Saturday, July 30, 2011

El Chupacabra Fairy Tale

I overheard a group of dads talking to one another in the pro shop at an upstate New York golf course.  The bravado was similar to conversations I've heard many times before, but the subject matter was very different.  Generally those conversations consisted of very manly statements.  Like who had the biggest shoe size or who shot the lowest score on the front nine of the golf course that morning.  No, these guys were slinging braggadocios stories about who told the best bedtime stories to their children at night.  Adorable, yes. Interesting, not so much.  Until the quieter gentleman decided to speak up.  He was the one who should have been bragging, but he was more of a conscientious listener than a braggart.

He explained that he did not just amplify the fairy tales he had been told as a child with additional detail or unnecessary drama.  He just took snippets from their experiences together and added vivid details and fantastical drama.  Most of the stories would also include characters from the popular TV shows that his children watched on a daily basis.  Their day at the park would turn into a Wonderpets style adventure.  A long walk through the neighborhood would be transformed into a Dora the Explorer expedition.  His words to the other men in his golfing foursome were not boastful, they were genuine and sincerely fatherly.

I went home after our golf outing was complete, and I spent the remainder of the day doing some yard work, going on a short bike ride, and finished the evening watching TV with my wife.  We watched some odd TV shows that night too.  There was a documentary called Dogs Decoded that looked at the culture of dog breeders and the historic difference between wild canines like Silver Foxes (the dogs, not hot old ladies) and domesticated dogs.  We also watched LA Ink; which is a show that is supposed to be about an LA tattoo shop, but is more about the eccentric owner and her hairless cat named “Ludwig.”  There was another show about the author of Alice in Wonderland and his sordid lifestyle.  Oddly enough Lewis Carroll was his pseudonym, he was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson... so close to being a hairless cat himself.  We wrapped up our evening of TV watching with a show that delves into modern cryptozoological matters.  This show was discussing the infamous El Chupacabra, or the mangy dog-like animal that is known to feast on the blood of cooped-up chickens and wander the fields of southern Texas and northern Mexico.  Exactly what one should not watch before going to bed at night.

My wife was definitely having a hard time falling asleep, because she was vividly picturing the details of the El Chupacabra show we had just watched.  As I laid in bed with her that night, I decided to give the fatherly improvisational story-telling style a try myself.  I took our experiences from that day, mixed in some details from the TV shows we had watched on Netflix that night, and we embarked on a journey of nonsensical proportions.  As best I can remember, the story went a little like this:

The letters L and A were displayed proudly in black and gray ink on the wrist of a girl named Katherine.  People called her “Kat” for short.  She was a confused young girl who tattooed permanence in her skin rather than finding a worthy venture to give her life meaning.  She lied in bed trying to get to sleep, waiting for dreams to transport her into a fantasy land where she was understood and appreciated.  That occurred in her daydreams, but she was interrupted by reality on a regular basis (most unfortunate).  Sleep finally enveloped her consciousness and before the realization of where she was kicked in, a dark figure appeared in the corner.  Her palms instantaneously turned clammy and began to match the dank air that she tirelessly attempted to pull through her nostrils into her gasping lungs.  Her mind was quickly put at ease when the dark figure came into focus.  It was a black rabbit whose fur color is patterned not unlike a tattooed human.  Under normal circumstances, this would be an unwelcomed sight, but Kat found him oddly appealing and strangely calming.  The Black Rabbit stared at her with a seemingly earnest glare, and hopped purposefully toward a beam of light that led out of the cave.

