Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lothario's Lounge

"Oh time I can't remember
Some things that I still regret
But when I do I think of you
And wish I could forget

Then we danced to David Bowie
On the streets outside your door
Do you still feel that I'm in love with you
'cause I just don't feel it anymore."

- "2day 2morrow 4ever"
  Scruffy the Cat

A syrupy mist cloaked the rural road and I needed to pull over. We're talking a thick, pea-soup fog, the kind clinging like a shroud and obscuring everything in your view. Though the dense fog I saw a flickering light, so I drove toward it, hoping I didn't hit a cow or wandering hobo or something out in this godforsaken wilderness.

 The light blinked faintly, and as I drove closer, it turned out to be a neon sign. "Lothario's Lounge" is read, in a curvy, Art-Deco font, over the portico of a Spanish hacienda-style building with clay tiles and stucco walls. I parked the car and, mustering all of the trepidation I could, walked inside, heaving open a heavy oaken door.

 A foul, sweet-smelling air hit me as I entered, a mingling of perfume, cigarettes and stale alcohol. Every typical bar smell in the Western world.

 Adjusting my eyes to the dim light, I saw a long pebbled marble-topped bar which swept across one wall and a cluster of tables and chairs. Framed oil paintings of nudes hung on the walls, depicting women with alabaster skin and opal eyes lounging on red velvet pillows or seductively holding golden goblets. I don't know much about art, but I know what I like, even if the art in question resembles something one purchases in a flea market in Fresno.

 A Rock-Ola jukebox stood in one corner, playing smooth jazz. Charlie Parker? Thelonious Monk? Miles Davis? Yeah, maybe Miles Fucking Davis.

 Feeling unnaturally relaxed, I sat at the bar and made eye contact with the bartender, a dead ringer for my first high school girlfriend, Rachel, only two decades older. Her black hair has streaks of gray and she appears a tad heavier, with tired dark circles under her eyes.

 “What’ll ya have?” she asks, flipping a coaster in front of me and wiping down the bar with a shammy.

I must’ve done a double-take, but laughed immediately it off, which probably made me look like some raving idiot.

 “Sorry, but for a moment I thought you were… Never mind,” I said. “You look like somebody I know. Used to know.”

 “Really? Who?”

 “My high school girlfriend,” I said.

 A wry smile broke across her face. “It’s me,” she said. “It’s Rachel.”

 I had that kind of awkward, pleased look one gets when someone’s thrown them a surprise party but all of the wrong guests were invited.

 “Rachel? What are you doing here? I mean, you’re working, obviously. How long have you been delving into the mysteries of mixology?”

 “I own the bar. I haven’t been working here long. Let’s just say it’s a recent acquisition,” she said and poured a draft beer for me, the head tumbling slowly past the rim of an old-fashioned beer mug and spilling on the bar.

 I took a few sips of beer as she wiped the counter. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned to see another ex-high school girlfriend, Lisa. Slender and sleek, with long, chestnut hair and brown eyes. She wore jeans and a T-shirt with a number “2” on it.

 “If you think seeing Rachel was a surprise, remember me?” Lisa said, pursing her lips. She always had this expression that she was eating a bitter persimmon.

 “Lisa! What do you know? Two of my ex-girlfriends in one place. Is this a reunion or something?” I stammered, trying hard not to be weirded out by improbability. Rachel removed her apron and saw she wore a black T-shirt with a “1” on it.

 As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I saw the bar was filled with patrons, all women I dated at various times in my life. There was Carolyn and Karen from college, Veronica, who I met in a bar, Leslie and Christine who I shared two interesting summers with, Bridgette and Annie shared cigarettes and wine, while Leah and Sue were deep in conversation. Another Lisa hovered by the jukebox, eyeing the selections while Jennifer downed another beer. Each of the women wore T-shirts with various numbers on them, each number corresponding to the exact order I dated them.

 This must be the Penthouse Forum version of the Twilight Zone, where up is down, black is white and all of the women you fucked congregate at the same bar. I actually didn’t mind the casual atmosphere and watching women I knew in the Biblical sense share Mojitos, Appletinis and a few laughs, but for some on them, it seemed awkward. I hadn’t exactly parted on the best of terms with some of them.

A real fear of residual female anger still lurked, bubbling beneath the surface, and led me to concoct all kinds of wild scenarios. These women might have formed a murder club, where they rub out each of their ex-boyfriends who wronged them. Did Rachel put strychnine in my beer? Didn’t one of the Lisas know Taekwondo, or was it kickboxing?

 What in Goddesses’ name was happening?

 “So glad you could drop by,” Rachel said. “We wanted a chat with you.”

 Just then, all of the women stopped their talking and stared at me, as if someone controlling the Stepford Wives pushed the right button. It gave me the chills to see a room filled with quiet women staring in unison. That’s usually trouble.

