Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dreams of Central Casting?

I had an unusual dream not long ago.

The dream itself was not unusual; I dreamed I was eating at a sort of little roadside diner. It was only after I woke up that I realized that my waitress had been Courtney Love. Not long after, I realized that the cashier had been Ewan McGregor, the fry cook had been played by Vic Tayback, and that the two mechanics eating in the next booth had been played by Harry Dean Stanton and Bob Denver.

None of them had been themselves, of course; I have no idea what Ewan McGregor or Harry Dean Stanton is like in real life; I've only seen them in movies.

Do OTHER people have dreams in which the background cast is assembled by Central Casting?

And more importantly... do I owe these people any money?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Recipes: 2

This dish has its roots in Mom's Tuna Salad. Mom taught me how to make it, and it worked out just fine in college, provided I could keep it refrigerated -- it'll go bad overnight if you don't.

Something most college guys have to figure out for themselves is that proper nutrition can't be maintained by standardized consumption of beer and pizza (when times are good) or beer and macaroni and cheese (when times are poor). You have to eat some greens and veggies occasionally. This salad is loaded with them, tastes great, and you can adjust the makings to suit your desired calorie count.

Thing is, sometimes I wanted to make the stuff but didn't have the necessary ingredients; I had to improvise. Lo and behold, you can improvise any number of ways with this salad, and it's still quite good. I recommend it for sandwiches or just scooping straight out of the bowl with crackers.

It got its current name due to a cat I used to have named Faust; my roommates at the time nicknamed him Professor Doktor Faustus because he learned how to open interior doors by jumping up and grabbing the handle with his front paws, twisting it, and kicking the doorjamb with his hind legs until the door swung open. If the door swung inward, it usually took him a little longer.

Once a week or so, he'd wear himself out trying to open the front door, which was too heavy for him to move.

Anyway, he was a chow hound extraordinaire -- if he had you pegged for a sucker, you couldn't eat around him until he'd inspected the meal and received his tribute. Part of that was my fault -- he and I had an agreement that if he'd keep his distance while I ate, I'd save him a nibble at the end. For some reason, though, Faust had no respect whatsoever for one of my roommates at the time, a guy named Max.

One day, I decided to make tuna salad. I diced up some celery first, and while opening the cans, Faust of course raised hell about wanting what was in them, and I drained the water and let him have it, and he raised hell about wanting the REST of what was in the cans, and I ignored him and he swatted my leg, and I ignored him and he bit my ankle and I ignored him... and then I heard the crunching sounds behind me.

I turned around. He had leaped up on the other counter, and was eating the celery. Apparently, he meant to have SOME of what I was doing, whether I liked it or not.

Max came home from work later and asked if there was anything to eat. I told him there was tuna salad. He went and fixed a sandwich and sat down on the couch to watch the news with me. Faust promptly hopped up on the coffee table and yauped for his share.

Max ignored him.

Faust looked irritated, and leaned over the edge of the table, reaching out a paw to hook the sandwich and bring it closer for inspection.

Max moved the sandwich where Faust couldn't reach it, and bipped him gently on the nose with a finger by way of chastisement.

This was the fatal error; you could swat Faust or yell at him, but to patronize him was a grave mistake. Faust responded by suddenly leaning way forward, winding up with one paw, and firmly clouting the sandwich out of Max's hand.

Max squawked.

I goggled.

The sandwich arced gracefully through the air.

Faust cocked his head, calculated the feast's flight path, sprang off the coffee table, and positioned himself about where the sandwich would land on the floor, all in about three-quarters of a second.

I goggled.

Max recovered, leaped to his feet, hurdled the coffee table with a mighty bound, and fielded the sandwich out of the air about a foot above Faust's waiting hungry paws.

They looked at each other like that for a minute -- Max's face filled with unbelieving outrage, Faust's face creased with mild irritation.

Max roared.

Faust bolted.

I goggled.

Max launched himself after the cat, squishing the sandwich in a deathgrip, waving it around as if he meant to bludgeon the cat to death with it.

I sprained a latissimus, laughing.

*****************

Required:
a good-sized tupperware-style bowl with sealing lid

Ingredients: use only one from Column A, at least three from Column B, and at least one from Column C.

COLUMN A:
Miracle Whip salad dressing (1 1/2 cup or so); the new Miracle Whip Lite tastes just as good and has lots less fat, if you're into that sort of thing
Mayonnaise (1 1/2 cup or so)
Tartar Sauce (1 1/2 cups or so, or about 40 of those little packets they have at Long John Silver's)

COLUMN B:
one or two pickles, chopped up fine or run through a grater; whether they're sweet or sour depends on your taste. Pickle relish also works fine.
one good sized stick of celery, chopped up fine
a small onion, chopped up fine (about 1 cup chopped onion)
1 can sliced water chestnuts (not much flavor, but they do add crunch)
l small apple, cored and chopped up fine (mind the seeds!)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/8 cup chopped chives
1 cup cooked pasta (I always liked those multicolored corkscrew noodles or green spinach noodles, but nearly any pasta will do as long as it's in small pieces), boiled or steamed to be tender and slightly springy; drain and let cool before adding to salad; do not overcook!

COLUMN C:
3-6 entire hardboiled eggs, chopped or run through a grater (Put a pot of water on. Bring to a rolling boil. Put the eggs in it, and set the timer for ten minutes. This recipe works at all altitudes and at sea level.)
1-2 cans tuna (I prefer packed-in-water to packed-in-oil, and always be sure it's dolphin-safe; there's no telling what those fishermen may try to pack in a can and sell you...)
1 package of artificial king crab legs or lobster bites, chopped fine (these taste great, and can be found at the grocery store near the seafood; you can use real crab or lobster if you want, but this is cheaper)
1 can Spam, ground or grated (this is one of the few ways you can totally disguise the taste of the stuff)
1 cup bacon bits (Use real bacon bits. The artificial kind work okay, and they taste fine, but they get soggy and don't crunch, and what's worse, the artificial red color tends to bleed off the bacon bits into the surrounding salad and makes it look like you're eating a Bowl-O-Roadkill.)

Throw everything into the bowl and mix well. Note that it's not a good idea to use more than one from Column A; they don't mix well. Likewise with Column C; use seafood or Spam-and-bacon, not both (eggs work equally well with either one, and make your meat stretch much farther).

Recipes: 1

For some reason, University of Texas students seem to have a tough time of it.

I knew two guys who fought like hell to move out of the dorms, got their own place, then realized they'd bitten off more than they could chew; in order to balance their budget for the semester, they had to pretty much eliminate their food budget.

They did so by surviving on nothing but macaroni and cheese (generic, four boxes for a buck) for most of the semester -- rather stoically, I thought. I say most of the semester because they didn't quite make it; they wound up hospitalized with scurvy and general malnutrition around the beginning of May, and wound up punting their final exams. Some say they wouldn't have lasted that long, but for the nutrition inherent in beer.

Another fellow I knew -- a UT student -- got himself into a similar situation, but being smarter than that, he bound himself into consumption of variations on a single foodstuff, thus rounding out his nutritional needs. The single foodstuff was toast -- fried toast, garlic toast, roast toast, cheese toast, toast crouton salad, tuna melt on toast, open-face bacon and cheese on toast, chocolate toast, toast a la mode... (I'm told his vitamin C and D came from pills and sunshine...)

It got pretty big. His off-campus digs became known among his friends and neighbors as "Toast Terrace", and at one time hosted a rather odd internet bulletin board which carried, among other things, some rather odd toast recipes. He and his equally broke friends would get together and hold toast parties, compete as to who could best wax lyrical about toast, sing toast chanteys, and of course, drink toasts to each other's health. Altogether, this guy knew (and probably invented) more ways to make toast than most people could imagine, and he could probably write a book on nothing else but.

Anyway, this recipe I got from him. I got a reputation among my roommates as a terrific guy because of this stuff; they'd wake up in the morning and find this amazing breakfast laid out and waiting for them. Truth to tell, I like the stuff, it's quick, cheap, and simple, and it's about as easy to make a lot as it is to make a little.

Required:
1 quart fresh strawberries

1 pint whipping cream or 1 tub Cool Whip

1/4 cup sugar

butter or margarine

8 - 12 slices whole wheat bread (it works with white bread, too, but this apparently violated some sort of taboo at Toast Terrace; I was told that the last unworthy one who had served the Strawberry Toast on Wonder Bread had been flung off the balcony into the pool as a sacrifice to the Mighty Spirit Of The Heating Element)

eggbeater or blender

skillet or toaster

bowl

OPTIONAL: banana, sliced into little discs

Clean, dry, and mash the berries in the bowl with the eggbeater, or reduce them to a pulp in the blender. Gradually add about 1/4 cup of sugar and the whipping cream to the mix (if you're using Cool Whip, forget the sugar unless you're really in need of a sugar rush). You should eventually wind up with a pinkish whipped cream substance with chunks of strawberry embedded in it. Put this in the fridge.

Heat up the skillet, toss in a pat of butter, and fry a slice of bread on one side; when it's ready, scoop it out, add another pat of butter, and do the other side. Do this until you run out of bread. You can also just toast the bread normally, if you want to be quick about it. Top each slice of bread with a couple of spoonfuls of berry mixture and serve. Toss on a few banana slices if you want.
This stuff is best when the whipped mix is cold and the toast is still hot. It also works well with all kinds of berries, and even peaches and applesauce. The Toast Terrace mob tended to take things a little too far, however, and I don't recommend the watermelon, Rumplemintz, or Hershey's Chocolate Syrup variations...

Blonde in a Convertible

Wherever hitchhikers gather... you will hear the tale of the Blonde In The Convertible.

For that matter, you will often hear the tale where guys of ANY stripe gather. Sometimes, they claim to have been abducted by the Blonde while standing on the roadside with a thumb out. Other times, they claim to have encountered her while pumping gas. More often, they claim to have stopped to help her with a flat tire... and been EXPERIENCED.

The truth of the matter is... that the Blonde In The Convertible occupies an ecological niche much like that of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. People claim to have seen her, but her existence is suspect, indeed.

But I met her, once.

I was young, then, and I worked at a home for mentally retarded children. The place was twenty miles from my house, though, and at the time, I had no car. I carpooled whenever I could, borrowed a car whenever I could... and on occasion, I simply left for work a couple hours early, and stood upon the side of the Interstate, trusting in the fates to help me keep making a living.

You meet lots of interesting people this way. Once I got picked up by a stoned Mexican national whose English was about as good as my Spanish, and we were able to talk. I asked him why he was driving a rusted-out 1940s model school bus full of stuff that looked like he'd raided every garage sale south of Austin. He answered that he'd bought the bus for $200, and if he could get it across the border, he could sell it for three times that... and he was going to take all the stuff and open his own department store.

...and, once... I met the Blonde In The Convertible.

She was blonde, and wearing a giant pair of shades, and she was driving a champagne-colored convertible of some make or model that I couldn't make out because she whipped past me at 70 mph without so much as a glance.

I watched her speed past, and thought about The Blonde In The Convertible, and chuckled to myself.

A few minutes later, an identical champagne-colored convertible sped past. The same blonde was in it. She looked at me.

I did a double take. Huh? Was that the same chick? How many champagne colored convertibles could there be on this stretch of road? She sped away into the distance, and I watched her go... and then stuck my thumb out again, and smiled big, hoping someone would decide I wasn't an ax murderer...

...and a few minutes later, I heard a honk. Behind me, on the feeder road, was the blonde, motioning me to get in.

