Monday, November 13, 2017

Max’s Gyros

Max’s Gyros



First let me describe the gyros 


- as you walk

in (to the sound of an
electronic doorbell)
the first thing that 
hits you is the smell

Cumin, garlic, lamb,
beef, a faint scent 
of cinnamon or allspice

It’s a warm smell
like a stew simmering
all day in a crock pot

Or steaming hot soup
when you have a cold
and your bones ache
from a long work day

It’s a welcoming smell

A comforting smell

Like Family

Like Home

There are only 3 foods
I crave and that
immediately make 
me feel better
no matter what

Vietnamese Pho at Pho Cali
Fried Chicken from Yoder’s
and Max’s Gyros

When I began to 
heal from my spinal
surgery and could
swallow again the
first thing I asked
for was Max’s Gyros

Max was a slight 
man - physically - but
a giant in spirit

- to move his family
from Iran and start
a business in Sarasota, FL
speaks volumes to me
about what it means to
be a man

He spoke English with
a Persian accent

To me he was a magician

A true character

I had been talking 
about gyros at 
work when the 
Frito Lay vendor
spoke up and said,
“If you want a
good gyro try
Max’s."

I asked around
“Oh, yes, Max,.”
he owns that service 
station on Stickney 
Point


I went to the
BP station on 
Bee Ridge with
my wife

It was the wrong one

The clerk said, “Max,”.
yeah, he’s up a 
couple more

“That’s odd,” I replied. “2 BP.”
stations that
close together

“No”, she corrected.
“Max got mad at
BP and tore down 
the sign. He’s an
independent now."

I admired him
before I ever met
him.

Max sold independent
gas at reasonable 
prices and everyone 
knew it… For, Dear 
Reader, every interaction 
I describe here with Max
took place between
infinitesimal spaces
from one fuel customer
to the next. Almost all
seemed to know him
and greeted him by
name.

Cars moved in and out
from his fuel pumps
in a cacophony of
controlled chaos.

But that was Max
- uncompromising
quality and value
and a human touch

- That is something 
the big box corporate
places will never
understand - for 
without that crucial
third ingredient
(The Human Touch)
- They can never tap
into the formula
that Max had.

-Anyway, back to
the Gyros
You saw the hunk
of gyro meat

(A mixture of 
lamb and beef)
Roasting slowly 
on the vertical spit

rotating steadily

hypnotically

as the brown juices
popped out of tiny
geysers and fell, like
golden tears of joy,
to the base of the
spit where they
sizzled and smoked

I’ve had gyro meat
at a lot of places,
mostly it was over-salted, 
full of gristle,
but not Max’s.

He used just enough
spice to season his
meat - and just enough
fat to impart flavor

It’s the perfect balance

Max had a long bread
knife - the kind 
with teeth on the 
bottom and a blunt
rounded tip

When you ordered
a gyro
Max would grab his
knife - survey the 
spinning meat for the
best parts - and 
begin slicing

He would cut the
meat into vertical
strips with the
slightly crunchy
exterior and the 
warm, succulent
interior

After the meat was
sliced Max would
begin constructing
the gyro itself

Now, this wasn’t a 
fast process. 

Max was aware that 
a steady stream 
of customers was
crowding and shuffling
into the cramped
confines of his
store.

(The customers fidgeted
but never seemed to
lose patience - they
were willing to 
wait for quality.)

However, he was not
running around like
a madman either

Max moved like a man
who loved what he did
and was unwilling to
compromise his standards
in the interest of
speed…

But, I digress 
- the Gyros -
Max constructed
the gyros
on warm, thick pita
bread that he
and his wife 
made

On a bed of fresh,
crisp lettuce
with plump, juicy
tomatoes
(All of which he bought
locally)

With a slathering 
of the tangy
yogurt sauce
called tzatziki

and that’s it

Simple, Fresh,
Delicious

Max also had a
cooler filled with
salads - the star 
of which was the feta his wife
made that was
out of this world

They also had
buttery, flaky
spanakopita
And luscious sweets, too

Like Baklava, dripping 
with sensual, golden 
honey

And my personal favorite
Kataifi - with filo 
dough cut into strips
so thin it was
like shredded wheat

with honey and 
pistachios filling
the center

We talked with Max
while we waited. He
was ebullient with
eyes that sparkled
and danced

This was at the height
of the Axis of Evil
Iranian Nuclear
scare - and here 
we were talking
to Max about 
Iran and food
and Chicago and
his children with
whom he was 
smitten. Their 
drawings papered 
the door to his
office - and he 
was so proud of them

and his wife and of 
her yogurt and feta
that she made by
hand.

He was proud of his
family and his heritage
and loved to share
them.

All these things

His Love

His Pride

went into his gyros
and that’s what made…
what makes them
so good.

They are more than
the sum of their parts.


They’re a story…

Max was a storyteller
and food was how 
he told his story.

It’s the story of an
Iranian family who came
to America -
built a business 
-became part of 
the community
- and created a 
home.

That’s what Max’s Gyros
taste like

They taste like
home

An Iranian family
in Sarasota
making great 
Greek food.

“Great” is not a big
enough word
Max’s Gyros are
transcendental

A legacy

His story reflects
the larger American
story

The melting pot

The American Dream

The other day, my wife
Gina stopped at Max’s
when she got off work
to pick up some gyros
When she got home
her eyes were red
as if she’d been crying
And she told me that
Max had passed away
His wife was there
minding the store

She said that Max
had suffered heart
trouble

I was stunned

We sat in silence,
looking at the 
gyros for a time
- and then I took
a bite

And I began to feel better

And I thought about Max
and the role food plays
in our lives

It can bridge cultural
divides

It can bring families
together

And like Max’s Gyros,
it can even tell stories

I think Max would
be happy to know
his story lives on
- Carried by his wife
and children, by 
the people whose 
lives he touched,

And it lives on
with his Gyros which
are still being made 
with love - by the people 
he loved - and shared
with the community
that loved him

I ask you
Is there any
greater legacy
than that?



January 14, 2010

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Now With Real Miëht©"


MICRO FICTION #4

"Now With Real Miëht©"

"PTOOEY!"

Merit spat out a spongey lump from the can of chili she had just opened. With disgust, she picked it up and walked over to the sink. What in Christ's name was it? It had the texture of gristle and bone shards wrapped in raw chicken skin. She ran it under the water and slowly a grey hunk began to take shape. She placed it on a paper towel on the counter next to the can opener and stifled her gag reflex. Out of the corner of her eye she even thought she saw it move for a second and shuddered.

After fishing the can out of the garbage, she sat down and began to examine the label.

"Now With Real Miëht©"

PACKAGED IN BURGOSLENSKIA.

A cursory look on her computer showed her that Burgoslenskia was a former Soviet satellite republic. She immediately hopped on Travelocity and called for a car service.

The plane touched down at Burgoslenskia National Airport. The architecture was classic Soviet Brutalism. The sky was grey. The people were grey. Just like the "Miëht©".

After asking several townsfolk and a few government officials, Merit found out that the factory was in the heart of the Petroschank Forest and that it was "off limits".

When she got to the edge of the forest, which was bordered by a rusty fence, she saw several signs that intimated that the forest was an irradiated zone.



Undaunted, Merit pressed on.

She was an experienced hiker and arrived at a clearing a few days later and saw a huge factory. Smoke belched out of several chimney stacks. There was a distinct smell. It smelled like... chili.

Through her binoculars, Merit could see a gargantuan saucer had crash landed near the factory. Wait, that didn't make sense? They must have built the factory after the crash. She had to get a closer look. At dusk she stole down to the edge of the factory and scaled a wall to a skylight that overlooked the factory floor. She saw a gangplank extending from the saucer to a large opening in the warehouse. Two by two, factory workers were carrying humanoid robotic creatures on stretchers out of the craft. On the factory floor itself Merit watched as men used giant can openers to slice through the outer metal shells. Inside were creatures covered in neon green scales. A rope was tied around the feet of each of these aliens and they were lifted off the factory floor and deposited in a great vat of boiling liquid. A conveyor belt ran from the vat and huge lumps of greyish gunk were carried from the vat over to the cannery. The final step was the application of the label "Now With Real Miëht©".

Merit rolled onto her back and breathed heavilly.

She scratched her scalp.

