This week, I finally got my first shot at real political journalism, when the fine folks at my publication let me take a look at Florida’s new Revenge Porn bill, that it quickly on its way to becoming law. Creepers beware!

This week, I finally got my first shot at real political journalism, when the fine folks at my publication let me take a look at Florida’s new Revenge Porn bill, that it quickly on its way to becoming law. Creepers beware!

Letters From The Wasteland: The Revenge Porn Bill?

I’ve been pestering the editors here to put me on something more serious from day one. I didn’t go into hawk and take on more student loans than a journalism career could ever hope to repay, just so that I could tell self-deprecating stories about my own misadventures. I mean that was part of it … a big part perhaps, but still, I’ve got more to offer. There are real issues out there that could use the sort of deep in the soup, gonzo-journalism I do best. This publication is known for taking on serious matters and I had no doubt that I could contribute. Unleash Ringo, I endlessly implored, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Last week, they finally listened … sort of.

“Khan get in my office,” shouted Local ARTery editor Mike Tokars. “You’ve been asking to cover something political, here’s your chance. Senate Bill 0532, run with it.”

I sat down and he looked at me like I was a dog who’d just wet the carpet.

“What’s the issue,” I asked, sheepishly returning to my feet as nonchalantly as possible.

“What are you asking me for?” he shouted. “I thought you wanted to be an investigative journalist. Go investigate!”

Excited, yet nervous about the fact that I wasn’t quite sure what to do next, I decided it best to leave the small and crowded confines of our office and get out into the field where I do my best thinking. I made the short trek over to Motorworks and ordered a Highland Porter, while opening up my laptop. I was ready to jump into this thing with both feet.

First, I went to the Florida Senate site to search the bill.

CS/CS/SB 532: Disclosure of Sexually Explicit Images

What? I was sure there was a mistake, so I Googled it.

Revenge Porn Bill Passes Florida House

Certain there had been some sort of misunderstanding, I called Tokars.

“Khan, didn’t I just give you an assignment?”

“That’s the thing, you see, it’s just that I wrote down Senate Bill 532, but apparently … it’s just that …”

“532 Khan – the revenge porn law. Can you handle it or not?”

“Right, well it’s just that I thought when you said something political, you meant, you know like the charter school funding bill or casino expansion.”

He sighed into the receiver.

“This is the ARTery Khan, not the Times. We don’t cover politics per se, but this is what you might call a crossover subject, the sort of thing our readers might want to know about – that might affect them personally. You wanna prove you can cover something in Tallahassee, here’s your chance. Take it or leave it.”

“Oh no, I’ll take it …” I stammered. “I just thought perhaps I’d written it wrong …”

“What’s all that noise, are you at lunch?”

“Yes, I uh stopped in Motorworks for a working lunch so to speak.”

“They don’t have food there Khan. What the hell is wrong with you?”

He hung up the phone with extreme prejudice.

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

I began reading the bill, clearly an effort to dissuade scorned lovers from disseminating nude pictures of their exes online, which had apparently become a major issue in the advent of better cell-phone cameras and high-speed internet connections and I immediately wondered which legislator’s daughter had fallen victim to the ploy. Then I looked down at my 2008 Samsung flip-phone and wondered how long it would take to upload one of the crappy, hard to decipher photos it takes to a website. Perhaps I was not the best suited reporter for a story whose genesis had been high-technology.

Revenge porn on the other hand is older than the internet and I had some second-hand experience to draw from. You see, when I was a sophomore in high school, my friend Joey Fiorello broke up with his girlfriend Lori Ann. Actually, she broke up with him, essentially by way of letting him know that she had been asked to prom by this wrestling star, Dominic Grasso, and had not only told him yes, but hooked up with him at a party the same night.

Joey was crushed, enraged even, but what could he do to Dominic Grasso without finding himself in a cross-face chicken wing? Lori Ann had been Joey’s first girlfriend and she was not only gorgeous, but let’s just say that she had developed early and had also been blessed with generous proportions. Anyway, he comes into gym class that Monday and calls about four of five of us over to a secluded corner of the locker room and pulls out a stack of Polaroids.

We couldn’t believe our eyes! They were pictures of Lori Ann in all sorts of seductive poses, first wearing lingerie, then topless and finally wearing nothing but a smile. We were pleasantly stunned to say the least and stood there mouths agape.

He made us promise not to tell anyone, which of course was impossible. By study hall, just two periods later, half the school had found out and were shaking him down for a quick peek at the twin peaks. Lori Ann was livid. She came up and slapped Joey right in the face at his locker moments after the final bell, and if that wasn’t bad enough, Dominic found him in the bus line 10 minutes later and administered the sort of beating that you only usually see in action movies.

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Oddly enough, that wasn’t the only time I would bare witness to such “revenge.” Growing up, we had this Adult Book Store on the edge of town that offered “discreet film development,” as one of its many supplemental services.

Why someone thought that such a place was any safer than sending them off to the lab at K-Mart I’ll never know, but by the time we were in college, I remember several instances of guys from high school showing off their 3x5 trophies of some pretty girlfriend who’d left them behind for a frat boy at the state university who seemed to have a brighter future.

To make it worse, when they busted the guy who owned the book store in a drug sting years later, they found shoe boxes full of second prints he’d made of what appeared to be every “discrete development” customer he’d had over nearly two decades, seriously, like thousands of them. I had a friend whose father was one of the state cops on the case and he told us that they had to log every single one into evidence, and that there had been barely a couple in the entire town who hadn’t been luridly immortalized on either glossy or matte prints, depending on their preference.

Apparently, what had been a somewhat isolated issue – and not one that gathered a lot of sympathy for the girl back then, I might note – had grown into an epidemic during an age where nearly everyone had the equivalent of a high-resolution camera/video recorder on their phone.

Perhaps it was the spontaneity that digital phones made possible, or the fact that they didn’t produce a physical product to worry about. Also, while there was something creepy about a guy bringing a Polaroid camera or a giant beta video recorder into the bedroom, cell phones are ever present, though the possibilities they emit usually go unconsidered.

I did a quick poll of my close friends, nearly all of whom admitted to sexting provocative images back and forth to current or ex-girlfriend/boyfriends – and sometimes with people that they weren’t even in a relationship with. Sending digital images of your junk to a prospective partner had apparently become a sort of modern flirtation and definitely not something that was commonplace in the Polaroid era. I wondered first what planet was I on, and then how I had managed to end up so out of touch.

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

If this was going to become illegal, it quickly raised a wide array of questions, none of which were answered by the vague language of the bill. I tried to get a hold of the bill’s sponsor, but given my miniscule credentials in Tallahassee, the best I could do was a low-level staffer for one the co-sponsors. We’ll call her Rachelle.

RK: I just have a couple of questions about possible scenarios.

Rachelle: Such as?

RK: Well, what if the photo is unsolicited? Like let’s say some guy is famous, like a baseball player or a musician or something and girls send him photos of themselves naked all of the time, you know, to introduce themselves. Obviously, there can’t be much expectation of privacy in that scenario?

Rachelle: Well that’s not really the bill’s intent. It’s a response to a rash of incidents in which intimate photos which were meant to be private are later published, like after a break-up or even a divorce, for the sake of embarrassing the other person.

RK: Well even in that scenario, what if it’s not taken by the scorned lover? I mean, it seems like it’s one thing if that person took the picture or video in an intimate situation, maybe even goaded the other person into posing for it, while giving all sorts of assurances that it would never be seen by the eyes of others, but what if the other person took a sexy selfie if you will, and then sent it to them with a bit of suggestive text, you know like to prompt a nooner or something?

Rachelle: A nooner?

RK: Yeah, like a little afternoon delight – a lunch date, a rendezvous, as they say.

Rachelle: I suppose that’s a fair question, but I think again it would be whether the intent is to shame or embarrass by making something clearly intended to be private public.

RK: What if they haven’t met yet?

Rachelle: WHAT?

RK: One of my friends said that a girl he met online sent him a naked picture of herself. Can he get in trouble for showing it to me, to see what I think in terms of you know, him going out with her?

Rachelle: I think that if your friend is dating the sort of girls who send naked pictures to guys they don’t know, you should look for some new friends. This is a serious issue. Girls are being slut-shamed, embarrassed. Lives are being ruined!

RK: No, I’m not suggesting it’s frivolous. I’m just trying to …

Rachelle: I don’t have time for this. What paper did you say you were with again?

