Monday, October 31, 2005
Black And Silver Swoop Part Two
Thanks to Jamie for the parade photos. Visit her wonderful photoblog here: Jamas.Org
Late Friday morning I boarded an eastbound train and collapsed into a vandalized plastic seat. It was tagged with "*~Alaska MoFo~*" in black permanent marker. I tossed back several gelcaps of unidentified medicine, capsules that would dissolve among the puddles of gastric acid and mucus simmering in my stomach, dispersing highly trained sickness assassins to march through my bloodstream massacring any foreign organisms they encountered. Their targets, the microscopic army bent on ravaging my squishy innards, already had a head start, their trenches dug, their artillery in place. The battle would be long and ugly. Hopefully my white blood cells had already begun a pre-emptive strike on the occupying force.
I hoped the gelcaps were fast acting. I drifted off into a shallow nap and waited to be awoken by the train's shuddering halt of arrival at Union Station.
Elsewhere in Chicago, high in a skyscraper boardroom, several old men sat in leather chairs, encircling a mahogony conference table, puffing cigars...
"Gentlemen, we're at 66%. Good morning, my friends."
"Good morning indeed, Wellington. Everything is coming together quickly. By my timetable, we'll have our rapture in just over a year. God's people are very pleased with our progress. I'm told we'll receive the intonations next week."
"Yes, but we don't trust angels, now do we? I'll believe those chants'll work once we have them on the airwaves."
"Yes sir. I understand. Those omnipotent types haven't let us down yet, though, have they? I have faith in them."
"You're a pinnacle of understated humor, Gordon. Now please-"
"Yes, yes, of course. Down to business. May I recap before we discuss our plans for today's festivities?"
"Please do, Gordon."
"Our campaign for eternal life and sovereignty over the next kingdom of men took a great leap forward for the second consecutive October, outstripping the probability scenarios by leaps and bounds. It's as if baseball has been touched by divine intervention, ha ha."
"Cut the crap, Gordon."
"Yes, Wellington. Ahem. As you all know, in order for us to command the next kingdom of men on earth, we must usher in the sixth armageddon. Some elements of apocalypse can be controlled, while others are random or controlled by our divine sponsor. We're in Chicago today because the White Sox have won the World Series. We checked off Boston last year. All that remains on the baseball list is another Chicago team, the Cubs. Once we have all three winning the World Series, we can spark all the requisite natural disasters, release our designer plagues, trigger the earth's magma core, and finally-"
"We already know the baseball part. We already know how the end of the world will play. Skip ahead to the pertinent information."
"Right. Today's test runs. We'll have a concentrated mass of brainless sports fans squeezed together up and down Lasalle Street. It's a perfect opportunity to test our new line of neurotoxins.
"88XYZ has dual effects: first, it induces hysteria via phantasmagoria. In plain English, it makes the victim hallucinate the macabre. Horrible visions. They'll imagine themselves to be under assault by demons and vampires and dragons and so forth. The mammalian fight or flight mechanism will kick in. Essentially, these people will become primal savages. They'll tear each other's throats out.
"Secondly, 88XYZ releases a delayed reaction neurotoxin. An hour after ingestion, the nervous systems will catch fire. Victims will feel as if each nerve ending has been dipped in hot lava. They'll writhe and scream. Before the agony peaks and death releases them, their high body temperatures will cause their innards to boil. As they die, liquefied flesh will seep out from pores and orifices. Eyeballs will explode in sockets. The streets will run with people puddles.
"If this dry run- forgive my pun, gentlemen- works well, we'll submit this to God for approval. I know he'll like this. I've been working with him ever since the concentration camp gas chambers and I know his taste. This is just the sort of cruelty he enjoys. It'll make a perfect 'pestilence' for the end of the world next fall."
"Thank you, Gordon. Where did we get this fine chemical, and how do we deliver it?"
"Ah, Wellington, I'm glad you asked. We made this at the Abbott Labs campus just north of Chicago. A local product, if you will. Our people are still trying to modify this to create an airborne version, but as it is now, we'll only be able to test the ingestible version."
"So we need the poor fools to eat it? How?"
"Candy of course! It is Halloween, after all. I have a man in place with the parade motorcade. He'll hand out the poisoned suckers to the poisoned suckers. Our first test subjects, I believe, will inevitably be children."
"Yes. Get a load of this..."
Meanwhile, back on LaSalle Street...
