In Which I Burn My Bridges

I guess it is time to write a little about Joel.

When I was about twenty-three or so, I made a jump from New Jersey to Florida. I wanted to escape Morristown partly because the town has a way of keeping you where you are, and I found that unacceptable. My malformed brain told me I was better than my too-familiar hometown scenes and coteries. I certainly wasn’t getting anywhere fast in Morristown; I had a raging drinking problem and was living above a golf club kitchen. I probably decided to flee after, as fate would have it, the golf club’s boss came up the hill from the clubhouse to the pool where I slung hot dogs and sodas to thirsty rich mothers and their children to see how were doing one day. Elliott and I were not sober for a minute of our poolside gig that summer. The head chef was irritated by my perennial hungover act in his kitchen during the off seasons and had probably given the administrator a hot tip that I was stealing and drinking on the job. It was only a matter of time before I got caught breathing cheap beer into someone’s face, ending my tenure. David was kind enough to wait to torpedo me at the end of the season.

It was time to reinvent. I lost everything, and I didn’t have much. I had to take evasive action. Morristown simply didn’t fit me anymore. I had no more moves to make. I had done a shit job at every hustle I ever did there and there were few places to turn. I proceeded to pretend to myself and others that I had simply outgrown it when in actuality it was done with me.

My father had done an evacuation to Florida under similar terms. He felt that after the divorce my mother had poisoned all of his relations with people around town. I don’t know how true that was-he was also suffering from untreated bipolar disorder. But he fled to Largo, where he could be closer to his mother who would proceed to do the things he could not get another woman to do.

So I went there to be with him. Dad wasn’t thrilled about my arrival, but he did clear the way for me to live in his apartment complex because he sure didn’t want my constant company for long. I found a couple of part time jobs, one at a grocery store stocking the frozen section, and an overnight shift at Target stuffing a few of the household goods aisles. With my first checks I secured the apartment and bought a little furniture, a bike, and a radio with which I would play CDs. That radio would eventually undo me, because the occupant of the apartment to my left had bat hearing and complained about me constantly. Either that or the walls were paper thin.

Our development, lucky for alcoholic me, had a bar a few blocks away. And I became a regular quickly. All the fruit loops from my dad’s community parked their carcasses on a barstool there. I remember Eric, a nerdy guy good with his hands who I enjoyed shooting stick with, and some white dude Jim with a ruddy tan who claimed to be an Indian of some sort. When he drank too much he would become irascible and unpredictable. He told me once that he hated the bartender because she was a “Blackfoot”, and that they were traitors to the Indian cause. You definitely didn’t mess around with him.

It was there that I bumped into Joel for the first time. I don’t remember why anymore, but we hit it off. I think we were talking about books and music and our tastes matched up. He and I began hanging out at my apartment in earnest. We’d stay up all night recording ourselves talking and drinking and playing CDs on that damned box. To make a long story short, the noise got me evicted. I couldn’t win. But Joel said he had a place, a small bungalow behind a house proper not far away. We loaded what little belongings I had out of my apartment into his tiny abode.

Joel told me he was from the West Coast and that he had played as a “hired gun” guitarist in a couple of grunge bands, the names of whom he kept concealed. He had written a few songs which I was not impressed by. He would come to dismiss my writing as “twaddle” (and it was). I think me mocking his art set the course as to how he was going to start treating me. I wasn’t talented, who the fuck was I to run down his stuff? He told me he had a heroin problem too.

We had one more occupant in the house, a cat he named Zoe. It came and went as it pleased. But I liked to pick Zoe up and pet her, and eventually she developed this habit of licking one spot on my shirt. Zoe was probably not weaned properly.

Joel was disgusted. He said that I “ruined” his cat, and that she was practicing some sort of perversion upon me and that I was loathsome for letting her do that. We began to dislike being in the same room with each other, which was hard since there was only one room partitioned by sheets. The only time we were having a good time was when we were stinking drunk. And even that did not deter Joel from deriding me every chance he got. I eventually lost both of my jobs and we began living on my credit card. It was an amazing card, one that I never had to make payments on and they would just steady keep increasing my credit limit. Joel refused to bring in an income so it was up to me to keep us in food, shelter and booze. He thought work was above him and that is was better for him to drink and read Richard Brautigan all day. Our diet mostly consisted of pressed Cuban sandwiches, Natural Ice and rye whiskey.

Our drinking rituals and run-ins became more bizarre as time went by, because after a time Joel became bored with people and he needed more to amuse himself. We’d get hammered on Cisco and I would yell Tom Waits songs outdoors while he poured alcohol all over me. We’d call up Tennessee and repeat the crooning for her. One night were wasted and we took broom handles to the ceiling of the house. We once got stoned and drunk with some dude who Joel maybe wanted to play guitar with but instead he decided to make fun of the guy. He gave Joel a count of three to vacate the premises then leapt out of his chair like a feral animal and proceeded to kick the shit out of Joel.

Ours was an abusive relationship. When I could no longer stand Joel’s verbal attacks on me, I would break down emotionally and he would change into a penitent creature who didn’t want to hurt me because I was his friend. Maybe he was so myopic that he didn’t realize what an asshole he could be. It’s more likely that succoring his enabler was what he was up to.

After several months of this behavior the cruelty came to a head. He locked me in the bathroom and told me that he had some heroin and he was going to use it because I made him unhappy. I got out somehow to find him on the nod. I used this time to call my father who immediately picked me up while Joel slept. I think I took my tennis racket and that was it, I was out of there. It was at this point that Dad told me to join the Army, a solution he had proffered before but I couldn’t ever see myself doing that kind of shit for a living. I fancied myself as a rebel and wouldn’t conform. But as in Morristown, I had failed to obey the rules in Largo and I had no choice but to take the armed services to the ball.

I’ll get to the service someday. There’s lots of stories there.

Weeks later I was out on the town with Dad after I left Joel and spotted him lurking at some bar, so we quickly split the scene. I’m sure he was looking for someone else he could leech onto. Make no mistake, Joel could put on the charm and get you to do things. But at bottom he was a miserable piece of trash. Fuck that fucking guy.

