Ed O’Neil (yes, Al Bundy) circa 1980.
Dogs Of War
Ed O’Neil (yes, Al Bundy) circa 1980.
Dogs Of War
My girlfriend is a nurse. I never ask her how her day is. I used to. Until one day she told me she had to stuff someone’s uterus back inside them. Not only do I not want to hear about that, there’s no way I can top it in the bad work day sweepstakes.
It’s not that I won’t listen. I’m just not volunteering.
“I admitted a guy today with no penis or asshole.”
I got excited and said,
“You admitted GI Joe?!?!”
One of the questions I’m most often asked, right behind,
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” (I don’t know if I should count that one due to my girlfriends unfair advantage of proximity)
“How do you come up with your ideas?”
To that I answer,
And that’s pretty much true. It could be a person walking past or a full-formed thought that pops into my head just before I fall asleep (like the script idea that popped into my head a couple of weeks ago that, although a trifle, I knew it would be easy to write. So, 20-25 hours later, I get it done. No one’s read it – not that I’m embarrassed by it so if anyone would like to, let me know – because I’m not sure it has a market and I don’t think it’s funny enough).
The thing is you really just have to be on the lookout for it because ideas are everywhere. A snippet of conversation can lead to a joke, the way a row boat bobs in the water can lead to a sad story, the rhythm of the rain on a window can flip you into a horrendous situation. Then sometimes something hits you in the face and there’s nothing you can do but report it.
I was aimlessly flipping through the channels when I passed the local access channel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything other than notices about pancake breakfasts and snow emergency parking rules and this time was only slightly different.
The difference was the sex offender registry. While these men are not wanted by the police (that information was the largest portion of the screen) their faces, names, work and home addresses blipped across the screen with the Marvin Gaye classic, “Let’s Get It On” serving as the soundtrack of their lives.
After I regained myself and started to go aimless again I thought,
“You know what would be cool? An Ex Offender Registry to list bad ex’s.”
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because I let people talk for uninterrupted periods of time. Maybe it’s because I pretend to give a shit so often I’m damn good at it. Whatever it is, people tend to tell me stuff (truly amazing stuff you’d have to devise the most horrific torture to get out of me) and want me to support them in their endeavor.
It’s usually acquaintance types who do that so I guess that’s some of the explanation. Don’t get me wrong, I do things for my actually friends too but those things lean more towards lifting, hiding, or disposing of heavy things. They know better than to tell me their deepest, darkest demons unless they need a laugh about it.
They’d never do something like want my shoulder to cry on during a divorce. Those people are more likely to run their plans for revenge past me to see if I can find flaws. But the acquaintance type needs to use me to vent. Sorry, spunky, I ain’t a heat exchange, peddle you’re piddling ass problems elsewhere.
That’s not to say I won’t be there because I will. I don’t mind helping someone in crisis as long as they don’t mind my using their sadness as fodder. It’s not really an even exchange (I have to sit there sometimes for hours without shaking whereas they don’t help write my bit about it) but one I’ve resigned myself to enduring.
This acquaintance has been talking about his pending divorce for what seems like longer than he was married. I listen and nod and try to see if there are any flaws in my revenge plans. And, truly, I don’t mind. As long as there are rules. Rule, actually. That rule states, you come to me. I don’t go to you. I don’t go with you. I don’t actually do anything. Seems fair. If you’re going to beat on my ear drum all day I shouldn’t have to travel to get the pounding.
“Would you come to a support meeting with me?”
Are you unaware of the only fucking rule about me helping you, spunky?
“It’d mean a lot to me.”
What was that? I can be mean a lot to you?
Of course we all know I went. I’ve never been to any type of support meeting. I don’t even wear underwear, that’s how little support I need!
We walk into this room and it’s full of whiny, complaining, ex-hating twits. They ruined my life! They got my house! They weren’t the person I married.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And right across town your ex is saying the same shit about you. Roll with it or get rolled over, chuckles.
When we were trying to sit it turned out there were only single seats. He’s hesitant so I pushed him in the direction of a seat between a crying woman and a guy who was rocking back and forth. I found a seat between two guys who were glaring straight ahead. My peeps!
I’m listening to the stories and, yeah, okay, fine. Life didn’t work out the way you planned. Do you think I wanted to be doing this for a living? Do you think I want to be here? Do you think I’m not having a heck of a time stopping myself from laughing right out loud?
