Wednesday, January 18, 2012
As a teenager, I worked in a Bonanza Sirloin Pit. This was a franchised steak house where I had to wear a burnt orange, polyester shirt stenciled with horses and covered wagons and a chocolate-brown chef's hat. In comparison, this made the ravages of acne seem compassionate.
My friend Glen and I had this thing going on at the time where we would answer the phone (back in the days before caller I.D.) with a long, drawn-out "Hal-owwwwwwww?" in a stupid voice just to make each other laugh. Since, mostly, we were the only ones who called one another it was a pretty safe bet. But of course, the day Bonanza Sirloin Pit called, responding to my application for employment, I did the usual:
At this point you would think, recognizing a strange, female voice, I would have shifted strategies. But you would be wrong. At sixteen, I was an idiot. Not that much has changed.
"Hal-owwwwwwwww?" I repeated.
"Uh, this is Shannon Doherety from Bonanza Sirloin Pit. May I speak to ChaCha Puddlewinks?"
"Um, uh, yeah, hal-owwwwww, I mean hello, it's me."
"We'd like you to come in for an interview on blah blah blah" and so it was arranged. I did,I was hired and supposedly it was my first job. As it turned out, it was just another opportunity to spread my overreaching sense of Puddlewinksness to a wider audience. Not what they, nor any other employer since, had in mind.
The manager and I were poles apart. He was a surly, middle aged man of few words. I was a flamboyant sixteen-year-old who would not shut the fuck up. He liked wrestling. I liked hand puppets. We did not see eye to eye.
My best friend from junior high, Larry, had left our crazy Christian school and had moved on to a competing crazy Christian school and I hadn't seen him for a few years. Imagine my delight to find he was also working at the same Bonanza Sirloin Pit. We reconnected and it was fun all over again.
Thing is, Larry's parents fucking hated me. They had a daughter who had died, tragically, of cancer and the grieving father had printed up several thousand copies of a gospel tract called "Gerri's Wish For You" which was a folder with the daughter's school picture on the front and inside was the story of the girl getting bone cancer and on her deathbed wishing that everyone would know God's plan of
salvation...basically saying "my daughter died of cancer so if you don't adopt my religious opinions you are a heartless bastard." Personally, I think if there is a God he took her so that siblings wouldn't have to go through life being known as Larry and Gerri. But seventh grade me took an ink pen and blacked out the eyes on the cover photo so that they were hollow sockets and drew flaps of flesh
sagging off her face so that the picture looked like a rotting corpse. Larry thought it was funny but like a fool put it in his pocket and forgot to take it out. His mom was doing the laundry, found it and was not amused. Can't imagine why, but Larry's parents labeled me a bad influence and we were forbidden to be friends anymore.
So Larry didn't tell his folks I was working at Bonanza Sirloin Pit.
Another friend, Donavon, was in my class at school and also worked there. Donovan was funny and appreciated the concept of taking an obscure non-joke and running it the fuck into the ground. His father was somehow involved in distributing the Tastycake line of products, which were not available in our small, West Virginia town, so he would constantly sneak Tastycake promotional materials into my desk, book bag or whatever and wait for me to find them, which I found hilarious.
My first day at work: I am in the back room. Donavon is loading steak into the freezer. I see a couple of salad tongs, grab them and start clicking them like castanets while doing a mad dance. Suddenly Donovan freezes mid-laughter and I know someone is behind me. It's John Hunt, the surly manager. "Get out there and bus some tables when you're done doing the calypso..."
So then Larry and I come up with this great, customer-disorienting thing. When you arrive at Bonanza Sirloin Pit, the first thing you do is place your order with the nerd in the chocolate-brown chef's hat at the front of the line, who repeats your order into a microphone so that the cooks can throw your cheap piece of meat on the grill and cook it to your precious, exacting specifications.
