Last night, while I was waiting for my friend Jeannie to get off work at Diner, this white dude with a big afro and a pair of Oakleys sat down next to me. When the bartender walked past he advised everyone within earshot:
"Next time you get stoned, either eat a cold orange or use an electric toothbrush. I'm serious. The simple pleasures in life, man."
Maybe so. But it would take a lot more than marijuana to make those experiences pleasurable back-to-back.
I wrote this on a little thing called a "notebook" with an actual "pen" (remember those?) on the bus last night, on the way from DC to New York City. I'm cooling it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, aka hipster heaven, the densest concentration of white men that have never, ever won a fight in all their lives. ___
"Can I still buy a ticket for the eight o'clock to New York." I asked the ticket counter lady. It was 7:58.
"No," she replied, "but I can sell you one for the nine o'clock and if the eight is still out there, you can get on it." Bus rides are like that.
"I'm gonna need my headphones for this one," I thought as I stepped on the bus. Sometimes you can just tell. I invested in a giant pair of padded monsters at Radio Shack a few months back, a pair big enough to allow me to safely go out and bring in a plane with a few glowing cones if the situation were to arise.
I sure enough did need 'em, too. Some kid up front has been howling like a baby werewolf at a bris. I'm talking about nonSTOP. From the sound of it, his parents haven't even tried to clam him up, either.
I'm not a parent myself, so I don't really know how these things go. I made a little pact with myself once my friends started having babies that I'd try not to critique someone else's parenting skills without developing a few of my own first.
Maybe this kids' folks are just numb to his shrieks, or he's autistic or something, or they just know it's useless. But man, this little dude SUCKS.
My mom tells me that both my sister and I had our miserable moments when we were little. Apparently I didn't sleep through the night until I was three years old. Two little terrors, and at least I turned out fine. Seriously. I'm TOTALLY NORMAL.
I also made a pact with myself some time back never to spank my children out of anger or in public. Nothing sucks like seeing some toddler get jerked and whapped at the grocery store, and Simmermons don't play that. I earned a few beltings when I was little, but my folks always talked it over first and made sure that my behavior had been, in fact, a spankable offense.
My disciplinary tactics will be much more subtle, and much less embarassing in a crowded grocery store or on a bus full of people heading to New York for New Years' Eve.
When my kids are acting up, I'm simply going to pull a plastic bag over their heads for no longer than a minute. If the offense is particularly bad, I won't keep the bag on there any longer. I'll just throw a spider in there, too.
It's not going to happen often. It may only happen once. After that, all I'll have to do is pull a filmy little plastic bag out of my pocket and crinkle it menacingly. You best believe the shrieking will stop then, and QUICK.
I think I've got one on my messenger bag, actually. I'm going to go offer it to this kid's mom right now.
Before I go, Happy New Year to all of you. I'll let you know how this turns out.
We'd finished Christmas Eve dinner with time to spare, even allowing for Mom to lose and find her keys again like she does before every church service. The dogs had been fed and walked, and our coats were on.
"Hang on a second," Dad said. "Do you think we should all head over there in the same car?"
"What are you even TALKING about," asked Jess, my sister.
"Well, I mean, I don't mean to be grim on Christmas Eve here, but what if there was an accident on the way to church? That way some of us would be spared and the whole family wouldn't get taken out. You've got to think about these things, you know."
"Dad," I said, "that sort of makes sense. Should we borrow two cars from the neighbors and drive over in four vehicles so only one of us gets wiped out, or just risk it in two separate cars? But hang on. Doesn't taking four separate cars mean that it is four times more likely that one of us will be in a car crash tonight?"
"I don't know," Jess interjected. "But it makes this idea four times as fucking stupid as it already is. Let's GO for God's sake, SHIT."
It may have been 55 and drizzling in Norfolk this Christmas Eve, but it was a white Christmas at our church, same as it is every year. Even if our congregation were capable of clapping to a song, our hymns are delivered with a reserved, earnest piety that leaves little room for rhythm. As Presbyterians, we are not so much moved by the Spirit as we are gently nudged by it. Personally, I have only seen our church decorated with poinsettias or palm fronds during the last decade, and the Holy Spirit tends to move me into dreamland.
