Monday, March 30, 2009

The Bus Driver Always Honks Twice

Should you have been a fortunate passenger of Bus #1 during my 1982-83 school year, this smudge of divine intervention would’ve placed you squarely under the aura of the “Old Guy,” our occasional captain of the yellow submarine. In retrospect, he probably rated somewhere near middle age, but through the eyes of a bewildered second grader toting a Heathcliff lunchbox, he was practically Old Man Winter: eternally grateful for the geriatric luxuries of waking up each morning, enjoying a commanding control of his bladder, and breathing without an iron lung ventilator strapped crassly to his back. In those formidable years, the spectre of a strung-out Vietnam veteran assaulting traffic as if reliving the Tet Offensive was enough to send this writer to his own minefield of early education flashbacks. Cornering the market on mesh baseball caps, our senseless leader was forever clad in an interchangeable surplus of brown checkered flannels; gnarled locks cascading over his shoulders like a rock and roll Jesus. Marry that consignment wardrobe to a pair of tinted shades – the kind that darken in sunlight and remain the definitive fashion plate of child molesters and meth addicts – and you have the makings of an elementary school conquistador (or a PTA nightmare, dependent on perspective).

This cat was an easy rider with a jones for the hash pipe; still damaged from America’s then-shameful ingratitude toward servicemen, and thrust into the niggling trifecta of double-digit inflation, oil embargos, and economic stagnancy. But inner demons were surmounted and income finally secured, exploiting every trick in the bag of a freedom rocking army discharge with the grandeur of Waingro
from DeNiro’s ‘Heat’ crew. In the end, his worthy triumphs on home soil outshined any battlefield misfires. He became a substitute school bus driver, rising like a phoenix from the sullied ashes of war to (occasionally) command a squadron of snot-nosed, immature rugrats.

Whether by skyward Batman signal or clandestine phone message, the calling of the Old Guy into service was a treat. On a positive note, it kept him away from the racetrack, and quashed the gloom of entire days spent shirtlessly grooving to Crosby, Stills & Nash, burnt to a crisp. Whispers of his appearance spread virally through hallways and classrooms, excitement mounting in preparation for some Second Coming-type epiphany, especially should an astute set of ears learn of the regular driver’s upcoming vacation.

When assuming the position of transportation royalty, our substitute hero blared “Eye of the Tiger” at glass shattering decibels from atop his throne. Ghetto blaster in tow, its unsteady lean was always one pothole away from torpedoing down the aisle and lodging itself in the head of the trailing car’s driver. Without compromise, the Old Guy cranked this nugget of 1980’s gold through crackling, paper cone speakers on every ride. Morning and afternoon. Rewound and replayed. Pumping his fist in time with each rousing drum crash like our very own version of The Simpsons’ Otto Mann
. And so began the lunacy of careening through busy intersections while untethered to our seats in the most anarchic environment this side of a sandbox brawl; a cacophony of pre-pubescent adrenaline, screaming about the “thrill of the fight” and “rising to the challenge of our rivals” like a hyperactive (and painfully awful) glee-club tour group. This was four-wheeled pandemonium compounded by the carnival barking of “Do you wanna hear it louder!” which punctuated the enclosed chaos like an A-bomb explosion. In second grade, things would never get better than this. Other than extra recess and Santa Claus, life was all downhill.

Did I mention that this was the Alvin & The Chipmunks version of the ‘Rocky III’ classic? Because I think that bears noting. Did I also mention that no student ever heard the rest of the tape, since at the song’s conclusion, Waingro would slam his fungal ridden thumb defiantly against the stop button? It’s possible that the remaining 25 minutes was intentionally left blank to encourage repeated listening – the type admired by air guitar shredding catatonics – because our faithful chauffeur enjoyed the high speed squeal of three rodents covering a glam rock anthem, envisioning their buck-toothed likenesses scampering up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s also possible that the ensuing space contained our driver’s own symphony with an escort, recorded in the shadows of a VFW sock hop or, dare I say, in that very bus while parked inconspicuously along a shaded lane. Perhaps across the street from your house while mom lovingly tended her garden some few yards away. As the old saying goes, when the bus is a-rockin’, etc. etc.

Old Guy, it’s been over 25 years since I’ve enjoyed your vibes. Assuming you’re still out there, rotting to the core in some understaffed VA hospital while bribing nurses to increase the morphine dosage, be aware that no one steered that bus with more cocksure swagger. No one jerked that door crank with more assured machismo. No one clutched that boombox with more calculated ruggedness, delivering well beyond the expectations of a grade schooler’s world which stretched, pitifully, from home to Main Street. But within that small window of early adolescence, between diapers and braces, when running with scissors was the most dangerous thing in our sheltered suburban lives and breaking the speed of sound lay miles past our infantile aspirations, you rocked harder than anything else.

