My bladder has consistently proven itself to be one of my trickier organs. In the past, I’ve been compared to pregnant women, children, and once, a goat. The latter was in another country. One where the goats pee quite often, and at inopportune moments.

My inopportune moment would turn out to be a bit more technologically complicated than that of a goat. But in the grand scheme of things, a frequent pee-er (for lack of a better word) will always be a frequent pee-er, no matter the gadgets, the country of origin, or even the species.

Another difficulty that many frequent pee-ers might be familiar with, is the lack of a cut-off valve. Now, I know I’m getting pretty scientific here, so try to keep up. While some folks can turn it on and off like a faucet, others cannot. This is a key piece of information moving forward.

So let’s get to it. There I was, on a dark and stormy Tuesday night. I was in the bathroom, shirtless, staring at myself in the mirror (as is often the case on Tuesdays). Soon, I began the intricate task of trimming my ear and nose hairs (Please, stop throwing your panties at the screen, ladies).

Suddenly, my phone rang. Not a text, email, or social media, sort of notification, but an actual phone call. Suffice it to say, this was a harrowing turn of events. I scrambled away from the sink and stared down at my pocket, in disgust.

In that same instant, my bladder sprang a surprise of its own. I was now scrambling to unbutton my trousers and hop over to the toilet. With the seat up, and my unmentionables out, I got down to business (Remember, no cut-off valve).

The phone rang again. Who on earth was calling me? And without so much as a text, to warn me of the impending call. It was 2017 after all, and I was under the impression that we’d moved past phone calls.

Unless of course, this was the sort of news that could only be shared through live conversation. Deaths, births, and bizarre sexual encounters, being the three standard scenarios I knew of that allowed for this.

I shoved one hand into my pocket and pried my phone out. While trying to balance the phone, my pee stream, and also swipe that damn green button, I lost my grip…

…and down, down, down, it went. Flipping in slow motion, like a televised Olympic diver, milliseconds before a career destroying belly flop.

Sploosh. This was the worst kind of gold medal. The kind with pee.

Because of my aforementioned lack of a cut-off valve, I continued to whiz as my phone descended into the bowl. I silently cursed the heavens, knowing the terrible maneuvers that I would have to set into motion.

It all happened very fast, then. I flung my arm down, toward the pee-filled bowl. In doing so, my hips tilted away from the toilet, thereby forcing me to pee on my jeans. At the exact moment I began peeing all over legs, my hand broke through the murky water, in a desperate search for my befouled phone.

phone

An accurate interpretation of events.

 

Finally, with my bladder emptied, and phone in hand, and also way too much of my body covered in urine, I stood triumphant… okay, maybe triumphant is too strong a word. But I was standing there. You know, covered in pee.

Sure, I still had to rinse off my phone, and my hands, and my jeans, and more esoterically, perhaps a part of my soul. And yes, I still had the chore of chopping through a forest of nose hairs, but the worst of it was behind me. A toast to small victories.

Luckily, the S7 edge is kinda-sorta waterproof. Not to speak for the nerds that designed the thing, but I’m guessing they made these advancements because of just such occasions.

Perhaps this scenario was worked out during Samsung’s beta-testing. Or perhaps one of these science nerds dumped their phone in a random toilet, while out chasing Pokémon’s, or whatever it is nerds do on their off time.

Regardless, it’s a helluva device. Kudos to them. I’m currently writing this blog entry on it. An entry which was inspired by it. And I’m writing it for people who I’m connected to because of it.

Thought of in those terms, saving my phone from the toilet was almost like saving a group of drowning people.

I’m kind of a hero, when you really think about it.

I decided to go for a run. Maybe, because I needed to shed a few pounds. Maybe, because I wanted to tempt fate and test my middle-aged heart. Regardless of the reason, on that run, I recieved a sign. Now, I’m not saying it was from God… but yeah, it was probably God.

I was about two miles into that dreaded form of exercise, and all of the rattling and gasping, was loosening up the crusty stuff inside of me.

Suddenly, I had to spit. And it was a particularly juicy goober. Apparently, a bone fragment had made its way from one of my shins to the back of my throat.

Steely-eyed, with my luscious hair blowing in the wind, my impossibly square jaw set in determination, and my muscles rippling (I’m on a roll, don’t judge me) I forged on toward home.

While doing so, I coughed up the morsel and spit it out.

Now this is where the sign comes in, so pay close attention. The celestial-goober launched itself from my mouth, but instead of falling onto the pavement a few feet ahead of me, it floated in the air at eye-level. Held either by the wind or the hand of God… but we all know the wind is God. So, yeah, it was God.

After floating in front of me for a long moment, it was quickly returned to my face with a splat. At that point, I stopped running.

Now, how to interpret this supernatural act, is the piece of the puzzle that still remains a mystery.

Did having to stop my run in disgust, and wiping away my own awfulness, prevent my heart from exploding?

In this scenario, the jolly bearded guy upstairs was sending me good vibes and a thumbs up. And that’s good, I think.

OR, was it that some cosmic prankster elbowed his buddy, and said “Hey god-bro, check this out.”  and then slapped me with my own slime. Then they probably chuckled and exchanged a fist bump, as my muffled curses passed under their fraternity of clouds.

In this scenario, the afterlife is not looking too good, for yours truly. An eternal pledge for some cosmic frat, where they diddle and humiliate you. Jesus… That’s some dark shit right there.

I don’t know, man. I just don’t know. That’s the thing about signs. They’re open to interpretation. And that leads you down some treacherous philosophical roads. The kind where you need to determine how full glasses are. And nobody has the patience for that.

Bottom line. I spit in my own face… but it wasn’t my fault, like at all.

It was and act of god. And he or she (calm down) is a mysterious being, whose intent is beyond our mortal comprehension. But the most important thing to know is: If you, or any of your friends, talk to the lady that was walking her dog (Off of 22nd and Hampton), I DID NOT spit in my own face. It was way more complicated than that.

And she’s a goddamn liar.

Against my better judgment, I guess I’ll add my two cents (worth barely that) to the fray.

I don’t remember exactly when it ruptured. The division had always been there. But rupture seems the more appropriate term for what happened. It was definitely during the election, but more precisely, it started to take shape during the primaries. When sad politicians, with their sneers and bird-like eyes, spread their blankets of rhetoric.

