Monday, February 2, 2015

Straight to Hell

There ain't no need for you!
There ain't no need for you…
Go straight to hell, boy…
Go straight to hell, boy!

D’ya wanna know a secret?  I think I like The Menzingers’ cover of Straight to Hell better than the original rendition by The Clash.  Don’t tell anyone.  The punk community would have me taken outside the city limits and stoned to death.  It’s not that The Menzingers are a bad band (they’re one of the best punk bands to come out of the 2000s); it’s just unfathomably heretical to say anyone can do a Clash song better than The Clash.  If you ask me though, The Menzingers just run a current through the song that The Clash never did.  Kicks ya right in the ass.

But who am I to say?  I’m probably drunk…

You wanna join in a chorus
Of the Amerasian blues?
When it's Christmas out in Ho Chi Minh City
Kiddie say papa papa papa papa papa-san, take me home

“See me got’a pho’o—pho’o—pho’ograp’! Uh you an’ Ma’, Ma’a-san!  Uh you ‘n’ Ma’a Ma’a-san!”

Well, judging from my slurring I’m definitely drunk.  I push myself off the couch and stagger toward the kitchen for another drink.  Swaying around my coffee table and managing to squeeze through the doorway that refuses to stay still, I nearly topple over the second my foot hits vinyl.  For a moment I look like one of those child’s toys, weighted at the bottom so I’ll always bounce back up for me.  The counter pushes me to the refrigerator which bounces me in a semi-circle before I catch myself on the stove.

“Wezley wob’les bu’ he ‘on’t fall down!  Hee Hee!”

I slump to the floor still laughing.  I dunno when the evening stopped being funny, but pretty soon I’m crying instead of laughing.

“The’ you re’lize you got’a ‘ave a pur’ose…or ‘his place iz gonna knock you ou’ sooner er la’er.”

I ignore the bottle sitting somewhere above my head and I ignore that I’m still wearing everything but my suit jacket.  Instead I focus on how nice the cool, smooth floor feels against my throbbing head and I drift listlessly into dark.


I wake up to the dull patter of rain against the kitchen window.  Gray, shifting skies tell me the rain probably won’t let up any time soon.  Just as well, if the sun was out in full force I’d have to pull the curtains for the sake of my headache.  I push myself up off the ground (upsy-daisy) and squeeze my eyes shut, waiting for the motion sickness to pass.  Just makes me wonder why I drink.

As I dig my hands in the cold, dark dirt
In a search for roots now lost forever
With one last great hope of a messiah
I check the time and admit to the surrender terms.
Remember the days when I had a conscience?
Yeah, me neither.

I shuffle into the living room and jab at the stereo’s power button to kill the music.  I don’t really like the silence any better, so I turn the power back on and scroll through my iPod.  I settle on a playlist and turn the volume down a bit.  Red City Radio filters through the speakers.

We're moving backwards, not forwards
And the time we've wasted is killing us
And it's time that we all grow up
And it's time that we lose our way home
And it's time that we found a new one
Where nobody else knows

Good modern punk bands are few and far between so I spend a minute just enjoying the music.

Next up is a change of clothes and a thorough mouth cleaning.  I wobble down the hall, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and do a double take.  I’m still baby-faced, my haircut is still too short, and my eyes are still bloodshot but the shadowy figure is no longer standing over my shoulder.  Life’s little blessings.

I kick off my shoes and strip off my shirt, my tie, and my slacks.  My phone falls out of my pocket, hitting the carpet with a soft whump.  Without giving it any real thought I scoop the phone off the ground, run my thumb of the screen in a jagged, angular pattern to unlock it, and scroll down to Jenna’s number.

Her voice is warm and friendly and inviting and her laugh is so genuine I almost forget why I’m calling.  She asks if I wanna put something on the books and I ask if she’s got time for me tonight.  I can hear her smiling on the other end of the line when she tells me that she does indeed and would I like to meet at her place or mine.  I tell her mine and not to eat, I’ll cook for her.

“Nobody else is half the gentleman you are, Wesley.  I’ll be around at 8.”

