392. Baltimore Up

Gravel roads led to a rutted dirt cart path. The taxi bounced. I could see the headlights of a tow truck coming at us out of the low sulfurous landscape. ‘Maybe this guy does know something after all.’

“Sunzofbitches goin to make another $200. Someone ought to stop this.” He pulled slightly out of the truck’s path but with palpable reluctance mowing over the hip high river grass. We bounced. The gun bounced. Nevermind. My sense of reality had long ago dribbled out of bounds while jogging earlier in a sketchy neighborhood. Here we were in a modern day “gunslinger versus cattle rustler” story where the cows and horses had been swapped out for cars and vans. A showdown at the AAA corral lay just ahead. Someone’s gonna die tonight in Baltimore, I just know it.

In the headlights’ beams I saw an outpost, a double wide trailer surrounded by a fence that seemed to be 14 feet tall. Unscaleable. On the other side of this monstrosity I saw my van, an innocent victim in a concentration camp. An old Asian man squatted in front of the gates, a mysterious gatekeeper who could have been in Vietnam or Cambodia guarding POW’s. Deniro again came to mind, The Deer Hunter. We were going back to Saigon to rescue our Pennsylvania village buddy from a final game of Russian roulette.

“That’s my van,” I uttered, hardly believing that this whole taxi experience was real.

“Want me to ram it?” my diligent but deranged driver asked. I was sure he’d do it.

“No, I want to do this legally, ya know. The cops are not on my side already.”

“Suit yourself, man.”

I got out and walked up a half flight of stairs to the skanky trailer. Cheap paneled walls on three sides of a small room forced you into the fourth wall, two inch thick bullet proof glass with a silver speak hole. Many signs  were pasted there. The only one that mattered read, “CASH ONLY”. A large woman in a sparkly black cocktail dress came to the other side. Her hair was too black, jewelry too big, and she had only a few of her own teeth.

I tried to contain my rage. “You stole my van and I want it back.”

“Thir, there’sth no need for hosthtility. I justht need two hundred dollarsth cash and you can have it. Thimple.”

“This is piracy. You are thieves preying on baseball fans…”

“It’s $200 tonight. If we sthore it for a day, it’sth thhhhreee fifty.”

My head was exploding with rage. I thought I’d maxed out but apparently my earlier rage had carved out new caverns for extra rage capacity. “Aaaghggrafrickinshashkamuffinboogerschnatzelcrimeneay!!::”

“You won’t take a VISA?”

“Nope. Cash only.”

“It’s after midnite and I’m paying a cabbie to hunt for my car that you stole…”

She gave me absolutely dead eyes heavily caked in mascara and blue eye shadow. Even in my rage I knew this woman was a permanent resident in this hell. I was merely visiting.

“I’ll be back. Don’t sell it while I’m gone cuz I’m sure that’s totally legal too.”

“No need for tharcasm, thir.”

I got back in the cab. Marty was incensed and feeding off my bad energy. “I can shoot that lock off the gate. Nobody’s gotta know. I got nothing to lose.”

“No. Let’s go back into the city and find an ATM.”

“Okay, man. But I could…”

“Do it!”

We bounced back out of the swamplands and back toward the orange mercury vapor lights of Baltimore.

“Shit like this is why I’m going to Denver. It’s getting harder and harder not to kill someone. I think there’s an ATM on the other side of these warehouses if I remember correctly. I’m turning the meter off by the way. The rest of the ride is on me.”

“Thanks, Marty.” Suddenly that woman’s speech impediment was stuck in my head and I wondered if I should have said, “Sanks”. My joints were coming unglued. I wondered if I could even remember my security code, 3791, the four corners of the pin pad. Okay, I can do this.

Mercifully we found an ATM that only charged $2.50 per transaction. I withdrew 100 times that to cover the pirate extortion, Marty’s incredible ride, and expenses along the way home. Actually, after I got back in the cab, I realized that I’d have no cash left, but it was going to finally end.

We drove back to the swamp land auto concentration camp. I tried to not speak to the cocktail ostrich woman behind the bullet proof glass. I can understand why they need it now. It had crossed my mind to borrow Marty’s .45 and drop some lead, but I reeled my rage back in.