RK: Just one more question, what about a statute of limitations? Will this apply to Polaroids that resurface and if so, will it be the person who took said Polaroid, or the person who found it that gets in trouble? And what does it mean by identifiable person? Would a girl’s …

Click ….

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

When I turned in the piece, Tokars laughed, but not in the usual, condescending manner.

“Not bad Ringo, not bad.”

“Thank you, I hoped you’d like it. I think you can see that I have a flair for political issues. Maybe TBT would wanna use me on the upcoming election, perhaps even the governor’s race? I’ve got connections in Tallahassee now, I think I could really be effective.”

He chuckled again, only this time it was the one I was infinitely more familiar with. The cackle mounted to a thunderous belly-laugh as I left his office and crossed the lobby, reverberating through the walls as I hit the parking lot. It didn’t get me down though. I had kicked in the front door and was standing on the threshold of journalistic greatness. I could feel it, so I headed down to Motorworks for a celebratory brew.

Letters From The Wasteland: Saving Daylight?

I’m going to tell you a little story involving my three biggest pet peeves: daylight saving, exercise and untethered canines with sharp teeth.

This weekend marked the return of the much-loathed concept of Daylight Saving Time – and for the record, I’ve never met a single person who is in favor of this ruthless scam against the concept of marked time.

We – and by we I mean most of the United States (Arizona, Hawaii and parts of Indiana wisely abstain) – have been enduring this farce on and off for most of our history and on a permanent basis since 1973.


Ostensibly, we suffer this travesty of common sense to save energy, though there’s no credible evidence that such is the case. In fact, we’ve known for a long time that gasoline consumption actually goes up during DST, more than enough to overwhelm any possible gains from less electricity used during the extra evening daylight that isn’t already offset by morning birds who have to keep the light on until later in the morning. Also, because Florida is so far south, we actually see much less difference in natural seasonal time change, making the negative effects of being on DST even more pronounced here in the Sunshine State.

What DST does do is screw up our internal rhythms, sap our productivity and foul all matters of daily routine. Classroom performance, office productivity and even sexual activity are negatively impacted by the practice. It’s even been linked to increased health problems ranging from heart attacks to suicides, but we’ll get back to DST in a minute.

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Now it’s no secret that good old Ringo LOATHES regimented exercise of any sort. The occasional pub-crawl or keg run on the beach I can manage; maybe even a little bit of sand volleyball from time to time. But anything that requires “athletic gear” is pretty much persona non grata in my world.

However, it’s also well known that I lead a less than, shall we say healthy lifestyle, so in order to keep obesity at bay in my mid-thirties, I’ve had to bite the bullet and engage in something a little brisker than a walk along the back nine.

Recently, my abdominal paunch was beginning to appear rather bulbous even in my baggiest Acapulco shirts, while I also had to let the little elastic/button straps on the inside of my cargo shorts out to the last slot. For similar reasons, my roommate Charlie B. had recently taken up jogging and invited me to come along.

“You don’t jog!” I argued.

“You’re crazy, I jog every other morning,” he protested.

“I’ve never seen you once!” I screamed.

“That’s because I do it before work, while your lazy ass is still in bed!” he screamed back.

This was entirely possible, as I’m not what most people would call an early riser, though this is owed mostly to the late-night nature of my work.

https://www.thebradentontimes.com/clientuploads/Wasteland/Chuckbeat.jpg

“What time?” I asked suspiciously.

“6:30 a.m.”

WHAT???

Knowing that I was highly unlikely to engage in any sort of solo routine, I signed up to join in on his little jaunts and last week we began doing a few miles by the early light of dawn – and by “a few” I mean not quite one and a half.

The first couple of days were admittedly rough. I learned that footwear is important (my three-year old Chuck Taylor All-Stars did not offer optimal support, plus my feet got so blistered it looked like a plague of boils had descended upon them). I also learned that without compression shorts, the Florida humidity could provoke the sort of biblical loin chafing that even Triple-medicated Gold Bond Powder can’t cure.

There was also my horrendous physical condition to contend with. I’d been stagnant for months and began to cramp 20 steps into our first jog and tossed my cookies before we got halfway home. By the end of the week, however, I felt like at least the worst had passed.

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

Then came that old nemesis: Daylight Saving Time. Charlie B. and I always try to start adjusting our schedule on Friday, turning all of the clocks in our house an hour ahead as soon as we get home from work.

This of course screws any and every sort of scheduled weekend interaction with the outside world, but a man must at least try to offset the evil when confronted by a force as strong as DST.

That being said, by the time our Monday morning alarm went off, we were both less than spry. 

“God I’m foggy,” said Charlie B., who despite his slavish devotion to the alarm clock, is in essence no more of a morning person than I am.

“Yeah, let’s skip,” I offered eagerly.

“No way,” he said, “with DST it’s like ripping off a band-aid. Let’s just get it over with.”

I silently agreed and we hit the street, only to find it pitch black. We could barely see our feet hit the ground (West Bradenton has some of the sorriest street lighting in the developed world) and it was all we could do to keep from tripping over the pitifully uneven sidewalks (on the few streets that even have them).

Since dawn hadn’t broke by the time we hit the turnaround, we hung a right onto the busier confines of Manatee Ave. in order to head home with at least a slight sense of what was in front of us. We were within a couple of blocks, however, when a large and menacing (unattended) dog began running toward us. It had a collar and looked relatively well-taken care of, but it also looked scared or angry – maybe both.

It soon became clear that the dog wasn’t looking for a pat on the head or a scratch on its belly. We both froze in place and looked at each other hoping the other would know what to do.

“Let’s cross,” I said, and we quickly ran from the street to the median of the 4-lane roadway, which was already growing thick with traffic.

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As soon as we stopped on the raised concrete, Cujo headed toward us, seeming more than a little determined to sink his teeth into our less than taught flesh. Instinctively, we both crossed all the way to the far sidewalk, but without regarding the oncoming cars, the dog opened up his stride and hit the pavement a second behind us, just 10 feet further up the street.

Engaged in what might best be described as a high-stakes game of real-life Frogger, Charlie B. and I executed a couple more maneuvers, luring the ferocious beast into oncoming traffic until the driver of a large F-350 finally had to hit his brakes in order to avoid striking the beast.

The man piloting the giant rig jumped down from a side-step and looked back at us with venomous anger.

“What the #&@% are you trying to do????” he screamed.

Charlie B. pointed at the dog, as if its aggressive stance and clear willingness to pounce would be self-explanatory. No such luck.

“You nearly made me run over this poor goddamned thing!” the man whaled. “What in the hell is WRONG with you?”

He turned back around and I instinctively looked toward the rear window to see if I could spy a shotgun rack, but couldn’t see through the graphic-emblazoned tint, which seemed to be promoting his brand of pick-up truck over the competitor by way of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that I’ll just say was not fit for family viewing.

“What’s a matter buddy boy,” he asked in what seemed an odd amalgamation of the angry voice he projected toward us and a cute and cuddly one usually reserved for newborns and small toddlers.

The dog was having none of it. The animal bore its teeth in a growl and quickly, leaned back on its hind legs and then lurched toward him, jumping in the air while barking in a way that seemed to suggest it was about to clamp onto the guy’s tattooed forearm.

The man fell back on his heels and then quickly jumped in through the passenger seat of his truck, where he began beeping the horn and flashing the high beams. This finally seemed to sap the dog’s will and it darted the long way across Manatee Ave, apparently forgetting about Charlie B. and I just long enough for us to duck down the alley and escape what had seemed like certain maiming.

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

Now let me go on record and acknowledge that I am already certain that some animal rights lover is ready to tell us why the entire ordeal was our fault and advise all of the many ways we could have handled the situation in a way that would have been safer for the dog.

Let me also say that the only thing in West Bradenton that makes me feel as though I might want to get a concealed weapons permit and a .44 Magnum is the ridiculously-high volume of large dogs that often find themselves on solo missions, after the owner fails to keep them secured on the property.

If a pre-work jog is on the agenda, then about the only thing scarier than the loose dogs you often encounter are the high volume of dogs which are held at bay either by a short fence or a long-leash at the end of a very old and atrophied arm. Never mind the high likelihood of stepping in their fecal piles or the fact that even running before work in the first place, virtually guarantees that you will wake up just about anyone in the entire neighborhood lucky enough to still be asleep, as most dog owners have their pets out in their yard ready to bark at any sound louder than a pin dropping no later than 6 a.m. each morning.

