Last week my Cousin and I took our families on a journey into the wilds of the great north… Well, Hayward Wisconsin to be exact.

Lake Nelson, our home for the week, was just the sort of spot a bunch of third-rate adventurers, with children in tow, were looking for. There was an island, an abundance of wildlife, and a wise local or two. Truth be told, most old people seem wise to me. Even the drunk ones especially the drunk ones.

We relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, and we even learned a thing or two along the way.

STUFF WE LEARNED:

-Eagles are the Clint Eastwood of birds (evidenced by the photo below).

“Ever notice how sometimes you come across somebody you shouldn't have fucked with?  Well, I'm that bird.”

“Ever notice how sometimes you come across somebody you shouldn’t have fucked with? Well, I’m that bird.”

-We learned that turtles, when not mutated or trained in the arts of Ninjitsu, are pretty chill. Although, they do have a pee-on-you fetish, which is kind of weird. But hey, to each his own.

"I'm peeing on this guy's hands."

“I’m peeing on this guy’s hands.”

-We learned that six children under the age of 8, in a three bedroom cabin, is a surefire way to turn parents into alcoholics.

-I fell out of a kayak. Which taught me that kayaks are a tricky way to travel. Also, fuck kayaks.

-Cleaning a fish is more difficult than it’s portrayed on youtube.

-Bug spray is not sunblock. Sunblock is not bug spray.

-In Hayward, people with the strangest accents will comment on your accent.

-Spotted Cow is a delicious beer.

“I’d drink me. I'd drink me, hard."

“I’d drink me. I’d drink me, hard.”

-Most importantly, I learned that mosquitos are amassing a tiny vampire army, and Wisconsin is ground zero.

“I’m going to poke holes in you and drink your essential fluids. Then you will be itchy and I will laugh at your discomfort.”

“I’m going to poke holes in you and drink your essential fluids. Then you will be itchy and I will laugh at your discomfort.”

A TALE FROM THE HAYWARD WALMART:

My cousin and I stopped at the Walmart in Hayward to purchase much needed supplies. During our purchase, I asked the cashier if he knew of any places that we could pick up more firewood. He looked at me for a long moment.

“Let me think” he whispered.

The seconds ticked away slowly.

“It’s okay, I can—–”

“I’m thinking” said the man, cutting me off.

My cousin and I exchanged an unsure look. The seconds continued ticking away, much slower than before. The two of us watching on as the man thought long and hard. Finally, he sighed heavily and hung his head.

“I can’t think.” He whispered, an almost inaudible admission.

The Walmart checkout line had suddenly become some strange confessional.

“It’s okay, man.” Replied my cousin. He was the Robin Williams to this man’s inner Matt Damon.

The man looked up at us curiously.

“Are you German?” He asked.

I smiled politely at the man.

“No. No, we are not.”

He nodded at this, as if my response had reaffirmed something for him. Something important. We nodded back at the man warily, and then left.

Water is vital to life on Earth. This is an undeniable fact. Even creationist-nazi-cyborgs can agree that water is kind of a big deal. Another fact: Water is a murderous motherfucker.

Our bodies are made up of like 98 percent of the stuff (google it, nerd). That being said, it has also killed more of us than dinosaurs and bears COMBINED. Hell, if there was a Bear-o-saurus species (and there most definitely was), water probably killed the shit out of them as well. Because water loves to make things extinct. If you or I were cocaine, water would be an Andy Dick of C’thulu-like proportions.

And this is where I tell you about how water snuck out of my pipes, partially due to a drunken plumber (more on that later), and murdered the shit out of my bathroom.

My bathroom was a nice bathroom. I liked to read the paper in it, and I liked to poop in it. I also enjoyed peeing in it. And occasionally, I even washed my hands in it.

Unfortunately for us, a moist monstrosity lurked inside of our walls. It was subdued and held in place by copper pipes, much like Zod and his cohorts were in the phantom zone. But soon enough, like Zod before it, water found an opening and made its escape.

This little jailbreak resulted in water damage, mold, and worse still, yours truly having to use tools… IN MY OWN HOME. We’re talking saws, big ass hammers, even a fucking nail gun. Water is a heartless bastard.

This is where I show some dick pics:

Mold is herpes on a home. And my home is into some kinky shit.

Mold is herpes on a home. And my home is into some kinky shit.

Prepare yourself for the twist: During demolition, I found nine old style cans from the 1970s. It turns out water had an accomplice all along, a drunken plumber.

During the construction of my home this beer-chugging plumber decided to take his lunch break, and see if he could knock down a twelve pack, with water screaming “Chug! Chug! Chug!” all the while.

I was surprised to be honest. I had assumed water would have cleaned up after itself. Hide the evidence and all that. Although, at this point I wouldn’t be shocked if water stuffed that drunken plumber’s corpse into my water heater, just for shits and giggles… Because water don’t give a fuck.

"He's right, bitch. I don't."

“He’s right, bitch. I don’t.”

So, yeah, we’re remodeling. I’m hiring contractors, and doing some of the work myself, and it all sucks very much. The good news is the pipes are fixed, and water is back where it belongs… under the thumb of its human overlords.

CHAPTER 1

It happened to me again today. I was lost in familiar surroundings. First the Earth began to spin, and suddenly the same side streets I traveled every day, were completely foreign. An intersection I had crossed a thousand times before, was now unrecognizable.

The newer fast food restaurants, and the ancient dilapidated strip malls, that populated all four corners of the intersection were now gone. Replaced by odd looking high rises, made of what appeared to be plastic and glass, reflecting an unbearable light from the mid-day sun.

The street signs were misplaced and abnormally shaped, each of them containing unfamiliar warnings of unknown threats. Strange new billboards promoting products I had never heard of stood out in the skyline, and I was lost in this new urban wilderness. A man draped in a large plastic poncho scurried down the sidewalk, a breathing device covering his face.

My nerves began their usual jitter when I realized I was having one of my episodes. Becoming aware of one of these moments is strangely surreal in and of itself. The moment comes fast and with the unabashed details that reality itself holds over you. In other words, these episodes are reality, all encompassing, not allowing you that tiny sliver of space to deny the truth of what you’re witnessing. When something is real, no matter how ridiculous it seems, the truth of it cannot be denied, and I was certain that’s what made my nerves spasm, and my skin crawl. I had become unhinged, it was really happening. I was traveling.

The floating red light refused to change, and the strange, distant relative of my neighborhood surrounded me. When dealing with these episodes—which had become more frequent in recent months—I found focusing on one particular detail helped me better cling to my sanity, until the moment ended and I was once again where I was supposed to be in the first place.

Looking out into the middle of the intersection, I saw a small gray pigeon tempting fate, as impossibly angular automobiles (or what passed for them), cruised by at ungodly speeds. The pigeon gazed back at me from over its feathered shoulder, its dark eyes meeting my own, and for one brief instant we shared our fears.

The screech of the horn pierced into my backside, causing me to hit the gas and shake the remaining cobwebs of my faraway travels from my mind. A relieved sigh escaped my lips as I took a quick right, then a left. I’d be home soon, and I was lucky enough to get through another episode without any set backs. No one had witnessed my attack, no important task had gone unfinished, and I had undoubtedly gotten off easy this time around.

Maria washed the dishes with a gentle vigor that she brought with her to any project she undertook.

“Hey baby, you’re home early!” she said smiling.

The sun from the kitchen window lit up her profile, causing both love and sadness to stir inside of me.

“Yep. I figured I’d sneak out a little early today, and spend some time with my sexy lady.”