No dummy, me, I ran down the embankment and scrambled into the car. She asked where I was going; I told her. She agreed that this was on her way, and she took the turnaround and got back on the highway.

My mind was racing. I had been picked up by a Blonde in a Convertible. This was damn near a violation of natural law; women as a rule don't pick up hitchhikers, and a woman alone in an expensive car doesn't pick up hitchhikers any more than rabbits invite foxes out to lunch. What the hell? She HAD to be horny. Why me? Maybe she was just a nympho who was out for a drive and just happened to SEE me there, and she thought about it, and now we were going to find a motel... could I afford to miss work? Maybe I could just be a few hours late or something... but what if she wants me again, and again, and again...

I glanced at her. She said nothing. She drove, eyes on the road. What was wrong with this picture?

We drove. She said nothing. She kept her eyes on the road, arms ramrod stiff on the wheel. It hit me: this chick is scared stiff. Of what? Of you, ya damned idiot. But why did she pick me up, then?

"So," I said, trying to break the ice, "My name's Bedlam."

"Glad to meet you," she said in a tone that implied she'd happily abandon me on an ice floe. She didn't offer her name.

"So where you headed?"

"South." Same monotone.

"South to...?"

"San Antonio." Same monotone.

"Pull over, please," I said, in as level a tone as I could manage.

She looked at me for the first time since I'd gotten into the car. Her expression was almost panicked. She looked at me as if she were quite sure I had a gun.

"No, just let me out," I said.

Her expression changed to puzzlement.

"Most people pick up hitchhikers because they want to talk," I said. "You don't want to talk, and you look at me like you think I'm about to kill you. I'm not gonna kill you, and the only way I can think of to prove that is to get out of the car. I don't wanna do that until the car stops. If you'll stop the car, I'll get away from you, and you can go on about your business."

She looked at me funny again. "I ... um... I don't think you're gonna kill me," she said.

"You sure act like it," I said. "I just want a ride to work. I'm not a psycho. I'm a guy who works with little retarded children, and I wanna get to work on time, okay?"

She looked at me like I'd taken off my George W. Bush mask to reveal the face of Brad Pitt beneath... and she began to talk.

She was Born Again Christian, rebirthed less than a month, and in the process of turning her evil and sinful life around... and working on becoming less self-centered. Apparently, the idea of living one's life for others had been on her mind when she was driving down the highway... and she had seen this long-haired, bearded biker-lookin' guy trying to thumb a ride.

She'd blazed past him without a second look... but then, thought about it. Was it right to judge this hairy mutant by his appearance? What if he really needed the ride?

She'd turned around, gone back, and gotten on the interstate again, meaning to pick me up. She'd blazed past me again, as her nerve gave out. What if he's a rapist? What if he's a killer? WHAT IF HE'S A NECROPHILIAC?

...and what if he's a perfectly nice guy who just needs a ride?

She'd got off the highway again, turned around, and FORCED herself to stop on the feeder road behind me... and honk... and motion me into the car. And had placed her safety in the hands of the Lord.

I was kind of disappointed, to be honest. It looked like I was going to be getting to work on time, after all.

"Well," I said, "you were right to worry. I might have been a maniac. Hell, I might have just been a crook, and all a crook needs is an opportunity. You shouldn't pick up hitchhikers, at least not when you're alone."

"But you WEREN'T!" she giggled ecstatically. "You're just an ordinary guy, and you work with little retarded children! You're not gonna rape me at ALL! You've rewarded my faith! No, GOD has rewarded my faith!"

For one evil, twisted minute, I thought about raping her just to demonstrate the danger of misplaced faith. After all, you can't be TOO careful, and God helps those who help themselves. Instead, I reiterated the danger of trusting just any loony on the road.

For the rest of a short drive, we discussed one's duty to one's fellow man versus the necessity of reaching out a helping hand occasionally. I mentioned that one should judge oneself by one's actions, and others by their intentions, and she liked that one so much she asked me to write it down for her... and when we got to town, I asked to be dropped off at the roadside, and she wouldn't hear of it; she made me tell her where, and she delivered me to the front door. Quite a few of my coworkers were hanging around out front, waiting for the shift to start, and being dropped off by a drop-dead-gorgeous blonde in a convertible did quite a bit for my reputation at work for awhile after that. She thanked me effusively for all I'd done for her (What? Did I do anything?) and gave me a little peck on the cheek before driving off into the sunset of my memory...

...and nowadays, when I dwell where men gather, and men tell the story of the Blonde in the Convertible... I smile and say nothing.

*sigh*.....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sins of the Farter

Once upon a time, not that long after I’d moved out of the dorms, a friend of mine -- call him Bob -- guy with no shame at all, got a bunch of flak once because of his stinkies. In the process of ranking him out about it, someone -- it might have been me -- said, "Light a match, man! (waves hand to disperse odor) Jeez!"

He looked at me quizzically. Someone else explained to him the flammable nature of flatulence.
His face showed shock ... and glee. "No way!" he exclaimed. Feeling another one coming on, he rolled backwards, flung his ankles about his ears, pointed his ass skyward, snatched out a Bic lighter, lit it, and held it ready.

It cost him the hair on his knuckles, but he was... ENLIGHTENED.

So to speak.

For months after that, you never knew when he'd suddenly fling himself on his back and let loose the torch of liberty... It cost him a bit with the chicks, but he was the life of any party. Anyone can throw up or take their top off, but Bob was the only one anyone ever heard of who brought his own light show.

With a little experimentation, he even found that he could vary the flames' colors, depending on what he'd eaten that day. The most common colors were blue and yellow, but he found that various foods, in addition to increasing his flatulence, produced blue and green, blue and orange, pure blue, orange and yellow, and there was one thing that even produced sparks. I don't know what it was. I frankly didn't wanna know, mad science notwithstanding....

It all came to an end one September day, at my place. I don't remember what we were all doing there. Bob was on the couch, Bobo and Troll were sitting next to him, and I was sitting on the floor on the other side of the coffee table. We were talking or something, and suddenly, Bob's eyes lit with an inner ...fire... we'd all come to recognize.

"Fire alarm!" said, Troll, realizing what was about to happen. Troll and Bobo immediately scooched away to give him room to work. I obligingly grabbed the coffee table and pulled it back.
Bob flung his ankles about his ears, rolled onto his back, and lit up.

Something went terribly, terribly wrong.

We're still not sure what.

Bobo thinks that the gas coming out the leg of his shorts ignited, and traveled inwards, causing an explosion in the seat of his pants.

Troll thought it was Bob's new synthetic-fiber parachute-material shorts -- they must've been flammable or something.

I don't agree with Bobo -- I saw the initial fire blossom right over the middle of his butt, right before the nine-foot tongue of pink fire shot out of his ass, right at my face.

I threw myself backwards, flat on the floor, just in time to save my eyebrows. For days afterwards, my mustache smelled like burnt hair.

All I could see was blazing pink Armageddon. It took a minute for my eyes to focus. For one horrible moment, I thought the curtains were on fire. I heard screams.

I sat up, figuring no fart ever blown could last more than a few seconds. Fortunately, I was right. My eyes focused. The screams continued.

Bob was face down, bent over the couch. His ass was on fire. Troll had a death-grip around his waist, and he and Bobo were beating the shit out of him, trying to put the fire out. I leaped up and began beating the shit out of him, too.

The fire went out quickly enough, but the material continued to smolder, and we wound up tearing his shorts off of him and running them into the kitchen, into the sink. Bob rolled on the floor, moaning. His poor ass was bald as an egg, and red as a lobster. He wasn't badly hurt -- not even any blisters -- and he later told us that it wasn't the fire that hurt him, it was Troll's huge hands whacking him on the ass -- Troll was a pretty big guy, and Bob was … well… small for his age… and several blows had fallen a bit further south than they'd been intended, and Troll had in fact fetched him several nasty blows to the 'nads.

There was a burnt, fused hole in Bob's shorts big enough to put a man's fist through without touching the edges.

We posted the shorts on the wall of the stairwell as a trophy to our cleverness ... and as a warning, for generations to come.…

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Kirk Movie

When Becca and I were first dating, I soon came to realize there was another genre of film aside from those you normally find at the video store or Netflix queue, like horror, romance, classics, drama, war, science fiction...

...and that genre is the "Kirk Movie."

I would show Becca some gem of cinematic brilliance, and afterwards, she'd blink, rub her eyes, and say, "That was a Kirk Movie."

The trouble is, she never was all that great about explaining precisely what made a Kirk Movie. She couldn't explain it. She could give examples -- Videodrome was a Kirk Movie, as was Pulp Fiction, Radio Flyer, and various other little oddities.

I quickly learned that simply because Kirk liked a movie did not make it a Kirk Movie. Kirk, after all, liked "Gone With The Wind" and "It's A Wonderful Life," for example. These were not Kirk Movies. Often, weird little indie films would be Kirk Movies, but this was not a requirement -- Pulp Fiction was the least obscure Kirk Movie ever made, and several others were pretty mainstream.

Perhaps Kirk Movies were particularly bad films, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, or Robot Monster? I'm still pretty fond of those. But no, while these films were quite bad (and quite funny,) they were not Kirk Movies. They were "Mystery Science" movies, movies made to be made fun of on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. While they did fall into a specific category in the Becca Nomenclature, they were not Kirk Movies.

Horror movies? No. Becca has her own categorizations there -- thrillers, suspense, splatter, zombie, splatcom, even (as in "splatter comedy,") but a horror movie was still not necessarily a Kirk Movie. There remained some element, some inexplicable thing that separates THIS genre from any other.

Last week, we watched Masters Of Horror: Cigarette Burns, a spooky little number by John Carpenter. It's quite strange, and very spooky, and has to do with the search for a lost film... a film which has the effect of driving anyone who sees it utterly insane, and usually causing them to become violently so. As you might expect, the ending of this particular film is horrifying, a tad gory, and quite surreal. As I watched our hero's hallucinations unspool, it occurred to me that we might well be watching a Kirk Movie.

"Well," I asked, as the credits rolled, "Was this a Kirk Movie?"

"No," she said, "of course not," as if it were self-evident.

"WHY NOT?" I said. I've been married to this wonderful, beautiful, magical woman for fifteen years, but there are days I'm no closer to understanding her than on day one...

"Because the plot was self evident," she said. "It's quite obvious what happened, here. One thing led to another. At no point was I ever wondering 'what the hell happened?' "

"Wha?" I said.

She sighed. "The man began hunting the movie. The man met others who had seen the movie. He saw that they were crazy, and his personal demons and his quest were making HIM crazy. Finally, at the end, he saw the movie, and it all made sense. He goes crazy, and [SPOILERS TERMINATED]. We see all of this. At no point did I wonder if I was seeing things from MY point of view, HIS point of view, or the DIRECTOR'S point of view. It all made perfect sense."

"So," I started uncertainly, "A Kirk Movie is a movie that doesn't make sense?"

"Largely," she said. "Videodrome, for example: you can sit up all night arguing that the weird stuff you're seeing is either real, or James Woods hallucinating because he's insane, or a mix of both. Naked Lunch made nearly no sense at ALL except as allegory. THESE were Kirk Movies."

Ah. Well. At least after fifteen years, ONE thing make sense...

My Summer Vacation

We'd gotten the shed up to about 30 mph when the rope broke.