Kat followed him and tried to keep up.  Without a care for her safety or any idea of what was in store for her through the lighted opening, she pushed forward.  She reached the opening and her eyes took a few moments to adjust to the change in brightness.  When she did begin to decode the information her eyes were sending to her brain, a fantastically whimsical tablescape was beset in front of her.  The Black Rabbit was nowhere in sight, but Kat quickly forgot his existence and began to approach what seemed to be a forgotten tea party.  There were Chai Tea bags on the table that were waiting to be dipped and rung out into cups filled with steaming water.  There was also a plate of Lemon Scones that had obviously been sitting in the sun for at least a few minutes, because the icing was turning to sweet melted magma and the glass cover had a fine layer of condensation collecting on the inner dome.  Kat went in to investigate.  As she reached for the scones in an attempt to procure one to satisfy her hunger, a growling sound came from beneath the table.  She jumped back at first, then her curiosity led her to lift the blue and red flowered tablecloth to see what was hiding underneath.  Had she written down a top ten list of people or animals she thought she would see upon lifting that cloth before doing so, there was no way any one of the three things she actually saw would be on there (unless she were on Peyote).

Again, her brain took a minute to register the information here eyes were attempting to send it.  After resetting her reality-to-dream decoder, she was able to recognize a domesticated Silver Fox, a Hairless Egyptian Cat, and the Black Rabbit.  She explained to the motley crew of odd looking yet seemingly harmless animals that she was not there to harm them, nor had she any plans to interrupt their tea party.    The Black Rabbit spoke up. 

He said, “Nah dogg, we ain't a-scared of you.  We is hiding from someone else... something else.”

Kat replied, “What are you hiding from then?  The tea looks like it is getting cold and the scones are quickly heading for a spoiled state as well.”

Black Rabbit told her to keep her voice down and her tone soft, and warned her of the real danger.  He said, “We are not chickens ourselves, but 'El Chupacabra' will treat us like them.  He will grab us by the necks and drink our blood to quench his never ending hunger for what he calls 'Sangre del Diablo'.”

Kat has lived in LA long enough to know what that means in Spanish, and is timid enough to realize that El Chupacabra is not someone, or something she wants to mess with.  She peered back out of the tablecloth to scan the landscape for any oncoming peril, and once she saw nothing, she looked to the Black Rabbit under the table for further instruction.  In that short time span, the Black Rabbit had disappeared and she was left only with a shivering Hairless Cat and the dead eyes and wagging tail of the Silver Fox to give her a clue as to her next maneuver.  They turned out to be mute and useless, and she quickly grew tired of the futility of communicating with them.  Neither of them posed any danger, nor did they provide any meaningful direction for which she could follow.

Kat decided that she was in no immediate danger from the claws or teeth of El Chupacabra, but her hunger and thirst for lemon scones and Chai tea needed to be addressed.  As she poured a cup of tea and sampled a taste of scone, she heard a noise behind her that sounded of rustling leaves and snapping twigs.  She twisted her body and turned her head, but was greeted with only the sights and sounds of wind rustling through the outer banks of the forest.  She slowly turned back to her snack and drink to find herself eye to eye with El Chupacabra. 

He smiled at her from mangy ear to mangy ear.  His breath smelled of rotten garbage and he whispered softly in her face, “Sangre del Diablo.”

Kat was surprisingly unafraid of the splotchy haired beast that stood on four legs so dangerously near her position.  She uttered calmly, “What is this Song-grey dell Dee-ah-blow you speak of?”

El Chupacabra growled pleasantly, “I have made spinach enchiladas at my house, and I need some hot sauce to spice up my recipe.  I have heard that the Black Rabbit might have some, and I would be oh so appreciative if he would let me borrow it tonight.  I would be sure to return it tomorrow if he would be so kind.”

Kat was a huge fan of enchiladas, and tried to drop the hint that she would like to join him for supper that night.  She said, “I'm sure the Black Rabbit has the sauce you need, I'll talk to him for you, but only under one condition.  Can I come over and partake in these enchiladas with you?”

El Chupacabra was ecstatic that someone else loved spinach enchiladas as much as he did, and he immediately said, “Sure you can come over tonight. I'll let La Chupacabra know to set the table for three tonight.  Actually, do you think your friends Silver Fox and Hairless Cat would like to join us for a Mexican feast this evening?  We rarely have parties at the Chupacabra house, and I think it is about time we start doing something about it.  Kat, did you know that the other animals in this area think I am a blood-sucking beast of the night?  What a trip!  You drink from the neck of one coop of chickens, and then the stories just spread like wildfire.  It's a small town, you know how people talk.”

