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.]

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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/ ]

One of my favorite moments in a movie was a scene where a woman turned to a man as they were exiting a theater and said, “What do you think the significance of the Rolls Royce was?”  The man, nodding thoughtfully, replied, “I think that represented his car.”

I think of that scene sometimes when I overhear people discussing movies or art and the conversations descend into pseudo-intellectual blatherskite.  One such conversation in particular comes to mind.  I remember I had ducked into the Smithsonian’s Museum of Modern Art to avoid a sudden rainstorm.  I know almost nothing about modern art, but I figured I could at least enjoy being dry while not knowing anything about modern art.  So I loitered.  And, though my knowledge was limited, I did loiter past some names I recognized.  There were a few Picassos…everyone knows Picasso…and I spotted at least one Miro.  The Miro was a painting of a circus horse and I stared at it for ten minutes before I gave up trying to find anything resembling a circus or a horse.  Then I saw a wall full of lips by Warhol. There were many lips.  I’m pretty sure he liked lips.  A little further, I happed upon some bronzes by Matisse and Henry Moore and remember thinking the ones by Matisse needed better skin care…some exfoliation and toner, perhaps.  And, finally, I saw the painting that is the star of this recollection.  It was a painting by Jackson Pollock.

I’m sure you know who Pollock was and how he worked his magic.  He would lay a canvas flat on the floor and then drip, slop, sling, and sprinkle paint down on it…sometimes detritus from his cigarette would also sprinkle into the composition…and the result truly was magic because the art world responded.  I have a theory that the magic worked something like this: one or more art experts, people who drop their jaws and speak without moving their tongues, decided that Pollock’s struggles with his inner demons of alcoholism and depression qualified him as a troubled genius, and that Pollock’s technique was just novel enough that it could only be inspired by eccentric genius.  They, thus, proclaimed him and his work, well, genius.  That they didn’t appreciate or understand the genius made no matter; they would pretend to appreciate and understand it.  And because they liked it, so did the rest of the art world.  Magic!  Jackson Pollack was a hit.

When I first saw the painting, it was at the far end of a long, narrow room that looked to me more like a wide hallway.  It sat on an easel to the right of the far exit, and as it was the only painting not hanging on the wall, it became the focal point of the room.  The name of the painting was “The Tiger,” and I spent less time looking at it than I did the Miro to decide there wasn’t anything remotely resembling a tiger in it.  Here, see for yourself…

Okay, maybe if I had taken a hit of acid and squinted my eyes till they bled, I could have spotted a tiger lurking in its depths, but I was drug free and sane enough to see it as nothing I or anyone else couldn’t do dripping, slopping, slinging, and sprinkling paint on a canvas.  Let me prove my point.  Look closely at the painting and ask yourself this question: Is it right side up?

Well?

You could sit that canvas on any of its four sides and it wouldn’t make an iota’s difference, am I right?  Why?  Well, because there isn’t any subject…there isn’t any tiger, not crouching nor lying nor standing on its pink little nose.  Perhaps, and this is just my opinion, the painting is more aptly called “The Tiger Camouflaged by an Impenetrable Eyesore of Dripped, Slopped, Slung, and Sprinkled Paint.”  But, as with beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder, and I stood there and eavesdropped as many a beholder walked up to praise The Tiger.  What was fascinating to me was that none of them liked the painting until they’d approached close enough that they could read the plaque that told them it was a Jackson Pollock.  Then they loved it.  For thirty minutes, I stood there and listened to an endless litany of adjectives like powerful, awesome, stunning, deep, moving, and, yes, genius.

Sigh…

I was looking for something sharp to stab myself with when things started to look up.  A middle-aged couple appeared in the far doorway, and they looked like they were packing loads of entertainment value.  I got the feeling the husband would have much preferred to be gawking at the Air and Space exhibits.  He sulked with disinterest by his wife’s side.  She, on the other hand, was in her element.  She was the only person who recognized the Pollock from the far end of the room and she made sure everyone within shouting distance knew it.  I watched her drag her unimpressed husband up to the painting and tried my damndest to keep a straight face.

She began instructing her husband as to why it was such a great work of art; she was a fount of theories about how the painting channeled the spirit and form of a tiger.  She pontificated with such melodramatic passion and grandiloquence that I half expected her to switch to French at any moment.  It was torture.  I had the overwhelming urge to snatch the canvas from its easel and beat her with it.  Then I heard her ask her husband a question that stopped me cold.  She said, “What do you think the green symbolizes?”

The scene from the movie flashed into my mind.  I held my breath in anticipation.  I silently rooted him on.  Say it!  Say it, damn you, say it!  And I was so surprised I could have pissed myself when he actually did!  He nodded thoughtfully and replied, “To me, dear, it just looks like green paint.”

Yes!  I stifled a laugh…or I tried to, anyway.  A loud snort escaped through my nose.  Let me put it this way, it packed enough force that I needed a handkerchief.  I willed myself invisible and slunk toward the exit.  As I was leaving, the woman was leaning back and examining her husband as if she’d just discovered she was standing next to a huge pile of turds.  He shrugged.  At that moment, he was my hero.  It wasn’t that the green couldn’t have represented something.  Sure it could…it could represent purple if you want it to.  The thing is it could just as validly represent something completely different to the next person.  It’s the reason a song will mean different things to different people.  Anyway, I think we can safely say that, in this case, the brave husband was right: the green in the Pollack painting represented nothing more than the color green.  Her attempt to make that inscrutable muddle a tiger and the green mean something other than green was just mental masturbation.

I reached the street to find the sun shining and a rainbow arcing across the sky.  The rain had cleansed the air and everything seemed in perfect focus.  I looked around and took in all I could see.  Every color Mr. Pollock had strewn across his canvas was there in that incredible scene and I wondered why I was the only one stopping to admire it.  It certainly had more transcendental capacity to induce orgasmic ranting than the Pollock painting.  Besides, there was even one cloud hovering overhead — a magnificent, towering cloud — that looked remarkably like a tiger.

[Just for fun: Can you name the movie where the scene described in paragraph one occurred?]