In her hand was a neon green scale.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Evolution of Jolly









 

First Draft on Microsoft Paint.


Re-design of "Jolly" Mega-Mart's mascot for my novel: The People's Republic of Retail. Micron 01 - 08 + Sharpie on Strathmore Bristol Vellum - then scanned & cropped on my HP Deskjet 1055.



2nd Draft - on Microsoft Paint.



Voila - Here's "Jolly". In my novel, The People's Republic of Retail, Jolly is a cartoon character Mega-Mart uses in their commercials and as part of their branding - in order to put a "sunny" sheen over their dark practices.


Final Draft.


Variant 1.


Choose Your Own Adventure Variant.


Choose Your Own Adventure Variant Detail.




Saturday, July 15, 2017

From Sarasota to Red Bank and Back!

From Sarasota to Red Bank and Back!


In four days, from July 8 - 11, 2017, we traveled from Sarasota, Florida to Red Bank, New Jersey. Our mission was to see King Crimson play live at the Count Basie Theatre on July 9th and to visit the Comic Book Men at Jay & Silent Bob's Secret Stash and visit some of the Clerks sights in Leonardoville, New Jersey. It was a rousing success.





Tickets Please!

King Crimson played two shows. We caught the first one.

Pat Mastelotto, Gina and Me.


Here we are in front of the Quick Stop where Kevin Smith shot Clerks.


Inside the Quick Stop.


The Circus Clown you can see in Clerks II.


David Byrne performing "Nothing But Flowers" at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. This song was featured in Clerks II.


Gina and Mike with the Comic Book Men at Jay & Silent Bob's Secret Stash. We got to be extras in an upcoming episode in Season 7. When you see someone trying to sell a Han Solo Blaster, look for us thumbing through comics in the background.



Coda




Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The People's Republic of Retail: Chapter One

 




























Dedication.jpg

  This book is dedicated to Jdimytai Damour.








In order to hate imperialism, you have got to be a part of it

George Orwell






















Chapter 1: Psycho Diving

    For so long I'd been wandering aimlessly through my life - a lost soul trying desperately to stay afloat in a dark and tempestuous sea. I could visualize myself, if I closed my eyes hard enough, naked in the sea with only a hint of moonlight for illumination. Chained to my ankle was an ever-present weight, threatening to drag me under the depths and to my doom. Even so, I'd been hanging on, clinging against the odds to a life that barely seemed worth the effort.

1rnj4b.gif

    It had all come to an end though. The time had arrived for me to shake loose the confines of my forced sanity - my plastic life. The moment was at hand, to race with demons and swim straight down into the vortex. Every year I had allowed myself one week to go as far into madness as I possibly could, and still safely return. The year at hand had been a particularly brutal one, and I feared that the inevitable crash might not be so easily averted this time.


Camilo Cienfuegos born in Lawton, Havana on February 6, 1932, was a key figure of the Cuban Revolution. He was killed when his plane disappeared over the ocean during a night flight from Camagüey to Havana on October 28, 1959

    The week that I so desperately needed almost didn't happen. I recall sitting in the command center of the retail empire in which I am just another drone. In the back of my mind I felt the distant thunder of coming battle. I had been summoned off the floor with a menacing tone that reverberated throughout the building. As I filed past my co-workers, they averted their eyes and uttered silent prayers that they would not be next. I cradled my name badge and discount card in my sweaty hand. An employee was not beckoned off the floor for any kind of benevolence. I slowly lumbered towards the office - locked in my own personal Bataan death march. The piped in muzak crackled over the prehistoric intercom system. The playlist was specifically selected to keep the workers in a constant demoralized state so as to not raise torches in a futile act of slave rebellion. It served its purpose with unflagging discipline - aided throughout by the likes of Lawrence Welk and Jose Feliciano.

    I was let into the anteroom of the front office with the discordant buzz of an electric lock and entered with the weight of the three inch windowless door slamming behind me. They left me alone in that cramped holding cell - observing me through an obtrusive camera that aimed like a sniper at the exact place I was seated. I sat there motionless, without expression. I wanted to give the impression that I was unfazed by their fascist interrogation techniques. You had to be careful not to give any sign of weakness or humanity - lest they get a taste for blood. They had designed everything in that devil's den with a scientific coldness to set the odds in their favor. My chair was too small and low to the ground - the office was uncomfortably hot and cramped - the wait time designed to let my mind wander inevitably to apocalyptic scenarios. They had the advantage - the bastards! I was on ground of their choosing.

    My boss entered suddenly, into the enclosure with a blast of hot, furnace wind that felt as if it had whipped off the plains of hell, itself. It struck me that I was in the main nerve center of the whole godforsaken operation. I was breathing in the same poisoned air of the authority figures I mock and rage against on a daily basis. Perhaps, I considered, they had known all along that I wasn't a good little piggy. After all I had bucked the system like a stubborn mule. Maybe they had been watching me, carefully documenting my slanderous opinions so that they could take out their cruel and meticulous revenge with an ethereal sense of perimeter justice.

    Herr Commandant sat directly in front of me - enveloped in a fog of silence. I had been so consumed with giving good form - that I had barely noticed him sit in a chair that loomed over me with the vantage point of a hawk eyeing a field mouse. His stale breath and cheap cologne combined to the exact formula of mace at a Seattle WTO riot. The room constricted ever tighter. I felt as if I were in the death grip of an anaconda.

    We were two opposing factions, he and I - with two polar opposite viewpoints. I suspected that - other than the fact that we occupied the same planet - we had precious little else in common. Point of fact - I had fought with all our managers. Dixon - Peters - and now Cox. They had all run our store as if it were their own private pirate vessel - celebrating as droves of employees lost their livelihood to their chameleon like standards. They did everything inhumanly possible to live up to the phallic nature of their epithets. This one was no different. From the over-starched white shirt to the self-satisfied swagger - they had all come from the same wretched assembly line.


William Augustus Cox

    The predominantly South American workforce that comprised Mega-Mart's garden center referred to Cox as "Diablo Blanco" - the subtleties of which were lost on our esteemed leader. Other than a few Vietnamese expletives picked up on his tour as a sandbagger in Chu Lai, Cox's language skills did not exceed the boundaries of English.

    In time they grew frustrated with Cox's seeming imperviousness to their Latin insults and one of them, Juan Gilberto, boldly approached Cox and announced: "Jhu have too many oils in jhor hairs!" His comrade’s aye-yi-yi'd in jubilation. His triumph was short lived, however. Cox eyed the brown-skinned proletarians with a look of disdain particular to Anglo-Saxons and walked away. Later he had the prolix Peruvian transferred to Mega-Mart's new venture in Fallujah, where he became a flak-jacket bedecked cart pusher in betwixt rocket attacks and bouts of ethnic cleansing.

     Anyway, I had more pressing problems. I shifted restlessly in my seat as Cox spewed out reasons why I should not take the vacation that I had not only earned, but was in real danger of losing. My anniversary date with the company was less than a month away, and if I did not take my vacation before that time - it would simply fade into the phantom plus column that lined the pockets of the politburo at bonus time.

    I felt a righteous indignation rise from the pit of my stomach with the realization that I was being cajoled and strong-armed into not taking my vacation. He explained that (air quotes) - "September is a busy time." Apparently, all vacations had been suspended from September until January. I gazed at him with fire in my eyes. We were antagonists locked in battle throughout time. He was the policeman in the Haymarket - the strikebreaker - the corrupt cop - the crooked politician. All those who had subverted the rights of the workingman throughout the growing pains of industrial America. But I was the bomb thrower and I would not be silenced by the hangman's noose this time.

    I began to pick apart his logic. First off the suspension had not been properly posted and my time had been approved three weeks out. Another fact that undermined his attempt was that he - himself, had just returned from his own vacation the first week in September.
    
    We were indeed locked into a death match of wills; he and I. Rage at his hypocrisy filled my soul. It was no longer a matter of benefits owed me - it was a stance for everything that was right and just. It was an affirmation of the hard fought advances and the sacrifices made by the workers. I felt like a modern day Eugene Debs, at least in my head.

    From the offset I could tell that I was in possession of the proverbial upper hand. He was a fire-snorting bull, and I was the articulate, if not slightly unbalanced matador.