It seems like a long time ago, now. A time when we had our different opinions on candidates, but could still find that humorous, middle-ground. You know the one: “He did this/she did that… Yeah, let’s just agree that they’re both kind of nuts.”

It was around that time, when a friend commented on how it seemed as if real life had transformed into a Coen Brothers film. And hey, the Coen Brothers make some pretty entertaining flicks. So it wasn’t all bad.

Sure, you had your hard liners on either end, but show me someone stepping passionately onto their soap box, and I’ll show you a really boring dinner party. One that I’m probably trying to get out of. Back then, I was dodging political conversations like a republican during the draft. And just like those fellas of yesteryear, I was getting good at hiding from ugly truths.

Little did I know that the truth was much better than me at hide and seek.

Full disclosure: I’m the son of immigrants. Actually, all of my family here in the states are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. We’re the kind of family that learned to speak Serbian before we learned to speak English. And now, most of us speak both languages (less than ideally).

This was one of the reasons I was so surprised by the fact that some in our family were thinking about supporting Trump.

Given, I’m a socially liberal fella. So I’m surprised quite often. And when you-know-who started in on his anti-immigration rants, and ugly sound bites about women, I was fairly certain a lot of our family’s Trump contingent would pull back on the throttle. That didn’t happen.

Still, that was fine. To each their own, I thought. I knew some of the reasons they supported him over Hillary. She was the same old thing. Business as usual. And there was also the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the Clinton administration and UN led bombing campaigns. This was hard to swallow, especially when some of our family members had died, and many others became refugees. Add in a host of small business interests (all of them in one blue collar trade or another) and there you had it. Even if I didn’t agree with Trump or his ridiculous campaign promises, I understood why some of our clan liked the guy.

Anthony Bourdain recently wrote a great piece about this, except from a rural, middle-American perspective. The fly over states and all that. It’s mostly about how people become resentful when it feels like they (or their problems) aren’t being taken seriously. And looking back on it, this seems like one of the major factors in getting Trump elected. It wasn’t him so much as it was a frustration, or impotent rage over a system that many felt hadn’t just failed them, but had ignored them as well.

I don’t think a lot of those Trump supporters actually believed that he was going to try and make good on some of his wackier campaign promises. Maybe he was just sticking it to the man, in their eyes. Who knows?

But with recent events, the immigration ban in-particular, this Coen Brothers flick just got a lot less humorous.

Perhaps the one good thing that has come from this administration’s heavy handed, un-American policies, is that it has brought people from different backgrounds together in protest. And perhaps groups like the ACLU doing what they can, will inspire more.

People are getting involved and doing their part as Americans. They’re putting their money where their mouth is. Donations are starting to come in to the appropriate groups, while businesses that are trying to profit from unfair policies are being boycotted.

There’s a lot to think about in the strange days ahead. For instance, I’m kind of worried that the fiscal cuts that are coming could affect the arts a great deal, and that would be a shame. But who knows, maybe a lot of us will give a piece of our tax refunds right back to the programs that are affected. And maybe, this is how the fight will play out.

Maybe it’ll be through the voice of the majority, and just as important, through our wallets. Once politicians begin to see that the majority is spending its money with a political interest, maybe they’ll start to think twice. Capitalism isn’t owned by this administration. And once our money starts working against their policies, they’ll bend.

If we’ve learned anything from recent history, politicians will follow the money. If lobbyists can get their ear by lining pockets, we sure as hell can get their attention with how we spend our money. Just look at the contributions in the last couple of weeks to the ACLU. This could very well be an indication of things to come.

This administration’s rhetoric, along with the cable news play-by-play, are divisive in the worst sort of way. They’re making out by simply pitting us against one another. And unfortunately, it’s a big reason why we’re in this spot. We let them divide us. We bickered amongst ourselves, and they fed off it. This isn’t a football game. This isn’t about winning or losing teams. This is more nuanced than that. This is about coming together and reminding these entities that they work in our interests, not the other way around.

And those Trump supporters? We need them too. There’s no use patting each other on the back and talking about how smart and enlightened we are, while simultaneously grousing about how ignorant they are. So we make our tent bigger, and we bring them in. A lot of those folks have already noticed the destabilization that these new policies have brought about. Even if they don’t want to admit it yet. And I’m willing to bet many of them didn’t sign on for all of this craziness.

There were a lot of decent folks, who were simply dismayed by an ugly political system. These are hard working people that could very well change their minds. And we can help them do it. Perhaps some of them are just proud. People in general don’t want to be belittled and/or talked down to. That’s a common trait we all share. Sure, this seems trivial, but in all seriousness, trivial shit got us to this point, maybe it can help get us out.

Some of those people are on the fence already. I’ve seen it. I’ve had more than a few conversations with Trump supporters. In fact (This is our little secret), one in-particular is coming around. She watched the Woman’s march. She saw the news stories about innocent people being detained at airports all across the country, and she knows the wall is a ridiculous waste of money. It’s only a matter of time before she abandons this administration’s outdated way of thinking. And others will as well. And we will need those people. And they will need us.

United we stand and all that groovy jazz.

Well, that’s all I got. And if you don’t agree with my ramblings, that’s fine too. I’m just another dope pecking away at a keyboard in the middle of the night. Hell, I should have renamed this blog The Soap Box. Eh, it’s probably already taken. All the good ones are.

Till next time, be kind and keep going.

 

 

It’s just terrible. Sure, some might say it’s a mixed bag, but those are most likely the same, sadistic folks that I see jogging around the neighborhood when it’s under five degrees.

It makes sense that these people enjoy our current, frozen hellscape. They’ve been secretly trying to kill themselves every winter, under the guise of exercise.

They do this, so you can feel twice as bad.  First, for how sloth-like indoor life has made you. And second, for the fact that the cold won’t kill them. Yet it would you.

This same sort of deception is at play when someone says “Eh, it’s not so bad.” Or the most obnoxious of all: “It could be worse.”

Yeah, it could be worse. We could be naked, fighting off wolves in Alaska. But I probably wouldn’t have time to update this readerless blog, if that were the case.

And you know what else?

It could also be better, a lot better. We could be cuddling koala bears, while snapping pics of tropical drinks, on a beach somewhere in Honolulu (If that’s even a real place).