“Look, you broke my heart,” I said to Rachel. “I have the note you gave me telling me you just wanted to be friends.”

 “That was over 20 years ago,” she countered. “Plus, I did just want to be friends. I didn’t want to get serious.”

 “We just wanted to tell you that you disappointed us,” Karen said, brushing her raven bangs from her face.

 “Coming from you, that cuts to the fucking bone,” I said. “I could never be what you wanted me to be. We shared this intensely beautiful thing and it was never enough. You wanted me to change. Wanted me to move in with you.”

 “True, the fucking like crazed weasles part was fun, but you just needed to grow up,” she said.

 Leslie slinked toward me like a mischievous cat about to swallow a goldfish. She took a drag on her cigarette and blew smoke in my face. I coughed and sputtered for breath.

 “Remember how we left it?” she asked. “At a Halloween party. You broke up with me. I was the sexy pirate princess and you were Indiana Jones. Said I was too young for you. Said it wouldn’t work out.”

“I was 38, you were 24. Besides, breaking up with a girl when you’re dressed as Indy is just so damn cool. I had to do it then.”

 “Fuck off,” she hissed. Bad kitty.

 “Okay, I get what’s going on here. The public flogging. You want an apology. Fine. I’m sorry I’m such an awful, insensitive person when it comes to women,” I said. “Seriously, you ladies were great. All of you. Even you, Veronica, who I only knew from that blowjob in the parking lot that one time. Don’t exactly know why you’re here, but thanks for showing up. I enjoyed my time with all of you. At one point I loved all of you, some more intensely than others. But however brief it was, know this: each one of you touched my heart and made me happy. There were bouts of misery and depression that went with it, but for the most part, it was great knowing you all. Even you, Veronica.”

Bridgette began a slow clap, one of the most obnoxious things you could do after such a heartfelt speech. Redheads are temperamental and a bit psycho.

 “Bullshit. You’re just a little boy trapped in a man’s body. You haven’t learned anything about love,” Bridgette said.

 “I haven’t learned anything about love? The human vacuum cleaner over here is taking the high road? Honey, you were a locust when it came to relationships. You stripped anything good from it, feasted on everything I had to give and left me with nothing. Granted, the sex was hot, I’ll give you that,” I said.
“But you’re just a piranha in high heels.”

 “I gave my ass cherry to you!” one of the women shouted.

 “We’re not getting into that right now,” I countered.

 “You fucking stopped talking to me and I want to know why?” Christine said. “Why do you hate me?”

 “Believe me, I don’t hate you,” I said.

 “Then why did you not call me or talk to me anymore? You just dropped me from your life?” she asked, fuming.

 “I don’t have an answer for that,” I began, then relented. “It wasn’t working out and I didn’t want to try making it work. Sorry. Dropped the ball on that one.”

 “You could’ve told me you wanted out,” Christine said. “I would’ve understood.”

 “I wasn’t good enough for you! That’s why you dumped me!” Carolyn said through clenched teeth.

“Look, you already graduated college and we were both moving on in different directions,” I said. “I didn’t want to tie you down.”

 “But that was the best part of the relationship! When you tied me down!” she said.

 “He put handcuffs on me,” Bridgette said.

 “Yeah, I received the cuff treatment, too,” Annie said. “Predictable.”

 “The sex was very methodical, too. He lured you in with cunnilingus, but expected you to do everything else,” Sue said.

 “Yeah, he’s really good at eating pussy,” Leslie said.

“True, I do enjoy noshing on the whisker biscuit,” I replied.

 “When you remembers to,” Karen said. “For all the bullshit you gave me, you do have a magnificent cock.” The women nodded in agreement.

 “While flattered I am that all my former paramours are comparing notes, it’s kind of embarrassing, even for a decadent bastard like me,” I said.

 “Did he do anything with your feet?’ the second Lisa asked. “He has this thing for feet.”

 “Okay, that’s enough,” I said. “Don’t know how this bizarre nightmare started, but it ends now. If this is some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge-like eleventh hour conversion where I’m haunted by the misandrous carping of my girlfriends past, it worked. Sorry. I’m governed by my hormones and all of you charming ladies made my pee-pee feel funny. Satisfied?”

 “Not even close,” said Amy, a short brunette who folded her arms and pouted.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Karen said, her inflection spoke volumes of disappointment. “You could be so much better than you allow yourself to be. You hold yourself back.”

 “Is this one of your tirades against me moving to New York and clawing my way through the abattoir of failed writers, slowly butchered in a masochistic parade of self-loathing and delusion?” I asked.

 “It ain’t about that,” said Joanne, a woman I met during a one-night romp at a house party during my beer-soaked college days. “We didn’t lure you here.”

“Then what is this place? Why are all of you here?” I asked.