“Show this receipt to Kwang Lei. He’ll unlock the gate for you.”

Utter contempt beamed back and forth between us to no avail.

I started my van and slowly drove out of the compound as Kwang Lei locked it behind me. Marty wished me well and led me back to Pratt Street, then he honked his horn and was gone. I was exhausted as I  pulled into the hotel at 2:10 a.m. My wife was awake. We scooped up our three sleeping girls and settled them in for the two hour silent ride home.

I composed an incendiary editorial in my head on the way home. Eventually I did type and mail it. I retold the sad tale of modern thievery and concluded almost Biblically, “I tried to find even fifty good men in Baltimore, but I could not. So I’m gathering Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, and Boog Powell. We won’t look back as God sodomly nukes Baltigomorra to nothingness.” I don’t think they published it.

The sun was coming up as we pulled into our driveway. I looked behind the yew bushes for No Parking signs and went to bed. The waking nightmare was over.

 

 

 

 

368. Porn Eyes

A provocative title, yes. Sadly it’s a common reality for many men of all races and demographics that they are porn addicts. Can’t live through a day without a mind numbing hit of deadly eye candy. Like any narcotic or other compulsive behavior, the pleasure thrill leaves early on in the unholy hajj toward the heights of heavenly bliss. The addict’s creeping eyesight is corrupted by a toxic mind that constantly hungers for another shot of porn. In psychic sand storms, beautiful naked images are mindlessly devoured like so many potato chips, peanuts, or any other junk food binge vehicle. The thrill is gone, man, so taboo themes creep in to super charge plain old sex, similar to how one spices up plain chips and dip as the taste buds retreat. You know, you can’t taste salt after your taste buds are over salinated. This is not news. It goes back beyond Sodom and Gomorrah, cuz those dudes were already good at perversion by then. That was not their first rodeo.

“You are the salt of the earth”, said Jesus. “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Overconsumption does not lead anyone to appreciation. Rather it creates the gross state of numb boredom and waste.

It’s a shame, a Great Dismal Swamp of Shame, that men who have gorgeous, sexy wives will self gratify and slowly alienate their legitimate, available, and willing love partners. Instead of growing a garden of intimate bliss and planting vines of deep sensuality, these dead-eyed men strip down vibrant sexual subjectivity into its inanimate objective parts. Their fantasized playmates have no names or personality; they only have parts… like car parts– cams, pistons, fenders, carburetors– that do not connect into one, God-made love partner. They become cyborg robots in emotional junkyards, replacing parts. All day long they replace parts. Or act like reductionist chemists who reduce a tomato into 32 lifeless components.

See, it’s easier, so much easier to exchange parts than to engage the breathing, thinking, feeling whole person in an atmosphere of patient love. Such fullness requires more work than any poker game; whereas porn is simply a broken down man hypnotically slamming a broken down slot machine expecting something different, as he pulls the handle and watches the images spin. Uh oh, you lose again… because you cannot win this or any other addiction game. Every time you use, the goal posts move farther away as your spirit deflates further.

I remember a gang of boys in high school who stole cars; parked them in nearby woods; and then stripped the wheels, tires, stereo systems and any easily removed accessory from the raped automotive carcass. Eventually they were caught and prosecuted. Turns out one of the cars they had stolen belonged to a government employee whose national security-linked computer was locked in the trunk. The Big Boys of law enforcement helped local cops bust the gang of thieves. Just like porn addicts, these gangsters did not know how valuable the whole was. They just saw replaceable parts and greedily pulled them off stolen cars like hyenas rip apart a fallen zebra.

Are you sad yet? This plague is tragic because it does not have to be. Are there more porn addicts or alcoholics? Porn by a long shot. Google Porn Addiction Statistics  and then Alcoholics Statistics and prepare to be blown away by hurricanes of disgust. God made human sexuality in all its glorious complexity; simply disgraceful men made pornography, which is the corruption of beauty and love. The root word of pornography is Greek, porne, which meant prostitute. Graphy still means writing, but nowadays it means documenting with video. Likewise, Porn still conjures up the viral spirit of prostitution.

