Ga-Ga-Voo-Doo

It's Alive (B&W)

Will our baby be smart? Will our baby be handsome? Will he be healthy? Will he try to kill me?

Yes, I’ve done thunk it. The baby inside my wife’s belly could kill me. Could kill you. Could try to kill us all. 

If you are my age, give or take a year or two, there’s a good chance that you too spent some parts of your summers between the grades of elementary school and junior high watching a few things that maybe your prepubescent brain wasn’t quite ready to reasonably consume on what used to pass for HBO, Showtime, and The Movie Channel. I’m not talking about the soft-core porn, aka what I used to refer to as “The Happy Music Movies,” though I’m sure plenty of us only accidentally managed to view some of that as well. I’ve referenced some of the films from those salad days of my youth in previous posts. Clockwork Orange, Motel Hell, The Tin Drum, just to name a few. Many of my most disturbing daydreams are certainly the direct result of those three specifically. I’m fascinated by the idea that a handful of prophetic, polarizing, and/or horror films seen at a too-soon-age might have formed long lasting sinister effects on my gray matter.

It’s Alive was released in 1974, but must have been in heavy rotation a decade or so later for me to have seen it. If you were to study up on the film, you might decide that there is some credible subtext to this B horror film regarding the rights of the unborn, some segment of society’s ethical implications revolving around the use of fertility drugs, and possibly even abortion itself. All of that might be a stretch, but I’ve seen a few things suggesting as much on the internet. For me though, it was a simple story about a horrible demon baby that was just cute enough for you to not root against completely as it tore through the city on an unintentionally murderous rampage. “The child is just frightened,” Lenore Davis (the mother) was fond of saying throughout the film—the baby monster would coo just enough in between its blood curdling screams to keep you from rooting for it to be captured and killed. At least I remember wanting it to live despite all of the horrible atrocities it had committed.

I imagine far more people have seen Alien than It’s Alive, and so I’m guessing a far more common and utterly disturbing vision had when observing your baby momma’s belly is the infamous emergence of the true star of that futuristic film. I ping-pong between the two narratives, though thankfully not on a daily basis.

Spoiler Alert: The fanged little nipper from It’s Alive didn’t kill its Pops. In fact, by the end, and despite Frank’s (the father) original intention of killing it, their bond was pretty strong. The majority of this post has been a soft-set-up for the real question that’s been on my mind. Maybe it’s too dark a suggestion to make on a blog that was original born to playfully mock my madness and whet the appetites of what I’d hoped would be a growing readership patiently waiting for new musings in the form of novels—but has it ever occurred to you that once you commit to brining a new life into the world, that it’s possible—I’m not saying probable—but possible that the added being may very well be the one that takes you out of this physical realm? I’ve not bothered to look up the odds, though foggy memories of statistical analysis done against murder does seem to conjure up some claim that a good many of them are perpetrated against the victim by some one they knew.

As macabre as it may be, it seems to this odd duck that along with what I’m guessing are the fairly typical concerns of a would-be parent, that a sort of peaceful acceptance of the possibility of your own demise by its hands is about the only sane way to move forward.

 

 

Telepathetically Duped

On the ride home this evening, the disc-jerkys who do a quasi-news show of some note here in LA were discussing the story of an Arizona man who drove all the way to Hidden Hills to be with his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian, who he’d been communicating with telepathically. He claimed he’d been invited. Of course, he’s been taken to a medical center, placed under psychiatric hold, and awaits treatment. It’s all together possible the man is confused, crazy, needs some sort of medication–I’ll allow for all of that, but I couldn’t help wonder if one the following two scenarios were also possibilities:

1) The Arizona guy actually has the gift, is able to communicate that way, and just happened to be tricked by a prankster who uses the same mental gift sophomorically-maliciously. A Manti Te’o type hoax performed in a more otherworldly fashion.

2) Less probably, Kim herself has telepathy, invited him, and either denied the communication intentionally or forgot that she’d made the come-on at all. Maybe she didn’t expect him to actually show. Maybe this was her first successful transmission and it caught her off guard.

I’m simply suggesting that the gentleman caller, even disheveled as deputies described him (he just bee-lined from Arizona to Hidden Hills, wouldn’t we all be a little unkempt?) might simply be the victim of a third-eye ruse that ultimately leaves him a drooling memory in a padded room courtesy of psychotropics in a he-said-she-said mystery that not a soul thought to investigate further. At least that’s what I’m hearing in my own head.

 

BlackBerry Between the ButtCheeks

Five years ago today, I awoke to find myself in what had basically become my home away from home–the psych ward in yet another New York City hospital. I lay shivering in the fetal position on top of an over-sized Lazy Boy recliner coated in plastic wearing nothing but my skivvies, suicide socks, and a hospital issue gown. As my body shifted in its state of semi-consciousness, I realized there was something stuffed in my drawers. “Ahh, my BlackBerry.” I’d outsmarted yet another intake team, and managed to sneak my cellular salvation into the observation room. “I’ll have myself out of here in no time,” I thought.