Backward To Death

It is not a good time to be a Georgian with two kids of school age.

If you are paying the least bit of attention at all, you know that the South is about to get a fresh shellacking from the novel coronavirus. The southeastern seaboard in particular is in the crosshairs, thanks to a triad of feckless and incompetent Trumpite governors from South Cackalackee to Florida who give no fucks about life so long as someone’s bottom line is achieved. This is a bad long term solution; once people start dropping from too much exposure to the marketplace, they, um…well, they don’t come back.

As a nation, we have failed utterly to tamp down this virus. Only a malevolent, insane swamp creature like Donald Trump could have mishandled our response to COVID the way he did. In point of fact, it’s a bit of a stretch to say he fucked it up or even handled it. Fucking it up implies agency and since he’s literally done nothing, it cannot really be said that he bungled it. We survive to the degree that we do in spite of him. The federal government has ground to a halt at the worst possible time in our nation’s history. We know, now more than ever, that we are on our own. Our citizenry is bonkers too. A significant percentage of brainwashed zombie people are convinced that wearing a mask during a pandemic equals a loss of freedom or, ironically, a health hazard. Observe these Karens and Kens (all white) losing their shit because they can’t deal with a piece of fabric on their face:

I’m not joking about zombies:

The internet is rife with these Don and Donna Quixotes raging against the machine, so you can continue to laugh or cringe when you are done here.

Now, back to my kids in Georgia.

As of this writing, they are expected to show up for school on August 3rd. That’s less than three weeks. They want to go- lockdown has been hard on them.

But new cases are on a steep incline here. And soon, the number of deaths will rise in proportion. They call fatalities a “lagging indicator”, which I believe is fancy speak for a statistic that hasn’t yet caught up to other related statistics. Trump and the GOP want to point to a flat death rate as evidence that the danger is waning. They won’t be able to do that soon enough. We simply haven’t done anything positive in particular that would cause the death rate to stay miraculously low. It’s not like we are tracing or quarantining, so we are at the same place we were in March, except we’re running around like nothing happened. This virus appears to have an incubation time of approximately 3-14 days, and that is the reason for the lack of current dead. It’s coming.

And in this climate, I am nonetheless expected to have my children attend full time- right when cases are spiking with death following close behind. It’s wrong and it’s dumb and I hope our Board of Education is watching closely but I suspect that they will not be as perspicacious as San Diego and Los Angeles. My oldest, 17, struggles with depression and when last we told him that we are under lockdown, he fainted and busted his lip open. It could have been worse, he went down like a sack of potatoes and my dresser, thankfully, broke his fall. So I have that to contend with.

I have to give thanks to my father, who is occasionally nothing short of oracular when he’s not watching titty flicks and Fox News, reminded me that I will never be able to live down one of them dying from a bad decision I made. I can’t argue with this logic. The choice seems clear, I just have to figure out how to frame my decision so that both boys understand that I am trying to protect them. I need time to watch what happens in the schools before I put them back in. I have to have a semester to be sure sending them back is an acceptable idea. This isn’t Florida, so I can still choose.

The Times Are-A-Changin’

Fresh off the heels of a damaging paper-wide crisis that gave voice to Tommy Cotton’s most virulent monkeyshines, the New York Times nevertheless has redeemed itself and gone to bat in the service of the truth by blowing open the story that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US soldiers. Furthermore, the “President” was told in March and he probably couldn’t bother to get off his phone long enough to figure out a way to deal with the situation. Instead, he lobbied for Russia to be able to join the G-7.

I’m loath to call things treasonous because that word gets tossed about too lightly for my tastes, but I think we’ve reached an event horizon we can no longer ignore: there’s a Russian mole in the White House, and he sits in the Oval Office. You don’t have to dig too far to know, because the creep now knows there are no consequences to his behavior and does all of his dirt above board. This scandal will probably raise a few eyebrows from GOP leadership, but that’s about all. It couldn’t mean a thing. They will voice a little concern and then pretend it never happened. Think about that. I guarantee that the party that trades in hyperpatriotism and military genuflection is going to sweep this ugliness under the rug because they really don’t care about the troops. They’re nothing but pawns in a political game to them.

There’s just too much tying this “President” to Russia for me to think that all the skulduggery that’s been reported on is simply a matter of coincidence anymore. This new insane story makes everything pale in comparison. It’s now much easier, for example, to believe that Trump utilized foreign intelligence in the run-up to 2016 to smear his much more competent opponent. And it should shock no one that he did it again this time around, asking Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens. You can reasonably assume that there is probably another swiftboating op in the works, one that Trump had better avail himself of soon because he’s losing serious ground in the polls. The fact is, there’s no perfect storm that brings us Trump 2.0-no e-mailgate, no Republican boobs to easily defeat, no Comey, no Stein, no presidential blowjob, no Benghaaazi. Of course, Joe Biden is certainly not immune to attack from a number of vectors, having been in the public eye since the seventies. He did not always make the right choices from a progressive standpoint, or even a moderately liberal one.

But I’m not here to list his sins. The Trump campaign will do quite enough of that, won’t it?

Bottom line, I am not interested one bit in making the perfect the enemy of the good. I want the good to be the enemy of evil- and it’s not hyperbole anymore to call Trump exactly what he is. He’s the most bloodless, amoral ghoul ever to occupy a prominent federal position of power who never met a quid he couldn’t quo, no matter who else gets hurt. We’ve got to get behind the person who will stop this reign of error.

We are all far from perfect. Bear that in mind when you want to balk at the choices we have. Joe Biden wouldn’t sell out our soldiers to stay in the good graces of a ruthless competitor. Bet on it.

There Ain’t A Fan Without Shit On It

I thought my life was going to be sort of “normal” the whole way through. I mean, even a cursory examination shows my life to be rather unusual at any point in my timeline, but I never imagined that it would be because of external wall to wall American crises everywhere I look.

Silly me.

