeding edge technology? A more user friendly flowbee? Ducks that don’t fly south, but rather make tiny parkas and just chill? How about an FM Basset Hound?

Here’s the part that I don’t get. There were apparently some scientists who believed that this contraption would produce particles called strangelets, a hypothetical particle only a few fentometers across (I didn’t make up either of those words. If you are a scientist, and you wonder why normal people look down upon you, it’s because of words like strangelet and fentometer) with the power to destroy the world! Others believed iddy biddy black holes might form sucking us all into sub-par Disney Star Wars rip-offs.

Now clearly these scientists are not the best scientists. They may be closer to the worst scientists, but even so, if there’s like a one in fifty chance you’re going to destroy the world, don’t you maybe put it off until next week? Not if you’re the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Then you say fuck it, fire it up and pour me more schnapps. Fortunately the collider broke down delaying Armageddon until summer 09. Plan accordingly.

Couldn’t this money have been spent getting me cable?

Large Hadron Collider, you're number four!

3. Canadian Parliament Collapses

After a hard fought national campaign the conservative party narrowly edged out the liberals and the fur trappers to take slim control of parliament, the Canadian equivalent of Congress, named for the seminal 70s funk band. This gave the conservatives the right to anoint the new Prime Minister in a ceremony involving maple syrup, a golden toque and Pam Anderson. Apparently the honey moon was short lived, however, and early this month Parliament was poised to vote no confidence in Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Now I’m not going to pretend to understand what all the hullabaloo is about. I’m not even going to pretend to care. To the best of my knowledge there were too many or too few moose, the skidoo wouldn’t start and they changed the theme song to Hockey Night in Canada. Naturally government was thrown into turmoil and dozens of Canadians took to their icy dog sled riddled streets.

Here’s where it becomes hilarious. The conservatives enlisted Governor General Michaëlle Jean who’s job is to speak for the Queen of England and, for some reason, holds the power to dissolve parliament which he did thus shutting down the Canadian government until next year. Oh Canada, even your constitutional crises are cute.

I get that this power is written in their national club bi-laws, but really, when dude shows up and says, “I speak for the Queen, you hosers go home, eh!” couldn’t someone have replied, “ Take off, eh! We aint goin,” and then hurled a Labatt’s at him? I joined the Kiss Army in 1979. Some where there is paper work, signed my seven year old self that has pledged my services to the Kiss Army (Rock’s first line of defense), but if Paul Stanley told me to take point storming the gates of the RATT compound, I would politely decline.

Oh Canada, you're number three.

2. Sleeping Dog Farts, Smell Wakes Dog, Dog Leaves Room

So we were in my basement watching the first Ravens Steelers game and my dog Loki was dead asleep on the floor. He farts and my buddy Jer swears he saw the fur ruffle. Loki’s nostrils start to flair, his eyes open and he leaves the room.
Maybe you had to be there for this one, but it was seriously funny.

Gassy Dog, you're number two!

1. Dude Hucks Second Shoe at President

OK, one shoe, and this still makes the list. One shoe and he tags GW in the schnozz, easy top 5, but the fact that he got off the second shoe takes this one to number one and will probably inspire an Oliver Stone movie down the line. Seriously, this guy gets off shoes quicker than Lee Harvey Oswald snaps off rounds and, having watched the video repeatedly, those ain’t loafers. Perhaps there was a second shoe-ter in the grassy knoll.

Clearly this guy spent time training in the East where shoe removal is an art form much like calligraphy and crushing the U.S. auto industry, but still, has the Secret Service just given up? I thought these guys were supposed to take bullets for the president, their contract doesn’t cover footwear?

Muntazer al-Zaidi, you and your shoes are number one.


The priest gave my mom the Anointing of the Sick. When my dad got it, it was called Last Rights. It's the final sacrament for Catholics and it's not a bad deal, really. The priest traces crosses of oil on your forehead and hands, gives you a shout out from the pope and absolves you of all sin.

I'm not sure what sorts of sins my mom has been committing lately. How much sinning can a four and a half foot seventy-six year old home body Dego do? Cheating at mahjong? Coveting her neighbors walker? She was probably good. Me on the other hand? I told the priest I was feeling a cold coming on, could I get a little of that sweet sweet absolution?

Apparently I'd have to do the full on confession. Who's got that kind of time?

So it's been a weird two months. Mom's been in and out of the hospital, not doing so well. I've been going a little crazy. I've been going to a shrink and, man, it's really depressing to find out how much of your neurosis come from your mom. You think of yourself as a pretty fascinating fella, out of the ordinary, dig? Then it turns out your brain is duller than disco. Why couldn't it be that I was groped by clowns? That I was raised by wolves? Maybe I've been a secret agent and the suppressed memories are starting to return. Nope, mad at mommy.

So I'm watching my mom get the right of the dead and looking at how I've been living my life, lashing out at everyone around. Pushing and pushing to drive off anyone who gave half a rats ass and seeing the one person that I could never push away, that was the one person I really wanted to push away fade away.

