Recent Work By Slade Ham

If you ever want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

Woody Allen said it originally, but it’s my dad’s voice I hear when it echoes in my head. It was December of 2007, five days before Christmas. My father was going in for heart surgery the next morning and I was headed to our nation’s capital to tape a special for XM Radio. I called him from the balcony of my Los Angeles apartment. I shivered in the cold and smoked a cigarette as we talked.

“I have the flights all booked,” I said proudly. “I go to DC for the shows this weekend and then I’ll be in Texas on Sunday in plenty of time for Christmas.” My itinerary was perfect. “No,” I told him. “I can’t stay for New Year’s. I’m meeting Titus in Oakland and then we’re driving back to L.A. from there. I have it all figured out.”

“If you ever want to make God laugh…” he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, laughing. “Everything’s going to be fine. I’ll call you when I get to DC and see how the surgery went.”

“I love you, son,” he said.

“I know.”

* * *

My father and I had our ups and downs through most of my life. Some of my earliest memories were the sounds of my parents fighting loudly as I tried to sleep. When I was almost nine they divorced, and I can still remember sitting in my dad’s little blue truck when he told me. The black, plastic, fake leather seats were cracked and smelled like cigarette smoke. The engine idled as we sat in the parking lot that evening after soccer practice. I was too young to know what he meant when he said that he wasn’t going to be living with us anymore.

I went from eight to thirty quickly, and our relationship swung drastically throughout those 22 years. Some memories are stronger than others, but most are just flashes of moments, captured in still life like Polaroids.

I’m nine. I’m walking the top row of the bleachers like a high wire artist. My dad is at the bottom talking to the woman that would eventually become my step mom. I’m eleven. Willie Nelson and Ray Charles sing Seven Spanish Angels in the living room as my dad adjusts the knobs on his new stereo and I lay on the floor. I’m thirteen. I tell him that I’m not going with him when he comes to pick up me and my brothers for the weekend. “I hate your stupid church,” was the excuse I gave before running back inside.  I grew up a lot after that.

There are pictures in my mind with no dates on them. I could have been twelve, or twenty. He had dogs, one after the other. Fritchie, Beignet, Max. There was a kitchen table with a bench on one side. I ripped my finger open on the lid from a can of Pringles at that table. You can still see the scar. The ceiling of the game room upstairs was covered in models I had made, painstakingly painting them and straightening the decals. Airplanes of every sort hung like icicles over the pool table.

When I was twenty-one, my grandmother went into the hospital. My dad paced the halls there waiting on the inevitable bad news from the doctors. I couldn’t imagine how he was strong enough to face the death of a parent.

* * *

I landed in DC and made my way to the hotel. My phone rang as I unlocked the door to my room. “Dad’s in a coma,” my brother told me. “He never came around after surgery.”

“I have a flight in the morning,” I told him, then hung up the phone in silence. I slid down the wall onto the floor of the hallway, staring blankly in front of me. I had a show in two hours.

The club was packed with people when I walked in, and I hated every single one of them. I had spent my entire life mocking the general population, with their real jobs and their fluorescent lighting and their boring offices. That night I wanted desperately to hide in a cubicle, to peck away at some keyboard with no one staring at me. This was the trade off, I learned. Now, not only did I have to pretend to be happy myself, I had to make other people happy on top of it.

My grandmother, long before I ever started doing comedy, used to say how amazing it was that Jack Benny was able to perform while his son was dying. I understand it now. I stayed on stage for an hour and a half, somehow removed from, but still aware of, my sadness and fear. To this day the stage remains the one place that I still feel completely in my element, regardless of what is going on around me. Jack Benny must have gotten that.

I walked off stage that night and back into the dark reality that was now my life. I started canceling my 2008 dates before I even got on the plane the next day. I was going to stay in Houston indefinitely.

* * *

It was Christmas Eve, three days later. I had sent my brother home to spend the evening with his wife and daughter. I sat huddled in the lobby between visitation periods, aimlessly surfing the web on my laptop and waiting for the next opportunity to stare down at my father and hope for a response. I walked into the cafeteria late, hoping for something to eat.

“How are you today?” the lady behind the counter asked.

My question was a simple one, and the words fell out of my exhausted lips like leaves from a dying tree. “How late are you open?”

She repeated herself. “HOW are YOU today?”

“How LATE are you open?” I tried again.

“I asked how you were today.”

“I am in the hospital on Christmas motherfucking Eve,” I said, bouncing my tray loudly on the metal rails. “How late… are you… fucking open?”

“Sir, you don’t have to use –“

“Maybe you should just slosh some mashed potatoes on the plate next to my chicken fried steak, pick up your minimum wage based check, and take your soulless body away from people that could not care less how fucking chipper you pretend to be around the holidays.”

My phone rang as I walk away. It was her. “Merry Christmas,” she said, and I thought to myself how much my dad would have liked her.

* * *

Days rolled by, and I spent every one in that very same lobby. It was a waiting game. Just wait. There are no other options. You can wait, or you can wait. For twenty minutes at a time, five times a day, seven days a week. Nothing you can do can change the situation. Friends call. “I’m sorry,” they say, but they don’t know.

My youngest brother was still in Hawaii. He had moved there on a whim, with one bag and nowhere to stay. He had gotten off a plane in Honolulu two months before and carved out a niche for himself there somehow. He wanted to come back now to be involved but he didn’t have a plan. My car was still at my apartment in Los Angeles, and the goal became to find a way to get him there so he could drive it back for me.

Coordinating a trip for that particular brother has always been like playing Plinko. No matter how much planning you try to do, that little plastic disc is just going to end up wherever the hell it wants to go. We sorted out his flight and I arranged to have him picked up in L.A. I had everything arranged actually – a place to stay, my car keys, and enough cash to get him back to Texas. All he had to do was get on the plane. Whether he got distracted by a shiny object or simply got lost I don’t know, but he missed his flight. To his credit he did try to come up with an alternative plan. “I can catch a flight into San Francisco instead,” he said.

“Of course,” I told him. “Go right ahead. It’s only seven hours from L.A. Great job, Magellan.” Eventually he did make it back, though I’ve never managed to find out exactly how. I was actually worried more about my vehicle than I was him. Not that I didn’t love him, but I had two other brothers; that was my only car.

* * *

Days turned into weeks, and the diagnosis grew more and more grim. There had been a series of strokes and brain activity was virtually nonexistent. On January 17, the decision was made. Family was gathered in the small, now private room. Goodbyes were said, tears were shed, and the breathing machine removed. He was gone. The tension hung like humidity in the air, thick and suffocating. My brother and I turned to each other and embraced, heads buried in each other’s shoulders.

I felt something move as we stood there – a vibration – down my upper leg. It was awkward as we both held each other.

“Tell me that was your phone,” he said.