I don’t know why. Perhaps I lack the historical sense to know that calamity is cyclical, and comically predictable in ways. And just because we have become technologically advanced and have all the information we could possibly want doesn’t mean we apes know what’s good for us.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about what’s been happening in America at the moment. It isn’t that I don’t care; it’s just that better writers have beaten me to the hot takes, and that probably comes as no surprise to those few weirdos who lurk here. You’re all watching it unfold in the same manner as I am, you don’t need me to point at all. It’s a full on FUBAR situation without a clear end. Americans are pinned between a psychotic virus and a psychotic police presence in its midst. Scylla and fucking Charybdis. Judging from the protests in other countries, we are not the only citizenry who has had enough with the brutality at the hands of the ruling class. We are no longer reacting to a few bad apples drunk on power. In biblical terms, the whole system is in the balance and found wanting.

I started this entry last night at about 7pm while I was trying to cancel my New York Times subscription. It’s now two o’ clock on the following day and I am still on fucking hold. I first began with a text message, to spare myself having to explain why I wanted out. I wanted out because I can’t enable the paper to give voice to fascists who want the US military to crack down on protests anymore with my money. It is not the first time they’ve lent seditious barking lunatic and senator from Arkansas Tommy Cotton a platform. He likes to play fast and loose with the truth, choosing instead incendiary rhetoric and I am still not sure to this day whether we are dealing with an idiot here or a Harvard educated soldier (those categories are not mutually exclusive). Either way, he’s a sadistic geek who was probably on the business end of a few wallings against lockers in school, and how better to avenge your wounded pride by joining the military and dehumanizing someone else at gunpoint? As a lanky geek myself, I know I flirted with the idea of joining the Marines to get tough and show people what I was made of but decided to downshift to regular Army at the wire, content that it would do what I wanted it to. I was lucky, embedded with medical units when I went to Iraq. Cotton went on to be an ranger, airborne and air assault infantryman and did Iraq and Afghanistan in that capacity. For that I give him props, he’s accomplished a lot as a soldier. I figure in time he must have developed that contempt for the powerless people he was supposed to protect that so many doorkicking units develop. I don’t know how better to apprehend his moral compass. He’s from Arkansas, but so is Bill Clinton.

Here’s some words I’ve already cobbled together about Senator Cotton. That’s thousands too many.

Now that the times has finally granted me release from my monthly subscription (at frigging four o’ clock today, about 21 hours wait), I’m going to speak no more of Tom Cotton for now (I am pretty sure this won’t be the last we hear of him-he’s got GOP presidential candidate written all over him) and give my newfound 16 dollars a month and bring it to Raw Story, who won’t be giving voice to violent authoritarians any time soon.

Tennessee, Tennessee

One of the dumbest things I have ever done is try to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I damn near killed myself one night.

When I was 19, I got pinched for driving drunk from a party in a fancy neighborhood. It was past 2 in the morning, and the cop said I changed lanes without signaling. I couldn’t have made it easier for him if I tried- not only was I driving like a one-eyed fool, my nearly new pickup sported a bumper sticker that said “Liquor In The Front, Poker In The Rear”. Har-dee-har. I took the officer up on the offer to do the alphabet backwards, blew a .18, and was promptly arrested at the scene. They brought the canine squad to investigate the vehicle, hoping I guess for a banner night with one collar, and they found and seized my Whip-It canisters. I had acid somewhere in the vehicle, but that was not found. I was released on my own recognizance after processing, and my Whip-Its were returned to me because I guess it isn’t a crime to have chef’s equipment on you.

New Jersey slams you pretty hard for a Dewey-they have insurance trouble there, you see, and in addition to the fines and suspension you have to chuck $3,000 into the insurance pool to get your license back. I was a part timer at a grocery store near home at that point, and I believe my response to the insurance “surcharge” was Fuck That. Having a car was seriously not worth the scratch. I just walked everywhere like I did B.C. (Before Car) since everything in Morristown was 10 minutes from home. Soon, going to college in Union became difficult, though. I lost focus and dropped out. What followed were some dark times I’d rather forget. Thanks, Clozapine.

Fast forward a few years, and I am in the chat rooms of Yahoo! looking for women to talk to. I found one in Tennessee who thought I was amusing, a few years older than I was and a teacher. This had to be about 1993-94.

Raise your hand high if you found love in those A/S/L-spangled rooms regardless of the distance.

No, don’t, that’s embarrassing. I would find my more local wife through it several years later in Georgia, and that has a happy ending. But it was kinda ridiculous to chat up someone 700 miles away. We should have stayed friends to avoid even further embarrassment. But eventually we got to chatting so much that we professed our love on Messenger. Phone numbers were exchanged. She sounded cute! I would eventually hatch a plan to go to Tennessee and sweep her off her feet. Major mistake. I would not be lifting her off anything. Four hundred pounds of gross- I’m not a catch but this was more than I could do. There wasn’t enough moonshine in the state that would have gotten me into bed with her. It was a rough couple of days there, having to stay with a woman you said you loved who obviously knew you thought her too corpulent to get near.

I changed my job situation several times during this period. I guess I was working a lot more than when I first gave some thought to this story. At one point I had a full time gig at a bank processing deposits and I was working at the local country club as a cook. I would end up fired from the bank and living above the kitchen, ejected from my home- partly because of a stepfather whose hearing bordered on bat-like and partly because I was an inconsiderate, thoughtless, drunk asshole who took all of his sainted mother’s goodwill and squandered it by closing the bars and coming home rattling doors and fumbling up the stairs wasted every night.

My job at the kitchen was the scene for quite a cast of characters. The head chef, David, came to every shift coked up and high but he was a cool cat, one of the funniest off-the cuff people I’ve ever known. His sous chef was a tall, hardworking rednecky type named Wade. Next in line was Roy, a real spaced-out character with a particularly large head who was not all there upstairs. David was merciless to Roy, christening him “The Rock”, which was shorthand for rockhead. I don’t know how Roy bore up under David’s daily withering wit. I was glad for Roy, because I am certain I would have been David’s target without him around. Now Wade picked on me a little (and there’s no blaming him-I could not even put a sandwich together, as hungover as I was daily) but was generally a nice guy/father figure who at the end of the day had a kind word or two to say to me to help a damfool out and I owed both him and David a lot for putting up with me.

