Recent Work By Rich Ferguson

Author’s Note: Once you’ve read the following piece, please feel free to watch the video of it as well. You can see it right here on TNB-TV.


To The Judgmental, Rushing-to-Conclusions Cashier at My Local Supermarket:


Just because I came in at 2 a.m. last night to purchase almond milk, Astroglide and graham crackers doesn’t mean I’m some lactose-intolerant, sport-fucking insomniac with a sweet tooth. It just means that for a change I’m in love. Real love. Capital L. Capital O. Capital V. Capital E: LOVE. All in bright, blinking lights and spread across the evening sky.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, the next time you see me, stop rolling your eyes and shaking your head. Just take my money, gimme my goods and change and I’ll be on my way. Cause waiting for me at home is love. Real love. All that capital letter, bright blinking light love. My love, she’s the one whose steady breath is a calendar marking my days. She’s nothing like those cheap Merlot girls I’ve known before; the ones lacking body, heavy with acidic wit and leaving me feeling like shit the next day.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, even though you may think I’m some babbling Hollywood street freak shaman of oddities, understand that you and me, we’re not so different. You, you’re constantly being pummeled by Muzak, rude customers and fluorescent lights. And me, I’ve also had my share of crushingly catatonic days; feeling way beyond torn, loco as Dahmer, no longer on speaking terms with my soul’s personal embalmer. Instead of a happy man floating on air I was a dead man walking.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, don’t think I’m some 21st Century twist on Jack the Ripper should I come in late one night buying kitchen gloves, razor blades and heavy-duty dental floss. Really, I’m harmless. All I’m trying to do is make sense of love. Capital L. Capital O. Capital V. Capital E: LOVE. Yeah, with my love I’ve learned that muscle memory is far trustworthier than prayer. So I just keep on swinging from the trapeze of her irresistibility, knowing that should I let go she’ll be there with absolute grace, pulling me into her embrace. And the way we move—flesh against flesh, confession against confleshion—it’s like lullabies and locomotives are stitched into our skin.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, stop looking at me like you’re writing me hate mail on the backs of your eyeballs. I’m just trying to make a point here. Just baring my soul, trying to make sense of love. Real love. All that capital letter, bright blinking light love. With my love, I’d gladly bury myself alive deep within the pleasure tomb of her wanting. It don’t scare me that there are no visible exit signs written into her blood, cause there’s nowhere else I’d rather be but love. Real love. Capital L. Capital O. Capital V. Capital E: LOVE. Yeah, my love, she’s the 13th apostle in Faith’s good-luck gospel. Knows her semiotics and semi-automatics. She’s locked and loaded at the 11th hour. Wielding her salvation gun, she’s ready to shoot me not down, but up. Oh, astronomy, Deuteronomy, Nostradamus, Monopoly. While it all might sound like a game here, I’m not kidding.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, stop looking at me like you’re S.W.A.T., just biding your time, waiting for a clear shot. Hear me out when I say that love, real love, my love, all that capital letter, bright blinking light love, she’s my Hope Diamond treasure. My telepathic push-me, pull-you of pleasure. Her lips are assassins doling out bullets of uncomplicated bliss. And when we kiss: Present, past & future, I never know what tense I exist in with her anymore. Cause it all feels like Now.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, know that love, real love, my love, she’s all hips and hydrogen bomb. Blows me away every time I see her walking down the street. She’s my lowdown, sweet and dirty mystic angel, swirling Jersey pirate radio. And oh how I play that station all night long. No more sorrow songs. Those were ten moons and an ocean ago. Back when I had the words early grave tattooed on my psyche. Back when misery blew me away so badly they needed a dustpan and broom to clean me off the walls of Kingdom Come.

So please, judgmental, rushing-to-conclusions cashier at my local supermarket, stop giving me those dirty looks the next time I come in to shop. Especially if I’m buying more almond milk, Astroglide and graham crackers. Believe me, it’s all for a good cause. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you here. I’m just trying to make sense of Capital L, Capital O, Capital V, Capital E: LOVE.

Standing before me
is the naked beauty of possibility—
perfect eyes, perfect lips
perfect hot-and-fresh-off-the-griddle everything.
And I can’t even get up outta trouble’s gutter
to reach her.

