Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shoobie Doobie Do

Living in a New Jersey shore town, I’m used to the ritual that begins every Memorial Day weekend – the official launch of the summer season. It’s a time when half of Philadelphia migrates to the balmy climate of the Jersey shore for a cheap Bacchanalia consisting of beer, fire-cooked meats and dry humping underneath the Boardwalk.
At a time when Americans should honor their war dead, the Philadelphian tourists, whom we refer to disparagingly as “shoobies,” pound Yuenglings and finger-bang each other.
It’s not like I despise the shoobies – I just don’t want them to come here anymore. I find most of them loud and obnoxious and ill educated. I mean, “youse” and “yez” are not words.
“How yez doin’?”
If I hear that one more time, I’ll firebomb the Tastykake-munching morons.
I’m hating on the shoobies because I saw the police pull over an SUV in front of my house. A young man and woman were stopped and the police pulled a wine bottle and a bag of marijuana from the vehicle. The man was arrested while the car was impounded. Apparently the three police cars responding to the scene had to deal with a crisis of epic proportions – a DWI with possession of marijuana thrown in.
Shoobies come here and think they’re partying at Hedonism. They lose themselves and think they can take more drugs than Woody Harrelson on an all-night bender in Vegas. Yet it’s the locals who have to put up with the binge drinking, projectile vomiting and large groups of horny men cruising the streets at midnight looking for clunge.
I realize that young people like to blow off steam and party. When I was in college my friends raided my parent's beach house and drank all night till the sun came up. We chatted up besotted women and had long makeout sessions with them.
You go to the Jersey shore to get drunk and laid, to meet people and party. Yet there’s a difference between pounding a few beers and injecting raw heroin in a nightclub bathroom.
When I was in college, I was aware that I was a guest in someone else’s town. The shoobies have this attitude that they are superior to us dim-witted locals, that Pennsylvania is higher on the cultural food chain than New Jersey and that their bowel movements smell like a bouquet of scented lilacs.
I understand they pump millions of dollars in our local economy, but do they have to be such assholes while they’re doing it? Can’t they at least show some common courtesy on our local roads instead of driving like they’re on the Schuylkill Expressway?
I don’t want to start a war with these rancid cheesesteak-breathed knuckle-draggers, but they come to the Jersey shore to relax and kick back, not bring a plastic trashbag filled with cocaine and enough firearms to supply Hamas.
I like Philadelphia. It has a unique culture, a vibrant history that traces itself back to our country’s founding and great people with a certain je ne seis quoi that I like. Yet when I visit Philly, I don’t drive 80 miles an hour and wave my dick out of the car window.
Maybe I’m just getting old and my worldview is clouded by age. Maybe I should join the Curmudgeon Club, a gathering of old men who sit on the front porch and glower and anyone under 30. I’ll wave my cane and shout at the heavens whenever a shoobie takes their family to the beach and fails to let a pedestrian cross the street, or when a shoobie on a bicycle doesn’t obey traffic signs or when a broad from Northeast Philadelphia blows a guy behind the Tilt-A-Whirl.
Maybe I should just relax this Memorial Day with a bottle of wine, a bag of weed and a skank from Kensington.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Bucket List

Ever see the movie “The Bucket List”? I haven’t, but I understand it’s about two old geezers who want to accomplish various things before their deaths. I think it’s beneficial for people to have goals and follow through with them. That’s what makes life so magnificent and wonderful: our ability to make our dreams come true.
Bearing that in mind, here is a list of some things I want to try, in no particular order:

Visit Paris. I’ve always heard the French were rude. I’m from New Jersey, so I can teach them a thing or two about rudeness.

Hunt wild animals in Africa. You’re not a man unless you can blast a lion’s head off with a bazooka, drenching the Serengeti with blood and animal parts.

Run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Foolish tourists prove their masculinity by getting gored annually. I will avoid this by giving the bulls a head start of about five minutes.

Fight a bull. Hemingway was right. Real men stab a charging wild bull in front of a crowd of frothing Spaniards.

Raise a son. I’d like to raise a son, impart him with life lessons my father taught me, and make him realize that as an Avedissian he can expect everyone to shit on him.

Climb a mountain. Nothing says exhilaration or thrills like standing on the rooftop of the world, where the air is thin and temperatures are below freezing. On second thought, maybe I’ll just dress in climbing gear and watch the movie K2.

