Situation Normal. Atmosphere Breathable. Brainstem Injected. Dialogue Engaged.
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Friday, July 28, 2006

Redemption Colombia Style

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I can hear the sharpening knives again. Ssshhhk ssshhhk ssshhhk… My brakes are failing, and this time, I’m not going to get them fixed. I’ll let the rotors grind to dust. You see, I make the final loan payment in a week, and upon reception of the title I’m gonna march into a car dealership armed with poor credit and a winning smile and trade that death trap for something with halfway decent gas mileage. I figure if I zero in upon a dealership with flagging sales, desperate salesmen in plaid sport coats, and an inventory afflicted with widespread hail damage, I’ll have a shot of convincing them I can pay the monthlies. Otherwise, I’ve be enjoying several long train rides everyday. Not to mention the seven mile walk between the nearest depot and work.

It’s not just the brakes. The transmission is clunking again, the fuel injectors are clogged and encrusted, the radiator is smeared with patch goop, and several dents from my angry foot are all competing to make my car the noisiest, ugliest vehicle on the highways.

I was despairing for my driving safety a few evenings ago when I exited 290 at the UIC medical district. As I sat at the Roosevelt traffic light, deeply immersed in my self-pity party, I heard a shout from the sidewalk. I killed the radio and sought the source of the holler.

A young black man in stylish duds and a pink golf hat stood propped up on an elderly walker. He was looking at me.

“Hey!” he shouted.

“Hey!” I shouted back.

“He loves you, man!”

I did not answer this. I suspected Christ. I was right.

“He loves us all! He blesses us all! He loves you, man!”

He pumped his fist in the air like Kirk Gibson, except he obviously wasn’t running around the bases after hitting a World Series home run. (though he could have fucked up knees like Kirk did, who knows with that geriatric body propper)

The poor fucker was exalted by Christ’s divine lightbulb of joy. Jesus was burning in his skull like a big happy bonfire, immolating any doubts and pains that should’ve racked him like a concentrated earthquake. He was so joyous that he decided I would make a good convert. Using his crutch device, he hobbled towards my vehicle as I ‘prayed’ for the light to turn green. His deity won, and soon his head was looming in my open window.

“Have you accepted Him as your lord and savior, young sir?”

The light went green. To accelerate would be murder. My window frame would decapitate him.

“Go away.”

“Take this young man, save yourself.”

A pamphlet. Okay. Nothing could top the green Jews for Jesus pamphlet I got downtown last month that used talking vegetable comics as religious allegory, but maybe there’d be chuckle or two within. I took it.

“Bye now. Jesus may be great, but Pepto-Bismol is what I need right now.”

“Please, for your eternal soul, accept him in your heart! Avoid the lake of fire!”

Uh-oh. He’s a fire and brimstone type. My sympathy evaporated, my heart went cold, and I resented his interruption of my voyage. I wanted him to get away from my car so I could continue without risking manslaughter charges.

“Look. Pal. If Jesus gave a tin shit on a hot roof about you, he’d be down here fixing your gout or whatever the fuck is wrong with you. He’s probably up there in heaven, eating popcorn, watching you on Heaven TV, giggling at you gimping around in traffic. I can almost hear him: ‘Look at this one Dad! He can barely walk and he’s wobbling in front of cars. All for my sake!’ Keep your brainwashing horseshit pamphlet. Go babble about judgement day to someone else. Go molest people at bus stops. They don’t have massive steel cars to run over your empty fucking head.”

He backed off, and on my merry sinner way I went.

The crippled missionary must’ve had a drastic downturn of faith during the following days. I’m not sure if my harsh denunciation contributed to his relapse, but I saw him on the news last night.

He was shot in the head, dead. What I never knew from our brief encounter was this: the proselytizer was a crackhead. When we met, he wasn’t shaking, drooling, or sweating. He even spoke in mostly complete sentences. I never would’ve guessed.

But in the two days since, his weakness overtook his Christlove, and back he went to the tiny metal dick. Maybe the whole sermon was a sham and he was trying to get my car antenna so he could load it with steel wool to burn some rocks.

He couldn’t carry his crack in his hands and grasp his walker at the same time, so when he went to score, he used his mouth as a shopping cart. Pockets? Hello!

He was found gunned down with a mouth full of unsmoked crack. Poor bastard. Finally, I felt remorseful. There's no need to be nasty to crazies, even when they bother me. Next time I'll just answer yes to the lord and savior question.