Kat lifted the tablecloth to reveal Silver Fox and Hairless Cat, introduced them to El Chupacabra, and they all began shaking paws.  Shortly thereafter Black Rabbit came scampering out of the forest to reveal he was there the whole time observing the interaction.  They all apologized to one another for fearing the worst and spreading awful rumors.  The time was set for the dinner party that evening, and each of them went their ways to their separate domiciles to prepare to meet in a few hours.

The spinach enchiladas were “delicioso” according to everyone, and the mood at the party was relaxed.  La Chupacabra was quite the hostess, and nobody's wine glass was ever empty.  El Chupacabra told stories and shared anecdotes from his travels throughout northern Mexico and southern Texas.  Everyone was having a great time and special bonds were being formed as the night went on.  The time came for after dinner treats, and many allusions to what this was to entail were made throughout the evening, so the anticipation was brimming amongst the guests.  El Chupacabra had promised an end to the evening that they wouldn't soon forget.

He said, “Close jour ice, and pre-pare for de bess de-ssert ju half eva had in ju life.”

Smiles were pasted on the faces of Kat, Silver Fox, Black Rabbit and Hairless Cat as they waited in anticipation for “de bess de-sert dey ha eva half in dere life.”  As their smiles and deep breaths of expectation melted into mouths agape and screams of fright, El Chupacabra moved expertly across the table like an practiced swordsmen.  His teeth and claws scraping across each of their throats to flay their necks open one by one.  Their blood dripping onto the table and into the open mouths of El and La Chupacabra.  Once they had their fill of fresh life force to drink, they collected the remaining drippings for future consumption.

El Chupacabra turned to his wife and said simply, “Ju see mi esposa, jur fodder was wrong about me.  Ju ask for 'El Sangre' I bring ju 'El Sangre'.  Now less wash some Dora, I love dat show.”

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bradenton Bearded Bike Brigade

Every once in a while, Facebook can be a useful tool. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Scott Stapp. I've read stories where a child's illness was diagnosed or stolen property was returned as a direct result of Facebook posts and “Friend” responses. Well, this morning I saw a post from one friend to another where they were starting a cycling club with a new twist on the premise. The members must be avid cyclists to start, but they must also be bearded men or female beard aficionados (unable to grow them, but able to appreciate the follicle phenomenon). This club will consist of light bike riding and heavy drinking. They are basically a biker gang without leather jackets, meth addictions or motorized transportation. My only response was “I'm in!”

Rarely does an opportunity present itself that matches all the interests of one man in a simple yet efficient format such as this. Yes, the Bradenton Bearded Bike Brigade (or BBBB) will soon be a two-wheeled force to be reckoned with. It's co-creator and t-shirt designer Erin Mattick was the one who initially posted it on Facebook for my viewing pleasure. When I first was introduced to her by my friend (and her boyfriend), she was immediately dubbed “adorable.” Had I known then that she would be such a great innovator and lady-genius, I would have taken more time and giver her a better moniker. Her boyfriend and future rock legend Jake Freeman is the other co-creator.  He also shares DNA with the woman who accidentally introduced me to the love of my life (Thank you Becca Freeman). This family sure knows how to bring a smile to my face with only a single degree of seperation.

I couldn't help but to envision the future of the BBBB, and what magical merriment it will bring to its members. The onlookers will also be treated to a site for which they never dreamed. I imagined a single-file line of 15-20 bearded cyclists and their lady-friends cruising from bar to bar in downtown Bradenton and beyond. What would the onlookers think? How will these rides pan out? I can't wait to find out, but for now I can only imagine what will ensue.

