Requiem For A Machine

Alert but lazy-headed, stretched out on the sofa, I hear the moan, the sound of a mule’s ghost, as Amy pulls out to go to work.

Just the day before I had watched Amy force her laundry basket through the glassless pukey window, and I thought about the coming winter. I thought about rain. In the coming months there would likely be some. “Normally, when it rains,” she explained to me, “I just carry a big towel with me and only half of my back or half of my ass gets wet. It’s OK. But what does suck is when the rain gets in the driver’s window and it just falls down all by itself. You keep having to push it back up. Just try smoking a cigarette like that.”

Moments after she leaves, my phone rings. “Amy Cell Calling” the readout says.

A 1995 Ford Escort (“Gee Tee” Amy reminds me, swinging her hips with the letters), Purple, the BarneyMobile, the Purple People Eater, the Purple Beast, but lately simply “bitch”. Only the AM radio works, the seatbelts don’t work, and “the airbags don’t work or they would have deployed a long time ago.” Arrayed across the window are countless parking stickers for colleges.

Car Shrine “My car just took a fucking dump on me,” Amy says over the phone, “I’m in the middle of Riviera and people are about to hit me.” She describes the symptoms. Transmission. Probably shot.

“Almost ten years,” she told me over coffee one day. “The longest relationship I’ve ever had. I drove up to New York in that car. I was with my boyfriend. At one point I was driving and I sniffed my armpit and said, ‘I need to shower.’ I found out later he had just farted.” It’s funny the stuff you think of when you’re saying goodbye. Something that was lost almost forever is suddenly right there, never gone. A laugh, a shared fart, a moment in life.

“I’ll be right there,” I say. I scrounge up fresh socks and schlump out to my wheels. The passenger seat is filled with travel debris and luggage, but I decide that time is important if the bitch (I’m referring to the car, of course) is in the middle of the road.

My own memories of the car don’t stretch back so far; tonight I have seen pictures of the car when it was new, and honestly it’s hard to connect the two. For me it will always be the pile of loosely-stacked metal with seats somewhere in the middle. Death Trap. Cop Bait. Moving Violation. It is no more. Tonight we pulled out all the miscellaneous crap that had built up over the years – lighters, CD’s, tapes (no tape player for the last five years), empty packs of smokes, kitty litter, and an endless list of odds and ends.

A shrine stands on her coffee table, heavy with the symbolism of her first true love.

Episode 5: Death in the Street

I finished my drink and braced myself for the heat outside. I stepped out onto the pavement, blinking the sun and sweat out of my eyes. As I turned up the street a figure approached me, little more than a silhouette against the blazing day. The figure stopped abruptly, standing up straighter, as I heard a sharp snap by my right ear. I was already diving for cover when the report of the gun reached me.

I rolled to my left, hoping to dive back into the bar before the next shot found me. The other man stood improbably still, then slowly twisted and crumpled to the sidewalk. A single, clean bullet hole adorned his forehead. His face hadn’t even had time to register surprise as the high-velocity slug bounced around inside his head. As he hit the sidewalk the revolver he had been carrying under his coat clattered to the ground.

A woman emerged from a storefront and almost stumbled over the dead man. She looked at him with distaste until she saw the expanding pool of blood by his head. With a scream she ducked back into the store. The police were going to be here soon. I did not want to be anywhere in the vicinity when they arrived, but I didn’t think I had much choice. Someone must have seen me. It would be easier to talk to them now than explain why I left.

That left me with little to do except keep the corpse company. He had been a big guy, blonde, with that Northern European blockhead look. His hair was short and neatly combed, undisturbed by the violence just beneath its roots. The gun was a .38 Smith and Wesson, clean and deadly. I wondered what he’d been planning to do with it. I didn’t bother looking for ID. The cops would check, but I was willing to guess he wasn’t carrying any. “Who you working for?” I asked him, but he wasn’t telling. I tried another line. “Was that for me?” I asked, gesturing to the gun. I pointed to the hole in his head. “Was that for me?”

His blue eyes were staring straight into the sun. It was starting to bother me, the way he never blinked. I was considering going back into Jake’s when I heard the siren. The patrol car roared to a stop and two uniforms stepped out. I heard more sirens approaching. Anything else the stiff wanted to tell me would have to wait.