 “You conjured us up,” Rachel said, polishing a beer glass with a rag. “You brought us here. If this is a nightmare, you designed it. You reunited us all in one place.”

 Why would I assemble my ex-girlfriends and lovers in one place and have them harangue me about the past? What was my psyche telling me about women, life and relationships? I slumped at the bar and Rachel slid a shot of amber liquid in my direction. Strong and medicinal, the Scotch slid down smooth and burned my esophagus.

“So the reveal is I’m tormenting myself,” I said. “I do need a shrink.”

 “According to you, we’re all damaged,” Darlene said, her Texas drawl a welcome change from the majority of northeastern accents.

 “Wow. Bitches be crazy,” I uttered, and looked around the bar, at all of the women I loved and hurt, and realized how fleeting out time was. We connected briefly, existing in a hazy cloud of sex and laughter, of mutual understanding and passion, randomly thrown together for an instant. Lingering bitterness, betrayal and hurt slowly fade with time, but time really doesn’t let go. Memories still linger, just under the surface, and we’re reminded of our relationships, of those special, priceless moments nobody can take away.

 “So?” Lisa Number One asked. “Why did you bring us here?”

 “I’m moving on,” I said. “Got to kick the dust from under my boots and skedaddle into the sunset. I have a girlfriend. It’s kinda serious. Love of my life stuff. Epic passion and romance. Just wanted to whet my whistle at this gynofest before heading out.”

 “Making peace with the past? Cathartic, New Agey bullshit,” Jennifer said.

 “Clear your conscience? Clean break with the skeletons in your closet?” Carolyn teased.

 “Believe me, if I did have any skeletons in my closet they wouldn’t look like you. They’d be more fuckable,” I said.

 Bridgette chuckled to herself with disdain. “You’re an asshole. A selfish, obsessed asshole. I’ve met chauvinists before, and you could be their king.”

“I am how God made me,” I said, and slid off the barstool. The room grew eerily silent as the music in the jukebox stopped. “I’m not saying that I’m a perfect loving machine. Though, sometimes in my younger days I fucked like Ron Jeremy and joked like George Carlin. I will give you that. High school and college squeezed all of the innocence from me and my 20s were complete crap, shuffling from one nightclub and bar to another. As for my 30s, the less I say about that, the better. Point is, you made me feel loved and special and I had fun. Thanks for the blowjobs. But now I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve had since – ever – and I want to see how it pans out.”

 “Well, congratulations,” Leslie said dryly, taking another drag on her cigarette. “I survived a marriage, divorce, emotional pain and scarring,” I said. “I deserve some modicum of happiness before I push up daisies and shuffle off this mortal coil. Enough of the bitchcraft, ladies. I only wanted to tell you what you meant to be and how great the shtupping was.”

 “So you’re really happy? This girlfriend of yours, she’s the real deal?” Karen asked.

 “Yeah, poppet. She’s the one.” I said. “She’s my little pineapple Asian persuasion.”

 “I’m glad,” she said with a smile, which revealed forgiveness and sincerity.

 “You’re still an asshole,” Bridgette said, raising her glass, a gesture which all of the women imitated. 

“A toast,” I said, hoisting another whiskey above my head. “To us. Thanks for the laughs, the good times and the orgasms.”

 We all drank, and as I left Lothario’s Roost, it dawned on me with clarity how fortunate I am to have known such amazingly damaged and fragile women, who loved me during my equally damaged and fragile life. They were my past girlfriends, but more than that, they loved me when precious few did. They were my high school crushes, my college hook-ups, my one-night stand fuck puppets. They were my lovers, and girlfriends and confidants. Special people, all of them, regardless of how brief and fleeting our dalliances were. They taught me about women, dreams and life.

 They temporarily cured my loneliness. For that, I am grateful.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bread and Circuses

I'm typing this entry on my new iPad my editor purchased for me, which is intended to be used for my job. The plan is to use it at meetings and events, where I'll type notes, take photos and upload said information to the Internet, which is where everybody apparently winds up. The Internet is like Vegas: all glitz, glamor and sex delivered at hyper-speeds but with no remorse and you end up poorer after visiting.

So the idea is to link the weekly newspaper, already a dying dinosaur, to the Internet and bring our readers the latest information all lightening fast and beamed into their computers, smart phones and tablets.

Because we're living in the 21st Century where waiting is not an option, patience is outmoded and the Protestant work ethic can go suck it.

Not that I'm ungrateful or anything. I dig the shit out of the groovy iPad. Been playing a lot of Fruit Ninja. Downloading plenty of apps. Kicking butt with the super crystal clear touchscreen.