I can feel the wind flowing through my multi-colored face hair as I think about it. I can smell the fresh air and taste the beer on my breath as we pedal from one bar to another. I can hear the suds forming in my squeeze bottle that will most certainly be filled with a Belgian blonde or a classic American ale. My bearded brethren will surround me as we coast down the street with smiles on our faces hidden by a garden of glorious facial hair. Our wives and girlfriends will flank us as they proudly pedal in tow. The onlookers will see us from afar, and assume that as we come into focus, we'll be the same group of neoprene clad cyclists they always see riding down the streets. Those assumptions will be shattered as we pass by them wearing our black t-shirts and khaki cargo shorts. I'm sure we will be the topic of many a dinner conversation in those households.

The matriarch will say to her husband, “Dear, I saw the oddest thing this afternoon.”

Her husband will inquire, “What was it, honey?”

She'll reply, “It was a group of bearded men and their ladies on bicycles riding down main street. I wasn't sure why, but they sure seemed to be having fun. I remember when you used to have a beard. You were so sexy and you had a certain manly air about you back then. I miss those days. Maybe you should grow it out again.”

Maybe he will grow the beard back, or maybe they will just have the best conversation they've had in years. Either way, they will always remember that the BBBB was the group that brought about such a revelation in their lives. Maybe they'll even share their “Eureka” moment on Facebook and it will spark future chapters of the BBBB to form. We can only hope. But for now, I'm going to continue to not shave my face and start getting ready for the inaugural Bradenton Bearded Bike Brigade ride.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Romeo, Wherefore Art My Rockstar?

I find that when choosing a restaurant to have lunch with my friends Jamie, Chris and Aaron, the conversation always seems to contain the words “two for one.” Generally those words are preceded by “does that place have” and are succeeded by “drink specials.” Today was no different. Our man-outing was to consist of beers, burgers and an assortment of off color sophomoric humor. All of those things occurred, but unfortunately Ruby Tuesday did not have two for one drinks like Chris had assured us. We trusted him, and he let us down. Luckily, our server did not.

We sat around the high-top table in the bar area so we could stay away from the stuffy Sunday church crowd. Yet still we were cautiously raucous as we sat down, ordered our beers and perused the menu.

As men do, we scoped the landscape of our surroundings for women to judge. Behind the bar were two women that could not have been on further ends of the attractiveness spectrum. One was a frumpy girl in her early thirties that wore her hair in a ponytail, and apparently wanted to be judged and tipped solely on the effectiveness of her bartending skills. The other girl was a younger blonde with her shorter hair pinned nicely behind her ears, and her facial features were stern yet appealing. Her overall style and energy said “I'll get you your drink in a minute. For now, enjoy the view.”

We quickly grew tired of the two of them altogether. Three of the four of us are married, and know that although she may be attractive, girls like that are high maintenance and not worth the effort. The fourth (Aaron), was too busy watching the Plasma TV to really notice either one of them.

After we had finished our beers and lunches, our server came back with the checks. He was a gangly guy who looked like he was in his late twenties to early thirties. He didn't quite have that air of desperation and hatred of life that you see in the servers who have spent most of their adult life as servers. The kind that will probably continue serving tables until their arthritic wrists can no longer support a tray full of jalapeno poppers and cheese sticks. No, this guy had a chance. I never looked at his name tag to remember his name, but now I wish I had.

After we had paid our tabs and were quickly preparing to make our way out the door, our server approached us in a hurry. Sweat was beading on his forehead, and hope was glistening in his eyes. He looked right at all of us seemingly at once, and asked, “Hey dude, can you do me a favor?”

We all replied virtually in unison, “What?”

Without hesitation or social awkwardness he said, “See that bartender over there, she said if I get her a Rockstar energy drink in the next fifteen minutes, she'll go out with me.”

With even less hesitation, Aaron said, “Which one, the fat one or the hot one?”

The server laughed and replied, “The blonde” (please note, she was the hot one).