Cuban President Fidel Castro trips and falls after leaving the stage at a graduation ceremony, breaking his left knee and fracturing his arm

    When it comes down to it - dictators have an Achilles' heel: They have a pathological fear of defeat. Eventually, though, they all end up flushed down into the cesspool of history. Hitler not only swallowed cyanide, but shot himself as the Russians came knocking - seeking bloody revenge. Mussolini, after being executed, was hung upside down on a meat hook from the roof of a petrol station. Napoleon was defeated by the Russian winter and spent the remainder of his life in exile. Al Capone - who ruled Chicago with an iron fist, spent his golden years in Alcatraz for a tax evasion rap before succumbing to the effects of syphilis. And on and on it goes. They were all powerful men who could not conceive of the idea of defeat, but to paraphrase Emily Dickinson: because they could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for them. My experience with dictators comes down to this adage: If you cannot defeat them - outlast the sonsofbitches.


Francisco Franco ruled Spain for 40 years until his death on Nov 20 1975

    Suddenly, without warning, the vibrations in the room took a turn toward the macabre. My boss began to undergo a subtle distortion right before my eyes. His over-starched crepe paper suit began rubbing against his coarse wooden skin, and producing a sound not unlike a symphony of crickets rubbing their legs together in unison - but amplified tenfold. It scratched and sparked against his skin and made me so uncomfortable that I was about to excuse myself lest I bear witness to some form of managerial spontaneous combustion. Cold sweat broke out on my forehead as I noticed his reddened face puff up to monstrous proportions.

    I was overmedicated as usual, swarming internally with paranoia and revulsion. He must have noticed my skittery rabbit eyes and the way in which I watched his every move. Nevertheless, the horrid metamorphosis continued. Gone were his arms - replaced by tentacles that slithered about the office - suctioning to any available flat surface.

    His eyes seemed the most affected. They increased in size and proportion at such a rate that I felt sure they would come popping out of that caricature of a head and go to dangling helplessly against his rancid, pastel tie on two over-stretched springs. Thankfully they remained fixed - unblinking for such a span that I thought about placing a mirror below his nose to see if he was still breathing. He could have easily beaten a corpse in a no holds barred staring match. His plastic hair helmet bobbed and shimmied on his head like a novice ice skater. It was almost too much to bear.

    When he had finally finished his intolerably long monologue, and foam and spittle drizzled down his chin, he looked like an anorexic at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I allowed the silence to fester - creating tension before my carefully worded rebuke. I don't know why, but in moments of paramount stress - when all others seem to crumble and fall, I seem to hit my stride. Which is strange, because I find it difficult to fumble through the daily minutia that the multitude find routine.
    
    Nevertheless, I was ready to take center stage. "Mr. Cock", I began - counting out a beat 1 - 2 - 3 - before adding the "sss". It was my turn now. Cox was dumbfounded. I prepared to counter the poor dolt's childlike reasoning with open straightforward honesty - his personal kryptonite.

    At once, the door (which was now a pair of saloon doors) swung open accompanied by a sirocco of leaves and red dirt. I looked over as Cox, clad head to toe in black western wear, slammed an empty tequila glass on the bar.


    Cox and I stepped down onto the dusty street - spurs jangling. Past He pulled his black hat low over his eyes and spat a wad of tobacco at an oblivious diamondback. Wiping his mouth ingloriously with the back of his rawhide glove, he watched the rattler furiously slither off.

EG Leone.jpg

     A tumbleweed rolled past. In the distance a horse whinnied. I squinted into the high noon sun - half expecting to see Sergio Leone on a crane above me. The olive trees of the Arizona desert (?) dotted the burned out landscape. We stood in the street - facing one another from about 30 paces. A bead of sweat rolled down Cox's face. I struck a match against my gun belt and lit a cheroot. Billowing clouds of smoke drifted noiselessly across the thoroughfare.

    A mangy yellow dog barked and Cox panicked. He fired his entire load prematurely in all directions. His 1860 Civil War Army revolver (the same one Custer had carried) now smoking and empty, began to tremble in his hand. He looked at me, flaccidly, like a castrated calf, as his weapon fell limply by his side.

    The bullet had passed harmlessly through my windblown poncho - just missing flesh. I poked my finger through it bemusedly, and then leveled my 1869 Schofield Brass Revolver.
    
    "You've got to aim for the heart, Mr. Cox." I said coldly. I took my aim carefully and fired. Cox fell face first into the mud like a sack of horse manure.

    "Sam Peckinpah, you ain't." I grumbled curtly, spitting tobacco on Cox's lifeless remains. Then I was back…

    The argument was over like that. Victory had slipped through Cox's fingers like a skittish cat's tail. He had no choice but to submit. His fatal flaw was in relying too much on bluster. It was a good tact when dealing with sheep - but I was no lumbering animal. I still bridled at the yoke. Despots count on stupidity and submission. They have no countermeasure against free radicals.







Tank Man stands in front of a column of Chinese tanks the morning after the Chinese military forcibly removed protestors from Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989

    Were this pre-war Japan - the dishonored coward would have fallen on his sword.  But this being the modern age of civility, he chose the pitiful maneuver of bald faced hypocrisy. Suddenly he was wishing me a restful vacation and acting like he had never had any issues with an employee taking their "much deserved" time off. I have said this before and in many different ways: My boss is a pusillanimous jellyfish in the guise of an execrable banana republic tyrant. I left him in that office with only the unenlightened realization of his shame as his cellmate.

  

Saddam Hussein in captivity

    For a moment I was on top of the world - savoring the pinnacle of exultant glory. I had the dubious honor of winning a small skirmish in a morally bankrupt war. But then the sickness came over me. Nausea - shortness of breath - and a host of other equally distressing symptoms. If I had monitors watching the data on my vital signs - then surely convoys of experts and emergency responders should have been sent to my immediate aid. But alas I was left to my own devices. I desperately fumbled to take my pulse. It felt fast, but who the hell could tell - I was too damned nervous.

    Panic swept over me as a tidal wave over some South Pacific mini-island. I sought sanctuary in the layaway restroom. Inside was sickening blue haze and the distinct smell of sulfur. The buzzing fluorescents flickered on and off like the neon sign of some backwoods motel. The dismal standards of cleanliness in our store were as nonexistent as compassion in the company's policies. As a germaphobe I usually circumvented this horrorshow - but it could not be evaded. I was having a goddamned emergency!

    Filled with dread, I opened one stall door and was immediately repulsed. It was ground zero of a nuclear shitocalypse. The bowl burped and belched, its contents swirling in slow revolutions. I backed out slowly and slumped to the floor - dizzy - and overwhelmed by the ammonia odor of urine from geriatric overspray. My six foot frame shrunk into a queasy ball of jelly. I shuddered at the thought of a million little bacterial worms scurrying across the diseased tiles to get to my fresh, warm, ninety-eight degree body.

    Suddenly, there was a pounding at the door. I had somehow, been transported to plague-infested medieval Europe. I was scooped up by two filthy infected hands and thrown on top of a mound of rotting corpses. In the distance - I could see bonfires and red smoke blazing across the sky. I tried to speak, but was drowned out by the wails of the dying. The cart man yelled out hoarsely in a thick cockney accent - "Bring out your dead - bring out your dead".


    Whilst lost in what surely must have been a delusion - I recalled a nature special from the wee hours of the night before. It was about frogs who regurgitate their innards to avoid internal damage when being flattened by some careless motorist. I had visions of what an interesting party trick that could be, sans the putrid smell. I imagined cavorting with party guests - chewing on cocktail weenies and sipping cheap champagne - when at once, a horrible choking sound, followed by the splat of my stomach onto the coffee table, as my hollow, husk of a body collapsed quietly to the floor. After that - pandemonium. The guests would be dumbstruck with horror - gawking at my pale skin and glazed over eyes - before an army of cell phones began dialing 911, when suddenly, I would begin slurping up my innards - rising from the floor triumphantly and taking a curt bow to the sound of unified palm slapping.

    For some reason it had struck me as funny at the time - but as I came out of my "death cart" nightmare, staring at the hourly cleaning chart on the door covered in human excrement, it lost its allure. What a fetid stench. I mean really - you could find cleaner restrooms in an abandoned mental asylum.
    