That said, I guess it’s not all doom and gloom. After all, December does bring with it the holiday season. And yes, there’s a lot to be grateful for. And the different holidays and their rich traditions make life that much more special. Yadda yadda yadda.

But seriously, who are we fucking kidding? It’s 10 degrees below zero, right now . And I’m willing to bet cold, hard cash, that almost all winter traditions were invented for the sole purpose of stopping us from walking off into the frozen night. Even something as small as a catchy jingle can stop one from giving in to death’s warm embrace.

So you see, If cavemen had Christmas ornaments, we’d all be a lot hairier. That’s just plain science.

Unfortunately, when it’s this kind of cold outside, even heartwarming holiday cheer can mutate into something a bit more ominous.

Take classic Christmas carols like Deck the Halls, White Christmas, or Silent Night. If you’re cold enough (And if you live in Chicago, you are), you begin to decode what these songs are actually about.

Some might point to cabin fever, but the sort of chill I’m talking about is beyond psychological symptoms. And it’s beneficial in one way, and one way only. Like Neo in the Matrix, you begin to see things for what they are.

Fa la la la la is the sound teeth make during their final death rattle. It’s obvious that the poor bastard who wrote this tune, never could get that sound out of his head. Betchya didn’t know that.

Silent night, holy night was evidently written by someone suffering from hypothermia, and preparing to meet his maker. You can’t get much holier than that.

And White Christmas? Well, Bing Crosby might as well have been part of the alt-right. The jury’s still out on him. *Note: Just kidding, Bing. That was a low blow.

“But, what about fun traditions like building gingerbread houses?” You ask.

I agree, it’s a wonderful way to spend the day. Architecture meets sweet delights. It’s the sort of combination that would’ve made Frank Lloyd Wright shed a tear and loosen his belt a notch.

Still, it was an invention most likely born out of necessity. Cabin fever and dwindling food reserves, forced folks to get creative and combine their resources. After all, there’s only so many times one can read Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Yes, I’m assuming Gingerbread houses are an old German thing (no time to google, I’m on a roll).

I suspect I’m starting to sound a bit unhinged. So I won’t even get into the issues I have while drinking and driving (under the legal limit, of course) during the winter months. That would probably be bad form.

Seriously though, even with the salt, it’s like a slip-n-slide out there. And it’s even worse if you’re seeing double (or so I’ve been told).

See? This is what the winter does. It sends you on chattering tangents. Anything to keep your core temperature up.

Well, I’ll stop preaching to the choir, now. We’re all in this together. And if their is a deity in charge of the changing seasons and groundhog shadows, then I hope he or she is a merciful bastard, but I suspect this is not the case.

Also, if you’re from a tropical climate and reading this, you should thank that same cruel deity (who is undoubtedly in charge of the geographical lottery, as well). And know this, you’ll probably be reincarnated in Aleppo. Fair is fair.

A friend of mine, who will remain nameless for this blog (eh, let’s call him Ricardo. I always liked that name). Ricardo’s family started a holiday tradition of their own. His family celebrates Christmas in July. Because, and I’m speculating here, it’s too damn cold to celebrate anything in December.

And they do so with a White Elephant party, which on an unrelated note, I recently learned does not involve car keys, a hat, and condoms (boy, was that an embarrassing night).

Anyhow, Christmas in July seems like a tradition I could get behind. After all, snow is great for about one day. After that, it’s all busted shovels and thrown-out backs.

I guess June or August could also work. But a counterpoint to this would be that those months are already great, and without the holidays, December is undoubtedly the worst month of the year… which is saying a lot.

Jesus, this blog is all over the place. And I’m not sure how I feel about any of it. Except for the part about hating winter. I feel quite strongly about that.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a very roundabout way, is we’re lucky to have the holidays. Because without em, we’d be a bunch of miserable assholes.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

 

 

I have to dredge up a lingering issue. One that really chaps my hide (god, I love that phrase). Recently, against my better judgment, I begrudgingly settled on the Studio Movie Grill, for a family outing. It’s one of those all-in-one theater chains that thinks combining drinks, dinner, and a movie, is the ULTIMATE MOVIE GOING EXPERIENCE.

Which is kind of like calling an anal fissure EDGE OF YOUR SEAT EXCITEMENT.

The corporate mission statement behind these abominations, is much like a slogan from McDonalds or Burger King. Super-size it! Make it a combo! And don’t forget to add a McNugget Flurry for only twenty-five cents more! 

See, this is how it works: You take a movie, and then you add an overpriced, frozen dinner, and a lot of terrible drinks, and you wrap that all up into a burrito of poor decision-making, and then you shove it in your face-hole. Where stuff goes. And please remember to reserve your seats ahead of time, online. Because there’s always an online component, when you’re destroying something beautiful.

At a glance, like most successful sales pitches, it sounds like a good idea. “Hey, we can get a drink at the theater, then we can eat our meal while watching the movie! Oh, and there’s a red button we can press on our tables! Wooooo!”

This sort of logic might seem sound, if you have a babysitter watching the kids, and you have exactly two hours to spare. Fine, crowbar it all in. 

But for those of us lucky enough to have a night out, and a desire to watch a movie and share a meal, this is the worst possible option. It’s like a candlelit dinner at White Castle. Except there’s a possibility of more diarrhea and less ambiance.

Problem #1: You have a drink or two at the bar beforehand, while you wait to be seated. Great, now you’re slightly buzzed going in. One soggy quesadilla later, and let’s face it, you’re not exactly on your A-game. So yeah, enjoy that movie you’ve either misinterpreted, talked over, or fallen asleep to.

I’ve been trapped next to two drunken middle-aged housewives, complaining that they didn’t “get it” between wet slurps of margaritas and whispered conversations with the waiter. Of course they didn’t get it. They were doing everything but watching the god-damn movie. And it was fucking Jurassic World, not Truffaut.

Problem #2: You’re dealing with waiters in the middle of the movie. They’re scrambling around like ball boys at the French Open, and someone in your group is inevitably going to ask “Should we get another bucket?”  No. You should get a gun and put it in your mouth. Because art is dead.