“God, I hope so,” I replied, and in the most unlikely of places, we laughed hysterically.

* * *

I was getting dressed on the morning of the funeral.  How am I supposed to get through this?  I’m the oldest; I’m supposed to be an example.  I don’t want to do this, I told myself over and over again.  My phone rang.  Who would possibly call me on a day like this?  Moments later my voicemail beeped.  My friend Kevin’s voice came through the speaker as I checked the message.  His father had passed away a few years before.  “You are the strongest son,” I heard him say.  “You’re going to be okay.”

I smiled.  I hope you’re right, I thought.  I’m going to have to be today.

* * *

It’s been over two years now, and some things have faded. Sometimes I get disappointed in myself when I realize that I’ve let more than a day or two pass without thinking of him. How could I forget? Then, out of the blue, a day or so later, I’ll pick up the phone to call him. I’ll stop myself as I scroll down to the D’s. “Damn. He really would have gotten a kick out of that story,” I’ll tell myself.

Or maybe he will flash into my head over a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream covered in chocolate syrup. I use to eat it at his house on Saturday nights after everyone had gone to bed. Just me, sitting on his living room floor watching Star Trek: The Next Generation… God, I was such a nerd.

The comfort is there now though. I don’t have to carry it every day. The memory has disappeared and resurfaced enough times now that I know it will never go away for good. It seems like an eternity since I stood on that balcony with my big plans for the future. I was going to take over the world, and he was going to have his heart fixed. I’ve had to readjust my plans now though, to compensate.

And somewhere, I’m sure, there is laughter.

I used to have a tree house. Not as a child, mind you, but as an adult. Let me explain. I had an apartment for a while in a complex owned and managed by an ancient woman that hardly knew who lived in her building, much less what those tenants were up to. There weren’t exactly a ton of restrictions on what you could or could not do in the complex, and even if there had been there was no one to enforce them.

I became good friends with several other residents there. I was living with my girlfriend Brittany at the time and was constantly looking for a reason not to be in the apartment with her. The less I was there, the less chance of setting off an emotional explosion, so I spent a good bit of time hopping around and getting to know a quite diverse group of neighbors.

Dan was your typical Southeast Texas redneck. About six foot four, he drank cheap beer by the case, drove a pickup truck, and ate weird things if you dared him. I personally watched him consume a raw shrimp and three wrinkled dollar bills one night simply because someone said, “I bet you won’t.” Dan lived across the street from Chuck, a gun collecting Texan with a bit more intelligence. Dan was the kind of guy that would beat his chest and tell you what he was going to do. Chuck would just do it.

And Chuck happened to live next door to Henry. Henry was a stout and stocky black guy. Always high, he was the kind of person you couldn’t help but like. He was Ice Cube in Friday.

Over one particular summer, a group of teens happened to choose our neighborhood as a target for a string of car burglaries. My car was hit twice, along with eleven other incidents over the course of a few weeks. Despite our attempts to keep watch individually, we were unable to catch anyone in the act. For that matter, the only information we really had been able to get at all was the occasional neighbor’s half remembered account of an older, brownish colored car with a bunch of suspicious looking teens.

The obvious solution, we decided, was to band together. Strength in numbers made sense to us, and we fell in love with the idea of standing in unison against a common enemy. Not only would this be productive, this could be fun.

We recruited whoever else we could from the neighborhood and met at Henry’s house. Six adults in all, dressed in black and carrying whatever makeshift weapons we could find. An old forgotten Louisville Slugger from under Chuck’s bed, Dan’s slingshot, a chipped and slightly bent samurai sword with a blue rope wrapped handle. We were completely unprepared, yet one hundred percent willing, to go to war with a gang of street savvy thugs.

Over the next hour we discussed our plans. Who would cover which shift each night? What would we do if we actually caught someone? I had read enough Spider-man comics to be elected leader, therefore I was the one forced to veto the most extreme game plans as they were presented.

“So if one of us can catch ‘em in action and chase ‘em towards the others, we could hog tie ‘em, gag ‘em, and leave ‘em laying in the field over night,” Dan suggested. “The fire ants and them bat sized skeeters oughta finish ‘em off.”

“No, Dan,” I said. “Let’s try to come up with something… maybe a bit more legal.” Talking to him was a bit like trying to explain to a retarded child why he couldn’t have a balloon. And it wasn’t just Dan; no one was really helping.

“So I guess pumping them full of arrows and hanging them from a tree like little ghetto-porcupine-piñatas is out of the question?” Chuck chimed in.

“You a damn fool, Chuck. You know that?” Henry laughed. “A damn fool.”

“Completely out of the question,” I replied.

When the meeting – if you could call it that – adjourned, the only decision we had come to was that we definitely needed a place to mount our defense. We needed a secure location. We needed a fortress. I volunteered the tree next to my apartment, suggesting that we might be able to put some sort of platform halfway up. Everyone agreed and construction started the next day.

What began as a 3×3 perch soon became much larger. Dan started bringing home truckloads of grocery store pallets and landscaping timbers. We added each one to the rest and before long had erected a two story, two-hundred-plus square foot citadel. Over the next few months I forgot all about the ring of thieves and concentrated my efforts on increasing the size of the tree house. Two old couches were acquired and hauled up into the branches. Electricity was run from my back porch via extension cords. Chuck had an old TV we could drag up there when it wasn’t raining.

I fabricated a roof above the first level, leaving the second floor open to the sky, a perfect place to lie at night and watch the stars scroll by. I was twelve years old again, and oblivious to the fact that I had absolutely zero construction skills. I used twenty screws where one would have sufficed. My lack of building knowledge aside, this thing was never coming down. We built on into the summer.

* * *

With our attentions focused on the newly erected wooden castle, the dark brown Oldsmobile that came creeping down the street late one night almost went unnoticed. I got a call from Henry, who just happened to be out late adjusting the tension on the makeshift zip line we had installed a few days before.

“These fools are behind the building, man. You in?”

“I’ll meet you outside. Give me two minutes.”

The building directly across the street was empty, and had been since Hurricane Rita ravaged the area a year before. I knew there was no reason for anyone to be back there at all. It could only mean trouble. Despite Chuck and Dan’s insistence that we attack, cooler heads prevailed. I made the case for calling the police and twenty minutes later a squad car came cruising down the road. It pulled behind the building and we circled around the other side to watch the action, certain that we were about to witness justice occurring live and in real time.

Two officers ran up to the car across the dark parking lot. Their flashlights bounced along the rusted body and then one of the doors creaked open. Smoke poured from the inside of the vehicle, the flashlight beams becoming solid yellow rods as they shot through the billowing clouds. My first thought was that something was actually on fire, and then the realization hit me that the occupants of that car were just really, really high. It looked like the Cheech and Chong van.