We were out of church in record time. I just got laid off and neither my sister or I are engaged yet. None of us were that anxious to discuss those details with former Sunday School classmates who are off making money and families or converting heathens in Asia somewhere.
"Layla's stomach looks all swollen," Jess said immediately when we came home from church. Layla is Jess's dog, a nervous little black lab/beagle mix with tremendous separation anxiety and a broader palate than all the goats in Afghanistan combined. Last week she climbed on top of the dining room table and ate an entire package of chocolate covered cashews and a largeish sack of spoonbread mix, chasing it with the contents of two water bowls and half the water in the downstairs toilet. This suspicion was not without probable cause.
"Swollen" was putting it mildly. The dog looked eligible for UNICEF aid. Her stomach was so distended that she couldn't lie down. All she could do was sit awkwardly or stand there, shifting her weight uncomfortably, glassy-eyed and panting. "My God, the fucking FRUITCAKE" Jess shouted. "BAD DOG!" There was more cursing, followed by spanking, followed by even more cursing.
My sister's 30 pound dog had unwrapped a 5 pound fruitcake (my other grandmother's Christmas gift), removed it from its decorative tin and eaten the entire thing.
Just imagine: consuming 1/6 of your body weight in fruitcake.
Details are hazy here, and I'm not a judge. But it seems that my mom had left the fruitcake on the kitchen floor -- despite knowing the dog's Hoover-like tendencies when left unsupervised. My mom's feeling at the time was that the fruitcake was in an aluminum tin requiring opposable thumbs to open, and if my sister's dog weren't so miserably behaved, none of this would have happened in the first place. I had no patience for a standoff over a fruitcake on Christmas eve, and I snapped a little bit.
"I'm not saying who it is because I have no idea," I exclaimed at the ceiling above the Christmas tree. "But if somebody would say 'I'm sorry' to somebody else right now, and then the recipient of that apology would then say 'I'm sorry' back, we could all move forward emotionally right now, JESUS CHRIST."
As it turns out, we were all very sorry, very soon. Immediately following that proclamation, the perpetrator wobbled in front of the Christmas tree with a crazed look in her eye and vomited giant chunks of fruitcake all over the carpet. Lots of times. All night long.
"Jeff, it's like these are puzzle pieces for a 'build-your-own-fruitcake' set, for real," Jess said, picking up a fresh deposit an hour later. "Can my dog even chew, or is she secretly part python?" She had a point. The fruit looked nearly reusable. Imagine if Spider-Man imprisoned bad guys with fruitcake secreted from his wrists and you'll have a pretty decent idea of what decorated the living room carpet, the stairs, an easy chair and the area under the Christmas tree during the night.
Other families spent their Christmas morning together basking in the scent of aromatic food, perhaps the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg or spiced cider. We had our Christmas coffee by the tree while marinating in a stale potpourri of fruitcake, Lysol, and canine bile. We were laughing pretty hard at the whole situation at this point, though, which is the important thing. I had tears coming out of my eyes. But man, that smell was kinda brutal. It was too cold to open all the windows, and spraying air freshener would have made it worse. Something came along to replace it soon enough.
We keep all our bread, cereal, cookies, and other various carbs in the oven. Always have. The cabinets are full of canned goods, dried beans, rice, Jell-O in flavors long since discontinued, you name it. No room for bread in there. When zombies take over Norfolk, Virginia my family will be able to barter food for our choice of assault rifles and still have three squares a day until the Rapture takes us all home.
Usually, people remove all the foreign objects from the oven BEFORE turning it on. Most of the time. Or we at least catch it in time. This morning, my mom turned the oven on to preheat and immediately picked up the phone to call someone about something totally unrelated. Within minutes flames were leaping inside the oven and the noxious smoke that can only be released by burning plastic filled the entire house -- effectively masking the vomit smell. Suddenly it was no longer too cold to open all the windows in the house.
After the smoke cleared, we scraped several pounds' worth of plastic-infused mincemeat cookies out of the bottom of the oven. We packed up and headed over to my aunt and uncle's place, where we were greeted by Uncle Jimmy, resplendent in his Christmas Pants. Although his pants were fantastic (bright red corduroy with little wreaths embroidered all over them!) and we all had a lovely time exchanging gifts and eating together, it was honestly the most uneventful part of the day.