Dude, you were a fucking flamethrower.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

White Men Can't Rake

“There is no doubt that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there in the United States”
–Vicente Fox (former President of Mexico 2000-2006)

Perhaps by virtue of my zip code or the silver spoons lodged firmly in certain residents’ throats, the number of home owners observed in gardening attire, bent ass-backwards to prune overgrown shrubs, pull weeds, or simply maneuver lawnmowers and spreaders across postage stamp acreage is negligible. In other words, white people in my neighborhood don’t stand in their grass. Presumably, they spend weekends listening to atonal jazz, reading English-translations of foreign novels, or maniacally shuttling children from practice to practice in the hopes of padding the family ego through competitive sports. So when autumn leaves fall or spring growth blossoms, I assume my token position amongst the affable Mexican day laborers.

Strangely, it feels disrespectful to strap on the leaf blower, as if I’m blatantly thumbing the eyes of these industrious landscapers, selfishly impeding their revenue stream with my amateur arsenal of tools. Just as a serial masturbator would anger the bible thumping right-to-life crowd with his wasted discharge of potential children, so must my presence in work gloves annoy the illegal squadron of lawn doctors. Either that, or I’m simply confusing them; effecting bewildered glances not only due to my melanin-challenged skin tone, but because these amigos can reshape multiple yards and grill a burrito in the time it takes me to blow leaves out of a small pachysandra patch.

Last Saturday marked a seismic event on the block, as two (count ‘em two) white men armed with dueling leaf blowers eradicated the last of the autumn debris in preparation for a new season of greenery. Me, and the realtor next door. Yes, the realtor, assiduously toiling to improve the curb appeal of his listing, yet taken aback at the way nature had reclaimed the property. Two white men slogging in adjacent yards seemed apocalyptic, almost dangerous, like we’d passed into some kind of dream nexus or Bizarro World worm hole; an affair nearly as foreboding as the crossing of proton pack streams in ‘Ghostbusters.’ Thankfully, witnesses were few and panic was averted.

But white men can’t rake. Not well, at least (see “No Money, No Problems” from Jan 14). Try as we might, I’m probably more suited to analyze the complexities of jazz, or trash my last semblance of dignity by shuttling random kids to track meets in a mini van: the end of the line for all Caucasians. That said, if faced with the reality of modeling seersucker pants on an afternoon yachting trip with uptight, gin drinking Protestants, I’d much rather hang with the Mexicans. They seem like a fun bunch, and the prospect of copious tequila while whistling at passing butt cheeks is a lot more enticing than croquet swing dissection. In between nacho refills, I can educate my compadres in the realm of financial discipline, and they can regale me with swashbuckling tales of navigating the Rio Grande in bathtubs.

Of course, this all begs the question: what can white people do? For one thing, we can swindle your money, hawking a complex alphabet soup of financial products like ABS, CDO’s, and CDS; analyzed, ironically, by a bunch of industrious back room Indians and/or Asians who see not in color, but in mathematical formulae and greek letters. Beware of people who have difficulty matching their socks, yet express flippant ease at destroying the financial landscape with instruments of byzantine complexity. And white people can sell this stuff, quite well I might add, due to our conversational breeziness and ability to look important in suits. Not only do we take pride in our wardrobes, but we conveniently jam toxic assets down the mouths of other white people who lack investment acumen or pecuniary sophistication. Then we get greedy, fuck it all up, and wait for cunning, stodgy white men (and one youthful half-white man) in the upper flanks of government to whitewash the scandal (excuse the pun) and bail us all out.

Now if you could pass the rest of those cervezas, it’d be appreciated. Just get that rake out of my sight. It’s really breaking my stride.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Of Fish Sandwiches And Reverence

Wife: (while staring at a pan filled with three uncooked sausages) I hate to say this, but they look like little embryos or something.
Me: Didn’t I recommend you start a blog?
Wife: I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.

Presumably owing to a strange shift in the cosmos, McDonald’s is again promoting the oft-lambasted Filet-o-Fish sandwich. Were my blog audience comprised primarily of gasoline huffing truckers or college burnouts, said ad campaign (2 for $3.33) would already have translated into ichthyo-orgasm followed by repeated trips to a (choose one) truck-stop restroom infiltrated with prostitutes or dormitory toilet stall littered ankle-deep with beer cans. For the rest of our readers – whether completely opposed to the cardiac arresting attributes of simulated food, or simply confused by the notion of orange cheese melted atop a perfectly processed block of the cheapest fish nabbed from the least desirable section of the ocean – your healthy intentions are saluted, but your risk aversions are bewailed.

