So, yes, I’ve been quite remiss in posting to my blog of late, so I am going to do something now that will make you forget all about my remissiveness and maybe even forget that I just said remissiveness.   I am going to introduce a writer friend and share an excerpt from her work.   You will like this.   And not just because she is much prettier than I am.   You will like it because you will be left awed and speechless by her literary prowess and masterful use of the………..  Too thick?  Okay, look, it’s good stuff, and as soon as you read it, you will see why.

Her name is Karen Palmer.  (Karen, this is Everyone…Everyone, this is Karen.)

The first thing of Karen’s I ever read was her novel All Saints and I was surprised I had never heard of it.   I think what I said in the Goodreads site about it was that it is perhaps the most underrated book ever.   It is a powerful story with rich characters and seemed to me while I was reading it to be just the kind of thing that would be perfect for the big screen, although I figure that its rather complex non-linear structure would be a filmmaker’s nightmare.   In book form, however, I highly recommend it.  I have put a link to where you can find it below, along with a link for her other novel, Border Dogs, which, sadly, I have not yet had the pleasure to read (I heard from another friend, though, that it is even better than All Saints).

The feast for today is an excerpt from Karen’s short story Virtuoso Mio.   I had this short in my Kindle for the longest time and the other day found the perfect opportunity to sit down to read it.   My first reaction was to be pissed at myself for not taking the time to read it sooner.   It is excellent.   It is also—you writers will appreciate this—a study in the art of creating tension.   What stands out is that Karen doesn’t have to do anything because it is the reader’s innate maternal/paternal instinct that creates the tension…all Karen does is let these feelings, feelings that we all share as humans, do their work.   Of course, this is normal and nothing new because it is really how all tension is created—or should be created—in fiction.   You must share something with the characters in order to feel tense about their situation, right?   So it is really an illustration of the old rule of writing to “show, don’t tell.”  All you have to do is show and our common understanding of the human experience does all the work.

Okay, enough of me babbling, to our main feature…Cell phones off, please.  (Virtuoso Mio was published in The Kenyon Review, received a Pushcart Prize, and is anthologized in The Bedford/St.  Martin’s Guide to Literature.)

Virtuoso Mio

by

 Karen Palmer

Perla Ramirez is cat-faced and sullen, foul-mouthed and resentful, and at twelve she is already a vandal, a pickpocket, a sneak, and a snitch.  The entire neighborhood hates her.  Does she care?  It seems she does not.  “Ay, Perla!” rings at her back wherever she goes, but she returns every curse with a violent “Fuck!” of her own, continuing unstopped on her furious way, spilling trash cans, breaking windows, spying on lovers, stuffing her pockets with candy bars, lipsticks, and CDs for the Walkman she pinched off a drunk.

Perla lives with her mother, Sonni, and baby sister, Lani, in three rooms on the sixth floor of a walkup on 137th Street in New York.  The skinny railroad-style flat is piled high with junk: stacks of old newspapers, tattered furniture, dead appliances.  In the kitchen a closet behind the breakfast table houses the john.  A pea-green bathtub stretches along one entire wall, clear to the window ledge; filled, the tub looks like a lake.  Hinged to its back edge, a heavy sheet of unpainted plywood serves as a makeshift countertop.  Here Perla’s mother stores their dishes, their bowls and glasses and plates.  Because it is such a chore to clear everything off, the three Ramirez women bathe together just once each week, every Saturday morning at six.  And since today happens to be Saturday, Perla, still half-asleep, sits huddled in tepid water, scowling at the weak winter sunlight that forces its way through the window’s coating of soot.  Sonni laughs, and Perla shifts her aggravated attention to the other end of the tub, where her mother lolls with baby Lani laid out in her lap.  Famously beautiful all over their neighborhood, Sonni at twenty-nine looks barely nineteen.  Her skin is unblemished, smooth as syrup; her arms are round, hairless, and soft.  Her eyes are the color of wet maple leaves.  She has dimples and curls, red lips, and even white teeth.  At the Cafe Reál, where she works as a waitress with three of her girlfriends, Sonni is considered the sexy one, her looks a calling, almost, and she smiles all the time, as if waiting for someone to take her picture.

Perla, on the other hand, never smiles.  She has her reasons, among them the fact that last year Maxie Otero threw a beer bottle at her and knocked out two teeth, his explanation being that Perla looked weird.  Now she looks weirder still.  And although Sonni keeps making promises that she’ll take her daughter to the dentist to see about the hole in her mouth, she never does.  They never have any money; but in Perla’s opinion, that’s no excuse.

The chestnut tips of Sonni’s breasts poke through the bubbles.  Perla hisses.  She crosses her arms over her own scrawny chest.  Humming, Sonni soaps Lani’s hair with a slivered white bar and Perla slips down till she is submerged to the eyeballs.  She opens her mouth and lets it fill with water, then rears up and spits across the lake.  The stream hits her mother right in the face.

”Ay, Perla!” Sonni squints one-eyed.  “What’s the matter with you?”

There is no good answer to that question.

Baby Lani looks as if she might cry.

“Maybe,” Sonni says, “you should go hear music at Carnegie Hall.”  She’s talking about the concert this afternoon.  Mrs. Davis, the director of the Youth Center, is taking a bunch of kids downtown to a piano recital.  It’s a gift from the City, an afternoon of culture for the underprivileged.  Classical music.  Fuck that,  Perla thinks.  She likes hip-hop, Aceyalone and Wu-Tang Clan and Krayzie Bone.  She likes the way the angry voices vibrate inside her skull, and in her chest, too, a feeling that pushes against her skin from the inside.  Sonni says, “It’s that Italian kid, eh, Perla?  What’s his name?  Luigi something something something.”

Perla is too smart for that.  The flyer is right there on the kitchen table and if Sonni really wants to know, all she has to do is look.

“I can still get Rita to watch the baby,” Sonni says.

Perla hunches forward.  The idea of ditching Lani is very tempting.  She wouldn’t even have to make the concert, she could go wherever, do whatever.  But there is a hopeful eagerness in her mother’s face she feels she must squash.

“I hate that Davis bitch,” Perla says, though really, Mrs. Davis is mostly OK, with her kinky gray hair and a gap-toothed smile Perla can identify with.  Mrs. Davis lets Perla drink black coffee on cold days, and once gave her a pair of Nike’s with lights in the heels that a grandson had outgrown.

Sonni cups a palm over Lani’s eyes.  She reaches over the side of the tub, fingers grazing the linoleum to retrieve a plastic cup.   Carefully, she rinses the baby’s hair.  Lani, squealing, hits the water with the flat of her palm.  Waves splash to Perla’s end of the tub.  The baby looks sly, as if seeking applause.  Lani is fifteen months old and has a different father than Perla, a white guy that passed on his papery skin and light hair.  Perla hates it that the baby is so fucking sweet, that kisses fall on Lani like soft summer rain.  Each night, the girls camp out in the living room—Sonni claiming the only bed in the apartment’s only bedroom—toe-to-toe on the orange Abortion Couch, so-called because wicked steel coils stab up through the weave; and sometimes, very late, when Perla can’t sleep for wanting something, she doesn’t even know what, she throws off the covers and flips around and crawls to her sister’s side.  She fits the earphones from the Walkman over Lani’s little pink ears.  She puts her cheek against Lani’s hot little temple.  Then she twists the volume, the tinny threads raveling from the radio’s heart, the sound growing louder and louder—she can’t help herself, she has to do it—until the baby wakes with a scream.

 To continue reading/download the rest Virtuoso Mio here (Absolutely FREE)

You can get your copy of All Saints here

You can get your copy of Border Dogs here

Stalk Karen Palmer on Twitter Here

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off!

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off!

Oh, there’s a dozen on my cousin’s,

I can hear the bastards buzzin’.

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off!

Not exactly a song destined for the songwriters’ hall of fame.   I’d heard it at school and was now unable to dislodge it from my tongue.  It was a Saturday and mom had yelled me out of bed at seven o’clock to go to the golf course.  I protested because the swimming pool didn’t open till noon, but she cheerily countered I would have time to be her caddy then.  Oh Joy.  This was going to be agony.  It is every 8-year-old’s dream to be his mother’s caddy while she piddles around the golf course.

Our first stop was the practice range where I was the designated target and fetch-it boy, the layman’s definition of which is slave boy.  I stood at 90 yards and she hit 9-irons at me, then at 125 yards she unleashed her 7-iron at me.  She would hit a ball, I would fetch it.  If it didn’t fly straight, I would chase it.  And I did a lot of chasing.  She wouldn’t be turning pro any time soon.  I had to stay on my toes, though, because occasionally she would loose one right at my head.  Times like that I was thankful my parents had discovered how blind I was and had me fitted with glasses.  If they hadn’t, it would have become apparent when I stood there and watched a ball bury itself between my eyes.  On the positive side, I wouldn’t have needed glasses after that.

Actually, come to think of it, I always did have the nagging suspicion mother was better than she let on.  I could swear her aim improved on days she was pissed at me.  And maybe this was just another strategy that she was employing today, calmly lulling me into a false sense of security with the wild shots…and then BAM, right between the eyes.  Paranoid?  I don’t think so.  She was a lefty, not to be trusted.  I had to keep an eye on that woman.

In the meantime…

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off…

By the way, in golf parlance what my mother was doing was called “hitting shag balls,” and what I was doing was called “shagging.”  I’m not sure where the term comes from.  I think it is borrowed from baseball, where shagging is retrieving balls that have gone over the fence.  Anyway, the term bears a special irony for me since years later I would be doing quite a different kind of shagging on that very, er, “shag range.”  As convenience would have it, a road runs next to the range and near the 200-yard marker the greenskeeper had cut a path into the range for his tractor.  It was an ingress that I conspired to sneak into on many a dark night as part of my earnest conspiracy to explore other ingresses (so to speak)…Or to shag (to speak more bluntly)…Or to fuck (to just come right out with it)…because it was behind the 250-yard marker and under the towering elm that I was in the habit of going parking (another euphemism for the aforementioned frivolity).

Actually, the term “parking” is something of a bad memory for me because the first time I took a girl there I was so distracted by what was to come (chuckle) that I forgot to put the car into park.  And of course we rolled back into the elm tree.  The only tree in three-hundred feet and I managed to hit it.  Luckily, no teeth bit down on anything delicate when we went bump, but, I repeat, the only tree in three-hundred feet and I hit it.  Sigh.

The next morning my dad saw the dent in the rear bumper and came in to brace me about it.  I panicked.  Then I lied.  I told him somebody had run into my car while it was parked and didn’t leave a note.  Big mistake.  I should have known he would get down and examine the dent closely.  He had and noticed tree bark in the scratches.  Ooops.  To my surprise, however, he took it with humor.  Sitting down across from me, stirring his coffee, he said, “Well…he shouldn’t be hard to find, Jon,” then looked up with a smile and continued, “because he was driving a tree.”

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off…

Anyway, speaking of parking and wood, it was under the elm that I discovered the horror of cunnilingus.  Even the word sounds horrible.  Cun-ni-ling-usssss.  Sounds like a disease.  Something that requires shots.  I mean, think about it, if you had to choose between performing fellatio and cunnilingus based solely on the image created by the way the words sound, wouldn’t you choose fellatio?  It sounds dreamy and pleasant compared to cunnilingus…cunnilingus sounds like something that oozes and drips.  And I must say the act lives up to its billing.  The first time I came face to face with a vagina, I was convinced I was looking at something in dire need of medical attention.  But, no, I was assured that what I was seeing was indeed a normal, healthy vagina—without a doubt, the most convincing argument I had ever witnessed for homosexuality.  But I stayed strong.  I had to at least give it a sporting try, if only for appearance’s sake.  I had a reputation to build, a resume to write.  And I figured, based on my extensive research, it was what girls really craved.  So I did it.

By all accounts, I performed well and passed my oral exams with high marks.  I made a sacrifice (I hope it is duly noted).  I aimed to please.  I do admit, however, that if it were at all possible, cunnilingus is something that I would prefer to phone in.  That’s right, I think there should be an iPhone app for it…the Cliterator or something…programmers, get on it.  (Honey, just put your iPhone on vibrate, stick it between your legs, and I’ll call you…from Detroit.)

… OOOOOOHHHHHH, there’s a skeeter on my peter,

And I think it’s gonna eat’er.

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off!

Mother’s friend arrived and we met up with her at the first tee.  And the cackling commenced.  I have no idea what they talked about.  Grownup smut, I imagine.  Secret words were spoken in hushed tones, or mouthed behind a palm, or spelled out.  I had my own smut, a song with the word peter in it, and I was careful not to sing it so the grownups could hear.  They had their smut…I had mine.  So there!

It was still early.  The dew had yet to burn off and sounds carried with extra crispness.  There wasn’t another player in sight.  We had the course all to ourselves.  Later, around noon, the first tee would be abuzz with banter and bullshit.  It was the one place where you met up with the foursomes in front of and behind you.  Bets were placed, jokes were told, and gossip was whispered…it was a regular party.  Years later, I would overhear something amongst the bantering that I never forgot.  It was, to me, a poetic condensation of middle-class W.A.S.P. America.  It was sort of like a Norman Rockwell painting but in words…

The day was a Sunday, noonish, the mood on the first tee, roguish — the main rogues were three elder golfers known to all as characters.  Their fourth was late.  He was always late for one reason or another, and his three friends were making sure the rest of us knew all about it.  Jovially, of course.  And then, there he was, rolling down his window as he pulled his car to a stop on the road next to the tee.  His three buddies let out a scolding whoop and demanded to know where the hell he’d been.  “Where do you think I’ve been?” he snapped back at them. “I was at church, you goddamn atheists!