As time goes on people start to whine down. The leader looks around and sees that everyone’s had a handful of snivel snacks. Except me. He starts to ask why I came and I don’t want to make my acquaintance seem even more of a whiny maggot than he is so I say I’d rather not discuss it.
Turns out that’s like waving black eyeliner at a goth.
“I’ve been listening to everyone’s stories and I feel for you all, I really do.” I always say that when I really don’t. Gives an air of care, don’t ya think? “But that’s not me.” I can tell they’re trying to have me shed some light on my darkness but I stop them. I guess the only thing I can do to get them to stop badgering me is to come clean.
“Besides, the only reason I’m here is for the alibi.”
You’d think a conglomerate of gloom like this, with revenge fantasies in their heads, would find that, if not funny, at least a damn good idea.
A guy begins to relate a story to me,
“I wish you were there, you would have died.”
I looked him right in the eyes and said,
“Then I’m glad I wasn’t.”
I was editing an exceptionally lame script for this guy. It had been pretty painful because, evidence to the contrary, he thought every word was a gem. The script has slight chance at getting read; slim chance at getting moved up the ladder; no chance at getting sold. It’s hack, plotless, and poorly structured.
I really could do nothing for it. The patient was dead and rigor had set in. Of course, I didn’t know that when I took the job but knew I was in an overflowing bucket of shit and potatoes before page one was turned.
I did my job as quickly as possible. I hate the smell of rotting brain cells in the morning. I sent him back his script with my notes. I was as kind as I could be. I’m not totally evil. He’s not a pro so I treated it as such. I’m not saying one day he can’t be the greatest writer of all time but I’m also not saying I can’t become a flamenco dancer.
It took some doing but I did make some points that stabbed through his cement encrusted head. I’m not saying it wasn’t a contentious arrangement or that he will pay attention to my notes or that any of this matters but, just as we are ending our acquaintance, he says,
“They don’t make ‘em like you anymore.”
I smiled at him and responded with,
“That’s because my parents are dead.”
I’m outside of the coffee shop talking with a gentleman while his kid stands there quietly. After the Monday snow storm we had people are in a pretty good mood to have a day that clear and 44 degrees. That’s how low this winter has beat out standards.
He tells me that K-Fed is going on tour with Britney and getting five grand a week to watch their kids.
“Five grand! To watch his own damn kids! That’s not right!”
“Shit, I’d go on a baby killing tour for five k a week.”
I know what you’re saying, ‘Hey, idiot! Why would we want to hear about that? It sounds, and I don’t want to say it, normal.’ And you’re right. Impatient, but right.
I’m near the end of the transaction when his kid holds up his Mr. Potato Head, asks if, when I was a kid, I had a Mr. Potato Head.
“Nope,” I began. “I had a Mr. Potato Salad.”
The kids looking at me like the idiot I am when, about ten feet in front of us, a guy steps away from a vehicle he was talking into and the car pulls away. It’s not even ten feet away when he yells,
“Hey! Get back here!”
The car stops. Feeling as if his will has been followed he begins to walk toward the car as it shifts into reverse and knocks him down.
During his protests (“What the fuck are you doing you crazy bitch!?!? was one of them as he dusted off the seat of his pants) I shake the guy’s hand who I’ve been talking to, shake the kids head, and say,
“Love is in the air and it’s crashing to the ground.”
I walk past the car as the guy gets in screaming as she pulls the car around and through the parking lot.
Gotta love young love.
I had to exit the building on non-vital business. As you could imagine, the building has many methods of egress. Some more desirable than others.
I’m not talking about the opulence of the doorway or kindness of those you meet along the way. I’m talking about what it spills out to. I’ve exited into many thorny or weird situations (I was leaving through a service elevator, threw open the outside door and had a guys head – still attached to his body – thud between my feet. Another passenger looked at him and said, “Hi, Chuck.”) so, as you could imagine, I’m hard pressed to pay it any mind.
I turn a slight corner and see a guy facing the wall. That’s never a good sign due to the fact there are limited reasons to be doing that.
A) A time out
B) He’s pissing
Just so you know, it’s never letter A.
I see fluid shimmer between his feet. He must have heard me but that didn’t stop the flow of production. He turned his head to better face me, blinked himself into focus a time or two and said,
“I wouldn’t step in that. It’s coming out burning like hell.”