It was one of those little prefab assemble-it-yourself plastic sheds you can get at Home Depot, for keeping the rain off your lawn mower, you know? Hobbes was standing in the damn thing, with the doors wide open, as it sluiced along the lake on its back, dancing like a monkey, with everyone screaming at him to get back down inside the fucker. He ignored us, of course. He continued to do his improvised version of the Frug, while keeping a lookout for speedboats with girls on them who might lift their tops for any reason or no reason, and thus, when the rope broke, he went ass over teakettle into the bottom of the shed, which caused it to spin out and sink like a rock.

"Goddammit, Hobbes!" I roared. "You're towing that thing back to shore! I told you to sit your ass down, and now you have gone and sunk my tool shed!"

Hobbes' reply was a series of bubbles on the surface of the water.

Dancin' Dwarf was doing somewhat better, surprisingly. It had been his idea to mount water skis on an old Schwinn bike, claiming it'd be as fun as water skiing, but as easy as riding a bike. He hadn't taken into account the tendency of the skis to sideslip. He'd been reflexively shifting his weight back and forth to offset this, meaning he was furiously zigzagging along on the surface at thirty miles an hour or faster. I was quite sure that sooner or later, he was going to overcompensate it and get about a gallon of water up his nose when he ate it. Still, he continued to stay balanced...

Smooth, of course, had taken no chances. He'd rented a kids' bouncy castle, inflated it, and had it on the far starboard towline. Amusingly enough, due to the roof's aerodynamic design, rather than skimming along the water, it bounced! It'd hit the water, bounce a good three feet in the air, and land gently atop the water again, and bounce another three feet in the air.... like skimming a flat stone across the water. I wondered how comfortable Smooth was in there; the walls were inflated vinyl, and I couldn't see him. At least we were reasonably sure that if it flipped over or something, he sure wasn't going to drown.

The Gremlin, as usual, had done the unexpected; he'd simply tied his line to the nose of a large inflatable rubber alligator, and was skimming along the surface atop the thing. The unexpected part was that he'd brought his LAPTOP along, so he could get realtime shots of the contest on his webcam! We were all quite sure that if no other causalties were claimed this afternoon, Gremlin's laptop was truly doomed.

Cap'n Woody's vehicle had gotten the most weird looks from other boaters and passersby. He'd sneaked out to High Sierra Plumbing and stolen a portapotty. At least, I hoped that's where he'd gotten it; that's the only place in town you could get a brand new unused portapotty, and considering his girlfriend Michiru was in there with him, I was pretty sure this one was pristine. He'd laid it down on its back, and was commanding the thing luge-style, with the door open, acting both as top hatch and sail. Michiru took the forward position, to keep her trimmed, and Cap'n Woody remained in the rear, as ballast. Occasionally, he'd wave a pirate flag he'd obtained for the occasion.

"Cut her hard to port," said Chaosia. "Hobbes hasn't surfaced yet."

"Well, no," I said. "he has to dive down and get my dratted shed and bring it up before he's allowed to do that."

"Dammit, Doc," growled Chaosia, "just cut the boat left."

My dear wife Chaosia's the boat pilot between us; I grew up in the desert, myself, deep south Texas chaparral, and I know about as much about boats as a pig does about politics. I obligingly turned left, same as you would in your automobile, at any open intersection.

"Oh, hell, Doc, NO!" cried Chaosia. "TRIM TO STARBOARD, TRIM TO STARBOARD--"

"Huh?" I said. "Which one is starboard, again?" I consulted my little spray dampened cheat note, taped to the dashboard. "Is that the back of the boat, or the front?"

"CUT RIGHT, DAMMIT!" screamed Chaosia.

It was too late. When the boat curved to the left, the surviving contestants had all continued straight, and had slewed off slooooowly to the left... and all on a collision course with each other.

Dancin' Dwarf screamed. He was headed right for Gremlin and his giant rubber alligator.

Smooth, we found out later, was resting blissfully on vinyl clouds, totally unaware of what was going on; he could only see out of one side of his air castle, and was in midair at the time. He was vaguely aware that we'd turned.

Gremlin blinked twice, pulled a huge Crocodile Dundee knife out of nowhere, and cut his own line, jamming his legs into the water to brake. Dancin' Dwarf sliced the water in front of him, narrowly missing the alligator's nose.

Cap'n Woody and Michiru both glanced left at the same time, to see Dancin' Dwarf speeding towards them, almost completely out of control. Michiru immediately kicked Woody's knees out from under him, collapsing him to the bottom of the boat -- er, portapotty. She then reached up, grabbed the door, and slammed it shut.

She locked it, too. I could see the little red OCCUPIED tag spring up in the slot.

Screaming, Dancin' Dwarf sliced the blue waters, speeding towards his destiny.

Off to the right, my toolshed erupted from the water like a square grey shark seeking prey. It went SPLAT atop the water, and rested serenely. The doors opened, and Hobbes poked his head out.

"See, honey?" I said. "Hobbes is fine. No need to panic."

Chaosia stared at Dancin' Dwarf with horror as he sped on his collision course with the portapotty. Would the forward ski impale the thin plastic wall? Would Dwarf's entire contraption shatter, or would the portapotty's brittle plastic give way first?

Well, actually, neither. As both Woody and Michiru tumbled around in the sealed square cylinder, one corner went deeper than the rest of the box. The only thing showing above water now was a prism shape.

Dwarf hit the prism like a ramp, and was immediately airborne.

Hobbes goggled.
Chaosia goggled.
I goggled.
Gremlin furiously kicked and paddled his alligator, trying to keep the scene in the webcam's field of view.

And Dancin' Dwarf sailed into the side of Smooth's flying inflatable castle, as neatly as if we'd spent a week planning it.

I turned away, unable to look. That ski was going to shred that poor pink Barbie inflatable castle.

Amazingly, it didn't. Dwarf and his flying seabike rebounded off the side, spun out of control, and landed upside down in the water nearby. Unfortunately, Dwarf had by then imparted his velocity and kinetic energy to the castle.

Unevenly.

Now, instead of smootly and serenely floating across a fairy pond of green, Smooth and his castle were spinning on the castle's axis, clipping the surface every so often, usually with a corner, which of course added more spin. Imagine a pair of casino dice tumbling along the dealer's table ass over teakettle, and you'll see what I mean. Especially if one of the dice has a little man in it, bouncing off all the interior walls and screaming and cursing like a Turkish sailor with a kidney stone. Finally, in desperation, Smooth grabbed one of the doorflaps, and abandoned ship -- er, castle, plunging into the comparitive serenity of Lake Dunlap, and allowing his castle to tumble where it will.

I still sat there and goggled. Chaosia had to come and push me out of the way, throttle back, and turn around to go get everyone.

By the time we brought it back together, Gremlin was already rerunning and editing his video footage. "I think that means I win," he said. "I don't have to clean up after the barbecue."

"%$#@ YOU," said Michiru, ladylike as ever. "We're still floating. We didn't sink. Race ain't over yet."

"Yeah, but you got hit."

"That wasn't in the charter," said Cap'n Woody. "The rules clearly state that if the participant OR his vehicle are still afloat, the contest is inconclusive!!"

"Yeah," said Michiru. "And we're still afloat, and so is our vehicle, and it's still attached. Only reason YOU didn't eat it is because YOU cut your LINE!"

"Fine," said Gremlin. "You and me, then?"

"Fine with us!" sneered Michiru.

"DOC!" roared Gremlin. "FIRE IT UP! WE NEED A TIEBREAKER!"

I glanced around. My tool shed was paddling to shore all by itself; I could only assume Hobbes was under it. Dancin' Dwarf had abandoned his sunken Schwinn, and was making for shore, too. Smooth had climbed dazedly aboard the boat, and was looking up; the wind had caught his Barbie Castle, and we were flying the thing like a kite.

Regrettably, the contest's conclusion was nowhere as dramatic as its middle.

At first, Smooth insisted that since his accident hadn't been his fault, he should be allowed to retrieve his castle, and rejoin the race. The rules were clear, though -- once you or your vehicle is underwater, that's it. He had vacated the castle voluntarily, even though it hadn't been his fault that its trajectory had been altered to put spin on it.

This left the Alligator, with the Gremlin and his mobile webstation, and the Outhouse, with Cap'n Woody and Michiru. We resecured the lines, rescued the survivors, and cut back up Lake Dunlap, back towards my father-in-law's house, where we'd stolen the boat in the first place.

Well, when both contestants in a race are being towed by the same vehicle, this kind of skews the results. We know everyone's going to get there at the same time, right? So Woody decides to see about altering the results somewhat, and begins leaning hard left... then quick right... then haaard left... then quick right....

...with the over all effect that the Port-A-Bullet is starting to edge closer to the Alligator. If he succeeded in colliding with the Gremlin, it would be no contest; the port-a-can, with both Woody and Michiru aboard, outmassed the inflatable alligator by four or five to one, easy.

"What are you DOING?" shrieked Michiru.

"Helping the odds," called Cap'n Woody, still tilting hard left.

The portapotty brushed the gator. Gremlin immediately hugged his laptop with both hands, and furiously began kicking his legs to stabilize. Woody tilted right again, then haaaaaaaard left...

Gremlin didn't quite topple.

Michiru began screaming incoherently at Woody. Woody ignored her and began tilting right again... and then haaaaaaaard left....

....without noticing that the Gremlin had retrieved his Crocodile Dundee knife. I have no idea where he kept the thing; all he was wearing was a pair of fairly snug swim trunks, and the blade was big enough to fillet a dinosaur. I presume he keeps it in the same pocket Bugs Bunny uses to store pre-lit sticks of dynamite. Anyway, he leaned forward, and swung the knife at the portapotty's tow line.

He connected, but didn't sever it. This time, it was Woody's turn to scream, and he leaned HAAAAAARD right....

Grinning like a shark, Gremlin hugged his laptop to his chest with one hand, waved his toad stabber around with the other, and began leaning HAAAAAARD right...

Michiru, realizing no one is listening to her, at this point, began climbing the tow line towards the boat. Dancin' Dwarf, Smooth, and Hobbes all stuck hands out to help, and within seconds, she was safe on the aft deck.

Woody leaned HAAAARD left....

Gremlin leaned HAAAARD right...

The gator and the toilet surged towards each other...

The knife flashed, once, in the fiery sunlight...

The portapotty's line parted....

....and Michiru yanked the Alligator's bowline, untying the knot. The Alligator was free.

Gremlin and Woody looked at the boat, growing smaller in the distance, openmouthed.

Last we saw of 'em in daylight, Gremlin seemed to have gotten into the portajohn, and was struggling with Woody to see which of 'em was going into the water...

While I'm thinking about it, does anyone know where you rent those giant pink and blue inflatable apes you see outside car dealerships? I have an idea for an illustrated sequel to this story. Maybe when Woody and the Gremlin get back there will be video footage.......

How I Got This Way

Born under a weird star, I guess. Always been a weirdness magnet.

Mom attributes it to many things, not least of which was Mom and Dad's first date. Dad showed up on time, so naturally Mom was still upstairs getting ready, so Dad sat down on the couch with Grandma for the obligatory awkward conversation.

"So," said Dad, "What does your daughter like to do for fun?"

"Mostly she likes to screw," said Grandma.

Dad said nothing, because his jaw didn't seem to work; it was now hanging slackly in front of him.
"She likes to go out and screw with about every boy who comes to call," continued Grandma blithely.

Dad managed to muscle his jaw shut. He still did not manage to think of anything to say.

"In fact, she enjoys screwing so much, she'll practice it all by herself in her bedroom at night," continued Grandma, apparently unaware of the thunderstruck condition of my father... who glanced up at this point and saw Mom, standing on the stairs, a look of horrified rage on her face.