It was irony with a twisting groin kick.  Art.

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off…

I’m pretty sure mom’s friend was insane.  One day as I was eavesdropping on her and some of mom’s other friends (yes, I eavesdropped…it was one of my great talents as a child), I overheard them whispering about using Preparation-H on their faces to tighten the skin.  They were saying how it was like a facelift without an operation.  That night, after doing research at the dinner table by asking my parents a few cryptic questions, I decided my mom’s friends were completely nuts.

The next day I saw the group at their usual table, engaged in their usual whispers.  As I walked past them, I sucked in my cheeks so that my mouth formed a tight little anus shape.  My eyes popped out a bit.  As I was exiting through the door, still puckered up tight, I heard one of them say, “What a strange boy.”

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off…

The first couple of holes all I could think about was getting to the swimming pool.  I wanted to get there before anyone else so I could pretend to be James Bond in peace.  That’s right, Bond, James Bond…in particular, the Bond of the movie “Thunderball.”  I would put my exceptional imagination to work and swim amongst the sharks in Largo’s pool, something much easier to imagine without little legs dangling under donut-shaped tubes with horsey heads.  Anyway, crowd or no crowd, I would look like Sean Connery.  The women would all swoon.  I would be brave, handsome, dashing…and my gun would have a silencer.

Actually, and I don’t mean to brag (yes I do), I was quite the swimmer.  I could hold my breath for an extraordinary length of time and I was damn near impossible to drown.  I know this to be true because I overheard the lifeguard tell my mother one day that his considerable efforts to drown me had remained unsuccessful.  I thought at the time it was a strange thing for a lifeguard to be confessing to a mother, but she didn’t seem the least bit surprised or upset.  In fact, she laughed at the confession.  (Indeed, I needed to keep an eye on that woman.)

But I probably deserved it.  I tended to be a nuisance.  I would search for ways to make the lifeguard chase me, and I usually found them.  For example, I would watch patiently while he methodically applied Coppertone and nose cream, and when I saw he was satisfied that he had covered every exposed piece of skin, I would hurl a bucket of water on him…freezing water I had retrieved from the baby pool, water pumped directly from the Arctic.  Two to five minutes later, depending on how successful I was at eluding capture, I would end up on all fours by the side of the pool, expelling chlorinated water from my lungs, gasping for life.  Then I would look for my next opportunity to irritate him, or some other victim, and the process would be repeated.  It’s amazing that I survived childhood.

… WEEEEEELLLLLLLLL, slap it on the keester,

And it won’t be such a bleeder.

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off!

Ah, the pool.  I do have some good memories of the pool.  My favorite memory marks a major milestone in my life.  It was the first time I was ever slapped by a woman—well, the first time I was ever slapped by a woman other than my mother.  I look back on that slap fondly because it was entirely worth it.  I earned it with an act of cunning and bravery, and I wore it with honor.

Perhaps I should explain…

I had been told that She-Who-Slapped-Me was the homecoming queen.  I was too young to know what a homecoming queen was, but she was stunningly pretty and looking upon her I acquired a deep respect for royalty.  Every day I hoped she would grace us with her presence at the pool, and I always felt rewarded when she did.  Let me keep it simple and say that she was constructed specifically with the bikini in mind.  She was probably born wearing one.  She had a smooth, buttery belly and lonnnnnnng legs set apart by a space wide enough to park a Buick.  She looked like a very young Cheryl Tiegs.  Looking at her made my teeth hurt.

She liked to hang on the side of the pool and dangle there for long periods of time.  I knew why she did this, and why she picked the same spot to do it.  That was where a jet of perpetual water was emitted from a hole on the side of the pool.  The hole was precisely matched up with the (did I say wide?) space between her legs.  That’s right, and she wasn’t fooling me because I had long before discovered the joys of that hole.  I had even contemplated inserting myself into that hole but it was kind of small and I didn’t want a repeat of a certain incident with a Hoover vacuum cleaner.  Explaining to the lifeguard why I was affixed to the side of the pool was not a place I wanted to go.  Oh, he would’ve loved that.

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off…

I was enthralled, nay, obsessed with the space between her legs.  I wished she would sit, stand, or lie still so I could adjust the focus of my eyes and study it in earnest.  She was seldom still, though.  The only time she wasn’t in motion was when she was hanging on the side of the pool in front of the water jet.  I tried to take advantage.  I swam up from behind her…underwater…like a submarine…the picture of stealth…and feasted my eyes.  The space between her legs was indeed, er, spacious, and the bikini’s crotch rippled and pulsated under the force of the water jet.  I wanted to reach out…and touch…If I…could just…feel…

I swallowed some water and almost drowned.

As I sat on the opposite side of the pool and recovered, I came up with a plan.  I would start a series of underwater laps, starting about ten feet from the bikini.  This would not be suspicious since everyone knew that I always did my swimming underwater.  I would end each lap a little closer to the bikini until, finally, my hand would brush up against heaven just before touching the wall.

I walked around the pool and sat on the edge at the planned starting point.  With a splash, I began my first lap.  I finished it about eight feet from the bikini, two feet closer, and came up with a splash, loudly and dramatically sucking in air.

Yes, notice me, Bikini, I am doing laps…quite innocent here…just doing my laps…seeing how long I can hold my breath…nothing to worry about over here…just a-doin’ my laps…

I started my second lap.  Then my third.  Each lap I veered a little to the right, like a guy with one leg shorter than the other veers when he walks.  By the fourth lap, I was almost there.  This next one would land me in paradise.  I was nervous.  The anticipation was making it more and more difficult to hold my breath.  I began my fifth lap.  My heart was beating like the climax of the Jaws theme.  It wouldn’t be long now.  I could see her…and the space…coming into focus.  I lined myself up.  I would let the back of my fingers and hand brush up against…it.  I needed to concentrate.  The moment would be brief.  I wanted to savor it.  Almost there.  Here…it…came………….

What I didn’t expect was for her to jump so violently at the first moment of contact.  She shot straight up and simultaneously performed something like a pirouette.  She did this with such suddenness and force that I’m lucky it didn’t snap my arm clean in two.  Instead it flipped me around as if she’d performed a judo move.  After regaining my bearings, I surfaced.  I had no choice in the matter.  The combination of swimming for such a distance underwater and then being pummeled in a Judo exhibition had left me bereft of air.  Unfortunately, when I surfaced, I was within striking distance of one very pissed-off, bikini-clad homecoming queen.

And slap she did.

She also called me a name but my ears were ringing too loud to make it out.  I’m sure it was apt.  I put on my best what-did-I-do look and feigned innocence…and backpedalled.  I worked hard to hide my elation, but I admit it was difficult.  My hand had tasted ambrosia.  I looked at it with awe and envy.  From that moment forth, or at least until puberty, I held the back of my right hand in the highest esteem.

By the way…

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off…

We were now at the pavilion.  The pavilion was where the 5th and 8th greens and the 6th and 9th tees all came together for a party.  That was because holes 6, 7, and 8 formed a triangle that started and ended at the pavilion.  There were two things worth noting about the pavilion.  It had a concession that made the best damn hamburgers you ever did taste, and it had one of those old-fashioned hand-operated water pumps that delivered cold and delicious well water regardless of how unbearably hot the days got.

On this morning, the concession hadn’t opened yet.  Besides, it was too early for hamburgers, no matter how mouthwatering they were.  But I can’t stress the word mouthwatering enough …half a cow, I think, cooked over a charcoal grill.  People’s scores generally got higher on the holes immediately following the pavilion, though this may have been mostly due to the beer that the concession also sold.  On the other hand, it is hard to swing a golf club with a half a cow inside you.  Anyway, none of that mattered on this morning, because, like I said, it hadn’t opened yet.  The water pump, on the other hand, was always open.

Working the pump handle was one of the highlights of my young life.  I would pump water for all the grownups.  They would thank me.  It made me feel important.  I was the Pump Master.  However, I couldn’t pump the water for myself—my arms weren’t long enough or strong enough—and this proved to be a source of entertainment for all the adults, including, I am sorry to say, my mother and father.  The traitors.  I would push the handle down, sending a gush of water pouring forth, but by the time I had run around to take a drink, it had petered out.  If I was lucky, I got a drop or two.  And, oh, the adults thought this was so funny.  They all stood around refreshed because while I was pumping for them, they were drinking and splashing their faces.  But would any of them offer to help me?  No.  It seemed much more fun to slap their thighs and belly laugh.  I hated them all.  (I put it to you, this is why children are not allowed to purchase firearms.)

Finally, once I had given them a good show, one of them would come and give me a hand.  Thank you (you jerk), I would say (and think).

Then, one day we found that the greenskeeper had chained one of those long-handled dippers to the pump.  Once again, I played the role of Pump Master and they played the role of Bunch-of-Assholes, but on that day, a new character was introduced to the play…and his name was Vengeance.  Vengeance let them have a few laughs.  He even praised them for being able to find humor in his misfortune.  Then he surprised them by finding a way to fill the dipper, and, in one fluid motion, he slung it gracefully at the all-of-a-sudden-not-laughing bunch of assholes.  Then he slapped his thigh and did a belly laugh.

Speaking of which…

There’s some jelly on my belly, lick it off!

There’s some jelly on my belly, lick it off!

Someone spilled some Smucker’s,

So on your knees, you fuckers.

There’s some jelly on my belly, lick it off!

Okay, I didn’t really sing that verse.  I made that one up just now.  But the skeeter song was driving me mad and I started looking for ways to change it up.  What I really wanted was to stop.  Stop singing.  I tried.  I was determined to think of something else and forget the song, but before I knew it I heard myself singing it again while thinking about that something else.  My mother and her friend almost caught me a couple of times.  I thought of switching to a limerick…

There once was a man from Nantucket,

Whose dick was so long he could…

Wait…hardly an improvement.  Okay, how about…

There once was a woman from Azores,

Whose cunt was infested with…

Nope, even worse.  Jeez-us!  Where did us kids get these things?  If our parents had any idea the things we learned at school, they’d never let us out of the house.  Of course, I learned some pretty naughty things at the golf course, too.  In fact, we were now on the 7th hole, where later, when I was twelve, I would learn something very naughty indeed…

Around the time I turned ten, I started spending more time playing golf than I did playing James Bond at the pool.  Most of the boys I played with were older.  They tolerated me with equanimity—and to my defense, I was almost as good as they were so it wasn’t like I was holding them up or anything—but it was clear I wasn’t accepted as a complete equal.  I knew this because I wasn’t allowed to join their conversations about girls, and when I asked them to explain some of the words or phrases they used in those conversations, they would reply with “None of your business, numbnuts” or “Someday you’ll figure it out, numbnuts.”  And that’s another thing…they all had names and I was numbnuts.  I wasn’t entirely sure what numbnuts meant, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t flattering.  And then there was the mystery of the 7th hole.

The 7th hole was the hole farthest away from the clubhouse, out in the boonies, and a dense wood sidled up against the left side of the fairway.  The older boys would often disappear into the wood together and tell me to wait for them on the green.  They told me they were looking for balls—you know, balls people had hit out of bounds into the woods and couldn’t find—but it seemed to me that they never found many balls for all the time they spent looking.  I began to suspect they were sneaking smokes back in there…if I had known what marijuana was at that age, I would have suspected that’s what they were puffing.  Anyway, it was all very suspicious, and I was never allowed to go with them to see for myself what was going on.  When I asked why I had to wait on the green, they would say simply, “Snakes,” to which I would reply simply, “Yes, I’ll wait on the green”—I was not the bravest ten-year-old.

And that was that.  Then, one day, in the middle of my twelfth year, an older boy named Mike initiated me into the secret of the woods.  The secret being, yes, they were looking for balls.  But not golf balls.  It was an eye opening experience.  In fact, my eyes nearly popped out at one point.  (So that’s what the vacuum cleaner was supposed to feel like.)

Mike, who was fourteen at the time, was this natural athlete who excelled at everything he did and had every girl in school chasing him.  Why he fancied a little same-sex roll and tuck with me, I didn’t have a clue, but the girls could eat their hearts out because it was all good as far as I was concerned.  I was game and ready to be tamed, baby.  (Well, what do you expect from a 12-year-old?)  That’s right, I was naughty, I was very naughty, and, on that day, there were indeed snakes loose in the woods.

Which reminds me…

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off!

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off!

There’s a skeeter on my peter,

But two lips would be sweeter.

There’s a skeeter o……………………………

Well, it had to happen.  And it did.  We were headed up the 9th fairway and I forgot myself.  I was singing out loud.  Mom and her friend had gone silent, their nonstop chatter had paused.  I felt my heart spike with a shot of adrenalin and stopped in mid-verse.  I looked over my shoulder, my mouth still in mid-o. There they were, not five feet away over my right shoulder, both their heads turned 45 degrees in my direction…staring at me.  Then, they burst out laughing…loudly…in stereo.

Oh, the humiliation.