I saw a chance to do my good deed for the day, so I immediately volunteered. How rare is there an opportunity to play cupid for what was obviously a very desperate man? I have never been offered a quest with such an easily obtainable target that would garner an immediately tangible result. I could not pass it up. All I had to do was drive to the corner store, pick up an energy drink, and deliver it to him within the next fifteen minutes. He enthusiastically thanked me, and offered to pay extra for going out of my way for a stranger that just 45 minutes earlier was just another guy wearing a name tag on a food stained shirt.

He gave me directions to the closest corner store, and crammed eight dollars into the palm of my hand. I did the math quickly. $8.00 - $2.50 for the drink = $5.50 profit on this venture. I was set to make back over 50% of the tip I had so recently signed over to him on my credit card receipt. That is a good deed and a good deal. Being both a romantic and cheap skate, this was right up my alley. I took his eight dollars, and went on my way to the corner store. I was on my way to purchase the beverage that would satisfy her thirst, and quench his hunger to go out with a girl that was most definitely out of his league.

I returned fourteen minutes later (just within the fifteen minute deadline she had pinned to this quest). Romeo met me out in the parking lot, and greeted me with the phrase, “Dude, that is some baller shit.” I believe had he been more of a Shakespearean Romeo, his appreciation would have been phrased more poetically. Something like, “Hark, there appearing before me is the libation for which my maiden hath ordered, and when I bestow it upon her, she shall imbibe its contents and hold me close to her bosom with glorious appreciation!” But alas, he went with the “baller shit” line instead.

My thoughts went further into how their Ruby Tuesday romance could be more Shakespearean. How would their courtship have sounded, and would the Rockstar energy drink have been enough to lubricate the turning wheels of her bartending Capulet heart and allow this servant Montague to be her beau?

I imagined the most famous scene from the play; where Juliet appears in her window overlooking the Capulet's orchard and hears Romeo's voice from down below.

But, soft! One Bud Light for yonder table 14.
With its barley and yeast, and Juliet pours the one.
Away, other one, and tend to the empty bottle of Blue Moon,
You are already sick and pale with age,
My maid art far more fair than thee.
To be my lady, O, to be my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her throat is dry and thirsty; I will answer it.
I am too bold, 'tis to me she speaks:
One of the fairest Rockstars with all the energy of heaven,
Is that the business, you'd have me do to prove my worth?
See, how she leans her cheeks upon that stool!
O, that I were the wooden stool that supports her,
That I might touch those cheeks!

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art my Rockstar?
Deny thy manager and refuse thy double shift;
Or, if thou wilt not within 15 minutes, be without my love,
And I'll no longer be your date on morrow's eve.

With love's light wings and the help of a bar patron;
For Ruby Tuesday limits cannot hold love out,
And what eight dollars can do that eight dollars can attempt;
Therefore thy thirst's quench are no let to me.

If he does see fit, he will simply flee.

Alas, there lies more peril in the deep fryer
Than twenty dollars lost: just to look at thou sweetly,
And I have his credit card number for help against his enmity.

I would not for a Red Bull if that is what thee bring here.

Lady, by yonder blessed Plasma TV I swear
That he return with anything but that which you desire

O, swear not by the Plasma TV, and the inconstant channels,
That changes by the second in incessant cycle,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

What shall I swear by?

Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy Rockstar in hand,
Which is the drink of my idolatry,
And I'll believe thee.

My dear?

At what o'clock it is becoming?
Your sentinel I have yet to see.

At the hour of 1:40.

And what if he is to fail: 'tis five minute till then.
I will no longer be in your debt
You will call me on the morrow for our night's adventure,
And I will forget to call thee back.

Let me stand by the door and greet him when he approaches
thou will stand here, and wait anxious for my return.

I shall forget, and give my number to the next caller,
Remembering how you lost my company.

And I'll still stay, lest not have thee forget,
Forgetting any other bartender but thee.

'Tis almost 1:45; I still have not my Rockstar:
Like a poor thirsty maiden without her caffeinated libation,
And with a quick chug I will drink the elixir,
So loving-jealous of its energy.