My father, rest his soul, was never afraid to sink his chompers into the minced fish value meal prepared by the always irritable crew of the Golden Arches. While most patrons ease into their bolted seats with the known quantity of a Quarter Pounder, Big Mac, or McNugget banquet, he rolled the dice and consumed an objectionable sea creature – possibly spawned in the manager’s fish tank – like some fast food revolutionary; bent on shifting convention amidst the fluorescent-bathed kings and drive-through queens of our modern dining age. Although my father’s rebellious acts were nary more than occasional subtleties against principle (like ordering rum raisin ice cream purely because it was a menu rarity, without regard to his indifference toward rum or raisins), these screwball antics piled high throughout the years. In other words, the man didn’t get a nose ring or back breaking Ace of Spades tattoo to exhibit his individuality. He ordered the Filet-o-Fish. Repeatedly. Because he knew you didn’t have the balls to travel that road, even though his pants were busting.

Notwithstanding this curious pseudo-renegade trait, plenty of my father’s genetic morsels were passed along and reflected upon as I aged out of adolescence. Certainly not my right-brained artistic persuasions (dad couldn’t print legibly, much less draw a stick figure), quick witted sarcasm (primarily drawn from my mother’s Brooklyn-bred sensibilities) or detached earlobes (thank God), but there exist attributes in this head which mirror subsets of his personality. He never worried. About anything. His mindset was eternally optimistic. If you promised to be home by ten, then waltzed in reeking like a distillery four hours later, he’d simply have assumed you missed your train, or ran into some old buddies en route. Never mind the fact that my frazzled mother, by now insane, would attempt to throw me off a ledge after decontaminating my clothes. In more serious circumstances, police would never enforce a 24 hour missing persons rule because my father would wait 48 before even considering the call (and might delay further for inexpensive nighttime rates), remaining in a holding pattern of extreme normality; slugging down coffee like a caffeinated maniac, thumbing through the Times, and managing the eccentric underlings of his accounting department. By then, you might be chopped up in a suitcase, internal organs auctioned in the black market and transported to a third world hellhole for repurposing by unhygienic hacks. But then again, probably not. And life would go on. And so it did, comprised with other Y chromosomal nuggets like my anally intact organizational habits, excruciating attention to mundane detail, and faint OCD flare-ups (see "Christmas In January" from Jan 15).

Vividly I recall my father clad in a shit-brown robe flipping pancakes on Saturday mornings, singing along to the oldies on New York’s CBS-FM like it was his second job to destroy pitch and annoy neighborhood dogs. And there we were, our traditional nuclear family, passing the syrup while held captive in a radio reverb chamber double-timing as our kitchen, listening to dad mangle the words of the entire doo-wop canon. And though music was our shared passion, his forklift’s worth of showtune records warranted a masculinity citation of the highest caliber. But then again, he played that Judy Garland album loud and proud, windows flung open against a street full of pre-teens, because he had brassier balls than to which you could ever aspire. You didn’t like this dandy schlock polluting the air and ripping apart the ozone? Go home and play your own tapes, kid.

Sometime within the past eight years, my father got sick. He was a fighter, which bought him considerable time and confounded a revolving door of medical professionals, but all wearied victims consent eventually to their predator. At the end of a very trying week helping my mother plan funeral arrangements, shore up finances, and keep sanity amongst relatives, I broke down. He was gone. An emptiness had finally presented itself as the rest of the world was moving on and the realities of the situation were settling comfortably into focus. We never spoke deeply, he and I. His proud independent streak, mistaken as aloofness by certain types, was something I understood well and respected always, something hereditary which also burns in this writer’s own heart. That said, he approached fatherhood with brilliance. Never overbearing, compassionate when warranted, stern with matters of importance, and exceptionally lenient with the rest of life’s trivialities. The old man did things his way. He couldn’t give a rat’s ass what you thought.

But still, what kind of a person orders the Filet-o-Fish from McDonald’s? And then orders it again?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Apocalypse Now (With Love And Squalor)

Ain’t the recession grand?

A perpetual sucker for nostalgia, The Bastard recalls an equally frenetic time during 1981-82; one soiled by double-digit inflation, soaring unemployment, and record shattering bank failures. Although I was newly out of diapers and mastering sentence construction, our nation’s elder statesmen (most likely back in diapers at the time of this writing) had just maneuvered through an oil shock several years prior before wading through the dung of the most serious contraction since the Great Depression itself. But just as the summer of 1981 spawned adversity for key American industries, it also ushered in the golden era for Menudo and the mainstream explosion of synth-pop and resulting Flock of Seagulls haircuts. Said differently, there’s a pearl in every oyster. And that, my friends, is why I sit here like a grinning simpleton day after day, holed up indoors like some reclusive hobbit with minimal income, yet still whistling myself to sleep each night. Recessions have their bright spots.