"THE TWIST, Mother!" she cried. "It's called THE TWIST, dammit!"

Turtles and Toobs

You know, upon rereading this story (which I wrote several years ago), it occurs to me that I forgot a big chunk in the middle, in which we had to figure out a way for Bob to use the bathroom despite the fact that he couldn't get his swim trunks off because there was a snapping turtle hanging onto his ass.

Now that I reconsider this, perhaps it's just as well that I left that part out...

*************************************

Toobin' is not without its hazards.

In the San Marcos river, in particular, you had to keep an eye peeled for turtles. MOST turtles, the box turtles and softshells, were no big deal... but when you saw a trail of bubbles headed your way, it was wise to hoist your butt out of the water, just in case.

Friend of mine... call him Bob... didn't, once. Quite a while back.

We were sailing down the San Marcos river, high summer, having a fine time, when the Troll called out, "Butts in the air!"

I glanced over. Sure enough, a bubble trail was moving lazily towards us. I tossed back the remainder of my beer and braced my hands and feet on the edges of the toob, and hoisted my butt clear. So did Bobo and Crazy Jane.

Not Bob. "Man, that's lame. Nobody ever gets bit by turtles."

"We don't get bit by turtles because we hoist our BUTTS in the air, Bob," said Bobo. "You're taking your ass in your own hands, here, so to speak."

"I saw a guy get bit by a turtle, once, Bob," said Crazy Jane. "You really oughtta give that turtle some room."

"Yeah, right," said Bob, still very relaxed, beer in hand. "How many snappers ARE there in this river, anyway? It's probably just aAAAAAAAAAAARRRGH!!!"

...and Bob erupted from the water, straight up out of the tube, furiously whacking at the turtle on his ass with both hands. I ducked to avoid his flung beer, and then thought better of it, caught it (and fell back into my tube with a splash), and drank it. After all, there was no turtle to worry about now, and why waste a perfectly good beer?

Bob, still howling, furiously thrashed around towards shore, toob forgotten. I hooked it with one arm and began kicking towards shore myself. Everyone else had jumped from their toobs and were towing them rapidly to the river bank.

Once on shore, we pondered what to do. Bob's turtle was a snapper, not too big -- maybe fourteen inches from nose to tail -- but weighing several pounds, and with its beak firmly clamped on Bob's ass. Once a snapper bites down on something, they are remarkably disinclined to let go, no matter WHAT you do. This snapping turtle was typical, and seemed perfectly content to hang on and wait for Bob to die of old age, so the turtle could finish eating him.

We tried prying it off. This did nothing, and had Bob screaming his ass off, so to speak.

We tried beating the crap out of the turtle. The turtle ignored us. We couldn't really hit the turtle effectively, anyway -- any really good swing with a stick, you had to be careful not to hit Bob, which meant the blow would hit the turtle's shell. You made a point of aiming for the turtle's HEAD, you had to be VERY careful, so as not to hit Bob, which meant the blow was too SOFT, and bothered the turtle not at all.

It did, however, finish the job of breaking the skin. Bob's butt began to bleed.

We pondered what else to do. Bobo remarked that he had a jack handle in his car. Perhaps we could stick a jack handle between the creature's jaws and pry his beak open long enough to let Bob escape?

"And when the turtle's mouth is empty, he bites WHAT?" said Crazy Jane.

"The closest thing at hand," I said. "The jack handle. Is it fairly long?"

"Three feet, solid steel," he said. "Worst that can happen is we'll have to abandon the jack handle because we can't get the turtle off of IT."

"Oh, we can get him off the jack handle," remarked Troll, flexing his mighty biceps and cracking his large knuckles. "All I have to do is swing that sucker against a tree a few times. Turtle will let go... one way or another." About then, he looked speculatively at Bob. "You know, that same trick might work right NOW, if--"

"Fuck YOU!" wailed Bob.

We hiked back to the cars. Fortunately, we hadn't been in the river that long, and we'd gone round a bend, so we were less than half a mile from where we'd parked. We did get some rather odd looks, though, from other people out and about that fine August day, because Bob complained that it hurt, walking, because he had a hole in his ass with several pounds of turtle hanging off of it, and the damn turtle not only hurt there, but would kick him with its rear claws every time it swung close enough to hit the backs of his legs.

I finally took pity on Bob and grabbed the turtle's tail. The turtle wasn't happy, and tried to claw me as well, but couldn't reach. So I walked behind Bob, holding the turtle's tail, while the turtle held Bob's, which no doubt struck many of our fellow parkgoers as a damn peculiar sight indeed.

We got back to the parking and picnic area with no incident, though. The turtle was still firmly clamped in place. Bobo went to his truck and got a jack handle. He hadn't exaggerated about the size, either... the thing was as big as a crowbar. With some care, we tried to get the chisel-tip end into the turtle's mouth.

After a few tries, some hissing on the part of the turtle, and at least one mishap that resulted in Bobo accidentally almost shoving the thing up Bob's butt, we managed to get it into place... and Bobo carefully levered...

...and the handle popped out of the turtle's mouth. Due to the way the turtle was hanging, between Bob's ass and my hand, there was no way to get any leverage. We would have to set the turtle DOWN on something. So we moved over to a picnic table, had Bob carefully rest at one end, and put the turtle down on the tabletop.

The turtle promptly stood up and tried to run away. This attempt failed, largely because he attempted to take Bob's ass with him. That didn't keep him from hissing like a teapot, and furiously trying to go about six ways at once, with his little clawed feet kicking every whichaway.

The turtle, that is, not Bob.

We tried holding the turtle down, but he wasn't having any of that, and every one of us was thinking, "If this turtle DOES decide to let go of Bob, who's going to be next in line and most convenient, and do I really want my fingers this close to a snapping turtle's face?"

And so, with all of us rather nervously not really holding the turtle still at all, Bobo set the chisel end in place again, and tried to pry the turtle's jaws loose again.

The chiselblade popped out again.

We tried twice more, and gave up. Bobo noted that IF the damn turtle would hold still... OR if he could get the chiselblade in a little deeper... he could manage it. But not THIS way.

Bob didn't quite start crying.

"Hey, WAIT a minute!" shouted Troll. He immediately ran away, charging at a group of picnickers, who regarded this huge Nordic sasquatch in Hawaiian-print swimtrunks' approach with some alarm. He spoke to them briefly. They showed some relief. He pointed at us. They looked at us. One woman brought her hand to her mouth, in alarm, upon seeing Bob's new appendage. They all nodded at Troll, who came back with a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid.

"No problem," said the Troll. "We move over to one of the barbecues, right? We put the turtle in the firebox, and we soak him down with lighter fluid. We light him the hell up, and the second he lets go of Bob, we haul ass!"

Bob looked as if someone had suggested amputation. "No WAY!" he cried. "What if my ASS catches fire? Man, that was bad enough LAST TIME!"

"And there is no guarantee that the turtle will actually let go, even when ignited," said Crazy Jane, analytically. "Snapping turtles are notoriously stupid, and legendarily stubborn. I would think that the only thing worse than having a turtle on your ass is having a BURNING turtle on your ass."

Bob whimpered.

About then, I had a minor epiphany. "Wait a minute," I said. "Gimme the lighter fluid. Bobo, get the jackhandle ready."

"What're you going to do?" asked Jane.

"YOU ARE NOT SETTING MY ASS ON FIRE!!!" screamed Bob, loud enough that heads glanced up all OVER the park.

"I'm not setting anything on fire," I said. "I'm just gonna give Mr. Turtle a reason to spit out what he's got in his mouth, that's all." I popped the little nozzle in the cap open. It was designed to spew a fine stream of lighter fluid. It occurred to me it would fit nicely into that little gap that Bobo had been trying to pry open... and I indicated so to my companions.

Everyone nodded. It certainly was no worse than anything else we'd tried. Bob braced himself. Troll grabbed a branch, and stood ready with Bobo, who was still armed with his jackhandle. Crazy Jane grabbed Bob's hands, ready to yank him clear if the turtle did let go.

I pondered for a minute exactly who was likely to get whacked upside the head with a branch or jackhandle, and considered the likelihood that BOTH of them might accidentally strike me while the turtle launched itself savagely at my crotch.

I will admit to a moment's hesitation.

"'Ya ready?" asked Bob.

"Okay... stand by," I said, uncertainly. I upended the bottle and squirted a healthy jolt of charcoal lighter fluid into the turtle's mouth.

The effect was galvanic. The turtle leaped back several inches, IMMEDIATELY having let go of Bob's ass.

It stared at me with naked reptile hatred, and HISSED.

My blood ran cold. I immediately dropped the bottle of lighter fluid and covered my crotch with both hands.

The Troll levered me aside (actually, he accidentally threw me several feet -- that's the Troll for you), and swung his branch down with mighty force.

He missed the turtle, but he did break one of the boards comprising the picnic table's top.

The turtle scuttled backwards.

Alarmed, Bobo swung his mighty jackhandle, missing the turtle completely, but breaking Troll's branch rather neatly.

The turtle scuttled backwards, fell off the table, and landed on the pavement.

Upside down.

Hissing.

"Le'GO of me, Jane," snarled Bob, struggling with her. "I'm gonna kick that goddamn turtle clear to fucking BALTIMORE!"

"NO, dammit," she said, refusing to let go. "That turtle is going to bite your damn foot off, and that's assuming you don't break a toe kicking him. Let him be."

Bobo and the Troll dropped into crouches, and sidled briskly around the picnic table, clutching their weapons, like special forces commandos in Ocean Pacific beach gear. The turtle was trying to right itself. Given time, it probably would.

Bob began chasing himself in a little circle, head craned over his shoulder, trying to see what his punctured butt looked like

And Troll had an idea. "Le'me use that a minute?" he asked Bobo. Bobo gave him the tire iron.

"FORE!" screamed the Troll, who drove that turtle in a manner that would have done Arnold Palmer proud. The tire iron rang like a bell.

The turtle spun through the air, bounced once, and fell into the river. The iron had struck his shell, and probably not injured the turtle, but I suspect he was dizzy as hell when he finally hit the river bottom.

"Troll, you ASSHOLE!" said Crazy Jane. She ran towards the river. "SNAPPER!" she cried. "SNAPPING TURTLE! IN THE WATER!"

...and all over the river, people erupted out of the water. I didn't see the point. The turtle HAD to be at least stunned, and even if he wasn't, he was in no shape to go chasing anyone, as dizzy as he had to be from his recent flight.

I got up. Down by the river, people were leaping out of the water, looking around. "Where? WHERE?" some were saying.

"I think maybe we should leave, now," I said.

"Yeah, good point," said the Troll, who had begun to sidle towards his car. I took a moment to return the nice people's charcoal starter fluid, and we leaped into our vehicles and left. Well, almost. We had to arrange Bob in such a way that his butt didn't touch anything; it was apparently still fairly sore, and he was howling about turtle germs and I had to tell him three separate times that turtles couldn't give anyone rabies.

He wound up not needing to go to the emergency room. It was actually a fairly shallow wound, and it healed fine without stitches, although he was pretty compulsive about disinfectants for quite some time after that.

But to this day, he has a triangular scar on his left butt cheek. Years later, at his wedding, I found myself idly wondering how he explained that one to his wife...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A waste of your time, and an intrusion on mine!

I closed the door and locked it, having been extremely rude to a couple of strangers. They didn't really deserve it, but DAMN! How much of this shit do I have to TAKE?

