Thursday, June 29, 2006
“Let me get this straight: you played chicken with pedestrians because they weren’t using the crosswalk, and you nearly clipped one of them when you swerved around them at the last second. The police witnessed this bizarre scene, arrested you for reckless endangerment, and impounded your car, all the while treating you like an escapee from the nuthatch. That sum it up?”
“Don’t explain. I’ve ridden shotgun with you behind the wheel enough times that I can envision the whole thing with perfect clarity. It takes a lot of effort to get arrested in Boystown. Even the cops there are gay. Were your victims queers, drunken Cubs fans, or both?”
“And you just got that car a week ago!”
“Yeah, I know, I just…”
“I don’t get it, man. You spend two hours getting ready to go somewhere, gathering up your notebooks and CDs and laptops and pencils and guitars. As if you have all the time in the world, which, I suppose, you do. But once that engine is fired up, you change. Gone is that nonchalant, unhurried, lackadaisical spirit. Suddenly you’re overcome with urgency, a burning haste, like me when I need to splash and can’t find a commode. You race and zoom between tight gaps, ride so far up other drivers’ asses their tailpipes squeal with anticipation, and wait to use your brakes until the last possible moment. You go psycho. Now you’ve gotten so bad you can’t even wait for a couple of harmless poofs wobbly from slamming back too many cosmos to cross the street. What can I say? I told you so. At least it wasn’t a fatal crunchbang.”
“Okay, alright. So where’s your car?”
“Impound, 701 N. Sacramento. My sister says to take Milwaukee to Chicago Avenue then…”
“No. Those directions suck. She’s wrong. We live on the south side. I know where to go. Got all your papers? Yeah? Come on.”
“Fine. Thank you. Now please shut the fuck up.”
The impound lot was a swathe of dirt littered with cars of wildly varying income brackets. Hummers and rusted out 70’s model Chevys were parked side by side. A series of elevated trailers connected by catwalks stood erected at the entrance of the lot. All of this was enclosed by high fences frosted with barbed wire.
Inside the first trailer, notices, rules, and stipulations were stapled to the fake wood paneling, paneling that had recently been painted over in an ugly maroon color. The rulesheets were all laminated, and a spotlight was angled to shine directly upon them, creating a glare so harsh that only tall people who could position themselves between the light and the wall had any hope of reading them.
A siren speaker was mounted in one ceiling corner. I presume this speaker was installed as a precautionary measure, a method to melt brains with the casual flick of a switch. I admired its potential for hands free efficient pain infliction. If any vatos locos tried to garrote the sadistic impound officials, that siren would reduce the attacker to using sign language for the rest of his natural born life. With gang signs abundant, sign language would be disastrous for any thug.
We waited in line for an hour. A long hour.
Once my friend finished trading paperwork with Paco, the surly counter attendant, we moseyed over to Oscar, the lot attendant. He was amazingly fat. And happy. How refreshing.
We finally left under cover of darkness, and a block away, I let my friend (whose license is suspended over a pollution emission dispute) take his car back. 1:59 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Zha Jiang Mian
I’m sitting at my cluttered desk, just having returned to work from my lunch break. My stomach feels like I swallowed a bowling ball, my skin is tingling, and I think my blood has ceased its perpetual circulation.
I went to the Golden Chopstick for lunch. I’d never been there before, but I was growing tired of pizza. I figured a nice Sesame Chicken would be just the ticket.
When I sat down, I was handed a menu with entrée choices printed upon it in black ink. First in English, then in intricate Chinese calligraphy. Near the bottom, in ballpoint blue ink, an addition was scrawled in sloppy lettering:
Home Made Peking Noodles $7.45
To the right of that, in thick red marker, all in capital letters, was one happy word:
Well, okay, I thought. I might regret this, but I’m adventurous. So I ordered the damn thing. The waitress, a middle-aged Chinese woman, repeated my order back.
"Peking Noodle? You try before?"
Ten minutes later a massive steaming bowl of something was placed before me.
Thick spaghetti-like wheat noodles, dark yellow in color, filled the bowl nearly to the brim. I think there were three pounds of them. Atop the noodles was a massive pile of brown black mud. The mud was made from black bean paste and chopped sauteed onions that stuck out from the sludge like translucent soggy teeth.