Hark, here cometh my bro with that which you requested
He has just arrived within his metallic steed
I shall greet him in the parking lot,
And bestow many thanks upon him.
For he has done us both a momentous solid
For which can only henceforth be known,
As some baller shit.

Sweet glory, it is now 1:44 and almost time:
I shall imbibe its contents with much cherishing.
Here, two Bud Lights for table 12! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Karl Gardner: Lesbians, Otters, and Bears. Oh My!

This story starts with my being thrown into a culture I’m not entirely used to, I hope it is in no way offensive. It just so happens that the weekend I stayed with my cousins in Seattle, was Gay Pride Weekend. It had been, oh, six years since I stumbled upon the same occurrence in Germany, and now I found myself knee deep in yet another. However, it did allow me to overhear some memorable gems of conversation, and for that I am thankful.

I was scheduled to meet my cousin and her fiancé at a local bar. I initially walked right by it, as it was clearly a gay bar, and it took a minute to sink in that that was probably exactly where I was supposed to meet them. As it turned out, it was, and they quickly took me into the crowded patio area toward the back. Feeling slightly out of my comfort zone, I took a few sips from the great equalizer – beer, and relaxed a bit. That was when I heard the first gem. It really was quite crowded, and as one gentleman made his way through the sea of queens, he was trying to squeeze past a couple of larger fellows, I heard him comment, “It’s like a car wash of bears in here” (a “bear” is a term used by gay men to describe a husky, large man with a lot of body hair- thanks Check. Cross that off the list of things I needed to hear before I die. Apparently my cousin and her fiancé were the tomboys of the lesbian world. I hadn’t realized that lesbians and gays are normally quite segregated, and that it’s a little uncommon when they hang out in gay bars together. At least, that’s what I gathered. Of course, I’m playing with broad generalities here. But, back at the bar, I met a few of their friends, most of whom I liked. Actually, I met my cousin’s fiancé for the first time, as well. And I loved her! She’s awesome. After a while they decided to move to a bar closer to their house, which was where the unofficial opening ceremony was being conducted for Pride Weekend.

We changed bars, and this one was more of “local” hang out. They had brought in one-half of a female duo to open the ceremony. The performer did an absolutely amazing job of using Michael Jackson song titles in her opening speech (keep in mind, this was right after The King of Pop had just passed away). Then, they passed around tray after tray of mini-hot dogs for all to enjoy. Beer and miniature hot dogs. Sort of a Eucharistic twist.

I met two more coupled friends of my cousins, who I also liked. The second gem was when one of the ladies walked away, and I heard the other girl call her “a womanizer.” I would say that evening was a success. Headdresses were passed around, photos were taken, I was sat upon the lap of the womanizer (or her partner. I forget), received a kiss on the cheek from one of the guy partners, and somebody called me “adorable.” There you go. Gays and lesbians love me. It’s clearly because I’m so adorable.

The fiancé drove us the short trip to their house, but not before having her own solo adventure. It involved her running full out for the car, then thinking, “Why are you running? You know you can be clumsy, and there’s no rush.” So she started walking, thought to herself “screw it”, and ran full speed through the pouring rain toward the car, only to trip and slide face first across the sidewalk. She eventually got up, brushed herself off, made her way toward the car, and drove us straight to a late night Chinese restaurant to get a “platter of meat.” I don’t make this up. She parks, runs into the store, and shouts loudly at the startled cashier for a “plate of meat... to go”, not realizing that half of her face was covered with blood. Her palms were torn to shreds and her hair was coated in wet leaves from the sidewalk. Yet, all she wanted was to pay for her meat platter and be on her merry way.