What minutes earlier had seemed to be an open and shut case was about to turn shockingly sideways. The five teenagers were taken from the car, searched, and then handed back their keys with instructions to leave and not return. As the beat up Cutlass rattled away, the police car followed them. Seconds later, both were gone.

“Are you motherfucking kidding me?” asked Henry.

And it wasn’t just Henry. We all stood there completely slack jawed. Clearly the cops weren’t in the mood to write up a report. Though we had no solid evidence, we were convinced that this was the same group of kids that had lifted our car stereos and CD collections. As we stared at each other in silent disbelief an even more shocking thing happened; the car came back.

It cruised down the street through the darkness like a battle worn shark, pulling in the drive headed back behind the building.

Henry didn’t waste a second. He picked up Chuck’s bat and started out across the street. “Man, fuck a bunch of these motherfuckers, yo.”

The entire group of us was now ready for war. As we turned the corner behind the building, we could see one of the kids clearly retrieving something from the grass next to the car; most likely something tossed when the police had shown up earlier. The teen sprinted back to the car when he saw us. “Go, go, go!” he yelled, and the car started to back up as he dove inside.

There was a wicked crack as Henry’s bat connected with the windshield. The driver couldn’t seem to get the car in gear, and Henry connected with two more shots, shattering the passenger window and caving in the hood. “Damn, man! This is my Mama’s car!” a voice from inside cried. “Then your Mama better have insurance!” Henry yelled back as he smashed a brake light. There were a few more glancing blows before the terrified kid managed to shift, and then finally the car sped off, leaving us standing amongst the wreckage.

“Umm, maybe we should finish this inside,” I said, figuring the police were certain to return soon now that a somewhat violent crime had been committed.

We didn’t even make it back across the street before the red and blue flashing lights rounded the corner. Chuck and Dan sprinted for home and Henry tossed the bat into the bushes. The car rolled to a stop in front of the two of us.

“I don’t suppose one of you fellas want to tell us what happened here, do you?” the officer asked as he stepped out of the car.

“Actually, we just walked out ourselves,” I replied quickly. “Sounded like some glass broke or something. Is everything okay?”

The officer looked at me dubiously, but I wasn’t breaking. Henry wasn’t so calm however. “That car came back, man. Why didn’t you arrest those fools the first time?”

“What Henry means is -” I started to say.

“What I mean is, if y’all ain’t gonna stop these motherfuckers from coming over here, then we will.”

The cop replied, “Sir, you can’t say the word the word ‘motherfucker’.”

So I said, “No, Henry. Apparently he is the only one that can say it.”

“Are you trying to get smart with me, son?”

And it really just slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it. “Smart? God no,” I said. “I’m not trying to confuse you.”

“That’s it. Turn around, son, and put your hands behind your back,” he said, pulling out his handcuffs. I was laughing as he clicked them shut around my wrists. Not only was I amused by the sudden turn of events, but I was also incredibly curious how talking to my neighbor was being considered a threat or a crime. “What exactly did I do?”

“You were inciting a potential riot,” was his reply. “Watch your head.” I ducked as I was placed in the backseat of the car. If that was a riot, I would have hated to see how he handled a group of Irish soccer fans. The officer sent Henry on his way and then got into the car. His partner turned to me as we pulled off.

“I suggest you keep it down back there,” he said. “We’d hate to have to tack any more charges on.”

And that was probably where things went south. I knew that technically I was going to get a Disorderly Conduct charge, and I figured that if I was going to get one, I might as well earn it. My tongue took on a life of its own, and I emptied both barrels.

“Oh really? Because legally I don’t think I have to be quite at all.  If you don’t like it, let me out.  Or why don’t you just turn up the radio, Captain America?  I bet your wife is really proud of you…  bringing down the scum of society!  How scary it must be!  Ooooh, does it feel good Kojak?  You solved the crime! Yippee ki yay, motherfucker!  Oh wait, I can’t say that, can I?

“You know, the last time you guys were out here, we pointed out a kid that had driven up in a stolen car and tried to break into my neighbor’s truck. Then he ran from you guys and when you caught him he had a fourteen-inch screwdriver in his pocket.  And what did you do?  You let him go.  I’ve seen the detectives on Court TV put a guy away for life based on a piece of lip DNA they pulled off of a half-eaten apple core they found in a dumpster two counties away from the crime scene, and you couldn’t piece that mystery together?  Yeah, you’re on fire, Commando Rabbit.

“Why doesn’t FOX TV ever follow you guys around for COPS, huh?  Maybe it’s because you fucking suck.  You ever think of that?  Maybe it’s because dragging a guy to jail for standing in his own neighborhood is just shitty TV.  What a hero.  You’re the worst policeman ever.  I hope your little radar gun really does give you ball cancer.  Are we there yet?  I’ve gotta pee.  Come on, man!  Speed!  We already know you’re a hypocrite, what’s it gonna hurt?”

I kept my face as close to the partition as possible, throwing each sentence directly at his ear as he drove. I was determined to earn every minute of my stay in a holding cell. When we arrived at the jail the two officers couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. The ride had put me in a heightened state of amusement. Already resigned to my fate, and the misdemeanor charge, I committed myself to making the most of the experience. No one was going to be safe.

They asked a million questions when they booked me in, all for what I could only assume was my “permanent record”. Once I realized that no one was there to determine the veracity of my answers however, I began to lie. Even the simplest question was an invitation to mislead.

The woman in charge sat in front of her keyboard. “Height?” she asked.

“Six eleven,” I answered with a straight face.

“No you’re not,” she said.

“If you already know then why are you asking me?”

She growled a bit and then continued, “Do you wear corrective lenses?”

“Nope.”

“What color are your eyes?”

“Do you mean with or without the contacts?”

“You just said -”

“I was kidding. Next?”

“Occupation?”

In all honesty, I wanted to answer her correctly. The thought of having “comedian” next to my name in a file somewhere kind of made me happy. The Bullshit Train had left the station however. I couldn’t stop. I contemplated my answer as she repeated the question. “Sir? Occupation?”

And with the most serious expression possible I replied.

“Dragon Slayer.”

I arched my eyebrow mysteriously as I said it, as if that would somehow add authenticity to my claim.

“What?” she asked.

“Dragons. Large reptilian creatures. Did you not have a childhood, lady?”

She cocked her head sideways, baffled. “And where do you do this?”

“Caves, meadows, wherever the need arises,” I shot back.

She still didn’t know how to process what I was giving her. She had a blank to fill in on a form and the words coming out of my face confused her. “And… people give you money for this?” she tried.

“Sometimes money, sometimes a virgin or a goat. Whatever the village can afford. I have a calling, lady, and I won’t stop until all of the dragons are dead.”

Exasperated, she stormed out on our interview. Eventually, especially once I knew my friends had arrived with my bail money, I cooperated. I managed to keep a maniacal little smile the entire time though, which did a phenomenal job of keeping the other people in the holding cell convinced that I was at least a little bit insane.