’Cause all the wars raging through the world
all the famine, poverty, greed,
earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, and disease
got my soul stuck down here
in the gutter’s metaphysical infirmary
right alongside Mother Nature and all her woes,

and history with its terminal amnesia,
so bloated with regret and forgetfulness
it can’t even touch its toes.

And maybe that’s not the Grim Reaper
I’m glimpsing outta the corner of my eye.
Maybe it’s just me
slowly dying of loneliness.

Either way, I can’t find my way up
outta trouble’s gutter.

Yeah, there’s a S.W.A.T. team of linguists
shoving submachine guns and assault rifles
in my face, threatening to blow me away
if I refuse to physically conjugate
the verb,

“rise.”

Still I can’t get my ass up
outta trouble’s gutter.

Down here in trouble’s gutter
I can’t even get a conversation, let alone an amen
from God. Not by prayer, divine intervention,
cell phone, or Internet.

And oh so slinky, double-jointed
and full-breasted infinity
where are you now, when I need you
the most?

You, the one
once so versed in practicing
mirror-worthy aphrodisiacrobatics
before my eyes.

All the times
I risked my life
to prove my love for you
by writing heartfelt haikus
on the heads of speeding bullets.

But with you gone now
every day is just one more day of missing you.
And that’s a gravity that weighs me down.
That’s a gravity
Newton never took into consideration
when talking about how all things eventually fall,
like I’m falling now.

Falling hard.
Right on down into trouble’s gutter.

There was once a day
when I escaped the shadow of the Damned,
the shadow of Zero.
I’ve even mowed Satan’s lawn
without breaking a sweat.

But right now
I can’t find my way
outta trouble’s gutter.

Yet one of these days I’ll rise,
move like the finest of drugs
through the veins of night.
Until then, I’m just lying here in this gutter,
staring up at that night sky,
and it’s looking down at me
like I’m some wounded animal by the side of the road,
believing it’s offering me relief
when it shows up with a gun.

And oh, Saint Elation
I remember those days
when you’d jackhammer my brain to dust
and my heart would still pump
a boogaloo beat for you.

Steal my eyes
and I’d still see you as my one and only.
Rip off my ears
and I’d still hear the music in your every step.
Cut off my arms
and I’d still hold you with all my attention.
If I had no mouth
I’d still speak your name
through telepathy, semaphore, or Scrabble pieces.
Cut off my legs and
I’d still make my way to you by train,
dumb waiter, or levitation.

Yeah, somewhere there’s a gravestone
with my name on it.
Somewhere there’s a cloud
with my face on it.

Somewhere in my gut
there’s this radio that won’t stop playing.

It keeps saying:

“What’re you waiting for?
Get your ass up outta the gutter.
Move through life. And when you do,
do more than just imagine the lives of others.
Breathe their breath, beat their hearts.
Wear their faces.
Let your words be theirs, and their words yours.
And when you speak, speak loud and clear.

And when you speak,
speak only of strength, promise, and love.”

born from nyc rooftops and appalachian mountains / from steady-handed surgeons, and nightshift press operators / from refrigerator hum and harmonica hum / from the summer of love and nuclear winters / from puppy love and wolf howl / cobaine and coltrane / from graceland to teenage wasteland / from kissimmee to kiss my ass / we voice grow

born from deejays spinning and dts dizzying / from hurricanes and heartache / four-leaf clovers and coffee breaks / from the last laugh to the first man on the moon / from pagan gods and diamond dogs / jeffrey dahmer and the suicide bomber / from tom & jerry and jerri curl / from tiny town to the motor city / we voice rise

born from childhood schemes and alien transmission machines / from busted-down tenements to wide-open arms waiting for love / from heavy metal / well-worn st. christopher medals / sudden summer downpours and wrecking ball snores / from the wailing wall to the wonder wall / from the call of the wild to girls gone wild / we voice feed

yeah, blazing from the darkest outer limits to your enlightenment smile / i make it on siphoned gas / floating from your saving-grace kiss to your midnight bed / i make it on a dare / and though there are days when the only thing this one-room heart of mine has going for it is a working radio and dependable heat / it’s still enough to keep me going / still enough to keep us going /