My fever made me sweat, which made me wet, which made me cold, which made my afflicted flesh burn even hotter. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of ailing fire. It was a bad decision to come to these festivities, and I knew my penance would involve staying bedridden for a week. I might even require a hospital visit.
Thinking I might as well make the best of it, I wove my way through the ecstatic noisy crowd to the front row. I risked trampling by the hordes behind me, but this was a once in a lifetime victory parade. Right? I had chosen history over prudence.
The Champions approached. The lead bus was helmed by Paul Konerko, power hitting first baseman. He waved to his adoring fans, soaking up the worship of thousands of grateful Chicagoans, myself among them. I saw Ozzie Guillen watching the tickertape rain from the rooftops. No doubt he wished the raining confetti was colored in his Venezualan national colors, red, yellow, and blue. Bobby Jenks looked down to the masses, a big dumb cornfed grin plastered on his face. I was surprised he wasn't on a cellphone, yelling "Look, Ma! Top of the world! Can you believe it?" Steve Perry, former lead singer of Journey, rode atop one bus, a cracked out joyful lizardlike expression on his face, likely the results of decades of serious drug abuse. I was getting what I came to see. I was happy.
Police maintained order. They calmly and gently pushed back overzealous fans trying to slip the barricade, those intent upon leaping on a bus to molest a favorite player. The noise of cheering shook the sky, and the only sounds to be heard over the din were the occasional quips from A.J. Pierzinski, who wielded a bullhorn, yelling inanities like "yeah baby we done did it! whooo!"
I looked down the street whence the parade had come, and I witnessed a strange sight: a child, two teenage boys, and an elderly woman had vaulted the wooden barricade and were assaulting a police officer. Then each other. The cop sprayed the teenagers with mace, but they kept kicking him in the crotch, undeterred. He fell. They pounced upon him, tearing skin from his face with their dirty fingernails. The old lady was bashing the teenagers with her cane, and the child, a little girl, was chewing on the old lady's hip. Through her clothes.
As I saw another cop abandon his post to save his brother in blue, insanity and psychosis erupted in hot spots throughout the crowd. People were going batshit crazy. All of them had one thing in common: Dum-Dum suckers. They were eating candy.
I got plonked in the noggin by a wrapped sucker. It had come from the final bus.
I looked up to the passing procession before me and spied the culprit, the vendor, the distributor of hateful sugar: It was Southpaw, the White Sox mascot. He held a pillowcase full of suckers, and he flung them to unsuspecting White Sox fans on either side of the street.
Something had to be done. I had to stop Southpaw before Chicago tore itself apart.
Conclusion soon, I promise. Yes, I am aware how ridiculous this story has become. Pray I don't invite aliens to the next chapter. 3:15 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Black And Silver Swoop Part One
Second picture: Konerko's Grand Slam leaves his bat during Game 2 on Sunday night.
I'm comfortable with breaking the law. I do it casually. Rarely do I think twice or feel any measure of guilt. I certainly didn't on Wednesday night, when I drove eighty miles per hour in a forty zone during the seventh inning. Baseball is church for me, and my zealotry trumps all notions of prudence or decorum. Would I miss the clinching moment? Fuck no!
I made it home in record time. The radio broadcast bridged the time gap for me. When a commercial break interrupted the broadcast, I raced up three flights of stairs and dove through the apartment door, my arm outstretched. My finger smashed in the power button of my television, which I'd carefully set to the correct station before departing earlier that day. I played umpire and yelled "Safe!" as the eighth inning blinked to life on the screen and I crashed to the floor. I was a happy panting pretzel.
They won. We won. Of course.
I got to watch the White Sox dry hump each other on the pitcher's mound at Minute Maid park, the lot of them giddily bouncing about like kangaroos with their asses on fire. I greatly enjoyed that. My sole regret is that I watched it alone, and nobody heard me cheer. I couldn't high-five anybody. I was a lone beacon of joy.
Why would I race home instead of patronizing an establishment with a liquor license and throngs of screaming boosters?
Disease. Rampant, viscuous, infectuous disease. I'd caught something nasty, you see, and was in no condition to party my face off. In fact, my face was already starting to slip: Loose, bubbly skin. Woe. Giant mutant flesh-eating amoebas were wriggling out my facial pores and nibbling me. They played slip and slide through my fevered perspiration. Bacterial flora were blooming in my lungs, establishing colorful new ecosystems within the dank humid darkness, digging roots in my alveoli. I'll spare you the digestive symptoms. Suffice to say, I was in danger of liquefying.