“Ha! Then what are you doing here?! I’m a smelly mess!”

I glided up behind her as she dried a cutting board. Putting my arms around her waist I brought her in a little closer.

“Ok, you do smell, but I think I can handle it”

She laughed lightly as I kissed the base of her neck; licking my lips I tasted the slight salty tang of her skin. She pushed up against my body a little more forceful now. “Sooo, you want to take this upstairs?”

“I suppose, I might.” I continued kissing her neck, while gently rubbing my hands on her hips.

Maria slowly turned; we were facing one another now. She held onto my waist and looked up into my eyes. A worried, almost motherly look overcame her, and I knew a split second before she asked, what was suddenly upsetting her.

“Did it happen again today?” she whispered, while tightening her hold on me.

“Yeah, on my way home.” She pressed her face against my chest.

I could feel her listening to my heart beating. I gently rested my lips on her head and took in the smell of her hair.

“How many times today?” she muttered, her lips partially obstructed by my chest.

“Twice, it also happened this morning at work. It was a strange one. I was on break, I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes for a second, and bam! I was sitting on the pavement in some giant empty parking lot. It went on for as far as I could see, nothing but black pavement with yellow parallel lines, and it was empty.

There were four giant buildings off in the distance, one to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and one to the west, and nothing but me in-between it all, that’s all there was. Then I was back in the office, lying on the floor. I must have startled Brenda from accounting, because she began screaming for someone to call 911.”

Maria pulled back and looked up at me once again, her face contorting with worry.

“What did you say?”

“What could I say? I said I must have forgotten to have something to eat this morning, and I was a little woozy.”

“We can’t keep hiding this.” She replied, pausing for a moment to search my face before she continued, “I want you to concentrate and try to stay here with me for the rest of the night, ok?”

She held me gently by my arms like one would a child. As if her words brought with them a simple truth that we had been overlooking all along, one that she was now passing onto me.

“Just stay with me, you can do it.”

I held her gaze. I smiled apologetically. And once again, I began to feel the Earth spin.

CHAPTER 2

The dusty wind whipped at my face, as I continued my walk in no apparent direction. The weather had grown in intensity, at first the relatively stale air just swirled the dust slightly around my boots as I began my directionless walk, but soon enough everything began to change.

The wind had picked up, slowing my progress considerably. My walk quickened, and I fought a bit harder with each step. Each step was another small victory against a foreign lifeless desert, which was my home for the time being. Each step taking a bit more time off of my sentence. Each step bringing me closer to my true home.

The first drop of rain hit my parched lips—which were wired shut to avoid the aforementioned dust. I licked the drop of water from them, only to feel the sharp liquid light a flame of pain inside of my mouth. My tongue and lips throbbed in agony as I lurched over, spitting the venom out of me.

The rain was falling faster now; hitting my ear, and my forehead, scorching them with its touch. I howled in agony as I pulled my suit jacket over my head. It was no use, the poison stormed down upon me, soaking my coat and burning my hands.

I ran hard, screaming and shaking, trying with no avail to stop the torturous onslaught of pain which was drenching me in its downpour. Tripping over a dead root, I fell face first onto the desert floor, the dirt and sand caking my face, the rain still burning me from above. I writhed in agony, slapping at the fiery downpour, rolling in the dirt, howling all the while.

Maria held my head firmly in her slender hands. She looked down at me with concern, but not fright. This was not a new phenomenon for her. I stared up into her large brown eyes, still taking in the change of scenery, trying to ignore the phantom itch that lingered from my recent pains.

“You’re back honey. Just take it slow; you’re here with me now. Everything is ok, shhhh.” Maria slowly released her hands from my head. She gently stroked my hair back and smiled down at me.

“I was somewhere bad, far away, in a desert. I just kept walking but it wouldn’t end, then the rain started, but it wasn’t normal rain. It burned real bad.” I shuddered.

“Oh honey, it’s ok, you’re back here with me, now.”

I sat up and slowly made my way to my feet. I had been lying on the tiled floor in our hallway, my head throbbing from where I must have hit it when I fell. Walking to the bathroom, I quickly scanned my face in the mirror, the usual sunken eyes and bony features staring back at me. All in all I didn’t look too bad, considering what I would have looked like had my trip lasted much longer.

“I found you on the floor screaming.”

I turned and looked down at her. She was standing in the bathroom doorway, looking back up at me. A calm tone emanating from her tiny body, as she filled me in on the blanks.

I watched, as Maria rode off down the street in her Jeep. I glanced down at the pills she made me promise to take.

The bottle was unnaturally heavy in my hand. I opened it and looked into the cylinder of hope. The damn things were as big as beetles. I shook the bottle carefully, and one of the beetles slowly clunked out into my hand.

I stared at the lone pill and knew it was an answer, I just wondered if it was the correct one. I wondered if my episodes were really something that could be denied, and more so, I wondered if I wanted to deny them any longer.

CHAPTER 3

In the cold distance, the dawn began to reveal itself over the vast white landscape ahead of me. It was strange, I had been walking for what seemed like the entire night, and yet the frigid cold wasn’t succeeding in its attempts to stop me. A minor watering of the eyes, and a runny nose, were the extent of the damage thus far.

The snow was thick, my feet sinking a good foot with each step, yet my seeming invulnerability to the temperature was enough to keep me trudging along, at least until the present day called me home. I had walked in the strange bright darkness until the situation became one of numbing repetitiveness, and now with the sun slowly rising, I felt a powerful resurgence in my spirit, the monotony of the walk had vanished, giving me a new outlook. The sun, announcing there was more ahead to see, that the journey was not yet over.

Bruising lights greeted all of my senses, the buzzing in my ears, the blur in my eyes, the smell of warm plastic, suffocating me in its grip. Maria leaned over me, her figure shielding the lights abuse, as always she came to my defense. She hovered over me, examining me, her eyes filling with tears, an apologetic smile on her lips. She was speaking, but her words were lost before they reached me.

Quickly, she moved out of view as the doctor zoomed in with his tiny flash light. He brought its manufactured shine into each of my eyes, finally backing away before his close proximity became unbearable. The doctor and Maria spoke off in the distance, as I began to adjust to the here and now.

The hospital bed was uncomfortable, and the tubes attached to me further agitated the situation. A door slammed, and I struggled to turn my head in the general direction of the sound. Maria plopped down on the lone chair next to my bed.

“It’s good to have you back.” she said, a hint of fear in her voice.

“I’m sorry.” I whispered with all my dwindling energy. Maria leaned close, gently running her hands through my hair.

“Stop it. You have nothing to be sorry about. It’s going to be fine, everything will be OK, you’ll see.” Her voice trembled, she swallowed hard.

“I was on the plains somewhere, it felt like the Midwest. There was snow in every direction for miles… nothing but the dark and the snow.”

It was my turn now to swallow hard and fight back the storm of emotions that were rising toward my withered surface.

“Was it bad?”

“No, no it wasn’t. I could feel the cold, but it wasn’t bad, and the sun was coming up, and I knew I had to keep going…” The words were running out now. I turned and looked at Maria.

Her face showed the effect of the last few months. She smiled as her brown eyes released the downpour. I studied her as best I could, she leaned in slowly, closing her knowing eyes, and kissing my lips.

EPILOUGE

Slowly, I managed to get to my feet. The mid-day sun was warm, and the snow around my calves was cool and soothing, each element working in unison with the other as I continued my trudging walk toward something unknowable.