And the worst part, the 9th hole is a par 5 and we still had 450 yards to go before we reached the green.  450 yards of Teeheehee “Where’d you learn that little song, Jon?” Teeheehee.

Sigh.  Someone kill me.

Or, better yet, fuck it.  Are you with me?  Okay then…

All together now…

There’s a skeeter on my peter, knock it off…

***

[I thought long and hard whom I should dedicate this to and have decided, screw you all, I’m dedicating this one to myself.  This is my first post after quitting smoking and I feel I deserve it.

Quitting wasn’t easy.  When people asked me how the quitting was going, I would tell them how I hardly noticed not having a smoke, how easy it was for me to quit…I was lying through my remaining shreds of lung.  It was agony.  I was kicking dogs, stealing candy from babies, and beating up little old ladies.  Just kidding, I would never kick a dog, but you get the idea.  It was very difficult indeed.  In fact, it’s been two months now and I am still trying to think of some logical excuse why it would be a good idea for me to have just one smoke.

So, yes, I dedicate this one to myself.]

***

I used to keep an apartment in Tokyo.  I love Tokyo.  Imagine a huge amusement park, like Six Flags or Disney World, with roads and an underground.  That’s Tokyo.  Or that’s the feeling I get as I stroll through it.  It’s a visual feast of the cute and the quaint and the just plain odd; I get the feeling that it is all one big ride for which the longest queue would be worth enduring.  Whenever I’m there, I approximate the cliché of a Japanese tourist, constantly lifting and pointing my camera with the easy fascination of a child on his first visit to Disney World.

You aren’t buying the surreal scene I’m suggesting?  Okay, fine, let me give you an example.  I will tell you about frog boy.  I met him one day while strolling through Shibuya.  Shibuya, for those of you unfamiliar with Tokyo, is the home of a scramble crossing that is said to be the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world.  You’ve all seen pictures of it because no photo journal or video of Tokyo would be without a shot of it.  It is estimated that about 1000 people enter the crossing each light change, and, though I haven’t sat down and done the math, I would guess the total number of people that use the crossing each day would be enough to start a small country.  It was shortly after riding one of the perpetual waves of humanity through this intersection that I saw frog boy, and I guess the obvious place to start is by saying he was green.  He was green from top to bottom, from front to back, and from shore to shining shore.  The outfit he was wearing was reminiscent of Robin Hood’s garb, complete with a little feathered hat like the one Errol Flynn wore, except that the shoes, which curled up at the toes, seemed inspired by a jester’s motley.  You might decide from this description that, apart from his greenness, he looked quite un-frog-like, but he had finished off his ensemble with a most dissonant accessory, a pair of bubble-lensed goggles that, because they were so unexpected, became the focal point of his garb and effectively made him look like a frog…a frog cast in the part of Robin Hood, wearing jester shoes.  And, oh, here’s the best part.  He was window-shopping at a sporting goods display.  Now I ask you, who wouldn’t be fascinated by such a place?  At Disney World, you click pictures of Mickey Mouse, in Tokyo, it’s a 6-foot frog shopping for a tennis racquet.  I love it.  Click Click Click…I’m taking pictures…Click Click Click…And don’t give me that look…You dress like that, I’m taking your fucking picture!  And such sights are not rare.  Moments later, four college students dressed in combat fatigues and helmets crawled past me on their bellies.  At first, I thought it was some sort of initiation, but then I noticed some equally militaristic characters walking behind them handing out flyers for an anti-war stage production.  Standing to one side and laughing at the ridiculous belly-crawlers was a boy wearing motorcycle leathers and a scuba mask.  Could any scene be more surreal?  Click Click Click.

***

Here’s my version of a pop-up: Click to see photos of SHIBUYA

***

I should point out that Shibuya is a most fertile ground for such bizarre scenes.  All of Tokyo tends to the fantastical but Shibuya excels at it, mainly by virtue of being dominated by hormone-driven youth focusing their creativity on attracting the opposite sex.  It is home to no less than six universities, three of which are all female, so the high ratio of females acts like a penis magnet for boys from all the other Tokyo wards.  Well, you have to figure if a guy can get laid wearing a scuba mask as a fashion accessory, it must be every teenage boy’s idea of heaven—bring me your weird, your dysfunctional, your virgins.  But it is unfair to say that hormones are solely responsible for the youths’ quest for attention.  Perhaps, more simply, it is just plain rebellion.  In Japan, being different is a very un-Japanese thing to be; children are taught by parable that the stake that sticks out gets hammered down.  But “sticking out” is exactly what the current youth movement is about, and they are insolently spurning their elders’ admonitions to be good little ants.  They don’t want to fit into the cookie-cutter rank and file and disappear into a unified Japanese identity, they want to “stick out” and be noticed.  And in that atmosphere, the weirdest squirrel gets the nut—or the weirdest nut gets the squirrel, as the case may be.  And nowhere does the competition to be the weirdest get weirder than the Harajuku district of Shibuya.

Harajuku abuts Shibuya proper, and, in contrast to the collegiate crowd of frog boy and the belly crawlers, it is the stage of the lissome and epicene youth of high school.  They come out in force on the weekends, bedecked in frills and frippery, all appearing to be dressed for a costume gala.  The city blocks off Omotesando, the zelkova-lined main road leading away from Harajuku Station, and a giant street party ensues.  Apart from the youth, there are myriad performers displaying myriad talents.  All the usual suspects are present, including mimes, musicians, and magicians.  I will never forget one particularly bizarre mime that was always present back when I frequented the area.  He—I say “he” but the whiteface he wore created an androgynous effect so it may have been a she—balanced on ten-foot stilts.  He (or she, or…it) was draped in a white dress-like garment that reached the ground and concealed the stilts, and on his head was an exaggerated version of a dervish’s sikke.  And, come to think of it, a dervish is pretty much what he looked like, a whirling dervish with an overactive pituitary gland.  Except that he didn’t whirl.  He just stood in prolonged, statuesque poses.  I personally didn’t get it, but I was ever so curious if it was a boy or a girl.  I was tempted to go peek under his skirt to check.  Click Click Click.

Another regular of the Harajuku scene at the time—and still are, I understand, though sometimes they do their thing up in Yoyogi Park—is a group of rockabilly greasers who sport ducktails and pompadours and dress in black leather and denim a la Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones.”  They play 50’s music over a sound system and dance their rockabilly hearts out.  And they do it for hours.  A large crowd inevitably gathers, which, it can only be said, is testament to how easily entertained are the Japanese.  Me, I do my Click Click Click and turn my attention to the real attraction of the street, which are the youth and their avant-garde frippery.  I plop myself down at one of the alfresco coffee shops along the sidewalk and watch as they strut up and down like peacocks, showing off their plumage of innovative fashion.

And innovative they are.  Something that many people don’t know—brace yourself—is that Harajuku is perhaps the single most important spot in the world of fashion.  Fashion designers from all over the world hire photographers to camp out in Harajuku on weekends to snap photos of these strutting avant-gardists.  Twelve months later, some of the ideas discovered in those photos will appear on the runways of Milan, Paris, and New York.  Yep, I’m not having you on, the youth of Harajuku are the trendsetters of the world, and, in Japan, there at least five major fashion magazines that focus solely on them.  Scary isn’t it?  Or not.  I’m ambivalent.  For me they are just part of Tokyo’s circus atmosphere.  I could smile, snicker, and Click Click Click at them all day.

***

A weekend in HARAJUKU

On a weekday, OMOTESANDO looks like this.

***

On the far side of Harajuku Station, in historic Yoyogi Park, the party continues.  Besides being a favorite destination of picnickers, sunbathers, and B-boys, the park is a favored busking ground for musicians.  And many of them are quite good.  Some of the biggest artists and bands in the Japanese market were discovered playing for coins in the park.  Some have even done well on the international market.

You will also see a lot of martial arts clubs practicing in the park.  Evidently, as I was told by more than one Japanese friend, many of the guys into Japan’s martial-arts scene these days are gay.  “They like it” was all the explanation I ever got.  Of course, I knew that homosexuality was common practice among the samurai class once upon a time, but I don’t think this is an extension of that.  I think that today the appeal is more a combination of the gay community’s affinity for physical fitness and their desire to be able to protect themselves against bullies.  And this assumption was backed up by a scene I was lucky enough to witness one evening in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo.  I was sharing a basket of takoyaki with a Japanese sweetheart on the curb of one of the many narrow walking streets that are so common in Tokyo when along came a group of five loudmouth, and a little drunk, American rednecks.  Walking toward them from the other direction was a stunningly pretty boy who looked and dressed like Miyavi-san (pics below).

Knowing how low a group of loudmouth American rednecks can stoop, I braced for the show and prepared myself to be thoroughly embarrassed by my nationality.  Sure enough, as the boy neared them, one of the rednecks stopped in an aggressive pose, snorted contempt, and remarked, “Look at this faggot!”  I grimaced and blinked…and during the short amount of time that my grimace and blink took to complete, a Bruce Lee moment had left the loudmouth American sitting flat on his ass and trying to shake his eyes back into focus.  His friends stood mouths agape and watched as the angel-faced androgyny straightened his cuffs and continued indifferently on his way.  I watched him disappear with admiration, and, I must admit, feeling somewhat aroused.

***

Click to check out YOYOGI PARK

Click here to see MIYAVI

EXTRA: You absolutely MUST hear this: Miyavi’s slap technique  (Allow me to introduce you to some Japanese talent)

AND I can’t resist adding this iconic video (This is Kabuki Rock folks): Neo-Visualizm (I particularly like how he incorporates tap dance into the beat.  There is a lot of English in this song, but Miyavi’s enunciation makes it all sound Japanese.)  I was lucky to discover a HQ version of this video, but the other video on the page is a poorly mixed cover.  Don’t waste time listening to it.

***

And then there’s Takeshita Street.  Whereas Omotesando is an architectural showcase and home of many flagship stores of the upscale fashion market, Takeshita is a pedestrian-only side street that is crammed with cafes and boutiques and fad shops.  And the fad shops offer some hint as to what is really driving the bizarre fashion parading around Omotesando.  Many of them are what are called “antennae shops” and their purpose is to test market fashion prototypes.  Manufacturers will seed these shops with some strange new product, as they did a few years ago with those dreadful six-inch platform shoes, and if the Harajuku youth fancy the item, the way they oddly fancied the six-inch platform shoes, they will soon be incorporating it into their personal wardrobe and subsequently photographed walking down Omotesando wearing it.  A year later it will be a worldwide fad.  Remember those clunky platform shoes that swamped the market a few years ago?  You could always tell when a girl was nearby because there was no way to walk on the things without sounding like Frankenstein.  And they were dangerous.  Girls spent more time in emergency rooms getting ankles wrapped than they spent upright on the damn things.  The shoes were patently ridiculous, and, ultimately, we owe them to the antennae shops.

The fad shops are a major part of Takeshita’s appeal, and a trip to Harajuku isn’t complete without giving it a stroll, although on the weekends it is so crowded on the narrow street that walking from shop to shop resembles a contact sport.  Let’s put it this way, strolling down Takeshita through the weekend crowd is as close as I’ve ever come to group sex.  And that is fine, mind you, far from me to complain, but I have more than once left Takeshita feeling dirty and used.   And, no, that is not why I recommend it so highly.  I recommend it because, well, some of the shops there are incredibly bizarre.  Where else, I ask you, can you find a hot-red storefront with a sign above the door that reads The Tabasco Store?  There’s no way I’m going to pass by without going inside to see how a shop can stay in business selling nothing but Tabasco.  As it turned out, they weren’t selling Tabasco so much as they were selling cute.  Yes, on their shelves was every size and flavor of Tabasco sold both on Earth and Mars, but the shop was mostly cute bric-a-brac such as Tabasco themed ceramics and stuffed toys.  I bought a red magic marker shaped like a Tabasco bottle.  Yes, it’s true, and I am truly ashamed.  In fact, it was when I got back to my apartment and looked down to see the Tabasco marker that I realized I may have been in Japan too long.  It was clear that my brain had been subverted by the Japanese to be unable to resist anything remotely cute.

***

Click here to see a weekend in TAKESHITA

***

I guess I should explain this further because the importance of “cute” in Japan is integral to understanding the, well, theme of this theme park atmosphere in Tokyo that I have been so keen to show you.  Let me explain it by saying that there are only two words that any visitor to Tokyo need learn: kawaii and sagoi, which mean “cute” and “wow” respectively.  In my observations, these are by far the two most frequently used words in the Japanese lexicon.  You will hear them constantly and often together.  I warn you, however, that being too close to Japanese women when they say kawaii may cause permanent damage to your hearing.  When excited, they tend to pronounce the word as ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiii, ending in a high C that can shatter glass.  A young teenage girl caught me off guard one day at a supermarket with a ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiii and the tomato I was testing between my fingers went everywhere.  And, of course, that gave her ample reason to gasp “Sagoi!”…which she did.  But what you must be wondering is what could possibly be in the produce section of a supermarket that could move a person to squee in high C.  Well, here’s the answer: in Japan, pretty much everything.  In this case, it was a cute cutout of a smiling carrot hanging above the vegetable bin.  Cute, you see, is the sine qua non of marketing in Japan, and if it weren’t the anthropomorphized carrot, it would have been any number of other point-of-sale cuteness within view.  Quite succinctly, Japanese marketing 101 can be distilled into the following sentence: if you have a product that is cute or can be packaged or advertised in some cute way, it will sell.  As you can imagine, the stuffed animal market in Japan is booming.  And you can see how this preoccupation with wowing people with cuteness helps to create an amusement-park atmosphere.  I mean, seriously, where else but in some surreal carnival-like reality could you walk into a supermarket and find a guy in a bunny costume selling sirloin steaks?  Japanese women will spy the bunny, let out a whooping “Sagoi,” run up to pinch his cheek while emitting a high-pitched “ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiiiiii desu ne!”…and then buy whatever that bunny rabbit tells them to buy.  I witness scenes like this and feel like I’ve died and gone to Disneyland.