we voice grow / we voice rise / we voice feed

born from barren fields and pregnant pauses / double dates and double indemnity clauses / from lucky cats and muskrat love / 20 volts to lightning bolts / from hoboken to holy smokes / desolation row to goodbye yellow brick road / from the wizard of oz and that dear john letter from god / we voice stand

born from failure and faith / crack cocaine and cornflakes / gigabytes and troglodytes / the deep blue sky and hospital flatlines / chain gangs / the big bang / sticky wickets / winning lottery tickets / muscle cars and cuban cigars / freedom fighters and folk guitars / tailgating and nasdaq a-ratings / we voice live

born from the dead of night to the light within / mortal kombat / mortal sin / cold feet / global warming / cadillacs and zodiacs / laid-off saints and hired killers / mother theresa to “…this is thriller” / closed minds and open roads / lady di and lady day / brave new worlds to new world order / from your own backyard to across the universe and across the border / we voice sing

we voice grow / we voice rise / we voice feed / we voice stand / we voice live / we voice sing
we voice grow / we voice rise / we voice feed / we voice stand / we voice live / we voice sing



Audio track is a collaboration between Ferguson and 10K Poets (Glen Still & Bo Blount)


Author’s Note: The American Camp Association created a video in which actors and musicians share how their lives were changed for the better “because of camp.” After watching their video, I realized that I’d had a very different summer camp experience…


Because of camp I developed my first severe case of poison oak.


Because of camp I discovered that rock climbing didn’t build confidence, just bruises.


Because of camp my very first French kiss was with a circus arts girl whose tongue moved around in my mouth like a rabid skunk on roller skates.


Because of camp I thought that all girls French kissed that way, so I began kissing the same way too.


Because of camp hardly any girl ever wanted to kiss me. Only the crazy circus arts girl.


Because of camp I developed my first severe case of pink eye.


Because of camp I learned that I could lip-synch the hell outta “Stairway to Heaven.”


Because of camp I discovered that I enjoyed lanyard making far more than instructional swimming and horseback riding combined.


Because of camp I learned that the foxy girls rarely went for the lanyard-making guys—especially the ones with pink eye, poison oak, and couldn’t kiss for shit—no matter how good they were at lip-synching “Stairway to Heaven.”


Because of camp I discovered the true beauty of bouncing breasts during a volleyball game.


Because of camp I realized that I totally hated at volleyball, but kept playing because of the breasts.


Because of camp I discovered that the girls in the dance program were far hotter, and far better kissers than the girls in the circus arts program, but that on first hook-up the circus arts girls would easily go to third base, while the dance girls would only go to first.


Because of camp I discovered that most kids, without any hesitation or sense of remorse, would gladly torture and kill any insect or woodland creature they could get their hands on.


Because of camp I learned that I sucked ass in both carpentry and martial arts.


Because of camp I never got a chance to score with any girls I found remotely interesting because they were either getting scammed on by the male counselors or the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.


Because of camp I learned to see backwards and forwards at once because no one could be trusted; especially the animal killers, the male counselors, and the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.


Because of camp I took numerous enrichment classes—drama, SAT prep, photography—and realized that I only excelled in one: crime science forensics.


Because of camp I learned that, yes, I could still be severely depressed, even in the great outdoors.


Because of camp I discovered that there was actually a class for learning how to make your bed, and I sucked at it.


Because of camp I discovered that when you flip over in a canoe, once you hit that cold, dick-shrinking water and your balls go up into your throat, even your closest of friends suddenly adopt the mentality: Every man for himself.


Because of camp I learned to truly despise tie-dyeing. And balloon animals. And yo-yo tricks.


Because of camp I learned that I was prone to sleepwalking and snoring, but could make one hell of a Smores.


Because of camp I discovered that both golf and ceramics were a hell of a lot more tolerable after smoking a joint.


Because of camp I learned that the whole camp experience had very little to do with my parents wanting me to have an enjoyable summer, and more to do with them just wanting to get me the hell out of their lives for a month.