Problem #3: The food is awful. It’s microwaved soylent green. And we swallow it down like the gluttonous, indecisive children we are. God forbid we hold off on saturated fats for a couple of hours, and choose where we’re going to eat. No, that would be too great of a decision to make. Instead, let’s ruin a movie along with our night. Whatever it takes. Just feed us your soggy quesadillas, and turn up the background noise. This is a decision-free zone.

These places fail miserably in everything they set out to do. They’re a failure as a movie theater. Your experience will undoubtedly be compromised by the wait staff, by your own buzz, and by the people on either side of you (who are either continuously pressing shiny red buttons, or devouring unholy quesadillas between wet burps).

Let’s face it, if one of these places was just a restaurant and bar, it would be a Planet Hollywood without all of the accoutrements.

Movie theaters with a bit of history and a varied movie selection, are getting harder to find. While in their stead, we’re being offered something we don’t need or want. And yet, somehow, we’re still being coerced into thinking that this is our preferred method of movie-going.

And it’s too easy. And they know that. And we like easy.

Enough is enough! So, um, I guess this is the part where I stand up and quote something… and that something is one of the greatest American songs to ever grace a film: “There’s no easy way out. There’s no shortcut home.”  *koff* Rocky 4 *koff*

It comes down to this, dinner and a movie has been co-opted by corporate assholery. We are being sold an inferior alternative. An alternative that cuts out a vital part of this shared, cultural experience. It cuts out the part where you choose for yourself. The part where you walk out of a theater and say “Hey let’s grab a bite to eat, or a drink, and talk about whatever it was we just saw.”  And I fucking love that part.

I guess it’s our own damn fault. We’ve allowed this to happen. We’ve went along with the program, and in doing so, we’ve betrayed a piece of our cultural identity for the first shiny, new thing that came along. 

And with less and less real movie theaters left, this inferior alternative is quickly becoming the only game in town.

 

I almost shit my pants. Almost. I managed to duck-walk to my hotel room, seconds before impact. I had become a character in a Farrelly Brothers movie, and I wasn’t happy about it.

Moments earlier, as my bodily functions began their doomsday countdown, I was checking into the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Louisville.

The woman checking me in, Mary, according to her golden name-tag, was a twenty-something blonde, with a dialect I couldn’t quite place. She may have been local, or she may have been from Alabama for all I knew.

Sadly, to my ears, any dialect from the southern Midwest, and most of the south for that matter, all sound the same to me. Except for Texas and Georgia. For some reason, I always know if someone is from Texas or Georgia. It’s weird.

Anyhow, Mary seemed nice, but she had a lot of questions, and I was a road worn traveler. A traveler, I might add, who ate a giant burrito earlier that day, and who was now paying a steep price for his bad decisions.

My stomach spasmed. Something terrible was happening in there. Goose bumps rose on my skin, a trickle of sweat beaded my forehead, and all the while, Mary, with her damn questions.

“What brings ya, to Luuuville?”

“Uh, work.” I replied, as I tightened my aging glutes.

“Any floor preference?”

“Nope.”

“Did you park with us?”

“Yep.”

“Are you a Hilton Honors member?”

“Nope.”

“Would you like any restaurant suggestions?”

“Nope.”

“Any directions?”

“Nope.”

She paused for a moment, there was a mischievous glint in her eyes. She knew. I could see it, now. She was toying with me.

I bet she saw a lot of this, while working the front desk. Middle-aged business travelers, in desperate need to relieve themselves. Road weary men and women, who just wanted to check into their room, thereby granting them a private facility to do their unmentionables.

Seconds passed, she was either thinking of another question, or waiting for me to shit my pants. Probably both. I had to intervene.

“Listen, I really need to get to my room.” I said, through clinched teeth and sphincter.

“Of course.” She replied, with a slight frown. As she slowly, much too slowly, swiped my key cards on their activation pad.

In spite of of my new nemesis, and her evil plans to ruin me, I made it to my room. And soon, all was right in my world. Little did I know, my harmony would be brief.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, I decided to take a walk and find a meal. I strolled through the lobby with purpose. Mary gave me a nod, as if to say, “You got lucky… but there’s always check-out.” We locked eyes briefly, and I nodded back. My silent reply, “Bring it on, lady.”

It was a warm night for mid-November, as I arbitrarily picked a direction. About a block down from the hotel, was a heavy-set African American man. He was disheveled, and hopping toward me.

He had removed one of his shoes, and was carrying it in his arm like a football. The man appeared to be homeless. Having more than my fair share of encounters with the homeless of American cities, I did my best to not lock eyes. But it was too late. He spotted me.

Hopping toward me he asked “Hey man! Can you help me?”

I shot him an impatient look I save for just such scenarios. “Actually, I’m in a hurry.”

I picked up the pace, hoping to lose the man within a few more strides.

He called out to me as I went. “Come on call me an ambulance, man!”

I continued walking, but something wasn’t right. My stomach did that spasm thing again, but I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. I stopped walking, and turned to look at the man.

He was resting against a store front. He faced the other direction. Apparently, he was taking a break. If I was to guess, all that hopping really takes it out of you.

My stomach rumbled again. Damn it. This was worse than having diarrhea. This was a case of sympathy, or maybe even empathy. I didn’t know which.

It doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does, my stomach does this weird thing, and I know I’m about to try and help someone, and it’s probably going to be giant pain in the ass.

I walked up to the homeless hopper.

“Hey man, are you okay?”

“Nah, man. My foot’s fucked up. I need to go to the hospital. Can you call an ambulance?”

I quickly did the math on this. If I called an ambulance, I’d have to sit with this guy until they came. And I had a feeling that was going to be a long sit. Also, I was hungry. And lastly, there just so happened to be a way to kill two birds with one stone.

“Aw, jeez. My phone’s out of battery.” I lied.

“I’ll tell you what, do you think you can get to the Hilton Garden Inn, down the block.”

The man warily eyed the glowing neon sign in the distance. “Nah, man. I can’t hop no more.”

His words seemed profound. As if, in a just world, he would hop on forever, but it was mortality that poisoned his hope. Yeah, something like that.

“I’ll help you get there.” I said, surprising the both of us.

“Come on. Put your arm around me, and lean on me.”

I quietly hummed a Bill Withers tune as we made our way to the HGI. It was slow going, and we adjusted our embrace a few times.