Porn is easy to find but hard to lose. Graphic carnal knowledge and ecstatic imagery is a mouse click away today, my friends. In my youth it was magazines in the woods that had been smuggled out of some kid’s father’s stash. You had to work hard to see the forbidden fruit in those patinated days. Expropriated magazines radiated more than plutonium in trash bags hidden in a hole covered by leaves. If a porno Geiger counter were available, one could find the stash by listening to the beep-beep-beep rising in pitch and frequency. The magnetic display needle would slam against the highest setting as the sex detective scanned the woods where young boys played with plastic guns and sticks and Playboys. Invisible energy leeched out, seeped out, wafted out of the trash bag container poisoning young male minds. Rotting carnality just an arm’s length away, the shiny nude photographs eroded innocence as surely as cancer erodes whatever it touches. Objects outside of any relationship, culture, or code jump out at the viewer– an oyster nailed to a tree; an owl flying through a hospital ward; a baby in prison. Impossible to unlook or forget these images once tattooed on a revolted conscience.

We knew some dads even had 16mm porn movies, but that was way too complicated to attempt rigging up.  We knew about the drive-in on Palmer Highway. Triple X movies were all they showed. I blogged about that adolescent, rooftop experience in an earlier post. The triple X porn movie on the drive-in screen was not memorable, however. The wild police chase and narrow escape with my buddies was etched into my grey memory matter. I smile and savor old memories like that one. On the other hand, the porn addict is haunted by his old violations and perversities, unshared and utterly alone. And that is another aspect of porn use that is not immediately understood– it isolates the addict from real intimacy and isolates him from himself. Instead of connecting to others deeply, the addict uses airbrushed images of perfect others to remain perfectly disconnected. The shame cycle is simply ramped up by repeated failure to escape the addiction. Self disgust mounts and more porn is used to escape the negative emotions caused by the addiction to begin with. Pornography strip mines the soul’s majestic mountains.

And just in case you think that church doors filter out streaming porn from genuflecting male minds, the stats are just as bleak for Christian men. Viruses don’t care if you go to church, and Porn is a billion dollar virus industry.

 

318. Pine Street

I lived upstairs on Pine Street in Richmond for a year or so while I was in my sophomore year of college. That whole block has since been torn down and redeveloped into modern campus buildings. Back in the 1970’s it was a bleak block of row houses. Ours was a wood frame with an add on kitchen out the back. Our kitchen had been built over a sloped first floor roof. The resulting floor was so slanted that, even when quite sober, you’d toddle downhill in agreement with gravity. If you were intoxicated, everything was fine; you just had to lean again the house lean. Simple. The back kitchen door/ fire escape from the death trap led to a steep set of wooden stairs facing due east and busy Belvedere Street. From the top step I’d sometimes smoke a cigarette and laugh out loud at the huge sign over the used car lot on Broad Street. It featured a slick mustachioed sales cad, Mad Man Dapper Dan the Used Car Man and the saying, “I’d give them away but my wife won’t let me.” His face seemed to view all of Richmond, as if he were some Middle Eastern despot watching for moral failures in the populace.

“Dan, you are the man. I trust you, Dude.”

It still cracks me up to imagine an evening in Dapper Dan’s company, cigar in one hand, bourbon in the other, telling tales of great car deals and trips to exotic Roanoke. “Boy, the things I seen and dun can’t be cataloged  by a million monks in a million encyclopedias in a million years. You know, I just love that word, MILLION.” Fading like old black and white photos, my memories sort of bleed into one another as my neural pathways move in together to cut expenses in retirement.

AbandonedHousesFinal

We had no air conditioning, of course, and the Richmond summers were the equivalent of hippopotamuses in weather terms– big, fat, wet, sloppy, and dangerous. The wiring would likely have melted if we’d tried an a/c window unit. So we would climb out on the porch roof facing Pine Street on hot nights and drink a few cheap beers while we listened to music blast from inside. It was often a pathetic portrait of perspiring almost, nearly, slightly, okay dammit-ghetto ennui. Our porch roof aligned with the rest of the row house porch roofs all the way down the block, until the line jutted out to the sidewalk at the up and coming new restaurant and potted palm tree bar called Bruce’s, with skylights in their roof. Well, it was not out of the ordinary for one of my crew to walk down the porch roofs past sleeping neighbors to wave in on the diners through the skylight. Later, the diners might see us as they came out to get in their cars. We were not hassled as much as we deserved to be but merely shooed away like annoying city pigeons. College communities have a high tolerance for the ludicrous, I have learned.

