Thursday, February 26, 2009

And When You See My Toupee, You'll Know I'm An Asshole

Me: Once you start thinning up top, you’ve got to cut the hair short immediately.
Friend: That’s what you’d do?
Me: Sure, first I’d cut it short, then eventually shave it off and grow the goatee thicker.
Friend: Really?
Me: Oh, you have to. Without the goatee, people would think I’d contracted cancer.
Friend: Never liked the goatee. You can’t smile with one. If you do, it detracts from the bad-ass look.
Me: Yeah but the comb-over is disastrous. Bald with goatee is the only alternative.
Friend: (long pause) Eh, I think I’d go toupee.
Me: (alarmed) Toupee! Really! You wouldn’t buzz it short?
Friend: (nodding) Nah, I’d definitely go toupee.

The gentleman in the above conversation is educated. Yet he speaks of toupees with great enthusiasm, the kind generally reserved for extolling Prometheus’ gift of fire, the marvel of the wheel, or the delight in watching apes use tools. Tell us, o sage, why any Gen X’er would voluntarily staple, glue, or snap a raccoon hide to his dome without the slightest tinge of hipster irony. It’s less a matter of whether the rodent is half-dead or wounded while it lies atop your skull – sniffing the air while fruitlessly attempting escape – but more an indiscretion of the coif not seen since Phil Spector stuck his licked finger in an electrical socket. Said differently, nothing moves an army of PETA hippies from a cockfight protest to your front stoop faster than a cranial refitting at the taxidermist.

I know what you’re thinking. No one skins a beaver for carpet when they can purchase a synthetic rug, or pave their dome with the real stuff (i.e. a functional weave harvested from the very un-functional fur on one’s ass). But unless you’re attempting coitus in the bathrooms of Atlantic City casino busses, befouling a variety of blue-haired menopausal women who think you’re the second coming of an uber-sexed Tom Jones, anything plugged or stapled to that crown should be shed as quickly as Michael Bolton’s old ponytail. Ranked in the proud company of leisure suits, dickeys, and the Gibb Brothers, the toupee has been passé since the Schlitz-fueled Disco Sucks riots at Comiskey Park. Put simply, the man favoring a faux Blagojevich pelt is the man diddling himself in your supermarket produce aisle. And the man diddling himself is most likely on a sex offender registry somewhere, revving his engine outside schoolyards with a trunk-load of Pez dispensers. To avoid this fate, The Bastard recommends an electric clipper set as an alternative to the child molestation van (the one with the single teardrop window) that you’ll be forced to buy after succumbing to the headstrong fashion sins of 1975.

Of course, toupee amnesty is granted for those at the upper end of the baby boomer spectrum, not to mention the incontinent senior population and those suffering from dementia. If grandpa wants to use the extra Poligrip to fasten a strip of fleece over his head, then he’s climbed enough mountains to have earned that privilege. But you, if you’re watching raccoons scamper across the driveway and thinking “luxuriant wig” instead of “cover the garbage can,” I recommend psychiatric analysis. Or full residency in the casino bus bathroom.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mickey Rourke: He Needed The Money

Although The Bastard is generally averse to hats, it finds one to tip in honor of Mickey Rourke’s acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards. Casting aside the sycophantic mania which oozes along Hollywood Boulevard – that bedazzled plastic strip of stars – Rourke played it direct, truthful, and smooth. That’s “smooth” in an ass grabbing, cattle calling, sideways grinning manner; certainly not in deference to the contours of his face, repeatedly bludgeoned in a destructive boxing comeback then reconstructed by “the wrong guy,” as the performer claims.