Being alone is a scary thing. I've got cousins, aunts and uncles, and a lot of very dear friends, but in the end, she's it for me and family. The last person that has to give a shit.

So I'm afraid. Terrified really.

The doctors think she'll make it through surgery. Eighty to ninety percent. That's pretty good odds in Vegas. If there was a one in ten chance you'd get hit by a bus if you walked down Hickory Street, would you maybe take Elm? In addition to the bypass they're going to freeze and burn parts of her heart. It's been arrhythmic, beating to the wrong tune, and this could correct it. They give that a 50/50 shot of working. She's got a decent chance of having another stroke during the procedure and the surgeon isn't convinced she's strong enough to make it through recovery.

No, she hasn't been a perfect mom, but she sure as hell has tried. She's an amazing little lady who doesn't give herself nearly enough credit. As much as I hate her at times, as much anger as I've tried to keep buried all these years, I love every bit of her with all of my heart. She's a beautiful woman with the tenderest heart ever placed on this Earth.

I don't have an ending. I love my mom. I want her to live, I'm not sure she's going to.

Friday, December 19, 2008


You’ll forgive me if I’m a bit bah humbugy this year (BTW, I learned to drive in a 1973 Humbugy, sweet ride, velour seats, power everything, there was this frustrating sound, not quite a buzz, anyway…) but I am god damned sick of Christmas. First off, I live a 3 blocks from The Miracle. For those of you not from the Greater Baltumular region, The Miracle is a block of row houses WHERE EVERY HOUSE HAS LIGHTS? CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE IT? IT’S A GOD DAMNED MIRACLE!

I must admit, I used to think it was pretty cool. Now there are sausage vendors and, to me, nothing says Christmas like kielbasa from the corner. There are people selling bendy plastic circus lights. Worst though are all the people between me and the bar. HOLY SHIT! IT’S LIGHTS DAMN IT! Why would you take a bus trip from PA to see a block of Hamdpen with a hubcap tree?

Spoiler alert, it’s not a real tree. It’s just hubcaps piled on top of one another. Real trees don’t rust.

I am not going to lie to you. The ball drop on New Year Eve is a blast. Reminds me of when my own balls dropped. Ahh Thursday. There is nothing quite like a surly, 52 year old hairy chubby baby new year making time with the New Years Robot. That borders on a miracle.

But people come from miles and miles and miles and yet more miles to drive down one block, gawk, and get in my way. Tour buses? Who signs up for this tour?

“Where does it go?” inquires the would be traveler.

“Umm,” stammers the travel agent who may have missed his/her calling, “Well, we’re going to go down I-83, then to Falls road where you’ll get a great view of actually $5 prostitutes (I wish I was making that up. Since I learned how much a blow job goes for on Falls Road, my entire mental economy has shifted. “Hmm,” mused I, “I’d like to buy a cheeseburger, but that’s one and a half blowjobs I won’t be getting.” Or “Christ, a new stove is a thousand dollars? Do you realize how much dick I’m going to have to suck? That’s my hole weekend!”), then, we’ll travel down 26th Street or, as the locals call it, “The Avenue!” where you’ll see 13 year olds pushing strollers while their boyfriends through beer bottles at the motor coach. But that’s not all! We’ll sit in traffic for about 40 minutes crawling the final two blocks to make a magical left onto 34th Street and THE MIRACLE! That’s right! an entire city block all decorated and shit! Over a dozen strings of Christmas lights were used in what is the greatest holiday display between York and Glen Burnie. Dazzle at the three dimensional tetris skills used to fit a thirty-five foot inflatable Christmas Raven into a nine-by-nine front yard. Oh, but that’s not all! Prepare to be thoroughly creeped out by the one house of born agains who blow the festive mood with all this Jesus stuff and a blasting sound track out of a Dominican monastery at the height of the inquisition.

Ahh, Christmas! It brings out the best in people. For instance we got a special envelope from our boss this year. In it was a note that assured us (more of those) that the company is doing great, but times are tough and so our Christmas bonus would be a bit light this year. Next was a $25 check stuffed into a tri-fold color glossy cartoon Christmas card with all of the great places the owner and his family have been this year! Oh yeah! Paris, Rome, Orlando (Yeah, they don’t know how to build to a climax, do they? I guess one thought is, Epcot Center is kinda like going to Paris and Rome AND Japan and not having to meet any foreigners.).

Tact. Gotta love it. “Hey, times are tough, so, um, sorry. Here’s a card we blew a few grand on and a cool twenty-five bones, buy yourself a half tank of gas. We’re off to Paree!”

I am going to spend an afternoon when I should be slaving over a hot spreadsheet making my own holiday card to send to the boss. It’s going to be a picture of me eating ramen noodles, boiling old boots into soup and skinning my dog to make an affordable yet stylish parka. (Note to any employers of mine. I’m not actually going to do that. I will actually slave over the hot spreadsheet and think, man, I should be making an awesome Christmas card.)

Merry Christmas!