Nevertheless, had we ended up running Cujo into an oncoming vehicle in our effort to flee the chase it had initiated (and believe me we were not unaware of the possibility), I’m sure there would have been thousands of Manatee County dog lovers demanding we be flogged, caned, or maybe even tarred and feathered?

I am aware that the lesson in this story is don’t run, exercise can kill you faster than daylight saving, especially in West Bradenton. Believe me, I have taken it under advisement and were it not for the upcoming bender I am anticipating on St. Patrick’s Day (my mother was 1/8 Irish on her stepfather’s side), I would have swore off the sweaty stuff, cold turkey, right there on the spot.

In the meantime, perhaps we can give a little more thought as to whether DST is just one more antiquated relic best suited for the dust bin of history, and whether there might be a better way that non-dog owning humans and semi-feral canines can co-exist peacefully in the darkest hours before dawn.

Letters From The Wasteland: Flu Like Symptoms

2/25/2014

On Monday, the head cold hit me like a garbage truck with a nitrous-equipped engine and jet fuel in its tank. It started with the sort of headache that feels like you’ve been forced to wear a fitted cap two-sizes too small for days on end.

My ears were clogged, like I was at high-altitude and the cabin pressure was too low. I could hold my nose and blow out, but only the left one would budge and just enough to tease me. I chewed gum incessantly, but it didn’t help.

The next day it had worked its way to my nose and I was a runny mess, soaking more Kleenexes than a 14-year old boy who just discovered Cinemax.

I muscled through hump day, but by the end of the week the foul virus had settled in my chest, and I knew I was down for the count. Friends asked whether I’d taken any echinacea, Zincam or my favorite: had I soaked in something called essential oils?

Not quite. When I could no longer deny the fact that I was in the midst of a full on sickness, I drove down to the Walgreens and filled a basket with eight bottles of NyQuil, four bottles of Chloraseptic and a two-pack of some off-brand air freshener spray (the living room smelled like death).

My roommate, a hypochondriac of the highest order, had evacuated as soon as I told him I my head was congested, in response to his question as to why I had the volume on the television turned up to 63.

“What? I can’t hear! I am turning it down, that’s not why I can’t hear. I’m all blocked up. No, I don’t have allergies. Why are you packing a bag?”

Mumbling something about immunodeficiency, as he administered what seemed to be a preventive medication – a nasal swab of some sort – he quickly disappeared to spend the weekend with his ill-tempered girlfriend, ensuring I wouldn’t see either one of them for days, perhaps longer if I could fake symptoms of something truly scary. At that, I felt just a tad better, if only emotionally.

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

No one likes to be sick, especially hard-working, Type-A personalities like yours truly, but sometimes Mother Nature has a way of giving slavish devotees of their trade the break their bodies desperately need.

Once it became clear that I would be useless for a few days, I decided to make the most of it and catch some R&R. I hadn’t seen television in months, but I could find nothing even remotely watchable, so I signed up for a free trial of Netflix and was pleased to see that House of Cards: Season 2 had just been released.

For the unindoctrinated, HOC is a delicious little soap opera about a Washington power couple (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright). It’s unrealistic and trashy, but much more Gore Vidal than Tom Clancy, and I got so wrapped up in the first season that I watched it in its entirety the very first week (for their original series, Netflix drops every episode of the entire season of on the same day).

This season was even saucier than the last, and I blew through all 12 episodes on the first day, drifting in and out of NyQuil naps, wondering if what I’d seen had really happened, especially the French stuff. Kevin Spacey, who plays a manipulative Svengali named Francis Underwood, had been Majority Whip in season one, but had back-stabbed his way to the cusp of being named the new Vice President by the finale. I won’t spoil this season for you, but suffice it to say it did not fail to entertain.

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By the time it was all said and done, I was left with more questions than answers, along with a massive crush on Claire Underwood (a short-haired Robin Wright) who is such a wicked and contemptible woman that my attraction to her might speak volumes about the many failures of my pathetic love life.

In no mood to examine that line of thought any further, I decided against checking out the original British version of the series when I came to from the NyQuil somewhere around 4 a.m. on what I think was Thursday. My guts were too unreliable to risk a cup of Turkish coffee, so I brewed some of the expensive herbal tea that my roommate’s stingy girlfriend had forbade either of us from ever touching, figuring my illness entitled me to anything which might be considered good for me.

It smelled like perfume, but tasted like sweat. Nonetheless, it managed to get my juices flowing and while I couldn’t manage to remain upright longer than a walk to the john, I had the energy to devour season one The Following, an equally unrealistic psychological thriller starring Kevin Bacon.

A cult of serial killers who worshiped Edgar Allen Poe? By the end of my marathon I was more than a little ashamed for having been so enthralled, so I picked up War and Peace, a book I’d been trying to finish since grad school, but my lack of basic understanding in terms of 19th century Russian society kept sending me back to Wikipedia with questions about the Russian Revolution, Napoleon and the difference between a czar and an emperor.

The head full of NyQuil probably didn’t help. In fact, I was beginning to wonder whether I was still sick or just in the throes of withdrawal when I cracked open the fourth bottle of the green, licorice-ish flavored syrup, took a swig and chased it with a long spray of Chloraseptic that numbed my throat, as if it’d been frozen by liquid nitrogen. I felt soothed to the depths of my soul.

I’d never heard of someone with a NyQuil problem, but I was beginning to feel like a man in an opium tent and wondered whether Poe would have even made it to morphine had this delicious stuff had been around in his day.

I then decided that if I couldn’t read, I should at least watch something with a bit more merit and spent an hour cruising Netflix for a good indy film that I hadn’t seen already, referencing Rotten Tomatoes to see if I could find a worthy flick.

Nothing on Netflix looked good, but on Rotten Tomatoes I’d come across a review for something called the Sunlight Jr. – starring my favorite actor, Matt Dillon.

It was supposed to be some dark love story about him and a girl played Naomi Watts. Every trusted source raved. I checked Netflix, but no dice. I was even willing to pedal two blocks to the Red Box, but again it didn’t even show up on the search. Now willing to pony up the premium price to rent it on Amazon, I was in a Quil-head fury when I was again rejected.

What was the world coming to? Matt Dillon – Drug Store Cowboy, Rumble Fish, Factotum, The Outsiders – had made a film that everyone from PopCornGirl255 to FlickPick_22 agreed was nothing short of brilliant, yet the only way I could see it was to wait two weeks for a used DVD of the European release that I could buy on Ebay? The movie just came out less than a year ago! Was this no longer America?

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“Ringo, you sound like crap,” said Bright Mike when he answered the phone.

“I’m not well.”

“Seriously bro, are you alright?”

“I’ve been better.”

“Do you need a ride to the doctor’s or something?”

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I hammed it up a little with a flemmy cough, hoping to garner an excess of sympathy.

“There is … something you can do, I mean, if you’re not too busy and all.”

“Anything bro, you name it.”

“You know that stuff you do with your computer.”

“Which stuff Ringo? That’s a pretty wide net. I work on a computer 60 hours a week.”

“Right … I’m not talking about the MILF porn or that Minecraft nonsense Mikey, I’m talking about that thing where you get movies and video games and digital books without paying for them.”

Let me explain that this was dicey territory I was entering. You see, as an artist (don’t laugh), I’m opposed to this practice. I don’t want anyone copying and pasting my brilliant writing onto their website, and I don’t wish to stiff some struggling novelist on the buck their publisher gives them for each copy of the book that they manage to sell after eating Snack Ramen for five years while they wrote it. I don’t even buy used copies unless the author is either a.) dead; or b.) filthy rich already (sorry Jonathan Franzen).

“Wait, are you going to ask me to show you how to illegally download a work of art for which you will not have benefited the artist?”

“It’s more complicated than that. Can you come over?”

“It’s 7:30 in the morning Ringo, I’m at the gym.”

“You’re on a phone at the gym?”

I’m on a blue tooth, while I’m on an elliptical.”

I couldn’t imagine what that would even look like. My friends correctly describe me as being technologically-impaired. Well, they say technologically-retarded, but LFTW is nothing, if not politically correct.

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

On his way home from the gym, Bright Mike stopped by my shack. Apparently, corrupting my artistic integrity was too much to pass up even for this worker bee.

“Dude, it stinks in here. Crack a window.”

“I told you – I’m not well.”

He looked around the place, which admittedly looked like a Quil-head had been on a three-day bender. I sprayed the Chloraseptic into the air, thinking it was the air freshener. He looked at me, then at the end table, then back up with shock and perhaps a tinge of disappointment in his eyes.