People who know me know that I tend to be impatient with people who turn up on my doorstep with something I don't want. People who don't know me well say, "How can you do the job you do -- a job that requires infinite patience -- and yet be impatient with Girl Scouts, band students selling candy, and Jehovah's Witnesses?"

Well, I'm not impatient with Girl Scouts and band students. In fact, I could do with more of those. They actually sell something I am interested in, although my waistline could do with less of it. No, my ire is reserved almost entirely for two things: proselytizers of some religion or other, and magazine salesmen.

In the past three days, I have been pestered twice by magazine salesmen. The first realized right away that I wasn't going to yield a profit, and thanked me, and left. The second, this afternoon, didn't know when to quit, and got snapped at for his trouble. Part of me wanted to admire his persistence -- I've been a salesman myself -- but a much larger part of me wanted to start with "This is a waste of your time and an intrusion on mine," and end with a foaming stream of profanities and gunfire intended to scare the bastard into the street, down the block, and out of my neighborhood forever. I don't WANT your fraggin' magazines, I don't CARE about your fraggin' scholarship, and I don't give a rat's bahonkus about your points, your competition, or your vacation to the friggin' Bahamas! You are part and parcel of a scam to sell me magazines, we both know it, I don't want your magazines, I will not give you money, and standing here on my front porch blowing sunshine up my ass is a POINTLESS ENDEAVOR THAT SERVES NO PURPOSE OTHER THAN MAKING ME ANGRY, ASSHOLE!!!!

I said none of these things. I cut him off; he tried to make a joke; I looked him in the eye and said, "Goodbye." He looked hurt, but he took the hint.

Less than an hour later, the Mormons showed up. Becca thought it was funny. I should have thought it was funny, too. Instead, I was livid. I answered the door, and if I recall, I said something to the effect of "Jesus, what is this? Are the assholes out in FORCE today? CAN'T YOU READ THE SIGN?" And I slammed the door in their rather shocked faces.

I do have a "no proselytizing" sign next to the front door. Perhaps the next one needs words. In three or four languages. And perhaps some neon.

At any rate, this story is largely why I don't much like people who pester me at the front door...

Years ago, I was much younger, and didn't live here. I lived in a part of a certain town, far from here, that seemed infested with Jehovah's Witnesses.

At the time, I didn't have a thing against any religious group, creed, belief system, or much of anyone else.

I still don't.

Except Jehovah's Witnesses.

You see, these Jehovah's Witnesses used to Witness the hell out of this one neighborhood. Once or twice a month, I could count on one or two of them knocking on my door, wanting to come in and discuss "The Watchtower" with me.

This wouldn't have been so bad, except that they INVARIABLY showed up around eight a.m. or so... on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

I was in college at the time, unemployed, and independently wealthy from the royalties on my patents on various evil rubber sex toys, and the idea of being awake and ambulatory at eight a.m. on ANY day for ANY reason was durn near against MY religion.

...so like a sucker, I'd shrug into a bathrobe, stagger blindly into the living room, and open the door, expecting to find my old man there, telling me to get dressed, your grandfather's had a stroke...

...and instead be confronted by two clean-cut young men in white shirts and ties who want to give me literature and can they come in and discuss The Watchtower with me?


Now, I'm not fond of a lot of churchy folks to begin with, and I'm especially suspicious of the ones that come HUNTING ME DOWN. Nearly all religions preach humility, and for a quality so highly valued, you sure don't see a lot of it in many of these folks, and I don't much like being treated high-handedly or looked down the nose at, on the off chance that I don't happen to subscribe to a particular godfest, okay? And what kind of insane mindset holds the idea that if you PESTER someone long enough, they’ll join your church?

...and in time, I came to resent these people. I quit being polite. I got rather curt with them. "No thank you, I already have a religion," followed by closing the door in their faces because if you DON'T close the door in their faces, they'll KEEP TALKING, they won't LET you get away gracefully and politely...
In fact, some of them seem to THRIVE on being verbally abused, cursed at, sprayed down with garden hoses, and generally badly treated. Years later, my wife told me that this is PART of Witnessing -- being kicked in the butt by the Infidels. This is part of how Witnesses earn their way into Heaven! The more dirt you throw at them, the more exalted they'll be when they get there... the sweeter it is when they manage to CONVERT someone... the jollier it is, altogether. In short, being spat upon is PART OF THEIR RELIGION.
And it didn't stop them. They kept coming back.
...and this culminated in an ugly incident one Saturday morning.

You see, the previous Friday night, we'd been into Coca-Cola... and Civilization.

Civilization, the old Avalon Hill board game. Seven players. Each player takes the part of a Stone Age tribe, and you have to build a Classical Civilization, based on trade, warfare, and individual achievements like music, architecture, metalworking, agriculture, and so on. Ever played it? It's a kick, and educational, too...

...but a seven-player game rarely takes less than eight hours.
We'd just finished up. We'd been rolling dice and moving mice for about fifteen hours... and that sonofabitch Bobo had done his usual trick of cornering the goddamn salt market, ALL over the Mediterreanean, and the other players LET HIM DO IT, every damn game, and I'd had HELL keeping the Minoans out of Thrace, and Troll had been spreading plagues, iconoclasm, and heresy left and right -- he'd managed to delay the Greeks' entry into the Late Iron Age for two whole turns... and the Creature kept wanting to expand up out of Egypt (he stomped on the Egyptian player early -- he'd started out in Africa and, as Zimbabwe, had squeezed the Egyptian player out of the game singlehanded, but was still dumb enough to trade Bobo salt for ochre)...
...we were WEIRD. It was seven-thirty in the morning, and we were stonkered on caffeine, nicotine, ancient history, and fatigue poisons -- an ugly mix. One by one, we began getting up, putting away the board and tokens, and clearing away the mess.

Since it was my house, I decided to go to bed. I stripped down to my skivvies, and dived into the Legendary Waterbed, about which there's another story around here somewhere.

I'd been there maybe fifteen minutes... just enough time to get REALLY comfortable... when there was a knock on the door. Troll and Bobo were still there, but at that time, we weren't living together, and they weren't comfortable answering my door... so I got up, still dressed in nothing but Fruit-Of-The-Looms, and answered the door, fully expecting that it was the Creature or someone, having forgotten his keys or some durn thing...

...and, in the pale morning light, I found myself face to face with a fat lady in a flowered dress and her two small children. They all seemed quite surprised to be confronted with a sudden hairy near-naked man who stank of old cigarettes and the dust of ancient history. Precisely what they DID expect to find at my house at eight a.m. on a Saturday morning, I couldn't tell you.

We all stood there and stared at each other for a moment.

And then my eyes focused. I saw what it was she was clutching to her breast.

PAMPHLETS. And copies of THE WATCHTOWER.

I screamed. Well, perhaps howled is a better term. I wasn't afraid, of course... I wasn't even really angry... but I'd been comfortable, dammit, and about to drift off to sleep, and I'd taken THIRD place in the dratted game, thanks to Troll's carefully timed plague and Bobo's goddamn salt-based economy, and I'd been on the VERY EDGE of drifting off to dreamland, and it was EIGHT goddamn A.M. on a SATURDAY morning, and HERE THE BASTARDS WERE, ALL OVER AGAIN!

So I screamed. Loud. Guttural. Absolutely berserk.

Troll and Bobo looked up.

The woman screamed, too.

Her children turned tail and ran.

She stood there, mouth hanging open, brain locked up on her from sheer shock.

It occurred to me that it would be nice if she would run away, too. It would certainly be convenient. How could I make this happen? Perhaps if I did something that seemed threatening...

I glanced at the umbrella holder next to the door.

In it were two umbrellas, a cane, a large rubber double-ended dildo, and a sword. A real sword, genuine Toledo steel, left over from RenFaire. I grabbed it, waved it around, and screamed again.

She screamed again, too, spun around, and took off running across my front yard.

.......

...now I don't really know why I did what I did next. I was still kind of asleep, you'll remember, or at the very least not really awake, and I'd been up all night, and I sure as anything wasn't really thinking straight.

I do know, though, that I decided that she might stop running. I didn't want her to stop running. I wanted her to keep running clear to Oklahoma, if at all possible. The only way I could think of to make her keep running was the thing I had done to make her start running in the first place.

So I took off running, too. I screamed some more, and began waving the sword, like a loony about to make Viking salad out of some luckless soul.

The children had stopped running at the sidewalk. When the mostly naked hairy man erupted from the bushes in pursuit of Mama, waving a sword and shrieking like a banshee with kidney stones, they took OFF, with Mama right behind, and the crazy hairy man in hot pursuit.

I screamed again.

Mama screamed again.

The kids, not to be left out, screamed REAL loud.

Well, I didn't want the cycle to stop anytime soon. I screamed again. Mama screamed again, and the kids screamed again, and we all ran across the street at the end of the block.

Well, as you'll imagine, this was kind of noisy.

Some people poked their heads out of windows. A few front doors opened. People were looking to see what was happening.

...and it occurred to me that this particular course of action might have consequences that I had not foreseen.

I stopped running.

By now, the kids had reached a car, and were tugging at the handle and crying and screaming for Mama, Mama, the car is locked!

Mama hadn't looked over her shoulder, and was still booking, all three hundred pounds of her. They all leaped into the car, all in a twinkling.

I roared at them and waved my sword, as they peeled out and drove away.

I stood there in the middle of someone's front yard in my underwear, holding a broadsword.

People looked at me.

Fortunately, at the time, I was well equipped to save face -- I had hair down past my shoulders, and a beard out to here. I scowled around me. A couple of people closed their front doors.

Feeling dangerous and foolish, I walked back to my house. Troll and Bobo solemnly applauded as I stuck the sword back in the umbrella stand and went to bed.

I understand the cops drove up and down the street a few minutes later, but nothing ever came of it.

...and for the rest of the time I lived at that address... the Jehovah's Witnesses NEVER bothered us again.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Horror! The Horror! I dare not describe it...

When we talk about Lovecraft in my house, the title is usually the first thing to come out of Becca's mouth: "The horror! The mindbending, soul-rending, madness-bringing horror! I dare not describe it! You would go mad with the knowing, and I would go mad for the retelling!"

Yeah, well, okay, H.P. Lovecraft had his faults. He was a rabid racist, he favored the archaic style of writing, he couldn't write female characters, and he was a tad fervid with his use and choice of adjectives. But he had some neat ideas.

One idea in particular, he stole from Robert Chambers: the concept of a work of literature that contained ideas so bizarre that reading it could drive you crazy. Lovecraft reworked this idea into something slightly different -- namely, that "sanity" was simply the failure to understand the true nature of the universe, and that upon knowing and understanding the true nature of the world, yourself, and your place in it all... you'd snap, and go hopelessly fruity-gumballs on the spot.

Of course, in Lovecraft's fiction, this was because as far as intelligent life was concerned, we were on the short end of the scale, and the universe's other inhabitants were gigantic, alien beyond belief, and as far beyond us as we are from the termite.

I think this is probably pretty pessimistic. It is my understanding that there are other people out there, many of whom are better looking than I am, richer, more talented, and leading much more interesting lives. Nevertheless, I don't feel my own grip on my sanity slipping any. Perhaps it is simply that I do not fully comprehend how rich Bill Gates is, or how good looking Timothy Dalton is, compared to my poor self.

I wonder: if a termite could fully understand what a human is, would he go insane? And how would anyone know?

Oh, wau...

...I can has followers?

Nice to know SOMEONE's reading this stuff...