Somehow, I felt worse on Thursday. Still, I made myself a promise: Unless I shat out a vital organ on Friday morning, I was going to that goddamn victory parade.
Part Two will be written and published late on Monday. And guess what? I'll have some great parade photos courtesy of Jamie. Go check out the one she put up today of Mayor Daley, Paul Konerko, and Ozzie Guillen at her website: Jamas.Org
7:14 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Do you believe in hate at first sight? Of course you do, you misanthropic vandals. I sure do.
I'm working the evening shift this week. This schedule placed my butt squarely in an executive swivel chair during the third game of the World Series. While testing the limits of human pizza consumption, I decided to stay past shift's end at ten so I wouldn't miss a single pitch. Afterwards, I would depart and fly east to some dodgy nightclub event my friends have been hyping for weeks. When the 11th inning rolled over and midnight approached, I resigned my perch and went to my car. I expected the game would still be playing when I reached my destination.
When I arrived at Cherry Red a little past midnight, the obnoxiously red club was sparsely populated. A small group of baseball fans huddled in one corner, where the game was playing on mute. Before I could join them, I tackled a crucially important task: getting a nice fizzy gin & tonic.
I leaned on the bar and signaled the bartender. He was a short little guy with spiky short blond hair that was messy in a carefully calculated way. His eyes were far too large for his tiny head and they bulged out of their sockets like throbbing hemorrhoids. The expression on his face was that of a nauseated frog. I knew immediately that I hated this man and wanted him to implode or evaporate or get smeared to the asphalt by a very large vehicle.
I was raised to be polite, cordial, and kind. I concealed my disdain (or so I thought) and waited patiently for the amphibian to serve his previous customers. He saw my wave and turned away with nary an acknowledgement. Customers sidled up to the other end of the bar and he stood there, chatting with them, studiously avoiding my beseeching gaze.
I was missing precious baseball. Not acceptable. I traveled down the bar to where he stood idle and ordered my drink with a volume impossible to ignore. "Gin & Tonic, double lime, thanks!"
He frowned and wearily poured me a weak drink. "Three bucks." He feigned being far too exhausted to be bartending the likes of me. Poor baby. I'm not exactly sure how a bartender with ten customers in his whole joint can work up a head of arrogant superiority, but he managed. Wow. I really hated this fucking guy.
Next, I imposed upon him for a round of shots and beers for my friends. He sighed. Such hard work, tipping bottles.
So I'm watching the game. My head is craned upwards to the highmounted little television. That little shit swooped in and snatched my unfinished drink away. I ordered another and asked him to let me finish this one.
"If you ask for a second drink, I'm gonna assume your first is finished, man. That's why I took it."
"No. It was already gone when I ordered this one. I'll hold this one in my hands."
At 1:30am, in the 14th inning, the White Sox finally won the baseball game. The supercilious cuntface lined up free shots for everybody at the bar. Except me. Steam may have hissed from my ears. I'll have to check eyewitness accounts.
I asked for my tab. I pocketed my credit card and signed the bottom of the paper slip. I thought about leaving no tip, but I decided a single dollar tip on a tab that size would scream "fuck you" in fifty-foot tall neon letters. Yes.
I was right. As I walked to the exit, he ran from behind the bar and followed me to the door. He grabbed me by the shoulder and I spun around, wondering which friend I had neglected to give a goodbye.
"Here." He held a crumpled dollar towards me. I took it. "Don't come back." I realized he had just returned my hateful meager gratuity. My message had been received, loud and clear, 10-4, Roger Roger.
I responded with a booming voice that pierced through the techno music. "I won't. Fuck you." The whole bar turned to look at me as I left.
I walked down Sheffield. In a great mood. 5:17 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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"I'm sick of dating cheerleaders. They're really hot, but they're so whiny and stuck-up. Dealing with their bullshit isn't worth it for a good fuck every night."
I was at a party. In fact, I was the first one there. The beer guy has to be punctual. I bought a keg of Bud, humped it up three rickety flights of wooden stairs, iced it down, tapped it, and settled in the watch the pregame bullshit before the World Series began. Guests began arriving around eight. (The third inning, approximately.) Planned months in advance, it was a Halloween party. Who could've known the White Sox were going to be playing for the big prize? Yet there they were. So I brought the keg early and got extra ice to compensate for potential warm beer problems.
Another early arrival was cute girl dressed as a St. Pauli girl. She brought a friend: white skin, dodgy facial hair, Sean Jean rapper's pajamas, and plastic vampire fangs. His name was Pat. He asked me a question.
"You like rap music?"