Hot air ballooning in New Mexico. The desert always looks pretty when you’re standing in a wicker basket suspended under a giant balloon resembling a multicolored turtle.

Date a woman with a Bostonian accent. I think it would be fun to take her out for seafood and hear her order the “lobstah” or “chowdah.”

Whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River looks beautiful as it jostles your inflatable raft uncontrollably towards jagged rocks. How long will it be before park rangers find your body? Who knows!

Win the Nobel Prize for Literature. To achieve this, I’d have to write a book and have it published. Since no agents or publishers will comment on the manuscripts I’ve already sent them, I can assume the New York publishing industry is rife with philistines hell-bent on keeping me from fulfilling my dreams.

Hang glide off the Great Pyramid of Giza. While technically illegal and possibly never done, I still think it would be awesome to attempt, although life in an Egyptian prison might deter me.

Celebrity threesome. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Selma Hayek. That’s right. I went there.

Star in a Bollywood movie. No, not Hollywood. Bollywood. As in India. We could do an all Bollywood remake of Pulp Fiction with a massive dance number at the end.

Visit the Oval Office. I’ve had this fantasy about sitting across from the President and discussing the important issues of the day: domestic policies, America’s role in the future, and the various plot threads in the TV show Lost.

Go into outer space. I’d like to visit the International Space Station and just hang out and assist with the experiments or take a space walk. I’d freak the other astronauts out by convulsing and frantically screaming, “My God! It’s full of stars!”

Visit the Playboy Mansion. Lounging around with Hugh Hefner and the ladies, drinking and having fun is a great way to kill a weekend. Remember: what happens in the Grotto stays in the Grotto.

Go to Shanghai and order Chinese food. I hear that moo goo gai pan is better with the original kitten/rat combination.

Run for political office. It would be a real hoot to persuade people to vote for me and then use my office to bring positive changes to the world. They would never see that coming.

Visit all of the national parks. I’d like to show my patriotism by getting photos of myself with all of America’s national treasures, and ask every park ranger I see to give me a detailed lecture on everything. Twice. Just because they wear goofy hats doesn’t mean they can coast through the workday.

Watch the sun set over the Pacific at Big Sur. Then ask that surfer girl with strawberry blonde hair for a quickie on the beach before the grunions come out.

Ski the Matterhorn. Race down the slopes and watch life zip by at 80 miles per hour and then spend the next two weeks wearing a bodycast in a warm chalet while women give me cocoa and brandy. Because if I ski the Matterhorn, that’s exactly what would happen.

Wrestle an alligator. The terror of the Everglades is no match for me and my savage might. If this can’t happen, I’d then settle for wrestling either Lucy Liu or Heidi Klum.

Attend a garden party on Long Island. What fun it would be getting drunk around New York’s elite, throwing icy drinks in the faces of the high and mighty in a quick-tempered huff, and generally enthralling those gathered with tales of making it big on Wall Street/Hollywood/daddy’s law firm.

Be a contestant on Jeopardy. I’d stun Alex Trebek with my plethora of knowledge on absolutely everything, and win millions of dollars in prize money, or at least walk away with the shitty home version of the game.

Win big in Las Vegas. I’d take every casino, from the Venetian to the Luxor to the Bellagio. Pit bosses would sweat nervously when I enter their establishments. I’ll break the bank everywhere and use my winnings to buy a large suite and fill the Jacuzzi with champagne and high-class escorts.

Have a pizza party with the Pope, Dalai Lama and Islamic and Jewish leaders. Pizza just brings people together.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flames on Crushed Velvet