In the distance I saw horses, wild ones, all of them much larger than I remembered horses being. They were gathered and still, wintery plumes of breath emanating from them. The pack lifted their massive heads in acknowledgement of my approach. I continued to walk, watching intently, as they ran off rhythmically in the sun-drenched whiteness.

It was typical Petrov tactics. You come home from a long day, open your front door, throw your coat on a chair, turn on the light, and bam. You’ve got a few mean mugs, staring back at you.

Ok, I owed money… but not the sort of bread that called for a late night pummeling. A couple of grand, with points, was nothing to break bones over, or at least that’s how I saw it. Of course, I’ve been known to possess a slightly biased opinion when it comes to the infliction of bodily harm on yours truly.

The two muscle heads did what they always do, and that’s look mean. Dimitri on the other hand just shot me his I really enjoy what I do psycho-grin, that he was so fond of displaying.

“Gaps! Long time no see!”

It had been an unfortunate nickname, bestowed upon me during childhood, when my teeth began to follow different gravitational pulls and my mouth started to resemble a multitude of neighboring viaducts.

It was only when I began my less than stellar career in the investigation business, that the moniker transformed into a somewhat more positive name tag. When potential clients asked, I would say it was because that’s what I did, fill in the gaps.

Dimitri stared at me with his cold, faithless eyes, and I did what I could to take it all in stride, as if I was used to having these maniacs hiding in my apartment.

“Hey fellas, uh… everything ok?” I mumbled.

“No. We need you help us wit little thing. You’re still in dirt digging business, no?”

When a nasty asshole of Dimitri’s caliber asks you something like that, you can’t help but picture yourself digging your own grave, even if you do know what he’s talking about.

“Yeah, I’m still in the game if that’s what you’re asking.”

“That is exact what I asking.” Dimitri said firmly, in his choppy Russian accent.

He sighed, slowly getting up and stretching his stocky frame. He had a mild reptilian look to him; I wasn’t sure if this was actually apparent, or if it was something I subconsciously connected to him. His facial features definitely fit all of my quotas for a snake, but now he looked more like a hungry croc.

“We got gig for you, Gaps.” He continued on, as his hateful smile began to grow. “No pay, but I can clean your debt little bit.”

My nerves were getting the better of me, I knew this was bad news, I just didn’t know how bad.

“What are we talking about here?” my tone a little shaky, now.

“Notting big, you go south of Salvo Street and find out where hell Marty Poles is, and what he up to.”

“Uh, that’s Italian turf.”

“I know dat, shitbrain. Dat why we want you do it. Marty been our eyes and ears over dere; he been our double-O Polack, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I think I follow.”

“Good, cuz I no have contact wit dat little shit, and I want make sure he still wit da program, so you find out where hell he is, and keep eye on him, few days tops. Come to me and tell me what you got, and dat’s it.”

Now, I’ve worked for every corrupt piece of garbage on either side of the law and of Salvo Street, for as long as I can remember, and one thing I know is Marty the Polack is really close to coming up dead. I also know I probably do not want to be involved with him whatsoever because of that. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t get to pick who you’re involved with, instead the involvers get to pick for you.

“I can start tomorrow, if you want.” I murmured, just wanting them out of my apartment.

“Good. Keep in touch.”

And just like that I get dragged into shit way above my comfort zone. The Petrovs (short for god knows what, and just so happening to rhyme with nothing) ruled the North side of the city, that was Russian turf, and it was turf that had been expanded on greatly since an all out war with the South Side Italians a few years earlier.

The Italians couldn’t match the amount of foot soldiers that the Russians had, but they still had enough to be respected, and they had enough power to run the South side.

The turf wars were the bloodiest the city had ever seen, and by the time peace was finally brokered between the Russians and Italians, there were sixty-five reported casualties (including my brother). Not to mention a quarter of each organization getting new living arrangements behind bars. Although, unlike most cities, these Russians and Italians didn’t turn states evidence very easily, and the major players (at least the ones left alive) stayed in power.

So what came of all that nonsense? Not much. The Russians spread their drug and prostitution rackets a bit further south, nabbing a couple extra neighborhood aldermen for political purposes, along the way. The Italians kept moving their gambling and drugs wherever they could. Same old, same old.

Except with one major difference, both sides agreed to peace, and both sides agreed that Salvo Street was its border. No Italians operating North of it, and no Russians operating South of it, and god help any freelancers with shady ideas on either side of it. This was the holy rule, and Dimitri seemed a little dismissive of that. I wondered what Mr. Petrov himself would think of this breaching of the truce, I wondered if he even knew what his henchmen were up to, but it wasn’t my job to question god… or the devil.

I started on this gig like I did most of my investigative work, strumming the drugged-out informants and addicts in general, anyone who knew the players and could keep their mouth shut for a hit, or maybe some blow, or even a roll of the dice.

These were the kind of people I worked with; the secret eyes of the city. They were watching the game, they only pretended not to notice, and if you sifted through enough of them, you’d get the score.

Manny Moe wasn’t reliable and he sure as hell wasn’t trustworthy, but what he lacked in those qualities he more than made up for in sheer audacity. Moe floated north and south of Salvo daily. He begged, bartered, ticket scalped, sold shitty drugs and stolen goods to peers, and basically bounced from alley to alley with complete disregard of territories and consequences. The guy just didn’t give a shit, and luckily enough he wasn’t operating on a level to be noticed by the big boys, but at the same time he knew them all to well.

My luck had taken a positive turn for once, I watched as good old Manny Moe jittered back and forth on the corner in his meth induced hysteria.

“Manny! How goes it!” I called out while strolling over to his perch.

“What up, Gaps.” He shot back, eyeing me warily.

The smell hit me square in the face. I was now standing a few feet from a manic Manny Moe, whose constant shaking was not as distracting as the layers of soot that covered his face and clothes. I hated my job more now then ever before. I took a deep breath.

“Good lord Manny, you look worse than usual, and that’s saying a lot.”

“Let me get a few bucks man.”

“I got a twenty with your name on it.”

Manny’s jittering frame slowed its fluttering; his eyes began to focus on me. This was his transformation from a needy bum, to a business man. Eye contact, this was no longer pedestrian and bum relations, we were now equals. The currency of information tying us together.

“What you need?”

“Marty the Polack… You seen him?”

“Hahaha! You still playing with fire ain’t you?!” Manny Moe smiled slyly.

“You want the money or not?”

“Shit man, you should check out Gabo’s. That fool is over there twenty-four-seven.”

I stuffed the bill into his battered hand and made my way deeper into the pile of shit that this case would soon become.

It had taken all of twenty four hours south of Salvo to get a location on one of the Polack’s hang outs. Gabo’s was a little night club with decent card games and nice eye candy, a place guys like Marty were born to.

There I was parked and chain smoking, watching the front door of the club. It was nestled between two run down buildings, both of which were boarded up and looked to be haunted by the bad luck of the past. I took turns staring at the door and staring at my laptop. I spent equal time waiting on Marty, and looking for any info on the club online.

Time inched on, the hours slowly passing with a numbing effect. Finally, out he stumbled, fatter than I remember him being, with his arm around a leggy blonde.

They slowly wobbled across the street, ending up in his Lincoln town car. The engine roared and they swerved onto the street, speeding away carelessly.

I followed in the inconspicuous manner that made me who I was. The town car zig-zagged down streets, flying through red lights and cutting down side streets at a moments notice, turn signals and full stops were a thing of the past. At first I was worried that they might be onto me tailing them, the thought quickly faded as I recalled Marty’s teetering walk to his ride.