Because of camp I learned in religious studies class that if my parents didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior they’d go to hell, but that I wouldn’t.


Because of camp I learned that that maybe wasn’t such a bad idea: having my parents in hell while I kicked back in heaven.


Because of camp I discovered that the apocalypse didn’t necessarily have to be all war, famine, and death. It could simply be having to attend golf or ceramics class without a sufficient buzz.


Because of camp I learned that the girl with Bells Palsy—which made half of her face go numb and uncontrollable—would actually turn out to be the prettiest girl there after a week’s worth of antibiotics.


Because of camp I discovered beer pong. And consequently learned that what I lacked in ping-pong skills, I sufficiently made up for in drinking and barfing abilities.


Because of camp I learned that the kids on crutches always got the most attention. So during the night, when no one was around, I’d jump off the Smokey the Bear statue, trying to break my legs by landing on my knees. But it never worked.


I always landed on my feet.

________________________________________________________________

 

Final Note: A special thanks to the following people for sharing with me their inspirational (and traumatic) camp experiences: Jessica, Marlene, Desiree, Tony, Tammy, Meghan, Khadija, Jean, Tracy, and MJ.

And now, dear readers, if you’d like to share your own comments and/or summer camp stories, I’d love to hear them…


Author’s Note: I’d like to thank TNB’s own Megan DiLullo for her invaluable comments as I created this piece.

 

When I was quite young, around a year old, my mom began reading to me. She started with Dr. Seuss books—The Cat in the Hat, On Beyond Zebra!, Green Eggs and Ham. My memories of those moments are extremely vague, smudged pastel impressions at best. But mom assures me that during those times I’d lay quietly in her arms, hypnotized by the sound of her voice, and the pages spread before me. With tiny fingers, I’d touch the colorful pictures. I’d touch the animated words practically leaping off the page.


Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was a pill-popping, einsteinium-producing poltergeist chockfull of so many platitudes, plastic surgery procedures, and prima donna practices that the decibel level of his ego and inconsiderateness went far beyond earbleeding.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was a noodle-brained non sequitur full of cortisone and conundrums; a logic-shrinking, Red Bull-drinking, half-baked hedonist, whose post-mortem love life was deader and more disinherited than dirty dishwater.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was a Berlitz-bombing, name-dropping, scrawny-assed can-can dancer, whose tawdry romance with the ghost of Marcel Marceau had all the mimes from Peoria to Outer Mongolia screaming their fool heads off.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was a gas-huffing, mescal-chugging Neolithic nose bleeder; a crackpot carpenter who, by day, made bivouacs from out-of-tune tubas and busted birdhouses, and by night dabbled in psychic correspondence courses on how to perform cesarean sections of the mind.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was a glue-sniffing, whiskey-swilling, over-beaten piñata so filled to the brim with pharmaceuticals and Munchausen syndrome that he couldn’t tell the truth from a toothpick.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was a dishonorably discharged Jell-O boned breakdancer; a spastic poodle of a groover, and drowsy duelist shot so full of lead that you could’ve used his head for a pencil.

Have a happy holiday season anyway, y’all!


And now, my fellow TNB’ers and adored readers, I’d be more than honored if you’d add your own Rudolph rant…


Most Cherished TNB Readers, From the Farthest Reaches of Outer Mongolia to Some Starbucks Wi-Fi Setup in Downtown Peoria:

 

I’d like to take this opportunity to whole-heartedly welcome you to the finely tuned, hopped-up, fuel-injected, engine humming, all pistons popping Poetry section of The Nervous Breakdown, in glorious 3.0.

My relationship with TNB started back in the original 1.0 days. When Brad Listi first asked me to write for the site, I wasn’t quite sure how to begin. Around that time, however, a dear friend passed away. So I decided to honor his passing by taking a stroll from Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, down to the ocean. Armed with only my camera, a notebook, and my dear friend’s favorite food—a corndog—in tow, I marked his passing in photos and various remembrances. That became my very first posting.

Since then, I’ve seen the site go through various incarnations. I’ve seen my own life go through various changes, as well. I’ve become a better writer, a better person; a lot of that having to do with all the wonderful folks I’ve met through TNB. As you’ll witness in either the Poetry section, Fiction section, Arts & Culture, or wherever the site takes you, we have a lot of heart, humor, and intellect to offer.