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“Please tell me you are not drinking NyQuil from a martini glass. What is that garnish – a Halls menthol? What the hell is wrong with you Ringo?”

I made efforts to explain my condition.

“It started as a head cold, but it settled somewhere south. I think I might have walking pneumonia, only I can’t walk.”

He shook his head, “I think you have an OTC drug problem, is what I think. Get some help.”

“I’ve considered as much, but back to the task at hand.”

I nodded toward my laptop.

“What is it you want Ringo?”

“A movie. It’s called Sunlight Jr.” He looked nonplussed. “It’s got Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts,” I added with a child’s hopefulness.

Bright Mike rebooted my computer and started doing some funky stuff before the operating system was even loaded. He’d once explained to me that there was something called a darknet, this thing that’s like 100,000 times bigger than the World Wide Web (the part of the Internet that most of us use); some sort of digital underworld where people much less technologically-retarded than myself used all kinds of things that sounded like gibberish to secretly trade everything from kiddie porn to machine guns and LSD, sometimes even paying with a fake digital “crypto-currency” called bitcoins that my Ron Paul friends had been telling me would soon replace money – if the government didn’t manage to get us all outfitted with microchip implants first.

He said there were secret social networking sites that could link up terrorists, messaging boards to hire contract killers and portals to conduct kidnapping ransoms, however, no Google-like search engine to find such madness. You had to be in the know, as they say. Bright Mike explained that most of it was just used to pass around pirated movies and music. No wonder so many artists are starving.

“What are you doing now?” I asked.

I can’t quote his response because he kept using words I didn’t really understand – this torrent and that torrent – to explain that he was downloading the movie from some server in Singapore, but that it was routed through an IP address in the Ukraine, from where it would return to us in some innocuous form that no one would notice. Before any of that happened though, we had to check it out to make sure we weren’t downloading some big no-no that would send up red flags and land us in the bottom bunk at Edward Snowden’s Russian apartment.

“Wait!” I screamed. “I saw this in House of Cards. Some reporter from the Post went to this creepy computer guy and he took him into this same sort of thing, only he was working for the Feds, as like an informant, and the reporter ended up going to the pen for 20 years!”

Bright Mike looked at me like a frustrated parent and explained once more the part about the IP address in the Ukraine.

“My great-grandmother was originally from Kiev,” I offered.

He shook his head and took the tiny flash drive off of his key chain, plugging it into my laptop, then handing it to me only moments later.

“Enjoy your movie.”

“It’s in here?” I asked, suddenly wondering why DVD’s weren’t smaller.

“Yes Ringo, it’s in the little magical stick. Give me that back when you’re done … and get a shower bro, you’re rank.”

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

The movie was everything PopCornGirl255 had promised and then some, with the added bonus that it had been shot right up the road in Clearwater. One of the news stories that was playing on a radio while Naomi Watts sat in a waiting room was actually talking about the new Benderson Mall they’re currently building over in Lakewood Ranch!

The movie was laced with symbolism about building things, because Matt Dillon’s character had been a construction worker in better times, but was now in a wheelchair and he and Watts were living in a seedy hotel, not unlike the ones on 41, while she pulled graveyard shifts at a convenience store called … you guesses it – Sunlight Jr.!

Anyway, their life was stagnant and each attempt at erecting something shiny and new would stall and sputter, even as progress abounded out of sight from their low-budget lives (though Matt Dillon’s character could manage to erect a boner, despite being paralyzed). It was beautiful and gritty and real, though I felt dirty even after taking Bright Mike’s advice on the shower.

Why did I have to go over to the dark side with the jihadists and the pederasts just to watch what should have been an Oscar-nominated movie on the tiny little screen of an old Dell laptop, all at the expense of a couple of talented filmmakers trying to make an honest buck?

Imagine scoring two A-list actors for an ambitious if low-budget independent film, overcoming the significant odds against holding the whole fragile project together, getting it shot, getting it edited and getting it released, all so that some guy who lives a stone’s throw from the town where you filmed the damn thing has to go beam a file halfway around the world and steal your work in order to appreciate it?

If it had been about superheroes, a comic book character, vampires, werewolves, or been based on a video-game about driving cars really fast, I could have seen it 10 different ways before lunch, all while drinking a 32-oz. soda emblazoned with the characters, via some fast food franchise tie-in.

To the filmmakers and my hero, Mr. Matt Dillon, I offer a humble apology and will gladly buy you a drink if you ever again find yourself shooting a movie near my humble abode. To Hollywood, get off the NyQuil, wise up and stop complaining when you lose a boatload of cash on schlock like After Earth and Grudge Match. Trust that there are enough fans of quality filmmaking – people like PopCornGirl255,  FlickPick_22 and good old Ringo Khan – to make it worth your wild to hustle more movies like Sunlight Jr. onto the silver screen.

*author’s note: After my recovery, I discovered that Sunlight Jr. was now available to stream legally from Amazon for $3.99 for a 24-hour “rental,” or $9.99 to download a digital copy you can watch anytime. Check it out here and remember, piracy is for Somalians.

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Letters From The Wasteland: Cupid Wept

2/18/2014

My original assignment for last week was to do something cynical and perhaps even a bit hilarious on the subject of Valentine’s Day, as it was scheduled to run three days prior. Given the unprecedented success of my piece regarding the trials and tribulations of online dating, it was incorrectly assumed by my much younger, coat and tie wearing editor here at the Local ARTery that such a soliloquy would be right up my proverbial alley.

Well, I told him to stick that schlock up his proverbial arse (standards and practices only allows us to use an A word for derriere if in the British parlance) and I resigned immediately. Since I do this quite regularly, it was not unreasonable that Mr. Tokars assumed my resignation to be in jest. When I finally arrived back in town last week armed with a doctor’s note excusing both my absence and erratic behavior, while further explaining that I was under strict orders not to do anything stressful, he didn’t even seem to remember the interruption in my employment – perhaps because he was busy contemplating the multitude of death threats his own article on Motorworks Brewing had by this time incited (he was sweating profusely and I could see the outline of a large Bowie knife pressing through his chintzy, thrift store blazer).

Anyway, he was talking way too fast, babbling about this idiotic idea that I should stand on the corner of 1st Street and Manatee Avenue on Valentine’s Day – in a cupid costume of some sort – with a sandwich board sign offering free hugs to those who were without a significant other on this holy day commemorating the death of Saint Valentine, a third-century Christian saint from Rome. While this suggested that he had in fact remembered that I’d failed to turn in a column last week, I quickly pointed to my equally well-received piece on atheism to subtly suggest that any such assignment would very likely result in severe freedom of religion litigation.

At some point, we agreed that I would report back with some sort of commentary regarding, in his words, “the many, more modern and non-religious aspects of the Feast of St. Valentine,” sometime before our Monday deadline. This was on Wednesday and by Thursday evening I was actually contemplating the free hug angle, as I had been unable to come up with a single thing. I decided to cruise 1st Street on a little recon mission of the neighborhood, but it was pretty desolate at that hour. At some point, I ended up parking my arse on a stool at Motorworks, where I figured that at 8% ABV, a couple of Green Flash Double Stouts might ignite my creative juices. 

Somewhere around pint number four, it occurred to me that there was only one real way to take on an assignment of this magnitude; I’d have to go totally gonzo – complete immersion into the seedier side of this once holy day, whose liturgical commemoration was no longer even recognized on the Catholic Calendar of Saints (I suspect it was for that reason that my request for advance expenses in relation to an exploratory trip to Rome in order to walk the Via Flaminia for inspiration was denied).

I mulled over the idea, while drinking two more of those stouty milkshakes and awoke the next morning with a head the size of an elephant’s, along with that dry and swollen sandpaper tongue which results from imbibing too many craft beers without the foresight to guzzle a quart of water before turning in. 

There were three text messages on my phone; one from my mother, another from Mr. Tokars and one from my good friend Erin, a highly-successful family law attorney, whose frequent (and gratis) legal advice has kept things from going sideways for good old Ringo on more than one occasion.

Erin is that rare breed of confident and successful female, who even on a day like this wouldn’t be a Debbie Downer about not having found that “special someone.” In fact, if there’s one thing a divorce lawyer doesn’t suffer, it’s illusions about romantic relationships. It was decided. She was without question the only person I could stand on a Valentine’s Day morning like this one. 

No, I haven’t had breakfast yet - the Hyatt sounds perfect! I texted in return, though no mention of either had been made.