I was the idiot at the microphone. But when I said, "May I help you?" it was actually Larry, crouched behind the counter, saying that while I mouthed the words. It came off as a live-action version of a badly dubbed foreign film. Customers knew something wasn't right, but could not put their finger on precisely what it was and the resulting expressions were priceless. The standard follow-up questions: "How
would you like that cooked?" "Do you want fries or a baked potato" "Salad or a vegetable?" were given the same treatment. The customers became more and more flustered, and in some cases visibly hostile (because dumb people always react with anger to things they don't understand.) If you can find a way to mess with the general public's sensory experience, I highly recommend it.
Other incidents were a little more overt. In order to make the strawberry shortcake, you had to slice fresh strawberries into a vat of red, industrial polymer that passed as 'glaze'. I had on rubber kitchen gloves, was mixing the stuff together, then raised my hands out of the bucket, dripping with red goo. My friend was at the microphone, and I burst out of the swinging kitchen
door, in full view of the customers, gooey gloved hands raised, shouting, "Congratulations, Larry! It's a boy!"
There were complaints.
We had our company Christmas party and I got two gifts: A blow up sex doll from Secret Santa and a Rocky Horror Picture Show poster of Frank-N-Furter in front of the RKO tower from Donovan. I took them home and Mom and Dad laughed at the sex doll and I threw the poster in the back of a drawer, forgetting about it. Some months later I came home from school and there was the poster taped to the front of my bedroom door. Crazy Christian mom had scrawled across it, in black
magic marker, "Avoid all appearances of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)" Uh oh. I was staring at it and she came popping out from around the corner like something from a slasher movie, no doubt lying in wait for an hour or so until I got home to see it and started in on her carefully rehearsed tirade. A blow-up naked woman, hey, we'll laugh it off. A fully dressed man in fishnets: ABOMINATION!!!
Oh god, it was dreadful. Scripture references projectile vomiting from her mouth one after the other; threats of eternal damnation, and worse, getting grounded. While I've never harbored a desire to be a sweet transvestite, maybe in that poster she saw in terms of deviant sexuality, which way the wind was blowing. Too bad I didn't.
Donovan came home with me after work. We went down and hung out in our basement. I had not yet put words to my impulses, but knew I wanted to get his medium-rare T-bone out and do things with it, even if we were wearing burnt orange polyester shirts. My confused, clueless and clumsy strategy was this:
"The itsy-bitsy spiiiiiiider...."
Here I did the usual thing of putting your thumb and fingertips together, splaying your other fingers wide open and wriggling your hands back and forth in hopes it resembles an arachnid.
"Climbed up the water spout..."
My finger spider crawled up his pants leg.
"Down came the rain..."
It moved across his crotch. He definitely had a hard-on.
"And washed the spider out..."
He got up, left without speaking, and continued to not speak for the rest of our time at Bonanza Sirloin Pit, our remaining year at school, or forever. He did paste a Tastycake thing into my senior yearbook, but refused to speak. I'm told at university he immediately enrolled in ROTC.
Back at Bonanza Sirloin Pit, I had burned my finger on the grill and had a blister the size of a Good N' Plenty. I'd pricked it with a needle, and when customers would approach me with attitude for no reason I would squeeze it and cause the lymph fluid to squirt out and hose down the back of their neck and shirt. I would then meet them at the drink fountain and if they demanded extra ice I would say "I only have ice for you" then give them a second squirting from the blister of vengeance as they made their way down the line.
Larry got caught jerking off into the Ranch dressing vat used for the salad bar. People knew we were friends and came to me, expecting some sort of explanation.
"Hey," I said, "It's Larry's wish for you."
Saturday, January 7, 2012
It was my first year of Radiology school. Not something I would have chosen for myself, but Mom and Dad made it clear that in no way would they pay for a college education, since they did that once and it resulted in my oldest brother growing his hair and doing the whole hippie thing (never mind every other kid in the country was doing that; they needed a scapegoat and advanced education was clearly the culprit.) My middle brother, though, was wise enough to not let them know who he really was and kiss their collective conservative ass every step of the way. He’d become a Raidologic Technologist and was making good money. My parents saw this as the only career path for anyone and told me if I followed in my brother’s footsteps they would pay for it. College, no. Saint Mary’s School of X-Ray Technology, yes. Plus they gave a stipend of $38.26 every two weeks. My crazy Christian high school wanted us all to go to Bob Jones University and never, not once, explained the concept of student loans. I was eighteen and seriously thought my only choices in life were going to X-ray school or working at Bonanza Sirloin Pit for the rest of my life. Wait now, someone is going to pay me $38.26 every two weeks to go to school? Sign me up.