Without warning, Rourke emerges from the discount bin as the star to shotgun a beer with; your ideal wingman, the ultimate loose canon, yet amusing enough to keep the seats adjacent to him occupied (assuming he kennels his yapping chihuahuas). In this lowbrow setting, safe from predictable celebrity diatribes on hybrid automobiles, global warming, or the perfection of Venezuela under Chavez, it’d be fascinating to pick the man’s brain over his “Elvis On Acid” mansion, or the 45 minutes spent administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on his late dog, Beau Jack. Yet behind the awesomely bad facial surgery is an actor’s actor free of self-aggrandizement, a man who scraped through the trenches after a quick cup of coffee in the studio machine of the mid-80’s. By dismissing all confetti-strewn movie glamorama, not to mention declining the lead roles in ‘Pulp Fiction,’ ‘Rain Man,’ and ‘The Untouchables,’ Rourke engineered a perfect downward spiral, proving that absolute rejection of any system – whether out of principle or arrogance – is a career death knell. The rough-hewn artist discovers quickly the link between success and compromise. He quickly adapts or he fails magnificently. Rourke chose the latter route, mixing a destructive lifestyle with all the trappings of early fame and disproportionate wealth. Respecting second chances, today we salute Mickey Rourke, not for his acting abilities (or social disabilities), but for being, well, Mickey Rourke; bluffing the last hand in a browbeaten poker game and remarkably winning the pot. And isn’t that sometimes enough?

So thank you, Mickey, for your uncompromising permanence. Cutting aside prissy niceties was your better forte, and we applaud your candid acknowledgement of the motion picture system that’s received you back, Prodigal Son style. Never one to pussyfoot in the politically correct arena, your “thanks for the money” closer is the most refreshing swath of honesty and agnosticism to grace an awards ceremony in years. By now it’s assumed you’ve moved out of that $500 a month shoebox and re-routed your life with a new set of toy dogs and STD-clear prostitutes. In closing, we raise our champagne glass and chug the bottle in admiration, in spite of the bridges you burned, in spite of everything. Somehow, that principled arrogance claimed a rare triumph. And it must feel good. After all, the food orgy in ‘9 ½ Weeks’ was one hell of a long time ago. No matter the future, you’re always welcome here.

 
* * * * *
 
Applause is equally warranted for Rourke’s name-check to Eric Roberts, brother of Julia, and banger of countless women in low-budget direct-to-video atrocities. In all manner of roles, Roberts’ gusto for over-acting and extreme coitus was a magnetizing facet of late night cable during my impressionable undergraduate years. Whether playing vengeful fencers, moronic crooks, or cocky radio DJ’s, the actor's work is punctuated by such commanding machismo that it not only suspends belief, but lends itself to titanic locker room chortles. It also nabs him an official entry in the Urban Dictionary. Namely, as the trite but telling “Eric Roberts Fuck.” And is there a better punctuation of sly masculinity than the checker-playing lothario from the “Mr. Brightside” video? Rhetorical question. Of course not. If Mr. Roberts is trolling your neighborhood, you put your wife under house arrest. Immediately. Don’t be stupid.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Confessions of An Amateur Oenophile

The chrome drip-collar for my wine bottle resembles a cock ring. A nice one, shiny and buffed like the buttons on your First Communion blazer or Donald Duck’s sailor suit. In fact, if you saw this thing laying in my underwear pile, tossed off for reasons unknown, you'd think "love dungeon" long before "Pinot Noir." There, I've said it. Uncomfortable as that sounded I’m not above airing my shortcomings from time to time, spending prostrate moments in the oft-neglected web confessional.


The ring comparison is an odd thought, admittedly, from one who prefers his second brain to hang in natural stasis. Yet the lustrous loop haunts me – its overt sexuality a suffocating presence during dinner parties – imparting visions of reverse cowgirl or downward dog when I should be talking geopolitics or biodiesel solutions with learned friends. Nowadays I just loiter near the appetizer trough, waiting in fear to decant plummy Merlots. And there it is, blazing like the wide eye of God, patiently resting atop its bottle until the moment we two reunite; images of engorgement wrenching my head as if the phallus of Thor were slamming upside my temple. Although I pray my mind wanders toward the label, vintage, or cypress-flanked panoramas of Chianti country, it typically wraps up business in the novelty aisles of Romantic Depot. Chalk up the foible to “Things That Cannot Be Explained Without Lobotomizing The Subject,” much like Tim Geithner’s hard-on for tax evasion, or Joaquin Phoenix’s suicidal forays into hip-hop. And things are not going to get better. How can they get better when the object of my suffering is also identified as a “drip dickey”?