But here I was becoming just like them.  I had always in the past been an observer, watching with some sense of detachment, but as I looked down at this silly Tabasco curio, I was suddenly reminded of that song by the Vapors about “Turning Japanese,” and I realized I was, not to put too harsh a point on it, becoming too easily entertained.  Had I been in Tokyo too long?  At the very least, I had been there long enough that the strangeness had ceased to be strange…I hardly took notice anymore when a human-sized squirrel sat next to me and asked for a light, for example.  And here I was looking down to see a magic marker disguised as a Tabasco bottle and thinking “Sagoi!  Ka-wa-iiiiiiiiiiiii desu ne…I absolutely must have it!”

***

TURNING JAPANESE

***

Of course, that isn’t such a bad thing, but just as the world one encounters in a theme park isn’t real, one must never forget that the Tokyo that meets the eye isn’t real either.  It is superficial, a quixotic diversion from reality.  So perhaps I had been there too long.  I mean, a theme park is a great place to visit and have a bit of fun, but you don’t want to live in one.  Too much of it and the brain starts to acclimate to the silliness and forgets where the stage begins and ends; one can very easily lose touch with reality.  And though I’m aware that I might be exaggerating and pushing this point a tad too far, I also feel there is some real truth in it as well.  Look at how the Japanese are so sucked in by the show.  You have marketers pumping out cuteness to sell things that aren’t even remotely cute.  An animated chipmunk with a wispy tail could convince the Japanese to get their rectums sandpapered…and pay a hefty price for the pleasure.  I shouldn’t have to stress how such a misinterpretation of reality can result in a rather rude awakening.  And yes, okay, I’m being hyperbolic, but on a quite serious note, consider how the rebellious youth can find the expectations of the establishment and their yearning for individualism at odds and extremely difficult to reconcile as they prepare to enter the rank and file of the “salaryman.”  It’s been my observation that reconciliation often takes place in a bottle.  And let’s not forget that the suicide rate in Japan is astronomical.  Tokyo—the Tokyo that shows a happy face; the Tokyo that I love so much—is sterile, safe, and fantastical, but it is also artificial and at odds with the hard-biting reality of life outside the theater of the Big Top.  It is easy, too easy, to forget that the fairytale appearance of Tokyo is just that, a fairytale.

But so what, right?  Yes, Japan is a killjoy bully hanging stubbornly onto a feudal past replete with outdated social hierarchies, but I am convinced that the youth are eventually going to win the battle.

[And if you don’t believe the feudal system is alive and well in Japan, consider how as I was about to sign the papers to rent an apartment there, the agent looked over and sheepishly informed me that I was expected to give an extra month’s rent to the landlord to “thank him for allowing me to rent his property.”  It was not a deposit that I would get back when I moved out, it was, as he explained, a “gift” and was part of their feudal traditions.  Well, I thought about that a moment and understood clearly that I was, in effect, being put in my place.  And, as you can imagine, I found it insulting.  I will never forget the look on the agent’s face when I informed him that was not going to happen.  “You tell the landlord,” I said, “that I will tolerate his rack-renting and include a deposit that he will return to me when I move out, and I will even be so gracious as to not require that he come to thank me for renting his property.”  The look of horror on the agent’s face was priceless.  Needless to say, I made an enemy of that landlord, but it was entirely worth it.  And I did eventually find a landlord of a younger generation that didn’t think of himself as an actual “lord.”]

Japan hasn’t been the same since its doors were opened to the west, and change has accelerated as access to western ideas and media has increased.  The feudal system, like a theocracy (more than like a theocracy, it was a theocracy since the emperor was once considered a god), is a system of suppression and control, and one easy to maintain when Japan was cut off from the world.  Give people the scent of freedom, though, and change is inexorable (which is why Muslim reactionaries like the Taliban are so adamantly against education outside of madrasas, I might add).  And what better way to style a revolution than as an assault by carnival.  As many sociologists like to point out, Japanese culture is far more motivated by aesthetics than the West, and this, there is no other way to put it, is revolution by aesthetic.  I think everyone will agree it is decidedly better than revolutions of the head-thumping variety.  In time the idealism will be blunted by pragmatism and the carnival-like atmosphere will likely subside, but the end result will be a Japan in which both individuality and diversity will be valued instead of frowned upon.  I do admit, however, even though I realize it is somewhat selfish of me, that I hope the change takes a long time to actualize.  Why?  Because the party that is the Tokyo of today is just too damn fun to want to see end.  I am quite willing to suspend disbelief and ignore the underlying tensions as long as I can go to Tokyo and buy sirloin steaks from fuzzy bunnies, see a frog window shopping, snigger at outlandish and sometimes ridiculous fashion, and find a little store devoted solely to a brand of hot sauce.  It is simply an experience one cannot pass up.

***

ENCORE:  I’ll let Miyavi-san sum up life under the Big Top.  “What a Wonderful World”  (Notice that the Bruce Lee moment in this video is directed at a rank-and-file mannequin, one devoid of face, identity, individuality.)  I found this video after I finished writing this piece…Imagine my surprise by its video imagery. As Miyavi says, “Check it out….”

***

[I dedicate this post to Caroline Smith, known on Twitter as @casoly.  Despite her Smithiness, she is also half Nihonjin, or Japanese.  After getting to know her on Twitter, I get the feeling that had she been raised in Tokyo she would have been one of the delightfully goofy youths parading around Harajuku.  I picture her as a cute yellow duck shaking her tail feathers and batting long ducky eyelashes at the boys.  Click Click Click]

What follows is a most horrifying Halloween tale.  I am sure some of you will find the story amusing and resort to giggles, but that would only be the ones among you that are evil and beyond all hope.  The rest of you, those who are innately good, will understand and feel the horror that left an unfortunate five-year-old boy, me, scarred for life.

I awoke that fateful Halloween morning in a state of ignorant bliss.  There was no sense of foreboding, no Hitchcockian background music playing that warned me of my impending doom.  I guess, looking back, I should have known.  My mother had been busy for weeks at the sewing machine constructing something bright red with white polka dots.  She had been calling me in from the yard to measure various parts of my anatomy, which I thought strange but no stranger than any of her previous behavior.  She was a parent, and, thus by definition, strange.  I had learned, like most kids, to accept this and not to question it.  A parent’s strangeness was to be tolerated…asking too many questions never led to enlightenment but could result in being sent to your room without dessert.  But perhaps I should have taken more notice of my mother’s cheerful disposition that morning.  Well, not really her cheerful disposition; she was always a morning person, flitting around in a caffeine high with a joviality that wasn’t quite fitting normal human behavior.  It was more the way she stopped, mid flit, and looked down at me with her head cocked at a slight angle and smiled…and then giggled.  I looked down.  My fly was zipped.  I had no idea what the silly woman was giggling about, so I made the mistake of ignoring her.  She was obviously crazy, and I had better things to do.  For one thing, I had to get my Halloween costume ready.

My plan was to be a vampire.  I took a torn t-shirt and went to work bloodying it up with a tube of Acrylic #637 blood-red paint.  I had surreptitiously acquired some of my father’s Brylcreem and some eyeliner from my mom’s dresser.  I would finish the costume with blue jeans, white socks, penny loafers, and a set of Dracula choppers I had bought at the 5&10.  I would be James Dean with fangs.  All the other kids would be in awe of my coolness…the girls would swoon and be powerless under my penetrating gaze.  I would be the hit of the Halloween party.

Just before noon, my brother came into my room to show off his costume.  He was a cowboy.  He had this silly hat on that came with a drawstring.  It was decidedly uncool.  Clint Eastwood wouldn’t be caught dead in such a hat.  Nor would Clint Eastwood be caught in that shirt, which sported little bronco-riding, lasso-twirling cowboys.  The rest of the ensemble was equally goofy.  It consisted of a silver-studded black leather vest with matching chaps, a baby-blue bandana tied around his neck, a two-gun holster strapped to his waist, and the silliest looking pair of red pointy-toed boots.  He looked like Roy Rogers only gayer.  Imagine Liberace at a rodeo.  I looked him up and down and shook my head.  How, I wondered, was I related to this dork?

I told him to wait downstairs and I would be down shortly to show him what Halloween was all about.  In response, he drew his six-shooters and filled me with holes, and then awkwardly attempted to twirl them back into the holster.  After bending down to pick them up, he made a less than gallant exit.  This was going to be no contest.  I hadn’t planned on dressing up so early but the Twinkle-Toed Kid needed to be shown who’s boss.  I donned my outfit, primped a bit until I was happy with the finished look, and struck a few poses.  I was devastating.  I emanated cool.  Cool dripped from me in Acrylic #637 drops.  All I needed was a cigarette to dangle from the corner of my mouth, and a few minutes of craftsmanship later, I had one.  I was ready.  I would make the campy cowboy quake, not just in fear but also in defeat.

When I got downstairs, my brother was eating a grilled cheese sandwich in the dining room.  Not exactly cowboy grub, I thought.  I snuck up behind him and hovered.  My mother spotted me hovering from the kitchen and shrieked, which startled my brother into looking around to see what my mother was shrieking about.  His already wide eyes landed on my fangs and it was as if he’d been shot out of a cannon.  He headed for the kitchen, and, since the dining room table was between him and the kitchen, it went, too.  Success.  I was so happy with myself, and I was enjoying a grand chuckle about it when I heard my mom say, “Unh-uh, no you don’t! You go wash that crap off. Your mother made you a Halloween costume and you’re gonna wear it.”

I stopped laughing, which evidently was my brother’s cue to start laughing.  “You’re going to be a clown,” he said, very smugly.  And one look at my mother confirmed he was right.  I tried to protest but mother would not be swayed.  “I’ve been working on that clown suit for weeks,” she said, “and you’re going to look so cute in it.”

Oh god…Cute!  The c-word.  I wanted to die.

Four hours of pulling, adjusting, squishing, and poofing later, I was a little red polka-dotted clown.  This included a tall, conical-shaped red hat topped by a white cotton ball and red slippers that elongated from the toe and curled to a point about a foot up in the air.  As if that were not enough, there were little bells hanging from the slippers’ pointy tips.  My face was painted white with red circles on my cheeks and on my nose was attached a large red ball.  When mother was finally satisfied with how ridiculous I looked, I waddled to the mirror.  The suit was made to look like it was inflated, which resulted in me looking like a giant ball with a head and two curly feet sticking out.  My hands protruded at 45-degree angles and rested on my round little body.  It was humiliating.  My brother stuck his head through the door and shot me three times.  Then he blew the smoke from the tip of the barrel, winked, and disappeared again.  I hated him.  But when I looked back at the mirror, I found myself wishing his toy gun had indeed been lethal and capable of putting me out of this misery.  Jeez.  I looked like a giant testicle with chickenpox.

I went over to sit on the end of my mother’s bed to contemplate my situation.  My mother shrieked again.  She hadn’t decided if sitting was permissible in this costume and she mulled it over.  I had to wonder why she was so proud of herself.  She had constructed a costume that was not only next to impossible to walk in, it was evidently also impossible to sit down in.  Finally, she let me sit but told me to be very careful.  I promised her I would, and then secretly wished it would rip.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.  What it did do, however, was prove, as if it wasn’t abundantly clear already, that my mother had not thought the mechanics of this costume through.  As I eased down on the bed, the suit squished upwards and consumed my head so that all that remained was a fat body with a pointy hat sticking out.  The squishing effect also raised my arms from the 45-degree angle out to 90-degrees.  Though I couldn’t see anything from this new vantage point, I sensed that I had far surpassed looking ridiculous.  I must have looked like a huge zit, the little white cotton ball on the tip of my hat being the whitehead.  There was, however, one good aspect to this, I thought.  While sitting down, no one would ever be able to recognize me short of taking my fingerprints, my stubby little fingers being the only visible evidence that this red ball of polka dots contained a person.

My mother took all this in and started to laugh.  Oh, she thought it was so hilarious.  She thought it was so funny she called my brother in so he could laugh at me, too.  He was most obliging.  Then she decided it was so adorable that she had to have a picture.  I heard a click here and a click there in between her and my brother’s laughs and an occasional mention of the c-word.  My humiliation was complete.  I hated them both.  I consoled myself with thoughts of fratricide and matricide.  Okay, I probably wouldn’t kill my mother—she was useful when it came to putting food on the table—but I decided then and there that any Oedipal complex was out of the question.