We rolled home early, by 6 o'clock or so. It felt like midnight. My dad and sister took the dogs out for a quick walk.
"Don't let Layla come over here in the neighbors' yard," Dad said. "Why not?" Jess asked.
"I just barfed. I just barfed in the neighbor's yard and I don't want her getting into it."
There was no sound, no fanfare, no suggestion that he would be returning home. The man might as well have dropped a nickel into the storm drain, for all the consternation it was causing him.
Barf avoided, dogs voided, everyone came inside. We all settled into my bedroom -- and I am so, so grateful to still have one here -- to watch 'Little Miss Sunshine' as a family.
It pleases me deeply to think that it took one brilliant writer many torturous rewrites, two amazing directors and a cast full of comic geniuses to come up with a family as eccentric, cursed and lovingly dysfunctional as my own this Christmas. That's the thing about the Simmermons: We make memories together , pretty or not.
My aunt and uncle own a year-round Christmas store in Smithfield, VA. On that side of the family, we don't call certain garments "Christmas sweaters," "Christmas sweatshirts," or "Christmas socks." They're just called "clothes."
When I was growing up, it was not unusual to see five fully decorated Christmas trees at Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Elaine's house. In August. Right after Thanksgiving, the ranks swelled to as many as eight or ten fully decorated trees. And by fully decorated, I mean: no visible green on the tree whatsoever.
There has always been one tree thematically dedicated entirely to pork as a concept -- lots of pigs wearing chef's hats, ham ornaments, what have you. There's another devoted to fishing and the sea, and my favorite -- the catchall that has every crazy, animated windup ornament ever invented. There's a small globe that simulates popping corn, another containing little tiny plastic kids skating on a frozen pond and the ornament that means Christmas the most to me: a small diorama of the original 'Star Trek' cast, complete with orbiting Enterprise.
How the crew manages to be seated on the bridge while the very ship they are on orbits their heads remains a mystery to me, but hey -- it's Christmas and the key to enjoying it is kinda turning your brain off a little.
This piece of decoration melted my synapses a little, though. My aunt and uncle have never been terrifically political people, as near as I can tell. Maybe I 'm wrong here, but then again, we are Southerners, so there are entire worlds of knowledge that we will never, ever discuss in front of each other. It just wouldn't be polite, you see.
We are as likely to talk about politics as we are to share recipes for pot brownies.
However, in my aunt and uncle's foyer, there is a statue of Uncle Sam, looking a lot like an emaciated Boris Karloff. He clutches the American flag in a tight, bony fist. And hanging from that sword -- is Santa Claus' severed head, dangling from a length of golden cord.
I don't know what that says, exactly, but it sure says SOMETHING. If y'all have any interpretations, drop 'em in the comments ... and Merry Christmas
It's nearly Christmas, which means it's almost time to slip on my kicking shoes and visit the neighbor's dog again.
My friend Eric Roosevelt and I have been tight for over twenty years, and grew up in the same neighborhood. The Roosevelts are like my surrogate parents, showering me with love and driving me nuts just like my own family. They're giving, funny, weird, warm and have huge hearts. Hearts that may, in the case of their dog Francis, be a little too big.
Francis is a poorly-trained, emotionally disturbed chow. He was an ill-advised gift from a girlfriend to my best friend's little brother. That guy's got anger management issues of his own, but the dog, my god ...
It's been completely spoiled rotten and never so much as quivers its upper lip around its owners. They never hear him growl in anger, and I am fairly certain that Mr. Roosevelt has never had HIS testicles threatened by Francis' surging, snapping jaws. I'm basing this conclusion on the fact that the dog is still alive.
Words cannot describe the pure hatred I feel for this gorgeous, poncey, miserable beast. It's a fluffy wad of velvety pumpkin fur with serious, snapping teeth. Imagine if the plant from Little Shop of Horrors was a giant fluffy dandelion.
When Francis came to the neighborhood, I brought our family's dog around to visit. He immediately mounted my dog and when she yelped and tried to get away, he bit her on the back legs.
Humans get LOTS of prison for that kind of behavior. Mrs. Roosevelt saw the whole thing and said, "Funny. I've never seen him do THAT before."