    After a few moments, the vertigo passed and I was able to pull it together enough to stand up and look at myself in the graffiti covered mirror. The walls were covered with everything from racial slurs to homo-erotic rendezvous information. The crude drawings of sex acts would have made Robert Mapplethorpe blush. My vision was blurred and my stomach was still cramping, but I was at least able to make out the hazy outline of my head. I had a bad case of shock hair - and tried to remedy said problem whilst touching the fewest amounts of microbe-infested surfaces as possible.

    I ran from the building like a coward from a battlefield. In the rear view mirror I could make out the store sign - fading in the distance. "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here". Flames licked the sky. It was a place of such concentrated evil that migratory birds flew in a wide swath around the property line. Dickens would have thrown his entire cannon in the refuse and started over from scratch - weeping and shaking his fist at the heavens upon witnessing the squalid and inhuman condition we laboured under. Not since the Chicago Stockyards at the turn of the century - had such a capitalist inferno been allowed to blight the landscape. Not only that - but to multiply and infest what had once been a country founded on progress. They had lined the pockets of politicians until they were allowed to operate free from any rational constraints or hint of morality. The board had been excised by the shareholder purges, replaced with the founder's blessing, by corporate raiders and efficiency experts who hid behind their cleverly constructed mascot: a bouncy sun named "Jolly" - who invited the masses to "come on down and save" at their local Mega-Mart!



    
    
The dark shadow of mediocrity had fallen over the land. Customers grew so fat on corn syrup and preservative laden products that the company had to widen the aisles so that their loyal patrons could fit their ever-expanding asses down the crowded shopping lanes. They waddled around incoherently like zombie animated slabs of beef - heaping items into their carts. Somewhere, behind their lifeless eyes, you could see - on rare occasions - a passing memory of what life used to be like. In a desperate move to counter a small but annoying group of environmentalists - the company had thrown a thin veneer of "green" paint over their public relations operation - taking advantage of trendy environmental concerns to take the focus off the demonic treatment of their workers. However, anyone who bore witness to the internal mechanism knew that the "greening of Mega-Mart" was as bogus and convoluted as the company's so-called retirement plan.

    My personal bitterness arose out of what I call the "night of the long knives." One day the bean counters at the home office in Dillweed, Texas decided that cuts were necessary. After all the top execs needed to periodically replenish their dwindling supplies of cocaine and prostitutes. The company is terrified of the word "layoff". Layoffs are a proxy word for unemployment and severance pay. Much better to drive people to quit. Less costly on the backend.
   
    Because of Mega-Mart's "flexible hours" - there was a battalion of single mothers working for the company. The only problem was that they could not work before school - and had to be off in time to pick up their children. For a while this wasn't an issue - until the new million dollar idea came down from Dillweed. It was a series of initiatives called Customer Retail Added Productivity. We called it C.R.A.P. for short. It had to do with orientating schedules to high customer traffic. The home office's C.R.A.P. fell with a wet thud and began to pollute everyone's outlook with its unholy stench. The schedule area became a sort of Wailing Wall as hard working single mothers found themselves essentially out of a job.

    Cock …sss (Cox) had taken two weeks off during this time so that he didn't have to face the awful consequences of his leash holder's decision. Cox would never rise up to question the big boys. Down the crapper went years of experience - replaced by bumbling (and might I add cheaper) temps. They took over like the Lord of the Flies - turning my job into a foul mouthed - morally bankrupt nightmare. How did Cox respond to my constant barrage of emails? He didn't. He was too busy counting his bonus money from having let go of all the single mothers.

    After C.R.A.P. had served its malodorous purpose it was flushed down the drain and scheduling resumed as normal. I never could quite forget the stench of C.R.A.P. It was indicative of all the feculent decisions the Dillweed's made. Everywhere I looked all I could see was C.R.A.P. It flowed like a dystopian Wonka river. We were up to our necks in it. The company's ethics were as thin as the Soviet grade toilet paper in the employee restrooms.

    Cox had his own private facility connected to his office and sat in there long hours while we were left to deal with all the C.R.A.P. He would come out - oblivious to the trail of posh embroidered toilet paper stuck to his black polished shoes. He had to quell an uprising when outrage over his "premium paper" reached a fever pitch.
    
    Whenever anger boiled over - Cox would reach his grubby mitts into the company's coffers and buy a box of cheap hot dogs and Tijuana horse meat hamburger and have a cookout. Everyone rushed up to the trough except me. I refused to eat out of the master's dog bowl. Cox rode a wave of flatulent gratitude from the bloated workforce. I knew then and there nothing would ever change. Could you imagine the French populace - incensed over Marie Antoinette's "cake" faux paux - being thrown some tubed meat stuffed with nitrates and offal - then lumbering away in delirium + all wrongs excised?  

    To hell with Cox & C.R.A.P. & the proletariat sheep - I said as I drove further from that rotten place. The Damndest irony being that I had to pass by three more Mega-Mart's on the way home - all within a ten mile radius of one another. Christ! If assholes could fly - I'd swear this was an airport.
    
    Nevertheless, I finally arrived home - wolfed down a quick dinner - said goodnight to my parents and slipped into bed. I was finally on vacation. I had made it at last.

   Then the telephone rang.

    It was M.Alice.


Patty Hearst after being kidnapped and subsequently joining the Symbionese Liberation Army















(Psycho Diving part II: It's pronounced Malice…)

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    M.Alice or Mary Allison Blair was a Goth girl who fumbled her way past Cox's Dobermans in personnel - and landed a "coveted" position as a Mega-Mart cashier. Her first official day at work - she hit the time clock in her true "uniform". She had purple hair - a nose ring - makeup that made her look like a cross between an extra in Evil Dead: The Musical and a Victorian era corpse. She had peeled off the "a r y" stickers from her name badge and became M.Alice - that weird girl that didn't take shit from Mega-Mart.
    One new hire made the fatal mistake of calling her "M. (space) Alice."

    "It's pronounced "Malice", she said with a voice like tiger's claws. The poor kid was clueless as to how far he had stepped into it. "Mmm - like um! um! Good". He just stared at her. Then she stomped on his toe with her combat boots.

    "Oww!" he said.

    "Very good", she continued. "Now let's try it all together. Mmm - Oww! - ", then she got in his face and hissed through clenched teeth, "Lisssss! - Malice." It was dead quiet. "Don't forget", she said sweetly before turning on her heels - leaving everyone, including me, slack jawed.

    Cox and his cronies were completely flummoxed by her. So he did his usual. He poured on the heat. They wrote her up - suspended her - demoted her … they used every weapon in Mega-Mart's under-handed playbook. Only… she didn't quit - nor did she give them a good enough reason to fire her. M.Alice was an anarchist - bucking the system every which way she could. She stayed on just to piss them off.

    "Eric George", she said.
    
    "M.Alice."

    "So… you got your vacation?"

    "Yeah… "

    "Good."

    I never could quite get a bead on that girl. Out of everyone there - we had the most in common. I wasn't a freaky Goth to be sure, but I stood out from the lowing cattle. Every time I thought there might be more going on - she backed away.

    "Maybe I'll come by and see you."

    "Okay. My folks are going out of town this week so… anytime." I said hopefully.

    "Maybe not."

    Click.

    Dial Tone.

    See what I mean? Cryptic. She wasn't bad looking under all that war paint and chained jewelry. One day she was wearing a pair of skintight plaid pants (I always wondered where she got all her clothes) and she bent over to straighten some candy at her register. "Enjoying the view?" she queried with a sly smile when she caught me staring. Her ass looked like a fun slide at a water park.

 Julie Newmar as Catwoman


(Psycho Diving part III: …more of a mass murderer!)

    I tended to fall for girls quickly and as a result had my heart put through the food processor a time or two. I didn't know if I was in love with M.Alice, but when I thought about her I got the warm shivers. That had to mean something.

    The next day I had a lunch at an outlandishly extravagant Amish restaurant. My parents and I were having one final meal together just in case their plane went down in some alligator infested swamp between Sarasota, Florida and San Antonio, Texas. They were going to visit the charming offspring of my older and infinitely more successful brother.

    It was the first time I would be absolutely alone for a long time. As I mentioned… the whole heart in a blender thing? Well, I had returned to my folks a few months ago - whipped like a dog. My Ex had cheated on me with everyone I had ever known or met. As an adulteress - she did not possess the precision of a serial killer. She was more of a mass murderer. I came home from Mega-Mart and found her entwined in a giant multi-ethnic gangbang and before I could scream out with outrage - another guy interrupted me.