Actually, I had a brochure from a college in California that offered courses in animation. That’s what I wanted to do. Mom and Dad looked at it and rolled their eyes; clearly drawing frame-by-frame stuff would lead to drugs.
So I ended up in goddamn X-ray school. It was probably more flip-flopped than it should have been: You would spend the first half of your day out on the floor, helping people who knew what they were doing take X-rays, then spend the second half in a classroom learning about Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. You understand, now it takes a four-year college degree to become a Radiologic Technologist, but back in the day anyone with the ability to ask “How would you like your steak cooked?” could go through a two-year program and be trusted with equipment that can sterilize someone instantly.
My first day, thrown onto the hospital floor without a clue in the world: To this day I cannot explain what I saw. The completely wrong, politically incorrect term used at the time and place was “monster.” Now, I have worked with people with disabilities for years and have learned to hate people who dismiss others outside their own experience with a vengeance. Having gone through that, though, my memory of my first day and my first patient makes me shudder.
It was, oh, I don’t know but I guess, a four-year-old girl with flippers for arms and flippers for legs. Most of her baby teeth were somehow broken off. She was screaming and screaming and who could blame her? She was strapped to an X-ray table with no clue what was going on. Apparently there was a kidney problem, because she was scheduled for an IVP. This stands for intravenous pyelogram; a procedure to view a patient’s urinary tract system. In order to do this, a substance called a contrast medium is injected into the bloodstream to enable the body parts to show up on the X-ray. A syringe and a tourniquet were shoved into my hands. I thought, fuck, there’s gotta be someone more qualified to do this. I was on the learning curve, so a Tech talked me through it. I wrapped the rubber tube around the flipper. I found the vein and slipped the needle in. Crazed screaming and jerking, causing the needle to rip the flesh and the girl’s parents, present in the room, to shout loudly. Then I went to class an learned some shit about physics.
Day two: I remember both names to this day but I will only tell you this: Her name was Connie. ER brought her in on a stretcher. She was sitting where she shouldn’t have been; in the middle in the front seat without a belt and a collision occurred. Owing to God’s terrific sense of humor, the gearshift shoved up her vagina and shattered her pelvis at the same moment the windshield did the same to her face. ‘Cause that’s the secret of cosmic comedy: timing.
Oh ha, Puddlewinks is off his nut again. No, fucker, it actually happened. Word. Then I went back to class and learned about nuclear medicine.
I got put on barium enema duty. This is how you take an X-ray of someone’s colon; you fill their ass full of barium and it will show up on a radiographic image. Seven in the morning, I’m spreading some geriatric’s cheeks and looking at her winking brown-eye. What a great way to start the day. I lube up the plastic tip and shove it home. The old woman writhes. Another feel-good moment.
“I was an English teacher,” she starts, but at this point I’m inflating the Bardex and her sentence stops short. A Bardex is a brand name for a balloon-like device attached to the enema tip. You insert it into the patient’s rectum and use a squeeze bulb to fft, fft, fft, blow it up and it swells up internally and blocks off the colon, preventing the enema from being prematurely discharged. Or so goes the working theory.
The thing about X-ray Techs, and perhaps the only skill I’ve retained from all those years ago, is this: they can look you up and down and know for certain whether or not you can hold an enema. Trust me, right now, you can look me in the eye and I will know whether or not to just plug it in and go or administer the ol’ fft, fft, fft.
The thing about a barium enema is it’s no small ordeal. It’s not like a squeeze-bulby thing; there’s a big honking bag full of contrast media that flows in and completely fills your bowels. Imagine a bowling bag full of liquid chalk streaming into your ass. There ya go.