The Lincoln pulled up on a curb in front of a dilapidated tenement that Marty must’ve been calling home for the time being. I slowly pulled up and parked across the street, shutting off my lights as Marty led his soon to be conquest into the building. The lights on the fourth floor apartment went on, and I typed in the buildings address as I sat there.

The internet was hell of a tool, one that could tell me everything I needed to know about the apartment building, about the club, who owned what, hell I could probably get some social security numbers if I dug hard enough. I had even gone so far as to take and pass (barely) my realtors licensing exam, for the sole purpose of getting a bit more info which was withheld from the average mark.

I watched from my Oldsmobile, as Marty and his lady friend did a little sloppy slow dancing in front of his bedroom window. The room went to black and I wondered briefly how good of an actress she really was. I wish that could have been it, I wish I would have just put my rig in drive and taken off.

But no, I needed to reminisce on a couple of fine actresses from my less than romantic past. First-rate talent, that much was for certain, with me as their captive audience. I was almost thankful when the here-and-now brought me back from memory lane, almost.

It happened fast, a flash of light from the darkened window, then another, and another. Whoever it was had to be using a silencer, because the street was dead quiet and no doubt so was Marty and the actress. The shock of actually knowing the hit was in progress was what froze me up, and just like that the rusted out Van on the other side of the street unleashed its doors and produced a ski mask wearing, shotgun-toting maniac.

He casually walked towards my driver’s side door, pumped once, aimed, and let the cannon loose on me. The blast was deafening and the Oldsmobile shook from it. My rear driver side window exploded, with shards scraping their way across the back of my neck. My body acted in desperate measures. Turning the key, I gripped the wheel, and slammed the gas pedal. Another booming shotgun blast roared somewhere behind me, as the adrenaline raced through my body.

I called Dimitri on my cell as I made the mad dash north of Salvo Street. He first cursed the Italians for their obvious disregard of the truce, and then told me to meet him at his uncle’s bar. It wasn’t too far from me, and expanding on the particulars of what had just happened was best to be done in person.

As far as I had it figured, the Italians were planning on clipping Poles, they saw that I was following him and they decided to make sure there were no witnesses to the deed, nothing to cement them to the murder.

I wondered if this would lead to war. I was shaken, and retribution was an idea I was beginning to like, but deep down I hoped this wasn’t the case.

Too many people died last time, guys with families, maybe they weren’t on the up and up, but the thought of dead men, fatherless children, and widowed mothers was one that disturbed me greatly.

A man built like a six-foot tree trunk opened the front door of Ivanov’s Bar and Grill for me. I walked in cautiously; the place was empty, and the tree trunk guy was standing in front of the doorway once more. I stood in the center of the deserted pub for a second, looking around for Dimitri, my eyes adjusting to the bad lighting.

For a brief instant I thought of the masked gunman storming in to finish me, but that vanished as soon as I witnessed Dimitri attempting to zip up, while exiting the men’s room on the far side of the bar.

“Gaps! Perfect timing, get ass over here and tell me what happen!” he sat down with a thud on the closest chair.

I scurried over and began my tale, as Dimitri watched and listened with cold blooded concentration. Upon finishing my recount of the night’s events, there was silence.

“Dat’s it, huh?” Dimitri said with finality.

“Yeah, I guess so.” I responded.

“Fucking Guineas just push button, now we go nuclear.” Dimitri declared in his broken English, emphasizing the last part with a thud of his fist on the table.

He got up and motioned for me to get up as well.

“Come here.” he said pulling me into a hug. “You did good, twenty percent of your debt gone.”

The embrace was finished, and it was clear that was my cue to leave. As I walked towards the exit I felt Dimitri’s reptilian eyes watching me go. All I got for risking my life was twenty percent off of a mediocre debt. I clenched my jaw in anger.

“Hey Gaps, watch yourself! Waps might still be around in van looking for you!” Dimitri roared with laughter as I left.

I took to my usual spot of contemplation, on my mattress, under the fan. Staring at the fan as it buzzed and swirled, I took a long pull of my cigarette and thought out loud. “What the hell happened?” was the first question I asked myself. Poles was definitely a goner, as was his sad-eyed actress, and it didn’t seem to bother Dimitri one bit—which didn’t surprise me. What did however was his fake interest in my story. As if he knew the ending before I got there. It was there, in his expression. His certainty.

Even on the phone, before Dimitri was given the decoded, non-cell phone version of my story, he had immediately put it on the Italians. I knew acting, I had spent most of my life surrounded by actors: Gangsters, cops, prostitutes, and druggies, the best actors on the whole fucking planet, including Hollywood.

These were my people, they honed my skill for detecting bullshit, and that’s what I smelled on Dimitri. There was also one little detail that he let slip.

Dimitri knew the Italians were in a van, and I was almost certain I had said they got out of a car, as I was rushing through the story. That, plus his attempts at an Oscar nomination, and his eagerness to drop the bomb so to speak, was enough to peak my curiosity. Dimitri knew more than he was letting on, and I wanted to know exactly how much more.

I retraced my steps, methodically moving from my conversations with the bottom of the barrel, to the club, to the apartment building. I checked all the angles I could from a laptop on my bed, I sure as hell wasn’t going to make another personal visit anywhere near this nonsense.

And what about Marty Poles? Why was he being used to spy on the Italians? He was a big earner for the Petrovs. A valuable asset. He would be missed. And there would be consequences.

Maybe I was going in circles, looking too much into something that wasn’t there to begin with, but then the trail began to slowly reveal itself. The new emails awaited me. I got back the info on the apartment building Poles and his lady friend were now using as a grave. I read it again. And then again. The owner was none other than Dimitri’s uncle Mike Ivanov.

This little bit of information was enough to change the game completely. This little email meant that I was used; it meant that my suspicions were just, and it meant that Dimitri was indeed up to something. I dug deeper, the club was definitely Italian owned, the two boarded up store fronts on either side of it however, were not. Ivanov’s name popped up once more.

Whatever Ivanov owned Dimitri owned, that much I knew, and it was becoming more apparent that Dimitri owned quite a bit of property south of Salvo Street.

He knew where Poles was all along, how could he not? The guy was living in Dimitri’s goddamn building.
The question now was why he wanted me to find Poles and keep an eye on him to begin with, and how did the Italians figure into all of this. And why was Poles their spy.

They were waiting for Poles inside the building, and that van was parked outside the building, before I got there. So the Italians following us was out of the question.

Fresh air was needed. Pulling back the blinds and lifting the window open in one swift gesture, I took in the cool fall afternoon. Leaning on the windowsill I stretched my back slowly, staring down at the pedestrians walking back and forth three floors underneath me, carrying on with their everyday lives, oblivious to the monsters that walked amongst them.

A man walked hand in hand with a child, no more then eight or nine years-old. The boy looked up at the man smiling; he asked the man a question I couldn’t quite hear, only the murmur of his innocent voice.

A sudden wave of sadness overtook me, thoughts of my own childhood, thoughts of fatherless children, thoughts of widowed wives, and grieving mothers. An all out war between the Russians and Italians could be close, and it would be because I told Dimitri that they killed Poles.

Neither the Russians, nor the Italians, stood to gain anything from this. Turf was valuable, but it wasn’t the sort of valuable that was worth another war, it wasn’t the Middle East for Christ sake. In fact the only one who would truly profit would be Dimitri. The death of Poles, and the loss of his earning power, meant the Russians would hit back. Something I suspected Dimitri was also banking on.