    "What the fuck…?" he said - as I mouthed the exact same words.

    He had walked in slightly before me and was outraged at my fiancé's behavior. It descended into what must have looked like a brawl at the United Nations - until the cops were called. I spent the night in jail with the intimate scent of my fiancé wafting across the cell of swinging schlongs that had previously inhabited every orifice of my darling bride to be. Most of them - turns out, knew each other and in no time at all were back to being friends. My fiancé bailed them out - with my Mega-Mart credit card - which is now maxed out. I yelled out from my lonely cell.

    "JEZEBEL!!!"

    I wasn't insulting her. That was really her name. That should have been my first clue.

    Anyway, my folks bailed me out the next day. I left my old life behind and came to stay with them. For a month - other than work, I stayed in bed listening to my Bon Iver record over and over. After a slight meltdown at work…

EG meltdown.jpg

I was taken off the floor and transferred to the backdoor receiver position. And the rest is history. I have been taking it in the backdoor for Mega-Mart ever since.









(Psycho Diving part IV: The Israeli Kiosk…)

    Not long after, I was walking in the mall - trying to get my head together, when a beautiful Israeli woman approached me. I knew she was from Israel because I recognized her accent from CNN.

    "You look troubled." she said sympathetically.

    Something about her empathy - her gentle manner, broke through my hastily erected barrier. I lowered my defenses and let her in. For some reason, I trusted her.

    "I can tell you are carrying a great burden on your shoulders." She placed her hand on my back - caressing me ever so slightly.

    "I am." I croaked. "I am so alone". I buried my face in my hands and began sobbing.

    "It's ok. I know just what you need."  

    She was leading me somewhere. I wanted so badly for someone else to take the reins and guide me out of the wilderness of Jezebel's treason to some mystical "promised land" where I could be free from my sorrow.

    She stopped and looked directly into my eyes. I was hypnotized by her gaze.

    "You look tired - around your eyes." Her fingers touched my brow and descended down the side of my face - pausing for a brief moment. Finally, I thought. Finally someone can see how much pain I'm in.

    I was exultant. I wanted to cry out. I had met my soul mate. I wasn't doomed to unending misery after all.

    "What's your name?" I queried.

    "Eliana". She was beautiful. Long curly black hair - the color of polished ebony. Her olive skin contrasted with her strong features and made her look like a dark temptress. I was not particularly religious - but then and there, I was ready to convert to Judaism.

    I was in the midst of imagining what our children would look like - me the proud father with my yarmulke - passing around glasses of Manischewitz at my son’s circumcision. My warrior princess - a child suckling at her breast - looking more beautiful than the day I had met her at… the mall? Then we stopped in front of a Dead Sea Cosmetics kiosk.

    It took me a moment to fully understand what was taking place. She began rubbing Dead Sea Salt lotion around my "tired eyes." Her siren song had been a soft sell. I drove home with a $75 dollar bottle of lotion.
     
    Once I had exfoliated and moisturized - I felt a fresh sense of outrage about how I had been swindled. Despite this, I wanted to see Eliana again - …I mean she really was beguiling in spite of her conniving ways and I had not yet learned my lesson. It took me a week to find the courage to return to that place.  

    To my dismay, the kiosk was now being manned by a young Russian Jew named Boris. Boris was everything that Eliana was not. His hair was greasy and slicked back with gobs of acrid smelling gel. His hirsute arms were matted down by an abhorrent mixture of baby oil and sweat. He was gregarious and pounced on me before I could turn and make my escape.

    Regardless of my insistence, Boris dragged me back to the kiosk. I could barely hear his sales pitch over the thumping Euro-trash music he was polluting the air with. My will to fight wilted in the face of his Vodka breath.

    I finally managed to inquire about Eliana. Boris explained to me that every few months or so, the staff members were rotated out. At least I think that's what he said. He had about as much command of the English language as a drunkard on a bicycle. This fact notwithstanding, Boris was a ruthless salesman. He saw my dejection over Eliana as an opportunity. I drove home with a $179.99 (before taxes) Dead Sea Nail Kit.

    That was the moment I became fully conscious that my heartache had left me completely vulnerable. My dream of finding respite in a torrid love affair with an exotic ex-IDF soldier dissipated like lotion on parched, cracked skin. On the bright side - I no longer have any issues with my cuticles.




    



(Psycho Diving Part V: Not as clumsy or random as a blaster…)

    I didn't talk to any girls for a long time after that. In fact, I had sworn off dating, sex, and any form of interpersonal relationship whatsoever. That's of course when I met M.Alice. She was working in the stockroom on her roulette-like spin around the various jobs of Mega-Mart. She came up to me and said.

    "Eric George."

    "Yes?"

    "You're the one everybody talks about."

    I sighed. "Yes. My ex-fiancé cheated on me with a horde of men. I'm trying to move on. Can't everyone else?"

    "No. That's not what I meant."

    "Oh…" I said meekly.

    "I heard you hate that pompous dweeb Bill Cox as much as I do."

    "Well, sister… “I said. “You heard right."

    We became - uh …I don't know what it was exactly, but we sure talked a lot. One day I was zapping in some corn syrup crap with my scanner when I looked up at her.
    "When I was a kid I saw Star Wars for the first time and it changed my life. I prayed that someday I would grow up and get to shoot a real laser gun like Han Solo."
    "Well?" she said.

    I scanned the barcode on the back of the product.

    "Looks like I got my wish." 



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(Psycho Diving Part VI: Voodoo & Hoodoo)

    As far as higher education goes: I am what I refer to as a member of the "expired student i.d. generation". My folks encouraged me to take some business courses so that I could advance up Mega-Mart's rickety career ladder. I took Introduction to Philosophy in Film, and 20th Century Revolutionary Leaders instead. For some reason, Jezebel never seemed to mind my being gone long hours at work and school.  

    Any-who, none of that mattered, I was on vacation. As I drove the folks to the airport, I could feel the first shackles unloose from my soul. I ached for this time alone. I needed it like a crack whore looking to score in the middle of a desolate and unending night. I would have it no matter what the cost or consequence. I could feel the beast within scratching and clawing its way to the surface. I kept it contained with the mantra, "Soon. Just a few moments longer".

"Anything wrong dear?" my mother questioned - twirling her fingers through my black curly hair. "You seem agitated".

"Not at all mother. I just want to see you and father safely to your destination."

"Let the boy drive", my father grumbled from the backseat - alternately standing up for me and emasculating me at the same time.




Dear Old Dad III.jpg

"Boy?" I thought. "Great! I'm a twenty-six year old "boy."

"Hrmph!" I carped.

"What's that dear?" My mother's tone was cheery-sweet.

"Nothing." I said. "Seems we've arrived." I swerved into the parking lot - tires screeching, much to my father's consternation.

    I have never liked planes or airports very much. Point of fact, I have panic attacks just thinking about the so-called "modern convenience" of flying. The week prior had been a series of horrific air disasters with complete and total loss of life. I noticed the headline on a newspaper stand outside the terminal - blaring out the death tolls of the latest "mishap". Bad vibes were jumping out at me from every corner of that malignant place.

    After the check in and boarding pass hoopla, I lurched slowly over to the plate glass window to have a look at the mechanical vulture. It looked in disrepair to me. All planes look to be in need of some form of maintenance to me. The wailing family members of departing/incoming passengers made me that much more ill at ease. I kept a considerable distance from those around me for fear that a group of thugs or pranksters would overpower me and force me down the galley and into that sheet-metal tomb.

    
    My folks and I parted with the dignity that is the byproduct of an emotionally stunted relationship. My father's parting directive to "be a good boy!" intimated the ever widening gulf that was slowly washing any nuance of consanguinity out to the proverbial sea. As I watched them shrink down the tube that potentially led to their final judgment, I stood fast, futilely trying to wipe my mother's fire red lipstick off - serving only to create a crimson smear across the left side of my face and hands. I prayed that I would not be pulled over on the way home as I resembled a transvestite cannibal upon cursory inspection.