I mixed up the sludge with the noodles until I had a bowl of motor oil soaked tapeworms. I started slurping it up. I can’t describe the surprisingly mild taste, which was neither good or bad, just extremely different. After a while, I began adding black pepper, then soy sauce, then cayenne powder.
I managed to order the only dish on the menu that had never undergone any Americanization. No radical metamorphosis had transformed the recipe into something albino America could consume with comfort and recognition. No, this was real Chinese food, the stuff they serve back in Peking. I felt worldly and sophisticated for moment, until I realized I'm a rube. I wondered how my farts would smell tonight. Very mild and deferential, I decided.
The incident reminded me of the time I ordered beef ball soup at The Hong Kong Café and got a broth with scallions and testicles floating in it. I didn’t eat that one.
My blood is moving again. I feel healthy all of the sudden. I’m getting a cheeseburger on the way home tonight. To equalize myself. 2:56 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Blue And Green
I was drinking four dollar pitchers of MGD at the local watering hole last night. I found one patron's anecdote especially funny, so I've stolen it and worked it into a first person confessional narrative, my preferred method of written communication.
I was walking up Milwaukee Avenue when a squad car pulled up to the curb right beside me. I kept moving, nonchalantly, hoping the cops had any business other than me.
Two cops sprung from the car, guns drawn, pointed at me.
“On the ground, now, slowly!”
Guns are scary. I didn’t ask questions. I obeyed. I laid down among the litter and old chewing gum, face down, my limbs splayed, making me an X on the sidewalk. I risked a look at the cops. They started shouting questions.
“Empty your pockets onto the sidewalk. Slowly!”
I pulled out my wallet, cigarettes, lighter, fare card, and a quarter ounce of low grade marijuana.
One scooped my wallet from the sidewalk and opened it. He read my name and license number to the other cop, who ran it through his dashboard computer. My name came back with two outstanding felony warrants. One was a DUI in Lake County, and the other was for failure to appear in court for the same violation. They’d impounded the Mustang I was driving that day, which I’d stolen, but the theft had gone unreported. Apparently the owner still hadn’t called the cops about it, because they'd never have let me walk on grand theft auto.
“You shoot a guy up at Foster then ditch the gun? Five minutes ago? Did you?”
He looked at the other cop and asked “You wanna bring this guy in?”
“On that DUI bullshit? No. Waste of fucking time.” He looked down at the bag of weed in his hands, which he’d picked up, then at me. “You got anything more than this weed? Any coke?”
“Jesus shit. Come on, let’s go. Get the fuck out of here, kid.”
I was still lying on my stomach, my head craned up uncomfortably to watch the police. The cop with the weed threw it at me. The baggie bounced off my forehead. I felt dumb.
I asked, “What do I do with that?”
He laughed. “Smoke it, you fucking hippie.” They left.
That’s the fifth time Chicago cops have thrown my weed at me.
4:36 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Less than a mile northeast of Cook County Jail, in what Chicago restaurant guides call “the near west side,” lies a cozy neighborhood that stretches across a few blocks of Oakley Avenue. This small residential area is hidden by the tall mangy storefronts on Western Avenue. Out there, you’ll see liquor stores, fried fish shacks, graffiti, groaning CTA busses, and litter lined gutters.
Mere yards east, at Oakley, the complexion abruptly shifts, the urban acne dissolving, giving way to boldly colored facades, actual plant life, red brick sidewalks, and shitloads of Italian people.
This wholesome block is a concealed secret, a gem encrusted by coal. The farting hordes strolling and motoring up and down the surrounding thoroughfares never glean the existence of this picturesque pocket, reasonably assuming that only squalor and grime could exist within such environs.
Yet there it is.
I had a taste for pasta last week, so I went to Italian Village, aka Little Italy. I walked down Taylor Street, reading menus posted on the doors of trendy, overpriced restaurants. Peering through their windows, I saw tables crammed full of tourists and yuppies. I finally settled upon one, only to be told the kitchen was closing. At ten? On a Friday night?
I shared my disdain and disappointment with a friend. He proceeded to scold me for my attempt, citing the very criticisms I just leveled, before imploring me to eat at a real Italian restaurant, you know, the ones run by the children of washed up former mobsters. Restaurants operated by legit rapsheet-free Italians who learned more about the mafia from The Sopranos than from their old cousin Eddie who won’t talk about his years before the clink.