I pushed myself off of the chair gently in order to make sure the device didn’t find its way to the floor with a crash that would most certainly alert the gentleman seated on the other side of the plexiglass window to my possession of it. Success! The phone stayed neatly snug between the thin cotton layer of my over-worn Hanes and my lilly white cheeks. I shuffled like a crippled sloth, past the third of three occupants sharing the room with me that morning, and into the attached bathroom without making anyone the wiser.

Surprisingly, that restroom had a door you could shut for privacy. And once I’d closed it, I reached into my underwear to retrieve the phone so that I could go about the business of texting friends and family with a familiar refrain: “I need help, but I don’t need to be in this hospital.” Followed by what I’m sure would have been desperate digital pleas to my locals to come and pick my sorry ass up. I held the BlackBerry up, in, and around every square inch of that bathroom–no luck though–like a stranded honeymooner desperately fighting their way out of The Grand Canyon, I was teased with the occasional single bar indicating that just enough reception would soon be mine. And then, the track ball popped out of the phone and into the toilet itself. Did I fish it out? Hell yes. Did it matter? Not one bit.

Later in the day I would attempt for the third time in as many years to convince the doctor and or shrink that I had no business being there–that I’d simply had too much to drink the night before and that my friends mistook my mention of committing suicide as the truth. Had I been sitting on the floor of my apartment with a knife, pushing it into my wrist to test out the idea? My memory seems to suggest that was the case. Either way–I had no intention of staying put and the way out was simple. Twice before I’d managed to get myself out two Manhattan psych wards, my spiel was well rehearsed, and so I sat shivery in wait for my opportunity to speak to the next city rube who’d decide to allow a mad man back out onto the streets in order to make room for the real head cases.

I’ll never remember the doctor’s name, and while my brain can sometimes reconstruct hints of his thick accent, I’d only be guessing when I say that I believe he was from some part of Africa. He was kind, patient, and relentless. No amount of bullshit I shoveled his way could penetrate his firm belief that I was in need of help, and despite what seemed like an hour’s worth of cleverly constructed pleas made by me, he finished our meeting by simply stating, “You aren’t going anywhere.” I had finally been defeated. Bested by a stranger who didn’t care about the threats I’d made of lawsuits, powerful friends–who ignored the typical city protocol of making a quick assessment and just sending another citizen back out into the world to fend for himself.

24 hours later, you’d have found me on a flight from NYC to SF in order to attend my second rehab. And while my successful sobriety is the complex creation of many many things, to this day I hold that stranger who looked me in the eyes and said, “I believe you are lying” in very high regard.

And yes, when he was finished, I did go right back to the bathroom and try to put that little poo-pee-covered track ball back into my phone in order to find the signal that had previously eluded me.

Home Sweet Zombie Proof Home

Full disclosure: I’ve been known to use words and the turn of a phrase in the descriptions and depictions of the content I create in order to get the eyeballs of a confused and attention deficit disordered nation to take a gander at my sweet, sweet prose. Some are more offensive than others I suppose, and I’d probably not have given it much thought had My Dead Friend Sarah  not received more than a few snipes related to that indiscretion. I suppose a bunch of freeloaders downloaded my novel on the few days I’ve made it available gratis expecting it to be some sort of horror story involving the otherworldly spirit of a woman who was someone’s friend. Double full disclosure: I surmised that some people might pick it up for that very reason and hoped that once they’d engaged with a few chapters it’d have won them over nonetheless, but alas, the world wants a description that leaves no surprises as has been evidenced by two decades worth of countless movie trailers that leave little story untold in the hopes of grabbing another man’s eight to sixteen bucks dependent on their locale. It’s a sad world that way, and I’ve probably already lost many readers by this sentence–those who didn’t give me a chance to come back to some  semblance of what this post’s title suggests you’ll be reading about. It’s that kind of world, and you can choose to manipulate it at your own peril–which in previous instances has been the aforementioned reception of an ugly string of words put together to critique a book after a reader felt jilted for having spent a few precious hours diving into something deeper than a ghost story. I’ll wrap up this paragraph with no apology for those who snatched my book from the internets for free, and with only a nod to the possibility that my next book’s title might be more explicit.

For quite a few years now Ariele and I have judged our homes by the Zombie Proof method. In casual conversations had with friends and strangers over those same few years, it’s become apparent that we aren’t the only souls who do so.

First things first then: For me that two-word combination is really just slang for, “Is this a home that will be too difficult to breach by an actual living evil person who is intent on binding and torturing us in the middle of the night?” That’s the reality of my irrationality, and that’s my chief fear–waking with duct tape across my mouth, hands rendered useless, face already stinging from punches to the face gone undefended and a vision of the Mrs. in a similar situation seated across from me through the tears and blur of my pain-soaked eyes. Zombies may one day be as real as we all seemingly want them to be, but until then the more relevant threat is the one, two or three sadistic beings who just happen to decide your time is up.