Now, I could bore you to tears with arguments concerning global balance of payments, speculative bubbles, and savings rate disparity, but let’s just agree that the current market correction is a nice way to flush some fat down the bowl. And let’s also agree that financial hardship makes it easier to order a round of Milwaukee’s Best for destitute friends without eliciting the sideways glances usually reserved for wearers of foam trucker hats. Not only is retirement plan implosion a conversational ice breaker, but it’s a sympathy play and a hilarious excuse to bump chests. Moreover, job loss stories make for interesting coffee house fodder. In fact, there’s a quirky political drama behind mine which is certainly worth a latté or two. But above all else, this nasty contraction is forcing people to do their homework. Suddenly, headlines regarding AIG or Citigroup can be discussed, in relative degrees of sophistication, with barbers, policemen, gigolos, and just about anyone with a dime in the local bank and a desire to hang up the hat by 65. We’re poorer, but we’re also smarter.

Yes, I’m newly minted collateral damage in this equation. It was barely four months ago that I last hunkered down in the trenches of financial warfare amidst squabbling pundits; where every slip in the Dow hastened lively debate concerning the endgame for my weakened (yet still existent) firm. We were a sinking battleship, holes plugged with cork and bubble-gum, deck awash with raging sea water as crew mates pondered the drowning value of vested equity. Then I got fired. And the investment community took a collective breath. And the firm’s stock value slowly rose from its November bottom.

It wasn’t the most dignified of moments, speaking to my bible studying, power grabbing, allegedly alcoholic, pseudo-manager in what will go on record as our longest conversation ever. Certainly, my clumsy victory lap around the perimeter of the trading floor was an awkward means to close an interesting career step, but frankly, I couldn’t find the damn conference room in which he was roosting. Metaphorically speaking, I was shooting baskets at the wrong net, scoring touchdowns in the opposite end zone, completely disoriented with the building floor plan and forced to ask my executioner for directions to his own guillotine. Explicit directions, mind you, which made that second phone call all the more unsettling. Seriously, who does that? “I’m sorry, where did you say you wanted to shove that five iron up my ass, because I’ve already pulled down my pants but the numbering sequence for these rooms is rather confusing. Also, I think the sight of my bum is upsetting some females.” At that point, an HR lackey should have just lobbed a grenade at my workstation and blown me up in an extraordinary blaze of mediocrity. If anything, the blast could’ve made for an exciting “Power Lunch” segment on CNBC, targeting its economically fatigued viewership.

The rest of that day is inconsequential, although I remember taking shelter from the bitter cold in a subway station, making frantic calls on my dated Motorola RAZR V3, shaking my colleague’s hand in a Starbucks, and bemoaning the surrender of a Blackberry and its engaging diversions (BrickBreaker, anyone?). Removing that device from my pocket was like unhooking a brain, forcing its hollowed victim to amble zombie-like against the rushing flow of commuters who relentlessly bumped at my sides; a surging army of black overcoats en route to purpose and income.

As for my future, maybe I’ll join one of Barry O’s work project crews, assuming that his New Deal II ever shifts out of ideological gear. Hell, if I can calculate bond interest, I can learn to operate a jackhammer or swing a wrecking ball, all while smacking the cheeks of passing cougars. After all, someone needs to rebuild our country’s infrastructure and satisfy its aging female populace. I’m in decent physical shape and probably look alright in a reflector vest. If I could just wrench this five iron out of my ass, I’d be your model citizen for a new tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Drunkenness Is Next To Godliness

What if we had to drink to stay sober? And when I say “drink,” I don’t mean treat oneself to an occasional swallow-and-spit of aged Cabernet with a side of room temperature cheese. I’m talking extreme alcohol absorption of the mind melting sort, using a snarling Billy Idol, toothless Eddie Van Halen, or pre-presidential George W. (during his cocaine-addled years) as worthy templates. Suddenly, sneaking a little hooch in the office fire stairwell without the promise of illicit sex would swing from Capricious Binge to Sanity Regulator faster than you can say “three beer funnel.”

For my part, past attempts at keeping hydrated in the workplace were far from exemplary, seeing as how repeated trips to the water cooler can shatter the rhythm of a perfectly placed bond swindle, not to mention interrupt web surfing and personal calls. So it’s a fair guess that I’d have difficulty adhering to this regiment of anti-drunkenness, regardless of open taps offering Mad Dog 20/20 or a soda machine refurbished to hold Colt 45, stocked by Billy Dee Williams himself, bi-weekly. On the other hand, women – diligent as they often are – would surely adhere to the prescribed diet of (fruity flavored) booze, if not for the sanctity of sobriety than for the fear of an unchecked buzz resulting in extracurricular hanky panky. Those innocent broom closet extramurals have a funny way of drawing out paternity expenses or, dare I say, wire coat hangers. But just as maxims touting the inability of males to handle pregnancy (insert pain jokes here) or menstruation (fully turning over one’s wardrobe within the year) have grown exhausting, the same men-are-wusses reasoning applies to a world where imbibing like late ‘80’s Mötley Crüe becomes a responsible act. In other words, men would fail in keeping with this hypothetical mandate. We’d complain, and we’d forget, and we’d thus be perpetually off the reservation like an oversexed army of aroused chimpanzees.