"They still got the recipes, even if they don’t got the concrete shoes no more", my friend added. "It ain’t Little Italy, they call it... shit, what was it... oh yeah! Heart of Italy. Tiny little neighborhood, hidden away. Go there."
Come along, I asked. He did, and we went last night. I took the wrong road at the California/Western split, and found myself taking a detour around the penitentiary. Across the street from the big house, I saw squalid, longrow townhomes. My buddy played tour guide.
“That’s a shitty neighborhood, man. Latin Kings, almost all of it. They beat up the black gangbangers when they get released, cause they know they’re rivals. They chase ‘em and try to beat ‘em to death. For fun. The Kings hate everybody.”
“Charming.Violence is a better wake up than coffee anyways, so those guys got it right.”
“Shut up, you ass.”
“Right. So you’re telling me that right around the corner we’re gonna find a charming little Italian villa with wrinkly faced matrons, olive trees, chuckleheads riding scooters, and gorgeous curly-haired perfect-skinned goddesses?”
“No, just pasta. The best.”
I parked on Oakley and before I walked two steps, an idle mid-thirties Italian man stepped away from his place on the red brick sidewalk and strode up to me. I felt cornered, although I could’ve fled in any direction, or even dove back into my car.
What was this? An inquisition? Did I need proof of Italian heritage to set foot here? A local reference, perhaps a membership card of some sort?
Surely all the residents here must actively participate in keeping out the hordes of dangerous folk from the surrounding neighborhoods, violent, gun-toting, booty bass-pounding thugs who drive around at night in rusted out Cadillacs firing automatic weapons at each other. Maintaining quiet and safety must be high on the priority list here. I braced myself for suspicion, hatred, and possibly even assault.
Then I remembered: I’m white!
“What year is that?” he asked, pointing to my dirty Intrepid.
“95, 3.5 ES model.”
“Yeah.” I explained the long and shameful history of my car. I told him never to buy a Dodge.
He looked around for a moment, maybe making a secret eye contact signal to the local meaty bruno, indicating that I didn’t need to hauled away. He didn’t thank me, just said “Alright” and stepped back to his favorite spot on the sidewalk. I was relieved and thankful that I wouldn’t be expelled without a taste of tomatoes.
I ate at a good, inexpensive joint called Bacchanalia, a word which refers to an orgiastic gluttony of food and wine. I loved it. I didn’t get shot when I left the area, but then again, I took a different route, bypassing the county jail. 5:01 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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I Hate Television (1-1-3)
I Hate Television - Previous Entries!Monday, June 12, 2006
[Season 1, Episode 1, Scene 3 - Setting: Outside the Vibrant Inc dock doors, four people are smoking cigarettes: Jake, Rita, Jimmy, and Steve.]
Jake: Here’s another concept we’re recycling for the new show: We want to install dashboard cameras in your cars. They’re unobtrusive little gadgets that clip right onto your air vents. The idea is just like on MTV’s Real World. On that show they intercut interviews with cast members in between the main scenes. The best ones always involve shit talking and petty grudges. Our twist’ll be that you’re talking while driving home from work. You’ll be watching the road ahead, not the camera, giving the footage an intimate, reflective feel. It’ll be your opportunity to voice those thoughts you felt uncomfortable sharing with your co-workers around. A confessional of sorts. A place for your own honest take. Pretty nice, right?
Steve: I’m glad you have the decency to restrict your minicams to our vehicles. The thought of one of those clipped to my showerhead would haunt my dreams for eternity. Although I'm sure you'd get my honest take every morning, at least.
Jake: I don’t know what you’re implying this time, but I’m definitely implying that you need to get laid more. The cash advance we’re offering ought to buy you a few escorts. Think about it, tough guy.
Jimmy: Ha ha! Hey Steve, I know where to get you a good hooker!
Steve: No doubt you do, Jimmy, but I’ll pass. I still haven’t exterminated the crab colony left by the last crack whore I fucked. I chopped her up into little pieces as a public service. She’s still in my freezer. My crotch still feels like a pinball machine. The government should give me a grant before my research goes limp.
Rita: You think you’re funny, but you’re not. Jake’s right. Why can’t you just shut up, anyways?
Steve: I am, by nature, a quiet kind of guy. Every once in a while somebody comes along and jabs me with a pointy stick. I yelp. Can’t help my reflexes. They’re programmed by genetics.
