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You wake up. You know not where you are or when it is. Strangers smile your way politely as they ask you questions in a language you don't understand. As you struggle with answers (you answer the questions because you're a good soul), some appear confused. Others snicker. But you improvise. You pick it up as you go. You learn the rules. You learn which rules are firm and which will yield. You harvest the humble fruits of your labor. They are delicious. You meet a few like minds. Make a few friends. And it's over before you know it.
It misted rain for a spell, so I'm not sure whether the large stain on the man's pants came from sitting at the bus stop or pissing himself. His demeanor suggested weak bladder control. Upon entering the store, he apologized for something, I know not what. The man selected a porno flick, but I couldn't find an account under either of the names he offered. I'll forgive aliases here and there – perhaps they're necessary – but men should rent videos under one surname only. He didn't have the proof of address needed for a new account. Sorry. He apologized and left.
SUICIDE BY NEGRO. The Colonel didn't have the grapes to end his own life proper-like, so he thought he'd commission an inner city ape to do the job for him. To this end, he wandered around Chicago's Cabrini-Green, Raymond Hilliard and Robert Taylor housing projects at unholy hours of the night and morning, acting as much as he could like fresh bait for a random homicide. But the at-risk youth saw no good reason to snuff the Colonel. They figured him for a stray thrill-seeker or a cop, and hoped he didn't ask them any questions. He wandered, lonely, alive.
You have to sign a contract every time you rent a flick from us. You get half of your receipt, but we retain the half with your John Hancock. You're legally bound to return that movie, friend. And if you don't… Well, first it's the phone calls. We'll ring you every day for two weeks as your fines keep swelling. Then we fuck with you via simple post. We've got your address right here in the computer. You can't hide. We'll send our Pinkertons around to your home. This organization is bigger than you. Return your movies. And rewind them.
Good American fast food is more catharsis than nutrition. The tortilla soaks up some of the grease, but some still seeps through the bottom of the bag. I mutilate the greasy treat with a fork, raise a bite to my mouth and rub my face with a paper towel. The hormones of contentment flood my brain. I won't be hungry for another eight hours, if not longer. I won't even want to think about food. I'll feel like I swallowed a basketball. My belly is full. My brain tells me I've done my job. I lie down, queasy and happy.
All of this shit, like you gotta come out the womb pimpin': That's strictly designed to keep new blood out the game. ‘Cause you're a SUCKER when you come into this world, suckin' on a titty or a plastic bottle. In life, you're only the sum of what you teach yourself. That's trial and a whole lotta error. I will tell you this: If you need outside approval, you will not make a good pimp. Pimpin' is the oldest game on earth, next to hunting and gathering, and the pimp game won't stop for shit except the end of time.
The young man takes a priority seat on the nearly empty early morning Blue Line ride. He looks over his freshly scribbled ticket. Cops and CTA personnel are still on the platform, grilling the other fellow. The train chugs forward. Our boy thumbs his lip as he scans the maps and ads that line the car. The train rolls through the mouth of a tunnel and out into the muggy dawn. The train will ride the expressway median for awhile. By the time it gets downtown, coffee shops will be open, and, for the price of a cup, their bathrooms.
You fill your head with clattering trivia and consider yourself smart. Well, perhaps there's something to that. The jangle drowns out the yawning boredom that is your life proper. By obsessing o'er bullshit, you keep yourself occupied. Smart move, that. But you have yet to teach me anything I can use. And yet you stand there, eructating all that minutia through your ever-ajar cakehole. Full steam ahead, directly parallel to your audience. And that's all we are, innit? Acolytes in training. Please, baby, get lost. Buzz, cuz. I've got work to do, and my own trivial concerns to ponder. Silently.
We shot a few games of pool, then rode the train home. We ran down an up escalator. We hit Dunkin Donuts, finding the clerk slumped on the counter half asleep. The wiry gentleman jerked awake as I announced out presence. We ordered some sugar grenades and forked over some cash. Snoozy gave us change, but no receipt. You gestured at the sign: "If we don't give you a receipt, your order is FREE." Snoozy shrugged and passed you the receipt. If memory serves, we were too giddy to much give a shit. We took the bag and walked home.
So many slides from my early years are blurred to abstraction, whether from dope and firewater or from how little that character's makeup – the thoughts and actions of that tenant who occupied this body for a few years – makes sense to me now. It's all the dull tale of a stranger. I'd tell y'all all about these scars and busted cherries, but it's too fuzzy. I'm left to drift without self-mythology. Digital doctoring has rendered photography what painting once was – a malleable artistic medium, something to be but not trusted. Perhaps technology will yet pull the same number on memories.