And we the forever faithful and fearless Poetry team; Associate Editors Uche Ogbuji, Jennifer Duffield White, and Milo Martin and I, as Editors, will do our best to hold the Poetry section to those high standards of quality. Each week, we’ll bring you the most thought-provoking, soul touching, mind melting poetry we can find from those farthest reaches of Outer Mongolia to that Starbucks wi-fi setup in downtown Peoria.

This week we offer you poetry from such varied talents as Iris Berry, Jackie Sheeler, Lisa Johns, Kenneth Shiffrin, Jerome Dunn, Doug Knott, and this week’s Featured Poet, Michael O’Keefe.

So wherever you are in this big old world of ours, most cherished TNB readers, strap on your seatbelts, rev your engines, shift into overdrive, and get ready to take a ride on the TNB Poetry section in grand and glorious 3.0.

 

Onward and upward,

Rich Ferguson


Picture the scene:

I was twenty-four. My San Francisco band was on tour. The night in question: we’d just finished playing the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, opening for The Celibate Rifles. The show had gone extremely well. Me, manning drums. Dave on guitar, Jim on bass. A great big rush and blur of wailing voices, whiskey and heartache-strung guitars, adrenaline drumsticks. Think thrashy folk music: the bastard lovechild of REM and the Violent Femmes after a long night of ecstasy and crank snorting.

Post-show, I hardly knew what to do with myself. Like other nights when we’d played well, I had so much energy, so much elation that I could hardly contain it. At the time, I knew only one way to calm my emotions, keep my environment in check.

I started drinking.

A S.W.A.T. team of teetotalers couldn’t have torn me from the bottle. Beer after beer, my body weather grew calmer. A little less tornado; more sweet, sudden summer downpour.

A guy approached me. Compared to others in the crowd, he was quite conservatively dressed—Polo shirt, Dockers shoes, khaki jeans cinched up with a brown leather belt. Think Robert Chambers; less the murder rap, more punk rock. “Great show,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“If you guys need a place to stay tonight,” he said. “You can crash with me.”

The guy turned out to be pretty cool. Lee was his name. Was an environmental lawyer. Knew the Hüsker Dü and Replacements musical catalogs inside out. Could recite all the words to the Dead Kennedys’ “Stars and Stripes of Corruption.” He bought my band mates and me numerous rounds of drinks and shots, then we headed to his place.

Once there, that’s when all the beers and tequila I’d pounded performed their weird juju on me. Within minutes of my arrival, I was in Lee’s bathroom, puking my brains out. I was so shit-faced that if you’d said the word “Jägermeister” my stomach would’ve dropped through my ass. After my intense ralphing session, I was so physically spent and head-spun I couldn’t move. I crashed right there on the cool porcelain tile floor.

Lee popped his head inside the bathroom. “You okay?”

I nodded weakly.

“Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine,” I uttered. “I just need to stay by the toilet.”

He considered that one, then said: “I think I know exactly what you need.”

Next thing I knew he was leading his beautiful Irish setter, Daisy, into the bathroom. She lay down next to me. Smelled like baby shampoo and fresh hay. Her eyes: bright as lightning bugs sparking dark. She licked me on the ear; right over the scar I’d earned after a safety pin piercing back in high school.

It took all my strength and concentration to stroke her deep red coat. It was silky smooth, a vibrant pulsing of warmth and life. Lucy licked me again. And again. Each tongue-touch was slightly more soothing and life renewing. Think Florence Nightingale; less medical pioneer, more Canis lupus familiaris.

Lucy stayed with me throughout the night, through my numerous rounds of puking and groaning. Every so often, she’d lick my forehead, my cheek. I’d groan a thank you, and offer a coat stroke. Come the next morning, when Lee’s other dogs, and everyone was up and about eating breakfast, talking music and politics, Lucy was still in the bathroom. Right by my side.

Had I not already been familiar with the words that would’ve been my first object lesson in true devotion and healing.