"Yeah, sometimes. Older stuff. Tupac. Scarface. Warren G. Wu-Tang Clan. I like those."
"Check this out. Here's my CD. Keep it. I gotz badass skills, Joe."
"I know, you introduced yourself, we just- I mean-"
"Relax. I know the whole 'Joe' thing. I absorb vernacular like a linguistic diaper. I was just deadpanning. Givin' you a hard time. I'll check it out, thanks." I stuffed the CD in the belly pocket of my White Sox pennant hoodie.
"Cool, man. You'll like it."
I shuffled off. I'd been looking for a small mirror to lay out some coke, and now I had this guy's demo CD. What's this called? Bad Dog? Fat Dog? I don't remember. Something dubious and unimaginative. All I needed was the jewel case. I got set to deviate my septum when Pat mosied over to my little booger party. Before begging for free drugs, he started in non sequiter with his complaints about cheerleaders. I responded.
"Life must be hard for you, dealing with all that sex, beauty, and vacancy."
"Yeah, I think I'm gonna hook up with ugly chicks from now on. Less work."
"Aw, stop playin' dog." He started to give me playful punch on the shoulder. I glared. He paused.
"Easy, dog. We cool. Hook a brother up with a line. Or even a bump? I wanna get jacked up for this pah-tay. And you'ze usin' my fly CD to bust up yo shit!"
I inhaled a high crested dune of white powder. It stung. My dealer had warned me: "I ain't had time to cut this, so go easy or you'll end up bleedin' all over your costume." Fuck yeah.
I licked the CD case clean, stowed it, and got away from the personality-challenged fuckstain as quickly as I could. When the game ended, I reported to the keg for cash and cup duty. I like being in charge. It's good cheap ego food.
Andrea was there, collecting cash, pouring beer, and writing names on red plastic Solo cups.
"Reporting for duty, Miss Andrea!"
Before she had a chance to go socialize and mingle, the extremely tall boy in the basketball pajamas thrust his empty cup forth. He yodeled for beer and attention. "Me-me-me-me-me! Hook it up fo shizzle!"
"Not you again. Um, I don't think I want to go give you anymore beer."
"Stop playin'! Fill me up, bee-yotch!"
I was forced to intercede. "Andrea, if you give him the beer, I bet he'll go away. At least for a while."
"True. Good idea."
I had not been quiet with my disdainful comment. Pat gave me an injured look. "Bro, why you hatin'? I ain't never done ya no foul."
"Here's your beer. Have a nice something. NEXT!"
"I didn't get my 500 sit-ups done today cause I was super busy, yo, but I'm hard as cold steel. I could pound you into nothing, so don't fuck wit me. I don't take no shit from nobody. So watch it."
"Kindly fuck off to elsewhere. I'll accept no guff from MTV addled potential date rapists like you. I'll serve you beer. You've paid. But no threats. One more and you're out of here."
"Oh. You live here?"
"Nope. But I do have the authority and the means to remove you from this event. Will you take your beer somewhere else now? Please? There are hordes waiting behind you, and they too are very thirsty."
Later I heard he went around ass grabbing. 7:45 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Our Modern Parlance
NLCS Game 6 Announcer Thom Brennaman: "You can see where all the fans signed the walls here at Busch Stadium, saying goodbye, leaving memories of their favorite games in marker on the various concrete posts around the park."
Announcer Bob Brenly: "I wrote something down, but we can't show that on TV."
Back in a Chicago living room...
Roy: "Yeah, he probably wrote it in the bathroom. On a stall door. I wonder what Bob would write?"
John: "Let's see here. I know. Here I sit so broken hearted, tried to shart but only farted!"
Roy: "Shart? Not shit but shart?"
John: "Yeah! Don't tell me me you don't know what shart means. It's when you think you're gonna fart but you end up shitting your pants."
Roy: "I know, I know. I did it once. A long time ago.
John: "You sharter. You're a wannabe Bob Brenly with anal problems."
Roy: "Nah. I was shitfaced that night. Hey, you ever eat while you're shitting? Like pizza or something?"
John: "Ummmm. Yeah, I think I did. I was drunk. Definitely pizza. I know I've eaten candy on the shitter before. Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of shitting, though? Downloading and uploading at the same time? Apart from being gross, it just seems retarded to me. Like taking a taxicab around the block."
Roy: "Like taking a taxicab around the block? Hahahaha! That's classic. I'm gonna eat some pepperoni pizza on the can this weekend just so I can go around telling people I took a taxi around the block. Then I'll laugh until they ask me what's so funny."