So I appreciate the iPad. I just hate the terms it was given to me. I loathe change, primarily because I've been a resident of a culturally and socially retarded county where change and progressive thinking are anathema. I dislike what this place has done to me. It's turned me into an intellectually-lazy dolt burdened by negative reactionary thinking. While it's great going to the county Republican convention and having nearly everybody shake my hand and greet me because I know practically everyone in the room, it leaves me dead inside. I really don't have any feelings about any one of those cardigan-wearing puppets.

They like me because I haven't told the truth about them. Because I'm fair and balanced and all the other jargony bullshit you're supposed to be as a reporter.

You're supposed to be an objective robot spewing words and facts sans opinion. I've worn this disguise like a master for the last two decades.

Yet when I go home, I want to punch a wall or join a fight club and beat someone up or scream at the top of my lungs like a primal warlord about to charge into battle, halberd raised, loins girded and chain mail stained with blood.

Let slip the dogs of war!

The life I chose for myself has been war, and it's kicking my ass. Here's how I'm going to turn the tide of the battle and win the war. Here's how I'm going to climb through the mound of severed limbs and shattered skulls and raped torsos to claim my sanity and triumph like the warrior prince I am.

I'm going to be totally and completely honest.

Not just on this silly little blog, which is like masturbation with words. Blogs are diddling behind the woodshed, except everyone can see you.

No, I plan to be honest with everything. Bitterly honest. The kind of honesty that ruins friendships and causes strangers to come swinging like drunken ninjas. Honesty will be my savior, my Jesus in a Porsche blazing a trail of righteous chaos.

So it's time for me to be honest about a few things on this little bloggy-woggy.

Here goes:

1. I'd like to do more investigative reporting. Deeply-researched, well-written reporting which moves mountains, causes the angels to weep and forces mass defenestration of corrupt government officials. The readers need this kind of reporting. They need to hear something than a fluff piece on how great the real estate market is doing.

2. I hate how the advertising department is treated better than editorial. We're the parasites and the sales representatives are revered and idolized. I'm told editorial doesn't contribute any revenue for the paper. We only drain costs. Great working at a job where one is regarded as human sponges, taking up space and costing the company without contributing anything. Sorry, but without reporters you have no articles, the main reason people buy the newspaper. I get how advertising is part of the circle, bringing in revenue for the paper. But tolerating the inner-office pissing contests is frustrating beyond measure.

3. The city is run by idiots. Seriously. It's like a high school clique of jocks and cheerleaders with major insecurities not wanting to relinquish control for even a nanosecond. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but they bring this on themselves. Maybe they don't realize they're so reactionary. Flashing their Cheshire cat grins, they welcome tourists to their community, touting its virtues as a Christian retreat, while sniping in the background at each other. This pisses me off most of all. The pettiness and phoniness. The fear each one of them has for innovation and taking risks, of letting go and undertaking the untried. Again, the feeling that if something has always been done a certain way, change is unnecessary. Maybe the reason nothing ever changes is because the same control freaks are in power, an inner circle of dunderheads and sunshine Christians who revere God on Sunday and blaspheme the rest of the week.

4. My coworkers treat me like shit. I'm tired of twenty-something hipster snark and being referred to pejoratively as an "old man". You're 26. Wonderful. Now act like it, not like a spiteful teen riddled with rootless anger. I have something to be angry about, not you.

5. If the city wants to build a shitty modular home with bathrooms, let the people know about it. The welcome center/bathroom project is a mega-clusterfuck. People should communicate with each other, not dwell in their own little cliques (see point 3 above). Egos should be set aside for the greater good. Since selfishness and petty squabbling win out, everybody save a few privileged power players loses. Communicate, people. Be honest. Abandon your backwards thinking and embrace the future. Or alternatively, you could construct a shitty modular bathrooms and appease the business community who are tired of opening their restrooms to incontinent tourists.

If you've read this far, you're probably screaming at your monitor, "Hey, asshole! If you hate your job, the competition and people you work with, then just quit!"

Would if I could, little monkey.

I've got bills to pay. A lavish lifestyle to lead. Maybe a precocious offspring in the future. This might be a rusty locomotive, spewing soot and smoke and chugging along, but for now, it's my gravy train and I'm riding the motherfucker all the way down the line.

See, I've had an epiphany. A revelation, if you will. Life is a wonderful adventure, compacted into a relatively short span of time. You don't get a shiny reset button. You live the thing once and all goes black. Game over. I want my life to matter. I don't want to be one of these sorry gin-soaked, bloated losers who sit at a bar for decades lamenting on their glory days and what they would've been. I'm a kick ass journalist. I have the plaques and accolades to prove it. Yet, according to my girlfriend, I'm "in a rut" professionally.

The rut is borne by fear and uncertainty, which has led to stress and resentment. Fear because I realize I've wasted my time and talents in a crappy resort town where mediocrity holds sway. Uncertainty because I don't know if my best days as a writer are ahead of me, or I'm glimpsing them through a rear view mirror.

Either way, this has been a cathartic post.