           And the only thing we know
           Is it’s getting dark and we better go
           And the only thing we say
           Are the despairs of the day

           And if you’re too tired
           Go to sleep, my brothers, I
           And if you’re too tired
           Go to sleep, my brothers, I’m alright to drive

           And we’re much too young of men
           To carry such heavy heads
           And tonight for the first time
           It felt good to be alive

I put the appointment into my phone’s calendar within a second of hanging up.  I set an alarm as well.  I’d like to say I did this because I was so thoroughly organized but the truth was that an alarm made sure I didn’t start drinking again and lose track of the day. 

I scratch my ribs, a familiar gesture that ran my fingernails over an old tattoo.  Four vertical black bars staggered so that the first and third were shifted up slightly higher than the second and third.  It had faded a bit during its decade plus long life, but there’s no mistaking Black Flag’s logo. 

Water, the only fully functional part of my brain reminds me.  My brain’s developed a heartbeat and my stomach feels like a landfill and everyone on earth has a surefire (made-up) way to cure a hangover, but at the end of the day a hangover’s dehydration. 

That and your brain trying to comprehend its own stupidity.  And either way, a greasy breakfast from McDonald’s the same as a sugar pill.

I stick glass under the sink, fill it, and chug it and then repeat the process, ignoring the uncomfortable sloshing feeling in my stomach. 

Standing in my kitchen, mostly naked, squinting, sipping a third class of water, and smelling like a guy who got thrown out of bar and kept on drinking once he got home, I put the glass down and head to the bathroom.  Calling Jenna distracted me earlier, but basic hygiene still needs attending to.

I catch my hand before it automatically flips the bathroom light on and tend to myself in a state of grey that seems to only exist on cloudy weekend mornings. 

Four aspirin first.  Someone at the office yesterday was telling me that dry swallowing pills, especially on an empty stomach was bad for you, and when I politely pretending that was interesting information I would use to better my life, went on to tell me that I shouldn’t even keep pills in the bathroom at all.  I wondered aloud why they called it a medicine cabinet if I wasn’t supposed to keep pills in it.  I never caught the explanation over the raucous in my head, wondering why I was the only person dumb enough to get stuck in these conversations.  I splash my face with water, run a toothbrush around my mouth, and try to avoid making eye contact with myself in the mirror. 

A fine bit of advice:  never make eye contact with someone looking for a fight.

Hey hey, I got a monster in the closet
The door's open even though I've tried to lock it
His teeth are long, he's gonna eat me today
No matter what you say, I won't be OK, so there

Hey hey, won't you just turn out your pocket
And gimme something I can put up on the docket
A simple strategy for fighting it back,
It's not like talking to it nice is gonna put it on track

Just a stick or a broom that'll help me get it out of the room
I don't wanna meet my own doom tonight

So hey, just help me out
Lend me a shotgun please for just one bout

Shorts, t-shirt, socks, and tennis shoes.  I’ve been paying for gym membership for seven years now, despite the fact that the last two years I can count the number of times I went on one hand.  It’s already May and this year’s numbers are on-track to be even worse.  I stuff a change of clothes into my gym bag along with a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut because who am I kidding, I can dress up all I want, I’m not going to the gym. 

I’ll walk to the bakery around the corner and then sit outside somewhere and maybe finish a book I’ve already read three times.


“My jaw hurts.”

Jenna laughed.  It was warm and genuine and not at me.  Never at me, even when I was the only thing to laugh at.  She took the icepack out of my hand and pressed it to my jaw.  “Of course it does, Wes.  You got yourself punched by the pizza delivery boy.  You’re lucky he didn’t rob you afterward.”

“Eh.  He was a nice enough guy, just wanted what he was owed.”

She smiled.  “That’s a rather kind assessment of a man you just got into a fistfight with.”

“Hah!  You are a very generous person to call me getting laid out by a frat boy a ‘fight’.”

“Oh, I should see the other guy.  I bet he’s a mess.”