And, I suddenly remembered, my humiliation wasn’t near complete.  We would next go out in public to trick-or-treat and then to a Halloween party.  This meant there would be witnesses.  People and, worse, friends would see me portray a pox-ridden testicle, and I wouldn’t have any choice but to allow them to live to tell about it.  First, we went to the neighbors’ houses by foot.  My brother danced around me, shooting everything in sight, as I waddled slowly along.  The little bells on the tips of my curly slippers went kaching-ching kaching-ching, alerting everyone to turn around and stare, but the giant red ball wobbling its way along the sidewalk was so hard not to notice that most people were staring already.  I could sense that every car coming down the street slowed so that they, too, could stare, and I was convinced the cars contained each and every friend I had from school.  At each house, I would stand and accept the smiles, laughs, and the inevitable barrage of words like “cute” and “adorable” with concealed disdain.  My mother, holding my candy bag because it was impossible for me to do so and walk at the same time, beamed with pride.  The worst houses we visited were the ones with steps up to the front door, which, in our neighborhood, seemed to be every house.  There was no way for me to negotiate the steps with six-inch legs, so I had to submit to the extra humiliation of having my mother lift me by my armpits and carry me up and down each set of steps.  Meanwhile, my brother, ever the cowboy, took to herding me.  I had to listen to “git along little doggie” and “Yeehaw!” as we progressed from house to house.  I kept wishing he would “giddy up” between me and the street…surely no one would suspect foul play if I had stumbled and gave him a slight nudge into oncoming traffic, would they?  But before I got my chance, we were finished with our trick-or-treating and back at our house.  By this time, dad was home and we immediately loaded into the car to go to the party.  I say immediately but it took them five whole minutes to get me into the car.  I sat there with my head disappeared into the heart of the beast and felt happy that nobody would be able to identify me as the big bulbous zit in the back seat.  Of course, that security lasted only a bit and after another five minutes of easing me out of the car, we were at the party.

The party was hell.  Not only was I subjected to endless repetitions of the c-word and “Oh, how adorable,” I was also made to endure cheek pinches from every adult female at the party.  My mother couldn’t have been happier.  Go ahead, woman, I thought, enjoy yourself…but just how long do you think it will take me to make your sewing machine disappear?  I turned to escape from my mom and her friends and the first thing I saw was Cindy Harris, the prettiest and most popular girl at school, coming in the door with her parents.  She was dressed, most appropriately, as a princess, and she was walking in my direction.  I panicked.  Remembering the effect that sitting had on the suit, I grabbed a handful of fabric on both sides and lifted.  From Cindy’s vantage point, the red ball’s legs elongated by six inches and its head disappeared, leaving nothing but the conical hat extruding above.  I was like a turtle disappearing into my shell.  If I had just stood still everything would have been fine, but I didn’t stand still.  I suddenly realized that, while I had succeeded in concealing my identity, I had also morphed my clown suit into what appeared to be a huge zit.  I had to escape.  I turned in what I approximated to be 180 degrees and started to run, or the closest I could come to running with what was now 12-inch legs.  I didn’t get far.  What I hadn’t realized was that 180 degrees pointed me directly at a wall, which brought my progress to an abrupt halt.  I bounced back in the direction I had come and ended up flat on my back.  I lay there looking up at the ceiling and wondered how lucky one would have to be for no one to have noticed what just happened.  Then I saw Cindy Harris appear, upside down in my vision, standing over me.  She looked down and I will never forget what she said…she said, “Oh, it’s you.” And then she turned and calmly walked away.  I reached down and pulled on the fabric until my head slipped back into its hiding place.  Now I could say it…it was official…my humiliation was complete.

***

[I dedicate this Halloween story to Susan Orlean.  I am dedicating it to her because, being the cheap person I am, it doubles as a birthday present.  Yes, Halloween is Susan’s birthday.  (It sure answers a lot of questions, doesn’t it?)  I think the whole world is following Susan on Twitter, but in case you are new to this world, you can find her at http://twitter.com/susanorlean .  She is a very special lady.  She is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine and the author of many books.  She also has the distinction of being played by Meryl Streep in a Hollywood movie.  How many people can say that?  Not even Joe Wallace can say that, even though he has offered to shave his beard to make it possible.]

Last time I told you about an embarrassing situation from my past, a situation that caused me great physical pain and mental anguish—insert dramatic pause here as I wipe a tear from my cheek—and your reaction, you sadistic beasts, was to guffaw in unrestrained mirth.  I guess there is only one thing to do: I must feed your schadenfreude with another of my embarrassing moments.  This situation is much different from the one I shared in the last post, however.  This one didn’t involve any physical pain, except for the cramping in my abdomen from laughing so hard.  You see, that was the problem.  I laughed.  And I laughed at what can only be described as an extremely inappropriate moment.  Imagine someone bursting into uncontrollable, rolling-on-the-floor laughter during a funeral.  This was something like that.

I beg you to understand that this occurred at the end of an arduous road trip, and I can see now that I must share with you the bizarre events of the day leading up to my embarrassing behavior or you will most likely—and quite understandably—dismiss me as a common heathen.  You will see that it was a trip in which everything that could possibly go wrong did and some of the things that couldn’t possibly go wrong also did; the events leading up to the dreadful moment contributed, conspired even, to make my loss of control inevitable.  It was a surreal day, not the kind of day you could describe in a work of fiction because it would be too unbelievable that so many things could go wrong in such a short span of time.  Thankfully, I wasn’t alone; my friend, David, was with me to share the burden of the day and to keep reminding me that, no, I wasn’t dreaming it all.  We reached the point where we were trying to predict what tragedy would befall us next and, to our horror, most of our predictions came true.  By the time we reached our destination, we had long passed feeling despair at our setbacks and had instead begun to greet each successive misfortune with resigned, fatalistic laughter.  The last thing that happened, however, was way too unreal for us to predict.  I would say that what happened was indeed impossible, and if you told me it happened to you, I wouldn’t believe you.  And that is why it tipped me over the brink into an inappropriate display of convulsive hysterics one would expect only from someone snuggled up in a straitjacket.

The day got off to a rough start, mainly because David informed me he would be picking me up at the wee hour of 4:00 A.M.  The wee hour of 4:00 A.M.?  I had no idea such a time existed.  I told him not to hurry because I didn’t usually have to wee until 7 or 8.  “Our tee time is at 8,” he said. “And stop being such a smartass.”  He reached over and flicked my ear, an irritating habit of his.  But he was right.  We had a long drive and then we would have to get breakfast and hit some practice balls before the tournament started.  In addition, it was a shotgun start, so we would have to hike out to whatever hole we were assigned to start playing from.  I would just have to pray that my never-before-used alarm clock worked.  It did.  In fact, it worked with such proficiency that when it went off I jumped and flailed at whatever was attacking me and ended up falling off the bed.  It was the first and last time I would ever use that clock because, once I regained my senses, I reached over and threw it out the dormer window.  I watched it disappear, still blaring its obnoxious alarm.  Three seconds later, I heard a satisfying crunch as it hit the patio two and a half floors below…then silence.

So it was not a good start to the day.  Ironically, though, that was the day’s highlight; from there it slowly descended through the seven circles of hell.  My first omen of things to come was when David pulled into our driveway.  It was the first time I had gotten a close-up look at his car.  It was a Triumph Spitfire ragtop, and I couldn’t tell you what model it was, but one thing was certain: it was not new.  I would guess that “new” was not a word that had been used in reference to his car for a very long time.  “I like your racing slicks,” I said.

“My tires are not bald,” he insisted. “And I thought I told you last night to stop being a smart ass.”  He paused.  “Don’t worry, they’ll be fine.  There’s still some tread…besides, I have a spare.”  I got down and squinted.  I couldn’t see any tread.  I shrugged and loaded my golf clubs and duffel in the trunk.  We would go first to Jackson, Missouri, to play in a scramble tournament and then on to St. Joseph, Missouri, to get ready for the Missouri Amateur, which was two days later.  We were excited about the scramble because we had never played in one before.  We thought it’d be fun, a goof, and we had been looking forward to it for a long time.  In fact, David had insisted we send our entry fee a month early so we’d be sure to get in, enthusiasm I thought ironic since the Missouri Amateur a couple of days later was far more important than the silly scramble.

I settled into the passenger seat, which, since I was only 15-years-old, was going to be my nest for the whole trip.  It was like crawling into a matchbox, and as if it weren’t incommodious enough, the glove box was open and dug into my knee.  I closed it.  It fell back open.  I closed it again.  It fell back open.  “It’s broken,” he said.

“Go figure,” I whispered to myself, and then said, “Wait a minute.”  I ran into the garage and grabbed a big roll of duct tape off my dad’s workbench.  From the state his car was in, I figured we were going to need the whole roll before the day was out just to hold the car together.  I worked on securing the glove box door as David drove.  When I finished, I dropped the roll of tape beneath my seat and admired my work.  It looked sufficiently bad enough to blend in well with the rest of the car’s interior, which one might describe as junkyard chic.  In addition to complementing the car’s aesthetic charm, the tape had done the job well; the door wouldn’t be opening again, maybe ever.

This is when David said, “How am I supposed to get to my wallet?”

I turned and gave him my tilted-head look, which means, roughly, “Why the fuck couldn’t you have mentioned that before?”  No words necessary…the look says it all.  “I just remembered,” he said. “I’m sorry.”  Then he continued, “By the way, I’m going to need the wallet right now because we’re going to have to stop at a gas station and buy some oil.  My car burns oil…a lot of oil.”

“Go figure,” I said, not whispered this time.

By the time we reached the station, I had freed his wallet.  I mumbled a lot during the process but I had freed his wallet.  David went to buy the oil and I reached under my seat to retrieve the duct tape so I could redo the glove box.  I couldn’t feel it.  In fact, I couldn’t feel anything.  I bent over and looked.  Then I discovered why I couldn’t feel anything.  I couldn’t feel anything because there wasn’t anything.  Anything!  There was no floor beneath my seat.  The section of floor starting directly under my knees back to under where my butt sat had rusted out.  I sat there with my head between my knees, staring at the pavement below the car and picturing the duct tape rolling happily down the middle of the highway.  Then I began to consider the fact that my chair was bolted to this floor that was, well, not present.  I pictured the possibility of my entire seat disappearing through the hole just as the roll of duct tape had.  David would hear a THRUNK and look over to find nothing but a big hole and the whistle of the wind.  I returned upright and considered my options.  The smart thing would be to run before he got back with the oil.  Just disappear.  I could tell him later that aliens abducted me, that a beam of light grabbed me and pulled me into the sky, then, oddly, beamed me back into my bedroom…and tucked me in.  But David was already returning with the oil.

I got out and watched him stash the oil in the trunk.  Then I said, “I’ll be right back.  I have to go in to buy some more tape.”  He looked at me as if I were insane.  “You already have a whole roll,” he said.

“Yes, but I put it under the seat.”

His eyes flashed as it hit him.  He laughed.  I laughed.  Then I stopped laughing and asked him what exactly was holding my seat in place.  He assured me it was bolted to the frame and not the flimsy floor.  He’d been worried about that himself, he said, so he’d had it checked.  This, of course, left me wondering who had checked it.  Probably the used car salesman who sold him this death trap, and as everyone knows, used car salesmen are all spawns of Satan.  They are not to be trusted.  You can trust them to lie to you but that is all.  But there wasn’t any point in arguing, it was a fait accompli of sorts; we were going on this road trip and that was going to be my seat.  The Triumph being a two-seater, I didn’t have any choice in the matter.  When I returned to the car after buying the roll of tape, I gave the seat a good tug before climbing in.  It seemed sturdy enough.  I hoped it stayed that way.

As David drove and his Triumph went thuttity thut thuttity thut down the road, I taped the glove box shut once more.  I also took a closer look around the interior of the car.  The rear window was plastic and had gone milky with age.  It was impossible to see through except to tell that somewhere on the other side of it the sun was shining.  I also noticed I was not the first to introduce duct tape to the car; the ragtop existed by virtue of the stuff.  And then I saw a screwdriver lying next to the emergency brake.  I asked David about it.  He pointed to the ignition, or where the ignition would have been had there been an ignition.  The screwdriver was his key.  Wonderful, I thought, maybe some incredibly stupid car thief will steal this piece of shit while we’re out on the golf course…thuttity thut thuttity thut.

An hour later, we stopped at an Amoco station so we could use their paper towels to check the oil.  David had forgotten to bring paper towels.  I pictured him telling the guy to fill it up with oil and check the gas.  This was so embarrassing.  The dipstick showed we had already burned a half a quart.  “Wow, you weren’t kidding,” I said. “This thing really does burn oil.”

“Yep, but you don’t really notice the smoke except when you accelerate from a dead stop.”  He said this as if I were supposed to find it comforting.  I hung my head and sighed.  My parents were usually overprotective to a fault; why they had let me get into this car is beyond me.  An attendant from the station showed up and asked if we needed any help.  I told him no but we could use his prayers, which earned me a frigid look from David and a confused look from the attendant.  As we got back in the car, the attendant told us to drive carefully.  We waved goodbye and left him standing in a cloud of black smoke.

We made it thirty miles before the first flat tire.  We heard the right rear go thwop thwop thwop.  I turned to look at David as he pulled over to the side.  Something told me to keep my mouth shut.  Then David, without as much as a glance in my direction, also told me to keep my mouth shut.  We got the tire off and David manhandled the spare onto the wheel.  Once we had the lugs on, David worked the jack to lower the tire onto the ground.  It touched the ground, and then we watched as the wheel continued its downward progress until the rim was on the ground.  The spare was also flat.  Again, I turned to look at David.  He stood motionless and stared at our second flat tire.  His face was slowly turning red, and since David had blonde hair and blue eyes, red was not a flattering color for him.  I decided not to laugh, but my body refused to obey me.  I laughed.  I tried to suppress it by clinching my mouth shut but it was no use because the laugh just rerouted through my nose.  David looked at me.  Full on, his face was even redder.  I laughed even harder.  He paused, and for a moment, I thought I should consider a hasty retreat, but then he smiled.  He shook his head in defeat, shrugged in resignation, and was soon laughing as hard as I was.