The next day was the parade (keep in mind that I had absolutely no idea any of this was going on when I made my trip plans). So we spent most of the day there.  I applaud any outside event that encourages a cup or three of beer in the morning. If it’s pre-noon and you’re at home in your pajamas drinking a beer, it’s a problem. If you’re outside for an event, it’s an acceptable treat, and nobody will judge you. The parade was tamer than I expected. Some people mentioned that it’s very politically correct now, with businesses taking pains to show how accepting they are of gay culture. Quite a difference from their original purpose. Originally it was a way of showing solidarity within a persecuted group. It was a fight to be accepted as they were (which was here, queer, and demanding for all within earshot to “get used to it”). Now, the businesses and politicians make it about them, flaunting their tolerance in everyone's faces, just to get attention. It's sick, really.

The evening ended with great awkwardness. Which is weird, because I’m never awkward. Normally my suaveness slides right off the page like an otter onto the lap of a bear (an “otter” is a term used by gay men to describe a skinny gay man with a lot of body hair- thanks again We ended up back at the bar where this story began. My cousin and her partner had teamed up with another lesbian couple to storm the gay bar, and I was simply along for the ride. A few awkward things happened while I was there. I noticed a guy wearing a shirt stating, “I love my hates.” I found this odd, and asked them if they understood it. The fiancé offered to ask him for me, but I somehow took this as a challenge, as though I wouldn’t normally dare to ask the question myself. So I asked him, and regretted it immediately. Actually, that’s not quite how it happened.

I tried to ask him twice, and was ignored by him, though his shorter companion (or “pocket gay”) seemed to take it in the wrong manner, and started glaring his own hate at me. The fiancé then got his attention, asked him what the shirt meant, and he proceeded to lecture me on the intricacies of all his “hates.”

He explained, “It's the stupid, petty, and self-congratulatory things.” He went on to inform me that he loves that he hates when people wear socks with sandals, and other trivialities such as that. Unfortunately, he also loved to hear himself talk, and didn't stop until he was satisfied that he had made his point. He suddenly began to aim his wrath at me. All the while, his little friend was grinding his teeth in anger toward the situation, and I was still trying to get out of the conversation. At one point he was called away by an angelic voice from amongst the crowd behind me, I thought I was free, until he came back. He looked me dead in the eye (while his friend was staring me dead in the navel), and asked me if I was straight or gay. I replied quickly and distinctly, “straight.” Before he was able to catch a second wind for another nonsensical dissertation, and while he was distracted, I tagged the fiancé for help. We swapped conversation partners, and in less than a minute, he was gone. When I ask how she did it, she replied plainly, “I dyked him out.” I then proceeded to go inside to the bar to buy a round of drinks to celebrate the “dyking out” that had saved my evening. Unfortunately, more awkwardness ensued. A hefty bit more actually.

I made my way to the bar, and I was about to order our drinks, when arms suddenly appear around me, and someone started rubbing my belly. Yes, rubbing my belly. I freaked slightly, but thought to myself, “maybe it’s one of the couples I’ve met, just goofing off.”  I turned around quickly. Nope. I don’t know this person. Some older drunk guy was rubbing my belly. That went way, way beyond “Stranger, Danger.” He then asked if it made me uncomfortable. I said, “YES! Uh, er, yeah, kind of, er, please stop.” He didn’t stop.

I was completely out of my element, freaked out, and didn’t know how to get out of the predicament I had unknowingly gotten myself into (now, please, please don’t judge me here). I was in a panicked state of mind, trying to extricate myself quickly and smoothly, while simultaneously trying not to be rude. So, I bought him a drink. Yeah, I know. I bought him a drink. I didn’t really think that one through. My thought was to distract him and his grabby hands, and then make my getaway. And it worked, thank you very much. He grabbed his drink. I grabbed mine, then quickly bolted to safer ground amongst my lesbian protectors. I explained what happened to the others, and that I was ready for a break, so they snuck me out of there like a team of butch Navy Seals.