Often while listening to Clapton or Hendrix or the Beatles, we could watch people doing things on the street or sidewalk that they thought no one else could see. We had no television and this was in the dinosaurlike pre-personal computer age. One boring rainy night my roomie Jeff and I were in our porch roof positions beneath metal awnings as a couple came out of the above cited restaurant/bar, walking slightly sloppily. It was clear that they were tipsy. The man opened the door of the dark sedan in the rain and his Betty Boop jumped in to the passenger seat, giving me and Jeff a clear view of what was about to go down. The tipsy strange man started the car and the windshield wipers began flapping. The car remained in park while the passengers got into gear.

Jeff was picking along to the Beatles “I Want You” on his black and white Fender and amp as we glommed on to the steamy car action unfolding in front of and below us.  We laughed as the couple began some rather heated making out and mutual fondling. Jeff cranked up the volume and continued picking, “I want you, I want you so bad, Babe. I want you so bad, It’s driving me mad, it’s driving me mad.” Though the impassioned couple could not see or hear us, they complied with clumsy choreography on the beat. It was amazingly synchronized even though this was in the pre- music video era. All live action.

Let’s just say that the steamed up couple reached a crescendo as the guitar raged into the curtain of droning summer rain, pounding out an urgent beat on the aluminum awnings above us. Jeff shifted with the bridge to “She’s so heavy, heavy, heavy, etc.” while the wipers worked in time like a metronome.

We thought it couldn’t get any funnier as the song ended and Jeff set his guitar down. We stood up and clapped for their performance. I suppose our dual stand up against the stained yellow light behind us caught Betty Boop’s eye. She lifted her head up and made a most amazing face.

We couldn’t hear the scream but we saw her mouth open and her teeth bared. Obscenities were mouthed through the steamed up window.  In just a couple of seconds the sedan lights came on and the car peeled away without looking any which way. I can imagine it was an awkward verbal ending to a their gymnastic achievements.

Well, that is a great story to tell when folks mention compromising positions, but I feel like Mad Man Dapper Dan when I repeat this double indiscretion. I have no cigar or bourbon, but I feel like a sleazy used car salesman anyway. I suppose that conviction is caused by some decency knocking on my conscience’s door. If I answer it, I might wind up in jail. Just turn the lights out and stay quiet. (In a whisper voice… “I’d give them away but my wife won’t let me.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

249. Dye to Self

Yesterday my wife overdyed her hair, which she can pull off, by the way, cuz she’s a looker, which begs the question, “Was it too much or not?”. It was darker brown than she had hoped for, okay? Not wanting to be mistaken as her father, I decided to strike out on my own hairdressing trail.  Her bottle reminded me that I  had another box of hair dye, REAL BLACK is what the label said. It was the old kind I noticed as I unpacked the base and color bottles and the plastic gloves. I had been using the premixed stuff with the little comb applicator for the past couple of limpid years, but I forged ahead with this old technology. I worked the goopy cream in, following the directions, assuming that it would simply darken my gray from a light ash to medium charcoal. But when I finished my shower, I toweled off and looked in the mirror. It was ELVIS black. No!! Wayne Newton even!! I had not a single gray or white hair to be seen. Too much of a good thing looks creepy. Even Mitt Romney knew this.

I put on a hat when we went out to lunch later and I did some shopping. I was hoping not to see anyone who knew me well. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the new look. Not quite as bad as having a face tattoo or a bone piercing my nose, but a bit off my usual stride. Something had to give soon. I’m just too dark. My wife said I looked 15 years younger. I wish. No, I was sure I looked like the 80 year old letch with shoe polish hair who asks young women to dance through his loose dentures. I did not want to be that age spotted guy with suspenders holding his saggy pants up, revealing white socks above high gloss black shoes. What a nightmare.