After all, the war would just lead to the Russians sooner or later taking more of the South Side. Which meant all properties just south of Salvo Street would now be under their umbrella, which in turn meant that Dimitri stood to have quite the monopoly, to do with as he pleased, without fearing upper management’s rules or the Italians wrath.

He could turn himself from an everyday captain, into a major player within his organization… and I realized just what all of this meant, and what I’d have to do to at least live the rest of my (possibly very short) life without a guilt-ridden conscience.

The building loomed over the street like an ominous wraith. My nerves had begun rattling rapidly as I stood there. I was taking quite a leap in faith assuming that Dimitri did this on his own, behind Mr. Petrov’s back… but it felt right, and my instincts were the only thing I could rely on anymore.

Still, I wasn’t just going to walk into Mr. Petrov’s place without letting a few people I trusted know where I would be. If Petrov set this whole thing up, then the information I was going to give him would already be known to him, and I would just be a guy who knew too much. Walking into my own death was not an idea I liked all that much, and if the shit did go down, maybe he’d think twice if I told him that more than a few people knew I was there.

The thick necked doorman stared at me through mirrored sunglasses, expressionless.

“May I help you?” he asked in a reserved tone.

“I, um… I need to see Mr. Petrov.”

“I’m sorry sir, but Mr. Petrov isn’t in.” The man put his left hand to his ear, listening to someone from his ear piece. Very cloak and dagger, I thought.

The man once again focused his full attention on me.

“Mr. Petrov will see you.” The doorman stepped out from behind the desk and closer to me now.

“Please turn around and lift your arms up.”

He frisked me quickly but professionally, this was a task he had no doubt done many times before.

“Take the elevator up to the fifteenth floor.” He said.

It appeared that the doorman from downstairs had a twin brother who was waiting for me as the doors opened on the fifteenth floor. He didn’t say a word as he gestured me toward a large oak door.

I entered the office of Mr. Petrov. The cavernous room took up most of the floor. It was a large, well decorated penthouse, adorned with art and furniture that were no doubt expensive. The bodyguard twins were actually septuplets, and the remainder of them stood at attention against different walls around the office as if they were living sculptures.

Mr. Petrov stood with his back to me at the far end of the office. Gazing out the large windows, he turned slightly to address me.

“Please sit down.”

I did as I was told, sinking into an enormous leather chair. Mr. Petrov turned around slowly, first giving me a once over and finally staring into my eyes. I broke away from his gaze and looked down at the floor. There was no need to provoke him.

He wore what might’ve been the nicest suit I had ever seen. He was a good looking man, older, maybe mid-sixties, with angular features, and strange, observant eyes.

“You are the one they call Gaps, no?”

Pushing through my rapidly increasing flight factor, I responded.

“I uh, I am.”

Mr. Petrov stepped closer now; he was five feet away and standing over me.

“I knew your father and your brother, not well, but well enough to know that they were real men.”

His remark triggered an underlying anger somewhere within my fear-soaked body.

“Thanks… But before we get any further, I want you to know that more than a few people know where I am right now.”

Smiling slightly, he stepped back a few feet and sat down slowly in one of the giant leather chairs opposite of mine.

“Heh. I’m no boogie man, Gaps. Now, tell me why you are here.”

I swallowed hard, “I did a job for Dimitri Ivanov, and I wanted to tell you what I know, before anything drastic happened.”

Mr. Petrov was expressionless “So, tell me.”

“Dimitri hired me to find Marty Poles and keep an eye on him. Poles was South of Salvo, and he got dead, Dimitri blamed it on the Italians, but Marty got dead in an apartment building that Dimitri’s uncle owns, and not just that, but Dimitri and his Uncle have recently purchased quite a few other properties just south of Salvo.” I took a breath.

Mr. Petrov stood up slowly once more, stuffing his hands in his pockets he slinked back to his giant window.

“And you think Dimitri is responsible for Poles, not the Italians.”

“Yeah, I, uh, I guess I do.”

Mr. Petrov was once again gazing out at the city. The room was quiet for a long moment.

“You haven’t read the paper today, have you?”

“No I haven’t.” I responded.

“Well, it’s on my desk, take a look.”

I walked over to his desk and picked it up, straightening out the newspaper in my hands.

“Go to page three.” Mr. Petrov said coolly.

Page three had a small story about a club being fire-bombed last night. I glanced over it, my eyes immediately being drawn to the photograph that was alongside the article. It was a photograph of a burned out building, one that looked all too familiar.

It was the place that I saw Poles and his blonde walking out of. My body reacted, hairs standing, and skin prickling. According to the article the charred remains of nine people were found inside… It had already begun.

“W-what does this mean?” I nervously asked.

“You know what it means.”

Still looking out the window he continued, “Thank you for your honesty.”

“So you didn’t know about Dimitri and Poles?” I asked.

Mr. Petrov stared out at the gloomy sky, there was a subtle slouch in his posture. I was reminded of a saying about a heavy head and of a crown.

“What happens now?” I asked, already knowing the answer but wanting to hear what he planned to do.

“What always happens in times of war. Hell will have its way.”

I placed the paper back neatly on his desk. I had no more questions, no more thoughts.
My desire to do what was right had left as quickly as it came. I was once again no one, just another civilian peering in from the outside.

This no longer concerned me. My case was now closed. I bid Mr. Petrov farewell.
The rain was falling hard as I stepped out of the building, I fished through my pockets for a lighter that wasn’t there, and then I slowly made my way home. The rain never let up.

Being from the Chicagoland area, and having survived a winter of Roland Emmerich proportions, a summer day at the beach wasn’t something I could yet wrap my head around. But then my wife’s aunt called, and asked if we’d be interested in using their condo for the weekend. My head was about to do some wrapping.

The drive was a breeze, and we touched down on Friday afternoon. Their condo was the sort of place that offers a warm hug—the comfortable kind, not the drunken stranger ones. It also happened to be a block from the lake, so the bonus points were adding up. I contemplated purchasing them a trophy of some sort, to show our gratitude. Unfortunately, according to my wife, a trophy is not the type of gift you give to show your appreciation. I disagree, trophies are badass, no matter the occasion, but I digress.

With the kids in tow, we walked to the beach, to get a lay of the land, and a better idea of what tomorrow’s preparations would entail. Did I mention that we don’t do the beach that often? I took my mental snapshot. We would need drying materials, sun deterrents, hydration elixirs, digging implements, and of course, booze.

On the walk back, we encountered a group of what I suppose were college freshmen. Sophomores, maybe? Whatever the case, they were young, sunburned, drunk, and mildly retarded. One of these dudebros was shouting up to another small herd of dudebros that were residing on a rooftop deck. I couldn’t quite make out the conversation, but the dudebro nearest us, on the street, insisted that his dudebro brethren throw him down a beer.

I was fairly certain if they did, he would not catch it. He would be hit by the plummeting can, and end up even dumber than he already was. Thankfully, one of the smarter dudebros insisted he get lost. Our street level dudebro shouted “westsiiiiide!” and took off in a jog. At that exact moment, on some far off desert island, Tupac and Biggie collectively rolled their eyes, while Elvis ate pudding.

Saturday on the Beach. With good weather and lots of beachfront real-estate to choose from, we quickly set up our base of operations. Evidenced by my sweet pic:

beach

Most of the day was spent on the beach. Sandcastles were built, the newspaper was read, snacks were eaten, our kids bartered, bickered, and frolicked, and a drink was created (pour half of a frozen margarita pouch into a cup, fill the remainder of the cup up with beer, and then repeat this process often).

