The Shrug of Life
I’m sitting in the back of Ana’s car flying through the carpool lane on the way to the Long Beach Arena to see Tool. I’ve got a Natty Ice (which is one of the pissiest of piss beers) that I chase down with the Sailor Jerry that’s going around. The pipe comes my way, I light it and take a hit, and it’s cashed. I tell Jai, he quickly grabs the pipe and a min later passes it back w/ fresh herbs. I light take a nice long slow toke hold it for an eternity b/f blowing wondrous smoke throughout the car that immediately goes flying out the window. Reggie hits me for Bogarting the pipe so I give hit to him then it goes to Ana who is only smoking and has only had a couple of beers since he’s driving. Ana drives with his knees whilst lighting and having a toke. I’m not worried by this because he’s an expert at it having learned at the feet of the best driver any of us have ever met Dean. I finish my beer open another. The Sailor J comes around I take a quick pull and chase it with the Natty. Now I’m REALLY FLYING and I want to stick my head out the window like a dog but do nothing of the sort because I don’t want to look foolish in front of my friends. Reggie puts the Sailor away wanting to save some for the return trip. That’s fine we’re working our way through a 30 pack and we just passed a sign saying “Long Beach City Limits.” I wasn’t going to see Tool. I’d seen them a couple of weeks ago @ the Great Western Forum when The Melvins opened for them with Jai, Deadbird, Ana, Davey-boy and Dean. That was on a Friday and we were rolling deep. This show’s early Sunday evening when most folks don’t do shit unless they don’t have a job or don’t give a fuck. Everyone worked except me. In fact everyone had four walls but me. It wasn’t a big thing though no one talked about it. I only came along to get fucked up. Now we were here and the boys wanted to know what I was going to do. “Bar hop”, I said. Ana gave me his phone and said they’d hit me up when the show was over. We parted and I was pretty faded but not overtly so and I walked down the street to the first bar I saw walked in sat at the end of the bar and ordered a beer. The game was on and everyone’s watching it. I never did like TVs in a bar. It seemed wrong somehow. Most of the people there only interacted with each other in reference to the TV. I couldn’t blame the bar for it they’re just trying to get with the times. I blame the patrons who seem to want to take all the comforts of home everywhere they go especially the goddamned TV. I finish my beer and get the hell out of there. I walk into the next bar where it's open mic comedy night. There's a guy onstage talking about how his wife caught him stroking it to some porn on his laptop in their bedroom.
“So I'm thinking shit I'm busted y'know and we're going to have 'the porno talk'.”
“What the fuck're you talkin about?!” a young broish looking douche yells before he orders a shot of Jägermeister confirming his douchery.
“Oh c'mon guys I know you've had to have the 'porno talk' with your lady after you get caught.”
“We don't get caught!” some other guy yells before wondering aloud where his chicken wings are. He finally the 'comic' ends the suspense and tells us.
“The porno talk is when you're smoothing shit over with your girl because she wants to know why you're jerkin it to two faked tittied bottled blonds going ass to ass. Now she thinks that if you had your way that's what you'd want 24/7. You try to convince her that it's not about that at all when OF COURSE IT IS ABOUT THAT! but you tell that you're just getting shit outta your system that sometimes you've got to 'pig out' to some porn here and there and that it's nothing but the little horny teenager in you acting up like when every nine, ten months you try to stick it up her ass.”
The crowd laughs a little but I can tell they're getting restless. It's Sunday night and the folks at the bars are the real drinkers, the pros (at the last the older cats in the bar are). They're trying to squeeze the last bit of life out of the weekend before they have to go back to the hellish job or the hellish whatever. They didn't leave the house to end up here and have some guy wearing a backwards Kango hat; cargo shorts, a Thundercat tee and sandals try to make them life by telling them his travails in marriage and porn. I wonder how whoever was hosting this mess would let him go on.