Perhaps this off-color assessment derives from childhood, dredged subconsciously from the countless hours logged in my mother’s basement: a porn producer’s ground zero teeming with ersatz wood paneling and orange sofas; always a few dangerous seconds from the infiltration of zebra-print polyester, strobe lights, and walrus moustaches. One “bow chicka bow-wow” away from a twenty man gangbang during Scooby Doo cartoons.

Or maybe, just maybe, the drip-collar is a cock ring, mistakenly placed by my loving wife after having been swapped for the real thing at our last key party. Despite the Saturday night fevers in this suburban love nest, once guests believe that I’m exploiting sex toys for household usage, any modicum of class will be quashed from our social standing, all tinges of gentility stamped from our repute. I might as well drop my pants, find a lampshade, and party with the Neanderthal drifters in the lot behind the beer distributer. Or hump a fire hydrant. Hell, it might feel good to crush Busch cans against my forehead after polishing off a carton of smokes with itinerant rejects. But shamefully, the man using a cock ring to thwart wine stains on his linens is probably using a vibrator as an electric mixer, or as a defibrillator for the next time grandpa conks out. Vicious cycle, indeed.

But we’re veering down a naughty path, you and I, and this forum prefers to operate within a minimal level of decorum. That in mind, I’ll agree to banish these cerebral notions to an isolated cognizance, if you agree not to gaze quizzically the next time I pass you a pestle or hand-held citrus reamer. Of course, you might see these objects for the Protestant utility their inventors intended, laying innocently against the kitchen butcher block, waiting
to receive garlic cloves and lemons. Mind and gutter faithfully divorced. Then again, we all view the world through a different lens. And you didn’t spend much time in my mother’s basement.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

King of Love

Valentine’s Day was vastly intensified this year, spent noshing at the always dependable Burger King for a fraction of the cost you hemorrhaged on inferior prix fixe and overpriced, wilted roses. And please, save your disdain for the sad sack coming off a three hour S&M session in a prostitute-friendly Econo Lodge, imagining he’s found true love in the delight of a $10 happy ending. I’m secure enough in this marriage. I don’t need the suits at Hallmark dictating agendas for flaunting my sly wit and devastating charm. Not to mention prescribing forced passion via my declining net worth. Besides, the King’s added some novel offerings since radically changing the fry recipe eleven years earlier; steadily rotating mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and pepper jack through the daily menu, themselves ingredients of haute cuisine for the cache of bearded veterans dining contently in neighboring booths.

While you were rooting through edible underwear, navigating the trails of chocolate massage oil, or enduring the hellacious pain of dripped hot wax from your masochistic bitch of a wife, I was tucking into the “Angry Whopper,” cheerful as a schoolboy at recess. Despite the lack of piquant astonishment, I do applaud the inclusion of jalapenos, a ballsy move from a restaurant aimed at serving the masses, not scaring the taste-buds off the God-fearing lower-middle class. And in case you were wondering, my wife – reigning Burger Queen ‘till death do us part – equally enjoyed her double cheeseburger value meal, replete with frypod and medium Coke. No flowery bouquet necessary, although we did renew our vows over a sack of Otis Spunkmeyer cookies. Unlike its golden arched rival, the taste of flame-broiled beef glistening between a sesame roll, coupled with the excitement of having it my way, really deepens the animal attraction toward my meat eating better half. And if Cupid’s arrow can pierce my heart in this fluorescent bat cave of bolted seats, why would I ever pay for underwhelming foie gras at the conceited bistro down the street. I like my thrills cheap, with or without the cheese.

Burger King = Valentine’s Day
Romantic = Valentine’s Day

therefore...
Burger King = Romantic

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Navigating The Badlands of E Street

Tiring of the unabashed praise for Bruce Springsteen, The Bastard takes a more objective view in the below long-form piece.