My phone buzzed only seconds later.

Very funny jackass, but stop by the office. I’ve got plenty to eat.

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

A cold shower got me up and moving, and after I downed two cups of Turkish coffee I had a whole new outlook and was ready to really jump into this assignment head first. A woman’s perspective was certainly needed, so I got in my car and headed south. 

I found Erin’s office festooned with flowers, balloons and other assorted V-day booty, nearly all of which had been sent by ex-clients. For whatever twisted reason, divorcées often develop feelings for their attorneys and Erin, being both wicked smart as well asthat Yoga and Pilatessort of attractive, had an almost problematic string of real estate agents, police officers, accountants, gym teachers and insurance salesmen all hoping to recoup some of the dough she’d peeled off them in the form of a romantic liaison with a gorgeous woman in kick-ass heels and a form-fitting $2,000 suit. 

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“You want some chocolates?” she asked, opening her arm to draw attention to a table that was covered in various heart-shaped candy boxes: Lindt, Godiva, Vosges, Z Chocolat, you name it – a virtual high-dollar cocoa buffet.

Famished, I tore into some dark chocolate truffles and noticed the bottles of red wine.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got the champagne chilling,” she laughed. “Mimosas in five.”

While we chatted, I embarrassingly told her that I needed to produce a silly Valentine column. 

“Seriously, Ringo? Valentine’s Day? When are you going to start working for a real paper and writing about things that actually matter?”

“What could matter more than this???” I screamed in defense as the champagne cork erupted from the bottle, just missing a flat-screen computer monitor bigger than my TV. 

“It’s a commercial holiday, pure manufactured consumerism,” she retorted in her $300 an hour esquire voice, the one that drove weak men (like me) crazy. “It’s good for the restaurants, good for the florists and good for the pharmaceutical companies when it helps drive women to antidepressants.”

“Interesting,” I mused, turning on my tape recorder as not to miss a word.

“You know, your phone can do that,” she said, casting a condescending glare on my micro-cassette recorder, circa 1989.

“Really?” I asked in amazement, pulling out my flip Motorola to ponder how that might have gone unnoticed.

At this, she laughed and told me to enjoy myself while she did a client consultation back in her office.

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

By the time Erin returned to the firm’s marble and stainless kitchenette, I was passed out on a ridiculously-comfortable, overstuffed leather couch, crumbs and wrappers from approximately 70 truffles strewn about, the bubbly bottle empty, a half-drained petite syrah nearby. 

“Ringo!” she screamed in the sort of faux disappointment a pet lover offers their beloved Fido when he chews up tissue paper from a gift bag.

The pungent mixed aroma of flat champagne, dark chocolate and long-stem roses filled the room and for a moment I thought I might be sick, but a big glass of water and some fresh air did the trick. 

Erin poured me into a cab and planted a platonic kiss on my unshaven cheek. “Stay out of trouble jerk-off. I’ve got a date tonight and will not be bailing you out.”

She tucked a bottle of something called Apothic Dark into my breast as she settled me in the back seat.

“What’s this?”

“It’s from that winery you liked,” she said with a chuckle, “the one that makes those gaudy blends that taste like fruity blood. It’s their reserve apparently. Some guy sent it with a box of “dark” chocolates and “dark” red roses. Clever, huh?”

“Is he Nubian or something?”

“No, I suppose he was going for some sort of Gothic thing.”

I fell back asleep in the cab almost immediately and soon I was back at home, but even though I’d fully caught my second wind thanks to the shut-eye and another Turkish coffee, I was no closer to having discovered the true meaning of this holiday – plus my car was now 30 minutes away and probably parked inappropriately.

I could have called Messr Tokars, but he would have pressed me for details on a yet-to-exist story, and my roommate was unwilling to give up his lunch break to chauffeur me around, probably because he was planning some sort of romantic picnic with his horribly ill-mannered and narcissistic girlfriend – before he took her to Marco Island to blow half a month’s pay doing exactly what they did every godforsaken night here. I was left with one option.

“Bright Mike, what’s the word?” 

“What do you need Ringo?”

“I understand it’s Valentine’s Day, but don’t be so cynical. I just need a ride.”

“To where?”

“Erin’s office.”

“That’s in Sarasota!”

“Really, I’d never noticed?”

“That’s like 20 minutes away. I’m working.”

“You’re playing video games in your underwear,” I chided. Bright Mike has a sweet little side gig writing reviews for a prominent gamer mag.

“It’s a weekday, I’m working-working.” 

“Suddenly journalism isn’t real work??? I’m on deadline you fool! And I need to interview you for the piece,” I pleaded.

20 minutes later I was stretched out on another comfy swath of leather, this time the backseat of his 2012 Maxima, which now had me seriously rethinking my career decisions. 

“What does Valentine’s Day mean to me?” he asked, looking at me in the rear-view mirror with raised brows. “Are you even serious? What kind of paper do you work for?” He shook his head and I tried to mentally assuage my ego. “It means I’m glad I’m single. I’m glad I don’t have to suffer the 400 percent markup on roses or try and get a reservation for an expensive restaurant I don’t even want to eat in and hope my date doesn’t expect me to order an $8 bottle of wine that’ll cost me 60 bucks. That’s what it means to me … and why are you recording this?”

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

“There’s your clunker bro. You’re lucky they didn’t tow it, unless you’re a senior partner at Erin’s firm all of a sudden?” he said, pointing to the sign above my spot.

Bright as Mike can be, he has zero appreciation for classic American automobiles, in this case a white 1986 Pontiac Fiero, that even with a primer gray front quarter panel, one pop-up headlight stuck in the up position and mismatched rims remained a sick ride.

Back in my car, and only after the portable breathalyzer Erin kept in her office gave me the green light to leave, I contemplated my options. It was already 4:00 p.m. The holiday was in full swing and I had deuces. I put the pedal to the metal and arrived at TBT headquarters shortly before 4:30. Tokars was out, but the boss’s boss was in.  

Tucked back in the only office without windows, Dennis Maley was typing furiously when I sheepishly knocked on the door. He looked up without saying anything as if the pause in his manic typing was all I needed to know. I tried to sound cool.

“Hey big guy, what’s crackin’?”

“You look like warmed over dog shit Khan. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

I reached for my doctor’s note, but got the feeling that excuses wouldn’t mean much to a guy whose office decorations consisted largely of military regalia, boxing titles and pictures of his mohawked little kid, who was named after some bare-knuckle champion from the turn of some previous century.

“Thanks for covering for me while I was … um, indisposed last week sir. That piece you did may have been the finest zombie story by a political pundit in … well … forever.”

He poured us two glasses of Scotch from the tumbler he keeps on his shelf and asked again what was wrong with me. When I told him I’d had trouble focusing as of late, he asked if I’d tried Adderall. I told him that it wasn’t my bag and he shot me an arched eyebrow that seemed to suggest I reconsider. 

“Can I ask you a question sir?”

“Shoot”

“What does this day mean to you … Valentine’s Day that is, sir.”

“Are you kidding me Khan? Is that what you’re working on?”

“It’s my assignment sir,” I stammered, sphincter tightly clenched as I spotted a vein quivering on his shaved temple.

“I’m 39 years old Khan. I’ve been married and divorced … twice … EACH! Valentine’s Day means I finally don’t have to buy anyone anything and that maybe, just maybe, I can run into some broad who’s even more desperate than myself and leverage her loneliness into a good time.”

“So, suffice it to say you’ll be trolling Old Main tonight looking for low hanging fruit? … If you a … need a wing man sir … I mean, I’d be honored.”

He looked at me like I was a retarded puppy.

“No you idiot, I’ll be with my 9-year old son making chocolate tacos and watching something on Netflix. Now, get the hell out of my office. I’m working on a real column in here!”

I gulped my Scotch, figuring that leaving a half-full (yes I’m an optimist) glass would be worse than hanging around an extra two seconds (he’s known to be thrift) and then took off. Two minutes later, I was again passing Motorworks. It’s like this brewery is the center of the universe all of a sudden. You can’t make a left turn without passing the damn place!

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

I pulled up a stool and ordered a Breckenridge Vanilla Porter while I planned my next move.

The place was empty except for a cute girl riding solo three stools down.

Our eyes met on my cursory sweep, and she offered a nod.

“Hey” she said in a cute and raspy voice.

I nodded back.

“Enjoying Valentine’s Day?” I asked, instantly realizing how dumb it sounded.