Suddenly, your inhibited Homo Sapien is a sexually riotous Homo Erectus (or riotous Homo, depending on predisposition), drawers dropped to grope, thrust, and defile everything within a whore’s breath of the daily commuting route. How tempting to avoid Billy Dee’s vending wares for evenings of raucous debauchery, where the only thing “working every time” would be random infiltrations of equally impaired soda drinkers. Would I accidentally screw my neighbor’s wife because I spent the weekend rifling cover-to-cover through Barron’s without so much as a mimosa; awakening next door at some ungodly hour, hammered way out of my skull at the tail end of a 48 hour erection with Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage” blaring from an unknown radio? Or, Lord strike me down, would I wake up next to her husband?

Best to keep in the good graces of the wonderful (toothless?) folks at the Boone's Farm. I prefer my marriage intact and my Coolio at a safe distance.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Troubled Rap Relief Program

“Elvis, was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me you see”
–Public Enemy

Brushing the divisive politics of Chuck D aside, my mind reverts to its happy corner of audiophile amusement. And in this dusty rec room of preamps and pirated mp3 files, graver concerns materialize. The Obama administration and its messages of hope and change will annihilate the remnants of hip-hop, a once pioneering voice of the underprivileged, reduced to an Auto-Tune anthem for phony gangsters. Contentment breeds commercially derivative junk. And as politics turns a corner, racially and radically, so does the rage of inner city thugs deaden.
The presidency of Bush II, while a desultory experience for poor city dwellers (and those on the Louisiana bayou), did nothing to deter urban radio’s focus from connotations of women as submissive accessories; where sliding a credit card through the buttocks of a “ho” was a means to rack up frequent flyer miles, concurrent with preying on the insecurities of fatherless adolescents. Images of iced up pimps flashing diamond studded dental grills and slugging malt liquor – virtual how-to videos on profligate excess – were seared into our sockets by the media machine. Underprivileged ghetto youth idolized and aspired to the lifestyle, while their suburban peers accepted it as dystopian normality. Likewise, those who couldn’t keep a beat or dunk a basketball remained stuck in the morass, aspirations crushed and role models limited, perpetuating the business of hustling to desperate cohorts. Where future generations should advance, the sickness of the street bred stagnancy and reinforced defeat. Yet over the past decade, record companies did little to promote this yawning frustration on Billboard charts or MTV. Noticeably absent from the mainstream record bins were tirades on FEMA’s hurricane response, police brutality, or gang violence. And with the buoyancy related to our (half) black president leaking into every tumbledown tenement, these chest-thumping pimps are drinking 'Tron on ice and debating Tootsie Roll licks. What happened to fighting the power?

Give me the trickle-down economics of Reagan or Bush #1 when crack rock snowblinded neighborhoods like a assault virus and violent crime murdered the dignity of the underclass; not this Timbaland produced popcorn that plays in junior high gymnasiums. Years ago, for every hydraulic baller untying bikini knots there was a vengeful cop killer like Ice T ready to crush your skull with his lawless fist. Behind every Luke Campbell scoring cheap controversy was a lurking predator with an AK sidearm like Ice Cube. Every minstrel-like MC Hammer in parachute pants shared the block with an unapologetic Chuck D, scaring the crap out of white people while rearranging the status quo with the heft of a freight train. Politics, foreign affairs, even the daily grind of flipping burgers once occupied a place in the rap canon.
Sadly, an entire genre of music is becoming the laughable equivalent to over-produced 1980’s hair metal, a parody of its gritty past with lesser artists and copycat medium-talents. Just as the flannel layering, two shower-a-week crowd of early 1990s grunge extinguished the ozone hazard of tired Aqua Net axe men – backstage beer guts gushing over their leather pants – a similar revolution is inevitable as hip-hop swaggers toward its saturation point. It happened before, and will happen with increased speed in deference to our Ritalin-pumped culture. The young pelvis swinging Elvis of our grandparent’s ire became the rhinestone felled King of mom and dad's memory; the peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich one, who refused to deviate from an outmoded formula, watching his audience age-out of desirable demos as he slurred through tired jukebox hits.

Four more years of George W. might be the prescription to flush out the stupor and slam back the soul. Can we find Barry O some communities to organize while Bush II stokes the vitriol and stuffs my iPod? Can we rattle a bunch of sleepwalking zombies into the studio without a chokehold of fashion glitz? Can we chase this genre out of the soccer mom minivan? Can everybody put their dicks in their pants for one goddamn second and revalue the urban music terrain before the last ghetto blaster goes dark?
“Yes we can.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tea Without Sympathy

The last thing I need when purchasing tea is a bunch of assholes on my neck trying to upsell expensive kettles and micro infusers. If Earl Grey is the goal – a simple brew for simple minds – any attempts at shoving a Jasmine Oolong down my throat for twice the cost is an exercise in futility, not to mention curious pretention. This is, after all, a tea emporium, not the checked-suit Major World car lot in Queens, $5/hour carnival barker dodging traffic with a megaphone.