Every Christmas I go around to the Roosevelts' to bring general good tidings, and every year, they act amazed that their dog could be so poorly behaved. They are shocked, SHOCKED, when Francis takes advantage of my cross-legged state to get closer to my balls than ever before and begins a low, muttering growl. Then he stands there growling at it unless I move too quickly -- like, at the speed a human moves when he takes off his coat -- and then he lunges at my testicles, snarling and punching at them with his fluffy, elegant paws.
The Roosevelt's role in this little charade is to impotently wheedle "Here, Francis." "Just stay kind of still for a little while," they say. "He needs to get used to you."
What he needs is to be put to sleep, and the Roosevelts are too nice to do it. So instead, this nasty little monster is going to bring them joy and love until he breaks loose and savages a toddler.
I've kicked him across the room in front of both Roosevelts at least twice. One of them was a beautiful, hefting kick that lifted the dog bodily off of the ground, sending him skittering across the room to collapse in a heap. Later, Eric told me "I know it looks like I was comforting him, but I was actually rabbit-punching him in the ribs. I hate that fucking thing, too."
I was jogging across the Duke Ellington Bridge this summer, thinking about nothing at all. The sun was warm, the air was fresh, all was right with everything. Then this fully-formed thought bubbled into the middle of my brain: "FUCK, I HATE that dog."
Now the scent of pine is in the air, and we're all heading home for Christmas. It's going to be a time of giving, sharing, catching up and eating together. And just for old time's sake, I'm going to have my kicking shoes on ... just in case.
I came across this awesome, hilarious holiday video from Saturday Night Live of all palces on my last trawl of the Web. Don't get your hopes up, but there's a chance that SNL could become funny again, and it looks like they're starting to get the whole "people watch TV online" idea. Plus, Justin Timberlake, OMG!!!!
The awesome-est part of all (it's a word NOW) is that J.T. sings with the same intense passion that he applies to his single-handed recovery of all that is sexy, night after night.
Astute readers of this blog may be thinking "Whoa, hang on there. What's happened to that last post?"
I took it down. I've actually never done that before, I don't think.
In writing about my recent layoff, I was attempting to make some sunshine out of a tough situation. I crafted something immediate that was written quickly and passionately -- and meant nothing but good things towards all the people involved. It's come to my attention that those very people didn't take it that way, and I'm really, really sorry.
Ever see the original 'Frankenstein', the Boris Karloff/James Whale version? There's this scene where the monster is kneeling by a riverbank with a little girl who is picking flowers and throwing them into the river. In an honest, well-meaning attempt to play along, the monster picks the little girl up, snaps her neck, and chucks her corpse into the river.
It kinda went like that. Or maybe it didn't -- but in my paranoid, oversensitive mind, it did, and that's the only reality I've got.
Blogs are awesome and terrifying because you can put your foot in your mouth faster than ever before with long-lasting results. At the moment, I feel like I've deep-throated my entire leg up past the knee. Involved parties know who they are, and I hope they know I'm really sorry.
Have you guys, my dozen loyal readers, ever really crammed a foot in there in a public forum? What did you do, and how'd you handle it?
I barely know Derek Vockins, but his storytelling prowess is legend. We had a number of mutual friends at JMU, and every time I hung out around them -- and Vockins -- the crowd was doubled over pissing themselves with laughter.
Somewhere in the Internet's basement I managed to find a Derek Vockins story captured in print form, which I am going to republish here.
Walter was from Blacksburg or Roanoke, Virginia, I can't remember exactly. He was from a town that was big enough to have a mall with a Chess King, because he worked there during high school. I think he may have been paid in clothing in lieu of currency, because there were three piles of Chess King clothes on the floor of our room, about two and half feet tall and five feet in diameter. It was like a Chess King Giza.
Despite his passion for Chess King, Walter wasn't very dapper. He didn't bathe very often. He didn't wash the Chess King Necropolis very often, if at all. Necropolis is an appropriate metaphor - the piles smelled like something died inside them. Something old and mystical from an ancient civilization.
