Monday, January 9, 2017

Day-Drinking and Shower Beers

Purchasing beer at 11am on a workday can easily be seen as an obvious sign of functioning alcoholism. But I'm fortunate enough to work with a bunch of wily unwashed rascals who like myself aren't interested in such self critical introspection.
Damn sure not in the middle of a Sunday lunch rush anyhow.

Slinging sandwiches, Gatorade, and iced tea to the hungover unshackled beasts of Chicago was nothing glamorous, but it was an honest trade. At least there was that. I walked down the line of fellow slingers distributing a can to each of them. I didn't bother to ask if anyone wanted a beer. I've never been a fan of redundancy. There's something inherently sweet about cracking open a can. Something all the sweeter cracking it open before noon.

It was a killer crew for a Sunday. There must be a special kind of crazy that brings people such as these together. While none of us exactly make sense- we acknowledge and accept the chaos in each other. There was Stevie-Shirt-Sleeve who was jacked to 11 about the release of the new Stereo-Noggin album. In an act of unbridled generosity, he refrained from playing it until I'd left for the day. KC Mary, a beautiful young musician from midwestern parts unknown. She was a 10-Time Cow Tipping State Champion, but claimed to have lost her passion for the sport. Samuri Kahn, an albino ninja renegade whose dwarfing height and gentle spirit have saved him from more bloodshed than his skill with the blade. The Metal Pedal Kid and Papa Billy Goatee- two brothers from Mexico who had to flee across the border when their 2-car garage meth operation attracted unwanted attention from local authorities. Nobody made a better tray of banana chocolate chip cookies. And of course Birdie McSuds, an Irish dishwashing queen who drank her scotch cut with vodka and liked her 90s jams cranked as high as the speakers would allow. It's a Wild Bunch to be sure, but I like to think we look out for each other. It wasn't 30 minutes later Stevie-Shirt-Sleeve stepped out to grab another cold-6 for the crew. He was sure to pop one for me without question or comment. A classy fuckin move if I do say so myself.

This is how day-drunk happens.

Few luxuries are as relaxing as enjoying a cold beer while taking a hot shower. I learned this 11 years ago and still continue the practice to this day. In all that time I've never dropped a bottle, knocked one off the shelf, or let it slip out of my fingers. Stands to reason I was long overdue. I saw the bottle drop just in time to smoothly exit the shower, stepping to the right and over the side of the tub negotiating the shower curtain without slipping or stumbling- this all occured in a fraction of a second. The half sigh of relief was cut by the sound of the beer bottle shattering in the empty tub and scattering bits of brown glass all over as the water continued to run. I hadn't even had time to soap up and immediately began toweling off thinking how much worse this could have been. I knew I had to clean this up, AND I knew I had to do it before my girlfriend woke up from her nap.

This was a college style dumbass white-boy-wasted move right here.

She hadn't woken up (THANK FUCK) she can sleep through anything- but she COULD still wake up and walk in any minute to find me naked, half soaked, sweeping shards of glass into a neat pile in the middle of the tub. While I needed to avoid this at all costs- I still went to the fridge, opened another beer and took a long pull before I began any cleaning. I reasoned that if I didn't immediately do this before cleaning up the would mean that the shower had won. The whole stupid embarrassing mess had taken about 10 minutes but was still a lousy interruption into a pleasant afternoon drunk.

After what did end up being a very relaxing shower, I remembered that it was Mother's Day and I should give Mom a ring. Nobody personified high functioning alcoholism quite like my mother, and if anyone would get a giggle out of the story- it'd be her. The one lesson I suppose I took away from the ordeal was that it may be time to switch to cans. -JN

Friday, January 2, 2015

Planes, Trains, and Ho-Hum Holidays

I had convinced myself that if I stared at my inbox long enough, something pertinent to my current project would appear and I'd have some work to do. Or at least get an answer to any of the dozen or so emails I sent the week before Christmas. No luck. Not much to do. Nowhere to go. The guy two seats down from me has the right idea. He's playing Tic-Tac-Toe on the window with a dry erase marker. All I have is this stupid notebook and this stupid brain. Amtrak #4 from Kansas City to Chicago is currently stopped on the tracks so a freight train can pass us. The conductor over the intercom tells us it's for safety concerns, but I was given the straight dope from Cafe Car Steve who was kind enough to give me a free refill on my coffee. Against Amtrak policy but I suppose at his age it feels good to break a rule once in a while. According to Steve, the real reason we were waiting for the freight train to pass is that Amtrak recently lost the right of way on all US railroad tracks courtesy of them shit-kickers in Congress proving once again they care more for the welfare of the wealthy than the needs of their citizens. The freight trains have schedules to keep for companies run by men with more money than God. Now that the law is officially on their side- they always get the right of way.