Let’s get something straight on the off-chance the Lord God almighty bursts forth from the heavens, commanding me back into this overpriced boutique for a scoop of Masala Chai. Namely, I don’t care what kind of herbal root extract some prick with a bone through his nose thinks maintained his one hundred years of mud hut ecstasy. If the taste soothes me or quells a scratchy throat during a moment of rare melancholy, then your posh blends become as extraneous as Britney’s revived career. These tea leaves could’ve been harvested from the tire behind my neighbor’s garage for all I care, fertilized by raccoons. I’m happy to steep the philistine variety without, excuse the pun, paying through my own beak (bone not included). Just as I don’t yearn for coffee beans gathered from civet cat dung (for up to $600 per pound!), I certainly don’t need a non-oxidized Silver Tip or Darjeeling that require a Swiss Bank tap with each sip. Truth be told, I’m still trying to exhume enough change from under the car mats to spring for a second garbage can. And that’s dangerously close to being ordered on layaway.

How dare you impose $14 storage tins upon your customers, then chide me with a lecture on leaf wilting when I gently request bags. How patronizing to imply that my head is shoved firmly up my ass, rendering me unable to grasp the concept of quality control; assuming I exist in a home where foodstuffs expire in disastrous quantities, minute by minute, because my mental faculties are blissfully off the rails. I expect this treatment from the juiced-up socket heads at an auto parts kingdom – where I don white collar ignorance as a weird stigmata – not by someone ten years my junior who believes I’m an exit away from munching cat kibble like a pension-less spinster in a house full of birds. This tea will age fine in sealed bags. It’s not going to be stockpiled in a bomb shelter for sustenance fifty years forward. You know it. And I know it. Are the commissions truly that enormous in this place? Is the employee parking area full of Maseratis? Should I give up my (sometime) career selling interest rate products in favor of teabagging innocent patrons?

Perhaps you were confusing me for a different type of customer. That slightly balding, uber-liberal loft dweller wearing a “Meat Is Murder” t-shirt and perusing the Sunday Times, barefoot, while drafting his next letter to Amnesty International. In other words, steeping (or smoking) these loose leaves isn’t normally my thing. When it comes to making that fateful choice between tea or coffee, I’m hanging out with Coffee: the drooling red-eyed maniac with the uncomfortable jitter, the one who wakes up with his head stuck in a sewer grate, slams down a bacon egg and cheese, then screws a prostitute in the diner bathroom before sprinting through a brick wall on his way to the office. But you, you can flutter around with Tea: the effeminate top-hatted dandy, the cerebral introvert who frequents performance art shows, laments animal testing, and drives a Prius (for the environment, not the gas mileage). Even on those days when I’m feeling a bit mercurial – abstaining from Barely Legal to swallow The New Republic with a side of Paul Krugman, barefoot even – the urge to extend my pinky heavenward while nibbling shortbread ranks even with tooth extraction.

From here on in, I'll take tea like the lush I am: Long Island Iced. You can keep the damn crumpet.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Blinder Than Bats

In a matter of days my buddy is going under the knife, at which point his eyeballs will be tossed into a Petri dish and split open like tiny coconuts. This marks the second attempt at weakening his favored eye in the hope of strengthening his nearly blind one. Grotesque as that sounds, it’s a typical procedure for astigmatism sufferers. A successful operation would prevent the crossing of his pupils, currently marring scores of photos and cursing him with the same leering gaze reserved for villainous megalomaniacs; the kind of people that forever seem preoccupied with, say, plotting the destruction of the Superfriends. Never trust a man with a wandering eye, folks. He’s always looking around for the next best thing, only half focused on your own musings toward (pick your poison) economic collapse, bad sex, or high-impact colonoscopies.

After botched surgery numero uno, my friend was presented with an adhesive strip for one lens of his glasses. The strip contains hundreds of microscopic prisms which refract light in such a way as to force the weaker eye outward, avoiding that DC Comics world dominator expression we discussed. Think of it as having the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon” stapled directly to your brain’s occipital lobe. Painful, perhaps. Trippy, perchance. Necessary, yes.

Nonetheless, there’s more to that patch, and frankly, I don’t trust it. Any man wearing a sensory exciter over his eye is sitting on a boatload of bionic abilities, untapped or otherwise. How many months before the wearer begins to see through clothing, burn holes into walls, or shoot laser beams out of his sockets to combat the forces of evil (or annoy the bejesus out of his friends)? And forewarned is forearmed, the gift of x-ray vision probably effects more psychological harm than good. Take a few rides on an off-hours New York City subway for evidence of that. Still not convinced? Need I remind anyone of the insane visor screwed onto LeVar Burton’s face in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ to combat his blindness? Let’s just hope the doctor gets it right this time.