But this woman, the English teacher, was determined to put up the good fight. She was going to show no fear. Understand—because this is how it is always done—the lubing up, insertion and pumping of the Bardex happened way before the doctor, the radiologist, was present. The X-ray techs get the dirty work out of the way and then the doctor shows up and stares an the monitor, whistling, grunting and making hand signals to indicate which way he wants the patient to be positioned.
I prided myself on knowing this certain doctor’s particular gestures; it was like knowing American Sign Language for only one person. Whistle-whistle and a hand flip meant ‘barium on’—disengage the locked valve from the tubing and release the flow from the bag. Whistle, shake-shake meant I should ask the patient to reposition.
The enema was shooting into the old woman’s bowels and I said, “Okay, roll over and lay on your left side.”
The woman was clearly in discomfort. Who wouldn’t be? But no, I had to tell the truth and do what the radiologist wanted.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. We just need you to roll over and lay on your left side.”
“Lie!” she gasped as her intestines were filling with fluid. “It’s lie!” The inflated Bardex shot out of her ass with an audible pop and the contents of her large intestine hosed down the other tech at the end of the table. She groaned and moaned but managed to bark out, “Roll over and LIE on your left side. Not lay; LIE!”
You would think, Sir, you have no more ghastly barium enema stories to tell. But you would be wrong:
The place at which I trained was a Catholic hospital. There was a convent on the premises. One of the nuns had some gastrointestinal distress and was scheduled for a barium enema. Of course, no one, male nor female was going to shove a plastic thing up a nun’s ass so it was agreed we would all wait outside while she did the actual insertion herself. The doctor, the other tech and I stayed in the hall and after a reasonable time one of us knocked, barely cracked the door and asked, “Are you ready?”
We went in and there was the nun who had modestly covered herself with several hospital gowns and a blanket. Doctor did his hand flippy thing, meaning ‘barium on.’ NOTHING showed up on the fluoroscope but jets of barium were shooting all over the table.
She’d stuck it in her vagina.
Friday, January 6, 2012
There was this girl.
Her name was Nell Phillips, and in sixth grade she was a pariah and for no real reason. You know grade-school kids: they will target one person out of nowhere to be the ostracized community joke and she was it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk in her shoes back then; all you did was exist and suddenly the rest of the world as you knew it hated you for that one simple fact. I was an eight-year-old bastard. I went along with it—probably for the same reason everyone else did—as long as they are talking about HER they might not notice what a freak I am.
It was my brother’s high school graduation. Somehow, I ended up sitting next to Nell. Her sister was on the roster as well. Partly because the whole thing was so desperately boring, but mostly because I did not want to be seen in her company, I turned to her and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.” We scampered off. Of course at that age I was too clueless to get that us being seen leaving together by the other grade school kids with siblings graduating in the gymnasium could be viewed as an alliance with the horrid Nell.
We ended up on a staircase. She was funny, made me laugh and unfortunately anyone, to this day who can do that, makes me want to kiss them. So I did. I wrapped my arms around her and planted one on her face. I was in sixth grade, so you can imagine how inelegant this display of affection might have been. I don’t think any tongues were involved. Didn’t matter; at that age I might as well been Ron Jeremy. Got some; but then oh shit: I just lip locked Nell Phillips, whom the whole world hates.
Grade school on Monday was not fun. People saw; they talked. “Hey now,” I lied, “ I just left with her so I could make fun of her. You know me—I’m the insult king!” (Sadly, a reputation that has not left me. It must be true, then. Apparently I’m a dick on all counts.) My protestations worked. The kids bought it. Nell tried to talk to me but because other sixth-graders were watching me, I ignored her. She looked crestfallen, probably because she thought there was one kid in her school that didn’t hate her but then I pulled the rug out from under her and she was back to being the fucking joke for everyone.
We all got out of grade school and went our separate ways.