John: "You would. What if Darren did that? But because he was so drunk, he shit in the bathtub, then passed out there, pizza crust sticking out of the shit mound oozing from between his legs."
Roy: "Taking a taxi around the block and crashing into the house."
There you go, folks. Here's a new entry into your vocabulary of vulgar phrasology: Eating while shitting shall henceforth be referred to as "taking a taxi around the block." 10:58 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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"We got everybody here?"
"Yeah, go ahead. What kind of disgusting filth are you proposing today?"
"Money. It's always about money. It's about misleading the general public and taking advantage of their desperate need to feel like they're actually making a difference. It's about abusing labor laws by hiring illegal immigrants. It's about turning a quick buck before disappearing into the night."
"Okay. I like it already. Who's our target?"
"Well, let me lay it out for you. I'm talking merchandising. I was kicking myself for missing out on those irritating flag bumper stickers after 9/11 and the yellow ribbons for the troops after the second Gulf War began. Those are cold right now, but the lavender breast cancer ribbons are still selling a lot, and I haven't seen a single Katrina ribbon yet. We might not be too late for Katrina - people still have a raging erection for ribbons in general, and nowadays they don't care if their so-called donation actually reaches a victim- they just want to slap something on their bumper and pat themselves on the back. Katrina's hot right now. What color should we use? I was thinking green or blue. What phrase? Support Katrina Relief? Hurricane Katrina Donator? Maybe we should shoehorn the word "victim" in there somewhere. They like that. Think about it.
"The word is donor, not donator, Steve."
"Right, donor. Excellent. I've marked that down. Moving right along. We'll come back to ribbons. Next item. The White Sox are in the World Series. Cool, right? I agree. I was watching the postgame coverage last night after they won, and snuck in between the camera shots of plastered south side fans at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park and the boring player interviews full of vacant platitudes and rah-rah giddiness, they showed a shot of some Mexican laborers hand-stitching embroidered World Series patches to caps and shirts. We need to capitalize. We have thousands of unregistered aliens slinking through Chicago, haunting the day labor pools, ecstatic at the notion of raking in two bucks an hour unreported to Uncle Sam. Let's get them sewing. I want cheap garb that we can sell in bulk to gas stations, mom and pop groceries, ballpark merchandise stands, places like that. Let's offload some overpriced garbage and take advantage of the baseball euphoria. I figure this has to be worth a couple grand to us just this week alone. The key here is to find cheap plain black t-shirts get poor sweatshop laborers grinding this shit out. Right now. ASAP. I'm a week late, as usual, I know, but it's not too late if we act now.
"Wouldn't screen-printing be cheaper than embroidery? Let's be realistic here."
"Brilliant thought! Screen printing! Hell, we can even go the iron-on route and spend even less. Lovely. I've marked that down, too. Last and definitely least: A middling notion, but worth a mention. This one is less urgent. You all know the phrase "Shit Happens," right? So what about "Excrement Happens?" It's far too clever for its own good. I think the hipsters will eat it up. We can print it on hemp t-shirts. Not only can Christians get a nice clean chuckle wearing it, but so can the yuppie types. It's like the Nix/on, Nix/off shirts, only not nearly as clever. Can't you just imagine a bunch of bespectacled oatmunching assholes pointing to this slogan on their chests, saying "Get it? It's like shit happens, except it says excrement instead." I know, not funny. But that's exactly the point. It's for idiots. All three of these products are for idiots. They fork over their scabby money and we're rolling in cocaine for a month. Who's with me?"
"I like them all, Steve. But... um... How are we going to fund production? Who has to go sell this stuff, and if that's me, what's my cut? What are the details of the actual budgeting? Have you got any quotes from suppliers yet? Thought about any of that, you crude shameless advantage-taking shithead?"
"Uhhh..... No. I haven't." 2:45 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Ramshackle Ambush Part Two
I'm young, healthy, and most of all, strong as an Egyptian slave hauling a crowning pyramid block. I rolled onto my stomach and sprung myself upright with a launching pushup.
"Okay, fucker, what's the gig? Spill it."
"Son, you sit back down. Now. My nephew Joey will be here any second. We need to talk to you. For legal reasons. No shenanigans. Joey's gonna explain a couple things. That's all."
"What's to explain? I'm looking at dirt traps like this for a new home! You know I can't afford to sue you over a little mishap like that accident. If it was an accident, which I doubt now. I'm outta here, Ron. You weird old fuck."