Face east, if you’re ever down the shore at the southern end of Kingsley Street, between Lake and Cookman Avenues in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Ocean leaning, this marks the 36,000 square foot graveyard of the flattened Palace Amusements. Alongside the ghosts of Ferris wheels and carousels, shrieks of bygone children swirl hauntingly in the drone of crashing tides; venerating an era when fun seekers by the thousands would soar, spin, and fly in this coastal escape, trading domestic banality for cotton candy and ice cream. Now derelict, the site’s lasting relevance is its link to preternatural runner and scrappy Freehold hero Bruce Frederick Springsteen, buried under the boardwalk and picked apart by gulls twenty-six years earlier, piece by piece.

Asbury Park, crumbling seaside resort and gritty music mecca, served as the inspirational canvas for a young E Street Band in the early 1970’s. Still blighted by the racial tension of that age, and victimized by industrial decay and blanketing economic ruin, the city is now enmeshed in a pseudo-rehabilitation; one where faceless luxury apartments abut yawning vacant lots, and the hulking steel skeletons of planned and abandoned projects lord mightily over empty streets. It was here, in this beachfront amalgamation of contradictions, playland of rusted amusement arcades, that the earliest embodiment of the band thrived. Mike Appel – original manager, producer, and master of ceremonies – encouraged the free wheeling spirit and Dylanesque rhyme which colored elegies to boardwalk life both seedy and romantic.

Each member of E Street was showcased powerfully in those days, permitted to excel as an individual force within an organically evolving milieu. In other words, this was no mere backing section told to shut up and support the lead man, but rather a juggernaut of equals, complementing the stream-of-consciousness poetry jammed so tightly into each stanza that it was suffocating. Appreciate the complex phrasing and challenging time changes of the early song canon, demanding more than a passive eavesdrop. This was anything but derivative verse-chorus-verse material, yet not without its flaws. Hacksawed passages coupled with awkward self-indulgence peppered the worn edges. Nonetheless, the sum of all parts remained genuine. It was real. It let the salty air fill your lungs if you took a deep enough breath.

The fables were born from experience, themselves a sagging portrait of the neon city by the sea beckoning fun seekers into its ever-morphing hall of mirrors. And woven in these threadbare tales were the cruelties of chewed dreams and spent chances. Behold the carnival of restless souls: Madame Marie got busted, Mary’s dress swayed, the Fish Lady baited, Wendy wrapped her legs, Jane said goodnight, Magic Rat lost his clout, Spanish Johnny drove in, Rosalita came out. Where the greasers tramped the street, where beneath the city two hearts beat, where Billy slowly dug in his cleats and took Diamond Jackie in the Cadillac seat. We heard the Vibes Man play his deepest blue while Bad Scooter tried like hell to find his groove. Through death traps, suicide raps, turnpike operas and alley ballets. Barefoot boys kissing good night and golden heeled fairies in a real bitch fight. No saints in this city, no nickels, no pity. Just bruised arms, broken rhythm, and beat up old Buicks, and girls dressed like dynamite.

Sadly, the vision which engendered Springsteen’s first album trifecta was quashed in the mid 1970s. A lawsuit waged against Appel cited, among other things, contractual fraud. Of course, each coin has two sides, each argument its biases, but the judicial combat left our singer hardened, cynical, and sick. Enter Jon Landau with a new promise, a revamped vision extending beyond the trappings of familiar hemi-powered drones. Unlike his predecessor, Landau favored a decidedly streamlined approach. A dumbed-down, commercially viable, mainstream sound which would earn Springsteen worldwide acclaim and enormous riches while decimating the collaborative instincts of E Street. Stripped away, record by record, were the lively narratives, vibrant lyricism, and unique instrumental workouts in favor of clichéd generality. Artistic merit was fast eclipsed by rocketing superstardom; a deal with the devil for a comfortable life. And as part of that treaty, a loss of the defining boardwalk localism for a broad-stroked attempt at becoming the red, white, and blue, bandana clad American Highwayman.