Nell went to high school, things got a little but not much better and I landed in koo-koo Christian academy. Years passed and the neighbor boy I was having sex with was a friend with Nell so I ended up seeing her again. She rocked. Hysterically funny, still, not bad looking at all. We ended up, alone, in her bedroom. She was playing me Rick Springfield cuts that never made it to the radio—to this day I will concede they were cool as shit. I was eighteen and trying to prove to myself I wasn’t gay despite an overriding fondness for cocksucking, so it happened again, all these years later: I grabbed her, wrapped my arms around her waist and planted one on her. This time tongues were definitely involved.
She shoved away. “What the hell are you doing?” To me, the answer to the question was obvious (ignoring the subtext, of course.) “Hey,” I said, which was all I could really think of to say at that moment.
“No. NO!” she said.
I replayed this to friends I wasn’t fucking as “Oh my God, I was making out with Nell and she just went crazy right in the middle of it.” At eighteen, I was still a sixth-grader.
Things have changed a little. Just not as much as I wish.
Okay, I lied. One more fictional horror story and then it's back to the stuff out of life that embarrasses the hell out of me but is posted anyway for the amusement of others. One of my favorite comic strips is from Maakies, where Uncle Gabby says "Ha Ha Ha!" Drunky Crow says "What are you laughing at?" To which Gabby replies, "Oh, just the sheer horror of being alive." This might explain why my last few attempts at writing horror stories are all pretty much the SAME story, just with different characters. I really didn't notice this until after they were all done and posted; now I just think, Gawd, what a hack. But I'm putting this one up because I came up with both the idea and the title when I was in high school. I wrote an early draft--not that what you're getting here is all that much better--but kind of wanted to put it out there as a favor as a favor to my gawky teenage self. It's not really the venue I'm suited for, apparently. Trust me, I will go back to the Mostly True Stories soon enough--cause I've had a lot of them in the past year and just need to get to the point where they start being funny instead of hurting and dicking with my head. Time always makes this happen and I think I'm closer than I have been. But for now, my high school me is happy to give you this:
There is a tiny, white worm burrowing out of one of the pores of my arm. Somehow, I know its name is Franklin. I can’t see either situation being any good.
It started a few days ago. There was this weird bump on my arm that itched like crazy and I kept scratching at it and scratching at it and it took up all my thoughts where I couldn’t talk to people for very long because all I wanted to do was go somewhere and use my fingernail to dig at that place on my arm but no, they wanted to talk about work shit or politics or why I wasn’t dating anyone and really I wanted them all to go away so I could go somewhere and scratch this red, raised thingy on my arm. It was like having a popcorn husk wedged between the back of your teeth that your tongue can’t quite get at. Only instead of just bugging you it became something that actually hurts. As if the popcorn shell had shoved up under your gums and was starting to bleed and perhaps was pressing against a nerve. It was more than an annoyance; I knew something was medically wrong.
Thing is, I could see something moving under there. Beneath the surface of my skin, under this place on my arm where my flesh was stretched taught like a particularly infected pimple, I could see a rippling movement. Worse yet, I could feel it. There was something wriggling around close to the bone. Deep within my arm I felt something moving and I wanted to get it out. No wonder I could barely talk to anyone.
I was home, scratching and rubbing my forearm. I threw my coat off and sprinted for my desk, rummaging through the drawers until I found an Exacto knife. I should have boiled it for a half an hour or at least poured rubbing alcohol on it, but fuck that. I shoved the blade into the hurting spot on my arm and split it wide open. Lymph fluid squirted out and drained all over the place. There it was, a wriggling, tiny white worm, the size and diameter of a teency hunk of vermicelli. I knew its name was Franklin. Goddamnit, don’t ask me to explain this because I can’t. I just sort of knew in my head, the same way I know when someone behind my back is staring at me, that this maggoty thing crawling out of my arm was called Franklin. It talked to me somewhere in my mind. It said things.
Yes, of course, I used a pair of tweezers to try and pull it out. Franklin didn’t like that. I convulsed on the floor for a while; the worm did things to the inside of my head to teach me a lesson. My body responded in kind. I don’t know how long I was in that state, jerking around, twitching and hitting the back of my head on the bathroom tiles but when I came out of it there was foamy froth from my mouth soaking all down the front of my shirt. Good thing it was a weekend.