As I went to brush past the lumpish geriatric, he brandished his can of insect mace and sprayed forth another cloud of corrosive droplets. This time I was ready. I closed my eyes, raised my hands, and turned away, sparing my punished face the brunt of his malicious extermination attempt.
"I said sit down. Last warning, sprout."
I think the chemicals searing my throat and eyes made me angrier and more deranged than I usually am. I like to consider myself a nice boy with good manners. However, once pushed beyond reason, it seems I enjoy a capacity for viciousness and brutality. Such uncharacteristic traits were regrettably brought to fore by the old man's seemingly nonsensical attack. So yeah, I retaliated. Big time.
I had a pencil in my pocket. Pretty sharp, too. I fisted it, spun, and lunged for his pasty sagging face. My graphite tip sunk into his left eye with a quick quiet wet sound, like a baby's fart. Somewhere, Hammurabi was smiling.
The old fella flailed and swore. "My... mah... shit... I... Oh." He sat down hard, his neck twitching his head left and right. Shock set in quickly. I could've left at this point. I didn't. My blood was sizzling with adrenaline rage, and I felt something primal, something thirsty, something howling for carnage, carnage, carnage.
I scavenged around until I found a paint scraper. Perfect. I dragged Ron from the kitchen to the living room. His mouth was bubbling, his breaths hitching. He was dying. I knelt over him raised the scraper above me with both hands. I jabbed it down, altar sacrifice style, deep into his ample lardy gut. There was no geyser of blood or loud screams, just an "oomph" and then silence. Gotcha, old man. Bucket successfully kicked.
With dirty hands I reached inside him. Once my fingers navigated past the creamy cornish lard to his vital innards, I wrapped intestines around my spread out fingers like spaghetti on a fork. I took a deep breath and yanked.
I unspooled him, yards of gleaming endless tentacle in red, yellow, purple, and grey. I made a loop of loose guts and swung the slippery intestinal lasso towards the ceiling fan, catching it over one of the blades. I did this three more times until all four blades were adorned, and then I turned the fan on at full speed. For twenty seconds it struggled to spin, braiding the codger's wriggling guts together into a slick twist. Finally, the rope braided tight. The fan halted, still humming, still straining, trying to cool me off.
The nameless fluids of eviscera drizzled from my clothing as I left, leaving licking puddles on the sidewalk for hungry raccoons. I should've felt afraid, wondering where inside me my hateful ejaculation of energy had come from, wondering what kind of person reacts like that, wondering if I still like the person living in my body. I didn't feel that. Instead, I was triumphant, a predator licking his chops after his prey is slain, eyes darting about seeking the next pounce.
I got in my car, fired the ignition, and pulled off. As I turned from May onto 33rd, a blue van sped past and whipped around the corner, zooming to whence I came. That must be Joey, Ron's nephew. I pulled over and ambled back to the corner and peeked at the van, which was still running, the door open. Joey was running towards the house. He clutched a pistol in one hand. Urgency.
I sprinted to his van and swung open the back doors. Inside sat two styrofoam coolers. One was open and full of ice, but otherwise empty. I flipped the lid off the other. Inside sat a pair of organs, still hot, melting the ice they rested upon, staining everything red. Kidneys, definitely. I know that shape from eating chili. I took them, one per hand. I squeezed one over the van's windshield. The kidney popped. A weak splash of half-processed urine mixed with brackish blood gurgled out. I tucked the ruptured organ under a windshield wiper. I wondered where Joey had left a fresh corpse, missing kidneys, missing the light of life in the eyes. I still had my kidneys. Hell, I had three right now!
I left, leaving Joey to clean up the messes, one inside, one out. I didn't want to confront him. I don't mess with guys with guns. I'll look for places to live somewhere else in Chicago. Ukranian Village, maybe.
I'm taking the other kidney to a taxidermist. 12:50 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Ramshackle Ambush Part One
I was scouting out neighborhoods looking for a new place to live when I got sprayed in the face with industrial strength bug poison. As the potent chemical blend burrowed into my pores and raped my eyeballs, I fell to the wooden floor, gasping and clutching my face.
"Oh shit, sorry kid! Didn't mean to do that. You got medical insurance?"
The apartment was a ratty little hole in the basement of a ramshackle house at 33rd and May on the south side of Chicago. It was my second appointment of the day, and the elderly owner met me there ten minutes before, bug spray in hand. He led me into the dingy apartment and pointed out improvements he intended to make before letting the space.