After consulting Google for undying hair recipes, I washed my hair again twice with baking soda and shampoo. Nothing. We went to our usual Saturday dance and the world did not end. It was dark. People drank moderately and focused on their dance steps. We survived. The tough group would be the church crowd the next day under fluorescent lights. To complicate matters, we had to turn the clocks back this very night. I was not so much worried about the bad dye job but about having no good verbal responses to those who might comment on my time warp hair color.

In the morning I realized that I had one decent response. I imagined a congenial congregant commenting.

“Did you color your hair?”  To which I would reply…

“Actually I turned the clocks back last night and BAM! It was 1999 again. I got up this morning and BOOM! My  hair was dark again. How about that?”  No one noticed, which was a little disappointing. Perhaps if I go to church naked next week…no. Once you ring a bell, be it in church or the courthouse, you cannot unring it. Just like this dye job, I’d just have to outgrow it.

When I was teaching years ago, I had to be careful whenever I put color in my hair. Seventh graders don’t miss any opportunity to expound on anything out of the ordinary. I was careful to only color my hair over breaks or vacations, and then with semitransparent color. Even with such diligence on my part, I would inevitably be outed.

“Mr. Burrito, did you dye your hair?”

Now a bigger man might have resorted to honesty, but I concocted a thin fable to confound the immature questioners.

“You won’t believe me. It was sort of miraculous what occurred, but never mind…”

“Sure we will. What happened?”

“Well, I was walking down the beach this summer when a storm came up. There was wind and lightning, but I walked on unafraid.”

“You shouldn’t do that. You could be hit by lightning.”

“Exactly. That’s what happened. I was hit directly by what the EMT’s estimated was a 2 million watt bolt of lightning.”

“Really? No, you’re lying.”

“I can’t force you to believe. But when I was recovering in the Emergency Room, I noticed that my hair was a shade darker. I mentioned this to the doctors. They told me that sometimes this happens to victims of severe lightning strikes– it’s a reverse aging process due to the extreme ionization of the carbon particles commonly found in hair.  They assured me this would stop over time and I’d go back to the regular aging curve within six months.”

“So what does that mean?”

“It means that my hair is unnaturally darker than it should be for a man my age. So to answer your original question, Yes, I do color my hair by adding a touch of gray to it. Cuz it’s just creepy looking to have jet black hair when you’re in my demographic.”

“Nooo… Really?”

Like I said, they were not a tough crowd to fool.

So, after the sermon was preached in church, we went to Sunday School class where I was certain Jerry or DJ would bust my shady look. Not a peep. I was ready with the turn back time line and a bad Cher impersonation.

Nope. Completely Unnecessary. And then I had a spiritual comment come to me while I meditated on my personal vanity.

“Did you dye your hair?”

“Actually, I dyed to self, just beginning with my hair. I am beginning a daily devotional and a journal for my hairdressing journey.”

“I’m sorry I asked.”

“Oh, I’m not. I’m grateful that someone noticed and that I was fully prepared to give my testimony.”

“You know the actual verb is ‘die’ in that verse, ‘die to self” don’t you?”

“Yeah, okay. And your point?”

“…and you are making this all about your self, right?”

“Yeah, Uh, but, um, aren’t you being a bit self righteous?”

“Dude, I’m bald. It’s over for me. You need help.”

“Thanks, man.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

233. On Vacation

So we were vacationing on the Florida panhandle last week. It’s funny how time seems to change when you move down a few latitudes and across a few longitude lines. You lose or pick up an hour, depends on how you look at it, when you cross an invisible line near western Georgia, I think. And then as you relax in the pool or on the beach, your internal clock goes silent because your ear drums relax and your vocal chords go slack. The tree frogs croak when it’s dark and mockingbirds chirp when it’s dawn. That’s all you need to know. Slow down, blog clowns.