“What are you in for?”

“Killing lizards. You might want to back up a little bit.”

* * *

The tree fort lasted longer than I thought it would. One day a letter arrived at my door from the landlord. Apparently a makeshift platform of thirty-eight pallets suspended 15-20 feet in the air was an “insurance risk”, and news of the tiki torch someone had drunkenly dropped on one of the couches had made its way back to her as well. It must come down the letter said.

Getting it up had not been a problem. Getting it out of the tree was a different story entirely. I pulled on the beams, I hit things with a hammer, and I jumped up and down. Nothing phased it. “Damn, I’m good,” I thought to myself, then I tied a rope around one of the support struts and pulled some more. I even went so far as to ask myself “What Would Jesus Do?” Then I remembered that Jesus was a carpenter. He could probably dismantle the entire thing in an afternoon.

Eventually I gave up. It stood stoically in that empty lot for another two years after I moved out. Even after my relationship ended, I still snuck back to visit it, hoping against hope that my ex wouldn’t be home when I did. Ultimately, I heard that time took its toll on the untreated lumber. Pieces fell one by one over the following months until, exhausted at last, the final section surrendered itself to the elements.

 

 

In 2005 I got a phone call to come to Shreveport and kill a dragon.Dragon slaying is a metaphor I adopted long ago – the origins of which are probably best saved for another story.Still, this was a mission.My friend Rachel ran the comedy club there at the time and thought I should come in for a particular weekend to “help her solve a problem”.She had called me more than a few times about it, actually, but that was all the information she would give me.

Please explain what just happened.

Revolution, in my mind.

I was making coffee the same way I do every morning when it happened. There’s a picture window over the sink that looks out into my backyard, and usually that yard is full of birds. Every day at first light blue jays, mockingbirds, cardinals, and yellow-throated warblers all compete for real estate in the branches of the white oak while the rest huddle around the perimeter and wait for an open spot. It’s an avian Wal-Mart parking lot.

This morning though, it was quiet. The gold-green glow of the sunlight on the foliage made its way through the window as I watched the coffee pot drip its way closer to full. Nothing moved outside. The silence was perfect and peaceful. There was no thriller-movie crescendo of music to warn me that anything was about to occur. All was simply silent.

And then I heard it hit.

SMACK!

I didn’t even get a chance to see what it was before it disappeared but it sounded like someone had thrown a baseball at the house. I immediately shot outside to find out what happened, and, turning the corner, was confronted with the saddest little brown and yellow bird I’d ever seen.

I’d found the projectile and it was injured.  After bouncing off of the glass the creature had landed sloppily on the top of the bush below. My first thought was that it was just disoriented, but then it looked up at me, coughed a little dramatic cough, and flopped its head to the side, dead.

Cough, cough. Flop.

It was a bit overacted honestly and kind of fake looking.  It was the way I would expect William Shatner to die.

It had apparently broken its neck in the impact. It just laid there, limp and crooked. I picked it up to make sure that it wasn’t just pretending, and then I walked it out to the middle of the yard. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with a dead bird. As I set it down, I could hear fluttering in the branches above. I was being watched; judged, it felt like. “I didn’t kill your friend,” I said. “Weren’t you watching?”

And then I started to wonder what had caused this in the first place. The obvious explanation was that the bird simply didn’t know there was a window in its way and flew into it on accident. I mean, birds seem pretty dumb. I wouldn’t necessarily put this below them. Unwilling to let Occam’s razor explain this away though, my mind wandered. What really had happened here?

Did the other birds dare this young chick to do it? Maybe he was trying to get into some feathered fraternity – Better Than Ezra’s Desperately Wanting happening live in the animal kingdom.

Maybe there was an emergency and he was being reckless trying to get home to solve the crisis. Maybe one of his eggs had fallen down the stairs or his wife had broken her hollow little hip and he was racing to provide aid.

Or was he drinking? I know I’ve done a lot of dumb things after a few drinks. Maybe he ate some fermented fruit. It was entirely possible that he was just fucked up and all the other birds warned him not to fly, and as usual he didn’t listen. “No, no, no. I’m fine. I’m just going up the block. I only live like two trees away. I’ll call you when I get there.”

Or was he a daredevil bird that pushed things too far? I can relate. I tore my ACL when I was eighteen jumping over a table to win a ten dollar bet. I’m painfully aware that bad things happen. Maybe this bird, flirting with death, got caught up in the moment and took things past the limit. “I’ll go out doing what I love”, he told himself, then tucked his wings in tightly and closed his eyes.

What if this particular bird was a twin and his brother had kept him locked away in an iron mask for years. Now, angry and frustrated, he was on a mission to get revenge. Suddenly, catching a glimpse of his reflection and seeing what he could only assume was his evil doppelganger brother, he attacked. Wait, that’s not how that movie happened at all.

Or had war been declared and I was simply unaware? Perhaps it was a kamikaze strategy employed by the Bird Nation – my kitchen window becoming a clear-paned USS Bunker Hill to the bird’s Ensign Ogawa.

On that note, maybe it was a more traditional suicide. Perhaps he was picked on in bird school and couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe he knew the easiest way for a bird to kill himself would be to hit a window at 30 mph. Now, somewhere off amongst the limbs, a press conference was being held. “He wasn’t that kind of kid,” his mother would cry.

They’ll say he was desensitized by the abundance of violence in bird cinema, or that he used to play that video game where you steal another bird’s wings and run from the blue jays; that somehow he just didn’t grasp the concept that a window will really kill you. Bird society will be blamed for making death seem so simple and small. Thank God he just killed himself, others will say. He could have taken out an entire nest if he’d wanted to.

All of the possibilities aside, I’m having a hard time letting go of the idea that in actuality he was just a really stupid bird that couldn’t tell a reflection from the real world; that the echoing impact that rattled its way through my kitchen was just Darwin being Darwin.

No breeding for you, you simple-minded little sack of down. Here’s a window. Eat it. You heard the man!  Life’s got to move on, chickadee, and you’re in the way. Somebody sweep up these feathers. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.

There was no note. Whatever it was that drove that little bird to hurl himself against the side of my house, only he will ever know for sure.

And he’s not saying a word.

I’ve decided to post this list after having kept it scrawled in notebooks over the years. The inspiration for it comes from one of my favorite people on this planet, Tom Rhodes. He has a list of over 1000 things he simply calls “Happiness”. I started keeping my own list a few years ago – which has been edited and updated and deleted from sporadically over time – but still serves as my own reminder that there are far more good things than bad on these little paths we all stumble down.