In the evenings, black snakes would crawl out onto the cool pavement and lay still. When we went walking, my dad would carry a hatchet. He'd decapitate the snakes on sight and kick their carcasses into the brush. Whenever I ride the interstate and see a shredded tire on the shoulder, I think about this, and half expect it to slither back to life, its juju momentarily shaken, but undamaged, by the disturbance. Last week, I had a dream wherein a tire morphed into a black snake. I decided I'd rather not dream about a snake, and promptly woke up.
It's chilly for this time of year. A sharp wind whips off Lake Michigan, raising goosebumps on all that flesh you left bare. Your private thoughts are interrupted. Did I see a little shudder as you wrapped your arms around your body? Oooh, now it's starting to rain. Pissing down from the sky. You cuss your luck. You break into a gallop. You bow your head. You're thrashed from all sides by phantom instinct. You're vulnerable. You might catch cold. You're suffering because you've been stripped to your essence. Water soaks through your clothes. The world gets under your skin.
THE GLASS MATCHBOX. It's here! An assembly of ONE MILLION matches in a humungous glass case, on display for your amusement! ONE MILLION! Not one more, not one less! One dollar allows you five minutes to gaze upon these majestic matches! To marvel at all that potential! Feast your peepers, and think of the destructive power that is yours to witness! How often do you see such dangerous resources serve for GOOD! As a business venture for us, and as a splendid diversion for YOU AND YOURS! Bring a date! Bring the kids! Be assured, safety and FUN are GUARANTEED!
Players have more fun. Even if you crap out more often than you win, a loser has more fun than the one who never plays. We've headquartered the operation in Nevada, as crime is legal in Nevada. We have a simple code of ethics: Stay out of other people's business; specifically, stay out of our business. Keep to your own. When someone crosses the line, that person shall reap the whirlwind of free-floating hostility from our dealings with those who rubbed us the wrong way but didn't fuck up badly enough to warrant aggressive reprisal. Now, let's scratch another ticket.
Marriage? It's like getting stoned for the rest of your life. Ever since the wedding day, Chester and Sami can't stop smiling. The strut around all day with loopy grins, stifling the giggles that shoot from their bellies like they swallowed lawn sprinklers of laughter. When they get home, they stuff their faces with the heartiest portions in the land, then brush their teeth for 15 solid minutes to keep those smiles at full beam. When they sleep, they snooze like rocks at the bottom of the ocean. We all wish them luck, though they'll have no need for it.
Today is my birthday. I'm a quarter of a century old. Too late to be a jazz prodigy. Too late to be born anyone else. Too late to get out of whatever permanent damage I've done to myself. Still frightened of the dogs, but less now. I got plans. Big plans. One of my roommates is clearing out at the month's end. Can't pay the rent, or at least won't take a job with anyone that'll have him. Plans to surf couches. A man has to be pretty goddamn charming to sustain that act over a wide slice of time.
WEATHER: IT'S THE ONE THING WE ALL HAVE IN COMMON. It changes the look of things. Did I mention I grew up in the South? Most of the South shits trou and closes up shop the moment a solitary snowflake kisses the ground. In Chicago – as much as people bitch about the weather, which is a lot – no one gets out of school or work unless the Four Horsemen show up. I still get excited when it snows. I remember getting out of a day of college because of the threat of inclement weather, which didn't materialize until that weekend.
One pill to keep the dogs off his tail. Another to get his libido in gear. And a cup of joe to scrape the sludge off his brain. That's all he wants. He steers clear of outmoded poisons and partakes only of the classics and the beneficial products of human progress. The species has evolved to the point where it can shrug off some of the minor inconveniences – such as limp dicks and persistent gloom – and it's no sign of weakness. He's ahead of the game, he reassures himself. He's ahead of the pack. Calm, as the ride chugs along.
Picture yourself at the bottom of an aquarium. A shark tank. And the walls are blood red. That water is my love. And you can't swim. You're DROWNING IN MY LOVE. You'd better adapt, baby. You'd better evolve. You'd better grow some fuckin' gills and learn to breathe that shit, baby, ‘cause you're drowning in my deep, murky love. Open your mouth and you'll just make bubbles in my love, baby. Struggle all you want. You'll just use up all your energy. You won't get out of this one without learning a few things. Without changing that worn out attitude.
You don't know me. You hardly know anyone. All your feelings and assumptions and needs make a lot of noise bouncing off the insides of your skull, but they never make it out. You can guess all you like about me. You can make me a scapegoat for all your sharp, busted delusions, or all the fear backed up in your head like the shit in your colon. Hey, I'm full of shit, too. That doesn't help. And even when I'm on the level, I'm only a screen for what starts and ends inside you. Clean up your own head.