The cops were no different than the dead man. There’s two ways for a kid with some muscle but not much brains to get ahead in this city; he can join one of the local gangs, or he can become a cop. It comes down to the same thing either way. They have a boss who tells them whose skull to crack and they go do it. It’s a simple life, and a good living for those untroubled by scruples or the sanctity of human life. They looked me over and told me where to stand until someone with an IQ greater than 12 could come and talk to me. After that there wasn’t much for them to do but stand around looking important and threatening passers-by while the dead guy slowly cooked in the sun.

More squad cars rolled up, with a black sedan hot on their tail, Ed Hennessey hunched over the wheel, grinding his teeth and his gears, coming to a halt in a cloud of blue smoke. I had mixed feelings about Ed. He was a smart guy and a good drinker, but he was a reporter. I’d done some odd jobs for him in the past; once I had produced photos and an address where a priest was engaging in activities decidedly unholy. That story never hit the presses—most of those things don’t—but Ed gave me a nice bottle as a bonus.

I wasn’t enthusiastic about having my name in the paper connected to a story like this one, however. Things were complicated enough already, and having me connected with what appeared to be a straight gang hit was going to make it difficult with some of my usual contacts. I live in a gray world, a world of shadows, and the black-and-white of police cars and the bright light of flashbulbs would send my peers scuttling back under the refrigerator.

Still, if Ed thought I knew something, I’d be able to squeeze a couple of drinks out of him.

If I was ambivalent about Ed’s arrival, the cops were openly hostile. A sweatly-faced patrolman with more more swagger than sense was waiting as Ed unfolded his long frame from behind the wheel of the Chrysler. “You get right back in that car and blow on out of here!” the officer said.

“Hello, Charley,” the reporter called out to me, ignoring the policeman as he might an annoying little dog. “What’s the story here?”

“This is a crime scene,” the officer persisted.

Ed looked at the corpse and acknowledged the cop for the first time. “No kidding?” he asked.

“Stay back,” the cop said. “Stand over there.” He gestured down the sidewalk.

Ed came over and stood by me. He wasn’t making any new friends on the force by acting that way, but considering some of the things he had printed about the local constabulary I didn’t think he had much to lose. He had more he could print, and the cops knew it, or they might have opted to end his career early by making sure his fingers would never operate a typewriter again. A delicate balance of power. I knew he had the goods on them because I had helped him collect some of it. The cops didn’t know that. I don’t think they knew anyway.

“What happened?” Ed asked me, glancing at the corpse.

“Someone shot him,” I said.

Tune in next time for: The Devil You Know!

Another Night at Chumps

I’m tired. Maybe I’ll fill in the details later, but here are the key facts.

It was karaoke night.
I wasn’t in the mood for making an ass of myself.
Jen wasn’t there, and I was slightly relieved about that. In this forum I had kind of waxed lyrical after our last meeting, and I wasn’t sure I could live up to that.
I was talking to an old softball chum when Jen showed up.
I was glad to see her there.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in Prague?” she asked, which meant she remembered me, but maybe I was a continent too close.
I sang a couple of songs, but didn’t nail them. The last one was Dylan, at Jen’s request. I’ve done it better. So has the rest of the planet.
Amy, you were totally wrong. I was right. Let me say that again. You were totally, totally wrong.
Jen can still wail, but she’s got to lay off the duets with (searching for polite term) losers.
Perhaps I could have stayed, but I was feeling decidedly unsmooth. I don’t think I mentioned before about her eyes. They’re good ones. They struck me tonight. Not like getting plowed over by a hurtling Peterbilt kind of struck, but a “damn, those are some fine orbs” kind of way.
I didn’t stay. If it is preordained that you do something stupid, make it walking away.
Pff. Who am I fooling?

Alert! Alert!

Right now, as we speak, Dr. Pants is drinking shitloads of beer and updating his blog after each one. But he’s running out of steam! Jump over and leave a note of encouragement!

New York Sucks

Added 5 years later: The inexplicably high ranking search engines give this little rant has led to a lot of comments below, including some excellent rebuttals to my original points. There are also a lot of people adding their own complaints about the city that never sleeps. All comments are welcome, but overall I find the ones who disagree with me to be more interesting, and a few are worth digging up and reading. There are definitely some things to love about the city. My favorite comments of all, however, are the ones on both sides of the fence that hide their whiny, entitled attitude behind foul language, apparently unaware of the irony.