Have Happy Day

By Slade Ham

Memoir

It was early April that year and I was excited. I was going back to Asia for the third time, to see the cherry blossoms in bloom and hop from base to base telling jokes through most of South Korea and Japan. My itinerary was complicated, and the first leg in particular left very little space for a mistake. In a perfect world I was supposed to fly from Houston to Detroit, Detroit to Tokyo, and finally from Tokyo to Busan, South Korea.

But that’s in a perfect world.

In Real Land where I live, the problems started as soon as I boarded in Texas. They waited until the cabin door was closed to inform us that there was a minor computer issue. “It should only take a few minutes to correct,” the pilot’s voice crackled out over the intercom.

A baby cried somewhere in front of me. Sweet Jesus. Already? The mother fed it a bottle and rocked it to sleep. A few minutes slowly became sixty. I had a window seat, and that window was already beginning to fog up from the lack of air circulation. It’s been an hour, I thought. It can’t take that much longer. I’m a borderline claustrophobic person by nature and being stuck in the back of a long metal tube on the inside of a row wasn’t helping. The massive woman in the aisle seat was the size of an adolescent rhinoceros so getting out and walking around was going to be a challenge. At least I’m not in the middle though, I told myself.

That seat belonged to a man in his forties who, while having said nothing to support my theory, appeared to carry himself with a holier-than-thou attitude. I immediately didn’t like him. Some people have a cocky look on their face by nature. Maybe it was the way his facial bones were structured or how his eye brows arched, but he looked like someone who thought they should have a butler. “Simmer down,” I wanted to say. “You’re back here in coach with the rest of us.”

An hour and a half.

The speaker rattled again, this time with worse news. “This is your Captain again. Umm… we’re going to try to get this computer restarted one more time… umm… and if that doesn’t work we’re going to have to bring a crew on board to replace it. Just sit tight though. It shouldn’t be much longer,” the Captain lied.

Two hours.

Time was crawling. Shit. I remembered I only had a three hour layover in Detroit before my flight to Japan. This was going to cut things way too close. I pulled my notebook out of my backpack and tried to write to distract myself. The man in the middle was starting to get nosy. He pushed his glasses up with his finger and then tried to covertly read what I was writing with his peripheral vision. A blindfolded, stillborn chimpanzee would have known what he was doing. I adjusted my writing to compensate. Flipping over to a fresh page, I started a new paragraph:

“If you don’t stop reading this I will stab you in the ear with my pen and hide your body under the large woman to your left. They will never find you, do you understand me? Yes, I am talking to you. Don’t look away now, motherfucker. And when I’m through with you, and I get off this godforsaken plane, I will hunt your children down and eat them. You read that right. I will eat your children. On bread. Like a PoBoy.”

Three hours.

My layover time had officially been chiseled away. Unless we made into in the air in five minutes I was going to miss my next flight. I took a deep breath when I heard the intercom buzz. “Captain Adams here one more time. Just wanted to update you folks on our status. It looks like they have the problem under control. We apologize for keeping you on the plane this long, but it should only be a few more minutes. Sit tight.”

“Lying cocksucker!” someone yelled from the back. We all laughed, but there was no heart in it.

The beluga whale at the end of our row wasn’t doing so well. People that size don’t like to move a lot but they don’t like to be trapped either. The armrests were not being kind to her hips in an irresistible force/immovable object sort of way. The manner in which she seemed to have gotten stuck in her seat reminded me of a video I once saw where a double-decker bus failed to make it underneath an overpass.

Three and a half hours.

All I could focus on was the fact that I had to get to Detroit. I had to. The baby was crying again, now awake from its nap. Middle Man was fidgeting uncontrollably next to me but he avoided making eye contact. The sack of mattresses next to him was snoring, though she was wide awake. Her breaths came in erratic gusts, each one sounding more laborious than the last. More crying sounds cut through the thick air. It was miserable. I hope this plane blows up, I thought to myself.

Four and a half hours.

We were all beaten. Even the flight attendants had given up any semblance of professionalism. Ties loosened and sweat dripping, they dragged a beat up water cart down the center aisle. “Just say something if you want some more water,” one of them muttered. “I can’t help you otherwise.”

Five hours.

My flight to Tokyo had now been in the air for almost two hours. “Good news,” the Captain interrupted. “We’ve resolved the problem and are cleared for takeoff.”

One hundred and seventy-nine people sighed in relief; the fat lady just kept trying to breathe, period.

*  *  *

Eventually I made it through Detroit and into Tokyo, trudging into Narita Airport around 11:30 at night. The airline informed me that while the last flight into Busan had already taken off, they would happily fly me to Seoul for the night. “We get for you hotel, and drive person will arrive to transport you,” the lady behind the counter said in broken English. “Here ticket. Go enjoy. Have happy day.”

I didn’t know that the entire country of Korea goes to bed well before midnight. I learned that fact upon arriving at Incheon Airport in Seoul. Apparently they’re like Monchichis in that regard; at ten o’clock, someone takes the jewels out of their bellies and they fall asleep. The airport was huge, and totally empty. I was Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky if, too tired to run through Times Square, he had skipped directly to the screaming-at-the-sky-and-spinning-in-a-circle part. How could the airport be empty? Where was my driver? I still had to get a hold of someone in Busan and let them know that I wasn’t going to make it, but the only contact information I had was for a man mysteriously named “Mr. O”. I had that, and a phone number with a thousand digits.

What I did not have was any Korean won and the Currency Exchange had long since closed. Delirious, I stumbled down the massive hallway and tried to make sense of the logograms that surrounded me. My exhausted mind translated them based on what they appeared to be: picnic table, telephone pole, tree house. I was getting nowhere.

One lone, lethargic sentry waited by the exit near an eerily silent baggage claim. He led me to a phone and then left me alone to report my story to Mr. O’s voicemail, because Mr. O, like all of Korea, was sleeping. I had been traveling for nearly thirty hours. Where was my ride to the hotel? A voice echoed my thought even as it occurred.

“Hotel?” I heard someone say.

I was certain that I was imagining things because there was no one there. “Hotel?” the voice said again, and then a four foot tall Korean appeared from behind what had appeared to be an abandoned counter.

“Yes,” I said. “Please.” I didn’t even care if he was the right guy or not. I just wanted to stand under a hot shower and maybe take a nap.

“Come. We go fast,” he grinned.

“Yes,” I replied. “Fast is good.”

He led me to a van, threw my bag in the passenger side, and then clambered into the driver’s seat. I slid open the side door and crawled into my own seat in the back, fully prepared to doze off until we reached our destination. I heard the ignition fire up as my eyes closed, and then I snapped them back open again when Korean rap exploded from the speakers. The van tires squealed, kicking up dust, and we shot forward in the dark outskirts of Seoul at the speed of sound.