A quick note about the lake. It’s chilly. I almost froze my nether regions during an ill-advised swim. On the plus side, this also makes jumping into it on a hot day, invigorating. The mistake I made was staying waist deep for too long. Finally noticing the error, I ran out of the lake, in what I can only assume looked like a hairless Sasquatch being chased through quicksand by hornets.

The pain in my frozen parts reminded me of a prank that I fell for in the eighth grade:

Prankster: “You know the capital of Thailand?”

Nik: “Why the hell would I—“

Prankster: “Bangkok!”

*nails me in the junk*

This was kind of like that, except this prankster was a giant lake, with anger issues, and really cold hands.

Moving on, for the sake of brevity (Not sure if this is a blog or a memoir at this point) I will wrap it up with some quick bits:

- We ran into another dudebro during a different walk. He was attempting to throw a football into a third story window from the street. Apparently, dudebros are fascinated by gravity.

- I forgot how to grill with charcoal. I hate to admit this, and I’m worried that all of my chest hair will now wilt, but it is what it is. This was especially pathetic considering I tried to Google it, but my phone service was sketchy, and my questions fell on deaf ears. I finally figured it out, but not before a neighbor observed my shortcomings as a man.

- Upon leaving town, I hit a pothole that was on its way to becoming a sinkhole, and a block later I passed a tire shop. This was no coincidence. Somewhere near Michigan City, a tire shop employee is using a jack hammer with a silencer on it.

- My wife told me a story of sleeping over at her aunt and uncle’s house when she was a child. In the morning, her uncle asked if the kids all wanted to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo. His children groaned loudly, apparently he took them to the zoo quite a bit. He clapped his hands together and said “Okay, that settles it. Maxwell Street it is.” He’s a man after my own quirky heart, I thought.

I had to delete that goddamn chain letter, didn’t I? The motel bathtub—or my new my bed, depending on how you looked at it—creaked against my aching back. With the way my luck was going, I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up covered in ice, and one kidney light. I rubbed my side and shuddered at the possibility, and then I wondered what twelve years feels like.

This Morning:
I sipped at the steaming coffee carefully, as I hid within the cubicle, checking my personal email. The traffic up and down the office halls began to slowly grow. The work day rearing its expressionless head, in minutes the place would become frantic, and we the sheep would flock to our specific herds—the high school class system still seeped deep within our psyche.

There were four unopened emails, two from my neighbor Pervert Dave, both of them containing attachments to video clips that I dare not open on the company computer. One was from Shelly—who worked down the aisle from me. She wanted to know if I would be attending our company’s Fourth of July barbecue.

The answer would be a resounding No. But Shelly was attractive, and showed an acceptable amount of interest in me (more than none), so I would skirt the issue, perhaps attempting to convince her that binge drinking at a dive bar near my dilapidated split level was the wiser choice. The fourth email appeared to be junk mail, its subject line read: Open me! And I did so without pause.

A graphic of a hideous leprechaun dancing appeared, and below the flamboyant troll, the email went on about the luck of the Irish, and how luck would be granted to all of those people smart enough to forward this email to twelve of their friends. I don’t have twelve friends to begin with, the fact that I had to be reminded of this in a chain letter was just plain cruel.

As I scrolled down further, I noticed the threat of twelve years of bad luck, and the word cursed appeared frequently throughout the body of the email. Not one to take kindly to chain letters, or idle threats, I forcefully slammed my index finger onto the mouse button, effectively erasing the ridiculous hindrance from existence. I was god.

A brief satisfaction gripped me, unfortunately it vanished quickly as my computer screen blinked the numbers 666 rapidly, and then switched to a wallpaper of a grizzly bear having relations of a sexual nature with a man, who appeared to be in a great deal of pain. The computer speaker blared Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”, as I jumped from my seat in horror.

The volume of the music began to attract some of my co- workers; they began to gravitate toward my cubicle, peering in one by one, watching as I frantically attempted to disconnect the computer. The bear roaring and pumping away, the man staring out at the viewer, grimacing, resigned to his fate.

I leaped under my desk and pulled the plug from the outlet, the music thankfully stopped. My co-workers snickered loudly to one another as they began to disperse back to their own work stations. I gracefully re-emerged from under the desk, bumping its edge with my head, knocking my coffee cup onto the floor, its steamy black innards splashing into the outlet that had just relinquished my computer of its power. A hiss was audible, and the power in the entire office went out. Just like that. Cut to black.

The next hour brought an onslaught of commotion. Managers, supervisors, and countless vice presidents, all of them desperately were attempting to remedy the situation. Electricians and building engineers were called in, none of them able to figure out what was wrong with the power. The only thing that everyone was certain of was that I was to blame. A brief meeting with my supervising manager, and I was on my way home.

Admittedly, chain smoking in my Camry was a welcome reprieve. Traffic began to bottleneck, as I glanced up at the digital traffic billboard that hung ominously over the highway. The traffic times switched off, leaving a strange rectangular blackness in its wake. Suddenly, the digital board came to life once more TWELVE YEARS it read. The shock of witnessing this impossibility forced my hands into spastic gyrations.

Veering into the left lane; I caught a glimpse of a mini-van, milliseconds before the impact. The collision was obnoxiously loud, as I stuffed my front bumper under the van’s back end. Quickly gathering my bearings, I hit reverse, pulled out from under the wreckage that used to be a minivan and my Camry, and pulled onto the shoulder.

Smoke generously poured out from under my hood. The mini-van followed suit, pulling over onto the same shoulder fifty or so feet in front of me. I emerged from the car, startled and jittery, pretending to inspect the front end. Looking up at the mini-van in front of me, I noticed all of the windows were tinted completely black.

The sliding door swung open with a thud, long peculiar pant legs connected to giant red shoes stepped from the vehicle. Standing in front of me was an angry clown, adorned in a sport coat, checkered pants, and those mesmerizing giant red shoes. His large frizzy orange hair was puffed on either side of his head with a hat much too tiny for such a large skull. His face was painted a stark white, with black eyeliner circling each enraged eye, blood red lipstick generously coating his nose and lips. Slightly shaking my head side to side, I attempted to rid myself of this very real image.

As I did so, another equally large and angry clown exited the vehicle, identical to the previous one, and yet another, and then another. They continued pouring out of the mini-van, as the first few walked menacingly towards me. All in all, there were about seven or eight of them, I couldn’t be sure.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” The first clown barked.
“I’m really sorry! I lost control! The traffic sign freaked me out, it was tellin—”

He skipped towards me and threw a punch, like a coked up prize fighter swinging at an unfaithful wife. The fist connected with my mouth, bringing my frantic excuses to an abrupt conclusion. I fell to the pavement in a broken heap. My legs not responding as I tried in vain to get to my feet and run. The enraged clown septuplets circled me, beginning to kick and punch my body and limbs, while I desperately tried to cover up. One of them grabbed my arms and pulled them back, forcing me to stand upright.

The crazed clown in front of me leaned in close, his booze soaked breath layering my face as he hissed,
“Do you think you can just go around fucking with our kind?! Do you?!”
“I’m sorry…puh-puh-please.”

The painted devil nailed me with a body shot dropping me once more onto all fours. They all laughed in maniacal unison as they walked back to their mini-van. The clown carrier peeled out as it fish tailed back onto the highway, an empty forty ounce beer bottle flying out from the passenger side window.

Stammering back to my feet, I breathed in the lingering air of drunken clowns through a broken and battered sinus cavity. Dejected and beaten, I walked back to my car, dreaming of the sweet release my couch would no doubt bring me.