“He may not look it, but he is all torn up inside.  I bet it took him minutes, nay, seconds to recover.”  I run my tongue over my teeth.  Thankfully nothing seems obviously loose.  “At least he waited for a full three days after my jaw stopped hurting from last time.”

She laughed again.  “Oh God, that’s right.  You never told me what that was.”

Smiling costs me dearly, but it really is a funny story.

My head slid off of my hand and hit the bar chin first.  Randall muffled a laugh behind his washcloth.

“Fallin’ asleep on me Wesley?”

I smiled.  I could see my reflection in the mirror behind the bar, I looked drunk and cheery.

“Asleep?  Nah.  I’m just plotting, but I fell too deep into my own schemes and lost track of the real world.”

This earned a belly laugh from Randall that he didn’t bother to hide.  “And what the hell are you plotting with yourself in such a sorry state?”

I grin my drunk’s grin again and point a wobbling finger toward the shelf over Randall’s shoulder.  “That bottle ‘a whiskey.  I’m gonna steal it.”

Randall’s expression becomes the same semi-solemn look one gives to a drunk or a child who wants to be taken seriously.  I wonder which he thinks I am.  “S’at so?  And how do you plan to pull off such a caper?”

“Hee Hee.  I can’t tell you that, Randall.”

“Yeah, cuz if I knew you were gonna steal it, I’d be able to stop you.  Can’t have the heist of the century foiled by a bartender past his fightin’ prime.  It’d be an embarrassment.”

I tapped a finger against the general vicinity of my nose, careful to avoid putting an eye out.  It took me three tries, but I finally managed to stop poking my cheek.

“Another beer, bar keep!”

Randall rolls his eyes and fills another mug.  He sets it in front of me with a heavy thunk.  Randall doesn’t cheap out on his mugs, they’re solid and heavy and they make me think of a longhouse full of Vikings swilling mead and swaying back and forth after a successful day of looting and plundering.  Randall wanders further down the bar to tend to other customers, shaking his head and smiling.  The moment his back’s turned I make my move.  I pull myself up onto the bar and lunged toward the top shelf, hand extended toward the stubby neck of the bottle.  Things start going sideways before I’ve covered half the distance.

Something brushed against my chest and my beer spills.  Tenuous was my grip on the bar before my hand was covered in beer and suddenly my grip is nonexistent.  My stomach hits the bar and I start a rapid, face-first, decent to the floor behind the bar.  Some generous, burly soul grabs my ankle and the back of my pants to keep me from breaking my face on tile.  Instead my head jerks forward and my chin hits a shelf beneath the bar hard enough that I lose a couple seconds.

Bobby the Bouncer has me on the ground, leaning against the bar and is asking me questions.  Failing to foil my heist, he decided to foil my fall instead.  I smile and thank Bobby and he tells me his name’s Barrett.  I like Bobby better, but whatever makes him happy.

Her laughter’s a little different this time, like it’s mixed with something else.  I don’t think I’ll like whatever that is, so I smile (painfully) again.

“Small wonder I didn’t end up with a concussion or a missing tooth.”

I take the ice pack away and wave my hand at the pizza sitting on the table. 

“Now, eat.  It’s not much, but I slaved over it all afternoon.”

We sit in silence for awhile, she eats and I ice. 

“This is the third time I’ve had to open a tab, does your guy do that with anyone else?”

Jenna’s caught pulling a piece of pizza away, strings of cheese stretching between the two, being pulled on the rack.  I can almost hear their little screams.

She shakes her head and swallows.  “Not that I know of.”  She smiles.  “I think he likes you.”

“No, he thinks I like you.”

She tilts her head to the side and smiles some more.  “Is he wrong?”

I smile, set the ice pack down, and reach for a slice of pizza.

“Ya know what fascinated me as a kid?”  She shakes her head politely.  “The little phantom things you see out of the corner of your eye.  Like when you think you see something until you look back and it’s gone.  I always thought there were little shadow people hiding in my periphery, living half in this world and half in imagination, and it would be my life’s work to find and study them.  Then I’d start writing a book and just got native or something, life amongst the shadow people.”

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