While any effort to research those types of home invasions will prove that it can happen in just about any kind of dwelling you call home, it is hard not to argue that the condo and apartment style living of Brooklyn that I engaged in for nearly seventeen years dramatically decreased the odds of it ever happening to me. Floors high up in the sky, multiple locked doors between the psycho and you, numerous other inhabitants of the same building on the look out for something suspicious thanks to the TSA, and, in my case, more than a few units that required numerous steps up steep sets of stairs–only the most fit gang of miscreants would dare think about lugging their utensils and tools of destruction up four or five flights of stairs. So in more ways than a few, one of the most dangerous cities in the country (at least as it perceived by anyone who’s never bothered to live there) always afforded me what same might deem a false-sense of security–especially in those sickly ticks of the clock that denote the witching hours of midnight to four. (I’ve no idea what the witching hours actually are, but for me they are the four hours of the evening that I’m most likely deep deep asleep and therefore unable to put to use what little mixed martial arts I’ve learned from the following films: Karate Kid, Kill Bill, and perhaps The Bourne Identity).

In roughly three weeks, I’ll have spent a full year away from the city living that metaphorically for me was like a warm blanket or two wrapped around the just-shy-of-new-born so snuggly stuck in the womb. And I’ll have done so without incident–and while I can appreciate the fabulous design of multiple deck doors and the light they afford, or relish in the ability to re-enter my home from its delightful backyard via this thing normal people call a backdoor, or even wonder if I could ever enjoy sleeping without the cool breeze that flows through our new bedroom during the evening hours thanks to the insane vortex of winds born from easily entered windows and bedroom deck doors–I simply can not, will not, certify this new home as Zombie Proof.

At least not until we go out and get us ourselves some suburban landmines for that there pretty yard we got now.

Good Ol’ Scaly-Six-Toes Rosch

Some stories require a little TMI in order to pack a true punch. And thus, I’ll have to cop to this: I have possibly either eczema or psoriasis. It drives me f’in crazy even as skin poachers from the east to west coasts tell me, “Oh, yours is very mild.” Easy for them to say–I suspect they all save the best treatments (eczema, acne, rosacea) for themselves in order to create some sort of bizarre ruling class of super-skinned Dr. Zizmors. They are oh-so-fond of telling me things like, “You should try and relax more, don’t stress as much, don’t take hot showers, get a bit more vitamin D.” Some years ago the woman who delivered this information and other profound thoughts on how to control it finished all of these informative tid-bits with comma sugar, baby, or honey. It was a good trick–she had me nodding along like a calf being led to slaughter. “Keep the eczema-ed reeling,” they say, in their secret posh clubhouses where they rub themselves in only the finest working lotions and creams.

The only true cure I’ve ever come upon was living in the sweet, sweet humidity and sunshine that Costa Rica provided me. Add that to the list of reasons I wish we’d never left. So far, Los Angeles hasn’t gifted me the same. So two days ago, you’d have found me making my case to yet another dermi in suite 101 of one of those classic health professional office blocks. A nice lady–aren’t they all–and I went in simply to show her the flare-up and ask that she kindly deliver me a script for the same spray I’ve been using for years with some success. It should have been a transaction as easy as ordering my daily Venti iced-coffee at StarBucks (though I’ve found that to be considerably more trying so far away from the East-Coast work ethic I admire more and more daily). Did I leave after just a short visit with the means to a medicine I so desperately craved? No.

Somehow, and as a gratefully recovering alcoholic I’ll take my part in it all, I let her talk me into experimenting with the supposedly latest and greatest snake oil. “You can just grab it at the pharmacy across the street. Super easy, and here’s a card that will let you pay nothing for the first batch.” She said. She didn’t use the word “batch.” But I am. Call it whatever you want to call it, doesn’t change the fact that the pharmacy she sent me to had to special order it. At the time this was all happening, I hadn’t the time to process it as anything more than a terrible inconvenience. With the gift of hind-sight and a quick recap of the days events with my favorite suspicious aloysius conversationalist, Ariele, I came to realize what I’d really just been signed up for:

Have you seen the film Side Effects? Doesn’t really matter. All you really need to know is: Big Pharma loves money. And part of their plan to get more of it is to sell you drugs. That’s not being conspiratorial, that’s just business. Yes sir, they’ve got something that will help you, and like the stink under your arms, they’d prefer what ever ails you never really go away because that’d prevent you from being a repeat customer. I don’t begrudge them that. That’s business. That’s as much on us for not doing due-diligence in taking care of our own shit before it becomes problematic.