If surgery numero dos is as painfully unproductive, doc’s going to have to prescribe extreme measures, perhaps mandating residence in a crystal cave – like the arctic leaning Fortress of Solitude where Clark Kent deflowered his beloved Lois – guaranteeing an eternity of favorable light refraction. If my buddy has to live like Bizarro, rambling in a backward-throated growl at the ass end of the earth for visual survival, so be it. Real estate on the northern tundra probably runs cheaper than Boston townhouses anyhow, given the menacing climate and months of darkness; you know, all the Arctic Circle nonsense which doesn't concern highly leveraged mortgage holders in the states. Suddenly that high-impact colonoscopy sounds pretty good, no? That's right, bend over and smile.

* * * * *

In sixth grade my psychopathic shop teacher mandated the viewing of a film he dubbed, cruelly, “Tomato Soup.” The event was well known, appreciated among former students as a rite of passage before proudly going forth to manufacture crooked toolboxes. Plot wise, the protagonist, a welder, eschews goggles in exchange for an eyeful of metallic shards. Set to eerily trippy 1970s music, we flash forward to a hospital room where needles are plunged into a bloody puddle (the socket) surrounding a grossly misshapen eyeball. While students groaned, our instructor pumped his fist with the zeal of an old codger winning big at the track.
Joking aside, I can still see that mangled eye in every bowl of Manhattan clam chowder, cultivating a wicked nausea to this day. Unfortunately, the adhesive strip on my buddy’s lens is a temporary fix at best; a shoddy plug in a leaky dam. Surgery needs to work the second time around. Otherwise it's crystal cave time. And honestly, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m flying up to the North Pole for occasional beers, especially on this unemployed shoestring of a budget.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Elephant Cometh

We became friendly just as his trolley was jumping the tracks. True, my old colleague was a bit quirky, but the laughs shared over our cubical wall balanced the self-loathing panic which bubbled in my gut. What was I doing wasting away in this den of low ceilings and slipshod ethics for the income of a social worker? Shackled firmly in the throes of middle office mediocrity, we collected dust on the low rung of a rusted corporate ladder. It helped neither career nor confidence to have that ladder steadied by functional alcoholics in management positions. Changing urinal cakes was probably a worse existence, but the bottom feeding world of portfolio support was ranked a close second, or perhaps a close third behind our grease-bathing cafeteria fry man (who served up a delicious grilled cheese, mind you). Congenial as I appeared, still living at home with a minimum of expenses, sanity was fleeting in those curious days, and mine persevered where others’ fell dead. Lights out. Pencils down. Work coma. Swiftly did the monotony of account reconciliation make mush of my friend’s mind, pounding brain matter into pulp until it resembled the guts of an overripe cantaloupe; common sense scraped loose and fed to the warring dogs of office politics. Overnight he became a Class A buffoon. An unpredictable pervert. A slow-motion disaster tumbling face first down an upward moving escalator, for months at a clip. And then he snapped.

In those unpleasant days – before the arm of almighty God plucked me out of that cesspool and presented a civilized alternative with all the trappings of a living wage – my friend had fully submitted to insanity, resigned to crunch numbers on the bank’s Windows incompatible accounting software and preoccupy his downtime spinning bizarre yarns on the size of the garbage in his pants. Rechristening himself The Elephant, he was prone to outbursts of extreme genital braggadocio, often using his right arm to emulate a swinging trunk and speaking of Trojan Magnums as a necessary element to his survival, much like water or air. Although he was a man of pedestrian looks and somewhat portly build, no earthly force could prevent his testosterone from bursting through the stratosphere during happy hours; no mere mortal could shield their eyes as he strut into bars like a peacock, puffing his chest through a comically tight blazer (almost certainly last worn at his eighth grade graduation) while lighting matches off clenched teeth. He was a winking, derriere grabbing jackass – something straight out of ‘Mad Men’ or a 1970’s how-to brochure on sexual harassment in the workplace – with limitless confidence and the threat of a rocket launcher in his pants that could presumably be discharged during any conversational lull. Suddenly, the simple act of sharing a beer was like having a grenade launcher pointed at your ear. I was in a perpetual state of unease. Women were aghast. After all, he was a lowly administrator turned (alleged) phallic colossus. A godhead of virility. You would’ve been horrified.