“Yeah, don’t even,” she warned with a shake of the head and a light, if frightening cackle.

“Buy ya a beer?” I asked passively.

“Sure, why not. It’s not like I’ve got other plans.”

She edged down the bar until we were on neighboring stools. 

“I hate this holiday,” I blurted out, immediately sensing that I now sounded a bit creepy as well.

She extended her palm for a high-five.

“THANK YOU!!!!” It is the worst day to be single! My single girlfriends wanted to do a “girl’s night” of cheap champagne, expensive chocolate and a Lifetime movie marathon! I was like no way! I’m getting drunk – by myself – and I’ll eat the chocolate tomorrow when I’m good and hung over!”

“Well, it’s cool that you like craft beer,” I offered. “Not many girls I know are into it.”

She studied the pint of dark porter.

“Well, I’m more of a wine girl, but if I’m going to drink a beer and all of the calories that come with it, then I want a real beer, ya know?”

“A woman after my own heart … and on Valentine’s Day yet.” 

Our eyes locked and I arched a brow to emphasize the passion which was clearly mounting from some inspecific and very well generic origin. 

“So,” I continued. “What kind of wine do you like?”

She smiled and pursed her full lips, as a Mazzy Star song began its entrancing beat.

“I’m by no means an expert. My girlfriends all like white zins and chardonnays, but I like real wine. I want something robust, something with body. You know what I mean?”

“Oh we’re on the same page,” I assured her.

I really like this California blend called Apothic Red, but around Christmas time, they came out with like a special blend called Apothic Dark. It was so good. I bought one bottle for Christmas Eve and I loved it, but when I went back, they were all out, and it hasn’t been around since.”

Ding, Ding, Ding - Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

“I have a bottle of it!” I screamed loud enough to call the attention of everyone in the place.”Seriously, a friend gave it to me just this morning. It’s on my mantle as we speak!”

“Really?” she asked with a coy smile. “Got any romantic movies?”

“Tons,” I said through a devilish grin. “Wanna watch a movie and drink some wine? Maybe toast St. Valentine?” I asked in a voice that dripped with desperation.

“You bet your sweet arse I do.”

This girl was going to be a headache to be sure. There were obviously going to be restraining orders involved before all was said and done. But on this glorious holiday that speaks to the American way of life perhaps better than any other, we were perfect for one another. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for and far more than enough …

15 minutes to deadline and all I have is empty bottles and pages and pages of obscenity-laced rants about how stepping in some inconsiderate bastard’s uncurbed dog pile ruined my Super Bowl Sunday. Tune in to tomorrow’s Letters From the Wasteland to see how this fiasco turns out.

15 minutes to deadline and all I have is empty bottles and pages and pages of obscenity-laced rants about how stepping in some inconsiderate bastard’s uncurbed dog pile ruined my Super Bowl Sunday. Tune in to tomorrow’s Letters From the Wasteland to see how this fiasco turns out.

Letters From The Wasteland: Buster’s Revenge

2/4/2014

I don’t believe in karma, if only because I so rarely witness bad people suffering their due (or any) comeuppance. For God’s sake, Dick Cheney received a heart transplant, while … well anyone who didn’t … didn’t. How could that happen in a universe where such justice is even contemplated, let alone served? As such, I hesitate to ascribe what happened to me on Sunday afternoon to fate; however, the irony of the situation was almost poetic enough to keep my tears at bay – almost.

It was Super Bowl Sunday and I was on my way to one of my favorite West Bradenton watering holes for what was set up to be an epic afternoon of the American male’s real favorite pastime – drinking cheap beer, eating greasy food and gambling on a sporting event we only casually watch, while trying in vain to make time with the gorgeous young waitresses who take our tip money home to empty-headed boyfriends with well-toned abdomens.

For the Super Bowl, they were putting on a considerable spread – one of those one-price, all-you-can-eat and drink extravaganzas that begin at 4 p.m. and go until either someone strokes out or starts the sort of altercation which will surely end any sort of party held in a strip mall.

I’d already had Seattle getting two points, but I called in another bet that morning on the over/under, which was 47, figuring the warmer than expected weather that was suddenly being called for might open up the offenses a bit. For a moment, everything seemed to be perfect, and the tropical air that had finally returned to our corner of paradise smelled like … victory

I had started the morning across the bridge at Norma Rae’s, fortifying myself with a hearty breakfast of near everything on the menu. One never knows how much reserve energy they’ll need on a day like this, and I wanted to be ready should my country need to call on me. After all, the threat level had been cranked up to burnt sienna for the occasion.

I’d finished my 13th cup of coffee, settled the surprisingly-reasonable bill and was headed to my car when the phone rang. It was my ex-girlfriend – from two rotten years ago!

What could she want, I asked myself, too afraid to actually consider the possibilities. My instinct was not to answer, but I imagined scenarios of ominous voicemails, followed by an inability to get her on the line after; a noxious game of phone tag that would surely ruin this sacred and genuinely American day.

“Yes?” I answered as neutrally as I could manage, hoping she wouldn’t hear the dollops of sweat that were rolling down my brow and pattering the screen on my phone.

“Well hello to you too,” the vaguely-familiar voice returned.

“Hub .. du duh der shah owl-um,” I mumbled, suddenly rendered to speaking in tongues, then forcefully stammered out a “HOW ARE YOU?”

“Whatever, I need Buster’s sky kennel, the one I left at your place,” she said flatly. “I’ve got to fly up to Virginia for a wedding this week.”

Always a bridesmaid never a bride.

“What in the hell is a sky kennel?” I asked in genuine confusion.

“It’s the carrier that he flies in … the large, wire cage that you insisted he sleep in whenever I stayed at your place when we were together,” she answered in a voice that was finally layered with a contempt which made it much more familiar to me. 

Buster was a god-awful, mongrel dog of some sort who shed and slobbered all over her apartment. This was enough to ensure that I never spent the night, which she tried to remedy by bringing Buster to my house, even though the rental agreement strictly forbade even the category of small dogs, of which Buster surely was not part. Anyway, I’d never actually done anything of the sort. I simply insisted the dog didn’t sleep at my house, which seemed reasonable, especially since I never insisted that she did

Nonetheless, she claimed that the cage (now suddenly and inexplicably called a sky kennel) would keep him from chronically barking (not true) and, provided she could walk him several times each day on the weekends she stayed over, all would be swell (also not true). 

“That was like two years ago,” I said, regretting that she’d already managed to place me on the defensive.

“So?” she responded after a long pause, during which I could feel her growing indignant.

“Well … I’ve moved since then. I asked you to come and pick it up several times before that. You never responded. My final email was something to the effect of, hey do you still want this thing before I move?”

“So? What did you do, throw it out?” she screamed.

“No! It was two years ago,” I repeated. “I moved since then, I don’t even remember what happened to it.”

This last part was not true, but I hadn’t managed to do anything beyond repeating myself, so I had to tack on something. I had actually given the damn thing to another girl – also a dog lover, though I saw no way the truth would have inspired leniency, especially if she didn’t already agree that the passage of two year’s time, a relocation and multiple failed attempts to return it to her had rendered me something less than blameworthy.

“You probably sold it, you cheapskate!” she screamed into the phone. “Or did it go to your bookie in order to cover some idiot bet you made?” (My gambling had been a source of tension throughout the relationship).


I felt a genuine panic setting in as she continued to bore in on me and suddenly wished I had one of the prescription anti-anxiety pills she was always gobbling back when we were dating (though they hadn’t seemed to have helped her in the least).

“Look, that was my property. So whatever you did with it, you’d better have it, or another one exactly like it, at my house before Thursday or my boyfriend is gonna kick your ass!

What??? How was I suddenly indebted to a boyfriend who hadn’t even existed at the time??? It was like when some mafia don buys some other softer wise guy’s loan and cranks up the vig. 

“Believe me, he’d LOVE to do it too,” she assured me, the scream receding into an even more familiar tone of giddy condescension. “He already hates you for all of the B.S. you put me through, especially with Buster. They’re very close.”

“What are you talking about? You broke up with me?” I screamed. 

“Uh yeah, you’re damned right I did – who wouldn’t have? Just have it at my house before Thursday. Leave it on the back lanai.”

She mumbled something that sounded like loser before hanging up on me with the sort of extreme prejudice that usually requires a land line to slam the receiver into its base. I immediately recalled seeing her at the gym with her new boyfriend a short while back – some neanderthal who runs an MMA gym that he opened when he lost his job as a Sheriff’s deputy after being arrested for possession of illegal steroids. 