It didn’t turn over, my camry was dead. The accident must have severely screwed up something, because there was no starting it. The question now was would I remain here waiting patiently for help to arrive, or would I continue the trek home on foot. Seeing as I was just beaten in public by marauding circus folk, and no one came to my aid, I chose the second option. After all, the next ramp was my exit and I was only a couple miles from home.

The walking was hard to do as my bruised frame throbbed. I crossed the highway, and stumbled down the exit ramp, dodging down-on-their-luck veterans who asked for change. Maybe it was too many movies, but I felt as if the look they gave me was telling. As if they understood my current plight. As if maybe, once upon a time, in some distant past, they too wore the clothes of a clown beaten man-child.

My pace quickened to a brisk jog, and I came upon the local grocery store a couple of blocks from my home. It had recently been bought out by a large chain, and was now twice as bright and shiny as it used to be. I slowed back down to a walk, the all knowing bums far enough in my rear view for me to be comfortable with. There was some sort of commotion in front of the nameless chain’s front doors. Hundreds of picket signs which appeared to be held by hundreds of children, paraded in an energetic manner back and forth in front of the store.

I carefully walked toward the spectacle, slowly realizing that the children were actually little people. I had never seen a little person up close, let alone a hundred agitated ones with signs, my curiosity was peaked, and I felt the tinge of guilt as well. They chanted over and over in unison,

“Discrimination is wrong! We’re people too!”

I watched as they marched and repeated their mantra. A pretty blonde little person—who was watching the proceedings intently—stood next to me. I glanced down at her and nodded, as she glanced up at me and did the same.

“What’s this all about?” I asked.
“They refused to serve one of us, even after he showed them his i.d.”
“That’s weird, why?”
“Because they’re racist assholes.” She muttered matter of factly.

I looked down at her quizzically.

“Are you guys considered a race? I mean how does it work?”

The shock in her eyes told me all I needed to know.

“What did you just say?!” she growled.

I backed away slowly, my arms out in a “please, I meant no harm” gesture. Quickly turning, she screamed to the crowd of pint-sized picketers.

“This asshole just called me a midget!”

The crowd stopped marching, the chant with no rhyme scheme came to a screeching halt—imagine the record scratch, the bar full of angry patrons…yep, just like that.

“Whoah! Whoah! Whoah! I did not say that!”

The blonde kicked me hard in the shin.

“He’s a fucking liar!” She howled.

This lady was so fucking mean. I screamed like a six year old girl, and began to feverishly sprint away from the crowd, which only added fuel to the fire.

The mini-mob immediately gave chase; it was like when you briskly walk away from an over friendly, possibly horny dog, only to have it follow you even more aggressively. The mob mentality had grown roots in their collective heads, and there was no other option now. They were going to make an example out of yours truly.

Close behind me, I heard labored breathing and the rapid thuds of tiny feet racing closer toward me, cursing me all the while. Picket signs flew to the right and left of me, narrowly missing their target. I was gaining some distance on them now; I cut through some yards, and hopped some fences, making quick left and quick right turns along the way. Glancing back, I saw that the first fence had slowed the mob a great deal; they bunched up behind it, slowly climbing over, a few at a time. I stopped momentarily to catch my breath. Watching as they cursed and shook their fists in my general direction.

I continued on my way, free of the dangerous demonstrators but having learned an important lesson. Never ask a question to anyone, about anything… ever again.

Finally on my block, I smiled and walked to my front door. Upon entering, I crashed heavily onto my computer chair. The strange messages, the ferocious clown beating, and the angry protesters, were no coincidence, and I had to at least attempt to get that message back and send it to everyone I had an email address for, anything to lift its evil curse.

I shook the mouse, waking the monitor from its slumber. A red glow came to the screen, 666 flickered in a horrifying manner on the screen. It faded, as an angry leprechaun appeared in its place. I sat frozen in open-mouthed horror.

“You disobeyed our request and now you will face our wrath! HAHAHAHA!”

The monitor began to smolder and melt, flames bursting upward. The fire quickly began to rise up the wall and spread throughout my living room. I fell backwards onto the floor, screaming and crying in frantic bursts. I ran out the front door and watched from the sidewalk as my home quickly became enveloped in the Leprechaun’s spiteful flames. Neighbors slowly began exiting their homes.

Pervert Dave ran over to me, shouting inaudibly as he shook me by my shoulders, his dildo-forehead attachment slapping repeatedly against my face, but I paid him no mind. I was too far gone. They were no longer my neighbors, no longer my peers, they were now simply the lucky ones, and I the cursed.

The only answer that came to me in those moments was pure and primal… run away. And I did. My world had transformed into something else entirely, and I needed to figure out what to do next, who to become, and how to survive.

Later that night, when my legs could carry me no further, and the general area I was in didn’t seem to be filled with imminent danger, I stopped running. As I stood there, sucking in the air, the lactic acids building up, I saw the motel 8 sign flicker, and for the first time since the incident, an electronic sign did not heap digital threats upon me.

I walked toward the motel hoping that it would become my temporary holy ground…and here I am. In a bathtub—the mattress had a stain that looked like a masturbating bear, so I didn’t want to risk it. Yeah, I’m sleeping in a bathtub. The boogey man is real, the creaks in the floor are Satan, the crawling in the walls are probably zombie vampires, and twelve years is a long fucking time.

I was in Nashville last night for work. Being in a new city usually brings out my inner explorer. Well, for the sake of honesty, more like causal stroller. Given the opportunity, I will walk.

It just so happened that my stay coincided with a Country Music Television thing. So, the people watching amp was set to eleven. As I walked Broadway amongst the legion of country music fans—another confession for the sake of honesty, I’m not the biggest country music fan. I do enjoy some of the older outlaw country artists and songs, but newer pop country tunes, the ones that feature lyrics about driving pick-ups under a big sky, on the way to drink a cold one, with a pretty girl dancing in the passenger seat, don’t really do it for me on a lyrical level.

That being said, I was amazed by the sheer amount of people on the streets, it brought a certain electricity to the night. From a people watching perspective, the experience was hard to describe. Well-dressed couples walking alongside cowboys and cowgirls wearing ten-gallon hats, Jeff Bridges looking dudes jamming recognizable songs on most of the street corners, giving a nod and a wink when you left a tip. South Beach meets South Texas? I don’t know. Something like that.

My first stop was Merchants, an architectural beauty that according to the bartender and its bio sheet has been around since the late 1800’s. And also happened to be a brothel, hotel, and prohibition-era gin joint, in previous incarnations. This time around it was a nicer bar/restaurant with local ingredients and fried green tomatoes. The only negative, a minor one, was that the Moscow Mule I ordered wasn’t served in a steel cup, but a glass. First world problems, blah, blah, blah.

After that it was Roberts, a legendary country bar, there I watched as a pair of musicians belted out a fantastic rendition of “They Call Me the Breeze”. Knowing nothing of the music industry in general, I wondered how they’d be discovered. Would it be a music executive sitting in a dark corner, exhaling a plume of cigar smoke, sipping on a whisky, and nodding along approvingly? The duo stealing glances at him from the corners of their eyes, while simultaneously upping the intensity of their soon-to-be hit. Are they signed to a deal on the spot? Do they instantly skyrocket up the imaginary charts? The inevitable conflict? Perhaps they’re torn apart by a woman they both pine for? A battle with their demons? Booze? Drugs? Their fall from grace, the redemptive third act. Artistic integrity and love conquer all? Yeah, that works.