A slight adjust of my left eyebrow does nothing to change the number of new unread emails stored for safekeeping in my inbox. It still reads a mocking eleven. I keep certain emails marked as unread to keep them fresh in my mind each time I sign in. Or sign on. Whatever. Fuck. The inbox unread number has been stuck on eleven since two days before Christmas. More than anything in this moment I want a reply, a job, a piece of something I can tangibly DO, but no luck. No work. No answers. Nothing but Amtrak #4 piddling along taking me far, far away from quaint rural Missouri. Now the guy two seats down is playing Hangman. I need to pick up some dry erase markers. I always take the train unless there's no other realistic option. The extra time is more than tolerable when you consider everything that goes with it. A rolling countryside, room to stretch out, freedom of movement, and a complete lack of the obnoxious farce that is airport security. There's another pleasant amenity that goes with train travel: the people. I have met more pleasant, chatty, warm people riding trains in the last few years than I thought existed in the world.

I met a woman this morning who was pushing seventy and had never been on a train. A few hours into the journey she was looking back over her seat with the smile of a six year old spread across her face. Her eyes were darting from the window to the train interior and then back again all the while bouncing and bubbling all over with glee. She assured me she wouldn't be flying ever again. During a three hour layover I met the most jovial junkie ever to grace the St. Louis Union Station. Chuck had baggy prison issue civies, overly longish fingernails, and a sporty neck tattoo. A kraken, I believe. He was fresh off a fifty day stretch with the Missouri State DOC and was grateful for the extra can of Coke I happened to have on me. Almost as grateful as he was for the extra cookies he was slipped by the guards upon his release. His first trip to The Show-Me State had not gone as planned.

"I came here on vacation, and left on probation!"

He told me he was eager to make his way back to Texas where he assured me there was an oil rig job waiting for him. At that moment however, he was waiting on a bus to get him home to Council Bluffs so he could see his kids for Christmas.

Tis the season.

There was a profound air of absence at my home this year. This was our first family Christmas since my grandfather died. He'd been mentally checked out for the last couple years, but his physical presence was still missed. This was also my family's first Christmas since my younger brother moved to the second coast. It's almost a full year gone now since the charming little bastard left KC for the sunny shores of Hell A. I knew this visit wouldn't be the same without him. Warts and all, that kid is really the lifeblood of the season. The heart and soul of the holiday. Nobody bothered to mention at dinner just how quiet and tired everything seemed without him. Not sad, exactly. Not quite somber, but the vacancy was most certainly felt and most definitely unwelcome.

Now the guy two seats down is swapping pirate jokes. This man knows how to travel.

My brother wasn't there in his PJ pants and Santa hat sipping whiskey at 10am, passing the bottle to whomever made eye contact. He wasn't there to ensure we would keep with tradition and watch our usual marathon of favorite Christmas movies. He wasn't there to whip up his world famous hot chocolate which was sneakily spiked to perfection. It was this very same hot chocolate that caused an entire 2nd grade class of Christmas carolers to projectile vomit into the baptizing tub at Grace Baptist's now famous 1997 Hurling Christmas pageant. Maybe next year I should find a way to steal him back from the City of Angels. Without that kid around I may have to boycott Christmas altogether. It's just not the same without him.

My last experience in flight was actually only a few short weeks ago winging out west to visit him in his new home. The time spent wasn't so bad as any other time I found myself stuck in a situation where a train just wouldn't do. I was a bit unnerved to find the New American Airlines is taking over the industry. Be on the lookout for a dastardly monopoly which will have American Airline executives rubbing their nipples for years to come. I wasn't fondled much beyond reason and with little to-do got on my plane without incident. Once there, I found myself surrounded by teenagers.

Just breathe now.

The boys were bros in training who created confusion by switching seats and feigning ignorance when other passengers had to relocate last minute. The flight attendants were not amused, but clearly didn't want to argue so long as everyone just sat the fuck down. The girls were kind but constantly spoke with an upward inflection as if every sentence ended with a question mark. These people actually exist. Skylar (Girl #1) had never been west of the Kansas state line and was sweating bullets as we left the tarmac. Marla (Girl #2) had only ever been in a plane once before but held up like a champ and after a little polite conversation told me I should be a teacher. Damn fine compliment. The good-natured friendliness from these two mostly made up for the overall impatient complaining from their group. They grew quiet and more determined after asking about my religion and finding it difficult to place me into any of their indoctrinated concepts of theology. Mission kids. It all made sense. Jetting all over the world, spreading the gospel to poor unfortunate souls who never asked to hear it. The next hour and a half was a mile-a-minute, super-duper-friendly, just-cause-we-care-so-damn-much-about-your-soul testimony in a not so subtle attempt to not convert, they said. Just consider other options. A higher power, they said. Because we're not talking about religion, we're talking about spirituality.