Rita: Yeah, but when a doctor taps my knee with his little hammer I don’t fly all over doing roundhouse kicks to the face. My leg just jumps a tiny bit. You, on the other hand, spaz all out, like Chuck Norris.
Steve: No, Norris is more of a ‘Hi-yah’ and ‘cuff him’ type guy. I’m more like Charles Bronson. He’ll call somebody a scumbag before popping a massive fucking bullet dead center between his victim’s eyebrows. I can identify with that.
Jake: You’re too loony to leave off this show. I’ll convince you yet, man.
Jimmy: Yeah dude, this is gonna be great! Think of all the easy pussy you’ll get just from being on a TV show! Free booze, too! You’ll have tons of people who want to be your friend just cause you’re cool enough to be on TV, man! (Jimmy flicks his cigarette butt over Rita’s head, out towards the street)
Steve: Friends? Oh, you mean leeches. That does sound pretty hot, but uh… no, no thanks.
Rita: Maybe Steve wants easy dick instead and just won’t admit it.
Steve: You’re the height of wit, Rita. You should write that one down.
Jake: I thought it was pretty good, Rita. But I’ll tell you, there’s no need to insult the man. He makes himself look pretty far out without any help. And Steve, you WILL be on the show, one way of the other. We have ways.
Steve: Think again, scumbag. (Steve aims his index finger like a pistol and shoots Jake) 3:52 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Charlie Don't Surf
“Steve, you there? Steve, answer!”
My Nextel was chirping. It was one of my roommates. Did I feel like answering? Surely this would be a scolding for dishes unwashed, a plea for toilet paper, or perhaps news that the whole place burned to the ground after an accident during a fart lighting contest. I answered anyways, leery, and braced for peskyness.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
“I just got a pool for the ballroom.”
“Why do you need a tool? A screwdriver? A hammer? Nothing is broken. Right?”
“Not a tool, a pool! You know, splish splash?”
“I don’t even want an explanation for that one. I’ll be home around ten.”
I arrived to a bizarre scene in the ballroom of my residence. Dead center on the wooden floor, a shallow inflatable pool was set up. Sealed beer cans floated to and fro, bobbing like fishing lures. Two of my roommates sat on chairs along the rim, letting their gnarly feet soak and prune in the icy wetness. I spoke to the gentlemen inhabiting the surreal scene.
“Wow. A pool. Really. I’m stunned.”
“I bought it at Target this afternoon. Tom bought the air pump, and we got it blown up. Here we are! All I gotta do is trim and feed my palm trees, stand them at the corners of this bad boy, invite over a few girls, with bikinis of course, and we’re all set. Awesome, right?”
“Awesome is a weak word. Try outstanding. Or maybe spectacular. Or maybe retarded. I need to think about this. Where’s the hose? How did you get 1000 pounds of water into the middle of the ballroom?”
“Buckets. Lots of buckets. Took two hours.”
“You realize this water will only last a day, and that it’ll take four hours to empty and refill this fucker every time you want to ‘swim,’ right?”
“The water will be fine for a few days. Don’t flip about that. You’re such a pessimist.”
“There’s no chlorine, there’s enough cat hair floating in the air to weave an afghan, and our feet aren’t exactly prisitine, guys. The only way the water could get dirty faster is if we start baptizing hobos in it.”
“Cat hair won’t get in there. The cats are terrified of water. You see how Figaro reacts when I pick up the spray bottle.”
“I’m not talking about the hair still on the cats. I’m talking about the lazy sheddings that actually float through our atmosphere. I can see them when we have strong sunbeams. We are breathing cat. It is killing us slowly. That's beside the point. That hair will make this water murky and diseased. I better have a soak now while it’s still safe.”
“Well all right then. Enough of your daily shit talk. Let’s have a beer, bullshit a bit, and figure out this leukemia scam.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Two nights later I got home near midnight. All the lights in the loft were turned off, and only the dim moonlight and my muscle memory led me through my home without accidentally castrating myself or stubbing my toe on a piece of furniture. I found a light switch, sat down on the couch, and read the first few chapters of a novel about clowns, baking, and fate.
When I smelled wet dog, I knew something was wrong. We have no dogs. Just two cats and a ferret, all three of whom I consider filthy nuisances. This odor wasn't the usual ammoniated scorch that wafts from the infrequently tended litter box, but instead, it was a heavier, more humid stink. It had a long reach. I hadn’t noticed its overpowering penetration of the air upon entering due to the protective cloud of cigarette smoke that follows me around. Eventually the weak tobacco aura collapsed under the relentless assault of the new smell.