Thanks to Landau’s lowest common denominator framework, our hero was hastily transformed, even appending an uncomfortable bible-belt affect to his voice. The consequent sound was syndicated not only for the swamps of Jersey, but for the small towns dotting every prairie crevice of flyover country. Spartan tales of woe became difficult to swallow as Springsteen’s balance sheet ballooned exponentially, blinded by the light of celebrity. He was now a brand, a marketable shill for every independent farmer facing agricultural conglomeration, each Midwestern auto mechanic staring down the barrel of an assembly plant closure, and every long-haul trucker praying for his last load. Hypocrisy at its ugliest. But it didn’t fool me. Not for an instant. I knew Bruce was sick. Mentally debilitated, physically wracked, and emotionally deluded. One wonders if the boys at Billboard caught the ironic adjustment as he burned up their charts. All too suddenly the revamped E Street Band became, to borrow our Asbury allegory, a lavish condo encroaching on the spirited funhouse. And look, I get it. He did it for the money.

You would’ve too.

In late 1982, the real Bruce Springsteen passed away at the age of 33, replaced ad infinitum by The Boss, a howling American icon of small town car washes and Main Street parades, of glitter face paint and flag waving corner stores; a political, controlling egotist with a jarring rockabilly wail. Earlier relevance abandoned, E Street now functions as a tight, rhythmic shell, an affluent troop of session players shuffling blindfolded through the motions – albeit with remarkable versatility – tour after tour after tour.

Admittedly, I bought into The Boss. I still do. He’s shrewd, charismatic, and in fairness has penned enough radio-friendly anthems and introspective slow burners to fill a few shoeboxes. Given the opportunity, this writer would gladly soak in an acclaimed concert. After all, The Boss believes he’s creating his best work. Now. And he makes us want to believe him, peppering his records with integrity in our age of bubble gum pop dreck. If you look hard enough, some semblance of the old magic even exists, it’s just been repackaged with a slicker sheen: less frilly accoutrements, more meat and potatoes. That’s how business works, no hard feelings. Nevertheless, it’s a long way from Thunder Road when you’ve sold out in a back room palm greasing; your very own “meeting across the river,” desperate for fame, elastic with image, but killed in the darkness on the edge of town.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Will Work For Dignity

How does Facebook know that I’m unemployed? Either the website scans our status updates, or the untidy economy persuades every check cashing pawn shop within a whore’s throw of the railroad tracks to splatter low-rent ad drivel like: “I Got FIRED (huge blazing rainbow font), but Thank God there was Google” and “learn how I make over $5,000 part-time at home with Google (magenta Ferrari pictured),” not to mention the sporadic nonsense about unclaimed cash. Obviously, I’ve got nothing against the industrious pothead who alternates money making Google keystrokes with upside-down water bong hits – all in the comfort of his fractal wrapped basement lair at mom’s house – but I’d rather just collect my “unclaimed cash,” thanks. You know, the bankrolls that Barry Obama’s supposed to be distributing to the middle class, personally, at bus shelters, supermarkets, and laundromats. Just look for that magic ice cream truck with the Presidential seal sloppily emblazoned over the Good Humor menu, and “God Bless America” (in MIDI format) blaring eternally from its roof-mounted horn. Utter financial ruin aside, Uncle Sam’s got a wheelbarrow full of bailout bullion, and dammit, the internet guarantees everyone their proper nugget (I’m mounting mine in a pinky ring). After all, accepting a congressional handout beats helping my Nigerian uncle wash a billion dollar inheritance payload through numerous offshore accounts. We never spoke much anyway, my politically exiled, e-mail savvy, black uncle and I.

Perhaps you haven’t had time to initiate that government conversation because you’re financially secure and buried in your conceit – one of the last Great Americans in no danger of losing your income, medical plan, or retirement benefits – strutting boulevards like a peacock with your ball bag swinging in the breeze while flipping the bird to every dole faced briefcase-toter. Well, zip up your pants before we all go blind. Have a little class and a touch of empathy. When this refrigerator runs dry, I’m trucking down to my church food bank for the weekly ration of Ramen noodles. And yeah, that’s me grazing uncomfortably at the prix fixe Sizzler salad bar with community drug dealers and blue collar heroes. Everybody alright with that? Good.