Now then, back to me–this whole damn site is about me, save a post or two, and here’s what I’m getting at: My new dermi, like any other doctor, probably likes money too. And I’m quite positive that I’ve only been given this new miracle cure for free, on her recommendation, because somewhere, someone is paying her to make that selection. My tried and true Clobex isn’t filling her coffers with new shoe money. I saw her shoes. They didn’t look cheap. What really tipped me off to the fact that I’d become yet another guinea pig was when she asked me to return in just three short weeks to see how it was going with this new elixer. “Odd,” I thought. “Usually I just spray a few times a day for a few weeks and it goes away, what’s to see in three weeks?” Well, the answer seems simple now: I’m part of a clinical trial of something that might possibly have me growing a sixth toe before summer’s end. And that three week check-in is necessary for her to make sure I’m not and, far more importantly,  that three week check-in is necessary for her to document the results so she can tell the company who cranks it out how well it’s doing, so that in turn, she can get some of that shoe money.

So, in about a month, god willing or devil be damned, I’ll be either eczema free once again or still covered in it with six toes on each foot, while that elite class of fair skinned snake-oil-salesmen and the companies who pay them snarf my hard earned (now heavily taxed by the state of California–hey, where’s it all going btw California, where?) dough.

Tales from the Crypt (Except replace the word Crypt with RAV4)

Bare with me through this lengthy tale friends, and I’d like to believe that you won’t be disappointed. Of course, I also simultaneously believe that if you do take the time to read it in full, that you’ll be disturbed enough to possibly unfollow this blog, cancel your friendship with me via other social channels, and maybe even phone the authorities to have me taken away to a padded cell. I’ll take my chances in the name of keeping myself semi-relevant to you for another week.

If you follow me on Instagram, you likely saw a few pictures of the fantastic place I visited at the beginning of last week. A wonderfully desolate locale known as Alabama Hills. Three days there shooting what I hope we’ll be an amazing thirty second spectacle has left me with many fine tales, but it is the journey home that is the subject of this post. The roughly three or so hours spent mostly alone behind the illuminated wheel of what was formerly my mother-in-law’s RAV4, driving from Lone Pine back to Venice, on the heels of a 12 hour shoot day in the hot sun of a desert not far removed from Death Valley.

Why was I alone in the car with no co-pilot to help guide me or share the responsibility of staying awake to stay alive for one more day, despite having ample co-workers present on set with me? Simple. I had made it very clear that I’m a man who likes to drive at a reasonable speed–and a man who demands that any one driving him also mimics the cruising behaviors of a seventy-year old man. And thus, I was left to my own devices–mostly smokes, caffeine, and the earbuds snaking from my cellphone to the left and right of my brain–to keep me awake and alive on that dark journey back down CA-14.

Fifteen minutes into the trip back home, and despite my best efforts to keep up,  I’d already lost sight of the four souls in the Ford blazing the trail in front of me. “No worries,” I thought. “I’ll just ring Ariele and talk to her for awhile.” I spoke into my iPhone, demanded that Siri ring the Mrs., and believe it or not even my low grumble from time to time results in Siri’s obedience. The phone rang, but alas, Ariele was unavailable to pick up the phone. I left a message, recorded via her voice mail what I surmised might be my last known location on the map and pulled off to what I thought might be the last gas station for quite some time.

In my haste to grab a beverage from the station’s market, I left my phone on the passenger side seat of the RAV4. So when Ariele called me back, she did not find me on the other end either. But, at the moment, I was relieved–as I always am–to know that she was still alive. “I’ll phone her back in fifteen minutes or so,” I schemed. “After I’ve had a chance to drink this diet coke and burn a butt with the windows down.” And that’s precisely the plan I put into action. But, when I finally got around to phoning her again, repetitive rings followed by an almost unfamiliar recorded greeting left me unsure of exactly why we’d been unable to connect not once, not twice, but now thrice.

I didn’t bother with another message. I figured she’d not had the speed to grab the phone before it’s final ring, and was quite certain I’d be hearing back from her within minutes if not seconds. When I didn’t, I put my voice to use again and asked Siri to ring my mother. We spoke for some 40 minutes, and our conversation had certainly aided me in my quest to stay alert while not-quite-speeding down that moon-lit highway. But, in the back of my mind a kernel of concern regarding the whereabouts of my wife began to take hold. “Mom, I must let you go. I’ve got to phone Ariele.” I barked. “I’ll speak to you soon.”

I phoned Ariele again. No luck. I placed the phone back into the passenger seat and assured myself that she’d call me back as soon as she was able. “Perhaps a spot of traffic, perhaps she is consumed with playing with our cat, perhaps her phone died and she doens’t quite realize it yet.” Many logical possibilities were uttered nearly aloud by me, for me, to sooth the twisted mess of a mind that I knew might start piecing together far more heinous scenarios involving my lovely. But my efforts to keep that devious gray beast from betwixt my ears at bay were for not. And within mere moments of having finished the last drag of my umpteenth smoke the very brain that was working to keep me calm with rational thinking, began to paint three distinct possibilities–three scenarios, and only three–that with each passing mile became more and more concretely certain.