Peace at last sipping Tullamore Dew at the Phoenix airport bar. Until the next delight. I've never quite reconciled myself with this obsession sweeping the nation over healthy living. Avoiding drink, avoiding drugs, watching what you eat. It simply doesn't agree with me. I get more mileage out of misery than merriment. Smoke and drink and junk food are a kind of 3-fold sweet slow systematic suicide. A pleasant reassurance that I won't live much past seventy. I want to slowly chip away at this cruel frame to ensure it simply crumbles when the pressure grows too great. Once you've been stuffed into a home your facilities have waned to the point that a legitimate act of suicide becomes all but impossible. This way, I continue my life in the hazy sleepwalking coma to which I've grown accustomed, and when the heart palpitations and liver failure start to get the best of me, I can simply amp up the Novocaine and slip away into blessed nothingness. What is this outrageous infatuation everyone seems to have with life? New life. Old life. Most people can't get enough. It's not that I've had my fill just yet, but I have most certainly had enough to know that I can do without the second childish years. Sans hair, sans eyes, sans teeth. And the rest. The world is enough to bear with all my bits and pieces in working order. Once I've lost that- I'm not sure I'll find much reason to stick around. Does anybody? That's a real question. Is there some bit of insight or great epiphany that hits in the overly-ripe twilight years convincing people of the virtue in hanging on? Is it custom, fear, a sentimental sense of duty that allows for this humble release letting fate turn the final screw?

Not a question likely to be answered anytime soon. You have to buy the ticket to take that ride. And I haven't earned my seat yet. My time in LA was quite lovely for the most part. There were Green Doctors selling marijuana cards at a very reasonable thirty bucks a pop, food trucks with every kind of food imaginable from South American to Central American, and the ever-growing laundry list of freaks roaming up and down the Venice Beach boardwalk. That evening we stood and watched the sunset, a deep yellow terribly bright fading into a glowing orange sinking bit by bit into the deep blue Pacific with a blood red signature sliver, its final kiss goodnight disappearing until tomorrow or forever depending on the next fourteen hours and what they had in store. My cynicism severely dented. My heart overfull and bursting. My stress and concern and anxiety melted away. Feeling a bit the fifth wheel, stuck standing between two couples longing for the touch and taste and smell of my sweetheart. The one who could take my love, absorb it, drain it, and give relief. We would have plenty of sunsets, I promised myself. In the midst of all this beauty, there was a dull ache. I wanted a partner to share it with. I wanted to feel her chest expand and release against mine. I wanted to wrap my arms around and hold her too damn close.

But of course that would have to wait for another night. I made it home safe from the west coast and there she was to meet me at O'Hare with a sign, an Irish coffee, and that HOT-DAMN dress of hers. I put on a tie, took her to dinner, and lucky me- the magic continues. Amtrak #4 finally got back on track, finally pulled into Chicago Union Station and had me home again where things make sense. Where things are loud, fast, crowded and filthy. Where food is actual food and available anytime. The EL will have me home in another few stops and after some ass-clown errands I'll be holding her again. Lucky me. Lucky us. Slowly learning that sometimes, whether or not you feel you deserve it- good things can happen. And if you're smart, you'll quit brooding over the why and wherefore, take a deep breath and enjoy it. -JN

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Can We At Least Pretend To Be Civilized?

Can we at least pretend to be civilized?

Can we at least put in the piss-ant minimal self-involved effort required to fake it the way they used to when it was still legal to beat your wife and hang black men?

Can we make believe for a few moments that such a thing as class, decency, pride, and a mature sense of self-worth isn't just a long ago forgotten anachronism in our loud obnoxious society too crammed and clogged with snap chats, instagrams, iphones, and fleeting spectacle?

See, when you made that tasteless joke objectifying a fellow human being you brought shame to yourself and our entire gender. It was my own personal failure that I didn't tell you this. It was easier to up the ante and make an even less tasteful jab of my own degrading both myself and another innocent not present to slap my guilty mouth for allowing such ignorant filth to spill from it in the first place. I tried to tell myself that you're from a different generation. That you meant well. You're just socially stilted and terribly lonely and so desperate for control and comradery that you're perfectly willing (it would seem) to make an unabashed misogynistic ass of yourself.

When you asked to see nude photos of my girlfriend whom I dearly love body and soul, I suddenly found I could no longer stomach your insipid presence and that vacating my home for the night was the only option outside of stabbing you to death with your son's largest Ginsu kitchen knife. The mess would have been unspeakable. Not to mention the smell.

I didn't commit this murder. Because I can pretend. I can feign civility because I was raised to do so by people who were interested enough to put some effort into the job. Because the ever-loving definition of the word, formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech used to be an essential part of the upbringing for every little boy and girl. Before the days of MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter- the three headed hound guarding the gates to Planet Fuck-Me. A monster has been unleashed growing larger by the day. Be on the look out for those with regular broadband connection creating their own personal alter, a kind of shrine to themselves. They won't beg for your blood or devotion, they won't even demand it, they'll simply sit back and expect it. And when your tribute isn't received, be prepared for their wrath.