When I got home, I immediately set about trying to reclaim the old carrier. I’d never gotten anywhere with the girl I’d given it to, so I left her a voicemail, but wasn’t holding my breath for a return call. By 2:30, I’d learned that late money was coming in on Seattle and the spread had narrowed to 1.5, but the pre-game show, which was being broadcast from Times Square, looked like it was in Tampa. The announcers were wearing sport coats – no winter jackets and none of the fans were wearing hats or gloves as far as I could see. 

They’d been calling for game-time temps in the low 30’s and Manning had a 30 percent winning percentage in temps under 40, but now it was looking like that was just another one of the many useless factoids that were crowding for space in my mind. 

"Damn you groundhog!!!" I screamed, firing the remote control off of the far wall. Puxatony Phil had seen his shadow that morning. It was bad enough that I’d lost a $20 side bet with my roommate when the little varmint turned tail and ran (my bookie wouldn’t take it as part of a parlay), but now it appeared that I couldn’t even bank on the six weeks of winter his dash was supposed to foretell, which I had been counting on to help me out at game time. 

I did a shot of Southern Comfort to steady my nerves and got online to Google sky kennels. The cheapest one I could find was $120! Someone was selling a similar device on Craig’s List for $40, but it had a busted latch. I momentarily considered dropping it on her lanai and swearing the latch had been intact when I’d last seen it, but then I remembered the boyfriend and began cataloging the things she might have told him. Suffice it to say it was a long list, especially once you threw in his good buddy Buster, who I’d once forgotten to feed for an entire weekend while she was out of town (though to be fair, I’d never agreed I would and simply didn’t account for her assuming I was only kidding when I declined).

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

By this time, it was nearly four and I knew those goldbrickers at the bar would be tearing into the best apps on the buffet line, leaving me with little more than celery and blue cheese if I didn’t hurry. I’d already paid for a $40 ticket that covered the food and beer, plus I held four blocks on their game day action. There was no way I was missing out. 

When I got to the plaza, I had to park nearly two blocks away in a grass easement that sloped down into a storm ditch. A parking ticket seemed possible, but worth the risk. I pulled the parking brake and started into a trot when I got out of the car. When I made it to the lot, I pulled up and immediately noticed that a foul odor was overpowering the more pleasant scents of day-old grease and deep-friend breading which were pouring from the doors each time they opened to manage the steady stream of patrons. 

I waited for the stench to pass and when it didn’t, I figured it best to check my shoes before tracking anything in the door. That’s when things went pear-shaped. When I turned my heel, my sneaker looked to be covered in mud, which I assumed I’d stepped in, while tracking through the grass where I’d parked. It had rained the night before and the turf had even felt soft.

But only fractions of a second after I spotted the brown cluster, my olfactory senses made it very clear that I’d actually discovered the source of what was now a genuinely-repulsive, even sickening odor.

No! I thought. That can’t be … I mean, surely … not all of it, at least. 

Unless someone had been grazing cattle on the wedge of grass where I’d parked, it seemed I’d stepped right into a pile of what could only be a Great Dane’s bodily excrement. It covered 2/3 of the length, and the entire width of the sole of my left Doc Martin boot. It was so deeply stamped in that I couldn’t see a single one of the prominent rubber grooves that easily protruded a half-inch. The arch was completely caked, and I could now see that some of it had also muddied the frayed bottom of my favorite blue jeans – the ones with “Lucky” stamped on the belt-loop label.

There was no way I could actually go into the bar and then clean it up in the restroom. It was simply too big of a job, I mean we’re talking reality TV show stuff here. I’d have to track the rancid shoe through the entire place, smelling up the whole joint and possibly even getting the health department involved at some point. I’d be the scourge of the establishment – banned for life before I’d even cashed in on one bite of the food I was entitled to, let alone smelled the beer. 

I ran back toward the car, feeling myself begin to sweat under the first rays of sunshine we’d had in weeks, and I wondered why in the hell I was wearing boots when it must have been close to 80. If I’d had on flip flops the whole mess might have even been manageable. 

When I got close to the car, I slowed to a walk, careful not to hit the same K-9 landmine, which I eventually spotted three steps from the driver-side door. It was even bigger than a glance at my sole would have suggested. In fact, it appeared I’d only hollowed out the middle of a massive mound, something big enough for it’s own +4, if not an entire zip code. 

What the #$*@ is wrong with people? I asked myself, cataloging the LONG list of dog owners (including the aforementioned ex) who I knew to routinely flout the county ordinance which outlaws such thoughtless nastiness, while setting a $100 first-offense fine for failing to immediately curb a pet’s waste. 

Dog lovers – a notoriously-unsilent majority in our state – are quick to do everything short of string up anyone who even suggests limiting the rights of pet owners in any way, yet when it comes to my right to keep a shitless shoe, it seems to be a matter in which they all agree in principal, though few go so far as to practice. In fact, I have even known some dog walkers to take a little plastic Publix bag with them on the walk, just to give the impression that they’re not going to soil people’s lawns with Fido’s business, only to look both ways, make sure no one’s watching and then dart off once he’s dropped a rotten deuce on their St. Augustine.

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It was only at this point that the more immediate problem occurred to me. How the hell would I get in the car? Merely stepping into the vehicle would surely half the resale value and maybe even prohibit future use altogether. I hit the trunk button, hoping that a solution would somehow present itself.

The primary contents – three deflated beach inner-tubes, an empty Styrofoam cooler, two bungee cords and a rusty chaise lounge – didn’t make for a promising picture. Then I noticed the pile green canvas shopping bags I never remembered to take into the grocery store and figured I could stand to sacrifice one. I pulled off the shoe, careful not to get anything on my hands, threw it into the bag and did my best to tie it off enough that it might mute the stink seepage, at least for my short ride home. 

I got to my house and debated leaving the shoe in the driveway until I got back later that night, but it didn’t seem like a smart idea. It could rain, I thought, or the smell might be so deeply embedded by that point that I’d never get it out. I mean these were my favorite boots. It was a choice between chucking it right into the bin (which I did consider) or dealing with the situation on the spot.

I took the fouled boot to the back door, where we kept a small hose attached to the outdoor spigot in order to wash out coolers and clean sand off beach equipment. Being in the bag had only made things worse and as I started in on cleaning them, the stench seemed to be punching me in the nose in a way that made me think of Deputy Roid Rage.

At some point, I had to go into the house and get a butter knife just to finish digging the putrid feces out of the grooves of the boot, but finally it seemed salvageable – though the knife, rubber kitchen gloves and canvas bag went right in the trash bucket.


After I deloused the sole with half a bottle of Febreeze, I put the boot on the front porch to further air it out. Clearly, a shower was in order after the sweaty run and my lengthy proximity to animal excrement. Though I made it quick, it was just minutes from kickoff by the time I finished, dressed and threw on some flops. The buffet had surely been all but picked clean, but there was still the bottomless beer, the big game and even the prospect of considerable winnings. 

My roommate, Charlie B., had decided to watch the game at home with his girl, but I managed to talk him into a quick ride over to the bar, so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a poop-less parking place or driving home after the bender I was now envisioning being required, given the day I’d suffered.

We rode in silence. He was creased over having to get off his lazy ass for all of 12 minutes, while I was busy wondering what sort of Republic we were now living in when a man couldn’t even count on a well-planned Super Sunday coming off without an hour spent scrubbing dookie off of his favorite boots, while fretting about getting his ass kicked by a man who fights in a cage  – one that such men insisted on calling by its octagonal shape – all over the unknown whereabouts of another cage, one that pet lovers now apparently insisted on calling a sky kennel. 

By the time I arrived at the bar, all that was left on the buffet line were some lukewarm jalapeno poppers and dried out slivers of what appeared to have once been a poorly-conceived quiche of some sort. The Seahawks were already on their way to a historic route, their swarming defense and earth-shaking ground game too much for the suddenly long in the tooth Broncos to handle. It was clear that the outcome would have been the same had they played in Tampa, Tempe or even on the moon for that matter. This was their day and Pete Carroll’s destiny. Not even a hot grad student could have thrown a wrench in the evening’s events for a man with hair so perfect, it managed to withstand not one, but two Gatorade baths and still look better than any of the 23 broadcasters working the game for Fox! I heard Jimmy Johnson actually wept. Me? All it took was some well placed doggy-doo to bring good old Ringo to his knees, but I was never head coach material – even in a city where it rains something like 320 days a year.