We eventually arrived at a truce. Franklin stayed, emerged halfway out of the pore in my arm and the other half NOT against the bone or a nerve (so that he itched like crazy but no longer caused any pain) and I would not try to use any implements to extract him further. But the itching, oh god, the itching. Unfair.
A very sleepless night, made worse that I’d run out of cigarettes. The corner store didn’t open til five in the morning, but that wasn’t going to be much of a problem since the overwhelming desire to scratch that certain place in my arm—an act made clear that was now forbidden—would prevent me from falling asleep. At 4:55 I put on my coat, went outside and started walking. I had my lighter in my pocket; as soon as I stepped out of the store I was going to burn one and feel the nicotine rush. On the way, though, a small, yapping poodle ran up and started barking at me like the small scrap of fur could actually defend its territory.
“You hate poodles, don’t you?” This was the Franklin voice and I wasn’t happy to be hearing from it again.
“Yes, I hate poodles,” I said.
“Why don’t you do something about it?”
Well now this was just stupid. I hate cocoanut, too, but I’m not moved to ‘do’ anything about it, other than not eat it.
“No, I think you ought to do something about it.”
“I don’t think a dog—“ I started, but then reached down and grabbed the yappy beast by the neck. I started to squeeze.
“No, we need a quicker fix,” said Franklin.
So I grasped both of the dog’s hind legs together and swung it over and over, making sure it’s head made swift, repeated contact with the sharp, curbed corners of the green dumpster until it stopped barking and no longer moved. I was just about to throw the lifeless body of the annoying dog into the trash receptacle, but then Franklin spoke up:
I knew, I absolutely knew this was not what I wanted to do, but nevertheless pressed the dogs bloodied, open head against my mouth and started sucking like Traci Lords. I felt the warm poodle blood go coursing down my throat, and just before I would have thrown up…I noticed the itching in my arm had not only subsided but stopped all together. The relief was so overwhelming that I just kept sucking down whatever came into my mouth, spitting out bone fragments as needed.
The globules of brain were a lot like swallowing semen.
I got my cigarettes. It was a secondary pleasure. It was though the worm, satiated, were sleeping. So, standing in the corner store parking lot, I slid the lever so my Bic lighter was at full flame. I pressed it against the section of my arm containing the half-out Franklin. I screamed as my flesh became cauterized but I heard a separate screaming in my brain as the exposed part of the worm curled into a blackened crisp. After that, in my head: radio silence.
I made it home, the rest of Sunday was lovely, although I drank a lot.
Now it is Monday morning and I’m taking a shower; getting ready to head into the office. I look down, and there’s a tiny, white worm burrowing out of my meatus, the slit in the head of my penis from which I pee and ejaculate. Her name is Bethany, coincidentally the same name of a girl I once loved who never loved me back. She itches and is painful and keeps telling me how much I hate my boss.
I’m about ready to flick my Bic. Or I might just go into work and see my boss.
Monday, January 2, 2012
Yeah, I know, it's like I've ignored this thing for a year and suddenly there are two hopefully disturbing things in one day. I'm all right; Joe suggested I do something in a different vein and so I did. I will return to the usual comedy ha-ha soon enough. Just wanted to try my hand at writing horror stories; I think the evidence speaks that I should stick to what I know. But, lousy or not it did get me back on the blog. So I'll see you soon, ok?
I really wish I could quit smoking. It’s a habit I can’t afford, makes me smell funny and most people don’t like it at all. I’ve tried the patches, the gum, the lozenges; no going. Can’t shake it. Thing is, from everything I’ve read it’s probably going to kill me eventually. That might even be why I can’t stop: knowing it’s the coward’s way of offing himself. No blood-drenched body for friends and family to find; just a guy in a hospital bed who brought it on himself. It’s not that I really want to die. I’m just not all that wild about living.