“But to my surprise we don't have the porno talk she says she wants to watch it with me. I'm thinking 'Damn this has the potential for utter awesomeness.' So I restart the video and she's next to me and she seems totally mesmerized you know like she's not even paying attention to me. So I'm thinking 'Alright she's digging, IT IS ON!' So I take out my junk y'know start stroking it a little and start touching her boobs y'know then my wife's trips out she's all like 'WHAT'RE DOING?!' all disgusted and stuff. And I'm like 'Finishing what I started'. And she's all like 'I said I wanted to watch it with you.' I tell her 'Yeah and this is what I do when I'm watching porn.' 'Well not with me it isn't. We're going to watch this shit not get off to it!' 'But honey...' 'Don't you 'but honey' me you want to watch porn fine but we're watching it together like a regular movie. You wouldn't jerk off to Gangs of New York would you?' 'No sweetie but...' 'Now hush this guy's showed up in a hard hat with a hammer talking about fixing the cable. I don't even think these sluts have a TV'. So I finish watching the porn with my wife and let me tell maybe in the 70s in like the Boogie Nights days you could actually watch a porn but now good god it's like slow death. Now I don't watch porn at all even when she's away. I tried to believe me I tried but I can't even get off because I keep imagining my wife watching it with me. So now I'm back to tuggin it in the shower and cursing the day I got married. Um yeah so...THAT'S ALL FOLKS!”
There was some scattered applause but I think that was mostly out of politeness. The MC thanked the guy whose name is Burt for being brave enough to get a Sunday night crowd of drunks to laugh at his 'humorous' trials and tribulations. Then the MC did a little bit of her own about how most of the guys she dated will only go down on her if she agrees to give them head first. According to her it wasn't like that in college and when she was in her 20s but now that she hit thirty guys want more tit for tat. I finished my beer and figured since I messed around with a few women in their thirties that I would enlighten her on the situation.
“It's because it could be a jungle down there.”
This to my surprise got a few laughs.
“How about that folks a funny man in the audience! Why don't you come up here and see how the other half lives.”
The crowd whoops and hollers at this. I'm not stupid they want fresh meat, young blood to suck on.
“No, no come on up you might think I have a jungle in here (pointing at her crotch) but wait till you get in front of THESE LIGHTS!”
The lights suddenly got blindly bright and I felt hands pushing me onstage and the next thing I know I'm there. The lights were turned down but they were still pretty bright. The MC was next to me with a shit eating grin. She knew I was fucked and she was going to have a front row seat for the massacre. I decided to make the most of it.
“All right folks here's (what's your name kid?)...”
“...Jim to DAZZLE us with his comedy styling’s.”
I was alone in those not so bright lights with a mic in my hand. I've never had a mic in my hand and it felt weird. I was like I was holding my electrified manhood. There was a stool I sat on it. I thought I should make myself comfortable.
“Somebody get me a beer.”
A beer came I raised my mug to the audience and took a big drink, a pro's drink. The crowd liked that. I had seen footage of Bukowski poetry readings I knew how to play the drunks; act like you're one of them and you're more likely to leave with your soul intact.
“Look I wasn't trying to be an asshole but anyone who's been with a slightly older woman who is of the working class variety knows that sometimes they let things go. Five pounds here, start wearing sweats to the grocery store and next thing you know when some hard up kid is trying to slump bust and he sees those pube hairs poking outta them granny panties he ain't going there unless he some kinda freak. Am I right fellas?!”
There was a ground swell of groans, laughter and yelling. I was good with that. I figured you wanted a few of them to love you, a few to hate you and a few to be like 'oh no he didn't'. I was feeling good, feeling confident. Perhaps I had stumbled upon something here. Maybe all those years watching “The Jerk” paid off. Maybe I've found my SPECIAL PURPOSE! I'm going to be a low rent entertainer, someone for the drunks to attack instead of the barkeep. I wouldn't be living high on the hog but I'd make enough to get by and probably could get free drinks. I saw my future laid out before me and for once it didn't involve me being old, poor, drunk and in a gutter somewhere. The “crowd's” reaction to my previous shenanigans was dying down I'd have to come up with some new shit and quick. I decided to stall like I figured any old entertainer would.
“Somebody gimme a beer.”
It didn't get the applause like before. They started to expect that I was a con, just another drunk who lucked into a way to get a few free drinks. The beer came but this time with some ultimatums.