Picture the scene:

I was fourteen—a confused puberty stew of zits, girl craziness, cracking voice, and crippling shyness. It was summer. My family and I were spending a week in a small Wisconsin town. My dad had driven me to a swimming area across the lake from our cabin. He told me he’d pick me up in a couple hours. Said I should stay put—swim, girl watch. Not to walk the three-mile stretch of lonely country road back home. I agreed. But after less than an hour, I’d had my fill of the murky brown water, and the locals that looked straight out of Guns & Ammo magazine.

I began the long walk back to the cabin.

I was barefoot. It was ninety degrees out. The asphalt beneath my feet felt double, triple that temperature. Every step was like walking through Dante’s sixth circle of Hell, less the heresy and flaming tombs. My mind grew delirious. Road mirages wavered all about. My sweat-drenched Rush T-shirt stuck to my skinny chest. My jean shorts—hand-me-downs a size too big—kept slipping down to reveal butt crack.

At one point, when I reached a rise in the road, I approached a house on the other side. Two small children—a boy and a girl—were on the front lawn, playing fetch with their small border terrier. Upon spotting me, the dog ran out into the lonely stretch of highway. He barked at me. The children grew frantic, yelled: “Lucky. C’mere, Lucky.”

I, too, yelled at the dog, waved my arms about, tried scaring him away. That only made him angrier. He drew closer. With every step, his collar jingled. I decided to ignore him, keep walking. But he kept following me. Jingle, jingle. I stepped into the highway, stomped a foot, hollered at him to screw off. He kept coming at me, barking. I kept stomping. The children kept crying. The dog and me, we just stood there facing off at that rise in the road.

That’s when a truck appeared out of nowhere.

I lunged backwards. The dog stayed put. One moment he was there. The next moment: gone. The truck kept going. The children began crying hysterically. Crying for their dog. Crying for their mother. I was crying, too. Kept saying I was sorry. Kept asking if there was anything I could do to help. The children kept crying. Their mother was crying, too. I don’t remember her hair color. Or whether she was fat or skinny, tall or short. All I remember was that she was wearing a flower-print dress. On any other day except that one I would’ve thought that that dress looked so beautiful.

There were no more cars in sight. Just me in the middle of that desolate stretch of road with all the mirages, and that dead dog. Except you could no longer even recognize him as a dog. Now he was just some furry, greasy bloodstain on the road.

The kids, their mother, and me: we kept crying. The kids kept hollering: “Why did you kill our dog?” I kept saying: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was only trying to help.”

I just stood there looking at those kids and their mother, crazed with sadness. Kept looking at that stain in the road. It was the first of many times where I would’ve gladly traded my own life for another.


The late-night June sky was exceptionally clear, rabid with wild stars. As I walked home from a Silverlake bar, I witnessed the usual constellations—Orion, Ursa Major. In addition, I spotted new, undiscovered formations. I named them all: Zardoz, Love Bullet, Moonlight’s Motel.

An elderly Hispanic man approached me. Rumpled white shirt, black Dickies. His face: a complex map of worry lines. There was a dog at his feet—a mish-mash of sheltie, collie, and pure innocence. The collarless canine trotted happily alongside the old man.

“Beautiful dog,” I said, as we met eye-to-eye.

The old man grunted, “Damn dog’s not mine. She’s been following me.” He kept walking. Never once looked at the animal. Just stared straight ahead, into the flash and burn of liquid diamond headlights streaming down Sunset Boulevard.

The dog remained by his side.

That dog was screwed, I realized. It was obvious the old man didn’t care for her. As soon as he reached his destination, he’d slam the door in her face, leaving her to wander the streets. She’d be roadkill before sunrise.

I called out to her. She glanced back. I got down on one knee, called again. She bolted for me, jumped into my arms. I carried her back to my place. The whole way there she was a furry bundle of tail wags, whimpers, shivers, and happy licks.

* * *

When I was four, I received my first dog: a part-collie, part German Shepard that my brother and I named Bandit. I loved that dog intensely. Not knowing how to fully express that love, I’d squeeze Bandit tight, as if all my love could be transferred through brute force. Those love sessions generally ended with Bandit biting me, and my parents rushing me to the doctor. But I didn’t care. I always went back for more. That’s how much I loved that dog. That’s how much I wanted that dog to love me.