The Seahawks did, however, pay and they even pushed the score past the over/under, despite almost no help from Peyton and his hapless crew from the Rockies. When all was said and done, I was up two-hundred bucks … at least on paper. After springing for the sky kennel, paying my roommate for the groundhog bet and figuring in both my cover for the bar and the tip to my waitress, I looked to be at least a sawbuck in the hole. Meanwhile, Buster was likely getting his belly rubbed by a big brute who keeps him well fed on the fat which is trimmed in preparation of his 13 daily servings of meat (along with whatever else is implied in the two being very close). I guess every dog really does have his day. Journalists? … we get what we have coming to us and sometimes even an extra scoop to emphasize the point.

Letters From The Wasteland: The Scarlet Letter

1/28/2014

I was sitting in a bar on Sunday morning drinking a Lord Chesterfield Ale when a rather strange thing happened. An older gentleman with one of those sandwich board signs warning about the end of times stuck his head in and asked loudly why we weren’t in church. He yelled something else and then inquired as to whether we were ready to be received into the heavenly kingdom. 

“Would we be sitting at a bar, casually sipping a brew, had such eternal preparations gone undone?” I asked in response.

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The old guy stared for a moment or two and then turned back to the street where he began anew proselytizing to passersby. I joked to the bartender that the Lord Chesterfield in my hand was as close as I came to spending Sunday’s with the Lord. He got a momentary chuckle out of it, but soon I realized he had been highly agitated by the old man’s attempts at evangelism.

“Imagine if I stuck my head in the door at St. Stephens and asked what all of those congregants were doing at the mass when there were cold beers over here?” he suggested in a highly-indignant tone. “They’d have the cops there in no time. Yet this guy comes in and disturbs my customers, suggesting they shouldn’t be here and I’m supposed to be okay with it? It’s hypocrisy!”

He’d been getting on my nerves all morning, yapping about his Colts having given up Manning only so he could go to the Super Bowl, while they stayed home. Hadn’t he heard that the big game was being played in New Jersey? Wasn’t that and the frigid temperatures enough punishment for Manning’s success? Hadn’t they been the ones who let him go and only because it seemed foolish to pass up a smart kid with some talent, especially when his last name was Luck? At this renewed whining, I finally lost my patience and threw the sudsy bottom of my brew in his sorry and sullen face.

“They’re Episcopalians you fool!” I shouted. “They’ve got plenty of wine in the church, and they don’t give it out until the show’s almost over. If you want to harass someone, go and see the Methodists. They use grape juice and some of the Baptists don’t have any wine at all! You might shake an Irish Catholic or two from the pews, that is if they’re not too hungover from the night before, but even then you’d have their women to contend with – and you don’t want that!”

He hung his head in defeat and I felt bad enough to offer him the bar towel he’d left near my napkin. As he finished wiping his face, I thought I heard him sob, so I left a few bills on the bar and hit the streets before he’d have to look me in the eye. You see, he’d missed the point. It had nothing to do with beer or wine, but he was probably too full of some sort of nondenominational religious guilt to have understood the real offense. There’s a label that too many Americans have to wear that seems to sit squarely at odds with the principles on which our great Republic was founded. It’s an A, but it’s not for adulterer, a badge that has become so commonplace as to render it quaint. I’m talking about the other A – atheism. 

Even in an age of undeniable progress, one in which gays, minorities, children and even animals have thankfully achieved equalities and protections unthinkable less than 100 years ago, there seems to be little tolerance for those of us who do not believe in an omniscient deity watching from above the clouds and moving our fates like pieces on a chess board. In fact, I’m confident that we will have put not only a black man, but a women, a homosexual, maybe even a Libertarian into the White House long before we elect someone who doesn’t at least pretend to believe in a God. 

It comes as no surprise to most people that good old Ringo is an atheist of the highest order. I don’t go to church and my lifestyle is squarely at odds with that prescribed by the majority of religious dogma, though that’s beside the point. Nonetheless, let me give the standard required disclaimer that I have nothing against anyone who wants to believe in any particular deity or participate in organized religion, so long as their doing so does not impede on my own life, liberty or pursuit of happiness – which occasionally includes enjoying a Lord Chesterfield on the Sabbath. 

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Let me say that I’m also not the evangelical type of atheist who runs around telling people why they should join my side, poking holes in their beliefs or trying to make them feel otherwise inferior. However, given my own tolerance, I guess I’m hyper-sensitive to those who preach their beliefs in my direction, even via sandwich board. 

There is undoubtedly a lot of good done by religious organizations, which I have always viewed as their greatest value to our culture – organizing the goodwill of those in a society to help the less fortunate amongst them. This town is particularly blessed in that regard. But I don’t see the religious aspect being a necessary part of tapping our altruism, as evidenced by the equally-impressive work of secular organizations. Like most atheists, I believe that the ability to act decent toward one another is innate and not because a higher being put it there.

That seems to be the fork in the road, at which I part ways with most theists. The idea that our potential for good is divinely endowed and is most pronounced when we participate in an organized worship has never squared with my experience. For example, somewhere around 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian, yet the 10 commandments are not even a casually-observed list of suggestions in our culture. 

As a society, we covet everything, worship false idols by the score, take the Lord’s name in vein as a regular part of our vernacular, steal everything that’s not bolted down, kill, engage in adulterous liaisons like they’re a sport and have made a virtual tabloid industry based on bearing false witness. The 10 commandments are ground zero for how Christians are supposed to act, a template for being a good person and earning God’s grace, yet they still don’t seem to have caught on much in the last 3,000 years. Religion’s impact on cultural morality seems to me dubious at best. 

In fact, the whole idea of the sort of pious behavior people tend to ascribe to religious virtue has always left me scratching my head. I was raised in religion and have read the bible front to back. I remember stories about God doing some pretty frightening things, even to innocent people. He threatens to punish the Israelites by making them eat their own children, kills a man for refusing to impregnate his brother’s widow, gives all sorts of passes on the thou shalt not kill commandment, even helps those in his favor wipe out their enemies, and sanctions more genocide than the Nazis and Janjaweeds could have ever dreamt of. Then there’s the guy who is praised for allowing his daughter to be raped to death (before beingdismembered) in order to spare a guest, the 40 plus kids ripped to shreds by bears (sent by God) and the tribe that’s raped and slaughtered for not showing up for morning attendance.

That’s only a partial rundown of the horror stories found in the good book, but I don’t make too much of it, seeing as it originated thousands of years ago, when we were still blood letting people because we weren’t even close to understanding things like germ theory. Yes, I find the idea that some people take this stuff literally more than a little silly and sometimes even frightening, but like I said, as long as they’re not infringing on me and mine, then any port in a storm. But when people begin to suggest that I’m somehow morally inferior because I don’t worship their book, my patience runs thin.

Yes, I understand that most people don’t even know such things are in the book, because in my experience, few Christians actually read the bible in its entirety and instead rely on the small, selected doses that are read and explained to them by someone else in a way that might construe a positive message about how they can lead a better life. I also understand that most people don’t believe in all of the rules or even pretend to attempt to follow even a majority of them, but it’s not my understanding that being in with one foot is any better than being out of the boat altogether. In fact, there are several passages that suggest it is worse.

So no, I’m not religious and I’m not one of those people who dresses up my lack of faith with little qualifiers like “I’m spiritual” or that “I believe in something,” etc. I’m not even agnostic. I believe that the moment life ends, so do I and the same for those around me, even the ones I love dearly and would desperately like to believe I will one day see again. Isn’t that a dark and empty outlook? people often ask. Not in my view. 

For me, the idea that the uncertainty of the amount of time we each have here on Earth is the only thing guaranteed to any of us, endows each precious moment with a profound gravity. Everything from the smell of the roses, to a child’s laughter or the touch of a beautiful woman seems heightened in the exclusivity of the precious time that passes in a way that I can never imagine a whatever will be will be outlook could manage. To me, even life’s sourest misery seems muted and ignored when it’s relegated to some other being’s will and a master plan we’re supposedly incapable of comprehending.

Would I like reality to be different? Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t eat Psilocybin mushrooms. But realizing life isn’t always what you want it to be isn’t necessarily the big let down it sounds like. In fact, sometimes it can be quite empowering. Learning there’s no Santa Claus didn’t ruin Christmas and coming to grip with the idea that life is short and the here and now is all we get hasn’t spoiled the rest of it, at least not for me. I’ll wear my A proudly. In fact, I might even get a sandwich board.