I hope Jesus was watching. If not, I’m sure he can catch it in reruns or syndication.

The Chicago Sun-Times Article

11:55 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Monday, July 24, 2006

Dignity and Diligence

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I get nervous when I learn that lots of people are due to descend upon my spacious residence for purposes of consumption and revelry. Although my roommate’s parties have been smashing mega-successes, they always seem to end sourly, little catastrophes piling up before the dawn’s light, when the police arrive and the guests flee. Upon these ugly endings, we usually have neighbors pounding on the walls, the landlord threatening eviction, an overdose victim dying on the kitchen floor, and me running around tearing my hair out, wondering how everything went to hell so fast.

This time, I hoped, I would face no angry paramedics or brandished flashlights. With a daytime barbeque, the loud racket would occur during daylight hours. With all the fire-seared food, the guests would be sluggish and drunk instead of coked up, delirious on ecstasy, and aggressively psychotic.

On Friday night, I formulated a plan to mold myself into a gracious host, one who would last all twelve hours of the party. I consider myself the level-headed, prudent, buck stops here type. I would rely on nobody else to thwart potential disasters.

My plan involved lots of cleaning on Friday night. There was sweeping, mopping, organizing, dishes, and more chorish slog necessitating thorough completion before any judgmental eyes would gaze upon our kingdom of filth. I ingested a heavy dosage of trucker speed and cleaned like a cokehead for three hours. My roommates all pitched in, heaving bags of garbage, breaking down cardboard boxes, scrubbing toilets, and arranging furniture. A true group effort, a bonding experience. I drank so much beer during the course of the mass cleansing that I woke groggy late on Saturday morning, my brain thick and dumb.

Exactly as I planned. As I brushed my pasty fuzzy tongue with mint baking soda toothpaste, I vowed not to drink any alcohol until sunset, my first sip concurrent with the approach of the waning hours of the party. I’m a binge drinker, and if I were to crack my first beverage early in the day, I’d end up blotto retardo by six, embarrassing myself before plenty of longtime friends and scores of strangers, leaving an awful impression. This time, I’m not losing my pants or dancing in potted plants. Composure required. My calculated binge on Friday night ensured my appetite for silly potions wouldn’t start barking for a long time.

Although I did begin drinking far earlier than six, I realized my buzz level was skyrocketing after a doubleshot of vodka around four. I switched to water, which I drank just as greedily as booze, and stuck with it until past seven. I never returned to full sobriety, but I didn’t become a blithering idiot, and that’s success in my book.

One of the DJs failed to arrive, and I was drafted to man the decks during primetime, just as the light faded and the guests’ drunk level led them them to clamor for whiskey. With four years, at least, between DJ sets, I was worse than rusty. I grabbed as many beers as I could wrap my arms around and carried them to the orchestra balcony, which doubles as a DJ booth. I scattered the chilled cans upon the floor and kicked them around as I started my haphazard audio assault.

I played wildly disparate genres of music, anything from Johnny Cash to European happy hardcore, from deep trance to banjo honkeytonk. My record collection is all over the map, and I gave my sloshed victims a world tour. I admit I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I can’t remember the end of the night. I did eventually become shitfaced, but not until the majority were departing. I woke on Sunday in my bed, the right place, and so far, nobody has said anything like “Do you know what you did last night?”

Quote of the night: “I love that we chop up animals and eat their body parts.”
4:13 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Casual Entropy

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My friend Dave is here from Vegas. He’s berating me for not writing anything. Problem is, I’ve been having difficulties with words lately. None are good enough. Every attempt at composition comes out flat. This is damaging my sense of arrogant superiority. When he capped his tirade with “Go fuck yourself,” I knew I needed to get down to business and restart my keyboard molestation regimen. This entry is going to be pathetic and will likely involve lots of poop talk. You just make me think about excretion, Dave. This is your fault, not mine.

Last Saturday night I ventured into Chinatown. The foreigners weren’t sweating a visible drop, as if their bodies considered this punishing environment gentle and soothing compared to the climates of their genetic memory, memory that whispers to them of jungle steam, massive caterpillars, and dysentery. In order to emulate this dermal fortitude, I undertook an osmosis project. This entailed eating caustic stir fry and walking in sandals.