Her name was Leslie Papin and she came from a little town on the Massachusetts coast where they sold lobster dinners for $12 and all of the guys were clean cut preppie types who worked at their family's accounting firms. Leslie had smoky hazel eyes, white skin dappled with freckles and chestnut hair she wrapped in a long ponytail like some Earth mother hippie goddess you’d find walking around Fresno in a hazy ganja-fueled bliss.
Leslie and I went to the same college 20 years ago. She was into the trippy shit like Blind Melon, Nirvana and Soundgarden and any flannel-wearing longhaired band that swung its way from Seattle. She smoked like a chimney and fucked every man on the eastern seaboard, oozing in an out of dingy basement nightclubs like they were some sort of temple heralding the sleaze and superficiality of western civilization. You know the kind of clubs: those subterranean dungeons with the stained brick walls and the dimly-lit back rooms offering $2 Rolling Rocks and rancid chicken fingers, a place where live bands croon amplified nonsense and freaks embrace each other in dark corners.
Leslie was in her element. She was the queen of Jagermeister, an alcohol-fueled seductress more violent than a British football hooligan and more lethal and venomous than a black mamba.
I loved her, even though she treated my affection as though it was invisible. No matter what I did to please her or curry favor, she passed me over for some muscle-bound asshole with the maturity level of a hyperactive third grader.
Despite this obvious snub of my desire for her, Leslie still hung out with me on weekends. We’d haunt the cafes and coffeeshops in Soho and attend off-Broadway shows in crappy theaters where a group of untalented actors and actresses got naked on stage and pretended to die for the sake of art. We’d grab a bottle of chardonnay and head back to my apartment where we’d get drunk while listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” on my old turntable. Through the brilliant arrangement of one of rock music’s most successful albums ever, we talked of life, of our hopes and our fears. We shared our insecurities in a way I’ve never done with another person before. The doubts we had about our futures, about love and each other just naturally spilled out, with no embarrassment or awkwardness. Just shy of graduation by a few months, we aptly purged our inner demons.
She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, as wisps of smoke curled around her lips. She then looked at me with those incredible eyes that pierced my very soul and I was like a kitten in the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut freight train.
“Can I ask you something?” she said, as she restated her head on my shoulder as we reclined on the couch.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“How come you never made a move on me?”
“It’s just...It’s just that you, like, didn’t come onto me like other guys do,” she said.
“It’s not like I haven’t tried.”
She laughed at that, and extinguished her cigarette on a nearby plate. Leslie continued resting her head on my shoulder as the record ended.
“What do you think we’ll be doing in 20 years?” she asked. “I’ll probably be married with ten kids and live in the suburbs somewhere.”
“I’ll be a writer if I don’t drink myself to death,” I said, and drained my chardonnay.
“A writer? Really?” she said. “Like, a novelist or something?”
“Something like that. I hope. Maybe I’ll just work at K-Mart shilling cheaply-made products to fat American housefraus like you.”
“Fuck you,” she teased and looked up at me with those amazing eyes.
We drifted close to each other, and tenderly kissed for a few seconds. It wasn’t as smoldering or as scintillating as in the movies, but it was ours.
The writer’s curse is to self-edit. It’s a never-ending quest for perfection; to find the right words and put them in correct order.
That kiss, while not passionate or intense, was arranged perfectly. It’s the one kiss Leslie and I ever shared, in my college dorm those many years ago. I never forgot that. Not because she was a stunning beauty or some unobtainable woman all men desired.
Leslie Papin was unique. She represented all that was chaotic and wonderful about youth, a blazing comet streaking through a black night sky. Flames on crushed velvet. Smoldering youth with copious cigarettes, grunge music and an upraised middle finger.
And I loved that about her. I loved Leslie Papin for her volatile soul, for her wild and carefree morals and penchant to never compromise who she was.
We eventually parted like everyone does after college. We tried keeping in touch but in the age before e-mail accounts, handwritten letters were the only way. We wrote for about a year after college, then just stopped. I busied myself with writing, with trying and failing at getting the right people to read what I bragged was the next greatest American novel but with no success. I was at a real low point, and in my druthers, I phoned Leslie.
The random phone call, after many empty years sans contact, is bizarre. Drunk at 1 a.m. reeling around my apartment on some tree-lined boulevard, I called her.
I didn’t reach her, but got her answering machine, so I left a message. I don’t remember if my words were intelligible. All I remember was hearing that damn beeping noise and saying what came to mind.
When Leslie didn’t return my call, I wasn’t surprised.
What the hell did I say to her? Did I let all my emotion pour out in one slurred stream of consciousness, one embarrassing tirade? I remember faintly uttering the word “love” at some point, but that might have been the booze talking.
Whatever it was must’ve frightened her.
I’ll never know what Leslie Papin thought of the message or even if she received it. I found out a few years ago that she had died back in 1998 out in California, killed in an accident along the San Tomas Expressway. She was 27 years old, the same age as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendricks and Jim Morrison were when they died. There’s something about that age – 27 – that’s both cursed and blessed.
When I learned she died over a decade ago, I felt numb and incomplete. I felt guilty that I was allowed to live all these years while she wasn’t. The first week after hearing the news, I drove deep into the woods of a nearby wildlife refuge, drank half a bottle of Jack Daniel's and fired my rifle at the moon. I wanted to bring down that sickening silver orb in the sky, wanted my bullet to crack the Sea of Tranquility and shatter the lunar surface into a billion pieces.
I returned to my apartment and groggily began to write about Leslie.
I just had to find the right words.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Liam Coltrane: Metrosexual Gunslinger