Sexual Awakenings at the Place of Ill Repute

Once upon a time, back around 1975 or so, I was eleven or twelvish, and I was feeling the pangs of puberty. I had discovered girls!

Now, part of my problem with this was the lack of information available. Plainly, some study was called for... but the library seemed remarkably short on information on the topic. What I really wanted was Playboy. Not only did they seem to have any number of articles on the subject of women, dating, picking them up, entertaining them, and getting them into bed, but they even told you what to wear, what kind of car to drive, and included illustrations of sample women!

(Y'gotta keep in mind, this was 1975. Playboy was about as serious as it got, as far as the subject of women went. And at age eleven, I was quite sure there could be no better guide to the subject area. My peer group firmly agreed.)

But I was no more than a puppy kid with a fuzz atop my upper lip that required me to shave every third day or so, lest my teachers try to wipe the dirt off with a kleenex. How was I to obtain such tomes of forbidden lore?

Well, plainly, I wasn't. I was stuck. Until I discovered the other drugstore.

My hometown had two drugstores at the time, the nice reputable one run by the guy who'd gone to high school with my mom, and at which I dared buy nothing more provocative than Detective Comics... and the other one, the one down near the movie theatre, the sleazy-looking one with the windows that hadn't been washed since the Johnson Administration, the one with which my parents did not do business. What might I find there?

Well, actually, quite a bit. This other place was run by a guy who appeared to be about a thousand years old, who watched me like a hawk, quite certain that the minute he took an eye off me, I'd stuff half the store into my pocket and set the other half afire, to judge from his attitude. But when I checked his magazine rack, I was astonished. This guy had comics dating back to the sixties! Mighod! Didn't he ever send his unsold copies back?

He did not. I forgot all about Playboy, and gleefully spent the four dollars I'd brought with me on comics. He solemnly sold them to me at cover price, too. He had to blow the dust off one to SEE the cover price.

Naturally, this should give you some idea what kind of a kid we're dealin' with, here. In fact, it may not even have been 1975 yet. Perhaps it was earlier. I do remember that I went there to investigate Playboy, though, so I couldn't have been all THAT young.

For weeks, when I got my allowance, I'd run like hell down to the old man's drugstore and buy up ancient comics. I was terrified that someone else would find out about this treasure trove. As I became a regular fixture in his store, he got a little friendlier... even got downright relaxed about my presence, although I noticed that nobody else ever seemed to be in that store. Was I his only customer? Then again, who cared?

I depleted his magazine rack, gradually. No new magazines appeared. I didn't mind. I could get new magazines anywhere, but this place was the next best thing to a time machine.

...and over time, I began to cast glances at his non-comics stock.

He did not carry Playboy, or Penthouse. What he did carry, though, looked decidedly interesting. The rack held a variety of interesting-looking magazines with titles like Men, Men's World, Man's Adventure, Grit, Sweat, Tough, Stud, Grunt, Stag, and so forth. Yeah, I may be mistaken about some of those titles -- it's been thirty years, after all -- but judging from the cover illustrations, some of those woulda made good titles for some of these magazines.

They were all of a type, as recognizable as comic books. They invariably had painted illustrations on their covers, for one thing. The illustrations were always of one of these things:

*Two men fighting, while a woman with plunging neckline was nearby. She might or might not be watching the fight, and she could be in the background or foreground. Sometimes the men had knives; other times they fought barehanded. NEVER with guns, though.
*Men with guns blazing away at some offscreen enemy. Sometimes the men wore military uniforms, sometimes torn rags. If military uniforms were present, they might be in foxholes, and there might be barbed wire present.
*A scantily dressed woman with a gleeful come-hither look. There might or might not be appreciative-looking men on the cover with her.


Well, naturally, I was curious. I learned to watch for the old fellow out of the corner of my eye, and when he became distracted, I'd quickly flip through some of these magazines. What were they? What did they have?

...e-yow. In the few fleeting seconds I had to examine the magazines, I hardly had time to really check the content... but they DID have the obligatory photographs of women. Plainly, these, while not exactly Playboy, were certainly in the ballpark. Still, what would happen if I tried to buy any? I mean, this guy was old, and by age eleven, I'd learned what old people thought about such things. Would he, like, throw me out of his store? Then what would I do about all those back issues of The Atom and The Flash and Brave And The Bold?

I took a couple of weeks to think about it, while I made a point of buying up more of his comics. Especially the ones I knew I'd never be able to live without, if he threw me out and forbade me to come back...

Over time, over the weeks, over the months, the old man's stock dwindled. He'd quit ordering new magazines in 1973, and there was nothing newer than that in the store. Over time, I cleaned out his Supermans, his Green Lanterns, his Magnus, Robot Fighters, his Fantastic Fours (original Lee/Kirby!), his Spider-Mans, his Silver Surfers... and was finally down to the stuff even I couldn't stomach: his Yogi Bears and the like, and the horrible watered-down Charlton ghost comics.

The time had finally come.

I walked in casually one day, my allowance still warm in my pocket. I picked up two Charlton comics and a copy of Men's World, and walked up to the counter.

The old man looked at the magazines. Then he raised a gimlet eye and looked at me.

Suddenly, my stomach felt like it was full of lemon custard that someone'd forgotten to put the sugar in.

He glanced down at the magazines again. Slooowly, his aged hand moved...

...to the cash register. Ching! "Dollar seventy-eight," he said.

I about broke a finger getting my hand into my pants pocket to pay the man. I forced myself to saunter casually out the door, but once outside, I mounted my bike and broke all speed records getting home. The Charltons went in the trash, but finally... finally, Men's World was mine to consume, to peruse, to suck dry of all forbidden knowledge...

...

......

........

.............and a couple of hours later, I was more'n a little confused.

Admittedly, my experience with men's magazines was pretty minimal -- I'd looked over a copy of Playboy once, at a friend's house (he'd stolen it from his old man, and was later found out and beat purple for his sins, so there'd been no second chance), and this... upon careful perusal... didn't much look like Playboy. There were no articles about what kind of drinks to serve, what kind of clothes to wear, what kind of pickup lines to use. There did seem to be a page of jokes, but they were considerably different than the ones in Playboy.

The articles seemed limited to fictional stuff... mostly stories about guys fighting in World War II, along with one rather creepy article detailing Japanese war tortures. Not exactly what I'd been looking for.

Furthermore, there were the little sections with photos of women. In the old man's drugstore, I hadn't really had a chance to look very carefully, but in Playboy, the women were quite nude; this, to me, was perhaps the major reason for buying the magazine. Even if the articles proved inaccurate or unworkable, there were always the naked women, right?

These women, on the other hand, seemed perfectly content to leave their underwear and swimsuits on, although they'd sometimes let a strap slip, with a sly, pleased look on their faces, like they were getting away with the Brinks robbery.

What the hell was this stuff?

I thought about it over the following week, and eventually came to a conclusion. The old man hadn't ordered any new stuff for years. Plainly, he didn't have Playboy because Playboy was obviously a fairly new thing (the magazine had been in print since the fifties, of course, but no one had ever told me that). Therefore... what THIS magazine was... had to be... some kind of proto-Playboy, some sort of ancient skin mag from earlier times, before they'd refined the art to its modern form.

I grinned. This wasn't that big a deal. All I would need to do would be to go back and check the publication dates on the remaining magazines, and buy only the ones printed in the seventies. Logically, these magazines printed later in history would be much more like Playboy, yes?

The following week, I went back and picked up a couple more Charlton comics, and a copy of Stag. I didn't wanna overdo it, you see. I was pretty sure I was barely sailing under the old man's radar, and if I walked up to the counter with a stack of girlie magazines, there's no telling what he'd do. Best to take it slow and easy, not trigger any alarms...

...of course, this meant I couldn't make a point of paying much attention to the magazines while in the store. Had to look casual, saunter towards the rack, casually look them over, pick up three or four at random... and durned if ANY of those magazines had their date of publication on the cover! If I was lucky, they'd say something like "May" or "August." I spent a risky moment checking inside the front cover on the masthead, but there wasn't any information there, either.

I was flying blind. I'd have to depend on cover design and the amount of dust on the mag in question to determine how long it'd been there....

Fling? Twist? Glee? I forget what the title of the next magazine was, but I bought it the following week, along with two more of the horrible Charlton ghost comics. I remember at the time being a little worried, too... he didn't have too many more of those Charlton comics, which meant I'd have to fall back on Gold Key comics, and for some reason, I was quite sure if I tried to buy a combination of Stud and Huckleberry Hound, this would certainly set off any alarms the old man still had left rattling around in that ancient head of his...

...and I still wasn't brave enough, quite, to simply walk up to the old guy and try to buy a copy of Swing! all by itself. Not quite. Not without a comic to slap atop it, to hide that incriminating girlie art...

I got home, and furiously read the magazine. I'd picked this one because it had a photo cover instead of a painted illustration, and featured a cute sexy girl doing the come-hither, rather than sweaty men trying to kill each other. Surely, THIS magazine would follow the example on the cover. I was a lover, not a fighter... or at least, it's what I was aiming for.

It was frankly similar to the previous one, but with some differences. The dirty jokes were classier; I could tell, because I didn't get all of them. There was a fascinating article on easy dinners and breakfasts to serve your young lady when she came over to visit (the implication being that if you were serving her breakfast... well... hooboy!). The article seemed to assume that I was a young man living in my own apartment, and that I had no idea how to cook. Two out of three wasn't bad, and the recipes actually sounded kind of tasty. I wasn't sure how this would help me catch a girl, though, so I mentally bookmarked it and plunged on.

Rather irritatingly, it had another one of those dippy World War II stories, although this one seemed to focus on how female Nazi spies seduced Allied guys to get military secrets. It still wasn't what I was looking for, but it was certainly more interesting than Japanese war tortures.

...and then, there was The Girl.

This magazine, naturally, had several short photo features with young ladies in them. Two of these young ladies rather coyly refused to undress, one favoring a short translucent nightie, and the other a bikini... but the third, now... the third was The Girl.

The Girl started out fully dressed, and was quite naked by the third page of the four-page spread. Naked! I remember feeling my hormones fizz, steam, pop and bubble like a soda pop factory on fire.

Weirdly enough, though, in every nude picture... she was posed in such a way that you couldn't actually see anything. No, really! Invariably, she'd have an arm held in such a way that it displayed her nudity... while concealing just enough of it. She'd be walking across a room, with a chair in just the right position to hide her nether region, while an outstretched arm hid her breasts. Hell, in one waist-up picture, she simply concealed her nipples with three fingers of each hand, while on her face she wore a playful what'cha-gonna-do-about-it? look.

Completely naked, yet revealing nothing that might get the distributors arrested in any of the fifty states.

It's a wonder my head didn't explode. Any number of other things certainly felt like exploding. I was still a bit disappointed -- this still wasn't Playboy -- but it was much closer to the mark than the previous experiment. Obviously, I was on the right track. My theory had been correct. Plainly, this magazine had been printed years after the previous one, after standards had been relaxed. My plan was sound. I'd simply have to keep trying until I hit paydirt.

The wait until next week's allowance was a long and agonizing one.

Driven by hormones and frustration, I took a desperate gamble, and along with the obligatory two Charltons, I bought two girlie magazines that week. I had to know!!!

Weeks went by, and I bought more girlie magazines. One week, out of sheer seething desperation, I bought Stud, Manly, Swing! The Jetsons, and Walt Disney Comics and Stories, all in one burning stack, and felt afterwards like I'd committed some kind of mortal sin, what with Disney actually sharing space on the counter with these wicked periodicals. I actually arranged 'em in my bike basket so that The Jetsons was between Donald Duck and Swing!