"That's the living room. Nice window, right? Lots of light." He sprayed the sill. "Here's the bathroom. We're gonna retile this. I think they kept a cat locked in here, so it's a little musty right now." He sprayed the caulking. He sniffed it and seemed satisfied.
In one bedroom there were cigarette burns on the wooden flooring. Nobody lets that many butts smolder unless they're seriously blissed on dope. This guy certainly had a bad run of tenants previously. The neighborhood was full of trees and decent cars, no litter, no gunshots. At least not on this Saturday afternoon. So why was this place such a pit?
The kitchen lacked both an oven and a refrigerator, so I asked about them. "What about the stove and fridge?"
"Oh! Yeah! You can put those here and here." He smiled and the wiry grey hair sprouting from his ears perked up as the smile stretched his skin.
I was plenty dubious after witnessing the compulsive spraying, the burns on the floor, the peeling paint, and the pungent smell wafting from the commode. Now he's telling me I have to provide the two most important appliances in the kitchen myself? And he wants $600 for this shithole? The old guy opened up a kitchen cabinet and let another blast of aerosol death mist fly, speckling the interior where my plates would rest. Time to go.
"Thanks for showing me the place, Ron. I'll call you soon if I'm interested. Have a nice-"
"Wait a sec, hold on! I want to show you one more-"
He turned around too fast for a codger his age and nearly tripped himself. He used the hand holding the can to brace himself against a doorframe, smashing his fingers between the cylinder and the wood. One of those fingers depressed the aerosol trigger. I took the blast right in the face.
"Kid? Hey, kid? Deep breaths. Breathe. You'll be okay. I'm really sorry."
I rolled onto my back, hyperventilating, watching the tar stained ceiling through teary blinking eyes. I tasted battery acid and boiling antifreeze fighting for possession of my tongue.
"You're not gonna sue me, are ya?"
I pawed at my throat. "Wa... water. Please." Ragged and wet.
"Uh... no cups, kid. Water's shut off, too. Let me help you up."
His cell phone rang. "Joey? Yeah, I'm showin' the place. I thought you said you were gonna finish fixin' this place up! It looks like crap, and I almost just killed a kid who mighta rented it if you hadn't been a lazy little bastard! What? I bug sprayed him. No, not on purpose. On accident! In his face. Yeah. No, he's not dead. What? Are you sure? That's a bit drastic, don't you think? Okay, all right, sure. I'll be here. Hurry up."
He closed the phone and looked at me.
"You just take it easy. My nephew is on his way. He's gonna help you. We'll, uh... he'll take you to the hospital, get those eyes flushed clean. You'll be okay. And I'll give you a discount. A hundred bucks off the first two months, how's that sound?"
"Urrrrrk...." I heard an ice cream truck jingle outside. I think. My head was throbbing, and I could feel every heartbeat, every surge of blood tremoring through the capillaries under the skin of my face. Sounds were thickening, and the old bastard's voice sounded like he was talking from inside a seashell. My stomach buckled, and I convulsed. Slightly. I tried to stand up, using the kitchen counter to hoist myself upright.
To my surprise, the fat old man slapped my hands from the counter lip.
"Stay down, kiddo. No sense risking falling over or passing out or anything. Let's wait for help."
"Nah... I gotta go. Go home. Shower. Drink some milk."
I tried again to get up. This time he shoved me hard. My head ricocheted off the wall. My neck got wrenched a bit. Ailments and injuries were piling up fast.
"What the fuck? You really got it in for me, huh? Damned old man." Hoarse.
"Don't get up, kid. My nephew is on his way. You just stay right there. We'll take care of you. Yes we will. You betcha."
He itched his crotch, pocketed his bug spray, and began picking his nose. He watched through the highset window absentmindedly, waiting. I wondered what his nephew had said to change his attitude so drastically. Something was very wrong. 4:20 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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My new home will be at 31st and Wallace. I wandered around the neighborhood, ducking under White Sox flags and hopping over sidewalk fissures. I downed a few beers at the VFW hall and The Redwood Lounge. I like the neighborhood. During my visit, my ears were fed speech both crass and anecdotal, all of it magic:
"I wouldn't fuck her with a stolen dick."
"You couldn't get laid at a women's prison even if you had a fistful of pardons."
Here's a good one:
"Steroids will make you batshit crazy, man. I knew this nice little guy- he was half Japanese I think- his name was Mike Onaga. He was shy and nerdy, you know? Real short, too, couldn't have weighed in over a buck-ten, buck-twenty. He started taking 'roids back in... lemme see here... musta been 86. He was telling me about the steroid cycles. The first year on them, he could only take two cycles a year or his heart could explode.