Anyhow, if Facebook truly scans content for ad placement, then I’m days away from banners touting lice treatment, disorderly bowels, and crack addiction. Careful readers may note related marketing on this blog's very sidebar, happily hawking bathrobe discounters (for the man of leisure and the man of porn) and debt consolidators. Avoiding the latter is my chief concern, so this chapter ends on a desperate note: offering sexual favors at job fairs and sleeping with recruiters for prime leads. Damaged, but not broken. Determined, but not decimated. Remember, it wasn’t long ago that my brains fit snuggly between my ears and loose change wasn’t clattering hollowly inside my head. I set my alarm and showered daily. In fact, I was just like you. Once upon a time a world away. Put differently, “I Got FIRED, but Thank God there was crack in my cookie jar.” And hey, brother, do you have an extra c-note that I can snort this junk through? Stop smiling, I know you do.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Earth To Aliens: Where Is Steve Perry?

Can the extra-terrestrials who snatched Steve Perry from our planet, please return him to the Journey microphone? No one steered mulletted devotees toward truck-stop euphoria quite like that prancing fool. No one. So it’s anybody’s guess why the NASCAR militias haven’t threatened intergalactic reconnaissance. That said, while our beloved Portuguese son now hangs by the ankles in a cryogenic chamber, a succession of open-chested burnouts keep the Bay Area chicken rock rolling faithfully along. Hipsters be damned, Journey still dispenses overproduced kitsch as reliably as the milkman leaves quarts for grandma, the UPS guy tags your wife, and your semi-retarded friend (who never split town) offers you rides to the mall. Given that moustached meat eaters and their spawn continue ejaculating to “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”at fist pumping decibel levels, IROC-Z’s will forever roar in tribute to the 28th best-selling band. And the rest of us, well, we’ll remain mired in our daily routines, living just to find emotion.

Nonetheless, for intelligent aliens, nothing says “sloppy work” like beaming Steve’s larynx into a shaggy-haired Filipino at the NFL Super Bowl Tailgate Party. Envision the chaos of “ERROR! ERROR!” echoing throughout the spaceship command center, warning sirens ablare as E.T.’s kinfolk hurriedly yank levers and bang flashing buttons; a vexing dread hanging over their antennae. Meanwhile, our Philippine hero – trademark tenor perfected – vamps it up for thousands of city boys and small town girls, never aware of how narrowly he escaped laser incineration.

And please (deep sigh), let’s not have the racial conversation today. Let’s just not go there; it’s too pedestrian for the high-minded types perusing this treasure trove of influence. Everyone knows I love Asian people. Positively love the bastards. Believe me, I’d never let a white man within fifty feet of the engine assembly for my automobile, and I damn well wouldn’t trust a horde of Caucasians to manufacture my audiophile gear, serve me a plate of runny Chow Mein, or remove embarrassing stains from my dry cleaning. Entire dissertations could be penned on the marvels of nail salons, massage parlors, and bukkake, if only I wasn’t preoccupied writing this nonsense. Hell, General Tso even gets the occasional dinner nod in my outdated kitchen, assuming his soldierly place at what always feels like The Last Supper once greasy indigestion roils the innards.

Yet Steve Perry continues to rot in a hellish vortex. Joking aside, if anyone has the customer service number for NASA, or better yet, Stephen Hawking’s cell, now would mark an opportune time for disclosure. With Hawking’s comprehension of the space-time continuum and black holes (not to mention his thoroughly awesome DECTalk DTC01 voice synthesizer which would give Frampton and Sambora wet dreams for decades), he’s the reigning scientific colossus among mere mortals. Doc Brown excluded, I wouldn’t trust anyone else to manage Perry’s interstellar rescue and atmospheric re-entry in a DeLorean DMC-12 – flux capacitor in tow, Mr. Fusion in trunk – careening into the last Fotomat on earth. Because frankly, Steve, it’d be good to have you back. Lovin’ a music man ain’t always what it’s supposed to be. But I’m holding onto the feeling with the rest of the streetlight people.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Return of Licehead