I learned some very important lessons that night. First, bears and otters are not always what you think they are. Second, don't ask a question about a enigmatic t-shirt slogan if you don't really want to hear the answer. Third, and I share this with you in hopes that you will use this knowledge responsibly, apparently, if you rub my belly, I will buy you a drink.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rehab Casual

Jessica and I were walking around the sparsely populated area of Main Street in Sarasota. Our plans were not written in stone, and that is the way we prefer to spend our weekends. Agendas are for weekdays, freedom from schedules is what the weekends are all about. However, we did know that we needed money to embark on our journey, so we stopped to get some cash from an ATM that was located just outside of a grocery store. As Jessica punched in her PIN and waited for the machine to deliver her money, a group of unseemly people emerged through the automatic doors.

They were in mid conversation, and their discourse was an intense one. The furrowed brow of the female orator was matched only by the look of intrigue on her audience's faces. She was speaking with intensity, and at great volume, so I wasn't necessarily eavesdropping, I was just utilizing my ability to listen. The first comment was simple and uninteresting, and had I only heard that part, I wouldn't have even remembered the encounter, but the second line was something that will stay with me always.

She said, “What do you think of these new shoes? They're New Balance, and they're fuckin' comfortable!”

One of her audience members replied, “Yeah, so.”

The woman continued, “Well, I just started going to this new methadone clinic downtown, because we're trying to get clean, so I figured I needed a new pair of sneakers.”

The entire experience lasted only about 10-15 seconds, but its perplexing nature has given me hours of thought provoking questions to ponder. Why would anyone need a new pair of shoes to show up at dawn to a methadone clinic? Did she have to run there each morning to sweat out a night's worth of heroin before she got her daily dose? Was she literally “Chasing the Dragon”, and her old sneakers just didn't provide the cushion and support she needed anymore? Or more comically applicable, was there a dress code at this particular clinic, and her other shoes just didn't meet their high standards?

I conjured up an image of a swanky downtown Sarasota methadone clinic with its patients dressed in what could only be known as “Rehab Casual.” Nothing too dressy, because you'd hate to have a bad reaction to your dosage and end up with vomit or some other bodily secretion on your finely pressed dress pants. But also, this was not your regular dingy, back-alley, run of the pill-mill clinic. No, this place had class. And with that class, would come a dress code.

I imagined this particular woman sauntering down the street in her bright white, unscuffed, New Balance shoes. Her zig-zagging pattern would most likely be due to either drug-induced vertigo or her attempts to thwart the pursuit of an imaginary alligator. Her eyes stayed affixed on the pavement and buildings in front of her, as she would be looking for the red carpet entryway to the upscale clinic where she was going to get her legal daily fix. As she entered the premises, a man would take her coat, and she would be ushered to a waiting room laden with plush leather couches and abstract art pieces. Writers, painters, and real estate agents would sit and wait their turn to get their chance to sip pills from a little paper cup (even classy methadone clinics use paper cups, it's a standard). While they waited for their chemical breakfast, they would sit and scrutinize one another at great length and with no mercy. Ms. New Balance would be the target of most of their ire.

The struggling painter would mutter to himself, “Look at this loser, I'll bet she spends half of her food stamps on Mountain Dew and beef jerky. She probably turned to drugs just to get a welcomed respite from the reality of being poor.”

The son of the famous author and playwright would stare off into the distance and occasionally think, “What am I doing in the same room with these miscreants. I don't belong here, I only tried heroin once or twice to get my creative juices flowing. It was basically a professional decision to further my career in the arts. These people just want to get high to avoid any realization of their plight.”

All the while the “real” drug addicts like Ms. New Balance would be left there sitting uncomfortably in a comfortable chair thinking to herself, “What a bunch of stuffy assholes, do they even belong here? Can't they afford to go to Betty Ford Clinic or have a live-in caregiver tend to them during their recovery? Why do I have to wait in line behind them?”

Ms. New Balance was obviously not your average Sarasota resident. No, she was just an average drug addict, with a taste for heroin and an affinity for comfortable footwear. Her reasoning for buying new shoes to “get clean” remains an enigma to me. However, should any sort of fracas between the elitists and the common folk begin, she will not have to worry about being caught flat footed. Her New Balance shoes have excellent arch supports.