Crunching gravel interrupted our moment of levity.  Red and blue lights flashed atop a highway patrol car as it pulled to a stop behind us.  A tall black man got out.  His shoulders were so huge he looked like he was wearing football pads and they stood out all the more because his torso tapered to what must have been a 29-inch waistline.  I gulped.  We were in southern Missouri; except for a few safe zones of sanity, it was Bible-thumping KKK country.   Black people in these parts had good reason not to like spoiled white boys, and this big black man had a gun and the authority to make our lives a living hell if he wanted to.  He asked David for his license and commented on his cracked taillight.  Then he looked at flat tire number one and flat tire number two and started to chuckle.  “Looks like you boys got a problem,” he said.  I thought, oh boy, here it comes.  He seemed to be enjoying our troubles a little too much.  I had no idea what was going to happen next, but I certainly didn’t expect it when he turned to me, still chuckling, and said, “You don’t recognize me, do you?”  I looked at his nametag.  It read “Williams.”  I was clueless.  I gulped one more time.  “No sir,” I said.

“I’m Michael’s daddy.”

I was so happy to hear those words come out of his mouth I almost started to believe in God right there on the spot.  I exhaled and smiled.  Mike Williams was my friend.  We were schoolmates and had played basketball together since we were little farts on the same peewee team.  There was a town not too far ahead, and we could see five signs hovering in the sky advertising competing gas stations.  We put the original tire back on—it had no future, so it wouldn’t matter if it were destroyed completely—and we hobbled forward on the rim with Mr. Williams following, lights flashing.  We got the spare patched.  The front tires weren’t too bad but the rear tires had to go.  David and I had limited funds with us so Mr. Williams loaned me the money to buy two new tires.  He was a godsend.  Thanks to Mr. Williams, we were back on our way without too much of a delay and he let David go with a verbal warning about the taillight.  If we were lucky, we would still make our tee-off time.

We weren’t lucky.  When we got to Cape Girardeau, we got lost.  David hadn’t brought a map, and he refused to ask directions.  He also refused to admit he was lost until halfway across a bridge we were crossing, we saw a sign saying “Welcome to Illinois: The Land of Lincoln.”  Below us, the Mississippi River had a better idea of where it was going than we did.  We both agreed we weren’t likely to find Jackson, Missouri, in Illinois, so David finally agreed to ask for help.  Immediately on the other side of the bridge was a package store.  It was the perfect location for a package store because the drinking age in Illinois was 18, which meant the kids from Missouri, where the drinking age was 21, kept the store in great business.  David went in.  He came back with a small Styrofoam cooler and a six-pack of Bud Light.  “I thought I’d take advantage of being 18,” he said. “We’ll get some ice at the country club and drink the beer on the way to St. Jo.”  He made a place behind his seat for the cooler.  “But I didn’t get directions,” he added.  “The guy said he’d never been to Jackson…he thinks it’s off the interstate north of Cape.”

“He wasn’t a paraplegic then, was he?” I said, and it was David’s turn to give me a strange look.  I chuckled and told him it was an inside joke.  One of my dad’s friends, Howard Adams, was a traveling salesman and he was full of traveling-salesman anecdotes, one of which involved paraplegics and their uncanny ability to give good directions, he said they were like limping maps.  As I recited the anecdote in its entirety, David got so tickled he almost had to pull over.  We were entertaining ourselves by scanning the sidewalks for a paraplegic on which to test Howard’s theory when we reached the interstate and saw a sign pointing the way to Jackson.  We remembered we were in a hurry.

We arrived at the country club just in time to hear the starter fire his shotgun.  The players, dispersed evenly around the course’s holes, heard the shotgun blast and began teeing off.  The tournament was underway.  We were late.  David and I stood in silence and contemplated this.  “Well,” I said, “at least we got our entry fee in on time.”  I looked over at David.  He looked at me.  We shook our heads and smiled.  We were both beginning to give in to the day’s events.  By this point, we would have been shocked if anything went right, according to plan.  We went to the clubhouse and ordered a big breakfast.  We laughed about the morning’s events over bacon and eggs and French toast.

After a brief visit to the pro shop to admire the great merchandise we could have won had we been on time, we filled the cooler with ice and topped up the oil.  We yelled and waved goodbye to a foursome headed down the first fairway—we could see them wondering who the hell we were—and then we left Jackson Country Club in a cloud of black smoke.  The road trip was back underway.  And we were psyched.  We figured we’d seen the worst that the mischievous gods could possibly throw our way, and we looked forward to the remainder of the journey being pleasant and uneventful.  I know now that was just the optimism of youth.  The mischievous gods weren’t nearly finished with us…not by a long shot.

Some time after we’d topped up the oil again, we decided the beer had had time to get cold.  I dug one out for David, which proved to be a monumental task since we had snuggled the cooler on the floor under a multitude of crap, and I was about to go back in to get one for myself when I heard David say, “Oh shit!”  He was looking in the rearview mirror.  “Hurry, hide this.”  He handed me back the unopened can of beer.  I looked back, and through the milky-white rear window, I could make out the flashing red and blue lights of a highway patrol car.  He wanted us to pull over.  So I did the natural thing.  I did what any 15-year-old boy holding a beer would do with flashing lights behind him.  I leaned forward and slipped it under my seat.  I immediately realized my mistake.  The can of beer went neatly though the hole under my seat and made a loud THONK as it bounced once off the bottom of our car.  A moment later, there was a more distant “thonk” as it hit the patrol car directly behind us.  David was looking at me with horror in his eyes.  “What did you do?”  But he knew exactly what I had done.

“Whoops,” was all I could think of to say.

David pulled over and we crunched to a stop.  I got the feeling that if there hadn’t been a policeman walking up to the window right then, he would have killed me on the spot.  I got that feeling because David told me that if there wasn’t a policeman walking up to his window right then he would kill me on the spot.  He rolled down the window.  The first thing out of the policeman’s mouth was, “Did you just run over something back there?”  David looked over at me as if he couldn’t believe his ears.  I quickly leaned in and said that we had indeed run over something, and I thought it came from the green station wagon in front of us.  I added in the little detail about how it had bounced against the bottom of our car.  The patrolman straightened up and looked down the highway.  Then he quickly leaned back down and told David he had a busted taillight and needed to get it fixed.  We watched as he ran back to his car and then went screeching down the highway with his lights flashing.  David exhaled audibly.  I think it was the first breath David had taken since the patrolman appeared at the window.  “Dump that beer in the ditch and let’s get the hell out of here,” he said.

It hurt to throw the beer into the drainage ditch, but it had become more than just a grown-up beverage.  It had suddenly become evidence.  It had to go.  A few miles down the road, we saw the patrol car’s flashing lights in the distance.  We sped up a bit and settled into a group of other cars, thinking they would camouflage us.  Then we reached where the patrol car was.  I strained to take in the whole scene as we went by.  Let me describe it for you: three teenagers with sunken shoulders and confused looks on their faces stood by the side of the road while a very angry highway patrolman searched their green station wagon.  David and I laughed.  It was shameful but we laughed.  Teary-eyed, spittle-spewing laughter.  We were both going to hell.

We continued to laugh on and off about it until we reached Kansas City.  Then we stopped laughing because we got lost again.  We knew this when we passed a sign that said “Welcome to Kansas: The Sunflower State.”  Theoretically, our trip did not require travel outside of Missouri, so being quick lads, the implications of crossing yet another state line was not lost on us.  For one thing, our navigational skills sucked.  We had now been in three states instead of just the one, the only one, required.  I wondered how close St. Joseph was to Nebraska.  Maybe we could go for four.

We took the first exit off the interstate but it wasn’t a cloverleaf, and once we got off, we couldn’t figure out how to get back on going the other way.  We found ourselves winding through a neighborhood that made us silently roll up our windows and lock the doors.  Let me put it this way, it wasn’t the kind of place you were likely to see little old ladies walking their dogs.  I got the feeling heavily armed police would hesitate to walk through the area.  Doors and windows were boarded up; the only cars parked on the street were up on concrete blocks and without doors, windows, or wheels; trash blew and accumulated in every nook and cranny; and it was deserted, even the rats knew better than to come out in the open.  It was even more daunting because it was now getting dark and none of the streetlights seemed to be working.  This was not a good place to get lost in at midday let alone at night, and we were now regretting the time-wasting detour we had taken in St. Louis to visit with some friends in Westwood Village.  I prayed David’s Triumph wouldn’t pick this particular moment to die; I figured it was operating on borrowed time and I had been expecting its demise at any moment.

I started to say something and David snapped “Shhh!”  I looked over and what I saw on his face was fear.  He couldn’t even look directly at the cause of the fear, his head cowered down and his eyes darted sideways at it.  I followed his eyes and I immediately understood.  There on the left-hand corner of the next intersection, gathered around a barrel that was alight with fire, was eight of the biggest, toughest looking black guys I had ever seen.  God only knows what they were burning.  I suspected the remains of their last victim.  As we got closer, I convinced myself that the reason for their fireside camaraderie was to discuss recipes for cooking white boys.  I slid down in my seat.  David did the same.  “Don’t stop, whatever you do,” I said, “not even if one of them is a paraplegic.”  At the intersection, David turned right.  He punched the gas and left a smoke screen.  As luck would have it, lights burned brightly ahead and the expressway entrance appeared right in front of us.  Never before in my short life had I been filled with such joy by an onramp experience.

After that, we made it to St. Joseph without incident.  Don’t let that give you the impression, however, that our problems were over.  They weren’t.  Tired, we pulled into the first motel we saw advertising low rates.  The sign read “MO E ” because two of the letters didn’t light up, and Moe’s, as we started calling it, had rooms starting at $8.00.  We had no idea how close we were to the golf course, but we didn’t care because all we had the next day was a practice round.  We would decide then whether Moe’s was too far away from the venue.  On the other hand, both of us hesitated before going as far as to check for vacancies.  Moe’s looked like the motel version of David’s Triumph.  It had seen better days.  The price was cheap but we suspected even $8.00 was too much for a room at this dump.  But, like I said, we were tired and fatigue won out.  We got a room.

I dropped my bag and fell face down on the first bed I came to.  I could’ve stayed like that until morning.  I heard David moving around the room.  He stopped abruptly.  Silence.  Then I heard him say in a quiet voice, “Jon…”  I waited, too tired to look up.  Again, quietly, “Jon…come look at this.”  I forced my head up and saw David over near the bathroom door, frozen and staring at something on the floor.  I struggled off the bed and walked over.  There on the tan carpet was a deep brown stain, the color of dried blood.  It was roughly the shape of a human torso with a bubble shaped extension where a head would be.  Without looking up, David said, “Is that what I think it is?”

I had a feeling it was.  “The only thing missing is the tape outline of the body,” I said.

David was visibly shaken.  He sat on the bed.  He was having second thoughts about Moe’s and hinted that perhaps we should find a different motel.  I failed to see why, though.  We were tired and whatever had happened there in the floor was past tense.  I didn’t see how it affected us except that it ruined the ambience of our room a bit.  David was tired, too, so convincing him to ignore it wasn’t a monumental task.  I fell back on the bed and closed my eyes.  David sat there for a moment longer, then got up and walked into the bathroom.

He wasn’t in there for more than two seconds when I heard, “Oh my god! Jon, come here.”

“Please tell me you didn’t find the body,” I said.  I heard him yank the shower curtain back as if he thought there might actually be a body in the tub he hadn’t discovered yet.

“No, but come in here. You’ve got to see this.”

I went.  He was looking at the wall and shaking his head.  He had a confused look on his face.  I looked at the wall and I, too, got a confused look on my face.  I don’t quite know how to describe it.  It looked as if someone had climbed as high as possible up a stepladder and then shit down the wall.  It was only mildly comforting that it only looked like shit.  What it was we never knew—neither David nor I wanted to get too close—but we decided it wasn’t what it looked like.  Still, we dubbed it the “Wall of Diarrhea.”  We stood there and laughed about the wall.  Then we laughed about the yellowish color of the hot water when I tested it.  Then we moved into the main room and laughed at the fact that the TV didn’t work.  It was clear we would not be recommending Moe’s to our friends.  David’s suggestion about finding a different motel was sounding more and more like a good idea.  We decided to go try to locate the country club.  If we found another motel, a better motel, closer to the golf course, we would check in there.

We drove into the center of town, not certain which way to go, and I finally convinced David to stop and ask someone for directions.  He was tired so he was easy to convince.  We spotted a group of six boys about our age sitting on a ledge in front of a convenience store.  David pulled into the parking space in front of them and leaned out the window.  He asked if any of them knew where the country club was.