This publicly sanctioned narcissism, this socially supported wave. A kind of shitnami comprised of equal parts ignorance, passion, and entitlement that has engulfed each subsequent generation more deeply and fully than the one that came before soaking their feeds with loud, shameless, asinine garbage about religion, politics, sports, real TV, reality TV, TV news, the environment, human rights, and other meaningless drivel.

These neophytes masquerading as Gods to be worshiped have found a consequence free playground in the internet spreading gossip, filth, and self-serving bullshit twenty-four/seven until the invisible intangible bombast is jammed twenty feet thick separating, insulating us all with so much marshmallow-like foam rubber forbidding us from seeing the person inside the shrine. This lack of connection and sense of self-importance leads them to more easily label, more efficiently objectify. Consumerism and decadence do a devilish cha-cha as they point and click their way to some kind of deluded sense of fulfillment. Misogyny joins in with a caustic lack of concern for consequences and the dance continues spilling into our discourse and our lives infecting people everywhere with the notion that the mainline unfiltered them is the best version to present to the world.

It's a helluva lot easier than considering the feelings of others or the repercussions of my actions. And I must be great- I've got nearly fourteen hundred friends and over three thousand followers...

And buy and large this is normal. That's why I'm asking, can we at least pretend to be civilized? We don't have to be civilized. Humanity has never been civilized. Not when they were hurling their own shit at each other and painting on walls, not when they waged war with sticks and clubs over much-desired piles of dirt, not when they systematically enslaved fill in the blank race of people, not when they systematically exterminated another, not when they split the atom, or journeyed into space, or wrote Hamlet or even the Constitution. Humanity has never been civilized. But we used to at least pretend. -JN

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mad Scribbling on a Mad Tuesday

is not about the pulse and fingertips and ooo-yes-my-God that's so nice and everything flowing, connecting, melting together and all over each other.
is not to jolt as one touch excites the nerve endings somehow miraculously connected on the other side of the body and neglected for far too long and oh-so-thirsty for more.
is not to feel that hair as it winds once, twice, oh-so-nice and pull!
is not to see that spark in her eye as she hungers and grins and pushes and pulls and lunges and fights and gives and yes, yes, yes!
is waves and hums and rushes all over and through.
is a slight chill and the tingles all over like something fell asleep and infected everything else with a heavy heavy weight.
is for calm.
is for relaxation.
And introspection.
And planning.
And people watching.
It's all so trite and derivative
so trite and derivative
so trite and derivative
and I'm such a bad speller and
so trite and derivative
because we couldn't stand it if every day was like this. 
To be on this raw nerve, to live and exist in this place and time. 
Because it holds you full and intense as all fuck and BAM!
Such courage and chaos igniting everywhere you look and life always continuous. 
Transcending shape and form and pattern and purpose. 
Rendering definition pointless because it's not about words.
It never was.

In my first self-defense class, I was taught by The Colonel that grabbing the body part of another is a commitment. It means taking responsibility for whatever that body part does while you're holding it. Like mounting a mad bull or bucking bronco. Sometimes holding on for dear life becomes to only option left as well as the worst choice you ever made. Thoughts and words can be like that. Follow an idea too closely, grip it too tightly and you'll find yourself tumbling down, down, down a deep well leading to some very scary places leaving spilled ink and soiled notebook pages in your wake. The trip wasn't something that took much planning. Just time. The bright sunny breezy day was an added bonus. Stevie Ray Schwinn provided as good
a product as I could have hoped for which sat in a bag on my desk for the better part of a fortnight before I did anything with it. In the past, I've mixed mushrooms with noodles, pizza, or even something as unadorned as a slice of bread with peanut butter slapped on it and folded in half. On this particular Tuesday afternoon I simply ate them. Chewing them roughly and awkwardly as if just pulled from the ground in a forest somewhere. Treating them like the rotten fungus they were, keeping them off my tongue as much as possible and chasing with plenty of water and a chocolate chip cookie. This helped me get them down much easier. I only gagged once. I hadn't really eaten much that day so they kicked in much faster and stronger than expected. Much faster. I thought I'd have time to drop by the comic shop for a new book and the ice cream shop next door for a small cone before the world turned upside down. The tremors had already begun as I left the comic shop taking one smooth step after another, but ice cream became an impossible endeavor very quickly. The place was packed wall to wall with screaming children. I was most certainly not prepared to handle so many of them and so much of their noise with a belly full of psilocybin. I'm not sure how to describe the terror that comes at the realization of being so drastically outnumbered by these creepy crawly
fragile creatures known as kids. And they know. Believe me, they know. Get that many of them together in one large room and all bets are off. Your age and experience become kryptonite. Arsenic. You can't hear yourself think, let alone speak. As I frantically attempted to formulate a game plan I witnessed perfectly sober adults dotted throughout the store on the verge of collapse. One gentleman was simply banging his head repeatedly into a table. No one noticed the small pool of blood as it was building right next to his daughter's melted container of Rockin Raspberry. Another couple near the back were shoving a loaded pistol in and out of each other's hands arguing over who got to die first. I decided I didn't need an ice cream cone after all and told the charming young lady behind the counter I just wanted a bottle of water. She was kind enough to let me pay with my card and I vacated the premises as quickly and calmly as humanly possible.