He could barely see over the steering wheel. I pulled myself forward against the G force to see how fast we were going, forgetting that the speedometer was showing kilometers. I heard some mechanical part fall off the van and I spun around to watch it disappear in the darkness. The man laughed at the sound and then sped up even more. Through the windshield I could barely make out the road ahead as it flew toward us. Among the other deficiencies, we apparently only had one headlight as well, like the Wallflowers. The tail lights of another car appeared ahead, but only for a moment. He bump drafted them, cut the wheel sharply, and whizzed past, throwing his hands in the air like Bastion on Falcor’s back in The Neverending Story. “Mansae!” he yelled.

Terrified, I moved to the center of the bench seat and put on all three seatbelts.

I crawled out of the van when we arrived at the hotel, shaking but relieved and ecstatic to still be counted amongst the living. Before I could tip the man or even thank him, he pushed my bag out after me, yelled something else in Korean, and then rocketed off into the night.

“Have happy day,” I chuckled.

I’ll never know exactly how fast we actually went. I know we covered what I estimated to be 1100 miles in about eighteen minutes, and I couldn’t help but wonder where this guy had been when I needed to get from Houston to Detroit thirty hours earlier.

I am probably the most relationship-dysfunctional person on the planet. My tendencies to stay too long with the bad ones and screw up the good ones prematurely is borderline legendary. My crowning achievement was the eight years I spent with Brittany, who, as crazy people go, was their queen.

My friends have spent countless hours rehashing my old war stories with Brittany, telling tales of juice machines thrown through plate glass windows at Dunkin Donuts, or recounting the time I was pushed off a balcony. Nevertheless, Mark Twain said it best, “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” I made it out, but sometimes I feel like a Holocaust survivor. That may be an extreme comparison, but if you’ve never found yourself on the run from another human being that is intent on killing you, then you really don’t know just how insane things can get.

I never used to tell these stories. In all honesty they were a bit embarrassing although anyone anywhere close to our relationship knew that it was anything but tame. Sometimes though, especially years later, it’s nice to clear out the closet. It’s therapy. Pulling out all the skeletons would be akin to unearthing the Killing Fields of Cambodia but there are a few stand-out moments that deserve to be dragged out into the sunlight. Every time I overhear some poor schmuck in a bar complaining about how crazy his current girlfriend is, I reflexively call him on it.

“All in!” I say. “What do you have?”

“She threw a glass at me last night.”

“Pussy,” I’d say, and then I would display one of my own scars. We might as well have been Quint and Hooper on the Orca.

One particular night, Brittany came home drunk at 3:00 in the morning. I had fallen asleep on the couch and was awakened by the sound of a key attempting to find a keyhole. After a few minutes she outsmarted the lock and came stumbling into the living room. Crazy is hard to deal with by itself; crazy and drunk is impossible. It was like her emotions were being driven by an Asian.

“Get out!” she growled.

We’d been together for years at this point and I knew that this wasn’t an argument I wanted to have. I slipped on my shoes and attempted to avoid the fight. “Fine,” I said.

“Where are you going?”

“What?!? You just said -”

“I fucking hate you!”

Anyone that has ever truly been with a crazy person will tell you that there is a definitive checklist of items that have to grab in the off chance that you are forced to leave suddenly. It’s a little survival kit that we keep handy. Many times, especially if I knew things were on the verge of getting out of hand, I would simply leave these items in my blue jeans: wallet, lighter, cigarettes, keys. I would then set my jeans on the floor in the ready position like a fireman. I wasn’t prepared that night, however.

“I said GET OUT!” she screamed as she pushed me.

I immediately started scrambling through the list and trying to locate what I needed. “Wallet, lighter, cigarettes, where are my cigarettes? They must be – Oh shit. She has a knife.”

To this day I cannot explain where the knife came from. She never went near the kitchen and I never took my eyes off of her. It appeared the way a dove appears in a magician’s hands. It just materialized. For all I know it popped out of the back of her hand like a bipolar X-Man. “Hi, my name is Wolverine and I’m an alcoholic.” SNIKT!

She was standing at the door with a steak knife in one hand and my fate in the other.

There are moments in our lives where we know that we have passed the point of no return; that we are committed to the insanity. There is no more negotiation. The switch has been flipped and the hostages aren’t going to make it out alive. Crazy people generally decide for us just exactly when that moment is going to be. There are signs: the glazed eyes, the vein popping out in the side of her neck, the backwards Latin. And when a man is confronted with such a situation, sometimes he decides that he is bigger than it is; that he can just “man up”. This was one of those situations.

Rather than run away or shoot straight for the door, I made the decision to disarm her. If this was a horror movie then I was the black guy running into the woods. I was the blonde scrambling up the stairs. I was going to die, and anyone watching would have seen it coming from a mile away. “Why would he do that?” they would ask. The only answer I could give them would be that at that particular second, I was a man.

A stupid man, but a man nonetheless.

It should be simple, really. All I had to do was get my right hand up, block the swinging arm with the knife, get to the deadbolt, unlock it, open the door with the other hand, continue to restrain her arm, pivot, shift my weight, and slip through into the night. It shouldn’t take more than a second or two if I’d done the calculations correctly. I was pretty confident that she wouldn’t follow through anyway. She wasn’t actually going to stab me.

Well write this down in a notebook somewhere. Crazy doesn’t bluff.

I lunged, and it was exactly how they say it is when you’re about to die. Everything slows down and scenes from your past flash before your eyes. A birthday cake, a bicycle, someone is pushing me on a swing set. Grandpa?

And then SLASH!

I felt the impact on my arm but no immediate pain. I remember thinking to myself that I should probably do something. I started to run, because somewhere I remember reading that that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’ve been stabbed and the person that stabbed you is trying to stab you again, but it was like running in a dream; the dream where you’re being chased and you have to get down a flight of stairs and your legs are all rubbery and God is laughing at you like Jason and the Argonauts.

My checklist had long since gone out the window. The only thought in my head was to get to my car at all costs. I would be safe there. I rounded the bottom of the staircase and stumble-stepped towards the parking lot, almost losing my footing several times in the loose gravel. The halogen glow of a street light illuminated my plight to anyone that wanted to watch, but no one did. I was alone. I turned the corner and slammed into my car. Thank God. I reached in my pockets looking for my keys – the keys I never managed to grab before I escaped. That’s why you have the checklist, Slade.

In the distance I heard our apartment door slam. She was coming to finish the job. I was wounded and she knew it. Water buffalo are supposed to die this way, not me. This isn’t the Serengeti and I’m not an antelope waiting for some predator to come and finish me. I’ll escape on foot if I have to. The dilemma I had was that I had expended every ounce of stamina I possessed getting this far. I was smoking almost three packs of Marlboros a day at the time and was pretty sure sprinting was out of the question. The best I was going to muster was going to be a “brisk walk”.