As I grew older, I learned how to better express that love: fetch, long walks, feeding Bandit turkey straight from the Thanksgiving bird. Eventually, the dog died. My family had him cremated. That’s how much we loved Bandit. To this day, my father still has the dog’s ashes, and insists on being buried with them when he goes.

After graduating college, I left that loving, secure, pet-friendly environment to live in California. It was now fast-paced city life all the way: Playing in bands, partying till all hours, working lousy paying jobs, living in crappy apartments.

But once I found that dog on Sunset, I wanted to do whatever possible to become a stable pet owner. First off, I named the dog Venus, for the Goddess of Love.

I took her to the vet. Got her all her shots. The doctor gave her a clean bill of health. She was so adorable we couldn’t figure out why she’d been abandoned. Maybe she’d gotten lost. Maybe her owners were worried sick, trying to find her.

Over the next couple weeks, I posted flyers in dog parks, dog shelters, vet offices.

Even had a friend take this picture of the two of us.

I posted it on numerous pet-related Internet sites.

I didn’t receive one call from anyone claiming to own her. But I did receive tons of calls from people wanting to adopt her.

So I gave myself a goal.

For a month I’d work my ass off, either trying to find a place suitable for the two of us, or I’d offer Venus to the best home possible.

I poured through rental ads. Made tons of calls to the places I could afford. Landlords chatted up homes and apartments as if they were palatial estates, but in person amounted to little more than busted-up, beer-breathed accommodations, with weed-ravaged dirt yards.

I soon realized I didn’t have my shit together enough in the financial department to properly care for Venus. It broke my heart. Broke it into pieces tinier than those stars I’d witnessed in the late-night sky when I first discovered her.

Around that time, I received a call from a man in La Cañada—a suburban community at the base of the Angeles National Forest. The man said he’d seen an Internet ad for Venus. Said he had a family. A beautiful home and yard. Told me he’d like to adopt the dog.

I relayed the whole story. How I’d tried to find her master. How I’d even tried to make a home for her myself, all to no avail.

Listening to my sadness and frustration, the man said it was obvious that I loved Venus very much, and that if I’d allow his family to care for her, they’d do everything possible to honor that love.

The next day I packed Venus into my clunker Toyota, and headed up to La Cañada. The family, their home: Norman Rockwell updated. Made more posh, and heartwarming. Venus immediately took to the kids—a young boy and girl. They ran with Venus throughout the huge fenced-in backyard.

It was all so much. So much love. If Venus couldn’t stay with me, I realized, this was exactly where she needed to be.

The man handed over a wad of neatly folded bills. “Here. I’d like to pay you for what you’ve spent on vet bills.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“Really,” he said. “It’s the least I can do.”

My love and pride didn’t want to take the cash. But the truth was I’d spent a good portion of rent money to care for Venus. I had no idea how to make up the difference. “Alright,” I said. “Thanks.” Then I added: “Mind if I say goodbye to her?”

“Not at all,” he said.

I gathered Venus into my arms, gave her a big hug. It wasn’t as huge and hurting as the hugs I used to give my childhood dog, Bandit. But the hug was enough to let her know that I loved her very much. And that I’d miss her dearly.

1. “Supernatural Superserious” – R.E.M.

It starts like this: the immediate slash and burn of guitar. And a voice reminding us that there was once a time in our lives when we were ghosts, so supernatural/superserious in the face of this occasionally cruel world. Pasts we can hide from, pasts we can ignore, rediscover, reinvent, or simply embrace and accept as they are. As we are.

When you read this I hope you know it’s about you. Cause whenever I’ve tried to be your friend all you’ve done is stabbed me in the back. Strung my hope out on crack. Sure it hurt like hell, all those times you did me in. Promised me the moon then drowned my trust in your bathtub gin. And while they say denial is the first step of the grieving process, with you I’ve gone through that and anger, depression, second-guessing, then around the moon and back. But screw that noise. Save that off-key song for the soul-sucker that delivers your Fisher Price sex toys.