In a time when lawlessness ruled the American frontier, one man had the courage to battle injustice while dressing fashionably, preparing eclectic cuisine and using exfoliating liniment.

Ma told me just before a shotgun slug ended her blessed life that just because we live in the 19th Century doesn’t mean we can't have any style.
Wise woman, my ma was.
That is, before Bloody Knees McGee blasted her with his shotgun after a botched bank robbery and scrambled her brains all over the parlor’s flowery wallpaper.
Yep. Ma done baked her last rhubarb pie that day.
Seems that many folks in Catwhallop Gulch were bland, unfashionable folks with poor hygiene and terrible manners. They all dressed in drab, bland colors and were as ornery as a polecat in a burlap sack. I’d have long conversations with the town drunkard, Egon “Soiled Trousers” McGillicuddy about the nature of humanity. He’d beg me for a dram of Irish whiskey and I’d gladly pay, because Egon was a real character. His head was filled with wisdom while his trousers were filled with an abominable stench I’d not care to contemplate.
“Folks ‘round here got ‘emselves all in an uproar ‘cause ‘o all these robberies,” Egon said, slurping his whiskey at the Dead Bastard Saloon. “The McBarton Gang keeps up their unholy assault on our fair town.”
It was true. The McBarton Gang began a campaign of terror through Catwhallop Gulch in recent months. They hailed from Wretched Peak, a town to the east about 20 miles past Indian Fucker Canyon. The McBartons were led by brothers Ian and Ivan McBarton, the bastard sons of an insane Civil War captain who was the last Southerner to surrender to Union troops, six years after the war was over. The McBartons began their career as cattle rustlers, contract killers and rented themselves out as prostitutes. They’ve been roping steer, murdering and breaking hearts from Abilene to the Sierra Nevada.
The McBartons first struck Catwhallop Gulch when they defiled the local ice cream parlor, doing things to an ice cream scooper that no man should witness. I’d dare say the children who were there that awful day would never be the same, those poor innocent whippersnappers.
After that, the gang robbed the town’s boutique, making away with several sequin-encrusted leather purses and satchels. Along with that, the McBartons assaulted the local tailor and forced the poor man to fashion them suits of the finest materials, with stylish cuffs and lapels and double-stitched pockets for their watch fobs.
“Them’s the most dandiest-lookin’ gang in the whole west,” Egon said, and soiled himself.
“I reckon you’re right,” I replied, and spit a hunk of tobacco into a brass spittoon that resembled President Grover Cleveland’s head. “The town’s goin’ to hell with all of this style.”
Just then, as if the Lord Almighty himself had ripped the roof off the building and cast down a beam of shimmering light from Heaven, Marshal Stinkbater entered the saloon, his weathered face wrinkled with worry.
“Liam, I’d like to talk to you,” the Marshal whispered, holding his Stetson in his hands.
“So talk,” I replied, downing the last of my whiskey with such finesse, it made Egon weep.
“You know these McBartons?” the Marshal asked.
“They’re really stirring up trouble in town.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Trouble of the shooting, raping kind.”
“That’s some bad trouble,” I said.
The Marshal shifted his weight to his other food uncomfortably and continued, still with hat in hand.
“What I’m trying to say is, I need your help. I’d like to deputize you and hunt those McBartons,” the Marshal said.
“Why me? There are plenty of willing young shooters and bounty hunters that love the smell of blood in their nostrils. Hound them for your posse,” I said.
“They ain’t like you, Liam,” the Marshal said. “You got something no other man in town has. You got this…this style. It’s not like you’re a Nancy boy, but it ain’t like you’re a rough bastard, either.”
“I am a rough bastard, Marshal. I’m just a rough bastard with style,” I said. “Some men just don’t brag about themselves. They know who they are.”
“It’s that kind of Back East mentality that I need,” the Marshal said. “You the only ornery son of a bitch that can take on those stylish, well-groomed, urbane McBartons.”
I stood up and shook the Marshal’s hand, looking him in his bloodshot eyes.
“Marshal, you’ve got yourself an ornery and sassy cuss,” I said. “I’ll have those McBartons rolling in the mud crying for their mother and be back here in time for 10 cent Tequila and Whore Night.”