Recently the quality of comments has been so low that I’ve considered not allowing any more of them. Semi-literate ravers, please don’t bother anymore. There’s already plenty of barely-coherent blather on both sides.

Anyway, on with the original episode:

– – –

In the unlikely event there are two New Yorkers capable of mounting a meaningful defense of their home city, I’ll publish them both. More than two, either I’ll pick the one hardest for me to rebut, or I’ll figure out a way to let the polls decide. Messages of the form “F%*$ you, you f^%#ing f$^*!” will just add to my smug belief that I am better than you are and will be deleted and mocked.

I have for a couple of years now held the opinion that New York City is filled with victims and crybabies. Everyone knew already that the city was filled with arrogant assholes.

To start with the arrogant assholes, here’s a case in point. Tonight I was sitting in a bar, and at the next table was a pair of Yankees fans. Yankees were playing the Bosox, a game with history and significance. You would expect a Yankees fan to be passionate about such a game, and these guys were. I’m OK with that. That’s why God made baseball. That’s why Steinbrenner bought it from Him.

I overheard part of their conversation early. “They’re still talking about ’98 here. Was it ’98? The Yankees humiliated them. It was a sweep.” Now, I don’t know if it was ’98 or ’96, and yes, the Yankees did completely dominate the Padres. It was a sweep. But that year San Diego won the pennant. When dad buys you a pennant every year, that may not seem so special. But when you earn it, doesn’t it mean so much more? No point explaining that to a Yankees fan.

And that’s what New Yorkers just don’t seem to understand. They seem to believe that simply being from the hive is enough to entitle them to all the respect the world has to offer. Later, the New York fans were outraged among themselves when the best TV was switched over to the Padres game. There was still a TV right in front of them carrying their game, but it wasn’t Hi-Def. “What the f@%& are they doing showing the Padres game?” one NYB asked the other (B is for bastard). Had the man been grandstanding, trying to get a rise out of the other people in the bar, I would have simply labeled him as an asshole and shrugged it off. But the simple fact was that as a New Yorker he expected to get his game on the hi-def TV. He was entitled.

New York is inexplicably proud of being a bunch of arrogant assholes. They call it “street smart” and other transparent euphemisms. When I passed through New York I was not prepared for the incessant whining and victim attitude.

I was passing from Aruba to San Diego, and because I’m a cheap bastard my return flight included a sleepover in New York. No problem, I figured. I’d just find a less-uncomfortable place to crash at JFK. Best case, I find a bar and just hang out all night. It was a naive notion, I now realize.

My first welcome as I came off the plane set the tone for my stay in the city that never sleeps. “Did you see what he just did to me?” I heard an angry woman behind me say. We made our way to an escalator and I tell you now I have never seen such concentrated uncivilized behavior. Poor little Jerry was pushed aside and every time I said, “Oh, I’m sorry” as I was shoved into someone else I was answered with “eat me” or something worse. “Screw the other guy before he screws you” was the rule of the day.

The airport was closing. There would be no crashing in the terminal, no all-nigher in the bar. The bartender was terribly appologetic. I called a hotel and they said the shuttle would be right over. It was a cold night, freezing rain, and I was in shorts. People were not looking at me with sympathy as I stood waiting for the shuttle; they were looking at me with suspicion. I watched two old men get into a fist fight over a taxi. I shook my head. The cold rain on my legs hurt far less than the anger all around me hurt my poor west-coast brain.

It turns out the signs telling me to wait for a hotel shuttle did not direct me to the place hotel shuttles were going. After freezing my ass off (proudly, stoically, without whining) I tromped back to the terminal and called the hotel again. The friendly person apologized and the shuttle was redispatched. I stood longer in the bitter New York sleet until I was finally swept away to the warmth and security of a nearby hotel. I was happy to see that guy, and he was downright nice. Maybe New York isn’t so bad after all. Pff.

Once safely installed in my room, and with the local anger fizzing in my head, I made my way with laptop to the hotel bar. There I sat and watched the local victim hour, also known as the news. Crap, can’t there be one story on the evening not spun as injustice? The weather report was “here’s how mother nature is fucking us over today.” I have never heard a more consistent, pervasive whining than I did in NYC. I have gone out of my way in this story to mention people that were not whiny little fucks who thought the world owed them something. Two were bartenders, one drove a van. Who knows what they thought when they weren’t sucking up to travelers. [Unfair – the bartender at JFK was the read deal. She was funny as hell and a true sweetheart. I would have loved to stay up all night in her bar.]