    As I pushed my way through the crying grandmothers and smeared mascara - I again felt the beast rising up from the bowels of my subconscious. I muttered obscenities and told the fools to "get it together, man!" Once behind the wheel of my car, I relinquished and let the dark side have control.  

    The rest of the night was a wild round up of the paraphernalia I would need to be self-sustaining. The sealed envelope of isolation was absolutely essential to my experiment. First I went to the ATM and grabbed fistfuls of cash from both my checking and savings accounts - leaving precious else but scraps. I tried to get a cash advance on my overburdened Mega-Mart credit card and, of course, was denied dredging up the miserable reminder of Jezebel's treachery.

    That task completed, I began my rampage through the world of illicit commerce. I was a consumer of the most beastly order - free from any rational restraint. With insanity as my guide, I cruised to the nearest liquor store and purchased a huge goddamn bottle of rum - with a smaller companion, for portability + a back-up bottle of sour mash whiskey. When the clerk asked sarcastically, "Is that all?" - I reached into a bin near the register and grabbed a handful of mini's as varied as Stolichnaya Vodka - to Goldschlaager - and even Jaagermeister (the devil's own drink of choice) before I yielded and passed a sweaty wad of currency from my trembling hand. "Have a good night", the clerk said in a dialect that sounded as if he had lived simultaneously in Eastern Europe and a war torn portion of the Middle-East. The second encompasses a wide area to be sure, but I couldn't quite pin it down to a specific regional dialect and aimed my guess like an inebriated dart thrower at the nearest available target.

    "Excuse me?"

    "Have a good night", he repeated, less enthusiastically.

    "This will help", I replied - fumbling with my overburdened bag of spirits. "By the way sir, might I trouble you for the assistance of a stock boy to help me with my provisions?"

    The clerk gazed at me, dumbfounded, before letting out an annoyed sigh and coming out from behind the steel cage and bulletproof glass that constituted his sanctum sanctorum. I was immediately sorry I had asked. The man smelled as if he had washed himself in rancid garlic and cumin. His breath was a potent mixture of onions and stale cigarettes. Lest it be told, he was not gentle with my purchases. When I offered him what I thought was a reasonable remand for services rendered, he stormed off cursing me in some hodgepodge dialect.

    I also purchased caffeine pills to counter the numbing effects of the alcohol - a pair of "old man" wrap-around sunglasses (the kind the aliens wore in the "V" mini-series circa 1980's) - vitamin C in gum form - antihistamines - a package of permanent markers - some paint thinner - a bottle of canned air - aspirin - a variety of easy-to-fix microwaveable meals - a pack of Djarums specials - and several pre-viewed adult movies. The rest of the things I would need, I could get from my dreadlocked neighbor and my mother's well stocked medicine cabinet.

    Once my task was completed, I sealed myself away in the house with a sound like Tupperware being closed and began binge drinking. I was free at last to set loose the decadent and depraved beast within. I had one full week of unadulterated gluttony and excess.  

    To be clear - I do not consider myself as having an addiction problem as much as an escapism issue. I judge myself by one simple rule: If you are male - not-homosexual - and are trading oral sex in a dark alley for a substance and/or the means of procuring that substance - then you have an addiction problem. I had not (as yet) gone down that far!

    Foreboding filled my head that first night. An irrational fear that the apocalypse was at hand. I had sporadic, ejaculatory dreams of being held captive by a voodoo cult - slowly having the life's blood drained from my body as I was prepared for the altar of sacrifice as the tribal drums reached a crescendo. I woke in a wild sweat - with rope burns on my wrists. The sheets were bunched at the foot of the bed - stained and soaked through with sweat.

    "Easy, sugar", said an ample African American woman as she took several bills from my wallet.

    I looked at her queerly. "How'd you get here?"

    "Damn sugar, you must have been more drunk than I thought."

    I spoke sternly. "The question still stands."

    "You called the escort service - don't you remember?"

    "Oh, Jesus", I exclaimed then crumpled onto the bed like a deflated balloon. "What's your name?"

    "You can call me Hoodoo Mama", she said as she packed a Cat-o'-9 tails and a purple wig into her leather satchel.
    
    I stood up and noticed- to my horror - red marks across my back and buttocks. She handed me a bottle of peroxide compliments of Naughty Times Escort Service and her business card.

    "Did I… I mean, did we… ?"

    "No. You white boys are all the same", she laughed.

    "Thank god", I said - relieved that we did not have sex.

    "I just whipped your ass for a while then you cried," she paused, trying to remember. "I cradled you for a while then… "

    "Then what?"

    "You asked if you could call me Malice." She left abruptly, before I could inquire further.

    In my drunken stupor I had hired the services of an African American dominatrix and paid her extra to punish me while I called her M.Alice.

    Just then the phone rang.

    It was M.Alice.

    "Eric George."

    "Yes", I said - still trying to process the morning's events.

    "How's your vacation going?"

    "Uh,… “I didn't know what to say.

    "Well, I could stop by later if you still want me to."

    I looked at my face in the mirror. I looked like an extra in Velvet Goldmine. I was covered with glitter and smeared make-up and I was wearing a dog collar. "Uh, M.Alice", my voice cracked. "Maybe we better take a rain check on that."

"Whatever".
    
   

    There came a loud rapping at the backdoor. "Can you hold on a sec?"

    "Whatever", she repeated coldly.

    It was Hoodoo Mama come to retrieve her dog collar.

    "Who's that?" M.Alice inquired.

    "Neighbor," I lied. "Needs to borrow a cup of sugar."

    "Brown sugar," Hoodoo Mama added as she unsnapped the spiked collar.

    "That sounds like a woman's voice," M.Alice said.

    "Yes. It's Mrs. Donaldson - avich," I stumbled.

    "Mrs. Sonofabitch?" M.Alice asked skeptically.

    "No. Mrs.… “Hoodoo Mama smacked my rubicund rear as she departed."…Sonofabitch," I yelped.

    "OOOoookkkaaayyy", M.Alice said. I could imagine her twirling her finger around her ear in the universal gesture for insanity. "I'll talk to you later, then."

    "Wait, M.Alice!"

    Click.

    Dial tone.

    I ran out the door just in time to catch Hoodoo Mama screeching out of the driveway. The neighbors gasped in horror at the debauched and depraved scene unfolding before them.

    "Ms. (awkward pause)…Mama, what time did I call you last night?" I said, panting at her car window.

    "About 3 in the morning. Your Mega-Mart credit card was rejected so I just took the money out your wallet."

    "Never mind that. I'm having a bit of trouble processing all of this."

    "You white boys are so cute. All uptight and shit. When Hoodoo Mama whips that ass a bit you get all sensitive." She laughed heartily. "Especially you Mega-Mart boys." She cranked up her radio - blasting "All Along the Watchtower". "Be a good boy!" she said as
She sped off.
    
    I ducked back into the house as discreetly as I could - given the circumstances, avoiding the withering stares from the neighbors. I grabbed the rum bottle and took a long, hot shower - trying to wash my sins (and various oil based lubricants) down the drain. Once done, I collapsed onto my desecrated bed and fell into a nightmare.

    I was naked, in the middle of the arctic wilderness - walled in by a blizzard. The wind howled like a pig being slaughtered in the darkness. I shivered around the tenuous fire, when from out of the void, I noticed a pair of glowing yellow eyes - inching toward the light, accompanied by a low growl. It was a mammoth grey wolf - it's taut muscles rippling beneath its frozen fur. The wolf paced on tenterhooks - its eyes locked on me. For a second I thought to flee, but I knew I would not survive without the fire. So it had come to this - I thought to myself. No weapons, clothing or shelter - a rabid, slavering beast - a fire - and death all around. It was as something sprung from the apocalyptic dementia of Jack London's alcoholic delirium. Without warning the brute bared its yellow fangs and leapt at me across the fire. My eyes narrowed and I sprung at the fur covered mass of teeth and claws. We merged with a sound like a thunderclap and fell into the fire. The smell of singed hair and the sound of tearing flesh filled the silent deathscape, as we rolled into the snow. The momentum carried us as we tried to tear our respective throats out. We rolled off a cliff and fell like a flaming meteor into the gorge and the icy water below. Forced apart finally by impact, we ended up on opposite shores staring across the rapids at our torn bodies, surveying the damage strategically like depression era Bronx pugilists. The wolf backed away after an interminable amount of time, and disappeared with finality into the forest. If we had dealt each other a mutual death blow, my opponent would not give me the satisfaction of knowing it. I fell against the bank exhausted, and felt the warmth of my lifeblood draining from me while I gazed at the fading stars as the first light began to beat back the tide of darkness. And then I awoke.
    