Lao Sze Chuan is Chicago’s most revered purveyor of Western Chinese cuisine. The food is dangerously spicy, inviting men of my pallor to gasp, sweat, and blush in culinary shock.

Mexican restaurants provide chips and salsa. Italian restaurants, bread. Here, in fiery schezuan fashion, I was provided a small plate of crunchy cabbage strips doused in pepper oil. This alone drove me through two tall glasses of ice water.

I ordered Chef Tony’s Dry Chili Chicken, a sauceless dish composed of dark meat chicken and several handfuls of red chili peppers. Sparse sprinklings of ginger chips and scallions wandered lonely within the acerbic concoction. In addition to providing my taste buds the tastiest, most wonderful Chinese (food) I’d ever eaten, it burned seventeen gaps in my formerly leather tough stomach lining, creating sprinkler holes for my gastrointestinal bile to tinkle out among my internal organs, reducing my guts to pickled weeping mush. On Sunday, I crapped out half my spleen and several spinal chips. My assring was dyed orange. I can’t wait to go back. I still have an appendix I don’t need.

Upon finishing the meal, I reintroduced myself to the outdoor floating bayou. In contrast to my meal, the ugly weather now seemed gentle. With my insides under inferno, my outside was nonplussed. What previously had been a punishing thick blanket of wet hot heat was now a serene caress.

I didn’t stop my assault upon my critical organs with that one meal. I devised a sequel last night by visiting Buffalo Wild Wings, a fine chain establishment that sells drums and wings at 35 cents a pop on Tuesdays. Their hottest level of chicken gutfuck baste is calling Blazin’. This glowing orange sauce is a progeny of pulped habaneros, and it lives up to its billing. This sauce made me feel like the red chili pepper damage was child’s play, an infantile gurgle compared to a sonorous protracted belch.

I ate two dozen of the greasy little nuclear hazards. Tiny droplets of sauce escaped into the air rush of my labored inhalations, peppering my lungs with little pinpoints of raging heat. All that Marlboro mucus dissolved, its liquid remains fleeing my lungs to coat my esophagus with a protective layer of wet tar booger paste.

All day today, my asshole has ruptured repeatedly, a punctured soup can leaking in spasm under the greedy lips of a homeless man. With the homeless guy being the toilet, of course. Okay, bad analogy, but I’m keeping it.

Tonight, I suppose, I should return to my regular evening diet of trucker speed and cheap beer. If I don’t, the orange leakage may spread down my legs like cheap tanning lotion.
5:52 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Monday, July 10, 2006

An Anchovy's Cunt

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I hate fishing. It’s pathological.

It all dates back to my days as an attention-starved youth. Every year on my birthday, I sat alone in the cold lobby of an ice skating rink in Dundee, Illinois, feeling sorry for myself, begging quarters for the pinball machines. (You can start crying now.) My sisters and my brother had been conned by my malevolent parents into taking up figure skating.

My siblings all learned to do horrible sounding acts like salkows and toe loops. Since the date of the annual ice recital fell in late April every year, I grew to resent ice skating for stealing my own personal holiday away from me. It wasn’t just my birthdays, though. I had to sit there for hours twice a week for months leading up to April, as they practiced and practiced, perfecting their little half foot stutter jumps and backwards turning. I fucking hated all of it.

I would never be an ice skater. Instead, being the stubborn contrarian, I elected to take up boyish things like archery, lumberjacking, tree-climbing, and urinating in my clothing. This frequently left me wandering the forest alone with sharp objects and wet pants. Although my dad would take me camping occasionally, the rate of parental participation in my interests was much lower than that of the other three children. (As I perceived it.) When I couldn’t escape to go play unsupervised, it was generally on those goddamn ice skating days. Somebody had to keep tabs on me, so I got hauled away to the dreaded Polardome. Not only was ice skating stealing my birthdays, it was stealing my capacity to destroy nature.

This wasn’t the only activity my parents engaged in with my three siblings. The other was fishing. As a Cub Scout, I participated in a fishing derby or two, but I never really took to it, and by the time I was ten, I had no desire to catch bluegill and catfish in the neighborhood pond. My brother and even my sisters just loved impaling worms on hooks, casting their lines, reeling in stinky wet flopping tumorfish, and throwing them back only to begin anew. My parents loved it, too. Fucking idiots.