The next morning I caught the plane back to San Diego. I staggered down the jetway and heard someone say, “Oh! I’m sorry. Go ahead.” I laughed not from humor but from joy, back where we may not be intimate but we are certainly polite, and we don’t feel that the world owes us happiness. We make that for ourselves.

7

Proud to be an American?

I will publish good rebuttals (profane is OK but abusive is not, coherence is required). If there are too many, I will publish the ones hardest for me to refute.

I am an American. I am really, really fortunate to be one. There’s nothing better to be. But I didn’t actually do anything to become an American. I am proud of my accomplishments, and I am grateful for my good fortune. There are political refugees and immigrants of every stripe who have worked really hard to become Americans. There are people who have taken up arms in defense of this nation and only later become citizens. Many more who are currently defending our freedom are waiting for citizenship.

Those people can be proud to be American. For them it is an achievement. I simply am American. I was born that way. I have not earned the right to be proud. I am thankful to be American, but there’s no source of pride there.

There is another way to be proud to be an American, and that’s to take pride in America’s role—our role—in making a better world. That is the pride in accomplishment. And hell, we’ve accomplished a lot. There was a time in Somalia before it all went to stink that I really thought we had managed to beat swords into plowshares. I thought “this is the role of a great nation, standing as a beacon of freedom and peace.” At that moment I was truly proud to be American. Thought honestly I hadn’t done anything personally (except pay taxes) to deserve that feeling.

It got gray sometime after that. Protecting the Muslim population in Kosovo still feels right, but more timely intervention might have precluded much of the violence. [an aside – why do the factions we support almost always come to resent us? Talk among yourselves.] But still, there was an earnest belief that intervention could save lives and transform those troubled regions. Even if those expeditions were ill-conceived, they were noble of purpose. Something you could be proud of.

Frankly, we don’t have that anymore. I am Accidentally-American, or perhaps Fortunately-American, but I have not pulled off any individual accomplishment to which I can hang the label “proud”, and I am not proud of the actions of my nation (granfalloon) as a whole. At least in the past we believed in our nobility, if no one else did.

I am happy to be an American. I am fortunate to be an American; I did not accomplish being American. I am proud to give to my nation more than blind faith.

1

Google me baby. Google me all night long.

This list was actually compiled over a longer period than my previous search engine episodes. I used something called “planning” and wrote down interesting (to me) search phrases as I encountered them. As usual, I reserve the right to use pig latin when I don’t want to change future search results.

  • lots of searches about blimps – hopefully they read the comments while they’re there, or they’ll miss out on BASSCAR and ISBA.
  • Mira Mesa Night life – I expect I come out high on the search because no one thought to mention “Mira Mesa” and “Night life” in the same sentence
  • Several searches related to sex, of course, the ones that stand out for me were x-ray beach pictures, butt pitchers, bison ass pictures and the best of all, what is a grilled cheese when it is talked about as sex term
  • bars across the western US, most frequently but not limited to Amsay’s Aceplay Akelay Ahoetay, illionmay ollarday owboycay arbay, uaulay arrylay’s and spenaay oungelay (how do you do pig latin when the sord starts with a vowel?)
  • HAPPY++2TH+++BIRTHDAY++++TO++++BABY – I doubt they found what they were looking for here.
  • ramblings about chicks – that, I have plenty of, another coming soonish
  • how to make a lombardi trophy – who cares? Anleystay upcay is etterbay.
  • various searches concerning squirrels and violence
  • “gravity hill” sagan – links to my Get Poor Quick category page as a result of the reusable space vehicle episode.
  • bowling balls darth vader – I’d like to hear any ideas you all might have for why someone would search on that.
  • “trumpet bells” picture – linked to the coaxial trumpet episode
  • sporstman who would take alcohol – that search seems to imply that there’s another kind

Of course, there were lots and lots of people looking for cooking advice. I get several people a day on that one, and this week someone finally left a note of appreciation over there. Hooray! Elevator ocelot rutabaga made a comeback, my name led someone here, as did a search on the single word “soonish”.