Fact: My masters had arranged an after-work cocktail shindig in at Gene Simmons’ joint in downtown El Segundo that evening. I knew this to be true, and I knew via a brief text exchange before I hit the road that Ariele had decided to go. It was a decision that had whole-heartedly delighted me prior to reaching the utterly creepy town of Mojave, CA, as I tend to take great comfort in knowing that Ari gets out and about when I’m not around. Riding into hour two of my now hypnotic journey though, that fact only served as fodder to construct those aforementioned fates.

1) Being the lightweight that she is, two drinks had been too many. (I have no idea why this woman who I know to only have typically one drink, all of the decided to have two, but dammit that’s what she’d had). And thusly, one her way back from El Segundo to the sublet we currently call home, she’d had an accident. Likely on the backroad home along the Pacific. Likely end result: She is no longer with us or horribly crippled.

2) Perhaps at some point in the three days I was away I’d said something that had been misinterpreted by her own brand of crazy as something spiteful, unappealing, or hurtful. The lives of couples frequently separated by the rigors of their profession are filled with phone conversations that walk the fine line of sadness and madness due to the additional strains of having to cope with the daily routine without your favorite companion. It was a possibility, though I could not recall any exchange that’d we’d had that had ended on a less than high note. Even so, option two had me surmising that perhaps some younger buck had wooed her, and they were off to do the devil’s business.

One and two, and they came in that order, seemed highly unlikely. And yet, I’d still received no phone call back. With these two options decidedly difficult to approve by even me, my brain focused on the third far more likely scenario.

3) Ariele had left El Segundo after not even a whole alcoholic beverage, had made it safely back to Venice, had put off calling me back while in the car as is required by the law, had parked a few feet down the road from the entrance to our cottage and while fumbling with the keys to enter the gate due to the extreme darkness of the street had been put to sleep by a chloroform soaked rag in the hand of an abduction van driving lunatic. After all, from the moment I checked into our sublet many weeks ago I was suspicious that the difficulty of working the key in the nearly faulty gate lock would allow for such a tragic event to eventually occur.

And so there it was: the most obvious ending to what come September would have been just over four years of our amazing journey together. Even as I assured myself that this was probably not at all the situation, I began to run through my own fate now that she was likely on her way to being forever tortured in a dark basement somewhere or, if I was lucky, found in a ditch a few months from now. A deep darkness descending upon my car. True, I was relived to know that there was no way that I could be blamed for foul play, with my being so very far removed from Venice that day, but with this knew knowledge I began to wonder what was next for the kid.

If I knew her to be dead, with one-hundred percent certainty, wouldn’t the next right thing be for me to intentionally drive the Rav-4 off the next available mountain cliff? And if I did, could I really be sure that the tumble the vehicle would take would end my own life instead of just leaving me permanently disfigured and facing many hardships ahead? What other options did I have? A life spent in search of my soul mate ala Kiefer Sutherland going after an almost unknown Sandra Bullock was certainly an option. Head spinning, lungs filling over and over again with the bizarre combination of my own poisonous smoke and the rush of clean desert air, it occurred to me that on the plus side–with me dead or living, the relationship we’d forged (our very existence together) might possibly be held up as legendary. Future errors and indiscretions, miscommunications and temporary set-backs were no-longer a possibility. The future, the one baking in my skull, would be filled with phrases like, “They were such an amazing pair, tragic–who knows what a love like theirs might have accomplished down the road? We can be sure of one thing, no man and woman on earth ever loved each other quite like they did–Princess Bride style love that was.”

This was the tarnished but still slightly silver lining to it all. Ironic yes, as I’d not just a few minutes early temporarily placed her with another, but I’d had to have had that thought in order to get to the truth! Before I could commit to anything brash, I decided one last text or two was necessary to remove all doubt. “Text Ariele,” I barked into the phone. After I voice texted one last request for some sort of response to relive my growing panic, I simply assumed the next text I’d receive would be from that maniac–something along the lines of, “I’ve got her. LOL.” Or maybe even, “MLOL” which would be some sort of text version of “Mooohoooohahahaha.”

A brilliantly dark curve loomed ahead–the clock was ticking, and the phone did ring. I picked up thinking, “Oh this psychopath is a brave one. Calling me back to deliver his news via his own voice. That’s some 80s type psycho-old-school shit there,” I thought just before Ariele’s voice rang out into my ear, “Hey babe. I’ve called you like four or five times. It went to voicemail, the one you’ve still not set-up, every time.”

And there it was. Ah, yes. The reality that I most often choose to forget: AT&T is shit.