* * *

Preparing for battle consumed most of my morning ritual the next day. I bathed, shaved and liberally applied Dr. Johann Krupp’s Exfoliating Topical Skin Liniment. I followed that with an application of Old Nick’s Flesh Oil, which unclogged the pores of my skin and produced a musky aroma that drove the ladies from Kalamazoo to Dodge City wet with desire.
I’ve killed plenty of men in my day: noted murderers, cattle rustlers, serial rapists and arsonists. I’ve plugged many a desperado and sent them hurling into the bone orchard. Boot Hills throughout the western territories are littered with the graves of men I put under.
Yet I never killed a man without properly exfoliating my skin first. I just won’t do it. Skin care is vitally important to a gunslinger, and not just those Fancy Dans from Back East.
Some hombres say that healing chapped, dry skin with liniments and scented creams is for sissies. How many women want to snuggle up with a cactus? Other than Big Sally, a whore from Waco who’d screw a prickly pear if it could pay her, women want both strong and supple. The ladies love a man who is as rough as the prairies yet can take care of himself.
After my exfoliating treatment, I slipped on my vest, frock, trousers and bowler. I buckled my hand-tooled Italian leather gunbelt and holster around my waist and loaded my Peacemaker.
I then proceeded to make a frittata with chilies, green peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and smoked ham hocks. Most gunslingers just made beans and stale bread for their breakfast, yet I thought such simple dishes lacked nutritional variety and left me with bad indigestion. It’s tough to concentrate on shooting horse thieves when you’re flatulent. The frittata filled the boarding house with a pleasant aroma and the landlady, Mrs. Cottington, woke the other guests and we all had a fine breakfast.
After eating, I gingerly rolled a clove cigarette between my slender fingers, struck a match and lit it. I then stepped out into the bright sunlight and a new day of slaughter and mayhem.
Catwhallop Gulch was one of those God-fearing frontier towns where people hated trouble but loved gunfights. As long as some poor, deserving son of a bitch got what was coming to him, namely a slug in the brainpan, folks were as pleased as a cat in a room full of drunk female cats.
I strode out in the main street, a dusty promenade lined with saloons, brothels and betting parlors. Leaning against the railing of Black Betty’s Bordello, Ivan McBarton regarded me with shifty eyes. We wore a dandified yellow suit, white silk scarf and fingered the handle of his Colt nervously.
“You got a problem, stranger?” he asked.
“Only problem is you and your brother are still alive,” I replied, puffing on my cigarette.
“Is that a fact?”
“Pretty big words, stranger. You got any guts to back ‘em up?”
“I got guts. Got nerve, too.”
Ivan spat on the ground and ambled out into the middle of the street. He stood ten feet from me and his chest heaved with rage.
“Don’t much like men insultin’ me, stranger,” Ivan McBarton said.
“I don’t like criminals in my town,” I said.
“I ain’t a criminal. I’m just a man makin’ his way across the west.”
“I say you’re a yellow-bellied, craven criminal who can’t shoot his way out of a finely-embroidered leather saddlebag.”
Ivan reached for his pistol, then froze.
“I wouldn’t waste bullets on you,” he grumbled. “You’re just some dandy boy.”
At that, my lightening reflexes went into overdrive. I drew my gun, fanned the hammer and sent four out of six bullets into Ivan McBarton’s torso. His lifeless body collapsed on the street with a sickening thud.
As the townsfolk reeled, I reloaded my weapon, extinguished my cigarette under my boot, and walked across the street to where Marshal Stinkbater fumed.
“Gol’ dang it, Liam! You was supposed to be deputized!” he seethed. “You just killed a man in front of the whole town!”
“Don’t fret, Marshal,” I said. “You got one less McBarton to worry about.”