After Roberts, I began the walk back to my hotel. On the way there, I encountered the Budweiser Clydesdales, and they had seen better days. Their cages (Pens? Whatever) were barely large enough to fit the enormous horses. You can get an idea of it in the two photos at the bottom of this blog. You’ll also notice the giant piece (i.e. diiiick) on the horse in the second photo. One can only hope he will get an opportunity to smack his jailer in the face with that equine dong-hammer.

The trip, while more work than play, was an enjoyable one. Nashville is indeed a groovy town. Blog updated.

horse1

horse

Epilogue: I lost my favorite old pair of sneakers in my hotel room. This was disappointing. I also feel for the hotel and its staff. That place will never smell right again. Prediction: Hazmat suits.

During a conversation with a friend the other day, a question came up. What are some of the funniest novels you’ve ever read? We quickly made our lists, and they were surprisingly short.

At the time I was able to come up with three off the top of my head, novels where I actually laughed out loud while reading:

1: How I Became a Famous Novelist
2: Confederacy of Dunces
3: Money

My friend followed suit with his list:

1: Catch 22
2: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
3: Lamb

After whispering a curse to my failing memory (Douglas Adams and Christopher Moore have had me in tears, and deserved better), we came to a not-so-funny conclusion. Neither one of us has read that many funny novels, and the ones that we both really enjoyed were all at least five years-old, some closer to forty-five.

This realization stayed with me. Later, I decided to look back on what I’ve read in the last year or so.

Out of all the books I’ve either listened to or read, about 1%-5% of them could be considered a comedy, or at least comedic in tone. This percentage pales in comparison to my taste in television and film, where I hover closer to the 40-50% mark. Or life in general, where a dick joke, pratfall, or bit of sarcastic flare, can really put a spunk in my step. That’s right… spunk.

Anyhow, I decided to go back and review my overall reading trends in the prior year. Between audible, kindle, and actual print, I read fifty-nine books last year (this is not a humble brag, I swear). Fifty of these books were fiction, nine were nonfiction. To break it down further, fourteen of these books were literature, eleven were thrillers/mysteries/crime, nine were sci-fi, four were westerns, and three were fantasy. Of the nine nonfiction books, most were memoirs, none were self-help (I can neither influence people nor make new friends).

After looking back at this list, I was able find four books that I would consider comedic in tone and funny as a whole. Those would be I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman’s meditation on villainy in pop culture and our attraction to it. Bossy Pants, the story of Tina Fey’s rise through the comedy kumite. This Book is Full of Spiders, the funny dystopian sequel to John Dies at the End. And Agent to the Stars, an amusing Hollywood meets E.T. romp.

For the sake of clarity, Both Bossy Pants and I Wear the Black Hat are not novels (I’m talking fiction, yo). So, they’re immediately scratched off this list. Plus, Bossy Pants is at least a couple of year old. Though Agent to the Stars is fiction, it’s also close to ten years old. So, it’s out as well.

This leaves me with one novel out of fifty that I read this year, which I could say was a comedy at its core.

I’m sure many other books came out this year that could be considered comedic novels. I know the aforementioned Christopher Moore had a novel released a few months back (It’s entitled Fool, and I’ve heard it’s hilarious), but there’s only so many hours in the day, and I already spend too many of them reading, listening to, or looking for a book.

I was under the impression that my random tastes in fiction, and my proclivity toward silliness would steer my reading habits to the funny, but apparently it hasn’t. I’m not sure if this is because of my investigative shortcomings, a subliminal change in my tastes when looking for a book, or a scarcity of comedic novels being published. Whatever the case, I assumed the percentage of funny novels I had read in the last year or so, would be much higher, and for some reason I’ve found that it is not. This strikes me as peculiar, and a bit worrisome.

So, I guess what I’m saying is:

Does anyone have a suggestion for a funny novel? One caveat, it has to have been published within the last two years.

If so, let me know. I’m looking for one.

A bear.

“I’m going to turn you into poo.” -What every bear is thinking.

Our summer lake house trip is less than a month away. The planning phase has been easy enough, until it gave way to an inevitable conversation regarding bear attacks.

And while my wife scoffs at the idea of a ravenous, soul-eating, hell bear hunting us in an unknown wilderness. I’ve seen the game tape, and I’m well aware of the insatiable hunger that lurks in the dark hearts of these gore machines. Allow me to present the evidence.

Evidence A: Grizzly Man. Fucking GRIZZLY MAN. It has more monsters in it than a Guillermo Del Toro fever dream. And they walk among us.

Evidence B: The Edge. Only a brilliant serial killer, Norse god, and knighted Englishman (One Sir Anthony Hopkins) could ever hope to escape from such a vile forest demon.

Evidence C: Kung Fu Panda. Proof that they are adept at many styles of hand to paw combat, and that even the panda bear is an inherently violent creature.

Evidence D: Legends of the Fall. The beast shows no respect. Not even for a dreamy, long-haired Pitt. What chance do we have?

Evidence E: Stephen Colbert. The most brilliant newsman of our generation also happens to have enough sense to tremble in terror at the very mention of these human hating hibernators.

Now, with this abundance of information on hand, I’ve decided we must prepare ourselves for the possibility the undeniable reality that we will have to face one of these marrow-lickers in the near future.

Being a proper father and husband, I immediately began to make the necessary preparations. Guns. Lots of guns. For all of us. Especially my five year-old. He’s the smallest and slowest of our tribe, so he would get both the shotgun and the grenade.

My argument for advanced weaponry was simple. We can’t outrun or out climb them.

Best case scenario: Dance off (Improbable)

Worst Case Scenario: Tickle fight (Almost a certainty)

Unfortunately, this initial safety plan was shot down by my wife. No guns.

So, um, my plan is currently in a state of metamorphosis. Like a soon to be freed bear-killing butterfly.

Of course, I will need additional time to research some of the trickier elements in my current plan (crossbows, poisoned honey,  and spiked pits), and in all likelihood, my workload is about to triple (carving spears and digging pits is time consuming). Plus, we might lose our security deposit, but regardless of the obstacles, safety comes first… whatever the cost.

BEAR. HUMAN.

 

 

Hello Ladies, Gents, Friends, and Foes,

By now, I’m guessing you’ve noticed that I’ve been on a not-so brief T&N hiatus. And, while some of you could care less, others might want an update on the web-comic, and other unrelated writing news.

Well, first off, thank you for asking (with those hungry eyes of yours). You are indeed a charming and inquisitive, raconteur. I’ve been well, as I hope you have. I’ve also recently scripted a television pilot entitled LIFELINES, which is being produced fairly soon, by some talented friends. As you can guess, I’m beyond excited to be involved in this process. Unfortunately, this is also one of the reasons for the delay of new T&N strips.

That being said, I will be back to scripting our usual brand of silliness in the not-too-distant future. Now, for the fun part, if you happen to be an actor/actress, and would like to audition for said pilot, please take the time to read the flyer below, then comb your hair properly (pomade for the gents), and get in touch with us. Spaces are filling up quickly:

LifelinesPilot

Now that we have that bit of news out of the way, I’m also currently scripting the finale for Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland. This is the other reason for the delay. Although, to be honest, this web-comic is free, and free doesn’t put the ramen in the cabinet, if you know what I’m saying. So, hopefully you’ll give a click to the link at the bottom of this post and purchase some cheap digital reads from your buddy, Nik.

In a gesture of love and desperation sincerity, I’ve attached a look at a couple of pages from issue #4:
Hfau#4page13hfau#4page14

Click me all night long, baby:
http://www.comixology.com/Huck-Finns-Adventures-in-Underland/comics-series/10149

Your friend till the end,
Nik