The panty hose was the hardest to get on. Every inch of the way, the elastic material constricted movement, bound blood, itched the skin. Next came the Flamenco-style dress: luscious red velvet worked carefully over my outstretched arms, head, and shoulders. After that: female hands lovingly applied mascara, rouge, eyeliner, and lipstick. A mirror was finally held before me. I gazed at my reflection and ran my tongue across my lips. They tasted cherry: very, very cherry.

The occasion: my band was opening for one of the hottest all-girl bands in LA—the Screaming Sirens. From the very first time I’d seen them masterfully wailing on their instruments, while decked-out in those sexy dresses, I wanted to be just like them.

Wish granted.

During the show, every swing of my drumsticks, every vocal wail and spastic body thrash, led to more and more makeup cascading down my face. Dark streaks of mascara and sweat soaked the now ripped dress.

Between songs, a skinhead standing at the front of the stage howled: “It takes a real man to crossdress!” He bought me six shots of tequila. By the end of the set, I’d downed them all.

Once done playing, I teetered to the bar. Spotted two young women hanging out by a pinball machine. One was a bottled blonde decked out in a long, fur-trimmed coat, while the other, a brunette, wore a Catholic schoolgirl uniform. They were with some guy in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, and an equally tacky moustache.

Every so often, the girls would glance over at me and smile.

Me, feeling like a Rock God—albeit a drunken Rock God in a dress—would smile back.

When the guy took off to the bathroom, I approached the girls. “What’re you doing with him?”
“What?” they said. “He’s not bad.”

“Yeah. Not bad for a guy that looks like Tom Sellick’s uglier brother.”

That one made them smile.

“I’m Marlene,” said the one in the Catholic schoolgirl dress. “And this here’s Debbie,” she said, motioning to her friend.

“Well Debbie and Marlene,” I said. “I think you should be with me instead.”

“What?” said Marlene. “A guy in a dress?”

“Not just a guy in a dress,” I slurred, now feeling the full affects of the alcohol I’d consumed. “But a musician in a dress.”

That one did the trick. Before the guy had even exited the bathroom we were gone.

We ended up in Marlene’s apartment. “Shh,” she slurred, now pretty wasted herself. “We have to be quiet. If my roommate finds out I have people here he’ll kill me.”

We crept into her room. Debbie promptly took off her clothes. Marlene followed suit. So did I. What amazing luck, I thought. Here I was, ready to engage in my first ménage-a-trois. Wait till Penthouse Forum hears about this one. We collapsed onto the bed in a drunken heap.

Debbie passed out first. Marlene was next. Then me. No sex.

The next thing I knew Marlene was shaking me awake. “You gotta leave. My roommate knows I had people over. He’s pissed.”

I eyed the clock. It was six in the morning. Still drunk, and head throbbing, I stumbled out of bed. Glanced through the partially open door. Spotted her roommate eating breakfast. The guy was a brute. He’d be that brute times ten if he saw me in a dress walking out of his apartment.

I spied a tree just outside Marlene’s bedroom window. “Here,” I said, handing her my dress. “Meet me downstairs.”

“What’re you gonna do?” she said.

“Jump.”

“You can’t do that. You’ll kill yourself.”

“Listen,” I said. “What’s gonna make the better story come Monday? You telling your friends that you picked up a guy in a dress and that he left out your front door? Or that he jumped out your window?”

Marlene considered that one, then said: “I see your point.”

“Good,” I said. “Now meet me downstairs.”

I threw open the window, and stood out on the ledge. Worst-case scenario: if I dove for the tree and missed, I’d break my neck. Short of that, maybe fracture an arm or bust a rib. It was worth the risk. I made a quick sign of the cross then sprang from the ledge in a spastic flight of flailing arms and legs.

The tree grew closer. So what if I didn’t get laid, I thought. Now all I wanted to do was survive. The tree grew closer. I could hear the hum of cars out on the freeway, and the murmur of people who’d gotten lucky the night before, now shifting in their beds. The tree grew closer. With any luck, I hoped, I’d reach that tree before noon.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a maleficent ex-Vegas lounge singer with an overactive middle finger that ultimately caused him to get kicked off SurvivorProject Runway, and Dancing With The Stars all in the same day.