My time at the club would not be possible without Helen and Elliott. Helen was a big drinker at my preferred pub who took me in when I got kicked out of my house. Helen, a blonde in her late-thirties I’d say, had a little wear on her treads. You could tell she had been a looker in some faraway decade but being a drunk took its toll and had hardened her natural beauty. When I found myself homeless, she would put me up behind her couch for $50 a month-rooms in town were running $400 or more and I couldn’t afford that at all. So I took what I was given, lacking the self respect to do better. Helen and I were both itinerant waiters and we worked a couple of gigs together, and then she introduced me to her on/off boyfriend Elliott, a burly tough who got me a cooking job at the local country club she waited at. I soon learned that Helen had more than one vice. She and Elliott would smoke crack, fight and fuck regularly, while I fought Helen’s Yorkie for breathing space. I still hate those little yip-yip dogs to this day. Elliott was David’s connect so a friend of Elliott’s was a friend of his no matter how many times I failed to do the simplest of tasks. Thank goodness for connects.

But the story is about my all-too brief stint as a motorcyclist.

I was still living at home at this point, early in my storied career at the country club. Like I said, I didn’t want to drive a car again. Wade said he was looking to sell a motorcycle real cheap though, and I thought that might be the answer to my problems. I would still not be street legal until I paid that surcharge, but as an old moped enthusiast I figured, could a motorcycle be any different? I could get away with it.

Those familiar with the workings of a motorcycle knows this is hilarious. They aren’t the same thing at all. They both have two wheels and the similarities more or less end with its structure.

At first, I could barely get through my eight minute commute to the bank without stalling that damn thing because I lacked the hand/foot coordination to switch gears. Not a good thing if you are trying to hide yourself from the traffic cops. But I still rode daily, never fully mastering its machinations but I remember developing a bit of confidence on it as long as I didn’t have to go far or go fast.

I only had the ‘cycle about two months, though. One night when I was on the phone at home with my new Tennessee love, I ran out of beer at some ungodly hour and got the dumb idea to hit package goods, merely two miles away. I was drunk as a skunk, and reasoned like one- the plan was to hop on the motorcycle with minimal exposure and be back home in two shakes of a lamb’s tail before anyone noticed me. Now those of you who have ridden know that once you do “get” your motorcycle, it’s damn fun to drive. There’s a certain ergonomics to riding that feels just right when it all pops into place. I got kinda brave on it at the end there, leaning lazily into tough turns like a pro. But this night, I was ill-prepared to handle the loose gravel that salted the runup to the bridge over the interstate. I leaned in to the left deep without braking, six tall boys of Bud between my legs and the wheels couldn’t get traction on the gravel. Unable to steer, I began to careen toward the tall curb on the other side of the road.

BAM. I hit it doing at least thirty. I flew over the handlebars, skidding and tumbling across the sidewalk with exposed skin all over. If it weren’t for the helmet, this would have been a hospital trip or death. The riderless ‘cycle went over me and crash landed into a hedge in someone’s front yard.

I was drunk, so my first impulse was to leave the scene. I wasn’t ready for my second DWI just yet. I ran home and called a friend with a pickup, who helped me get the twisted wreckage out of the yard. Miraculously, no one in that house had heard my entrance into and out of their property. The Lord protects drunks and fools. I got back home, unloaded and hid the motorcycle.

It was time to look at my raspberries in the upstairs bathroom. And I had fucked myself up but good. I got some supplies for bandaging from the hall closet, because I was bleeding in at least three or four places.

Tape, tape, gauze gauze, band aids, gauze. Here. There. Everywhere.

I must’ve looked absurd, because my poor mother came into my room not long after I finished and was aghast at the condition I was in. I told her it was no big deal, but she did not agree. My strained efforts at first aid were not appreciated even a whit. I got back on the phone with Tennessee and relayed my adventure. We laughed it off. Someone should have lost respect for somebody somewhere.

You know what? I can’t tell you what happened to my package goods. I don’t remember rescuing them from the scene. Kinda out of character for a drunk. My little story would have a tidier, perhaps more humorous ending if I had searched the yard for my tallboys before I ran from the scene of the accident. I sure could have used the anesthetic.

Youthful Transgressions

I’m on 250mg of Clozapine for my bipolar disorder/GAD. An extra 25mg bump of it is supposed to keep my anxiety down, rather than continuing Klonopin or putting me on a different benzo to respond to difficulties. I was reticent to change it, but I think the Clozapine is doing what is supposed to do. My anxiety level has been unusually high lately as we collectively watch this virus decimate the world with its rapacious need to copy itself. That’s what life does, ultimately.

Changing Clozapine levels for me makes me worry if I am becoming another version of myself. It’s a peculiar drug, and a strong one. I joke with my wife about it, who doesn’t think it’s funny. I guess if I were her, it wouldn’t be-after all, she has had to hospitalize me several times. Anyway, it brings on a desire to reflect, and sometimes those burning recollections make you wonder why you are still alive, or perhaps more specifically, wonder whether you should exist at all after what you have done what you have done with said existence. My back pages are filled with things and occurrences that I should not have been allowed to get away with. Are they all that unusual? I don’t really know. I have “friends” but I don’t have many with whom I share deep secrets with. This digital page is much easier to talk to, helping me keep my distance from people as I have often been wont to do. It allows me to slowly compose my thoughts, and revise them into a narrative that makes sense. This way, anxiety is held at bay.

What’s so bad about people, you say?

We’re embarrassing, that’s what. You know it, I know it. And each of us has to live with that. Yet somehow, our complex minds typically shield us from ever having to feel bad about it. Forgetting becomes the only way to keep your head up.

But brains often work against their owner. An embarrassing remembrance unlocked could dog you right outta the blue. And I got ’em in spades.