    Love had failed me. The one virtue that could heal a fevered soul was as unattainable to me as fair Elysium. Everything I knew and believed about love had been proven false. It was time for a reboot. To see through better eyes the power of love - the power of resistance. Upon the shoulders of those before me - I would find the valley of promise beyond the mountains of doubt. I felt the rumblings beneath my feat of injustices across the mortal coil. The fault lines of wrongs not yet righted. I heard the voice of Carl Sandburg - the steady distant thunder of Mother Jones, resting with "her boys" in Virden, Illinois. The dreams unrequited from coal mines - from ghost factories long shuttered, from inner city school children reading, as Lincoln did, in darkened rooms with the specters of coming battles looming in the distance - the deck so clearly stacked against them - yet heeding the call of destiny nonetheless. All these things shone a bright light on the path I must take - but not yet. The harrowing was not yet completed.

    I did not call M.Alice back. For some journeys there is no comfort or companionship. Some paths must be tread alone.

    The fiery rings of sanity smoldered long into the night, and I knew that for the remainder of my vacation I would choke on their acrid fumes. I closed all the shades and blinds as a hellfire of paranoia descended down upon me. Clad only in a robe and my navy blue long johns, I clamored for the purity that accompanies isolation. I needed to give myself completely to the beast - even if I had to risk a total nervous breakdown. I had to know if the depths held answers for me that I could not find in my lackadaisical existence. I was hoping that the vestibule to the path I had seen in the nightmare could be found in the substructure of my subconscious.

    At four in the morning of the next day, I - drunken swilled, marched around the perimeter of my parent's house, wearing blue Speedo swim goggles to hide my identity. I knew not for what I was searching; only that it seemed imperative to check all windows and doors for signs of tampering.

    Once inside, I put on the Apocalypse, Now LP and kept playing The End by The Doors. The music spawned apocalyptic visions in my mind. I danced about - tribal, with a bottle of booze in one hand and a half eaten ham sandwich in the other. I paused to peek out the window. "Saigon … shit; I'm still only in Saigon", I quoted to no one in particular. I had arrived at the last outpost on the Nung River - the bridge at Do Long. There was no going back, now.

    I stepped out onto the lanai to peer at the full moon, hanging like a luminescent angel in the night sky. Long tendrils of marijuana smoke mixed with the sultry air and swirled into the blackened void. I floated to bed and clutched my pillow like a long, lost lover.

    I awakened the next morning with my lower lip crusted over with drool and stuck to my cherished Godzilla pillow. I stumbled into the bathroom with stale breath and a head swimming in fog. I took a scalding shower - trying to burn away the demons. It didn't work. It never does. I brushed my teeth several times and began to lay out the minuet of rainbow colored pills that would return me to a state of semi-normalcy so that I could begin the process of escaping reality all over again.

    The morning was a blur of microwave pizzas - pornography - and devil Rum. I was beginning to lose myself - my grips to the life that had preceded this one. I felt terrified and liberated at the same time. I plucked a Meister Eckhart book from my philosophy bookshelf (which included tomes by Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Camus) and read the following:

"Whatever state we find ourselves in, whether in strength or in weak-ness, in joy or in sorrow, whatever we find ourselves attached to, we must abandon. . . . You must give up yourself, altogether give up self, and then you have really given up ... By renouncing yourself first, you then have renounced all things. ... A man who loves God could give up the whole world as easily as an egg."
Meister Eckhart

    I felt Kafka-esque, like I had been written into a William S. Burroughs novel. I no longer recognized my reflection in the mirror. Only unanswered questions and hazy memories remained. I had to go up the river to the end of the line. I had to finish my mission.


(Psycho Diving Part VI: Cereal Killer)

    I fell asleep in my father's cherished La-Z-Boy while eating a bowl of Admiral O's cereal and reading Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Despite the lack of milk in the house - I was able to improvise with my father's Chernobyl grade vodka. The chemicals in the blue O's mixed with the radioactivity of the vodka - and I was off like a shot, into dreamland-istan.

    I awoke at sea - aboard a pirate ship. I needed no time to get my bearings - I knew where I was. I hurried to the edge and dipped my hand into the blue milk the ship was floating upon. Immediately, I was a child again - rising early to watch Saturday morning cartoons while my parents slept. During the commercial breaks I slurped down my beloved Admiral O's cereal. Admiral O was a friendly adventuresome sort - with gold locks, a crimson uniform, and warm amiable eyes. He and his crew were always searching the seven seas for more Admiral O's cereal. That was the rub - and it never got old. Admiral O was undaunted. He would go to the ends of the earth to find his delicious O's. The advertisement on the box - promised that the O's would turn the milk blue "like the sea"! How many gallons of blue milk I happily consumed when I was a child - cannot be measured.


    Admiral O's cereal was made by the Sugar Candy Mountain Snack Company - a division of Chem-Corp. They were known not only for the magic way that their treats changed colors - but also for the complete absence of any nutritional value - and cover-up of possible future ill-effects of their products. They were a favorite target for Nutri-Activists and militant mothers concerned that their children might grow multi-colored tumors as they grew to adulthood.

    Chem-Corp was formed in the sixties to test the possible military uses of mind altering chemicals for the U.S. government. As they grew in size and scope - they maintained excellent relations with high ranking military officials and corrupt bureaucrats. Currently they are the largest manufacturer of chemical weapons on the planet - as well as providing the largest disposal facility for those same weapons. In effect, they are gangbanging the federal government and the taxpayers with reckless abandon and orgiastic glee. They sell weapons and then dispose of those weapons - then sell them again.

    
    To be fair - Chem-Corp is merely exploiting the loopholes in American fair-weather politics. One side takes control and stockpiles chemical weapons - then the other side takes control and promises to "reduce" the surplus of chemical weapons in the Pentagon's arsenal. Chem-Corp's CEO Simon Andrew Tan (S.A. Tan) - an Australian expatriate, has stated time and again that they did not make the rules - they are merely "playing the game as it stands".


    One of the civilian faces of Chem-Corp is the Sugar Candy Mountain Snack Company - "one of the worst violators of nutritional standards for children" according to the Center for Childhood Obesity. One recently dethroned senator called the company and its puppet master - S.A. Tan the "Duke of Diabetes." Former employees of Chem-Corp had infiltrated the F.D.A. to such a degree as to make the two entities interchangeable. Oddly enough the Sugar Candy Mountain Snack Company is endorsed by the American Dental Association - their convoluted reasoning being the inclusion of "trace amounts" of fluoride found in their encyclopedic list of ingredients.  

    Despite all this - I loved Admiral O. He was just so amicable. Part of the reason for Admiral O's genial aura was the voice actor who played him - one Mr. Nicholas Appleby. Mr. Appleby had been an actor in his younger years who played Detective Dick Steele in a series of film noir potboilers. That was before he drew the ire of H.U.A.C. and was blacklisted for not only his communist ideology, but his flagrant homosexuality. He had been married to a beautiful starlet named Candace Street. Truth be told, Candace Street made quite a career as a "beard" for the gay glitterati in Hollywood. That was until her unfortunate demise when she fell into shark infested waters off the coast of Australia while filming the last Dick Steele film - ironically titled "The Lady Falls to Pieces".

    The union of Appleby-Street produced one offspring - a male child named "Candy Appleby". Given the circumstances - Candy Appleby led a cursed existence. After wrestling with drugs and alcohol for the majority of his youth - he entered into a prolific career in porn - taking the moniker "Richard Assmaster". Richard Assmaster starred in over 200 adult features - before having a complete nervous breakdown. He was discovered by an unscrupulous member of the paparazzi, passed out in a mound of cocaine - wearing a negligee. After a long stint in various rehabs and asylums - including a series of electroshock therapy sessions, he disappeared from the public eye.
    