It was 3:30 am. There was no one to call, and even if there had been I didn’t have a cell phone. I kept moving, looking ahead at the longest, darkest, emptiest road I had ever seen in my life. I heard a truck engine rev in the distance and I knew that she was coming. A few seconds later I saw her headlights make the turn at the intersection. I knew they were hers because they smoldered with an evil red glow and one of them was dim and cracked from where she slammed into my car a few weeks earlier.

And then the realization started to sink in that this was how I was going to die. My life was being directed by John Woo.

She was screaming down the street by this point. My only hopes lay a block or two up the road. I remembered that there was a Catholic church and I convinced myself that if I could just make it there I would be safe. There obviously wouldn’t be anyone there to let me in, but if I could manage to get on the property then maybe the demons couldn’t follow me. It would be like Spiritual Base.

My legs were aching as I burst through the boundaries of the church’s courtyard. I stopped underneath a statue of Jesus. I lit up a cigarette and huddled there panting and bleeding from the arm. There was a small moment of relief when I heard her truck tires screeching in the parking lot and circling, but not stopping.

I’ve never been the most religious person in the world but I was acutely aware that I was standing there beneath Jesus. Maybe I should talk to him. I wasn’t faring so well on my own, so what did I have to lose? This was unfamiliar territory however. I knew I was only talking to him because I needed something and that seemed a little unfair. I was uncomfortable, like I was approaching a girl in a bar for the first time.

“Look, I know you don’t know me, but… Geez, I’m no good at this. Can I buy you a drink? Never mind, you’re Jesus. You make your own.

Anyway, I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a really crazy person out there in the parking lot and I’m pretty sure she wants to hurt me really bad. And please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to point the finger or anything, but… you made her, you fix her. I’m really starting to understand why you hung out with twelve other guys. You have to do something. Can you kill her?

No? Why not?

Because the Antichrist doesn’t die until halfway through the Tribulation. That’s clever. Jesus is a comedian.

Well, can’t you throw a lightning bolt or something? I mean, you don’t even have to hit her; just come close. She’s drunk, she’ll walk into it. It wouldn’t even be your fault technically.

Whatever, I don’t care. Just give me a way out.”

And I swear Jesus winked at me.

Two weeks later I returned from a week at a comedy club in Boise, Idaho. She and I went to lunch, where she calmly informed me that she wanted to end things so that she could go out with a guy she had recently reconnected with from high school. I did want out, but I didn’t want out like that.

“I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth here, but really God? You created the entire world in six days, and this is the best you can come with?”

Still, it got the job done. It’s funny how life works sometimes. Eight years of my life over and done with because she decided to cheat. And after all the things I had tolerated, too. The more I thought about it though, the more I started to laugh. A few of my friends that knew the story were the first to want to round up a Wild West style posse and hunt the guy down.

“Let’s kick his ass!”

“No,” I would always reply.

“Oh, you mean no as in ‘wink wink’? Like you want us to take him out but you don’t want to know anything about it just in case the cops come asking?”

“No, I mean don’t do anything.”

“Well what are you going to do him then?”

“Nothing at all. I’m serious. I mean, I appreciate the gesture, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing you can do to him that compares with what he’s in for. I almost want to finance the relationship. I want to buy them a bottle of wine and a hotel room at the casino, and a notebook and a pen. ‘Keep a journal motherfucker. You’re writing my career.’ I have no desire to beat him up. I want him to have complete control of all his senses when he goes out with her, so he misses nothing.”

In hindsight I really am shocked that I stayed as long as I did. I certainly don’t regret any of it and I recognize how vital that time spent was in developing who I am today. Almost the same way prison time turns some people into brand new people, I know that I needed to let my own story run its course. There’s no moral to this, except maybe that some churches do keep the demons out for a little while, but whether you can run from them or face them down, in the end some demons just have to exorcise themselves.

She and I haven’t talked in years and in the rare moments we have it has honestly been more than pleasant. Still, I know the potential explosion that lies just below the surface. Someone somewhere is dealing with it, probably even as I write this. I remember getting a call on my cell a few months ago from a number I didn’t recognize, and when I answered the phone a strange male voice was on the other end.

“Is this Slade?” he asked.

“It is.”

He immediately followed up, “Did you used to date Brittany?”

I paused for a moment, and then asked my own question. “I knew this was coming. Who’d she kill?”

“Nothing like that, “he said. “I’m calling because I’m the guy that’s dating her now.”

There was a long pause while I digested that fact, and I fought back the urge to laugh out loud. Through my inner chuckles I managed to force out the question, “So how’s that working out for you?”

It was his turn to awkwardly pause. Finally he said, “Look, your name has come up a couple of times in conversation between me and her, and every time it does she refers to you as the one that got away, and I -.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What did you just say?” I interrupted. “That’s not cool at all, man. You mean to tell me that after all our drama and history she still thinks of me like that?”

“No, no, no,” he said. “You actually got away. How’d you do it? I need help.”

And then his voice faded from my ear as I dropped the phone in uncontrollable peals of laughter.

When the world ends, I’ll be ready.

I keep a notebook and a pen in my backpack at all times; that’s my Apocalypse survival kit. Most of society ambles casually through the day completely ignoring the fact that our time on this planet could be up at any moment. On the other extreme, some predict it’s coming and prepare for it. I have a couple of survivalist friends who stockpile weapons and ammunition and wait for the day that the zombies attack. When it comes to the “when and how” regarding the end of the world, there’s an infinite spectrum of theories. Some think it will be earthquakes or asteroids or something else God makes happen in his big cosmic game of Sim City. There are others that believe Xenu and the Thetans are out there. Some know every Nostradamus quatrain by heart. Nobody has been right so far, though.

Charles Wesley thought it would end in 1794. Montanus failed to predict it in the 4th Century. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have tried way more than once, incorrectly throwing darts at 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. Scientists jumped into the mix, thinking Halley’s Comet would end it all in 1910 as the tail swept past Earth and poisoned us. Then there was the Jupiter Effect, and Y2K, and the Hindu’s Kali the Destroyer. Hale-Bopp made an entire cult of people commit mass suicide so that they could escape Judgment Day and go ride on a big ship that was soaring through space behind the comet. And then there’s the guy on the corner with the sign and the beard and the milky eyes that has been wrong about it every day for as long as I can remember.

And now we have 2012. I’m proud of the Mayans. As a comedian, I’m even jealous. It’s the epitome of good writing and patience and timing. Clearly the early Mesoamericans were just making stuff up on a goof. I personally love the idea that they were simply screwing with us. “C’mere, Tlacolotl. Hahaha! This will be hilarious one day! What if we just stop it right there? Hahaha! That should freak someone out one day.”

A 5000-year-old punchline. The ultimate call back. It would only be funnier if it ended on April Fool’s Day.