I decided to take myself to the beach to sit and watch whatever there was to see. The walk to the lake held with it a strange tingle and chill throughout my body and a stiff fractured relationship with my jaw. As if I had fastened someone else's throat and mouth onto my skull and was trying to wear them in like a new pair of jeans. It was important to keep moving. Spitting through a crooked grin every few steps and stopping occasionally to marvel at the clouds and trees and sky and their strange new kaleidoscopic quality. The sand and water held similar new abilities. Swirling and sliding in a kind of ebb and flow which I quickly deduced were the unmistakable inhales and exhales of the planet. I can't remember a time in my life when I've been so content to simply sit and feel myself awash in a sea of life. It was in the air, on the tip of each blade of grass, in the concrete benches. Beautifully simple. Simply beautiful.

And you brought an apple thinking you might be hungry.
And you brought some books thinking you might be bored.
Forgetting you strapped in for a ride.
Forgetting, thinking with your sober foolish planning ahead mind
That you might actually have attention for anything beyond the
Vibrancy and
People and
Life all around you.
The distractions are oh-so-needed for
Most of us
Most all of the time.
Most of us
Who are never really looking.
And it's all so
And all so
And all so
And all swimming together in a big big stew. All the
Money Grubbing
Hate and
Politics and
Power Plays and
Corporate Sponsorship and
Shit-Shit-Shit and
Fuck-Fuck-Fuck and
All of it all together around and around again and again in the same vat with all the
Love and
Simplicity and
Appreciation and
Music and
Poetry and
Time and
Around and around
Again and again.
It will always continue.
That's all you can really count on.
That's all it does.

After a couple hours of intense unfocused high speed rapid fire thought coupled with a massive vibrating body high and the most gentle swimmy melty visuals I've enjoyed in a good long while, I felt it was time to be moving along. This beach was played out. I had also somehow managed to acquire a new sunburn on my calves. Which made no sense considering I'd been sitting the whole time. At any rate, the next step for the day (whatever that was) awaited and it was time to get a move on. The peak had come and gone and couldn't have happened in a more scenic or pleasing setting. Upon arriving home, it became very important to empty the trash. Not sure why, but it seemed the thing to do. I lined each empty can up in the main room after hauling all the garbage out to the dumpsters in our alley. There were five of them. Five empty trash bins lined up perfectly for two men in a two bedroom apartment. Hell, it's really six if you count the waste basket over by the computer desk. Was this excessive? Were we part of the problem? Doing a disservice to future generations ever hastening the demise of our Earth Mother? As I wrestled with this new frightening thought I noticed the posters on the walls to be swelling and pulsating as much as ever and my new-found guilt over these trashcans to be god-damn fascinating. So, maybe the trip wasn't quite over. But we'd most definitely descended and plateaued. Nothing scary or unexpected around the corner. From here on out things would calmly settle into a nice cozy Tuesday evening.

Relishing in a sensation becomes as easy as focusing one's attention.

But I wasn't ready for calm. I found myself staring intently at the posters and murals melting into themselves only moments ago trying so hard to see it again. To bring back the kaleido-vision with the sheer force of my will. I began watching the most vial porn in my spank bank with double shots of Makers from the bottle and deep dragon bowl hits for chasers. Fighting to get myself as amped, primed, and gassed as I was only two hours ago. Reveling in meaningless selfish decadence as the transcended euphoric raw nerve hyper reality waved mockingly in my general direction. It had become a fading memory. A distant mountain top. Once peaked, though never processed. This happens to me every time. Never with acid, but always with shrooms. It isn't pleasant having to accept that you were simply a visitor to the summit. As an imperfect creature, you can't live there. As an imperfect creature, you won't be returning for some time. And as the journey back down is a psychological crusher, you will grab for any imperfect support available. Junk food is medicine. Booze is medicine. Reading, writing, weed- all medicine. Comic books are fucking medicine. Porn is medicine.

The worst porn.
The most unforgiving
cock slapping
double penetration
lousy boob job
bad dye job
anal intruding
flicks and pics you can handle.
But it's no use.
Band-aid for a bullet wound.