* * *

I had just slaked my carnal appetite inside Miss Kitty’s moist quim and rolled over to take a nap when the doxy took umbrage. Kitty, the most beautiful 17-year old soiled dove this side of the Mississippi, nudged me awake.
“You’re not catching shuteye now! I’ve got me some customers waiting outside!” she protested.
I rolled over and kissed her tenderly on her lips.
“Shut up, whore,” I whispered sweetly.
“I’m serious, Liam,” Kitty said, and rolled out of bed, her curvaceous young body marred with bruises from years of rough lovemaking at the hands of drunken cowhands. “You’ve gotta leave now.”
“What if I paid you money to shut your mouth and stay in bed with me?”
“You’ve been here for two hours already.”
“Never rush a man, Kitty,” I said.
She climbed back into bed and snuggled next to me, her pert breasts resembling two ripe melons crowned with nipples. She caressed my face with her tiny fingers attached to a hand that beat off more cock west of the Pecos than I dared to contemplate.
“Sakes alive! Your skin is so soft,” she observed.
“It’s the exfoliating regimen,” I said. “It does wonders for sun-baked skin.”
Kitty backed away.
“You’re not…you know…one of those rump rangers, ain’t ya?”
“Why the hell does everyone keep saying that?” I asked. “Seriously, a gunslinger can ride across the desert, drink himself unconscious in a saloon and shoot a man in cold blood, but break out the skin lotions and he’s some limp-wristed sissy Mary!”
“Sorry, lover,” Kitty said.
I pushed her aside and got out of bed and struggled with my trousers.
“Honestly, you people are all cretins! Savage, unsophisticated cretins!” I said, dressing quickly. I left a Silver Eagle coin on the dresser for Kitty and stormed out of the room.
Let the unwashed rabble grope Kitty all she wants. Let them screw her until her uterus falls out. I’ve got better things to do than entertain some disheveled harlot, even if she was my cousin.
I left the brothel agitated and headed down Main Street when a lyrical voice rang out behind me.
“Meestah Coltwane! Meestah Coltwane!”
It was Ching, a Chinaman who operated the town’s laundry and apothecary. Ching shuffled over to me in silken slipper-covered feet and bowed graciously, his hair wrapped in a traditional queue.
“Meestah Coltwane, why you no come to the apothacawy anymower? I has some reery intelesting ploducts flom China,” Ching said.
“Sorry, my Celestial friend, but I’ve been busy.”
“What you busy doing? You too busy to see your flend Ching?”
“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s just that I’ve got this gang I have to kill…”
Alas, the Mandarin would not listen.
“Meestah Coltwane, I has some ancient Chinese ginseng powder and oolong tea you ordered. It came on boat flom China.”
“I ordered that a year ago, Ching.”
“It was slow boat,” the oriental replied. “So you pay. You pay Ching now!”
Reluctantly, I handed the Chinaman a dollar and he produced a small box beneath his colorful silk robes.
“I hope you enjoy the tea, Meestah Coltwane!” Ching said, and skipped merrily back to his laundry and apothecary, which were housed in the same building in the Chinese tent city.
Now I was a gunslinger walking around town with no money and a box of imported Chinese tea.
Before I could decide what to do next, the ugly visage of Ian McBarton crossed my line of vision. He bounded out of the Faro Parlor, wearing a hideous red and white checkered suit with a black tophat. From the looks of him, he seemed pissed that I killed his brother.
“If’n it ain’t the ornery cuss what put my brother in his grave!” Ian McBarton screamed.
“Yeah, I killed your brother, just like I’m gonna kill you, Ian McBarton,” I said, as townsfolk scrambled into the street to see the daily display of frontier bloodshed.
“What the hell you carryin’ there, dude?” McBarton asked.
“It’s a box of oolong tea,” I said. “That’s not important right now. What’s important is I’m going to put so many holes in you the undertaker’ll think you’re Swiss cheese.”
“Oolong tea? Don’t cotton much with that chink stuff. It’s piss water if you ask me,” McBarton said and spat contemptuously. “Give me a nice Darjeeling. Now that’s tea.”
My eyes narrowed. Nobody puts down my imported Formosa Oolong. Nobody.
“You take that back now, Ian McBarton!” I roared.
McBarton responded by drawing his pistol and shooting the box of tea from my hand, where it fell to the ground and broke open, scattering dried tea leaves onto the dirt street.
The vile villain laughed at his foul deed, his besmirching a wonderful Chinese tea. My face grew crimson with rage and I reached for my Peacemaker.
Time seemed to slow down as I aimed my pistol at the desperado. Beads of sweat tricked down my smooth, healthy skin as I squeezed the trigger and let loose a volley of death.
McBarton’s smile turned to a terrified grimace as I fired several shots. The bullets slammed into his crotch, spilling blood all over his finely-pressed trousers. He grabbed his bleeding groin and sunk to the ground, crying like a slapped eunuch.
I moseyed over to Ian McBarton, who rolled around the dirt. Tears streamed down his face and he looked up at me helplessly.
“Why? Why did you do this?” he whined pathetically.
“Never mock a man’s tea,” I said before putting a bullet in his head.
As the townsfolk cheered wildly, Marshal Stinkbater ambled over to McBarton’s inert body. He removed his Stetson and stood there, looking at the deceased outlaw.
“Son of a bitch is really dead,” the Marshal said. “You killed both McBarton brothers.”
I scooped up the remnants of my tea. The Marshal regarded me curiously.
“What’s that?” he asked and pointed to the crushed wooden box nestled in the crook of my arm.
“This here,” I said, “is tea worth killing for.”