The Deep South is just about tropical. There are a whole lot of water bodies down there– swamps, creeks, streams, puddles, rivers, ponds, lakes, lagoons, and the huge Gulf of Mexico. Naturally there’s a commensurate level of humidity, about a billion gallons per cubic mile, which makes moving in and out of air conditioning an acute experience either way. One morning I stepped out onto our third floor balcony at 7 a.m. I was engulfed in a heavy soup of moisture in that small space. Imagine if Queen Latifah had twin sisters who all mashed you into a family reunion group hug after exiting a sauna. Now take that image and cover it in melting marshmallow crème head to toe. Roll it all in a tortilla and toast it. Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

Kids were everywhere at the gated and very safe resort. No kidnappings were reported during our stay. I did have two interesting experiences at the pools, however. One direct and one indirect, okay I eavesdropped. While in the hot tub a father/son combo came by. The boy was talking about all drugs being bad. His father corrected him. “Son, the ones a doctor gives you are good for you.” To which his son rejoined, “Justin Bieber uses drugs, Dad, and he’s bad.” His dad chuckled and went to check on a younger child, leaving his innocent son jabbering to me in a lilting southern accent.

“Justin Bieber wears girls shoes and make up. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“He takes drugs to schools too.”

“I didn’t know that either.”

“He’s bad. He acts like a girl, a bad girl.”

“Well I don’t know the Beebs very well.”

“Do you like baseball?” and off he went on another tangent.

The second conversation was between a very aggressive and articulate youngish mother and her sullen preteen daughter. The tone and intensity were something you might hear in a courtroom. Mom did all the talking. Seems that the daughter had been on her phone/computer all week long, ignoring the other sullen preteen girl who was presumably a cousin or friend.

“You’ve been in front of a screen the entire time, Honey, and it’s disturbing. You don’t know how to interact without that technology. I want you to just be human, talk, ride bikes, swim. But you treat your phone like it’s your very heart. Now I know Daddy and Uncle Jim are techno nerds, and they spend all their time in front of a screen. They think it’s normal to live like this, but it’s not. They’re IT engineers, Honey.  It’s slowly destroying their social skills, and I don’t want that for you. Promise me you’ll stay off the phone or I’ll take it and keep it for the rest of the week. Promise me you’ll talk with Megan. Okay? I’m so worried about you turning into a robot like your father.”

“Okay, Mom!!”  And they both sulked away, back to their dysfunctionality.

Now karaoke is an okay thing to do. We decided on our last evening at the resort to attend Friday karaoke at the little bar/restaurant around the corner. It was okay, I guess. But I noticed that families with small children were eating and drinking there. It seemed weird to me that little kids shuffled about while grown up strangers drank hard liquor at the bar. At around 7 pm the dysfunctional d.j. got his gear going and began calling for the folks who had signed up to sing. It was an eclectic bunch. There was an older woman at the table next to the stage. She sang a country tune, maybe “All My Exes Live in Texas”. Then her young adult daughters eventually followed her lead. One sang Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” while trying to look sexy. The other daughter actually did a nice job with a deeper sort of song I have forgotten. Along the way kids under ten years of age sang “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen and “Happy” from Pharrell the Dude.  Awkward and yet cute collided, and I kept wondering “Aren’t there laws against having little kids in active bars?” Apparently not in Florida. Anyway, my daughter sang two Adele songs and did her usual nice work, but wouldn’t you know it? One of the little tykes sang a second “Rollin’ in the Deep” after Jess. Eight year olds should not be permitted to sing Adele songs. It’s creepy not cute.

I drank two Blue Moon beers. My limit. Naturally I had to use the bathroom and I asked the waitress where the facilities were. “Go out to the lobby and take the elevator to the second floor. They are down the hall to your left.” I was a bit surprised. I’ve used upstairs bathrooms before, but I thought sending tipsy people on an elevator to go potty was a bad idea. What if they get sick along the way?  Anyway I did as she said. I took the elevator up to the second floor and got off. It was weird. Apparently there had been a sports bar up there at one time. It was roped off and taped off now like a CSI crime scene. Plus the a/c was not working on that floor, so as you exited the elevator you were hit with a twenty degree increase in temperature and a 200 % increase in humidity. The dark wood and dirty red carpet were depressing, as if they held murder clues mixed with old beer and dried blood smells. I turned left since the other directions were cordoned off. I went into the men’s bathroom reluctantly, feeling as if some presence were lurking about this place. It was so quiet and stagnant at the same time. I half expected to find a dead body slumped over the toilet. No such luck, but the creep factor was strong. Then back to the elevator to travel ten feet down into a family friendly bar. At least it was cool downstairs.

Of course there were good moments, but I tend to recall the bizarre ones. They are more interesting, dontcha think?