I also felt a little odd the day after my birthday. I went down and spent a goodly share of my birthday money on old skin magazines, and wondered to myself how many other twelve-year-olds did anything like that?

And, over time, I came to have quite a stack of the things... and, in some ways, I was no closer to answers than I had been before I bought the first one. And, in some ways, I didn't care. Somehow, I felt I was richer, in an evil kind of way, for simply having the stack of the things, squirreled away in the cardboard box under my bed, than I would be if I didn't. Decades before The Simpsons hit the airwaves, I knew how Mr. Burns felt, as I wallowed in my own sinful crapulence...

I was a slave to my hormones. At the tender age of twelve, I had a collection of porn.

Or maybe not. Like I said, this stuff wasn't exactly Playboy. I did have enough of it, though, to begin to assemble a certain set of criteria...

*Three to four girlie layouts per magazine. Very few featured actual nudity, and NONE allowed the display of pubic regions or nipples. One actually featured a full-length shot of a lovely nude model with her back to the camera, her luscious unclad behind bare to the world. It about drove me crazy. Wonder who went to jail for that...?

*All magazines were required to have at least one article dealing with WWII, although sometimes Korean War articles were permissable. Usually, these articles dealt with first-person accounts of persons who claimed to have fought in the war in question (As the Panzer roared closer to my foxhole, all I had was a single grenade, and I knew the only hope for my trapped platoon was for me to get up out of that hole, scramble atop the cupola, and ram that egg down its hatch before its cannon could spit fiery death among my squadmates...)

*War articles not dealing with first-person combat accounts invariably dealt with sex, in a rather peculiar way (...and although I loved Marie more than life itself, I knew she was dedicated to Free France, and that tonight was all we'd ever have. I took her in my arms, the points of her breasts burning against my bare, sweaty chest, and smothered her face with kisses, as we fell back upon the cot...)

*The backs of these magazines were invariably jammed with ads for some of the most bizarre things, many of which I did not understand, and which irritated me to no end. I didn't have anyone I could ask what half the words meant, and even when I understood what the words meant, I was smart enough to know I wasn't even up on the concept, in some cases....

That same year, my old man gave me The Birds And The Bees lecture... and afterwards, asked if I had any questions.

I seethed. I had LOADS of questions... but I didn't dare ask them. I mean, I was a child, sure, but I was no dummy. I was quite sure if I started asking him what a "courtesan" was, or an "ecdysiast," or a "cuckold," or if "parody" was the only definition of "burlesque," (hey, I knew how to use a dictionary) that sooner or later, he'd ask me "Where the hell did you hear about all THIS stuff?"

...and there was no way in hell I even wanted him thinking about where I might have learned that stuff. So I sat, and I listened, and I nodded, and dutifully said, "No, sir," when he asked if I had any questions, while inside, my mind writhed in the tormented blackness of unsatisfied ignorance.

It was incredibly frustrating. I mean, the main reason I'd bought these magazines -- aside from the sexy girls, that is -- was to learn something about how sex was supposed to work... and the magazines, while providing reams of information, were ponderously unhelpful. It's like they were teasing me. What was worse, was, I knew what most of the words meant, but I still couldn't figure out what half the ads were selling... and the things I could understand, I couldn't see why any sane person would want to buy.

The only other thing that ever affected me that way was Animal Farm, this stupid book by some Englishman that my mom had given me to read. I mean, the book was basically a fairy tale about these farm animals that kick the farmer out and take over the farm for themselves, right? But by the end of the book, the pigs are running the place the same as the farmer.

Just a fairy tale... but you got this weird idea, while you were reading it, that the writer really wasn't talking about pigs and chickens and horses at all, that he really meant to be saying something else, but he wouldn't just come right out and say it, you know?

And it was up to YOU to figure it all out, somehow, without clue, signpost, or map.

And it drove me crazy. Crazier, that is, than the seminude pictures in the photo layouts. In some ways, those magazines, to me, became a symbol of the Essence Of Woman: attractive, sexy, exciting... and at least partly incomprehensible.

At age twelve, I was a quivering sexual neurotic.

There was one story in particular that I remember quite well, in fact, that very much illustrates what the problem was, for me... and, in many ways, illustrates what I did about it, as time went by. It was the story of The Place Of Ill Repute...

I was a kid. I make no pretensions towards literary brilliance, either in readin' it or writin' it. I was a seethin' mass of hormones, sure, and I was quite interested in finding out about how girls worked, and how best to handle them... in all senses of the word. This, and this alone, was why I'd invested in this stack of ancient dusty girlie magazines, right?

I wasn't all that interested in World War Two, or in stories about how OTHER guys had got lucky, except insofar as they might contain any good ideas I could put to my own use. I wasn't proud. I was ignorant, and I didn't wanna be. I knew, somehow, that my relations with the opposite sex were among the most important things I was ever gonna do, and I wanted to go in armed with as much knowledge as possible, right?

Occasionally, you'd run across an article which proclaimed that it knew how to make a woman your slave, how to drive them wild with passion, how to make them mad with desire... hell, I'd have settled for an article that told me how to go up and talk to one without breaking out in sweaty palms and mouth dryer'n the Sahara. Furthermore, these articles were written in this horrible, coy style that pretty much seemed to insist you read between the lines. I didn't wanna read between the lines. I wanted extensive detailed instructions. Was this too much to ask?

Over time, I lost interest. Plainly, these magazines couldn't teach me anything. Either that, or they wouldn't. They were written in some kind of weird code, or something. Or maybe they were just.... old. Maybe this was how people got together back in 1967. Had things really changed THAT much in only eight years?

But I still perused the magazines in the stack. There was The Girl, who beckoned me back, night after night, daring me to do something about those strategically placed fingers and arms and items of furniture. The articles about World War II really weren't all that bad, presuming you were actually in the mood to read about World War II.

...and then... there were the fiction items. And one I remember distinctly was The Place Of Ill Repute.

The Place of Ill Repute wasn't the title, of course. It was something catchy, something flashy, but I don't remember what it was, or who wrote it. I do remember it was heavily illustrated, though, with these terrific quarter-page paintings, every couple pages, rather than the usual one- or two-page painting you usually found on the title page. These illustrations showed what was happening in the story... and, as you can imagine, they led me to actually READ the the thing, just to try and figure out what the hell this was all about...

THE PLACE OF ILL REPUTE
Opening illustration: A buxom, brassy-lookin' redhead, marching towards the reader, flanked by two goofy lookin' drunks, marching in tow. Background appears to be a largish town from a movie Western.
Our story opens with the beautiful Irish lass, Rosie, as she came to San Francisco to seek her fortune, blah blah blah, Boomtown, blah, blah, horse-and-buggy, blah blah. With her came the reprobates Lefty and Feeble, faithful chums, but all too prone to "Looking For The Elephant." Rosie had a plan, you see, and with the wad of cash she drew from her copious but firm bosom, she lay down a down payment on a House on Sin Row, with which she would seek her fortune. She set Lefty and Feeble to sprucing up the house, while she saw to the procuring of a store of whiskey and rum, and the hiring of hostesses and beautiful women of all stripes, the better to build her fledgling hostelry into what would become THE HOUSE OF BLAZES!

(Ooookay. San Francisco. Judging from the illustration and description, this would seem to be pre-1900, Late Cowboy Period. Wow, Rosie has big boobs. Lefty and Feeble are her friends and employees. She wants to go into business. Wonder what it means, "Looking For The Elephant?" Wow, Rosie has big boobs. Plenty of dough, too. Wonder where she came across all that money? Hm. Booze. Okay, she's opening a bar. She wants sexy hostesses and waitresses and stuff, makes perfect sense.Y'know, Rosie has big boobs. Odd name for a bar, sure, but what do I know about such things?)

Within a week, Rosie has opened The House Of Blazes, and the food is fine, the drink is flowing, the girls are beautiful. Lefty and Feeble are her faithful Right Hand Men, all too adept with sap and club when customers get too salty, the best backup you could have... when they aren't Looking For The Elephant.
(Illustration: another beautiful woman, standing atop a large veranda, stares down the street at The House Of Blazes, sneering. Aside from dress and hair color, she is identical to Rosie, even down to the plunging neckline)
But all is not wine and roses. Down the street, another House, the Velvet Hammer, is run by the beautiful Raven, who laughs cruelly at the upstart House, and declares that the Velvet Hammer is the finest, most profitable House on Sin Row, with the most beautiful women, the finest liquor, the best accomodations, and that the House Of Blazes can be no more than some pathetic "crib joint" in comparison.
And those who frequent Sin Row, and those who live amidst its fire and gutter, glitter and glory, know that in her heart, Raven burns with rage, and that conflict of some sort is not far off.

(Hm. I didn't know bars served food. Must be a "bar and grill." Lefty and Feeble are the bouncers, when not chasing elephants. Perhaps this is some sort of euphemism for "getting drunk." And this new chick, Raven, is all bent outta shape about the new competition in town. Hey, why are all the bars on this one street, I wonder? Wouldn't it make more sense to open a bar in a part of town that doesn't have one? And what's a "crib joint?" Perhaps it's a place where lower-class folks go to drink... that would seem to be what Raven's implying...)

Rosie, oblivious to Raven's smoky stare from down the street, has sworn that the House Of Blazes will be second to none, a veritable palace of vice, the very finest in the city! To this end, she ceaselessly seeks the most beautiful women, the finest liquors, the very best cooks, and spares not a care in the furnishing of the upstairs rooms. Furthermore, she outrages the city (and drives Raven wild) when she has a thousand handbills printed up advertising THE HOUSE OF BLAZES and has Lefty and Feeble plaster them on every fence, wall, and pole in town.
(Illustration: Raven, wild with rage, tears a HOUSE OF BLAZES handbill in half, while several of her girls cower and cringe nearby)
Soon, the House Of Blazes has more business than it can handle, with the bar and waiting room packed with inquisitive San Franciscans. Rosie is obliged to hire a singer and piano player to keep them entertained while they wait!
(Illustration: Rosie strikes a Vanna White pose, showing off three gorgeous singers/dancers on a stage, with a smiling black man on piano off to one side. The girls are all about to pop out of their tops. The audience -- all men -- look like their eyes are about to fall out)
(Wow. So Rosie wants to run the highest-class, best bar in San Francisco. Why hire cooks for a bar, though? Restaurant? With rooms upstairs? This must be like an inn, or something... like on those movies about the Revolutionary War, a place where you could get a room, dinner, and a stiff drink, all in the same place. This place really looks like a fun place to stay, though. Bet it beats the heck out of HoJo's... and why would advertising outrage the entire city? Maybe back then it was, like, bad manners or against public policy to advertise a bar, or something. Seems a shame to keep people waiting on a room, though. Maybe the guys at the stage were just waiting for a table for dinner, or something... and it still doesn't explain why all these expensive inns are all on this one street on the edge of town.

I wonder what "vice" means?)