What is it about advertising one’s status on Facebook that elicits the most hackneyed minutiae, drooling from the minds of dunderheads and intelligentsia alike? Somehow the empowering web – once robust tool of educators and military men – has made armchair idiots of us all. Nothing short of a week-long stint in the orgasmatron could presumably trump the joys we hype like, say, “cooking rice” or “watching a slasher flick,” emblazoned in proud bold text on our profile pages. With varying degree, many friends (ahem, acquaintances) slumming in the social network ghetto have felt compelled to tout the banalities of shopping, vacation, neighborhood voyeurism, or whatever; reduced to a class of special needs children struggling with the details of a "getting to know me" introduction.

Approaching this in my congenial manner, I quickly flirted with the shameless MVD Is… “dealing with a terrible pornography addiction,” before mulling over the slightly more muted and relatively concise “smoking crack.” Better sense taking hold – visualizing a potential DEA raid or a Christian fundamentalist torching of this love den – my end result was the comparatively innocuous: “contemplating a shower and full delousing.” Within minutes, several contacts believed (a) I’d been hanging with the dregs of society while rubbing against feral animals and emptying flea traps over my head, and (b) I am somehow proud to have insects living and breeding in my hair as a result of some very poor decisions. If the rumors are even half true about employers scanning the internet for drunken (or naked or breast feeding) photos and imprudent postings, I’m going to have one hell of a time re-entering the working class tagged as some reckless untrustworthy licebag.

And suddenly I’m that child ruthlessly yanked out of class by the school nurse, immediately following the dreaded popsicle-stick hair test. Seconds later, I’ve assumed my seat of shame next to the kid with the stinky locker (the one that reeks like fromage), the chess club (all of ‘em), and the immigrant from some God forsaken backwater who buys his friends with pesos. Yup, this is fantastic company, stewing at that last cafeteria table with a select handful of serial masturbators, and just waiting to get my ass kicked and lunch stolen, again and again and again. Groundhog Day ad infinitum. Good thing I can hold my own in chess.

Even if I did have lice, why the cold shoulder? Would you detest me if I had to soak my head in bleach for four hours a day and burn my clothing, or set ablaze my overpriced home – my pride and joy, shelter to my family for which I slaved mercilessly in the trenches to marginally afford – in the wake of its newfound uninsurable status? What if my wife made me sleep in the car for months? It’s only a coupe. And bad hygiene aside, this isn’t a societal gaffe in the magnitude of Ozzy Osbourne’s crazy train diet of birds, or worse, Kim Thayil’s predisposition to feast on children. Lice happens. Truth be told, I did find my entire online exchange rather humorous until a buddy’s wife reminded me, and might I say quite sternly and publically, that I was “in her car” and “around her children” very recently, thus demanding an immediate admission of infestation, hat in hand. In other words, she was no more than seconds away from trucking over to the 24 hour Costco for a six-pack of RID shampoo. Unbeknownst to them, bathtime for those kids was about to take a dire turn into uncharted waters. And as much as I’d love to keep stirring the pot, to hold that joke in my back pocket for another day, I do like her husband and would hate to hear that he’d been forcibly shorn of all hair. All hair. You see where we’re going with this. Not good. So I came clean.

Oh, and the “soul patch” I’ve grown does not automatically = gay porn, as another poster so broodingly opined. Once again, Facebook exacts its revenge on the innocent. Just so we understand each other completely, if you happen to catch me on your DVR in those less noble of circumstances, (a) please don’t post to YouTube (recall I’m still searching for employment), and (b) stop recording gay porn. Immediately. After all, I most likely know your spouse. Ya damn filthy pervert.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Bronx Tale