Somewhere along the line my loathing of the two activities merged, causing my white hot hatred of skating to inflame my hatred for fishing. To this day, I cannot tolerate either.

Adults, I’ve learned, have different motives for fishing. As far as I can tell, it’s like tanning, but for men. There are striking similarities between fishing and tanning. Both involve prolonged exposure to sunlight. Both require little or no physical exertion. Both are horribly boring if you’re awake. For those with a glimmer of intelligence swimming through their sunstroked brains, alcohol is consumed to wash away the excruciating dullness of either activity.

I have friends who take it personally that I won’t join their little excursions. They think I no longer enjoy their company, or that I’ve become arrogant and look down upon them. It’s not them. I sneer upon their rural choice of recreation. I still like the guys.

I may be lazy, but I am not idle. If I’m not smoking a cigarette, folding an origami swan, typing a sentence, playing with my penis, tipping a can, or picking my nose, my hands start finding other ways to remain entertained. They’ll scratch where no itch is present. They’ll tap, tap, tap, annoying the shit out of everybody. They’ll invent gang signs. They’ll stir coins in my pockets. My hands cannot remain still for long. I can’t even stand still when waiting in line. I rock left and right, so it’s not just my hands. It’s me. I am brimming with nervous energy all the time. I fidget.

If I went fishing, I’d end up brainfucked. I'd smoke eight thousand cigarettes, scratch half my skin away, drink seven cases of beer, learn to juggle live fish, and still be completely restless and desperate to get the fuck away from the water after an hour.

I don’t even like to eat fish until all traces of their natural flavor has been fried away, leaving nothing but hot oil and breading. Even then I need a gallon of lemon juice for topping.

I’m just not cut out for this activity. Sorry fellas. I hope you understand and appreciate my point of view now. And under no circumstances will I wear one of those preposterous hook hats. I don’t wear hats. Do you store your self-respect somewhere so it doesn’t get damaged while you’re wearing that?

Let the yokels relax that way. I don’t mind. When they run out of tires to burn, the corn isn’t ripe yet, and the cows have been stricken with the madness, they at least have an excuse for doing this. They’re hungry. But you? Aren’t you city boys? Can’t we go spraypaint something, or shank somebody? Anything?

I guess it’s noble to fish out the Chicago River and save those fish for poor immigrants. They always take them.

But isn’t your generosity a double-edged sword? That place you’re fishing? Gross. I’ve walked the riverside trail around the Sun-Times building. I’ve seen the massive trash barges idling by, dripping bacterial sludge which frosts the murky undercurrent of toxic grade barrel waste. Yes, I saw floating barrels. Well, only two. But in addition to the unidentified poisons, I’m sure those fish have eaten unwanted babies that teenage mothers have heaved away, and now you’re giving those same abortion doctor fish to Catholics.

Hey, that’s actually pretty cool. Finally, one point scored for fishing. I’ve been trying to find an upside, I really have.

Still, I’m staying home where the video screens and accessible toilets hang out. Where the beer cans aren’t dancing with lukewarm chicken livers and nightcrawlers in a styrofoam disco. Where there aren’t any jogger/rapists. Let me know next time you’re going squirrel hunting with darts. I’ll wear flannel, drink beer, and burn my skin off for that in a heartbeat.

6:58 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Imaginary Helmet Science

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About two months ago, in Lafayette, Indiana...

“Here’s a few very simple suggestions: Never go faster than you’re comfortable with, always slow down before making a sharp turn or before a blind spot, and if you get lost, stay put and wait for one of us to come find you. Think you can handle it, Steve?”

“Yeah, come on, let’s go!”

It seemed like forever since I’d been invited somewhere. Well, that’s not true. I get invited to campouts, vacations, road trips, and waterslide parks with baffling frequency. I generally brush off such invitations, for any number of reasons, the most common being financial. I’m a monetary disaster, cycling between payday advance scams, floating checks at the grocery store, and borrowing from my employers. I can’t accept an invitation to go downstate and barbecue steaks and burn old tires when I have seventeen cents to contribute. That’s embarrassing and pathetic. So I excuse myself, claiming severe incontinence, or bleeding toenails, or whatever. My roommates have taken to labeling me agoraphobic. I shouldn’t have taught them that word.