But that seems so romantically glorious compared to the real thing. It’s four-thirty in the morning and I’m out of cigs. Watching the minutes tick by on the little clock in the corner of the computer screen, waiting for six A.M. when the corner store opens and I can go buy some more with money I don’t really have. I’ve already sifted through the trash and re-smoked the last of the butts I’ve thrown away and all of life is focused on buying that fresh, new pack. But it’s not even five and the store doesn’t open for more than an hour and there’s no space in my head for anything other than cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes. Damn.
Time crawls but eventually gets there. I take the short cut, walking through graffiti-slathered alleys to get to the damn store. I have ransacked couch cushions and dresser drawers to scrape up enough change. I don’t have enough to buy my usual—itself a low-rent, knockoff, bargain brand. I scan the counter and see a pack of Cassandras—some low, low priced import things I’ve never heard of. But the price is right and it’s full-flavor and promises to be packed with nicotine goodness so I don’t care. “A pack of Cassandras, please,” I say as though I’m purchasing a diamond bracelet at Tiffany’s.
I get outside and rip the cellophane off the top of the pack right then and there in the parking lot. With shaking hands, I fish one out, put it to my lips and light it up. The nicotine receptors in my brain fire off like bottle rockets and thank me profusely. But then, strange thought: something about a dead little girl.
I make my way back down the alleys and, momentarily, all seems right with the world. That first smoke of the day. I’m not a loser shuffling through a gravel-covered alley; I’m Cole Porter in a swanky, thirties nightclub and the toast of the town. I’m the top. This one thing dangling from my lips has made all the difference.
I get back to my street. Uh oh. Flashing lights all around and I arrive just in time to see a tiny, sheet-covered body being loaded into the coroner’s van. A neighbor, some guy I never met, is openly weeping. Seems his seven-year-old daughter was out in the street and hit by a Pepsi truck. I hear the crowd of onlookers telling the story. Something about a dead little girl.
I’m back in my room. I peep out the window blinds and see most of the crowd has gone away. The man, the neighbor, is still there just staring at an empty spot in the middle of the street. Shit, I think, I need a cigarette. Because this is how it works: I never WANT a cigarette; I always NEED them. I’m stressed—I need a cigarette. I’m bored—I need a cigarette. I’m wishing I was dead—I’ll bet a cigarette would help. I need this. I deserve this. And so on.
So I got out my pack of Cassandras and lit one up, studying the package like a grade school kid reading the back of a cereal box while he eats breakfast. Again, that first hit did everything it was supposed to do. But a weird, fleeting thought: an old woman vomiting blood.
I could not shake this thought. Now I’ve had trouble with thoughts like these in the past: they show up for no reason and don’t go away. This one, though, was different. I could see it happening, felt like it was real and knew I was powerless to do anything about it. Again and again, my mind’s eye replayed the picture of an elderly woman clutching the edge of a sink and puking blood into it. I noticed the connection: every time I lit a cigarette I would see her, larger and more vivid. Her grey bun of hair had become untangled, one strand, blood-soaked, was trailing into the sink as she coughed up crimson in loud, racking sobs. Her eyes were clenched tightly shut although smeared with her own tears, running down her face and smearing her rouge and face powder. She kept banging on the sink with her heavily veined fist, a fresh eruption of blood would shoot from her mouth, she’d scream and finally drop to the floor. I kept seeing this.
My boss did not show up for work the next day. His mother had killed herself by drinking Sani-Flush.
This was horrible, cruel news. A few co-workers and I went out on the porch for smoke break. Gary was saying, “Yeah, I just don’t know how you can live with something like that…” and as I took a drag I saw him, I fucking saw him, go into his daughter’s bedroom and unzip his pants.
This is the part where I am losing it and don’t know what to do. There exists the real possibility that I have lost my mind. But I saw that fucker Gary do his thing and want to call him on it. But what’s going to come from that? Is he going to confess everything here at work and go get help? Doubtful. Is he going to call me a nut and physically lay into me? It could happen. I do what I know I shouldn’t and just keep quiet.
I smoked another one. I saw Gary getting away with everything, my neighbor crying as his wife consoles him and my boss having to clean up a mess. I don’t want this, but I need a cigarette.