The year is 1986. It’s the New Jersey suburbs. I am all of fourteen. I have a baseball card habit, and as such I am a frequent customer of a little place called T&T Sports Cards. The owner, Al, who is the age I am now, had an acrimonious split with his investment partner, and it would be a while before his wife Patricia became the other T. I don’t remember why this information was shared with me. Al took a shine to me, but I couldn’t tell you why. Perhaps it was our shared Italian ethnicity, or or it might have been because he was into my mom. I cannot quite remember. Now Al had two jobs because you can’t make any real money selling memorabilia. It was a small burb, Morristown, and he had fierce competition from another shop a few miles away in the next town. My friend Mike and I were good paying customers and so he shot the shit with us straight up about the politics of the business. We knew more about his life and his occupation than perhaps we should have.

A few words about the The Lumpster.

The Lumpster was who minded the shop in the afternoon while Al went to his first gig. He was probably the first Goth I ever met. He was a tall, pale, somewhat doughy kid not much for conversation who needed a haircut and wore black. I’d say he was two or three years older than me. The Lumpster was weird and awkward, as Goths are, and when Al arrived at the shop, he’d pick on the Lumpster while we me and Mike were there. We ate it up with a spoon, snickering as Al jibed him. The Lumpster did not offer much in the way of self defense. Anyway, I guess Al got tired of his weirdness and lack of self-respect, and I received a clandestine offer to replace The Lumpster. Al just needed to find the right time to let him go. And he did. The job was open the store after school and mind it until about five or six o ‘clock. I had my own set of keys to the place, the codes to the alarm and a tutorial of the cash register.

Wow. What a great gig for a teenager! And good for Al, too-he practically didn’t have to pay me because he paid in cash and had I would usually turn that money right back over to him to feed my habit. I would spend the time tidying the store, selling merch and making sets from packs of cards. A set was about 800 cards long, containing cards for every player that year. I’d sit at a small table, open 3 or four boxes of the year’s bubblegum packs before I could assemble an entire set. The baseball card industry was having a renaissance at the time, and collections like whole sets were in high demand. Everything was in demand, actually. Real money was starting to change hands for singles too. Al would take me to memorabilia shows and you would not believe what some of these new cards were commanding pricewise. The hobby had evolved its own economy, and its own stock market. Prices were tethered to the athlete’s performance at first, and then there came a whole speculative market on who would become the hot new stars. A player like Jose Canseco who could reliably knock the shit out of the ball in the minors would have a card worth sixty dollars before they even faced their first pitch in the show. There were the old standby brands like Topps and Fleer, and soon there were “boutique” cards on the scene like the ones offered by Donruss, who at first derived their value from scarcity and then began to produce a slick, loud, superglossy product that had a limited run. The industry peaked and was on life support by 1991, and then all the speculation ended when we collectively realized that our stuff wasn’t as scarce as we thought. Most of it turned out to be worthless. Insane amounts of demand became intolerable to the producers of the little cardboard wonders and they flooded the markets with common, easily procured cards.

I was never destined to become a really good collector, or seller. Why?

I had no love for the game it was based upon. Weird, huh? I grew up in a sports household, but by this time I was estranged from my abusive father and would not sit with him when the games were on. So I didn’t have the foggiest idea why Eric Davis and Roger Clemens card prices soared; I was the last to get in on a hot card because I only developed an interest in a card when the card increased in value well after the players’ notable performance. I couldn’t see the nuances that a fan of baseball did. I was, to put it mildly, a terrible investor, late to the hot buys, purchasing at high points. It may seem strange that I could be so heavily into something like baseball cards without an inkling of what drove the industry, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one into it for the money and pride of ownership.

Al’s hole in the wall was a reet cool place to be in the years between 1986 and 1989, sharing a storefront with a Chinese laundry, owned by a Mr. Chin. It was very hard to understand Mr. Chin. Al would often do his impression of the old man who ran the place. “Chingity-chang-ching-chong-Chin’, he’d chortle mockingly, and it was pure comedy gold to my 14 year old Truly Tasteless Jokes-telling ass.

In time, though, I became a liability for Al, kind of in the way that The Lumpster was, maybe much worse-and needed to be let go. I did some really fucked up things that I wish I could forget. I mean, yes, I was a young teen but there was no excuse for some parts of my time at T&T.

First off, I had to constantly told to turn down the music. Al had cassette tapes of MOR bands like America and Wings, and the little boom box was there to play quiet quasi-Muzak while customers shopped. Not when I was working. I’d crank that shit up, and often brought my own awful teenage cassettes, from old school rap to Dire Straits to Dokken. I did not have the ability at the time to step back and realize that the volume of the music was distracting commerce and I probably alienated a lot of business because it was irritating to be there. I began writing for a punk fanzine around 1987-1988 and “staff meetings” were often held at the store table where I was supposed to be making sets. My friends were freaks and looked the part. Again, I did not understand what that may have looked like to people who wanted to spend money in the store. I was letting my boss down in a big way.

That’s not all, of course. There was the stealing. I’m trying to figure out where my mother went wrong that I became a thief. It wasn’t the first time I had stolen, though. I had a car wash gig the year before in ’85 and I would routinely steal the quarters from the car consoles while I was drying and detailing for video game money. Never caught. I also had a hustle with Mike where we’d make Xerox copies of dollar bills and shove them into the easily fooled change machines in the lobby of the hospital across the street from my apartment complex. Worked like a motherfucking charm-more video game money. Also never caught.

I got caught stealing from Al, though. And I didn’t like it one bit. My hustle at the card store was to replace a “near mint” card of my own with a “mint” card from Al. It was important that your shit was immaculate in condition, otherwise its value is lessened. And I couldn’t bear having gnarly cards. So I took them from Al. I’ll never forget the day he called me on it. What did I do? Well, I could think of only one thing-deny it, even though my efforts to retain mint copies of my cards was probably obvious. I got indignant and pretended I couldn’t believe that he did not trust me, friend as I was to him. I raised my voice at him in disgust, shocked that he should say something like that to me. At sixteen, to a grown adult. It was a ballsy gambit and it may have worked. He studied me for a few seconds, unsure of what to do with me. The he backed off of the accusation. Either he was being magnanimous or he believed me. I wasn’t long for the job after that spat. My relationship with Al was inexorably strained after this. He brought in his young son to do some of my shifts with me, and eventually his wife took over duties and my tenure ended.