Who says man has ceased looking out for his fellow man?
As I’ve mentioned before (right here actually – http://tinyurl.com/66xexy) there are certain words, phrases, and actions I find inelegant. Not that I could ever be considered elegant (I swear and glare too much for that) but that doesn’t stop me from blanching at others.
I’m not talking about the common words that don’t exist but are heard daily or ones that are mispronounced. I’m talking about phrases that are full blown lies (have you ever called someone at 3:17AM who said they’re there for you 24/7?) and one of the biggest is, “Doing the right thing.” As in,
“I’m trying to do the right thing here.”
“I just want to do the right thing.”
“I’m here to do the right thing.”
“That’s why I’m here. To do the right thing.”
The sentence structure is almost endless but they only have one thing in common. They are lies. Blatant, flippant, out-right lies. No matter the phrasing, what they really mean to say is,
“There’s no way in fuckin’ hell I wanna be doin’ this but I couldn’ think of a friggin’ way outta it.”
I’ve never heard ‘doing the right thing’ and not checked the lock on my chastity belt.
Over the past few months I’ve been dealing with the reigning king of do the right thing. I’d inwardly moan when I’d see him walk in because every transaction was mind-numbingly similar. He’d tell me, even though it’s not his problem, he’s here to do the right thing. Facts are malleable to right thingers. In this case, the absolute fact, backed up by signatures and government issue identification, is it is his problem.
Then he’d give me some of the money he owes. Well, he’d put it on the counter but never actually release it. He’d toy with it. Caress it. All the while telling me his tragic tale of woe.
What’s often also true with right thingers is their tale is an S.I.W. They robbed those people. They did those drugs. They did the time. Sounds like self-inflicted wounds to me.
The next step, with the cash still being fondled like a passed out prom date, is threats. Some from past lives (“If I was still the guy I was I’da shot you by now.”); some vague (“I know what time you get here.”); some delusional (“I know powerful people.”). Each time we’d get to this part in the proceedings I tell him if he doesn’t want to pay, don’t. But stop giving me shit.
That’s when there’d be a stand-off. For a moment. Then he’d explode. Screaming, banging, carrying-on. More threats. More excuses. More examples of him doing the right thing followed by negotiation. I’d tell him we’ve negotiated a buy out, signed by him of his own volition, and that’s what we’re sticking to. Once I said that, he’d go back to threats. This time less on my brain seeing more sunlight than is generally deemed safe and more on getting his powerful people to bring the company down.
After I’d tell him to do what he had to do, whether that was pay or not, kill or not, topple the company or not, he’d toss (yes, toss. I’d end up with a chest full of twenties) the money at me. Well, part of it. Like I said, this went on for months so he’d always short pay.
But, finally, like a persistent rectal itch, it too passed. I gave him a paid in full receipt, he called me all kindsa colorful and hateful names, and I didn’t give him another thought.
A gentleman introduced himself with the air of someone who figured I’d know who he was. Imagine his surprise when it turned out I had no damn clue. Flustered, as only someone with an ego inflated to his level could, he pulls out his official government identification.
Boy did I feel foolish! How could I not know the city councilor of a section of a city I not only don’t live or work in but wouldn’t even pass through? So I guess you knew there was only one thing I could do to make up for my faux paux. I gathered all my sincerity and said,
The nerve of some people! In the presence of greatness with an utter lack of respect. I don’t know, sort of sums me up, don’t you think?
He begins to explain why he’s here. He didn’t need to, I knew why he was here the moment I saw his cracker jack prize ID, but he did come all the way across city lines so I let him go. Until the story began to verge into the realm of fantasy.
After my sixth utterance of,
“That’s not what happened.”
I reminded him, again, that, being indoors, we use our indoor voice and if he continued to talk over me we would not get anywhere with this situation.
How come it’s never the pissed off person in front of you who’ll do the real damage? It’s always some unseen gawdhead of immense power who will do you in? I mean, I have people, but I’m more of a hands on kinda guy with my problems.
“I know people in your city hall.”
“Are we gonna play my father can beat up your father?”
I asked if he knew this guy, a well-connected politician in his city way above his pay grade. Then I asked if he knew this guy’s political second. Then I asked him if he knew this other guy. He balked at the third name. I smiled knowing the third guy was the power behind that lineage.