I did what any sane person would’ve done. I opened as many doors and windows as possible, cranked up a couple fans, and never thought once about discovering the origin of the stench. I strode to the bathroom to start the second chapter of my paperback and to work up a special smell of my own.
When I came out, I saw one of my roommates, Tom. He had just arrived. He was calling for me, quietly but insistently. He sounded very serious.
“I’m coming, hold your herd.”
He was peering into the pool. I followed his eyes and saw a few beers still bobbing about. Then I walked over to his spot and looked again from his wider vantage point. There was something dead and furry floating in the corner. The ferret.
“Well, shit. So who gets to go wake him up and tell him the bad news?”
I didn't want to bear the bad news. I was hoping Tom would volunteer. He said nothing in response. Instead, he retrieved the corpse and stood there trying to imagine where he could set the soggy thing down. It was too big to flush. He looked around before asking me a question.
“Where’s a grocery bag?”
“I’ll get a shoebox. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do, put it in a shoebox and bury it. Right?”
“Just get it.”
I grabbed the old red Reebok box with the Union Jack on it and Tom plopped the dead weasel inside it. He wrapped the box in a grocery bag and set it out on the fire escape. I went and told the other roommate that one of his pets drowned in the pool.
Four days later, the pool water has not been changed, nobody has gone near that swamp, and the ferret is still on the fire escape, decomposing in a shoebox. We grilled shish kebabs out there yesterday, right next to the dead thing. I think that’s kind of weird. 3:59 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Over The Radar
"I'm leaving, on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again..." -Peter, Paul, & Mary
You can't run away from your problems. Everybody knows that.
Sometimes, though... I want to drop everything and evaporate, carried away by the interstate. I wanna sink into the clean empty air that sweeps over corn fields, far away from urban streetlights and smothering exhaust.
But that's not true, either. As much as I enjoy visiting the quiet places in between, the places that comprise the majority of America, I sure as hell don't belong in any of them.
I'm twenty seven years old, I'm unhappy, and I'm afraid of what'll happen the day I turn thirty. On that birthday, I'll realize I've just spent fifteen years miserable, never having really tried to shoot the moon, never tried to live a dream, never taken a real risk. I'll have spent the so called best years of my life scraping by, keeping my head down, just living. Getting by. That's all.
That's not good enough for me.
My generation? We were all raised to think we could grow up and be rock stars, that we 're special, that we deserve something flashier and more glamorous. We all think we deserve to be famous. We're a bunch of spoiled little cunts, all of us crashing brutally into the ugly median of mediocre banality, doomed to be unsatisfied and angry about the stifling normalcy of our lives, our bathroom mirrors mocking us each and every morning.
I know how quixotic it is to think I could duck my Chicago world, dive under, and surface again in Los Angeles. Today I entertained the notion of leaving my every last family, friend, and posession behind, silenty, and take a bus. Away.
Just like an idiot teenager.
Having the life experience of paying bills, stuggling to get by, etc., I know I'd be stone cold broke within a month. I know I'd burn every bridge back home. My co-workers, many of whom I consider good friends, would look upon me with contempt. My family would be hurt and confused, unable to comprehend my ability to let them think I was dead. My roommates would never let me live down leaving them hanging with the rent, and they'd be loathe to consider extending the hand of friendship to me ever again.
That part about my family ain't true. I couldn't go without telling them, especially me mum. I love them.
It would be an ugly thing to be alone and zeroed in Los Angeles. It would test my mettle, break me down, crush me into rubble, and maybe even kill me. It would be a fire. But for once, I'd have made my stand. I'd have put myself in a position where everything mattered. Survival. My comfort zone would be a distant memory, obliterated. I would test myself, and I'd thrive or perish. I would find out if I'm worth a damn. My life would have meaning. I would truly be alive. For once.
That appeals to me. I have an itch to jump from my cliff and try to fly. Regret is an ugly horrible beast, and that motherfucker is sitting behing me, tickling my back, biding his time before he peels my skin away and chews through my guts.
The clock ticks.
I feel so tired today.
I'd better go buy and read a copy of Into The Wild and try to measure my heart before I go pulling any dumbfuckery.
"Picture me rollin'..." -Tupac Shakur 9:49 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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