But what really stands out is the masturbation.

I had, like most boys my age, developed quite a fascination for pornographic magazines. It began in earnest as young as twelve. My fucking barber Salvatore had crazy amounts of the stuff at his shop, real raw nasty European smut like Oui and Prive that I got caught perusing a couple of times while I waited for my turn in the chair. Why did I, and not my mother know this about my barber? Also, you could spend half a day at the local convenience store and put a porn mag inside a regular mag and ogle and ogle until you were chased out. The dumpster in my apartment complexes were also of great interest to us as unsupervised male children. Any refuse we liked was spirited off into the woods behind the garage rows. We found a porn collection or two and we left them in a particular spot for each other in case we wanted to furtively rub one out. While I was ruining Al’s business between the noise and the degradation of his merchandise, I found that old Al himself had a secret collection of his own that he kept at the store, above the doorway of the back room. It wasn’t long before I began to masturbate to them at the store. Back then I could shoot my wad 2-3 times in the space of a few hours and that’s exactly what the fuck I did every day at T&T, hovering over the toilet in the tiny bathroom, pecker in one hand, tissue paper in another, Penthouse or Playboy opened up to the girls that turned me on the most-hoping I wouldn’t get caught in flagrante delicto by the magnetic bell that signaled a customer had arrived. I resented that bell.

I masturbated so much to those women that I can assuredly point out to you thirty years later the exact Playmates or Pets out of a pile of pics today that I used to jerk my gherkin to. That’s how demented porn will make you.

What was Al doing with them? The same, I can only assume. Either that or he was trying to jumpstart his erotic desires which he could then take to his marriage bed. I sure can’t say. His wife was pretty enough but whatever. That doesn’t matter. Men are pathetic, needing the levels of fantasy the way they do. The situation was so bad back then that having a Playboy subscription didn’t necessarily mean you had a porn problem. Such plebeian sexual peccadilloes done above ground were tolerated by wives back then. But Al had a habit out of the home, so I figure maybe we were both beating our bishops to the stash and Patricia, who you could tell you didn’t want to piss off, wouldn’t have liked his collection of fantasies one bit.

It’s memories like this that make me wonder what in hell is wrong with me. I came up with all this bad behavior between my own ears. I was my mother’s pride and joy but having a good wholesome momma doesn’t always mean you raise a good kid. Maybe it’s best that I do become a different version of myself, you know, rack up a few more years of being relatively decent bit by bit so I can stop remembering the things that make me so remarkably awful.

Un-Kempt

My brother lives in Buffalo. I live in Georgia. He loves Jesus, I’m an atheist. We always joke that our families should switch places so we could both be surrounded by people who thought like we did.

When COVID was beginning to tear its way across New York, I, joking again, said I had changed my mind about us switching locales. Our family likes gallows humor.

Things aren’t as funny on my end as they used to be now that Georgia may be the first state to open for business without federal protections, and most surprisingly, without heeding federal guidelines outlined by the Trump administration.

That’s correct. My governor may be dumber than the president.

Georgia, if it fucks around too much, may be ground zero for the next outbreak now that we’ve gotten permission to move freely about the cabin. All of the distancing we have done to “flatten the curve” may be for naught as there is no testing and tracing in the hopper. With no other plan in sight for fighting the virus, there seems to be zero chance that it’s OK to go out heedlessly. We are guaranteed another spike, and for what? Well, the government giveth, and now it taketh. It’s clear were only given checks to buy things (since surviving on them is impossible) and now we gotta give that money back to the almighty fucking market with no regard for the lives that will be lost, and no regard for already buckling healthcare system once it is shown that the virus has been licking its tiny RNA chops for more victims to infest.

Outside of Georgia, there are politicians who say the quiet part out loud and are happy to send their citizens as bellwethers in a social atmosphere that is still deadly. You’ve all seen these, but they bear repeating for posterity.

Only in America can the economy come before the health of its citizens.

Now we can see what garbage capitalism is. It’s a virus unto itself in a way; it’s called Mammon. I mean, yes, any ideology that kills its human capital is bad, but we need to focus on our failed economic system, especially now when it wants us to risk our lives so people can profit.

I’m certainly not going down for its sake. Y’all can stick your fingers in all the bowling balls you like and get on the treadmills and huff and puff all over people; I’m still hunkering down. Fuck all of you. This clan is going to keep sheltering until science says it’s OK to go out. I refuse to be a statistic just for someone’s bottom line.

PS: While I’m at it, let’s check into the president’s mental state:

When it comes to Trump, there is no bottom. He’s a force multiplier for death.

Joe Versus The Volcano

I’m so fucking glad we are done with the presidential contest. I’m just hoping enough of us will be around to vote for our nominee. Sanders supporters, I implore you-go through your grieving process as I did mine as a Warrenite, and then we good liberals shall get to the task of removing Stupid Mussolini.

When I wrote about the novel coronavirus last month, I was pretty fucking glib about preparing for its invasion of the United States. I wasn’t paying well enough attention. I didn’t believe Donald Trump when he said it was nothing, because he’s never right and he’s a liar, but I was also not sure what to make of the exponential numbers some were proffering even though I could plainly see that exponential growth was what we were dealing with.