You don't get to the summit twice in one day. But boy, do you try. You jerk and you lube and you pump and you spit and you stroke with all your might. And right when you finally come into your workout T-shirt from that morning, you feel your eyes rolling back and catch yourself thinking how that was maybe one tenth of what it felt like to stand on that mountain. Where everything was racing with life and color and possibilities and pleasantness and the overwhelming presence of greater forces working all around you all the time. Forces that didn't wait for your permission. Forces you'd do well to surrender to. Feeling in your blood and bones that need for release. Realizing that fighting the rhythm of the world is indeed a foolish fleeting struggle. Knowing deep down where words had no value that releasing control was a perfectly natural thing to do. And it would never stop you from being alive. This kind of trust only comes to the enlightened. Never to the sober.

The evening took a left turn at that point when Alberto, a friend and neighbor started screaming from the street below. Apparently his old lady had kicked him out again. Something about holding a backyard wrestling tournament in the living room. He seemed quite troubled and I didn't want to press him for details. We spent the remainder of the evening swapping war stories from the good old days over brandy, cigars, and pizza delivery. -JN 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Twenty-Seven Months...A New Fiddle-Playing Friend

It was three years ago. I'd had enough and the fates had conspired and so I loaded my life (or what would fit) into a van and hauled ass out of town for good. I'd split the cost of the van with my parents about seven years before and had never once regretted the purchase. This van had seen a lot. Every major move, my first deliberate hot-box, and the most visceral and violent verbal exchange I've ever had with my step-father. If we had lost control and actually killed each other that night- the van would have been the only witness. TONS-OF-FUN, as Addy called it was taking me across the country one more time. To a new home just across the border from Red-State-Hell. The misery that is Missouri.

In my short time back home after college I came and saw very much and conquered very nothing. Even so, I had fought and won, loved and lost enough for ten lifetimes in this bland and dying landscape. I still have, or keep plenty of affection for my former stomping grounds. The land of my younger and more formidable years. But it is a distant affection. More for something dead and removed and remembered. Not something you can visit or see or touch. My future was never clear in The Show-Me State, but it would have been miserable. I was always certain of this much- I was always meant to come here. The city of Mamet and Letts. Steppenwolf and Second City. Real pizza. Art- with balls. The worst winters, highest murder rate, and a history of political corruption to rival Tammany Hall! It was in the stars. (if you believe that sort of thing) God's plan. (if that's more your brand) I've always called it the next chapter. The next step on what I hope to be a very long and eventful journey.

Three years is time enough to have learned that this is where I belong. A land without financial security. Where the almighty dollar will never be the motivator. Where everyone has some song and dance to share which comes from the heart and soul and fire and has nothing to do with turning a buck. A community so determined to support and risk and play and continue on and on until their bodies break down and crap out for good. This is my beloved prison. My chosen asylum. This is fucking Chicago.

My anniversary fell on a Tuesday this year so I took myself out. I passed Taco Tuesday specials, two for one deals, and three-dollar well drinks and drafts back to where I've vomited up more screeds than my more avid readers would care to remember. Lick it up, lovelies. We're goin back to the Red Line Tap.
I am fiercely loyal when it comes to the various haunts and establishments I choose to frequent. Like your favorite item on a menu or your usual last ditch drunk dial booty call. Red Line has become one of many nerve centers for me in this city. A place I can work and drink and rant and glare and just fucking be. There are diners and sandwich shops, pizza parlors and watering holes. Places to write and rage. Where you're on a first name basis with half the staff for the most obvious of reasons. And on a Tuesday night- you just can't beat The Red Line Tap. Mickey was pouring my neat Fighting Cock and cracking my Old Style tallboy before I even said a word. All I did was smile and wave.

She approached me directly at the bar in between sets.
What are you writing?
not an easy question.
Sorry. Maybe I should let you finish.
No, it's okay.

I was stuck. There were so many thoughts all trying to get out at once. Her eyes were green. Or maybe brown. Definitely not hazel. She had recently started playing fiddle with the band. I had seen her a couple weeks before but we hadn't met. Her slim frame and passionate hustle and flow told the tale of a woman who'd amassed about a ton and a half of life experience in a precious short amount of years living it. She'd never rehearsed with the group, she told me. Just gigs. Standing, bouncing, jamming along. Plucking and listening for key changes. Shredding a hot lick when she was in the pocket. The momentary sloppiness of sound was completely worth the bright shining madness that sang from her instrument. Added a hell of a nice flavor to the mix. I told her as much as we talked about sexism, the gay rights movement, capitalism, cultural impasses, and comfortable American complacency. A fellow revolutionary ready for a fight worthy of her efforts and energy. A hippie-dippie badass my mother would be proud of. Not bad for a chance meeting at the bar. Her eyes found mine about twenty minutes before during the first set. She was scanning the tiny crowd assembled- some sitting and bobbing their heads to the beat, others in the back playing pool, still others locked into the third game of the San Jose series they clinched in OT (one more win and they knock LA out of the playoffs- it would serve them right, fucking LA) -and she landed on me. Smiling at her from my perch just above a half-wall as she stumbled, bumbled, and bowed sweet glory. She held my gaze much longer than your typical mid-song glance. After a moment of scrutiny, her smile would finally release. This happened a few times during the set. I found myself wondering if it was just the confidence booster she needed to jam out with ease on her next solo. Or maybe this was all in my head. Maybe she was just drunk.