As the business grew, the money poured in, and Rosie was having the time of her life. She was as tough a businesswoman as she was a scrapper, and while she could be tender, she could deal a knockdown blow to any who laid hand upon her without first making the proper arrangements. Poor Lefty and Feeble, underworked and overpaid, had more time than ever to Chase The Elephant, and out of pity, Rosie let them sleep in the basement.
(Illustration: Rosie, clad in translucent nightie, rolling in a bed slathered with dollar bills and gold coins)
(So Rosie's sweet, but she'll knock you cold if you touch her without properly asking her out first. Hm. She must go on a lot of dates. Then again, with hooters like that, I can see why. I can see why she'd need to defend herself, too. Why do they keep calling these places "Houses?" Wouldn't "Inn" be a better term? Or are all these women literally running these places out of their homes? They must have very big houses... but if it's such a crummy neighborhood, how could that be? They keep calling them "places of ill repute," which would seem at odds with their fancy appearance...)

Tough and canny as Rosie is, though, she has a weak spot, as all the mighty and glorious must... and for Rosie, it's Sailor Steve.

Sailor Steve, a strong and handsome sailin' man, is only in town a week out of the month, and Rosie, tough as she is, melts at the very sight of him. Before long, he's a regular fixture at the House Of Blazes, every month. His meals and his drinks are on the house, as are his lodgings, and during that week, callers for Rosie are regretfully turned away...
(Illustration: Rosie, decked with jewelry and plunging neckline, dances with the handsome Sailor Steve, square of jaw and broad of shoulder, while customers and waitresses watch from the background, and wink at each other)
(Hm. So she's got it bad for Sailor Steve. I can see why. And when he's in town, he stays at the House Of Blazes, free of charge. Wow. No wonder he keeps comin' back. And no wonder Rosie doesn't seem to go out on dates much when he's around...)
(Illustration: Raven, pitching a full blown conniption fit, as her girls flee and dive out windows to escape her wrath)
Meanwhile, at the Velvet Hammer, Raven's mad enough to chew nails. The House Of Blazes is cutting into her bottom line, rather sharply, and some of her best girls have abandoned her to move down the street, looking to improve their own fortunes. There are those who'd say the Velvet Hammer isn't the best any more... and Raven begins casting around for information, for something she can use against Rosie and her infernal House! Unfortunately, Lefty and Feeble have been Looking For The Elephant again, and it doesn't take Raven's girls long to pry from them the tales of Sailor Steve and Rosie's infatuation with her blonde sailin' man...

(Uh-oh. Even a twelve year old can see where this is goin'.)

The following month, towards the end of the full moon, Sailor Steve does not come to the House Of Blazes to cover his beloved Rosie with kisses. His room remains untouched and unused, his usual barstool empty. Where is Sailor Steve? Lefty and Feeble are dispatched to the docks, to seek news. No, Sailor Steve didn't fall overboard, nor was he eaten by sharks; he arrived two days ago, and took his pay and vanished into town. Wherever could he be....?
(Illustration: Rosie, teary-eyed, stands on the portico of The House Of Blazes, scanning the streets, shading her eyes with one hand. About this time, it occurs to me that despite the time period in which this story is happening, this chick never seems to be wearing very much...)
Days pass. Still no Sailor Steve. Poor Rosie's a nervous wreck. Has he been coshed? Has he been killed? Has he been shanghaiied on a slow boat to China? Where, where, where could her beloved Sailor Steve be?

And then... days later... it happens. Raven's out in front of the House, laughing like a loon, pulling on a bottle of gin, and twirling a sailor cap on her finger.
(Illustration: see previous sentence. In the foreground, Rosie stares at the laughing Raven, her features contorted with rage)
"Looking for your sweet Sailor?" laughs Raven cruelly. "Why, he's doing just fine, safe as can be, at the Velvet Hammer," she taunts. "Where he's so fond of MY company, he pays full price!"

"You LIE!" screams Rosie. "Your bully-boys coshed him when he got off his ship, and you've kept him on Mickey Finns all this past week, and lifted his pile! And when he wakes up, he'll have something to say about it!"

"He's been awake all week, dear," giggles Raven, "and kept me awake all that time, too. Wouldn't so much as look at another. And all he had to say was, 'goodbye, my love,' when he gave me his money and boarded his ship to go back to sea!"

(Pays full price? For drinks, food and lodging, right? Naw, Raven's just trying to make Rosie jealous. Who's Mickey Finn? What does it mean, "cosh?" And "lifted his pile?" Is this something sexual? Dammit, dammit, dammit, none of this stuff is in the damn dictionary!)

"Lies, again!" cries Rosie. "He'd never leave my embrace for that of a raddled harlot like yourself!"

Raven laughs again. "You? All he had to say about you was that he was tired of the company of a two bit whore!"

(Whore? Yow. Them's fightin' words. What's "raddled harlot" mean?)

And with a scream of purest rage, Rosie launches herself at the laughing Raven, and the two women proceed to have the mother of all catfights, right there in the street, in plain view of the many passersby.
(Illustration: at this point, the artist really goes to town. The fight takes up much wordage, and the artist slips in no less than three illustrations of the two women furiously clawing, biting, kicking, punching, and throttling each other. Weirdly enough, they don't seem to be doing each other much harm; the three illustrations seem largely to document the women's ability to rip each others' clothing to shreds. By the third illustration, the two women are down to ragged loincloth-like remnants of skirt, a tiny flap in front, another tiny flap behind, and much thrashing of arms to block the viewer's view of anything else...)
There is much heaving of gleaming breasts, much biting and clawing of tender flesh, much gnashing of teeth behind red, red lips, and much heaving of gleaming... oh, right, did that already. Finally, summoning the strength of her Irish heritage, Rosie puts everything she's got into a mighty right-hand roundhouse, and knocks Raven sprawling into the gutter... where she lies, nude and moaning, unconscious, and does not rise.

(I didn't know the word at the time, but if I had, between the illustrations and text, I would have said "W00T!")

And standing over her, tall and strong and triumphant (and, oh yeah, naked, full breasts heaving with each panting breath, and all that) stands Rosie, who now reigns supreme as the Bull Doxy of Sin Row, her one ambition from the beginning!

(Doxy? Harlot? Cosh? AAAARGH!)

But wait! The crowd, which has gathered to watch the fight (and who could blame them?) is parting... and opens to admit Sailor Steve! He didn't get on the boat after all! And Rosie turns to face him... ready to embrace him in this, her moment of triumph--

--and he rushes to embrace RAVEN, to cup her cheeks, to fan her face, and to call out to the crowd, "Give her air! My God, is there a doctor in the house? Oh, my darlin'...."

...and silence falls upon the street. The crowd knows well of Rosie's Irish temper, and sure, they're about to see even more of a massacre than's been seen yet...

...but Rosie just stands there a moment... and then, wrapping her dignity about her like a mink stole, specifically to cover all that naked flesh, she strides back to her House, without a word... and vanishes inside. None would have said she shed a tear, and they'd be right... but those who stood close enough saw the suffering in her eyes, e'en if they lacked the courage to speak of it.

And as the years went on, the House Of Blazes was known far and wide as the greatest Place Of Ill Repute in all San Francisco, with the most beautiful women, the finest food and drink, and the best accommodations. The Velvet Hammer went broke shortly after that, and Raven left town, supposedly with Sailor Steve, who'd swallowed the anchor and come to shore, and took her somewhere to make a respectable woman of her... while Rosie the Roundhouse ruled supreme o'er Sin Row, with a touch of velvet... and a heart of stone, never again to trust a man's words of love.
THE END

...and for quite some time, I figured this story was about a couple of lady barkeeps who fought it out over a handsome man, and the whole reason for the story was so the artist could draw those great pictures of two near-identical women with enormous hooters, right?

And that was the end of it.

Time passed. I had another birthday, and then another. I found ways of circumventing society's proscriptions against Playboy magazines being obtained by those who could appreciate them the most... and in time, the older, pulpier literature beneath my bed was nearly forgotten. Admittedly, Playboy didn't include much in the way of detailed instructions for melting women's hearts either, but at least the women in its photo features were less dressed, and the movie reviews were at least of movies that had been released this decade.

And two, three, five issues could go by without so much as a single World War Two story.

And one day, I re-read Animal Farm, and was struck by this major revelation. Mighod! This book was more than just a fable! This book was about ... communism! I was very much rocked back on my heels. When I addressed this with Mom, who'd given me the book, she positively glowed. It may have taken me a while, but I'd got there.

...and then, sure enough, one day, past my fifteenth birthday, bored beyond bored, I fished up the cardboard box, from where it lay, deep beneath my bed, behind last year's sneakers and the petrified half of a bologna sandwich of days gone by. Oddly enough, there was still a copy of The Jetsons in there I'd forgotten to throw away.

I flipped through the magazines. The Girl was still there, still devastatingly sexy, still coyly concealing her assets in an eternal 1968. World War Two was still being fought in the pages of Men's Sweat And Blood, and there were still recipes for eight great no-trouble entrees to serve your young lady for dinner on her next visit to YOUR swingin' bachelor pad!

...and I turned the page and saw The Place Of Ill Repute. I grinned. I remembered that wonderfully sexy catfight, in which neither woman seemed to get much more than a couple of scratches, but they sure 'nuff managed to get each other's clothes off pretty efficiently. I kicked back and began to read...

...and quite soon, something didn't feel right. I knew this was the same story -- the illustrations, if nothing else, were proof of that -- but -- it felt different, somehow...

Harlotry.

The word went off in my brain like a bomb. Somewhere, you see -- I couldn't tell you exactly where or when -- over the past three years, I'd learned what the word harlot meant.

And there it was, a couple paragraphs in -- "...drawing the money from her ample yet firm bosom, Rosie paid the smiling agent for the House, the House in which she would make her fortune, the House where she would practice her trade of Harlotry in ways San Francisco had never seen before..."

My mouth fell open. I closed it again, and kept reading.

And reading.

And when I finished that story, I went back and read it again. It was like reading a whole different story, this time. Mighod, I'd been a fool! "Inn?" Hojo's, indeed!

...and then it hit me. If you misinterpreted this story so badly, what about all the other stuff in these magazines?

I was up half the night, rereading all those prehistoric men's magazines. As dawn approached, my stomach hurt from laughing. Again, I hadn't found the Detailed Instructions, but I'd sure had a pretty good time, this time. I was less ignorant, and certainly less confused -- if no better educated -- about The Ways Of Women.

And by now, I had a pretty good idea what those products in the ads in the back of the magazines were for, now, too.

And today, I am old, and the men's magazines hold no charm for me. I can get movie reviews off the internet. Pictures of cute naked women, too, if I want. Even ones that look like they were painted by guys who normally do bullfighting paintings on black velvet.

I don't have those magazines any more. Mom found 'em, after I left for college, and they went into the trash, natch. I wish I still had 'em. Even if they couldn't hold my attention any more, I understand they go for boocoo bucks on Ebay these days.

But... sometimes... I think about the nature of women, and more importantly, the nature of pubescent boys, and the Eternal Search For Truth And Sex, and I think about how today's twelve-year-olds go about finding out the things I wanted to know when I was that age.

It's not something I have to think about for very long. They go on the internet, of course. And they probably find more woo-woo than I ever dreamed existed within a couple of keystrokes.

But I think about World War Two, sometimes. I learned quite a bit from reading those magazines; became a bit of a history buff on that time period, in fact. Learned more than a little about San Francisco's "Barbary Coast" period, too. When the dictionary proved inadequate, I looked up other stuff, trying to figure out what all these crazy people were up to. In fact, now that I think about it, I looked up more words in dictionaries and encyclopedias due to reading dirty magazines than I looked up in eight years of elementary school. I mean, I did research on this stuff! And it never occurred to me that I was doing research! I was looking up stuff I wanted to know!

Lure of the forbidden, I suppose.

But I wonder if there's some way this can ever be turned to educational use?