But here we are, and Trump hasn’t missed an opportunity to make the wrong decision at every juncture because he doesn’t have the attention span god gave a goose and experts hate him. Hell, some of the more paranoid among us are wondering if he’s trying to get people killed. And there’s evidence that’s just what he’s doing; governors not paying Trump compliments and tribute will get your PPE pipeline suddenlly pinched off or stopped. Shipments of supplies to states are being being Hoovered up by FEMA. Then there’s just the continuing, ceaseless rank stupidity of the response; for example, what does one make of Jared Kushner trying to tell states that the federal government’s stockpile of medical supply is only for….the federal government? Trump hawking anti-malaria drugs as a cure to COVID with no medical evidence that it works next to the MyPillow guy? And just the sheer insanity of asking instead of telling the nation’s industries to begin producing masks, gowns and vents for our medical providers while the bodies pile up and the nurses get sick buggers the rational mind trying to get a handle on how FUBAR everything is right now. Trump is making it all about him, he’s taking it all personal, and it’s a recipe for fascism at best and annihilation at worst.

All of this is precisely why we need to make Trump a one-term charlie and we gotta do it with the last man or woman standing and that person is old Joe Biden. I think even Joe knows it’s not how good he is but how horrifyingly bad Trump is, which is why he says he’s only going to be a one-term charlie too. Trust- Joe was near the bottom of the list for me, maybe a hair above Pete Buttigieg, who looked a little too much like he could have been talked into getting into a tank to show he could be commander-in-chief and besides, who the fuck was he anyway?

The bitch of it all is that I liked Bernie Sanders a lot (and I still do, if I remove the frames) once upon a time and would have been more than happy to check the box for him. Somewhere along the line, he developed a following that I liked a whole lot less than I did Bernie. Eventually, by extension, I began to resent the Sanders campaign(s) because he did precious little to manage his “revolution” by making sure it kept the bowling bumpers up and stay within acceptable parameters of voting behavior should he be vanquished. (Aside: this isn’t the first time the left lost its damn mind in a close contest; y’all remember Taylor Marsh, Corrente and a bunch of other bloggers went to the mat against Barack Obama in 2008? That was some shit to behold) Instead, many of his diehards threw a snit and refused to vote for anyone else, and some even voted for Trump in unprecedented numbers. It was bonkers, jerked-off behavior in 2016 and it remains so this year. Those people have now seen what a Trump presidency makes possible, so it is my hope we can all definitely say that it is the worst possible thing that could have ever happened and if you don’t think so, ask the people burying bodies in New York city public parks while Trump drones on about the magic of chloroquine and what a terrific job he’s doing as the number of American COVID cases careens into seven digits by the end of April and then think hard about four more years of endless trolling and tweeting and lying and boasting about nonexistent accomplishments, the federal government being run by about five people, two of which Trump is related to. The possibility of Ruth Bader Ginsburg punching out. The self dealing. Ivanka. Wall to wall impeachable behavior. Cozying up to the worst dictators the planet knows. The de-legitimization of the fourth estate. The end of the regulatory role of government. The end of the an independent Justice Department. Smug Christofascists like Mike Pompeo sailing the ship of state.

Red-hatted, happy MAGA nazi cult fucks. Maybe they’ll run over your kid next.

You think about that and all the other bullshit Trump has brought us, before you fold your hands across your chest just like Trump does at meetings when he doesn’t like the information he’s receiving.

It’s bitter medicine. I know. I’m as left as they come, but where we are right now we simply cannot do another four of the dumbest person on earth running America, which already had a host of problems, into the ground. This is indeed a great time to wring concessions from the masters of the universe, and we can do all that, let’s just get this loser out of the way first because he and the Republicans sure as hell aren’t hearing us.

Green Tambourine

I have a very, very small pot habit. I can make an eighth last many months. I live in Augusta, Georgia currently, far from the carefree regions of the west where people are waking up and turning on to the best marijuana humans have ever produced. Still, some quality bud is making it here. It has the same general effects with varying strength. I think I’m smoking indica, rather than sativa which is what I’m accustomed to. Experts say that difference is not necessarily what makes one strain lock you in your chair and one makes you want to leap out of it…the type of shit The Breakfast Club got into or something.

Anyway, this stuff I’m smoking right now is a locker and a mind eraser, really strong too. I have only had the pleasure of using what I’ll call “euphoric” (not enough of a good word since all pot smoking is euphoric, I guess…”up”?) pot a few times, the type sativa is claimed to be-once in my twenties, and a bag or two at the beginning of the pot boom in Colorado ten years ago (I’m 48), about the time I was also slowly losing my grip on reality due to bipolar disorder. I got it from a girl who asked me if I wanted a head high or a body high. I asked for the body high. Wow, people. It was like a different drug altogether; I overflowed with energy, no loss of functionality, no being stoned. All the insight without the paranoia. I could smoke it all day and do whatever I needed to do, no falling into a TV hole or what have you. It was like Jimi Hendrix wondered- I was not necessarily stoned, but…beautiful .

I miss that shit. I would actually move somewhere to get more of it. Or it would be weight on the scale if I needed to decide where our next move is going to be. The Chief and I know that the Augusta suburbs is not where we want to land permanently. There’s no problems here per se…there’s just no nothing, and that is a problem, I guess. And eight months out of the year, the heat is positively unbearable. You eat, sweat, try IPAs, work on a belly, get diabetes and die (PS: The Godfather Of Soul made downtown his stomping ground back in the day, so there’s a music pedigree to boast of so in fairness it’s not all “nothing”, it’s just perhaps that “something” happened before I got here). Now if you are a golfer or a racist, you are in Paradise. And I’m not either of those. So the magic of Augusta is lost on me. It’s lost on the majority of Augustans from the looks of it, but that’s another story altogether and not mine to tell.

Anyway, it’s been about two hours since I smoked, and I overdid it a little. It’s taken me this long to sober up some and use the English language a little more precisely. I’ve almost hit 500 words chatting with you about weed while I come out of my stupor, which was not what I was expecting to tarry on today. I fear I have told you a boring pot story, yakking about being high because I’m high. I don’t tell good stories in general, a regrettable weakness. Now, during some of the crescendos of my mania, that wasn’t always true-I had a great deal of acuity and flow that must have lain dormant for all of my life. I was fun at fucking parties for once. I wonder though- was that the pot or the mania? Both in concert? The prescription drugs I was on? Who even knows. Anyway, the acuity and flow and fun turned into wild, dangerous delusions that would would eventually result in a stay in a locked ward. Whatever I unlocked, there was a price. I pulled a kitchen knife on my wife (in defense, unwarranted) and that was the ballgame. Sounds like an interesting story, doesn’t it? Alas, I would have a bit of trouble piecing that time together. Maybe I can work up to telling it someday.