Walter used sheets on his mattress for about a week. He couldn't be bothered with sheets after that. He would sleep on the naked mattress. Walter had created a silhouette of himself on the mattress with the filth from his unwashed body after about a month. The silhouette was not exclusively grey as one might expect. There was plenty of dinge, but the dinge was punctuated by red. This was because Walter had chosen to pledge the TKE fraternity, and he was often painted the fraternity colors during the hazing period. This phenomenon inspired the creation of the art rock band Walter: Outline of Dirt.
Walter's family came by for visit once. I could smell them from the stairwell on the first floor and my room was on the third. It was a pioneering, groundbreaking stench. Walter's family was like the Picasso of body odor. His mom also had some weird condition - diabetes? There was all this fat or fluid on the thigh, but her knees and calves were normal. The excess thigh just folded over her knees. It made her look like she was wearing clamdigger shorts made out of her own flesh.
Despite all of this, he was an OK guy. Probably the first person to make me appreciate Shakespeare. He moved across the hall after first semester anyway.
He was America's hood ornament facing westward from Venice Beach into the setting sun, leading the country into twilight armed only with two rubber cobras, a soccer ball and a tiger-striped loincloth.
I'd seen a lot of fascinating characters on the boardwalk that afternoon, but this guy, he was special. He shifted through a litany of poses atop his stepladder with a practiced, careful confidence, using the soccer ball and massive rubber cobras to counterbalance his taut outstretched limbs.
"These are magical snakes man, I swear. They bring good things and great fortune to everyone that views them. Do anything you want with the pictures bro, for real. Everyone that sees them will blessed with the magical cobra's blessings. Would you excuse me for second?"
He turned to a crowd of Japanese tourists and shouted
"Hey, you take pictures, maybe you want to put some money in the bucket, man!"
I asked him how he came to be there, about the chain of events that got the snakes into his hand. Here's his answer:
There is a colossal dignity that comes from confidently doing something ridiculous in front of the entire world -- it's the strength that comes from repeatedly, demonstrably not caring about what other people think. Once you get over the fears associated with other people's expectations, the world is yours.
Some fuckwad punched my little sister in the face.
I was sitting here trying to put this brilliant and disjointed post together when I saw the number jump in my inbox ... and as any writer knows, new e-mail is an even better reason not to write than a dirty apartment or disorganized bookshelf.
It was just the photo you see above, sent from my little sister's Treo.
She was out at the bar with a friend the other night, just waiting on the valet to bring the car around when a couple rowdy drunk guys came up and pulled some serious space invasion, laughing and shoving and stepping on her friends' toes on an otherwise uncrowded sidewalk.
Her friend asked the guys to move along, and they declined. He asked again, and one of the drunks just started swinging at him. My sister tried to break it up and got cold-cocked right there on the lips and chin, splitting her lip and possibly chipping a tooth.
Takes a bad motherfucker to punch a girl right in the face, doesn't it?
She dropped to the sidewalk immediately and the guys took off. Once her friend saw the blood pouring from my only, beloved sister's lips, he caught the puncher and paid him back in spades, right in front of a shocked dinner crowd at a packed restaurant. Bouncers tried to break it up, took one look at my sister's face and figured it out -- they let her friend continue uninterrupted until the cops came.
She is pressing charges.
My sister's tough. Real tough. She can handle this.
I remember her consoling me through my first teenage breakup, hugging me until the sobs stopped and drying my eyes with a Kleenex. In the quiet that comes after a big cry, she looked me lovingly in the eye and said "Jeffrey, I just want you to know that I always hated that bitch. And if you want, I'll go around to her place with a dog chain and set shit straight, you just say the word."
Now she says to me with soft, puffy syllables, "Damn, man. All that shit I pulled in high school, and NOW's the first time a motherfucker clocks me in the grill."
Apart from some split lips and a bruised face, she's fine. The guy's face looks a LOT worse than hers now, and the law is on it.
But if all this is in motion, why am I not satisfied? Why do I want mob connections and handguns? I want a Louisville Slugger and a stolen car, a length of hemp rope and an open road. I want to drag this guy out of his bed by his hair and make him beg for something I can't give him.
Instead I'll go to bed.
We'll all wake up in the morning, and go to our respective jobs and the wheels of justice will turn or not, and nobody will get hurt any more than they already are and everything's going to be fine. That's what I hope, anyway.