“Alright asshole”, some big balding bastard with a protruding forehead and eyes too close together. “This is the last free drink you're gettin' now make with the funny.”
I laughed, 'Make with the funny' where do people like this come from? Either way that subhuman had the drunks behind and could turn them against me at his will. I drained my beer still trying to show them I'm a man then smashed the glass on the stage.
“YOU WANT THE FUNNY?!”
“YOU WANT THE FUNNY?!”
“WELL HOW ABOUT I TELL YOU ABOUT THE TIME ME AND MY BUDDIES CAUGHT A CHICKEN OUTSIDE OF A KINKOS?!”
Everyone looked at each other confused like they didn't hear me right.
“I SAID HOW ABOUT I TELL YOU A LITTLE TALE ABOUT HOW ME AND MY BUDDIES CAUGHT A CHICKEN OUTSIDE OF KINKOS!”
“You wanna tell us a story about a chicken?” the subhuman wanted to know speaking for the drunks yet again.
“Not about a chicken, how me and my friends caught a chicken.”
“Why the fuck would anyone want to hear about that?”
“I don't know, have you ever caught a chicken?”
“No why the hell...”
“THEN SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN TO THE STORY!”
I was feeling bold I had the stage and the spotlight but no one likes being told to shut the fuck up especially when they're a subhuman. He bee-lined it to the stage as the drunks cheered. I looked at the MC lady but she just had this shit eating grin on her face. I looked up hoping god, Buddha, Gandhi, my mother, someone would save me. No one came as the subhuman landed the first blow to the side of my head. The drunks cheered. Still being a bit faded it didn't hurt...much. I stumbled back picked up the stool and swung at the fucker with it. The subhuman caught it, tore it out of my hands and threw it away.
“COWARD, ONLY A COWARD USES WEAPONS!”, he yelled then he caught me with a left to the gut and an overhand right to the temple. I'm sprawled out onstage and the subhuman was standing over huffing and puffing like he was about to blow my house down. The drunks were eating it up. Who doesn't like to watch an ass whipping? I couldn't stop him and it looked like no one else was going to either. Well I figured he'd get tired of beating someone who couldn't defend himself. In the meantime since I was laid out on the floor getting kicked in the ribs. After a few kicks I rolled away and gave him a sharp kick in the shin with all my might. I thought I heard something crack so I did it again. This time I really heard a crack. Suddenly I had new life and sprung to my feet. The subhuman was holding his shins letting his guard down. It was going to be like Rocky IV after Rocky first drew blood on Drago. I started to dance around and peppered him with a few rights, lefts and well placed kicks to the shin. I was getting booed. Their hero was getting his ass handed to them and in a way since they had propped him up it was like they were getting their asses whipped too. I worked the body a little because I didn't want the ribs and kidneys to feel left out. He started reeling a little. A few more shots to the body, worked on the shins. The drunks were in disbelief. The subhuman was bigger, stronger but not faster. He'd throw a few punches, some haymakers which I'd dodge with ease then dance around and continue peppering the bastard. The subhuman's arms were getting slack it was time to close the show. I danced back and forth like Muhammad Ali and vintage Roy Jones Jr. I saw the ring on his finger, the marriage, kids’ dinner @ 8 gut hanging over his jeans. He was caught in the suburb trap. I was of the streets, I lived off of ramen, mac n' cheese, beer and wine. I slept in a concrete fountain pump, I listened to Coast to Coast Am; I knew things. I was leading with the right about to come in with a left to put him down when out of nowhere the subhuman catches me flush in the grill with a straight right. I was finished. The drunks cheered. The bartender dragged me off stage and threw me out the bar. From outside I could hear the MC talking about what just happened.
“How about that folks you get comedy and a can of whoop ass all in one bar! How's THAT for some Sunday night entertainment!”