Why this sudden swing from office dolt to sexual superman? Why the invented legend status which, ultimately, spawned an amusing fool amongst the company of men yet a deviant in the mind of females? Quite simply, he had nothing to lose. His personal and professional life were magnificent trainwrecks, and the mythic hammer behind the belt buckle was an emotional crutch; a psychological weapon to be exploited on the worst dates in the worst seats at the worst restaurants when all other attempts at witty banter fell short. For all I know, it could’ve been a twelve inch beanstalk secured to his femur with duct tape. I really don’t care and I never asked for the negatives. And when he finally quit, cowardly retreating on a Greyhound bus with the usual lot of immigrant drifters, hillbillies, and murderous church custodians, it was another chapter closed on another oddball flame-out. Keep in touch, we did not. His manliness was too hardy a force for my diminutive stature. Still, it was always fun having drinks at the circus when the elephant was out of his pen.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Boredom Rides Shotgun In The Carpool Lane

The below article was commissioned by a suburban living publication, wherein I was tasked with writing about kids and carpools. It was also swiftly rejected for offensive content. Now I'm left holding a piece that likens me to a deranged pedophile. Win some, lose some, I guess.
Would you trust me with your kids?

I’m hardly irresponsible. In another life I owned a lucrative seat at a once exalted investment bank; secured by merit, mind you, not because I traded my dignity for intercourse with a randy executive. Truth be told, avoiding the minefield of infidelity was a personal victory, both at the workplace and on the sidewalks of Stepford when mingling with domestics. And domestic I’ve become, another casualty of the economic fallout which relegated our nation’s leaders to money minting desperados. With financial security reduced to indulgence, my new status on the bread line affords ample moments for introspection, especially while awakening to the dreaded Kathie Lee Gifford hour of the Today show and wishing for a shotgun (for the television, not my temple). Numerous weeks have been squandered observing the stay at home moms of the village: the stroller pushers, the play-date negotiators, the resentful career flusher-cum-homemaker, and the lipstick temptress with her seductive saunter. In the span of three months, I’ve been degraded to a cut-rate voyeur of Daytime In Suburbia, weaning off that final swell of testosterone amongst the afternoon company of mommies, geriatrics, war veterans, and Ellen.

And you know what? I want a piece of this, permanently. There’s an inexplicable joy to seeing the midday sun lighten the facades of Main Street; something very “Leave It To Beaver” in the camaraderie of park bench lollygagging and conversations about the weather in meat markets and bakeries. I want a slice of that hot apple pie, that Mayberry ideal fresh out of the oven. Better yet, I want in on your kid’s car pool.

That said, come April 15th I won’t claim any dependent tax deductions. Not yet anyway, and not because my penis is broken. Hell, I can hardly stand the rugrats sometimes, forcing me onto bad knees to hear their incessant incoherent nonsense, fingerprinting my furniture with various bodily fluids, and erupting into fist-pounding tantrums over lost toys or reneged dessert privileges. And once we’ve mastered diapers and sharing, it’s time to pray your adolescent prodigy doesn’t crash the family car after funneling King Cobra behind the Sunoco mart (you know, the one that sells to underage kids) or take to smoking with last year’s Camaro driving dropout. Let’s not even get started on acne or vocational aspirations. Yet still, I think I can handle the car pool.

Exploring the aisles of costume wholesalers, I’d expect to unearth a Mickey Mouse mascot head on the cheap. What kid wouldn’t want to be escorted to school by the world’s friendliest rodent: giant white gloves clutching the steering wheel, huge head bobbing through an open moon roof, agape neighbor watching me suit up while pondering the exact moment when my train flipped the rails. Who doesn’t love Mickey Mouse? Think back to that summer he tousled your hair, then hammed it up in the family photo gently ribbing dad.

But let’s quash all the rumors proactively, shall we? Those whispers exchanged at the PTA meeting, the muttered indictments at brunch questioning my motives for Carpooler of The Year. I’m not an idiot, I’m simply unemployed, with heaps of time to anticipate your demeaning accusations. Nipping them all in the bud: I did not quit my job following a superb mental breakdown, I am not a registered sex offender, I will break your kid’s teeth if he wets his pants on my seat, Twinkies are indeed brain food and belong in the lunch bag, and this mouse costume is not used in conjunction with a role in a pornographic theater ensemble. Finally, if you note an ever changing lineup of children in this automobile, some not even enrolled in the school district, perhaps you should warn them to stop treating my car like a gypsy cab. I’m just a chauffeur. I don’t take attendance.

Erroneous gossip aside, ladies, you want me in that carpool. When you’re dawdling at leisurely lunches with the alcoholic socialite contingent, or philandering with a FedEx hulk at the hourly motor lodge, you need me in that carpool. And I couldn’t be happier to offer my services, gratis. Not only does this coupe with rear bucket seats beat the stigma of the yellow bus, but it fits six (even with the colossal mouse head) assuming we perch two urchins atop the center console. In fact, I’m thinking of delaying the job search a few months. My $364.50 weekly take from the labor department is enough to keep the electric humming in this modest abode, and besides, I enjoy discussing weather at the meat market. Have another appletini, or sign up for that second pilates class. I’ve got it from here. Come April, I’ll sprout pendulous breasts and trade Martha Stewart recipes with the rest of your jaded friends. And we’ll all find a nice young delivery boy to ravage.

That is, if you trust me.