I looked down at the man’s foot and it was really, really fucking gross. Swollen and discolored, and in need of a nail clipper, but that was a different issue all together.

“Hold up, I need to rest.” The man exclaimed.

We stopped for a moment, our arms still interlocked.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it just, it hurts, ya know?”

I did know. I mean, not about a swollen, messed up foot. But about things that hurt. And suffering is terrible, and I felt sad for the man that he had to endure it alone.

“I’m sorry.” I said, and I meant it.

After a couple more minutes, he was ready to continue. As I held onto him and kept him off of his bad foot, I noticed a small hospital band around his wrist.

“Were you in the hospital?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah, I was.”

“For your foot?”

The man shook his head. “Nah, not for my foot.”

The man glanced up at me earnestly, as we stumbled toward the HGI together.

“The doctors say I’m homicidal or something like that.” He said, and then laughed heartily.

I quickly broke eye-contact and stared up at the glowing neon beacon ahead of us.

“Well, that’s not good.” I whispered, not knowing how else to respond to something like that.

“Yeah. It’s whatever.” He said nonchalantly.

We had finally made it to the lobby doors of the HGI.

“Okay, I’ll bring you into the lobby and you can sit on their couch, while they call you an ambulance. Is that cool?”

“Aww, yeah, man. It looks nice in there!” The man said, smiling brightly.

We stumbled into the lobby together, the man’s arm over my shoulder, like two wounded soldiers making it back to camp.

Mary scanned the situation. She took in the homeless hopper, before returning my gaze. My eyes said “Checkmate, baby.” As I eased the man onto a couch.

I gave Mary a shrug of the shoulders as I approached the front desk.

“Hey, this guy’s really hurt and he needs an ambulance.”

Mary had no choice and she knew it. She’d have to let the man sit in her corporate, faux-hipster lobby, while he waited for an ambulance. An ambulance that would hopefully take the long way there.

“Oh. Yes, of course.” She replied.

I knew that she knew, that I helped our homeless friend. And she knew that I knew, that she had no choice but to also help. There would be no shooing away of any homeless folk, especially while a guest, and also clearly an upstanding citizen, was present.

I smiled broadly, before leaving Mary to it. As I turned, to head out into the night, I saw that my homeless friend had made himself comfortable.

He had taken off his shirt and laid down on the couch. It was a glorious scene. And on top of it all, my stomach thing had went away.

Epilogue:

The next morning a cleaning woman knocked on my door, much too loudly, at 7:30 a.m. After that, it took twenty minutes to get my car back from the valet. And the icing on the cake, the coffee in the lobby was as cold as the road that lay ahead.

Coincidentally, Mary was working the front desk that morning.

This wasn’t over. Not by a longshot.

 

The year was 1990, and Tecmo Bowl was my jam. I would take the rock to the house, spike the controller, and shake my ass all over my brother’s bedroom. This was my twelve-year-old version of the Ickey shuffle, and it was glorious. And if our Nintendo controller had to suffer because of this, so be it. It did so in the name of art.

Then came WCW Championship Wrestling. I would write out brackets on notebook paper, and inevitably get Rick Flair chest-chopping his way into a championship bout. After a successful title run, I would let out a “WOOOOO!” and shuffle out of the room. And occasionally, I could be heard hollering “Twelve pounds of gold, baby!” to no one in-particular.

Because that’s what WCW video game champions did. We shouted cool shit like that.

My teenage years brought with them games like Altered Beast (best when accompanied by Metallica on your Discman), as well as the NBA Live and Madden franchises.

Sports games were the last to hold my attention (even after women entered the picture), but my time spent button-mashing was quickly coming to an end. It also helped that video gaming went the online route, while I had begun to develop a case of tech-allergies (I blame 90’s public schooling).

That said, I still drank beers with buddies, while they argued with thirteen-year-olds. Thirteen-year-olds who viciously murdered them in video games, and called them “bitches” or “punk-ass bitches” over their headsets as they did so. Ah, those were the days.

Then came kids. The first seven (or so) years of child-rearing were mostly video game free. Sure there was Angry Birds, or some other iPad inspired silliness, but the console driven madness of first-person shooters and Hail Mary touchdown passes were still a ways off.

And then my kid was nine, and all he wanted for Christmas (Besides his front teeth and a BB gun) was an Xbox One. And being the exceptional, fantastic, and all-around swell dad that I am, I got him that Xbox One.

With one caveat, I pledged an oath to my wife that he’d only play age-appropriate games. And only for ten minutes each day. But soon after the pledging of said oath, other kids in the neighborhood started getting Call of Duty Black Ops.

And then everything went to hell.

Fast forward a few months, and we had an Xbox Rambo on our hands. He and his friends conducted clandestine missions in our TV room, while we yelled at them to “Turn it down”, or “Go outside!” Although I had to admit, the game looked pretty fucking awesome.

But I’m a dad, so I dad-watched from the doorway, and I shook my head dismissively. As if I wasn’t impressed by the insane graphics, and the cool, shooty-gizmos they were using. I said things like “Okay, wrap it up”, Or “Five more minutes, guys.” Or “Any of you kids ever hear of Golden Eye?”

But what I was really thinking was more along the lines of “Holy shit, dude! Is that a fucking flame thrower?!”, followed by “Holy shit that IS a fucking flame thrower!”

Then one day, my son asked if I would like to play him in Black Ops. And I was all like “Pfft, I mean I’m a really busy guy, but I’m also an awesome dad, so yeah, whatevs, I guess so.”

Truth be told, I’m a bit of a trash-talker. And yeah, maybe I spit a little bit of that old school trash-talking game in my son’s direction.

Stuff like “Kid, I’ve been playing video games since you were a gleam in my sharp-shooter eyes.”

“A gleam in your eye? What does that even mean?” He asked.

It was neither the time nor the place to try and explain the birds and the bees. That’s what a 6th grade field trip to the Robert Crown center was for.

“Er, nothing. Don’t make this weird.” I shot back.

“Speaking of eyes, you ever hear about a little game called 007 Golden Eye?”

“Jeez, Dad. No one knows that game.”

“Well, it was awesome and your old man left quite a few digital bodies in his wake.”

“Yeah, okay. You can pick your armor and weapons now.”