I could the roar of the drunks as I trudged away. At the end of the street there's a hotel shining like a beacon. I walk in; it's nice, cool and inviting inside. The hotel is bright but comforting like the light at the end of the tunnel that leads to a peaceful death. There's a bar in here. I take a quick peak at the well-dressed people laughing, sipping cocktails looking smooth and comfortable in a life gone just right. I almost walk in but think better of it. If the poor drunk sent a subhuman to whip my ass the “upper class” would tar and feather me for sure. I move away from the bar and get in the elevator and take it to the 3rd floor. I get out and start wandering around not knowing what the hell, figuring I have a concussion when I come a across a tray outside a room with a “Do not disturb sign” on it. I check what on the covered platter. A roast beef sandwich cut in half with one half mostly eaten and the other untouched. There was fries too that also looked untouched. I suddenly realized I was hungry and ate everything like a ravenous animal. I wanted more. I walked around the rest of the floor but found nothing so I went back to the elevator went up to the 7th floor (some of the best QBs wore number 7) and I found another tray this one had a steak barely eaten, dinner rolls and rice pilaf that looked untouched. I ate like a man possessed and finally was satisfied. Now I felt tired. All the booze and pot had worn off and the ass kicking I got earlier had taken the spirit out of me somewhat. On the way back to the elevator I saw a sign with directions to a steam room. That sounded nice. I followed the directions and there it was with a room to the side of it to change in. I left my old beat up clothes folded neatly in the side room and wrapped myself in one of their fluffy clean soft white towels. There was a timer next to the door of the steam room along with a disclaimer saying that if you have been drinking you shouldn't use the steam because it can cause severe dehydration. Well I didn't like no stinkin sign telling me how to live my life so I set the summabitch up for 45 minutes and strolled on in. It was all wood from top to bottom. I had never been in a steam room before and just wanted to imitate what I'd seen in gangster movies and also Stephen Malkmus was looking rather comfy in one during the Pavement doc. I sat down for kind of nervous, worried that someone would bust in any minute and tell me to get the fuck out of there then somehow figure out it was me stealing food outside of hotel rooms and call the fuzz. But after a while I figured everything was good and stretched out. I feeling so good that I thought about whipping it out and giving it a little tug but tiredness won out and I fell asleep. The buzzer for the timer going off woke me up but I was so faded I could hardly move. My throat was dry; my mouth was so filled with dried up saliva that I could hardly open it. I was covered in beads of sweat. My head felt several sizes too big. This was one bitch of a hangover. Sometimes you should listen to signs. I got up dragged my tired ass body out of the steam room put on my clothes. They were nice and cool sitting in the air conditioning all that time. I made the elevator and went down to the lobby. Everything didn't look so inviting as it did before. Hangovers make everything outside of another drink look like shit. I got the hell out of there and slowly made my way back to the arena when I passed an old timer (he looked like he was pushing 60) whose face was smeared with dried blood. It didn't seem to bother him though; he just leaned against a building and counted the cars going by with his fingers. His clothes weren't messed up, torn or anything like that, in fact his shit was cleaner than mine. The old timer's silver hair was all over the place though and mixed in with the blood. I stopped walking and watched him as he kept counting cars either not noticing me or ignoring me all together. Then two ladies came up who were walking their dog see the old timer and start asking him if he's all right. The old timer shrugs. The ladies ask what happened to him. He looked around and seemed as if he was considering a question of great depth before shrugging it off.
“I got beat up”, the old timer says matter of factly. His voice was distant, thin and reedy.
“Do you want us to call 911?” asked the ladies.
“Do what you will”, the old timer said with a sigh.
They called and told the operator the situation and an ambulance would be coming soon.
“Do you want us to wait with you?”
The old timer now sitting down is looking very weary all of sudden shrugs so the women decide to stay with him. Their dog that had been a little skittish this whole time comes up to the old timer and sniffs him all over. After deciding he was okay the dog starts licking him. The old timer pets the dog softly smiling all the while. I cut out and make it to the arena where inside the bowels of the parking lot I can hear the strains of the music going on inside. I find Ana's car which to my surprise is unlocked. I climb into the backseat find the spice rum take a swig. It goes down smooth and I'm starting to feel somewhat human again.
Demond J Blake is a warehouse associate who has traveled the country working odd jobs, writing and meeting various artists, musicians and nonconformists living life on the fringes of society. He lives in Colton, CA with his wife and teenage son. Demond is currently seeking publication for 'Slackass' his first novel.
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