What happened next started out like a surreal dream sequence.  Five of the boys hit us with dumbstruck stares, but one’s face lit up.  It was his moment.  He beamed, he shined, and he announced, in a voice that came out of the corner of his mouth after fighting a battle with his tongue, “I know where it is!”  And then David and I watched as he stood, awkwardly, and proceeded to gimp his way forward in a series of zigs and zags and lunges; his short trip to David’s window turned into an epic journey as he made his way through a world in which the shortest distance between two points was not a straight line.  I immediately flashed back to Howard Adams explaining his theory that paraplegics owed their phenomenal ability to give map-like directions to their need for considerable navigational prowess just to walk ten feet.  My mouth fell open and took in the moment, stunned and not quite sure that I was seeing what I was indeed seeing.  It couldn’t be.  In a dream, yes, after spending part of the day joking about Mr. Adams’ anecdote, this would be a likely dream to have…but for it to happen in real life?  No way.  But it was.

I lost it…I completely lost it.

Yes, I understand that laughing so hard that I virtually coated the inside of the car with spittle was not only unsanitary but both politically incorrect and socially unattractive under the circumstances, but it was beyond my control.  I tried to stop, I assure you, but every time I did, I flashed back to Mr. Adams sitting at our dining room table telling his comic tale and I would once again become a spittle-spraying maniac.  Soon I couldn’t breathe.  That was good, I thought, because it looked more like I was choking to death and asphyxiating rather than laughing.  The limping map was now at David’s window and seemed to be ignoring me.  I heard him giving David what sounded like a well-rehearsed set of directions.  I wondered how David was keeping a straight face.  I looked over and tried to focus on him through my water-filled eyes.  David was biting his lip and his face was even redder than when we had our first flat tire.  He was trying so hard to keep control.  He gave me a hard look and told me through clinched teeth to shut up or he was going to kill me.  Of course, I responded to his threat by sputtering spittle all over him and once again doubling over into paroxysms of asphyxia.  I thought I was going to die.  I must’ve been turning blue.  It was as if time stood still.  I couldn’t feel my heart beating and I actually thought it had stopped for a moment there.  It scared me, and I think that is what helped me to stop laughing.  Finally, air was flowing in and out, and I forced myself to concentrate, to empathize with the boy’s feelings, how he must be thinking we were laughing at him, and sufficiently shamed myself into something resembling normal behavior.  I figured I had just secured my ticket to Hell—I would spend eternity forced to listen to Wayne Newton sing Danke Schoen over and over.  I straightened up in my seat and looked apologetically over at the boy, who by this time was staring at me.  I told him that David had just told me the funniest joke and that was the reason for my previous lack of control.  I don’t think he believed me, but he nodded and backed away.  When he did, David looked over at me and tried to scold me but it wasn’t very convincing because he couldn’t look at me without starting to laugh.  He looked away and tried to regain control.

After a few moments, I said, “So…,” I paused for effect, “did you get any of that?”  David promptly snorted a spray of snot down his shirt.  He laid his head on the steering wheel, his shoulders bobbed as he laughed, tears dripped from his chin.  “I didn’t either,” I said.  I paused and then continued, “This is what we’re going to do: we’re going to go back to our haunted room with the Wall of Diarrhea, and we’re going to enjoy the peace and quiet of our TV that doesn’t work.”  David didn’t answer, he couldn’t answer just yet, but he obviously thought that was exactly what we needed to do because he pointed the Triumph back at the motel and that is where we went.

When we got back, we took showers in the yellow water and tried not to think about its color, and then went directly to bed.  We both felt terrible about our loss of control, or my loss of control.  David blamed it all on me.  I didn’t argue.  There was no way to adequately explain to the boy we weren’t laughing at him; from his point of view, what the hell else were we laughing at, right?  It was an unfortunate combination of events, and there was nothing for it but to regret it.  In fact, the whole day was regrettable, should never have happened, and hopefully, if we were lucky, would one day erase itself cleanly from our memories.  One thing was clear to us, though: if we stayed awake, things would just get worse.  The day was a juggernaut, unstoppable.  We had to sleep, to make it end; we had had enough.  We turned out the light and said goodnight.  After a few minutes, I heard David giggling to himself in the darkness.

***

[I dedicate this post to the quick-witted and only slightly insane Cheree Gillespie, known on Twitter as @mllecheree.  Of all the people I know, I think Cheree would be one of the most enjoyable to go on a road trip with.  I have no doubt her witty banter would make even the worst of trips easy to endure, plus I get the feeling she doesn’t get embarrassed easily, so she would weather any socially unacceptable behavior from me like a pro.  I met Cheree through her sister-in-law, Susan Orlean, and she has been one of my favorite people ever since.  Hopefully, I will meet her in person someday and maybe we can indeed take a road trip together, perhaps up to New York to see Susan and her chickens, guineas, turkeys, cows, cats, and dogs…fleas and ticks.  As long as she doesn’t drive an old ragtop Triumph, it should be a very fun trip.]

Embarrassing memories are something of which I have no shortage.  That’s why I decided to give this memory a number.  I was thinking the other day that if I told you about all the embarrassing situations I’ve found myself in during the course of my life, I would have enough material to keep this blog going for at least thirty years.  Succinctly put, my ability to humiliate myself is phenomenal.  The situation I will be serving up for you today was not only humiliating but a tad horrifying as well.  It is the story of how, at 9 or 10 years old, I came to get my penis stuck in the business end of a Hoover vacuum cleaner.  What can I say, I was a preadolescent pervert.

I must apologize for not being able to pinpoint the age; however, you must understand that it was not only a long time ago but also that I had made preadolescent perversion something of a profession.  By the time this incident occurred, I was already a veteran with a long career that had its beginnings in kindergarten.  Yes, kindergarten.  My memory is clear on this because it was in kindergarten, behind the giant Bozo the Clown beanbag target, that I copped my first feel.  Her name was Laura Finklestein, and despite the absurdity of her name, she was quite pretty.  One day I invited her into my fort.  My fort was the dark space behind Bozo’s smiling face, which was set up diagonally across one corner of the main playroom.  Bozo’s eyes and mouth were holes through which beanbags were to be tossed.  It was an excellent fort.  It provided protection from prying eyes and the holes provided a way to spy enemy forces approaching from without.  I will always have fond memories of Bozo.  I should be clear, though, that what happened between me and Laura Finklestein behind Bozo was not what you would call sex.  It was more of an I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours experience.  And it provided me with a major shock.  Up until that point, I had no idea girls weren’t equipped just as I was.  I remember looking between her legs and thinking, what the hell are you supposed to do with that?  What I meant by “that” I’m not sure.  There was no “that.”  There was nothing.  I didn’t get it.  I felt sorry for her; she had no toy.  She had no little soldier that would stand to attention.  Who would wake her in the morning?  And where would she hang her towel while she brushed her teeth?

It was a few years and many hushed whispers in the boy’s club later that I began to appreciate the mystery of the female body.  Many of the boys that were instructing me about this mystery knew less about girls than I did, but at least they were optimistic.  I took heart.  And then, I discovered the Holy of Holies.  It sat hidden deep in the bottom of my father’s sock drawer.  Its name was Penthouse.  I looked through it with great interest, and my little soldier stood at attention and looked at it with me.  We were both instant fans.  We especially liked the fantasy stories.  They were full of fascinating terminology and techniques, and we found them both educational and inspiring.  Particularly intriguing and certainly exciting to us was the concept of oral sex.  Little Soldier noticed that ‘suck’ seemed to be the operative word; it involved inserting himself into something that sucked.  He tapped me on the belly.  He pointed to the vacuum cleaner.

Well, what can I say, that is the basic function of a vacuum cleaner…its core competence, so to speak.  It made sense.  Why not?

I took the vacuum cleaner into the living room and plugged it in.  It was a Hoover, and it looked like a decapitated version of R2D2.  A long corrugated tube snapped onto the top of the canister.  At the far end of the tube, the business end, it had a 12-inch metal extension protruding out for connecting various attachments…it was the perfect diameter for the attachment I had in mind.  I clicked the power on.  Little Soldier pointed his helmet at the hole and prepared to go where no man had gone before.

THWAP!  He was in.

At first, it seemed to be going well.  I closed my eyes and imagined one of the scenarios I had just read about in the Penthouse, though I admit I embellished it somewhat.  In my version of the fantasy, I was incredibly handsome, tall, and didn’t wear glasses.  I was such a stud.  And the Hoover was pretty sexy, too.  And talented.  I do remember thinking, however, that it would have felt better if the metal tube was softer and lubricated with Vaseline.  Little did I know that lack of lubrication was about to prove very important indeed.  At that moment, though, it felt nice, certainly different from anything I had experienced to date.  I did notice the pipe becoming increasingly snug but I assumed that was just the raw suction power of the Hoover at work.  Besides, the snugger it got, the better it felt.  I drifted off into my fantasy.  It was waxing without a single wane, but just as the fantasy was waxing to the best part of all, I realized something was wrong.  Terribly wrong.  The immense pleasure I had relished moments earlier was gone and in its place was a feeling of…well, intense discomfort.  To be blunt, it hurt like a motherfucker.  My father had always bragged about how well I endured pain, but even I had my threshold and I was quickly reaching it.  The situation required immediate attention.  I hooked my ankle around the cord and yanked it out of the wall.  The vacuum went silent.  I stood motionless with my chin on my chest and looked down at the situation.  I felt throbbing.  This was not good.  I cautiously gave the pipe a slight tug.  It didn’t budge.  I pulled harder.  Nothing.  It wasn’t going anywhere.  I was stuck.

Now you out there reading this are thinking things are pretty bad at this point, right?  Wrong.  Things were about to get a whole lot worse because it was at that moment that I heard a car pulling into the garage below me.  My eyes shot up and stared straight ahead as I felt the power of the ’68 Thunderbird’s V8 engine vibrate through the floor.  My mother had come home early.  I looked back down at my predicament.  I said the first thing that came into my mind, namely, “Oh shit!”  I reached down and took the Hoover’s handle in one hand, the tubing in the other, and began to waddle towards the stairs leading up to my room.  The power cord dragged behind me through my legs.  I must have looked a sight.  The car engine shut off.  I heard the car door open. I repeated, “Oh shit!”

Going up the stairs intimately attached to a vacuum cleaner was going to be difficult to do without an occasional yelp or whimper, but I had to do it quietly.  I adjusted my awkward waddling technique for the climb and started up the steps.  Progress was slow.  I paid close attention to the tubing and the power cord because, well, I instinctively understood this would not be a good time to trip and fall.  Halfway up, I remembered the small metal pedal at the bottom of the canister that retracted the cord.  I sat the canister two steps above me and used my knee to hit the pedal.  And as soon as I did, I realized my mistake.  The retractor that Hoover installed on their vacuum cleaners worked with amazing proficiency.  It had a pull force that could yank a horse off its feet.  And this presented a problem considering the cord passed through my spread legs with the plug about 12 feet behind me.  As the retractor whipped the cord home, the plug bounced on the steps and made most of the journey airborne.  My eyes got so big they almost popped out.  I raised myself up until I was tippy toed and held my breath.  It was no use.  The plug’s aim couldn’t have been better.  It hit my balls with an audible smack.  My back arched inward and my chin reached for the light fixture at the top of the stairs.  Air rushed into my lungs and I froze as if suddenly paralyzed.  Every muscle in my body had tensed until I felt like one big rubber band stretched to its limit; it was like the silence before a massive explosion…then I heard a tiny squeak deep in my throat.  I remember being afraid to look down to see if my balls were still there.  I was convinced I had just experienced castration.

I heard the car door slam shut.  I sank forward and leaned against the canister, exhaling for the first time.  I was still on my tiptoes.  I wanted to cry.  I looked back up at the top of the stairs.  It might as well have been the peak of Mt. Everest.  I would never make it.  I willed myself dead.  Invisible.  Better yet, never born.  The basement door opened and finally some good fortune came my way.  I could hear the rustling of paper bags.  Mom had been to Safeway and had an armload of groceries.  That meant she would walk directly into the kitchen, in the opposite direction of the stairs where a ten-year-old boy stood naked with his penis inserted into a vacuum cleaner.  I pushed myself up and willed myself to continue.  The basement door slammed.  She started up the steps to the main floor as I inched my way upward.

Just as she reached the kitchen and started emptying the bags of groceries, I reached the landing.  The rustling of the bags had helped mask my progress.  I turned right and crab-walked into my bedroom.  I sat the vacuum cleaner on the big oval space rug and unsnapped the tube from the top of the canister.  The throbbing continued and the pain was escalating.  I gave the tube an experimental tug but I knew I was wasting my time.  Then I walked to the full-length mirror on the closet door to examine myself.  It looked like an elephant was molesting me.  I pictured my mom walking me into the emergency room with the tube sticking out of the fly of a pair of Levis.  Everyone would stop and gawk because, let’s face it, no matter how elegantly I draped the hose over my shoulders and around my neck, I was not going to be able to achieve a natural look.  It was hopeless.  My mother would disown me.  Or worse, send me to military school.  My mother’s favorite threat when I was bad, which was often, was military school.  I would be sporting epaulettes and become some cadet officer’s butt boy.  I was doomed…and screwed in both the present and future tense.