"Two years later he was fucking built, man. He musta gained 130 pounds. He wasn't nice anymore, but he liked me, so what did I care, right? He became a mean motherfucker with a hard-on for trouble. When we worked at Jewel-Osco, that crazy little fucker would pick up whole grocery carts. You know, the metal ones! Heavy steel! He'd lift 'em up in the air and throw them over four aisles! Four aisles of groceries! It was insane. They'd crash into cake mixes or soap bottles or whatever and just knock shit all over, and Mike would scream and howl like a fuckin animal.
"He's in jail now. He was raging all the time, and he got in a fight with some dude at a concert. Musta been in 1990. He bashed the guy's head into the metal stairs and then stomped his head. Killed him. I think it was at the Vic... no, it was the Avalon. That's right. That mighta had something to do with the Avalon shutting down, I don't know. He's probably still locked up."
I'm gonna like living in Bridgeport. Home sweet home. 11:31 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Life is full of difficult decisions. Do I want to pay attention to this exciting baseball game, or do I want to pump quarters into that Dirty Harry pinball machine over in the corner?
The bar was dim, clean, and cozy. Members of a pool league sat on stools around the lone billiards table. All were men, and all had odd physical traits: disproportionally short legs, pockmarked faces, uneven mustaches, harelips. They hollered profanities and chuckled about scrotum stubble. Rolls of fat threatened belts. The shirt of an off-duty cop read "I don't give a fuck about your problems."
The pinball machine stood blinking and unloved by the entrance to the men's room. I sauntered over for a game. Before I could pump a few coins, an ammoniated wind of chemical cleanser and bold urine gusted from the doorless men's room, singing my nosehairs. Piss footprints in the bathroom hallway caught florescent light from a Rolling Rock sign, illuminating dance step instructions for the perpetually drunk. I farted quietly and went back to the bar.
I planted on a stool and watched the White Sox play on a yellow tinted television. The sound was mercifully muffled. Some asshole kept punching Aerosmith songs into the jukebox. Another shit kept buying scratchoff tickets from the Illinois Lotto "Have A Ball!" vending machine. A blinking LED display above the machine exclaimed "You could win right now!" Fuck you.
Pitchers of domestic were cheap. I drank four. I got high outside with the off-duty cop. He couldn't pronounce any Japanese names. He asked me to say "Tadahito Iguchi" five times fast. I did. "Well goddamn, son."
It was late, so I left. If I came in late for work on Thursday, my boss would rap my desk with the cheap gavel he got for donating money to Newt Gingrich several years ago. It's engraved and obnoxious. I was on time today, so no gavel thwackings. My intestines hurt. 3:53 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Better Than Parachutes
"Two hundred bucks? You gotta be shitting me!"
"Dude, we're gonna have to scam a lot of immigrants tonight to come up with enough. You said two hundred each?"
"Yeah, each ticket. They're front row, though. This might be our last chance to see a White Sox playoff game for a long time. They're gonna get more expensive if the Sox make it through to the next round."
"We don't have enough bumper medallions to come up with that many donations. If we're doing cash pieces at night, it's all gonna be residential, and they almost never go over $25 a pop. It's not even worth the gas money. Not to mention that we'd have to split our cut with a driver. We all got DUIs. No car, no cash, man."
"I got a better idea. I'm sneaking in."
"Bullshit Billy, how the fuck do you aim to pull that off?"
"I know a cop. He's gonna go to the gate with a fake warrant. Tell 'em he has to arrest the guy at the churro stand by the outfield jumbotron. He's gonna change in the bathroom then head down to the bullpen bar so nobody checks his ticket. I'm gonna go to that Fantasy Halloween shop over on Milwaukee over by Six Corners, rent a cop getup, and try the same stunt. Hopefully we pick different gates. Pretty good, right?"
"Fuck that, Billy. If I'm gonna risk goin down for impersonating a law officer, it's at least gotta be a good scam, like pulling over businessmen for bribes, swiping their credit cards, shit like that. Maybe even a white trash blowjob or two. A Sox game? Come on. Not worth the risk. That's weak. If I tried that and got busted I'd have a hard time looking in the mirror each morning."
"Fine. Pay your way, fellas. The Chicago American League ball club is honoring my noble courage and self-sacrifice tonight. Oh yes."
"You're a scumbag, Billy. But good luck, man." 5:05 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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