No Sugar Will Be The Death of Me

A recent bout of manic air travel had me observing the behaviors of fellow passengers and indeed even my own interaction with the myriad of strangers one encounters between point A and B. I’d like to think that on a scale of one to ten that my courtesy ranks at a minimum of eight no matter my mood. Since I’m bias and a complete ego maniac when it comes to my own belief that I’m so very much better than the rest of the human stain on planet earth, I’m willing to consider it’s quite possible that I’m no better than a four. If there is a god, more likely some servant of the deity, I’m of the hope that shortly after my final departure from this world that in addition to a catalog of the near-death experiences that might have removed me much earlier than that date, that perhaps it, he, or she, will also be kind enough to rank me legitimately as to my composure among the rigors of the living. Perhaps in the end I’ll score no better than a two for having faked extreme courtesy while quietly condemning and judging my fellow man at nearly every point of the journeys I’ve made. If it’s possible to report on such a thing from that realm, I’ll certainly own up to it and let anyone who cares to still hear from me know the truth.

Part of that truth might include the way I deliver my order for coffee these days–it isn’t exclusive to airport beaneries, but it was on one of these recent legs that I realized that the firm tone I put against the phrases, “no sugar, no sweetener, un-sweetened” could potentially be registered in the brains of service-industry-soldiers as an unnecessary increase in volume and threat. Going way way back, I can recall having been on the receiving end of a few cups of joe that were poisoned with one of that vile trio. The culprit more often than not was an employee of Starbuck’s, but if memory serves (which apparently it really does not), Dunkin’ Donuts and others had a hand in the creation of my twisted delivery of the simple everyday ask. “No Sugar.” I no longer follow it with a please, or whisper it, or expect that the person taking my order is listening to my order at all. And so, that part of the order leaves my mouth like a bullet to the brain. It’s jarring, possibly alarming, and I believe was the impetus behind a recent reaction by an airport barista that left me feeling anxiously confident that perhaps my request was the final straw on the proverbial back of the camel that day. “Sorry,” I said. “I just really hate sugar in my coffee.” I followed it up with a tense grin and watched as this fellow made his own decisions about how he’d like to be ranked on that fateful day in front of the afterlife’s courtesy report reporter. He sighed and moved on, but I didn’t.

Since then, and it’s been a few weeks, I’ve come to believe that if I don’t change the way that I insist that my java come with zero sweeteners of any kind, natural or chemical, that eventually I will run into the wrong mud-slinger and that seemingly benign request will have me receiving my own afterlife courtesy reports and near death experience lists far sooner than I would if I just excepted the fact the majority of this country loves a sweetened cup. Should  I join the clan, simply as an easier means of survival? I attest, I simply can not drink that filth, and so…

“No sugar, please.”

“No sugar, my good man.”

“Un-sweetened if you can, thank you.”

“If at all possible I’d certainly appreciate it if you didn’t sugarize that there concoction.” 

“It’d mean a great deal to me if you didn’t put anything that sweetened my coffee into the cup. (wink, wink and proceed to over-tip).”

Long Con Turkey

The Long-Con, I’m a fan.

Let me start by asking, has there ever been a legitimate request made via email for the banking information necessary to wire money? Do tell. I should probably back up here. Several moons ago, I received an email from a literary agent in Turkey requesting a complimentary PDF of my manuscript. I believe the agent may have mentioned the particular publisher from Turkey that was interested in the translation rights for my book. The entire email was spelled correctly, and if memory serves (it rarely does by the way, so beware) there were less than two grammatical errors–possibly none. Even so, I immediately dismissed the email, positive it was a scam. Still, I took to Google to do some research. There were other souls out there discussing the very same agency, not too many and not too few, with similar questions about this Turkish agent’s legitimacy. If you are an aspiring writer, you’ll probably want to get cozy with the website Writer Beware, which details many of the various scams used to prey upon the “oh-so-desperate-to-be-published.” But, even after going there and numerous searches, I could find no conclusive evidence that the agent and agency weren’t legitimate. Many legitimate publishing websites even listed the agency as one to reach out to in order to get published in Turkey. In the end, I decided to proceed with sending a PDF of the manuscript. I had detailed all the possible miserable outcomes of even that act, most of which ended with me and my wife somehow be kidnapped and tortured and dead, and surmised that at the very worst, someone out there might publish my book without my knowledge and try to make a few lira. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world I thought. “God speed PDF,” I might have said, and probably forgot that I’d even sent by lunch that day. That was way back in June I believe.

Then, sometime around September, lo and behold, I heard back from this gentleman again. He’d found an interested publisher there, and hoped that I’d not moved ahead with someone else (a nice bit of flattery I thought), and said if I was still interested that he’d like to proceed with drawing up a contract. Still one-hundred percent convinced that this was all a scam, I replied, “Absolutely. Please send me the details and I’ll review them immediately.” Again, I heard nothing for several days. I had a new job, was living in a new town, and not unlike the first time, the whole thing fell far into the deep recesses of my brain–probably filed somewhere under Potential Mistakes I’m Currently Making That Will Result in My Demise. It’s a thick file, so not everything sticks.