Where was she heading tonight? Did she have a car? A home? I figured, yes. Her clothes and belongings suggested as much. Even so, something in her direct yet fragile manner made me wonder if she hadn't long ago given up on secure consistent living situations. She said she wrote as well. That she was a refugee from the music department at some university in Denver she said just wasn't for her. An artist. Not a student.
Everybody isn't both. I don't think everybody should be. I wish more artists were told this when they are young. She told me about her bicycle tour through Europe. Camping and cycling and blogging from one region to another and noting more than a couple hundred thousand cultural differences which bordered on bedrock principles making one reexamine their own worldview and life choices.

A young jackass in a Cubs hat interrupted our conversation to interject a useless ignorant collection of bile
and bullshit. She was much more polite than I wanted to be. I was enjoying our talk a great deal. Five minutes discourse with this sensitive perceptive soul was more than enough to learn she was sharper than most of the liquored up booze-hounds in the hospitable not-too-noisy haze. Nobody invited this fuck-stick to throw in any amount of his cents- two or otherwise. He had nothing relevent to contribute to the greater conversation. He had no interest in our dissection of the complacent huddled masses drowning in the sea of capitalism force fed to them since birth. He had no real insight into the ever-growing wealth gap brewing and breeding this nation's next violent revolution. He wanted the attention of the attractive fiddle player with the great rack and definitely not hazel eyes. He was doing what every young drunk male fool does when sitting next to a strong beautiful woman who's out of his league. He talked and talked and talked some more all the while saying absolutely fucking nothing. I sat quietly as long as I could hoping he'd run out of steam and shut the hell up. I lose my tolerance very quickly with people like our new persistent young friend. Lucetta really listened. She said her name was Lucetta. This compassionate patience is not a quality I share. She really humored him, allowing him to finish his fractured thoughts and slink away into the night keeping even pace with his friend who'd had sense enough to keep himself to himself. They've always got to have some cronie with them. Too insecure to go out alone without an umbilicus to turn to for reassurance. A cheerleader to help them feel safe. It wasn't long after this Lucetta had to get back onstage for the second set. The drinking set. And so she did. It wasn't long after this I needed to
get home to snag terrible sleep and batten down the hatches for my impending hangover. And so I did. I wonder if I'll make it back to Red Line next Tuesday. I wonder if Lucetta will be playing with the boys again. I wonder if she'll remember me or my smile or our talk. I wonder, wonder, wonder... -JN

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Attention! Attention! We Jumped Ship!

Yes, I know it may be hard to accept. But Reginald and I could no longer endure this lovely, though somewhat drab webpage. Style was called for! Sophistication! Depth! Things I don't bloody well display very often, so as I always do in crisis- I turned to my friends who are much smarter than me.

You can now find all future posts about my adventures with Reginald at:

Thanks so much for stopping by the old place. Visit us at our new home anytime.

Yours in love and war,

Jeff Newman
Reginald Buford Brimley

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Week 9: Now With Chin Whisker Twirling Action...A Very Unpleasant 30 Minutes

JN: It's fuzzy, it's shaggy, I'm happy! Reginald has gotten a little itchy, although it is nowhere near the level of annoying awfulness that is still to come. The very thought of that eye twitching, fist pounding itch makes me want to hurl whiskey bottles through windows and into the night. The dark, dark night. But no matter! This is what I signed up for, and I am damn well determined to to stick it out til the bitter end. People keep complimenting Reginald's growth, and I continue to feel more like my actual self. Looks like me in the mirror too. An added bonus is that now my chin whiskers are long enough for proper thought twirling. And what's the point in living if you can't twirl your chin whiskers while contemplating the cosmos? Not much is the correct answer to that question.

A note from the desk of Jeff Newman:

Heading home from grocery shopping the other night brought with it an incredibly unpleasant experience while standing atop the Granville platform of the Red Line. A train arrived heading south, and from out of the last car a young woman of about twenty emerged. She was incoherent, hyperventilating, and babbling about a man who was trying to hurt her. A man who was trying to rape her. There were four of us standing there caught in that familiar limbo place of what to do when something so flip side of normal happens in the city. Before anyone had time to assess this twisted situation, the man she was fleeing from approached from behind. He was wearing an oversized black Bulls coat with a huge red logo on the back. She pointed at him confirming through so many gasps and yelps that he was indeed the man she was talking about. He froze, saw the four of us standing there, turned, and walked away. As there was no exit from the platform in the direction he was walking, so the only reasonable explanation is that he hopped down to the tracks and fled the scene as it were.