    His later years were marked by a long slow slide into alcoholism before he finally flamed out in the late eighties when he was arrested for prostitution - having undergone a "botched" sex change operation. He hanged himself in a Boca Raton jail while awaiting trial. It was later discovered that after his operation - purchased in Oaxaca at a "highly discounted" rate, he had reverted back to his original nom de guerre: Candy Appleby. On his death certificate - due to the amateur surgeon's indelicate and unsteady hands - the space for sex identification - male/female was left conspicuously blank.

    Years after the blacklist was but a fading bruise on the American subconscious, Nicholas Appleby returned to working life as a voice actor for Admiral O's cereal. Perhaps because of his abysmal failure as a father - he poured everything he had into creating a character that kids the world over would love. His performance was, in my opinion, the best of his career. He helped bring millions of children aboard Admiral O's mighty ship. Admiral O's catch phrase - "Heave-O, Mateys" - was an inspired bit of improvisation on Nicholas Appleby's part.

    There were seasonal O's, as well. Red and Green O's for Christmas - Orange O's for Halloween, even Red White and Blue O's for the Fourth of July.  I loved them all. They were the one constant in my childhood. Admiral O was what I wished my father could have been. In some aspects, as a father, he was like John Lennon. Candy was his Julian. I and the rest of my fellow shipmates were Sean, and O how he doted on us - even as his own son fell into a nightmare of sexually confused debauchery.

    When I realized I was in a dream - aboard Admiral O's ship "The Wooden Spoon" - I was overcome with a childlike glee. When I saw Admiral O looking out to sea - his back turned to me, I ran to him like a kid after an ice cream truck. When I reached him I was star struck. I stood there - frozen with awe. Then to my horror he turned and it was Cox - Cox as Admiral O. Admiral cOx looked at me with the devil in his eye and said in his affected hick accent.

    "Heave-O, Matey!"


    


    

    I had been keelhauled onto Admiral cOx's pirate vessel. cOx was in the midst of a doomed attempt at rounding the Horn of Africa. His command was merciless. He punished anyone who questioned his foolhardy decisions.

    "Just like Mega-Mart" I muttered miserably. At once I heard the clack of cloven hooves behind me. cOx's acute hearing had caught my slander. I was fastened to the mast and lashed mercilessly for my impudence. The ship was being swamped by blue milk as a series of colliding storms brought all hell's fury upon the cursed ship and its maniacal head officer - not to mention its luckless crew. At one point in the night the ship capsized and was torn apart - its crew dispersed across the azure milky waters, clinging to what wreckage they could find.

    I awoke on a deserted island - a few members of the crew dotted about across the shoreline beside me. Admiral cOx was nowhere to be found. I found out from the first mate that he had taken a contingent of men and had gone into the interior of the island. I gathered the remainder of the crew and decided for some nameless reason, to venture after him. We constructed a crude flotilla from the bits of the ship we could find and followed the river into the dark mysteries of the island the natives called Malhado or the Island of Doom.

    The jungle was alive with unholy snaps, crackles, and pops. Along the banks I saw the carnage of my youth. Dead Smurfs scattered and crushed to a gelatinous blue pulp, dismembered Snorks, murdered cartoon characters - the trees painted with the ink that had been their life's blood. Evidently the Admiral had gone renegade. Started playing god with the natives. He had crossed any and all rational boundaries and was operating in the heart of the jungle without any sense of prudence. Ahead, we could hear the high pitched screams of fictional entities being tortured.

    We had to stop for the night. An epidemic of Pac-Man fever overtook most of the crew and they died, their skin a bright yellow, chomping at imaginary ghosts - their eyes darting about as if they were in some hellish maze. I had no choice but to press onward. The mission was perspicuous.

    I snuck into Admiral cOx's makeshift village. He had positioned himself as some kind of deity. He was being worshipped in some pagan ceremony. He had brainwashed all the beloved characters of my youth. I could see in their deadened eyes that they would do anything for him - no questions asked. It was too late to save them. The whole lot needed to be destroyed like a flock of sheep with the gid. I painted my face in an attempt at camouflage - only; I ended up looking like a deranged clown - owing to the rainbow of paints available to me.

    I entered cOx's enclosure - with the stealth of a cat. I took my machete and ran him through. He fell forward, unceremoniously. I leaned in to hear what he was whispering.

    "A delicious bowl of blue O's the kids will love" - he managed before he expired.

    
    I lifted my blade high and with one swift motion I decapitated Admiral cOx. I grabbed him by his red Admiral's hat and carried his head out to the dais and held it high for all to see. The natives gasped and fell to their knees - bowing to me. I looked at them: The Flintstones & Jetsons, Scooby Doo, Dig 'Em Frog, Sugar Bear. And that's when the real massacre began. The river ran rainbow with profane artificial colors.
    
    After I finished my task, I walked further into that jungle than anyone ever had. I was in a place untouched by God, himself. I parted some branches and right there before me, atop a smoldering volcano, was a Mega-Mart - looming over even this most remote location like a plantation owner over a field hand.

    I awoke from my dream with a start - covered in glowing blue sludge. I grabbed a towel and turned on the TV. I settled back - flipped the channels. Orange Glow, Booty Pop, Girls Gone Wild, diet pills, exercise equipment, hair replacement… until I let out a primal scream.

    It was at this point that I had a slight nervous breakdown. I went to the bathroom, reached into the medicine cabinet and pulled numerous amber colored bottles of pills from the shelf. My mother's doctor had been overly generous with his prescription pad. I had sleeping pills, antidepressants, Ritalin, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety medicine and a host of others. My mother kept the good stuff to herself - Xanax, Oxycontin, Hydrocodone etc. I poured the contents into the toilet until it resembled a bowl of toxic Lucky Charms. With one flush I said goodbye to the blanket of hazy cotton that had kept me from seeing what my life had become. I had been running for so long I had forgotten what I was running from. The drugs - the alcohol, served only as another hiding place - away from the beautifully cruel reality of life. Whatever happened from here on out - I was going to face it sober.

    I had gone down and down - that lost boy at sea with the weight chained to his ankle dragging him down - ever further down to unknown fathoms. I relaxed and let it take me where it was going to anyway - regardless of my struggle. And when I hit the sea floor - the huge metal ball that contained all the things that I had used to bring myself to the edge of oblivion - fell heavily beside me - the sheer weight burying it into the sediment. And when I relaxed I faced the awful purity of the simple solution that had evaded me for so long. I simply reached down and unchained myself and swam - hell bent to the surface and the light - leaving that horrible weight to lie at the bottom of the ocean. And when I broke the surface and felt the sun on my face - it felt like a new day was dawning.

    I rose from my psycho dive with a bad case of the reality bends. I looked at the calendar and realized that I had to go back to work the day after next. How did that happen? How had I lost track of so much time? I dreaded the return to work. I dreaded Mega*Mart and Cox and the whole damned mediocre mess. The workers were in a fog - I could see that now. They needed someone to rouse them. Cox was not omnipotent. He was nothing more than a little man in a little box. He wielded too much power - bestowed upon him by that beast of a company. No one should have that much power - no single entity should rule over so many with such cruel injustice.
    
    I had one more dream - the last one of my vacation before my parents return. In my dream I was in a train station in Russia when a mighty black locomotive pulled up, belching smoke and glowing internally with stoked flame. For a long moment the mechanized monster sat there on the rails, pulsing and contracting - like some great mythical beast. Suddenly a compartment door swung open and several men with machine guns and leather jackets disembarked followed by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was at the apex of his power. Fractious curls raged upon his head - as if he were some modern day Gorgon. His goatee jutted out defiantly from his chin. His personae and various accoutrements worked in concert to give the impression that he was some berserk, raving madman. His beady eyes darted to and fro like an unbalanced lunatic and were magnified by the contrast of his round wire rimmed glasses - which were the only clue that he was a man of intellect. He stepped to the podium and gave a wildly animated speech that roused me to my core.


The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves. The historic ascent of humanity, taken as a whole, may be summarized as a succession of victories of consciousness over blind forces - in nature, in society, in man himself. Life is not an easy matter... You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness. - Leon Trotsky

    I woke with a start and went into the bathroom and took a long hot shower. I felt purified - baptismal. I shaved my facial hair into a goatee and dressed. My parent’s taxi pulled into the driveway. They came in.

    "Were you a good boy?” my mother said - then hugged me. I took two steps back and looked at them both.


    "I'm moving out." I said.