* * *

I stuck around for the barn dance to celebrate my vanquishing the McBartons from Catwhallop Gulch. Mayor MacCreedy issued a proclamation heralding my bravery, and as a reward I received $20 and a stout goat, which we cooked and feasted upon with herbed julienne potatoes, a dill salad and a bottle of sauvignon blanc.
Of course I did the cooking. These shit-kickers couldn’t boil water without it tasting like tallow.
Following a night of lively drinking, where Egon the town drunk vomited on Vargas, the town’s only Mexican, I found myself dancing with Miss Kitty to a lyrical serenade.
“All of Catwhallop Gulch loves you. You’re a hero to us all,” Kitty said, looking deeply into my eyes as we embraced.
“Thanks, whore,” I said, and kissed her forcefully, my tongue showing her mouth no quarter.
Kitty gazed at me dreamily.
“That was amazin’. You sure have a way with the ladies,” she said as we moved slowly to the gentle rhythm.
What Kitty didn’t know was the ginseng powder my Chinese confidante also sold me was a powerful aphrodisiac, capable of stunning a bull. Miss Kitty was in for the night of her life, and I only grinned as I envisioned the ride she’d give the bronco in my pants.
She reached down and felt the rising bulge nuzzling next to her.
“Tarnation!” Kitty said. “Is that a six-shooter in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”
I squeezed her as we looked into each other’s eyes.
“Not bad for a hard-drinking, outlaw-killing, metrosexual son of a bitch, huh?” I asked.
“A metro-what?” she asked.
“Shut up, whore,” I said, and kissed her again.
The west was a hellhole filled with depravity, sin and lawlessness. In my own way, I suppose I helped push back some of the barbarians and brought a little civilization and grace into a chaotic frontier. At the end of the day, when we’re all worm food and grass is growing over our bones, isn’t that all we can ask for?
Just a little civilization and grace.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss

I’ve been reticent to write anything about the local Ocean City election I’m covering because the last time I wrote about local politics, I got in trouble.
Journalists have a lot of leeway online to pontificate about their various beats, yet sometimes their blogging activities are curtailed by nervous editors or irate politicians. While my editor gives me carte blanche to write about anything my twisted heart desires online, some bigwigs have expressed opposition to the content on this blog, stating that it shows bias and journalists should be objective.
I am objective when I write newspaper articles.
This blog, however, is my intellectual playground where I can write anything I damn well please, thank you kindly.
God bless the First Amendment.
The situation in Ocean City is as follows: The two gentlemen are running for mayor are both wealthy. One of them is an amusement park owner with strong ties to the community, while the other is a financial consultant who moved here some years ago. The amusement park owner has a high school diploma, while the financial consultant is college educated. The race has been about local connections versus outsiders. It’s about the local boy everybody knows versus the carpetbagger.
What amazed me about this election was its benign nature compared to the volatile shitstorm in the past. Four years ago, the mayoral candidates campaigned hard and raised obscene amounts of money for attack ads that made it seem they were running against the Taliban.
Now, the local businessman and the financial consultant are spending their own funds on quiet campaigns that are commendable and genteel. It was as if the good, old-fashioned mudslinging of American politics had been replaced by a hum-drum, civil discourse only seen in the sleepy hamlets of Canada or someplace where people say “please” or “thank you” instead of kick you to the curb.
One of the biggest annoyances for me as a reporter is when people solicit me for my opinions.
“What do you think about this?” they ask, hoping I’ll pontificate like the Oracle at Delphi and offer sage wisdom like a mighty soothsayer divining portents.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” I usually respond, much to their chagrin.
Yet they still prod me for my opinion.
So here’s what I think, unvarnished and raw:
No matter who wins this election, we’re utterly fucked. This is a clash of titanic egos, of two men hell-bent on being little Napoleons flirting with power. The local businessman will probably win because of his connections. His friends are influential and have lived here all their lives and control various businesses. They’re the status quo that believes upsetting the applecart of their rule would be detrimental to their own interests.
This is normal in small towns where one set dictates the town’s agenda behind the scenes.
The guy is genuinely nice, and served on various boards and volunteered his adult life. He’s a hard worker, and down to earth, yet he’s not the sharpest crayon in the box. Though I admire his tenacity and family legacy (his father was a past mayor), the city needs an independent thinker who will separate his friends’ interests from the people’s interests.
Now the negatives as I see them: His campaign has been about fluff over substance, of friendly, smiling faces posing with him on leaflets and mailers. It’s not a mayoral election as much as it is a high school class president’s election. It’s a popularity contest, bereft of concrete solutions or plans. His supporters aren’t voting for him because he’s a renaissance man brimming with ideas.
His opposition - the financial consultant - is more cerebral and managerial. He’s all about cold-hard facts and figures and will micromanage every department. The financial consultant is president of a local taxpayer advocacy group that has decried rampant city spending.
He’s also somewhat snobbish and dismissive of the local businessman, claiming it doesn’t take much to run an amusement park.
Problem is, there hasn’t been a dynamic, charismatic leader emerging in this town. The previous administration spent money like drunken sailors on shore leave. While the city’s roads, drainage and other infrastructure needed attention, the administration bought decorative lighting for the Boardwalk and ornately designed crosswalks for the downtown.
Rome burned, the emperor fiddled. More apropos, the emperor issued press releases describing how successful he was at obtaining state grants for various projects.
One the positive side, the town has never looked better, however, aesthetics are only skin deep. Potholes, clogged drains and a crumbling concrete Boardwalk substructure require more than a new coat of paint or superficial ornamentation.
This is a wealthy town where conservatives kvetch about taxes from the comfort of their beachfront homes. They wring their hands at the stupidest things: a proposed bicycle path on trail through the wetlands, an ugly building that blocks their bay views, protective sand dunes blocking their beach views and the kind of wood used to deck the Boardwalk.
I’d like to drag any one of these over-privileged, Izod-wearing preppie douchebags to Camden, NJ and show them what a troubled city looks like.
Camden was one of New Jersey’s manufacturing and commerce hubs that had fallen on hard times following the race riots of the 1960s. Now Camden is one of the worst, most violent and dangerous places to live in New Jersey, with abandoned buildings, street gangs, prostitution and drugs. I know this firsthand, because my father’s dry-cleaning business is on Broadway Street in Camden and I used to work there as a kid on Saturdays. While my friends got to watch cartoons, I spent Saturday mornings listening to drug addicts and watching unattractive hookers pass by the store. Gun-toting robbers held up my dad’s business and cleaned out his cash register. Someone threw a brick through my grandfather’s windshield.
I’m sorry, but whiny little Ocean City does not have problems. It doesn’t have shootings, armed robberies or widespread vandalism. It doesn’t have the National Guard patrolling its streets like Camden did. It’s not consistently ranked at the bottom of lists of the worst places to live in America.
Ocean City is a country club where Republicans go to die. This is a land of seaside fun with saltwater taffy, amusement parks and its own public golf course.
It’s said that people get the leaders they deserve. I don’t think that would apply to this town. They deserve better. This year, they’re getting the same.