A few days later, another correspondence with a contract attached. I read it over countless time, consulted with other traditional published writers, googled the names of all partites involved, spun my wheels, and in the end decided to allow possibly ten percent of myself believe it was legit. $1000 advance, and a small percentage of any of the 1500/2000 copies they were planning on publishing in Turkish. Cool by me. “Let my fame grow in Turkey!” I might have internally shouted. I signed the contract, sent two paperbacks, and even then was still certain enough that it was all too good to be true that I decided to hold off on the usual grotesque PRing of myself (something I’ve also often surmised will lead to my early demise) until I received the first half of my advance–then and only then would I allow myself to make a glorious post on Facebook along the lines of, “Friends and Countrymen! I am now also a traditionally published author in the great land of Turkey!”

The receipt of my contract and books was made known via yet another email from the agent. At this point, I might have allowed my belief in the whole thing to shift to about thirty percent. A guy who has “Question Everything. Trust No One.” tattooed on his arm doesn’t go to full on optimism about potential good fortune overnight. Still, I was damn close to making it big news on social media–I’ve got a hole in my soul that needs filling after all.

And so, finally, as I’ve surely bored you toward this post’s conclusion, today, seven or so months after the initial contact from this agent from Turkey, I received an email asking for my bank account information in order to wire me my advance. Ha. Of course. After a bout of even more Googling on him, his company, and the whole scenario–I still can’t say one way or another, and my mind has me believing that the party or parties involved are performing an excellent long con. There are numerous sites and posts out there that would seem to prove them absolutely legitimate. And yet, I can not commit. I am absolutely convinced that I have finally met the grifting bamboozlers that I myself have always romanticized myself to be. Patient, attentive, and going after the most skeptical of souls–doing an amazing amount of seeding, cajoling, and crafting in the hopes that a long, long way down the road I might bilk you of your money with something as obvious a swindle as a wire transfer. If I haven’t already.

On a Highway to Hell

Twisting one’s way at a snail’s pace via a rented motor vehicle up or down the West Coast’s famed Route 1, oohing and ahhing at the almost unnaturally natural scenery that envelopes it from every direction, always seems like a good idea. Or at least in my case, has seemed like a great idea twice before. It is true, you’d be hard pressed to find a single other road in these United States that offers as many stunning views in such rapid succession. And the few small towns that exist between Ventura and Santa Cruz, tucked amongst the tall trees of Big Sur, offer a chance at an oft sought sort of peace away from our daily routines that so many of us seek.

Before I paint my brain’s ugly version of the experience, it would be fair to the road to let you know that our most recent jaunt upon it was in a Prius. A car that delighted me with its gas mileage, but left me uneasy each and every time I went to slow its front-loaded chassis as we sailed into declining turns atop sunlit cliffs, and kept me guessing right after those serpentine kinks with the sickly growl it created while struggling to accelerate back up the mountain while various Beamers, Audis, and the like taunted it from behind. Their drivers apparently with bees in their bonnets–desperate to arrive at some future destination as quickly as possible, and not at all making the same journey in order to observe the reams and reams of jagged rocks that lay to the west of what at times felt like eight, maybe nine, total feet of asphalt.

Still, ultimately, the Prius and my steadfast commitment to driving like an old codger protecting a family of seven got us from Point A to Point Portland. Had it rained much, I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same.

I love to drive long distances–few things relax me more, though in a rental I’m less inclined to light up a smoke while I cover those miles. And that section of Route 1, and some section further up in Northern California, on their worst days couldn’t even come close to ranking as precarious as some of the roads my wife and I have navigated in Costa Rica, where at times the only thing between you and certain death is one or two inches of dirt road to the right or left of the vehicle, that is defying all logic with its refusal to crumble into the ocean below it like the previous six or seven inches of road clearly had before. Those drives of 2011 were some of my favorites–a testament to how my brain writes a revisionist history for us both, as I’m simultaneously positive that I must have been silently cursing the beings who believed a road like that should exist in a place where it rains three to four straight months in the fall.

Similar to Costa Rica, there are scars all along Route 1–evidence of previous mudslides, mishaps, fires and huge chunks of landmass missing, the victims of former storms, and often at the most delicate intersections of manmade bridges and the mountain’s desire to shed some weight. Perhaps the reason for such prevalent speedy driving along that road is the theory that you can outrun the potential dangers. I know I gunned it once or twice, as much as you can gun a Prius, believing that the next slide area might be the last slide area we’d ever visit, and our only chance was to dash through it as quickly as possible.

The sounds of sirens, sadly not the kind that coax you into plowing your sea vessel head first into rocks, might have served as a warning of what lie ahead on ol’ Route 1–at least tipped off a more savvy couple of drifters–but not us, no sir. Even after watching all manner of emergency vehicle race North into the hills from the Elephant Seal Viewing parking lot, we hopped back in the Prius to move forward with our plan of maybe catching a quick hike before sunset somewhere around the cozy cabin that awaited us only sixty short miles that same direction.