My god, all that armor and weaponry. I was a golden-armored god, with a machine gun forged by Ares himself. The world would have no choice but to bow before my unholy might, or it would be crushed beneath my shiny, armored boots… or so I thought.

After I finished outfitting my unstoppable bringer-of-destruction, my digital warrior king, I clicked save and awaited my son’s doomed character to appear.

My son, worried about his father’s new obsession with dressing up video game characters, tried to soften the painful lesson that was soon to come.

“It’s okay, Dad. I don’t need any armor, and I’m just gonna use a knife.”

“A knife? A KNIFE?! I have serious firepower, you don’t stand a chance, kid.”

Was he patronizing me? He was definitely too sure of himself. Was he bluffing? Was he underestimating my merciless first-person shooter acumen?

Or was I about to step into a world of shit?

The game began. Our characters spawned on different sides of a bombed-out city. I ran through the streets, aiming and shooting at random stuff. Because it just seemed like the right thing to do.

After a bit, I stopped trying to blow stuff up, and decided to find my target. Through my gun’s scope, I finally spotted my son. There he stood, maybe a hundred yards out. A sitting duck (or standing in this case). He faced me, unflinching, with nothing but a knife. It reminded me of Jason Vorhees right before he brutally murders a bunch of teenagers, in any of the Friday the 13th movies.

The kid was toast. I hooted a war-cry and opened fire. A lot of things happened then. First, I realized it was really hard to aim my gun. Bullets bounced around him, and then he began to strut toward me.

Suddenly, he was in a full sprint, sliding and jumping and doing weird slidey-jumpy moves, as I continued to fire and miss.

“Hey man! No! Hey! I can’t— just stay still!“ I cried.

John Rambo’s words rang in my ears: “I could have killed ’em all, I could kill you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it. Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go.”

I was the oafish, stubborn-as-a-mule Sherriff Brian Dennehy, as I stood my ground and continued to fire and miss. Rambo-Son scaled walls and did those slidey-jumpy maneuvers again… and soon he was on top of me.

It was all so fast, violent, and efficient. He sliced through me like butter, and I was no more.

“AHHH! What the heck!” I yelled, as he plunged the blade into my chest.

A toothy grin was all he gave in response.

I respawned a moment later. Whole once more, and ready to continue the battle. His face still held the grin, as his character appeared before me like a demon summoned.

I suddenly knew the answer to a previous question: I hadn’t just stepped into a world of shit. I was dancing a goddamn jig in it.

I fired sporadically, while I ran in the opposite direction. He gave chase, and again I was cornered, and soon after that I was dead. This process continued for the next fifteen minutes. I shot at, and around him, then I screamed and ran, then he laughed hysterically, and then he murdered me.

The controller fell from my hand.

“Dad! Don’t throw the controller!”

“What’re you talking about?… It fell… from my hand.”

“No, you threw it down. Come on, let’s keep playing.”

“Kiddo, I think this is way too violent. You shouldn’t be playing this.”

“You’re just saying that because I’m way better than you.”

He was right, mostly. Something had shifted in our relationship. I was always the best at pretty much everything we did together. And now, he had surpassed me in something. At the age of nine.

I’d like to say my chest swelled with pride at that. But after watching him bury a knife into it for twenty minutes straight, I instead gave him a pat on his back.

“You got ten more minutes, then wrap it up.”

“Ten minutes?!”

“I’ll tell you what, when you’re done, we can go outside and shoot some hoops. Sound good?”

“Aww, yeah!” He said, with that toothy grin I loved so much.

He wouldn’t be grinning soon however, because I took him to the hoop. Repeatedly.

Some might say that last part was a bit harsh, and that maybe I’m a little immature. Hell, even just a tad insecure.

But I won that basketball game 15-5. And that’s what counts. I mean, not crossing him over and taking him to the hole repeatedly. Not that.

No, what counts is we had some honest-to-god, father/son bonding time.

Yeah, that’s what I meant. Jeez.

 

 

The motorcade of black Range Rovers gleamed unnaturally under the neon beams. Thousands of red, white, and blue lights flickered overhead. A fifty-foot sign stood high above them, it read Trump.

Vladimir Putin and his envoy of advisors and bodyguards, exited their vehicles and quickly made their way up the stairs and into this new White House. If one were to look closely at the Russian president just then, they would have noticed a smirk. No one did though, as all of his entourage were either shielding their eyes, or squinting as they went.

A disheveled man with haunted eyes, greeted the party at the door.

“Hey, how are ya? I’m the uh, the Secretary of Things. The Donald’s waiting in his circle room.”

“You mean oval office?” asked Putin’s advisor. A tall, well-dressed man.

The Secretary of Things began to cough uncontrollably. He pulled a cigarette butt from his pants pocket and proceeded to straighten it out and light the burnt end.

“It’s uh, more of a circle… but whatevah.” replied the Secretary, once he managed to take a pull from the mangled butt.

He led Putin and the group further into the building. They navigated a maze of dusty corridors, adorned with garish self-portraits of various members of the Trump clan. The constant ringing of slot machine bells could be heard in the distance. The group finally stopped at a giant set of golden doors. Across the center of the doors, in letters made from blood diamonds the size of baby-fists, read one word: Trump

Putin and his group entered the oval office (or circle room). The décor was a hideous plaid laden 70’s vintage. A ten foot oil painting of the Donald stood over a freshly stuffed panda bear, on the far wall. Under it, President Trump sat at his desk. He was deep in concentration, as he fervently flipped through a copy of Star Magazine. Vice President Pence sat on the couch nearby, passionately devouring a taco salad.

The Secretary of Things began to cough uncontrollably once again.

“Jesus, Joe!” exclaimed Trump, when he broke away from his issue of Star Magazine, and finally noticed his guests.

“Oh. Hey V-diddy!” Trump stood and greeted the Russian President.

“Glad to see you could make it. Can I get you a coffee or maybe a voucher for the buffet?” Putin took a seat on the other side of the desk.

“I did not travel all this way to make, how you say, small talk.” replied Putin, coolly.

Vice President Pence, eyebrows raised, set the remains of his taco salad aside. “Um, if you’re not gonna use that voucher, I can—“

President Tump cut him off. “No! Goddamn it, Pence. You’re eating us into another recession!”

President Trump then fell into his chair, let out a sigh, and once again turned his attention to Putin.