Inhalers or puffers are used mainly for the treatment of asthma, influenza, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and Zanamivir. I only bring it up because there's a good chance that's why she was clutching her inhaler so tightly as she sat and shook in the corner of the hot box. Two puffs, then a third, trying her damndest to stay level-headed and failing miserably as she called her sister, and one of our four called the cops. Two of Chicago's finest showed up to take our statements, get a description of the man in question, and assure the safety of the young woman. She finally related that the man on the train was masturbating in front of her, and followed when she got off the train. It was when he grabbed her shoulders from behind that she started screaming. She insisted, or seemed to insist that an ambulance was not necessary, but the officers thought it best to have someone see her just to be on the safe side. Possible hyperventilation and all that. Neither myself, nor the caller from our group of four could agree on which direction the man had left in. As I said, I distinctly remember him turning and walking away. Our caller said he was sure the man walked passed us, down the stairs, and out the exit. It would seem that such an obvious detail having occurred not moments ago would be anything but fuzzy, and yet...

Her sister finally arrived and after a lot of close quiet talk, they rose and left with the police. The whole mess was over in about a half hour, though it seemed to last far longer. I received a call today from a detective asking if I'd be willing to come to the station and pick someone out of a line-up if it came to that. I assured him that I'd be perfectly willing, but was more than a little uneasy at the prospect of having to point out a guy I only saw for five seconds in the middle of a lot of yelling and confusion with no chance for second glances or caught breath. Detective Mark DiMeo thanked me for my cooperation and for being a good citizen. He gave me his number and assured me he'd be in touch. While this ending seemed happy enough considering what's possible with the same set up in any city in any country in any decade, I was very shaken by the whole ordeal. I knew without much consideration on the train ride home why I was so unsettled. It was as plain as the lump in my throat. A choked back sob of shame that I didn't feel like sharing until I was alone in the shower with steam, white noise, and a good stiff drink. Regardless of how childish, outdated, or impractical the sentiment, deep down I can't help but feel:

I could have done more.

Done more? Done what? What more is a good citizen supposed to do besides stay out of danger, call the police, give a statement, cooperate and be thanked for it? Why did standing back and keeping quiet fill me with such overwhelming guilt? This guilt stuck with me the whole way home, and all through putting groceries away, and all through loading laundry, and into the shower with the heat and whiskey and tears. I'm not Batman and this isn't Gotham City and that's not what I'm talking about. I don't know, nor have I ever known where the line is exactly concerning my own safety, my own responsibility to my fellow man, and the importance of minding my own business. The one thing I know for sure was the one thought that burrowed itself into my frontal lobe and would not vacate no matter how much I tried to expel it and be done with this nightmare forever. The fact that would not stop haunting me is knowing how I would feel if this was done to someone I cared for. Someone I loved dearly and could not do without. Someone who could not necessarily defend themselves from a large perverted fiend, and needed to reach out to whatever strangers and bystanders might be available on a cold train platform in February. Moments like this remind you exactly who makes this list in your life. I thought of that list. I thought of the young women in my life, particularly in the city who may one day face such a monster. And when I thought of that, I couldn't shake the knowledge that in this hypothetical situation, I would have done more. For my sister, for my close friends, for the young college students I work with, for anyone stuck in an impossibly helpless situation in need of a friend, if only for a half an hour. What made this actual situation different? This young woman was not my family. She was not my friend. She was my total stranger. So what? She was somebody's sister. Somebody's daughter. Somebody's friend. And, yes. I could have done more.

I could have chased this man and knocked him to the ground.

I could have beaten him about the face with a can of Campbell's Chunky soup from my backpack of groceries until he stopped moving.

I could have forced him to apologize and restrained him until police arrived.

I could have drug him the length of the platform on the concrete and thrown him down the stairs.

I could have shoved him onto the tracks hoping he'd get shocked to death by the third rail.

At the very least I could have remembered the man's shoes. If he was wearing jeans or pants and what color they were. Cliche though it sounds, it all happened so fast, and I just couldn't god-damn mother fucking remember. I could have done at least that. I could have asked the detective when he called what her name was. If he had spoken with her today. If she was feeling any better. I could have at least done that.

Lots more whiskey, laundry, pizza delivery, and XBOX 360 until seven in the morning was how I decided to deal with this emotional tempest. When a situation dwarfs your usual reason and the ground beneath you starts to shake, it's best to go with your gut. I knew deep down that this internal crisis would subside soon enough, but in the meantime it seemed like a good use of my time to take Arkham Asylum back from Joker even if that meant electrocuting his giant pasty Titan-form with my ultra batclaw no less than three times. Seriously, that is one of the easiest boss fights in the history of video games. I don't have a clean ending for this. There was nothing clean about the evening. There is nothing clean about my mood as I write this. In a despicably unsatisfying way, this was just something that happened this week. Something that made me ask myself a lot of questions I never wanted to answer. Something that fucked up my Sunday night.