“Let’s focus on the issue at hand, shall we?”
I do my own dirty work but I’m not above showing my hand.
Of course, not all people have the same self-reliance. He threatens us with every branch of city, state, and federal hound he can think of. To each I respond,
“Bring it on.”
We run a clean business. We’re up to code. But that’s not why I’m so cocky. He’s played out. He’s pulled out everything he has and none of it matters on this side of town. I can see him slowly reach this conclusion. As he does, his tone changes. Not his volume, he’s still as loud as a car crash, but now he’s directly defending his constituent.
“The only reason he was here was to do the right thing.”
“If so, why did he pull the same shit you just did? Every time he stepped in here he’d threaten me with bodily harm, threaten the business, and end the proceedings by throwing the money he legally owed at me.”
“That’s not how he tells it. You don’t know what you’re talking about. He must have dealt with someone else.”
“I was the only one who dealt with him. I’m the only one without an agenda. I’m the only one telling the truth. And do you know how I can prove that?”
“By telling you he threatened to, to quote, ‘sic my juice on you.’” I look him in his eyes and with as much derision I can twist into my voice say, “You’re his juice?”
He begins, sadly, at the beginning. As he regales me with tales of the damage he can do I softly say,
“He’s paid. No longer a client. We have no further business with him. We have no further need of your presence in this building.”
I turn and walk to my desk. I knew that wasn’t going to get him to exit in any reasonable time but I knew while he babbled I could get some paperwork done. I do like to make the best use of my time.
I let him go on for a few minutes before I put down my pen and look at him. He stops talking long enough for me to say,
“As you can see, I’ve got more pressing items to take care of so let’s get to the end. You came here. You juiced all over my floor. Now, you can go back and, just like your constituent, spin any tale you’d like. How I cowered at your presence. How you saved the day and taught the evil business to respect those who are only trying to do the right thing. Whatever you want to say. Just leave so you can do it.”
Boy, some people are difficult to make happy. Here I am giving him an opportunity to shine in the eyes of the community and all he can do is threaten me. I guess it’s true, people do get the government they deserve.
“You haven’t heard the last from me.” He bangs on the counter while I file papers. He stares at me. Waiting for me to look him in the eye to see those vibrant orbs of power. I do and smile.
“I’m sure if you don’t get that park renovation through the council it will be.”
I see his glare slip.
“Good luck with your re-election. At least you’ll get one vote.”
Okay, so I may let people do my dirty work from time to time.
But I never show my entire hand.
Those politicians I mentioned? I’ve written speeches for them.
We visited a place I visited once a week when I lived in the area. It’s been so long I knew I’d know no one. Well, even when I went no one knew me. I’d get out of work, stop in for a couple, not get into conversations and leave. It’s why I liked it. It was a very grew up together, outsiders sort of tolerated kind of place place.
I’m watching the ballgame from the empty side of the bar while my girlfriend talks real estate with the bartender. I wasn’t paying attention. I was sipping my beer thinking my stupid thoughts. This time, what was occupying truly too much of my time was,
“Why would someone beat someone about their head and shoulders? I mean, sure they may be ugly, but is that any reason to smack them around?”
Suddenly my girlfriend asked if I’d heard that. She’s always asking if I hear stuff I didn’t hear. Or pretend not to hear. Six of one. . .
She tells me the guy sitting in the middle of four other guys is talking about the president and it’s turned racial. The guys around him aren’t reacting. I figure this is how the guy gets and they’ve learned not to engage.
I also notice no one, not even the bartender, is making eye contact with our end of the bar. I’ve seen this before. No one wants to acknowledge to strangers they’re in the company of the guy. It’s sad that it has to descend to that but sadder the only response is avoidance. Situations like this remind me of the Eddie Murphy SNL skit, Undercover White Man. I can’t help but to wonder, if we weren’t there, how much different the outcome would be.
When the guy sees he’s getting no attention he starts to exit. The locals slowly look at us to gauge our reactions. I know it’s hard for her not to say something but she doesn’t.
Which leaves an opening for me! I sit up straight with a big, game show smile on my face and say,
“We hope you enjoyed this episode of ‘Rapper or Racist!’ Make sure to tune in tomorrow, same ass time, same asshole!”