Broccoli undertow foreground and west up top. Kills. Twenty hours seven lander quipping nowhere? Bilderberg? Bilderberg. Heaven nocturne jiggered five alive nowhere never. Hut kayak cinder brick haystack boomerang, she swayed. Takes bro sunshine when me ram jam no peanut brittle. Twenty oh civil rot winning car bark sixty civil run. Kids. Bark winnings roe Othello seaside brick way four hunting. Get astound get. Function around, function aside, per contend inform decider run. Shake Astroturf brought blue beside scheme negative. Bun wings return able bellied gross, selection purple pussy collection secrecy. No when, nowhere, compare, loose wood light ecstasy. Eleven.
It's sprouting up like acne on a teenager in love. Rumbling like an approaching train. It feels like hearing the first few bars of your new favorite song crossfading from the frequency right next to where you've been idling. You can feel it coming. It keeps getting closer. A day of reckoning approaches. It will soon be time to make hefty decisions. To flip a few switches that won't flip back. To get with the new or perish in the twilight of the antibiotic age. It's about to go from 8 to 9 in there. It's finally going to rain.
Hilary understood that the things we purchase give us social currency, that the whole point to a lot of the shit we buy is sharing and discussing it with peers. She just wished all her conversations with Bill didn't sound like commercials. "I have such and such a problem." "Hey, have you tried such and such a product? It could really help you!" "Bought any nifty experiences lately?" "Well, such and such was decent." She harbored the hypochondriac's fascination with her own bowels, but she didn't want to talk about them anymore, either. She wanted to talk about death. Now.
When the phone chirps at you after one in the morning, it's almost always bearing bad news. The best you can hope for is a slobbering boozehound in need of companionship. Otherwise, someone you know is likely dead or in jail. Despite the odds that some disaster required my immediate attention, I let the machine pick up in the next room. I'd been asleep for maybe two hours, and hoped it was an emotional drunk, or someone else who could wait ‘til morning. Less than sixty seconds later, it started ringing again. I decided to be a mensch and answer.
Someday soon, white light will illuminate every musty corner of this world. Good will be rewarded. Evil will be disciplined and converted to good. We'll all see the folly in our greed, our spite, our solipsism and our rudeness. Intelligence will be quantified, and THAT will be humanity's new aspiration. We'll cease littering. We'll make the best possible use of our time. There will be no more superstition. Critters will return from extinction. There will be no sex without love. Love will be everywhere. Little girls will play patty-cake as they wait for mass transit. All thanks to the non-profits.
ON BROADWAY. I must've dozed off. I have no idea how much I missed. When I woke, some guy in punk garb was shaking me and barking, "This is your stop, guy." I remember I caught the #36 north, and the last thing I'm sure I didn't dream was a line of neon coathangers. I rubbed my eyes and stepped off the bus. I realized I'd left my sleeping bag aboard. Then I realized there's no way that punk asshole could've known this was my stop. I didn't have a stop. It's my stop now. Where the hell am I?
You drop almost a twenty for that new CD. Nearly that much for two seats in a cool, dark movie theatre. You suffer through a world of poor salesmanship to catch flickers of a TV program. You expect a lot from your entertainment. And, o! how you smart when your entertainment eschews its end of your unspoken contract. I know. I've heard all about your betrayal at the cruel hands of your entertainment. Here's an idea, scout: Shut up and STOP WATCHING. Save your cash. DO SOMETHING ELSE. You know how it goes. Cool rejection hurts more than loud dissatisfaction.
How many beats per minute, total, rattle the foundations of this neighborhood tonight? As I walk home, I hear blubbering alkies screech at disembodied phantoms inside their cellphones. One guy asks the ghost in the receiver if it's wearing his jeans. "Don't hang up on me. Don't you fucking hang up on me!" A guy hails a taxi. The cabbie idles for a moment, perhaps wondering if I'd like a ride as well. I stroll on. Sirens reverberate in sync with the thump, thump, thump from the bars. The city aches for the thundershowers it was promised three days ago.
I wrote it all on the one dollar bills. The names of all the people I'd ever loved, ever liked, ever fucked out of convenience or pity. The places I'd eaten. The meals I loved. The names of all the Red Line stops, north to south. All the phone numbers I'd once dialed reflexively that I knew were disconnected or rerouted to strangers now. All the significant dates I could remember, in my favorite color. I straightened up the stack of bucks and made sure they all faced the same direction. I pocketed the twenties and headed for the airport.
'Tis time, once again, to move on. To scrape the shit from my shoe, salvage what's worth saving and file the rest away. I'm sure you don't remember it like I do. You're welcome to refine your version all you wish, to let it build up like tartar in your skull. I'll think about something else. I'll be chuckling about all this while you watch the same shit happen again. Defend your ego. Learn nothing. I shed my ego like snakeskin, and me and my id get going. This party went on too long, but the bars are still open.
The Tip Jar