“Let’s get to it. I promised the American people that things would start to change around here. And when I moved the White House to Atlantic City, they knew I meant what I said. Now, let’s talk business.”

“You’re speaking of Syria?”

“No.”

“The sanctions?”

“Nope.”

“What then?!” asked Putin, visibly annoyed now.

“Pooty… I need to build a wall.”

“I do not understand.”

“Well, ever since I got rid of all those undocumented workers, I’ve been getting gouged on pricing. My voters wanted a bigger wall, and I’m trying to give em the biggest fucking wall since an Irishman laid a brick.”

“But you have a wall already… and it is very large.” Putin said, confused.

“I know that Pooty. And it’s a great wall. The best. But I need another one… in the north.”

Putin shook his head in disbelief. “For Canada? But why? They are how you say, white.”

“Listen half my damn country moved up there. And I don’t want any of those traitors ever coming back! So I’m gonna build the biggest goddamn wall in the world to keep em out! It’s gonna be the best!”

“And, uh, I need to keep what’s left of us, in.” added President Trump, nervously. Trump leaned in closer now, and his demeanor softened as he continued.

“But I gotta be honest, these damn construction costs are killing me.”

“And what is this to do with Russia?” asked Putin, clearly enjoying where this conversation was headed.

“Look, I need some people that’ll be grateful for the opportunity to do some honest-to-god work. And not because they need more money, or benefits, or any of that other crap.”

“So you want undocumented workers?”

“Exactly!” Trump said, smiling back. This guy’s not so bad, he thought.

“But you had them.” Putin replied, confused once again.

“I don’t dwell on the past. I move forward. And I know if anybody has a line on some cheap laborers, it’s my ruskie buddies.”

President Trump emphasized the ruskie buddies part with a wink and a playful nod toward Vladimir Putin.

He did it again. And then one last time.

Putin began to chuckle, and then that chuckle turned into maniacal laughter.

He wiped away his tears as he spoke. “Ahh, yes. I can help you with this. Do you know of gulags?”

“Sure. It’s like a stew, right?”

At the notion of stew, Pence’s eyes lit up. He thought a stew would fit quite nicely into his now empty taco shell.

“Eh, not exactly. Let us just say it is where I like to keep a lot of my work force.” replied Putin

Trump smiled triumphantly, but Pence sighed and looked down once more at the empty taco salad shell that sat before him. Why was it never enough, he wondered. 

“So then you’re in!” exclaimed Trump.

“What does Russia get in return?”

“What are ya looking for, Pooty?”

Putin shrugged. “Hmm, maybe some border problems go away. Maybe we get some good PR for once, and—“

Putin stopped suddenly, as he realized what he really, really wanted.

“Oh! Maybe we can work out something with Disney or Nickelodeon? Russia has much love for the singing and dancing of the children.”

President Trump slowly stood from his chair. “I’ll do you one better! How about I give you a tour of the labs where we make all those little weirdos.”

Vladimir Putin rose from his chair as well. A cold, wolf-like grin spread across his thin lips. President Trump extended his hand.

“Hell, by this time next year you’ll have a warehouse full of adorable song and dance bots.” declared Trump.

“And you will have another very large wall.” replied Putin.

The two men shook on it.

And that’s how Russia got Mikhail Mouse.

 

Tom Brady was in the middle of a story. One of those Tom Brady type of stories. You know the ones. Lots of name dropping and heroic feats. He finally took a breath. A toothy grin beamed on his otherwise expressionless face. His eyes were devoid of any thought or emotion.

Anyone else, and I might have considered it an impressive poker face. But we were playing blackjack, and Tom Brady was a moron.

“And then I said heck yeah I can act! Listen to this! Oi! Ows bout passing em sweet rolls, ya lovely bird! And that’s when Matt Damon passed me the bread.”

Tom Brady laughed triumphantly at the last part. As if Matt Damon handing him a basket of bread rolls was the greatest thing on Earth. And who knew, maybe it was.

Drew Brees cut in, “I don’t get it.”

His birthmark morphed like a Rorschach test as he spoke. Tom Brady eyed him impatiently.

“What don’t you get, DREW?”

“What you said. I don’t get it.”

“It’s an accent, DREW. An English accent, Dreeew. You know, like from England.”

Drew looked nervous. Real nervous. He shouldn’t have questioned Tom. We all knew that.

Hell, I was nervous too, but not because Drew Brees couldn’t understand Tom Brady’s terrible English accent. And it wasn’t because of Drew’s distracting birthmark (Although that was also becoming a problem).

No, I was nervous for one reason, and one reason alone. It was 1 a.m. on a Saturday night, in Las Vegas. And two of the three starting quarterbacks for my NFL parlay bet, were currently sharing drunken anecdotes at my blackjack table.

If I didn’t play my cards right (pun noted) I was going to lose a lot of money.

“Oh.” Drew finally sighed. “Yeah, okay.”

“Fucking right it’s okay.” Tom Brady shot back.

“It’s more than okay! I’m gonna be in Matt’s new movie. He said so himself… Me and Matt are boys.” Tom’s chest swelled with pride, as he proclaimed that last bit.

He really liked Matt Damon. And who could blame him?

We all nodded in agreement, and the game carried on. As is usual with the dealer, I was cleaning house. By my estimation, Drew Brees was down six grand. Tom Brady was down at least fifty.

Tom stared at his pair of kings, and then curiously glanced over at my nine of clubs. We locked eyes. I knew what he intended to do. And it was very dumb.

I softened my expression, trying to telepathically implore him to wave his hand. The same hand that had thrown a thousand touchdown passes. How was it possible that such a gifted hand could be connected to such a broken mind? Of course, his hand did not waver.

“I wanna split them.” Tom Brady barked.

“Sir, are you sure you—“

Tom cut me off. “Dude! I’m sure. Okay?!”

“Okay” I sighed, hoping he would comprehend the unspoken disappointment in my voice. The more this dummy lost, the longer he would play. The longer he played, the longer Drew Brees played. Because of course, Tom Brady made Drew Brees do stuff. All kinds of stuff. Everyone knew it.

And if I couldn’t get them out of here, and on a plane back to their respective cities, in the next couple of hours, I was going to lose a lot of money.