Let me partake in scribing the utterly overused phrased, “it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.” Here’s three that capture the dilema our decision to press forward on that mighty two-lane highway thrust us upon. Photographic evidence of what for nearly an hour and a half felt like the first minutes into a new future that would at some point loosely resemble last night’s season three premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Never mind you what might have been the impetus to that complete standstill–though the rumors floated around by the more curious, and thusly the more annoying, of the stranded onlookers that joined us there atop that mountain indicated something along the lines of a drunk driver who crashed his or her SUV into the mountain side, setting it ablaze. Word on the street also indicated that the occupants of that vehicle had walked away from the wreckage unscathed. So see, your real concern should center somewhere around the safety of me and the Mrs.

“So you were inconvenienced, Rosch? Who gives a flying f-bomb?” You say?

Let me lay a few of my own thoughts from the incident before you for your consideration: Did the engineers of that particular stretch of road ever take into consideration the potential havoc the sheer weight of that many vehicles stuck on that cliff might result in after years of soaking in rains and baking in harsh summer suns? When was the last time a good rockslide had rolled through that passage, and what are the chances that a boulder or two might use the opportunity to make its plunge while there were sitting targets to strike? I know if I were a boulder on my way out, I’d like to take a few folks with me for good measure–go down as the most legendary of rocks to ever slide down the mountain, a sort of folk hero for all the remaining boulders to tell their pebbles about before bedtime. How long does it take for a group of impatient drivers–as evidenced by their desire to pass me at every opportunity–to begin some sort of revolt or riot? How many unwatched children will have to peer over the side of this road until one finally vanishes right before my eyes? Can I make it overnight on only the backwash of the Diet Coke sitting snugly beside me and the four cigarettes left in my pack? If there is a fire ahead, and it decides to make its way south down Route 1, can we outrun it? At what point will this Prius’ parking brake make a mockery of modern engineering by releasing the vehicle backwards and into the BMW behind me? Are there mountain lions perched just above us, feeling frisky and totally stoked to have a buffet of folks with almost no exit strategy before them? And if so, will the Prius’ windows hold up to their advances as well as the windows of the hatchback that protected that little blonde boy and his mother in the 80’s Stephen King flick, Cujo? Do we have any real visual guarantees that all of this has been caused by a car wreck at all? Isn’t it possible that this is just the beginning of some sort of infection, and up ahead the police have begun a useless quarantine roadblock of sorts, and simply hadn’t gotten around to letting all of us know our days were numbered? And finally, certainly not the last thought I had, but the final for the purposes of this post–would they hold our room at the cabin if we didn’t show on time, and if not, are we destined to check into something we hadn’t researched the likes of the Pinewood Motel from the movie Vacancy?

I gave long thought and pause to these and many more potential scenarios, and don’t mind telling you that my money was squarely on that last one. After all, what better ending to an intense story of survival amongst the elements than the surprise twist that finds our heros being butchered for snuff films? The answer, of course, is none.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets It

I can only surmise that a big part of why many of society’s ills remain, by and large, unchanged is that there exists a general fear of unmanageable retaliation. We don’t all know one of the many martial arts that might equip us to thwart the blind aggression that might ensue if and when we point out the perverse behavior of another human being, or for that matter, a corporation. We share our personal stories about all that bothers us at our dinner parties, amongst friends on nights out fueled up on our trusty truth serum, and from behind the only seemingly cloaked key strokes of our home computers. But how often do we stand up for what’s right in the actual moment?

Easier to let things slide. Less hassle to pay an extra dime here or there and not have to do the infinite amount of leg work required to right a painstakingly obvious wrong. “Unbelievable,” we might mutter as we watch a woman drop a dirty diaper from her SUV and into the gutter of an otherwise pristine Brooklyn brownstone block–true story that one. And I did watch a braver soul attempt to get her to pick it back up, I believe her response was, “It’s not even soiled.” You see, a pee-peed diaper is just fine.

Rare is the day that I don’t encounter a situation that if put into perspective becomes crystal clear in its wrongness. That might be the net result of being a city dweller, an avid walker, and a guy who always has his peepers scanning left, right and back again for potential thuggery–and that’s regardless of the city street I find myself on. I doubt anyone has ever given the quaint sea-side town of Mendocino, CA a more thorough examination, or painted so many possible, though not probable, acts of pure evil onto its ocean-air-fresh canvas.

As tends to happen when I abstain from blogging for a period of time, I’ve made a mockery of getting to the point. I suppose on this evening, when I am looking back at many of the things that actually occurred to me, or in front of me, over the course of the last four or five weeks, I am wondering–when was the last time I made a fuss over something egregious in an effort to end it, better the situation for others down the road, or at the very least point out its absurdity publicly in the hopes that others might see it for the farce that it is. What was the last incident in your life that you took the extra time to do the same?