I had to think but the pain was making me panic.  My dad’s WD-40 sounded like just the thing, but it was down in the garage and I wasn’t about to risk that journey.  And then I remembered how my mom would use dishwashing soap to get her wedding ring off.  My spirits lifted a second until I remembered the dishwashing soap was in the kitchen with mom.  My shoulders sagged again.  Then I cheered up again realizing the bathroom was right across the hall and there was soap there.  It was bar soap but it was soap, and I knew from experience it could make Little Soldier quite slippery.  Wait!  Shampoo!  There was shampoo in the bathroom.  That would be even better.  If I was lucky, I might just survive this.

I edged my way to the stairs and peeked around the corner.  I could hear my mom mumbling to herself in the kitchen.  I tiptoed into the bathroom.  I tiptoed because the last thing I needed was for my mother to hear me and call me down to get groceries out of the trunk.  If that had happened, I think I would have died on the spot—there is only so much a ten-year-old heart can withstand.  But I made it.  I locked the door and started drawing a bath.  The pretense of taking a bath would give me a reason to make her wait if need be.

I grabbed the Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo and then stood there staring at it.  I didn’t have a clue how to proceed.  I remembered there was a small bucket under the sink.  I got it and poured a generous amount of shampoo in it.  Then I added some water and used handfuls of the mixture to lather up the end of the tube where Little Soldier had entered.  The plan was to get some of the soapy mixture to seep in past the swelling.  It didn’t seem to be working.  I tried to be optimistic but it was difficult considering the prodigious amount of swelling by this point.  Then a scary thought occurred to me: the doctor would have to amputate.  Unless I did something and did something fast, I was going to go through life built like Laura Finklestein.  I was now in full panic.  I think if I’d looked in the mirror at that point, my hair would have been standing on end.  I tried to calm down but I had to do something now before the swelling got any worse.  I took the bucket and poured half of it into the far end of the tube.  I hopped, I jiggled, I shook, I tugged and I whimpered.  There was at least one yelp and I almost screamed at one point.  Johnson & Johnson promises no tears, but I’m here to tell you they are lying sons of bitches.  It didn’t seem to be working but just when I was about to give up, I felt him move.  After a few more jiggles and generous helping of excruciating pain, Little Soldier emerged.  It hurt so much I was saying cuss words I had yet to learn.  Little Soldier was cussing, too.  He was a shade of red that reminded me of the sirloin steaks at the grocer and swollen to a size that you would think would make me pleased but only made me gasp.  He was deformed.  He had gone in looking like G.I. Joe and come out looking like Orson Welles.

It was over.  I sat on the side of the tub…gently.  I was breathing deeply.  I slowly slid into the water and let Little Soldier float on his back.  He was in bad shape; the poor fellow deserved a medal.  As it turned out, he would have to convalesce for three days before he regained his original color and shape.  It was much longer before he would think about sex, but he did eventually recover.  Then it was as if it had never happened.  He was once again tapping me on the belly and whispering his perverted ideas to me.  I was once again listening to him and going in whatever direction he pointed.  And it wasn’t the last time he would point me into an embarrassing situation either, but none of the subsequent situations he would get me into would be as terrifying as this one.  Little Soldier had outdone himself with this one: this one involved both emotional and physical discomfort and a touch of horror as well.  I still shudder when I look back on it.

***

[I dedicate this post to Beth Wareham (known on Twitter as @giantsweettart).  My love for Beth is beyond words.  It was either directly or indirectly through her that I met many of the great people I follow on Twitter.  For that, I owe her a debt of gratitude.  And I think she is the perfect person to dedicate this post to because she is something of a connoisseur of the perverse.  I figure it is a good thing that Beth and I didn’t know each other when we were children.  Together, we would have been dangerous.  We would surely have made the six o’clock news in some way or other…I picture Walter Cronkite saying something about how a 14-year-old boy has baffled world of science by becoming pregnant.  I’m sure Beth and I could have figured out a way to make that story happen.

I’m not going to detail Beth’s professional resume, but most people in the publishing world already know her.  She is both famous and infamous at once—I’m so proud of her.  You should follow her on Twitter and you should buy her book, The Power of No, which is excellent.]

I don’t own a car.  I don’t need one.  I live in Bangkok, a place where you can hail a taxi in your shower.  Okay I’m exaggerating, but in Bangkok, taxis are everywhere.  I can walk to the edge of any sidewalk, raise my hand, and three or four taxis will fight to the death to get the fare; imagine one of the motorized fight scenes from Mad Max with the dialogue dubbed in Thai.  The victor will slide to a halt in front of me and beckon me inside while he reaches out to dislodge a battle-axe from the hood.  It’s quite convenient.  Nevertheless, despite the convenience Bangkok taxis provide, once I’m in one I often hear a nagging question in my head, namely, why the hell don’t I buy a car?

It’s not that all the taxi drivers here are bad.  Many are friendly and honest, and they will convey you to your destination without undue hassle.  Some, however, are better endured under the influence of Xanax.  I am taking it upon myself, therefore, to inform you about the types of taxi drivers you will need to beware of should you visit here and provide some insight on how to best survive them.  I have classified them into five categories: The Mad Scientist, The Frugal Frumper, The Pale Rider, The Predator, and The Mentally Deceased.

The Mad Scientist: Unless you’re as fit as a NASA astronaut, you should probably tell this fella to take you straight to the emergency room because he’s going to put you there anyway…you might as well get there in time for them to restart your heart.  The problem is there’s no way to spot this type of driver before you get in.  You won’t realize what’s going on until you see a space up ahead that looks too small for the taxi to squeeze through.  If you notice the driver squint his eyes at the gap and then check his seatbelt, get ready.  And by get ready, I mean assume the crash position.  You are sitting in the taxi of a mad scientist, and he is about to test the theory that an object will elongate and grow thinner as it approaches the speed of light.

But, hey, the good thing is it seems to work.  It’s not something you should try with a weak heart or without a diaper, but it really does seem to work.  I can attest to this from experience.  From the second the driver begins his run at the gap, my body begins to collapse in on itself.  First, my stomach turns into a golf ball, and then the remaining cells in my body crowd together and hug each other in fear.  My eyes bulge out, probably because my skin is trying to hide on the other side of my head, and all the air in my lungs abandons me with a whimper as I instinctively twist my body into a sideways posture to become more streamline.  The taxi is now a missile.  Just before we reach the gap, my eyes duck inside and hide somewhere down around my tonsils…my testicles are already there.  My body has never been thinner.  I’m as thin as a sheet of paper, and because my heart has stopped beating, every bit as white.  Then, it’s over.  We are decelerating.  The mad scientist in the front seat is enjoying a chuckle.  I open one eye.  We are through.  We made it.

The Frugal Frumper: This guy is dinner at Denny’s compared to the mad scientist, but he will still provide you with an experience that, if you let it go on long enough, will leave you suicidal.  He is also known as The Green Pedal Pumper or The Eco Imbecile, and his mission is to concurrently save the world and make you wish you were dead.  He does this by driving in a most irritating manner; one that he is convinced conserves fuel.  It doesn’t.  In fact, it most assuredly uses more fuel than the normal, sane method of driving.  I will, however, say this for his method… it does give your neck muscles a good workout.

Here is how it works.  He stomps on the gas, making the engine go FRUMP and the taxi noses up and lurches forward.  The G-force of the acceleration plasters you against the seat, your head bends so far back you are looking at the sky through the rear window. Then he abruptly takes his foot off the accelerator, whipping your head forward until this time you are looking at your shoes.  He coasts for a while.  When the taxi has slowed to a crawl, you will hear another FRUMP, and the whiplashing process starts all over again.  This will continue until you reach your destination.  Sound like fun?

Part of me wants to strangle him.  The other part of me also wants to strangle him.  Fortunately, both parts agree it wouldn’t be a good idea while he’s driving so I satisfy myself with making his life miserable.  My favorite way to do this is to emit groans of sexual ecstasy each time I’m thrown to and fro.  This earns me dirty looks from the frugal frumper, which only encourages me to groan louder.  I am enjoying this far more than he is.  He is becoming agitated.  He shifts in his seat and looks over his shoulder at me.  I lick my lips and give him a wink.  And when I see he’s as sorry he stopped to pick me up as I am, I let out a high-pitched orgasmic scream, smile, and tell him to let me out so I can smoke a cigarette.

The Pale Rider: This fella offers no entertainment value at all.  His real name is Death.  You don’t want his services.  Thankfully, there is a way to spot him before you get in.  On his dashboard will be an apotropaic shrine, complete with a few Buddhist talismans and a flower rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and if you look inside, you will see white smudges in the shape of a pyramid on the ceiling where a monk has blessed the car.  All of this is designed to protect the driver from accidents, and from the idiotic way Pale Rider drives, it is clear he truly believes no harm can come to him.  I, on the other hand, am not so confident.  I spend the whole ride with my fingers dug three inches into the upholstery and my eyes the size of volleyballs.

My first experience with Pale Rider wasn’t too bad when I first got in.  We were in Bangkok traffic where everything was bumper to bumper so there wasn’t much he could do, but when we got on the tollway where he could let it out and run, I was so scared I almost got religion.  It wasn’t that he was driving twice the speed limit.  The problem was how he would weave wildly in and out of traffic and tailgate anyone that dared to block his progress…and by tailgate, I mean he got so close to the car in front of us, all he had to do to have anal sex with the other driver was unzip.  It was insane.  If the other guy so much as tapped his brake, we were goners.  It probably wasn’t a good idea to distract Pale Rider at that moment, but I remember squeaking something about slowing the fuck down, and evidently, my squeak was still in the range of human hearing because he immediately began to back off.  Then he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “What’s the matter, aren’t you in a hurry?”

Sigh.

I told him, “I’m not in a hurry to die, if that’s what you mean.” Then I instructed him to take the next exit.  I hailed a new taxi for the remaining ride home…one without a shrine.

The Predator: This vermin preys on tourists.  You will find his taxi outside the major hotels, tourist sites, and those certain areas that specialize in the sex market.  He has a slimy quality about him that is visual.  He wears wraparound sunglasses, a pinkie ring, a toothpick in his mouth.  He never smiles.  When you get in, he will invariably lean over the seat to inspect you…he pushes the sunglasses down his nose to get a better look, two beady eyes appear.  I love this guy.  I’m going to have fun with him.

I know what’s going to happen so I try not to speak in Thai at first; I tell him the address and that is all.  Satisfied he has a sucker in his cab, he pushes his sunglasses back up and pulls away from the curb.  He does not start the meter.  I wait a few moments and ask, “Meter?”  Him: “No meter.”  So I say, flatly this time, “Meter.”  Him: “I take you, 500 Baht.”  I ignore that and say again, “Meter.”  Him: “Meter broke, 500 Baht.”  And by this time he is well into traffic and far from the tourist site where he picked me up.  If he lets me out now he will waste gas to get back there, and then he will be at the back of the long queue of other predator taxis…so I now say, in Thai this time, “If your meter is broke, I’ll just get out here.”  His head whips around and again he unleashes his beady eyes on me.  He curses in Thai under his breath.  I smile.

The Mentally Deceased: I tweeted about one of these gents a while back.  He was old, although to say he was old is something of an understatement.  He was a poorly preserved antique, and his brain had gone to rust.  I looked up from my reading to find we were on a road oddly bucolic for the middle of Bangkok where we were supposed to be.  I leaned up and — not too loudly because I didn’t want to stress his heart while he was going 50 KPH and in control of the steering wheel — I said, “Where the fuck are we?”  He rounded and looked at me as if he was aware for the first time he had a passenger.  I continued, “The Sky Train?…at Mo Chit?”  And at that point recognition came into his eyes and he started bobbing apologetically.  He had forgotten.  He was sorry.  He’d taken the wrong turn.  He would adjust the meter so I wouldn’t have to pay.  He was embarrassed.

Sigh.

And that, my friends, is the problem with the mentally deceased.  They are such genuinely sweet people you cannot possibly be angry with them.  He had me feeling guilty for not going the direction he was going.  I heard myself telling him, “It’s no problem, don’t worry.  We’ll get there soon enough.  It’s no big deal, really.”  And, of course, I wouldn’t let him adjust the meter.  I would pay the full amount.  I guess the lesson here is that if you’re a tourist and don’t know the route to your destination, it is probably better to avoid the mentally deceased taxi driver.  You tell him to take you to Bangkok’s Weekend Market and you’re likely to spend the weekend in jail for trying to enter Burma illegally.  However, if you do happen to find yourself with such a driver, I strongly advise that you remind him often where it is you’re going, avoid loud noises, and keep a close eye on his pulse.

***

So there you have it.  While writing this I had to go out a couple of times and I took taxis hoping for a terrible experience to share with you.  Unfortunately, both drivers were friendly and professional.  It really pissed me off.  But that just underscores the fact that most of Bangkok’s taxi drivers are excellent.  The five woeful beings I just described are rarities for the most part.  Oh, if you’re a tourist, you’re going to run into The Predator a few times, but just know that their meter is never broken, and if they refuse to turn it on, get out.  It’s not as if it’s going to be difficult to find another taxi.  All you’ll have to do is raise your hand and watch as three or four of them fight to the death to get to you first.

[I dedicate this post to the lovely and ever young Denise Railey, known on Twitter as @sunnysocal.  She was another friend that urged me to start a blog.  She might well have been the first to suggest it, but it’s been so long ago I can’t remember for sure.  That’s what happens when one is slowly transforming into one of the mentally deceased as I am.  Denise’s first novel is in the works, but you can enjoy her writing now at her blog: http://deniserailey.wordpress.com/ ]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.