“Split em already, DUDE!” Screamed Tom.

Drew Brees and I both flinched hard.

He doubled his bet, and I split his kings. He nailed aces on both hands. Because he’s Tom Brady. And for the briefest of moments, I was actually happy for the dumb quarterback.

Just then, as part of his celebration, Tom Brady licked his finger and stuck it in Drew Brees’s ear. Drew squirmed away and wiped himself off. Tom laughed jovially, while Drew’s birthmark shapeshifted into a single tear. This was getting hard to watch.

Suddenly, the lights went bright. Too bright. I was blind.

I stepped back and rubbed my eyes. When my vision returned, I glanced at the area of the table that had blinded me. Where once there was only emptiness, now sat a glistening man. A man made of what seemed to be tiny silver lights.

My eyes further adjusted to the glare that beamed from the man. And now, I saw that it was just a shirt and top-hat made from a strange form of silver sequin, which apparently brought about temporary blindness.

There before me sat Cam Newton. The quarterback for the third team in my NFL parlay. Lady Luck was a heartless femme fatale.

Tom and Cam exchanged cold head nods, as Cam patted Drew on the back.

“Nice shirt.” Tom snarked.

“Sorry if it’s deflated your game.” Cam shot back.

Drew chuckled, but Tom shot him a look and he quickly quieted down.

It was too much. I had to say something. They needed to listen to reason.

“I, uh, I thought you guys were all playing tomorrow. Shouldn’t you get some rest or something? You know, for your big games?”

Judging from the stone-faced silence that sat across from me. I had spoken out of turn.

“Who the hell do you think you are, dude?!” Tom asked.

“I, um, was just—“

“No.” Tom said, cutting me off. “No. I don’t need an explanation from you, okay? So shut it. I’m Tom fucking Brady. I’m gonna be in a Matt Damon movie. So don’t you fucking lecture me.”

“Yeah.” added Drew, chiming in like one of Biff’s buddies from Back to the Future. Maybe the one with those weird sunglasses.

Cam just shook his head, nonchalantly. “As long as I don’t hurt myself making shitloads of money at this table, we gonna win no matter what.”

He flexed and kissed each bicep.

It was a little weird, but I smiled at the gesture. Sure, Cam was wearing the ugliest hat and shirt I had ever seen, but the man was confident. And that counted for something.

Maybe this was just business as usual for these three. Maybe I was looking too much into it. Maybe even, that hat and shirt actually worked when paired together.

And that’s when I noticed Sarah, our table’s waitress.

It was too late though, she had already looked directly at Cam’s shirt. Her eyes glossed over, like a doomed lover turned into stone, in one of those old Greek myths about really ugly outfits that turned lovers into stone.

She stumbled forward, uncontrollably. Her drink tray flew from her hands, as she braced herself for the fall. The tray now spun through the air, heading toward a seated, and still unaware Cam Newton.

In that same moment, as if the change in the air pressure was enough to alert him, Cam jumped to his feet, and spun to face the flying tray of glasses. With cat-like agility, he hurtled sideways and dodged the tray.

Drew turned as well, but it was too late, and the tray of glasses smashed into his face.

The table was silent for a long second, before Tom broke that silence by laughing maniacally and pointing at Drew.

“YES! That was in your FACE, Brees!”

Cam’s eyes lit up, and he stared at me expectantly.

“Did you see me dodge that shit, bro?! Did you?!”

He reenacted the move, with a quick juke step to his left… the move was followed by a strange popping noise. Cam Newton had blown out his knee in celebration.

He instantly clutched at his ruined joint, and crumpled to the floor in pain. Meanwhile, Drew Brees wiped the beer and blood from his face. His birthmark was now a bloody smear and it was growing.

Amidst the chaos, Tom Brady had moved onto the slot machines. He began chatting with Linda, at the Pirates of the Caribbean machine. This was Linda’s favorite slot machine, when she wasn’t turning tricks on the strip.

Cam crawled toward the exit. The blinding illumination from his outfit lit the way, but also blinded any good-hearted bystander who tried to get close enough to help him up.

Drew Brees stood from the table, and shot me a hard look. He was a man transformed. His birthmark had somehow continued to grow, and now covered his entire face. Drew was angry. And I liked him even less when he was angry.

With one tiny hand, he clutched the blackjack table and flipped it over. Brees threw his head back and let out a guttural roar.

He was promptly tackled by security and repeatedly tazed. It took four three-hundred pound Samoans to keep him down. Saints fans everywhere would have been proud.

Tom Brady had disappeared. So had Linda. I quietly pondered who out of the two had the more exotic STDs. But in my heart of hearts, I knew Tom was a heavy favorite on that bet.

My parlay was as broken as the blackjack table that laid before me.

It was true, the NFL was a cruel sport. Crueler still, was the fate handed out to those foolish enough to try and profit from its unforgiving nature.

And somewhere out in that steaming Las Vegas night, walked Tom Brady, in a warm pair of Ugg boots. Without a care in the world.

My stomach growled. The woman at the front desk remarked that it sounded like an old internet connection.

We both laughed hardily, then. But what she didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that I was currently in a tempestuous struggle to contain the sort of flatulence that might level this office building. Or at the very least, make the rest of our interaction awkward, possibly even unpleasant.

It was up to me, now. I couldn’t let my jovial new acquaintance know of the noxious darkness that roiled inside of me.

Suddenly, she stood. Had a vapor slipped past my defenses? Did she recognize me for the disgusting animal that I was?

No, her face still held a kind smile. She stood and politely excused herself, as she left her desk and walked into a back room.

And not a moment to soon. I quickly shuffled over to a large plant, in a remote corner of the office. Hell’s horn section was promptly released, and their gassy tune was a loud, rattling affair. With the soon to be wilted fern as its captive audience.

I sniffed at my stink. It was pleasant. I wanted to howl at a moon. To urinate on the potted plant at my feet. To run stark naked into a forest, and to just keep running. This was the freedom of the wild. I was the wolf man. Sasquatch.

The ancient dna of my caveman ancestors coursed through my being, and its primal charge whispered secrets of this unkown wild.

“Mr. Jajic, Jim will see you now.”

She smiled uncertainly, as I quickly stopped sniffing at the air, and let go of the fern.

Jim was ready to see me. And now we would truly meet.