This time was different. The summer was just beginning, I was feeling restless, and I had a few bones to burn. This rare confluence of personal elements was rare, like an eclipse. Additionally, I wouldn’t have to drive my deathtrap automobile any significant distance, and finally, I would get to ride a four wheeler around a forest. Cool. I Accepted.

I had never driven an all-terrain vehicle before. Ever since a frightening motorcycle ride when I was six, I’ve been leery of motorized vehicles whose passengers are unenclosed. I’ve always imagined myself crashing, my flailing body ejecting skyward, eventually descending to meet the pavement where it bounces, not once, but over and over, and at each bounce I leave another piece of myself behind, so that a casual pedestrian following my trail would first see a smear of bloody skin, then some scalp, then a foot, then an intestine, meters apart, one red clump after another. I would spread out like wet taffy.

After twenty years of this appetizing scene visiting my brain every time a motorcycle passed, I welcomed the chance to erase my preconceptions. Sure, ATVs are slower, there’s little or no traffic in the forest, and the risks are more manageable than that of, say, a neon green Kawasaki rocketing down the highway at ninety miles per hour, but I allowed myself the illusion that I was conquering my fears, standing true, being a man. Yeah.

No.

Before mounting the vehicle, one last gem of wisdom was imparted to me:

“Oh yeah! Most important rule. Put your safety before the four wheeler’s. If you’re gonna crash, bail the fuck out. Do not hesitate. Get off the fucking thing. This activity can be dangerous and you can die. So be prepared to jump if it becomes necessary. Okay?”

“Okay.”

There were three other riders and two vehicles, so we went out in pairs. Each riding partner took me on progressively tougher trails. The first time out, we stuck to pastures and wide trails. The second time out, tight trails with low hanging tree branches, steep inclines, and tight turns. All went well. On my last ride out, my partner put me on a steep learning curve. He zoomed far beyond me, daring me to keep up the pace. I was flying about, faster and faster, taking turns tightly, engaging in risky maneuvers. I began crossing creek beds. Six foot nearly vertical drops sheathed shallow rocky streams. It was like driving down and up the letter V. I got to enjoying the splashes and lack of traction.

I got too giddy. Racing fast to close the gap between the other rider and myself, I sped up as I approached a deep culvert. This particular wet ditch had a concrete pipe running down the center, and it wasn’t until I got very near that I saw it and realized my peril. I knew that if I hit that concrete racing at this speed, my ATV’s front end would buckle as the back end rose, and the heavy monster would flip and land atop me, mangling my fragile flesh, pulverizing my brittle bones. I panicked. I pushed the brakes. Unfortunately, in my muscle-clench freakout, I also squeezed the throttle. The net result:

I sped up to nearly 40 mph. Full speed.

I was wrong about what would happen when I hit the pipe. No flip, no pancake crush. Instead, the ATV launched into the sky, striking a massive tree aside the trail. I, sensibly enough, bailed off before the impact. I flew fifteen feet in the air before landing. I didn’t bounce, as my imagination had indicated. Instead I rolled, picking up wood chips and gravel like I was covered in adhesive. My left knee shouted bloody murder and my skin fled my legs, leaving patriotic stripes.

But I was okay. The other rider did not see the impact, but he heard a gut-curdling scream that caused him to look back. All he saw was this: me, airborne, eyes as big as baseballs, arms cartwheeling, mouth open. The ATV, spinning in mid-air, above me, then in front of me, then bouncing away sideways. He said I looked funny in midair.

We walked back and looked at the tree. There was a big chunk of bark missing, which we later found embedded in the wheel. I was lucky, as that bark could’ve been jammed up my nose if I hadn’t leapt for luck.

My heart was pounding, adrenaline was burning up my nerves, and new pores were birthing upon my skin. I felt alive. Bloody, damaged, and elated. My hosts limped me back to our campsite, where they fed me beer and told me about their magnificent lawyers. I promised them I’m not the lawsuit type. I even offered to pay for the repair, hoping desperately they wouldn’t actually want the money. Two months later, they still haven’t assessed the damage cost, but when they do, I’ll find a way to pay.

Maybe I learned something on that Saturday. Maybe I supported my theory that open-air velocity is a fearsome and foolish activity, that bad things happen when hesitant people pilot fast and fickle machinery. No. What I learned was this: Danger is fun! Injury is thrilling! What’s the fucking phone number for that fucking bungee/skydive outfit?

I’m thinking about a stealing a motorcycle now.

1:13 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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