Walk with me into the urban jungle. Watch the refuge of leafy Pelham Parkway fall quickly away as we soak in the angular vistas of Williamsbridge Road, scenery chewed by a topography of utilitarian brick and concrete; where the strict lattice of pavement-choked blocks spoils the asylum of absent parks, and trees seldom rupture the swelling asphalt sea. Ungiving brown storefronts and banks and bodegas blend dispassionately into the ubiquitous haze. Sepia glazes the hard lines of body shops and service stations, exhaling their angry oily fumes, while side streets languish in a starving artist’s palette of washed dull grays. Follow me down Haight Avenue, ascending an insufferable staircase to an iron-ringed slab of scorched cement. It functions, barely, as an observation platform from which to marinate in the stewed tang of the sewer and trash bins and apartment cooking. Cough as you may, even on this heightened perch one can never clear the city from the lungs or its cynicism from the throat. Above us the metal forest of rooftop antennas skewer skyward the basin of humid air – themselves the spiky bards of a pre-cable citizenry left behind – and further away the hulking masses of water towers, all gun-metal black, form a watchful clogging ring around the neighborhood sweatbox; a panoramic blockade from what vibrancy exists, if at all, beyond the leathery streets of Morris Park.

We begin and end here. From whence we came is unimportant. Witness the misuse of three years in this stinking hovel, where a helmet-headed friend lay stagnant within its faux wood paneling as the Bronx burned and made mincemeat of his New England pedigree. Before law school. Before anything. Enter the masturbatorium of exhausted ambition, of $25,000 civil servant salaries and cheap pasta dinners, of adolescent black light posters hung clumsily in the hall, themselves the detritus of bygone lodgers. Admire the rusting refrigerator, landmark and icon both, meeting place of half-baked ideas and pressure cooker for asinine schemes. Respect the outmoded kitchen where grandma filled oil drums full of sauce before ratcheting into senility, now an improvised court for indoor beer pong and its distillery stench. Shield your eyes from the blazing mosquito light, crassly revealing the cigarette smoke which rolls thick in the air, burrows in clothing, and rubs grimy into pores cultivating ugly acne. Obey Leatherneck – breaker of backs, human truck, avenue juggernaut and landlord – who was never above dispensing a proper throttling or, for conduct unbecoming of a tenant, a punishing yet deserved sodomization behind drawn dusty blinds. Of that, we must not speak further. Avoid eye contact as he lumbers obtrusively from inner stairways, damning any consolations of privacy with his gigantic pulsing neck and military fatigues, endlessly ferreting through a back rumpus room bursting with transistor radios, toolboxes and the worrying risk of decayed corpses. There will come a time, not today, when he will surely kill us both.

What kind of loathsome reformatory, so polluting to the mind, breeds furniture demolition as a recreational pastime? When does spearing chairs through entertainment centers, smashing cabinets full of flatware, or maniacally ramming tables through walls become encouraged so easily, or attributed so nonchalantly to tequila and loud John Mellencamp? The insane toothy grin, the drunken sweaty brow, the simian roar, the crash of wood against metal as table legs joust wildly through the air, all dead ringers for the man in a low income holding pattern, the hip-hop jackass with no regard for his gear. How could the wreckage of the morning after be regarded with such hilarity? Pointed questions all, yet answered in the corrosive hodgepodge of two parts collegiate invincibility and one part disposable cash, a healthy dollop of accessible malt liquor and a ghetto blaster. Mix and blend.

Understand that I have no history here. No roots to lay claim. I was an occasional tourist with years to burn; an active accomplice with an hourglass of time. Only when I stopped meandering did I finally push beyond, leaving sloth to murder those who remained. And the world moved forward at dizzying speed, away from the street grids and potholes, the clotheslines and antennas, Mother Mary bathtubs and plastic window canopies, chain-link fences and weed riddled stoops. Outside, at last. Allured by opportunity the story plays out as expected, as it always does in sunny suburban landscapes and quaint walking villages. Within later chapters thrive successes familiar: mental reparation, love chosen, career flourished, and rewards generously reaped, each awash in rich reds and golds, deep blues, and bright yellows. Were I to lose myself here, again – shoehorned amid the Grand Concourse and Pelham Bay in the gray space linking adolescence to adulthood – it would serve as a poignant testament to the virility of youth and the transience of days. But more importantly, perhaps, as a lost chance to toe the divide between what society has expected of us and what we hope to become. To concede or release. To walk or to fly. And for this I sometimes mourn.