Life has not been the best, lately. I’m at the age I’m supposed to have everything together but I never managed to make that work out and am stupid in a lot of ways and have a bunch of fucking issues and blah blah blah and things just didn’t work out the way I wished they would have. So I got on Craigslist and found a place to live. Rented a room with some college kids young enough to be my own damn children. You know what? I don’t even care about how pathetic this is. I’m just happy to have a roof over my head.
Ever meet somebody you can’t stand on sight? My new roommate Dick is, or was, just such a person; his name pretty much sums him up. Now perhaps it’s a case of meeting one’s shadow self—he thinks he’s funny when actually he’s just annoying—but no, not a fan. My first day in the new place and he’s knocking on my door and telling me stories about meeting lesbians and converting them over to the straight side and I just want him to dry up and blow away. But no, he goes on and on and decides he’s my new bestest buddy and is going to show me the ropes on what it’s like to live here. So he babbles, and babbles and I dearly wish he would choke on his own tongue. But he doesn’t. “Oh, hey!” he shouts, “You haven’t met Bob!” Motherfucking Dick grabs me by the shirt sleeve and actually pulls me out of my room—as if we were that familiar—and leads me out the door onto our back balcony. “Meet Bob!” he shouts in triumph.
What I am looking at is a moulded rubber bayonet practice dummy with caricatured, Vietnamese features. It was something the landlord brought home from the war, a long time ago. It is a head and a rather ripped torso on a metal post. Instantly, I assign a voice to it. No, not a cartoonish “Velly Solly, me no work in the rice paddies” but just something in my head that made it seem like this rubber thing was talking to me. I did not like this feeling. Not at all.
Goddamn Dick was carrying on about how everyone called it Bob and I should too, and so forth. I didn’t care; I’d already made up my mind I didn’t like him.
It was my first night in the new place. I was tired; I went to bed early. But I had a very vivid dream: I saw Bob, the dummy, and the voice in my head asked, “Want me to fix it?”
I woke up with police in my room. Dick had been found in the bathroom, dead, an apparent suicide. A whole bottle of prescription pain pills washed down with a few cans of Four Loko. I’m like, “Look, I just moved in here yesterday, I don’t know the guy, no I don’t know if he was depressed or anything, really I don’t know.” I guess they bought it but they didn’t seem any too happy about it.
And that goddamn thing, that goddamn Bob: Every time I would go out the back door I’d catch sight of it, think it was a person standing there and jump out of my skin and shriek like a little girl. But the frozen look on its face made it seem like it KNEW that would happen and my response was just what it wanted.
Another bad dream…something about my mother. She’d been dead for a few years but in the dream she was back and I was young and being punished. I awoke with a jolt. In the corner of the room I saw the unmistakable shadow of the thing that was supposed to be on the back balcony. “Life’s what you make it,” said the voice in my head. I grabbed for the lamp and switched it on. Nothing. Just me, about to pee the bed.
Now I’ve had some mental health issues in the past. I mean, I didn’t see or hear shit that wasn’t there or anything, just kinda had trouble reacting emotionally in an appropriate manner and that kind of stuff. But this business with seeing Bob in my room was a whole new level of crazy. I went out on the back balcony. I rubbed my hands across his face, his rubber chest and said out loud: “Stop it.” The voice in my head said, “Oh, we’re just getting started.” And the thing fucking grinned. At least I think it did.
I ran back into the house. Bob was in the middle of the goddamn kitchen.
I must have fainted, passed out, lost my shit, I dunno. I woke up on the kitchen floor, alone—there was no bayonet dummy in the room. It was out on the back porch where it belonged. I got up and went back to my room and started playing on Facebook. But then, that voice, that same voice: “The people you love don’t really love you back.” It wasn’t like before, I didn’t SEE Bob but I could imagine him. The voice in my head would not turn off: “Come outside and play. You know you want to.”
So now I’m outside. I have a serrated steak knife. I could slash up some rubber or I could slash up some flesh. Not sure what to do.