If you want to peek at my unfiltered decline into madness, see some of my words from 2010.

Anyway, all of you know I’m an atheist. I don’t like getting into philosophical discussions about it much, I’m comfortable lacking the guidance of the divine. For example, one of those churches with the clever, pithy marquee style signs is across the street from my development, and they’re batting zero selling something I need. Like this month’s marquee is about envy. Home base says I don’t have any, really, except that healthy envy like “I wish I could play guitar like that” or “I wish I could tell a story like that”. I don’t need saving from that, it gives me something to aspire to. Last month’s was about the gathering of material goods. I have a couple of music addictions. I like to collect it and I like to try and play it. To that end I have hundreds of LPs and CDs, several guitars and they are beautiful. I’m glad I own them and they sound fucking kickass. What’s the harm in feeling good about something you have? So far this church is doing a shit job telling me why I need Jesus.

And yet occasionally, there is that existential nag that it’s all for nothing, and I think that’s a problem stemming from living in a capitalistic society. It’s probably no surprise that the church is trying to warn me about the dangers of desires and products because that’s pretty much all that motivates this reality. Without them, an emptiness could come on. That’s when people get spiritual, I guess.

But instead of walking into church, I regularly remind myself what a kickass family I have assembled. It’s #1 with a bullet for sticking around. And to that end I have helped chart a new course for my name, a new generation of Battista nonbelievers who have no limits on who they are or what they want to do (just in time for the actual end of humanity-sorry, kids). The house is crawling with creatures to love and be loved by. I did good. I did not create evil, I don’t feel evil, much less guilty- what do I need church for? I offer kindness and mercy and assistance when I am out and about. I do the best to learn about my world while I have the time and do things to change what sucks about it. I feel like the rockstar I always wanted to be when I strap one of my stringed babies on. And I will never run out of chords or songs.

I’m a better Christian than a lot of Christians, honestly. Or at least I’m as good as the lot of you. What is my sin? I live reasonably well, especially after coming back from the brink of madness. Perhaps I could seek forgiveness for such conspicuous satisfaction amongst so much suffering in the world, but I’m not going to confess to God for that. After all, it’s his fault that things are so fucked up, lopsided and loaded. He should confess to us, frankly.

The pious are going to have to result to scaring the shit out of me but good if they want me. Which might be next month’s sign, because they are not above it under all their cheeky goodwill.

Safe American Home

There’s a lot of drama going on in the US of A.

We’re watching the Democratic establishment spit the irritant called Bernie Sanders out. C’est la vie. The Democratic establishment represents Democratic voters and they don’t need an insurgent with no respect for the machine that brought them to the dance. His viability ended with that dumbshit tweet. You don’t goddamn bite the hand so blithely. Biden didn’t have to lift a finger to bring Buttigieg, Booker, Bloomberg, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, and even Kamala Harris-the candidate who drew first blood on Biden in the debates-over to his side all because Bernie believes in his own hype.

Sanders supporters are agape and agog and angry at the wholesale updraft to the Biden campaign. They simply don’t understand American politics. One day, when they do, it will be a good day. I mean, they could have gone for Liz Warren, an actual Democrat with exciting and new policy ideas in a similar vein as Sanders, but unfortunately Bernie has nurtured something of a cult of personality as an auslander and many will throw their vote away to spite the process that did not nominate their anointed candidate. It is worth noting that no other candidate’s following does this withholding of a vote bullshit. I find it grossly privileged to do so. If you have been on this rock a few revolutions, you ask for a lot-that’s all well and good-but after you have fought, you settle for a little. Even Saul Alinsky understood this. It’s just poor tactics to bury your bullets. It doesn’t do anyone any good.

So: let’s talk COVID-19. We’ll ignore Donald Trump, because he’s golfing while this virus flies across the countryside, and when he’s not doing that, he’s trying to manage the crisis by lying about it not being a big deal. No one is listening. People are a little panicky right now, if the grocery store shelves are any indication. There’s rationing of Clorox wipes, Purell hand sanitizer, and Lysol disinfectant spray. I bought a can of wipes and some spray for the hell of it. People are genuinely scared that this COVID is coming for them. And who can blame them, stuck in an information vacuum?

Since even the fucking CDC seems tainted by Trump’s insistence on handling every crisis by the seat of his pants so he can get much needed adulation, I have had to resort to alternate information on who has COVID and where. I’m happy to say I found a great site for raw data like that. Johns Hopkins is compiling a visually striking case and fatality list. I go to see the location of the virus and I like to take an average of the estimated US population to the number of infected people…see what kind of odds I’m facing. I know that the incidences are much higher but you go with the numbers you know. I did it last night and we have one case in every 600,000 heads. This morning, the odds changed to 583,000 to 1, just to give you an idea of the velocity of this baby. President Asshole may not think this virus is big shit because we’ve only had 566 cases and 22 deaths so far here but the fact is we don’t know a damn thing about this virus from a biological perspective but we know a few things empirically: it’s exponentially contagious as all get out and it kills the vulnerable and we have no vaccine.

While we’re on the subject of coronavirus, let’s talk about the stock market tanking. Currently, the market is in a 5,000 point slump from the loss of consumers and producers due to the virus. It’s either a great time to buy, or a horrendous time to leave your 401k exposed to further volatility. This might be the big recession everyone’s been heralding; we shall see when things like earnings come out. The world’s central banks have emptied out the toolbox to fill the gap left by the virus’ arrival to at least keep the stock market bubble stationary. It did not work. It’s clear that there’s a fundamental rupture somewhere and the good times might be gone.

Something’s gone horribly wrong in the greatest country in the world. Perhaps all that is going on is that we are realizing we are just another country in the world. One thing is certain: we are not going any place special with the fucked up “leadership” we have right now.

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