Anyone that puts stock in 2012 as global stop time is giving far too much credit to a civilization that was convinced that the world was created in 3114 BC. They are actually dumber than Sarah Palin in that regard. Still, it makes for a lot of fun speculation. What happens if they’re right? Are we ready? I think I am. Assuming I survive whatever cataclysmic event destroys civilization as we know it, life for any human that remains is going to be quite chaotic, that much is certain. How are things going to be on this little ball of rock and water if the sky does coming tumbling down?

I have to start with the supposition that everything I rely on will be gone and that I won’t have the knowledge to rebuild it. I don’t know how anything works. Nothing. I basically live a life of faith. I have faith that my car will start, that clean water will fall from the wall when I need it, that somehow electric energy will be waiting for me at the little plastic socket when I shove something plug-shaped into it, that the artificial winter I keep locked in a box in my kitchen will keep my food cold, that by somehow hitting a series of buttons I can send a message across the world in less than a second, that I can toss a pill down my throat and destroy any bad microscopic bacteria that may be affecting me. It all might as well be witchcraft as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t know how an engine works or how to make paper or how to create a solar cell. I’m dumb, or I will be in a post-apocalyptic world, anyway. So what exactly makes me think that I’m ready?

I think that the world is going to be run by the fringe. The unaccepted of today’s society will be the only hope for the future. Archaic jobs will resurface. The computer engineer will starve to death while the girl that makes homemade dragon candles in her mom’s basement to sell at the Renaissance Festival will be rich. I don’t know how to make a candle. She’s going to get my business. You know what I won’t need? Access to the Internet from my useless, unpowered laptop.

We live in an age where huge, hulking robotic machines do all of the un-fun stuff. They strip meat from the bone in massive factories and shape metal and cook our food in mass quantity so that all we have to do is heat it up. In the future we’re going to need the butcher and the baker and the aforementioned candlestick maker. Hopefully they’ll be too busy rebuilding the world this time around to spend their days hanging out in a bathtub together.

The nerdy thirty-year-old that taught himself how to make chainmail so he could live-action role-play with his friends; that guy will be a millionaire. He’ll be the next big thing. Only a handful of celebrities as we know them would make it though. Bobby Flay and Bob Vila will probably be fine. You know who won’t? Snookie. The Situation. Perez Hilton. Someone will eat them.

All my musician friends should be okay in the new world, too. With no mp3s or iPods, the Minstrel will flourish again. We got lazy and forgot about him. Somewhere along the line we traded tradition for the reliability and convenience of digital files. Today, in the age of technology, any song you want is just one illegal download away. Post-Apocalypse, however, you’ll have to wait for a Minstrel to wander out of the forest with a lute. And what if he’s a crappy Minstrel? What if he has a bad memory?

“Sing that song I like!”

“She was a fast machine, she kept her la la la la la la, something, something, hmm hmm hmm that I ever seen…”

“You suck”.

“I- I- I- Wait, wait! I know ‘Brown Eyed Girl’!”

“Every shitty Minstrel knows ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. C’mon, Tom. I told you we should have gone to see Metallica at the castle.”

All my hopes lie on the resurrection of certain jobs. That’s where I find myself becoming optimistic. I’m honest when I say that I don’t know one single thing about survival. I can’t cook, I can’t start a fire, and I don’t own a gun. I do, however, tell a damn good story. When there’s an opening for Bard or Jester, I’m in. I’ll trade my tales around a campfire in exchange for deer meat or protection or sunglasses like in The Book of Eli.

That, or someone will make a jacket out of my skin.

I really hope they like jokes in the future.

Everything is turquoise blue. I’m not sure how that made it into the design specifications for hospital waiting rooms but it did. The cold glare of fluorescent lighting mixes with the blue plastic covered chairs and gives a sense of anything but peace. If that was their intent they failed, whoever they are. I’ve spent an hour sitting in this hospital lobby trying to figure out exactly how I got here. Eighteen hours ago I was absolutely fine.

I arrived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas the same way I have arrived in so many other small towns over the last decade. There’s a rhythm to it. I pull in. I check into my hotel. I lower my expectations. I tell jokes. It’s really a short checklist. As I walked into the club for this weekend’s shows however, a new bullet point forced itself into the mix.

Don’t get rabies.

I entered to find the staff fully engrossed in the hunt. A cat, a gorgeous white cat, had crashed through the outer perimeter. The way they made it sound, you would have thought a terrorist operative was loose in the building. A pale flash shot from under a table, followed by a blur of mullet and overalls.

“Sumbitch!” said the Mullet. “He’s fast.”

The rest of the team moved into place. The girl behind the bar tried scare it into the backroom while a 300 pound man with disturbingly saggy pants put on his “plumbing gloves” and grabbed a tablecloth. I stood at the far end of the bar laughing. Suddenly the Big Man lunged at something invisible. From under the bar a hissing, snowy explosion shot upward, landing on a rack of glasses and destroying half of them. The cat’s screech melded with the sound of the shattering glass as the Mullet leapt over the bar. Apparently cornered, the feline sat crouched on top of a Jagermeister machine, inches away from the liquor shelf. With its hair bristling in defiance, it dared either one of the men to try to grab it.

The Big Man already had a plan. “I think… I can… get it,” he started to say. The cat hadn’t had nearly as much to drink as the man had however. They moved at the same time, the lumbering man knocking over the Jager machine and the cat knocking over every bottle of alcohol on the top two shelves. In a beautiful cascade of falling glass and colored alcohol, it sprinted for freedom.

In all honesty, I was really pulling for the cat. I was. Then it dug in and abruptly took a turn in my direction. It rocketed off the shelf, planted its back paws on the Mullet’s head, and shot through the air towards me. It hit the ground in a full run, slid across the bar floor, bounced off the wall, and fired itself directly at me.

If you’ve never had an animal throw itself at your face, it’s hard to say exactly how you would react. If you had asked me prior to this event I would have told you that I would have reacted just like a ninja should. I would simply snatch the cat out of the air with one hand, grabbing it firmly by the back of the neck, safely and harmlessly. If you asked me today though, I would not say such a silly thing.

As the cat hurtled towards me with its claws out I threw my hands in front of my face. It hit with its talons drawn and latched onto my forearm. When I tried to remove it, it struck. Like a cobra. Two gleaming incisors sank into my hand and wrist, driving down to the bone. As painful as it was, the irony of being bitten by the only thing in the entire state with a full set of teeth was not lost on me. Why couldn’t the cat be on meth like everyone else? I could have been bitten by the Mayor of that city and at the worst would only have been gummed to death. This cat though, it had a perfect set of fangs.

I flung the cat off of my arm and watched the blood shoot out of my hand. “Well sheee-it,” said the Mullet. “We thought you was gone be the one to git ‘em.”

“Sorry?” I managed to say. The cat was now hiding somewhere in a storage closet trapped behind a closed door. The girl working the door called animal control, as someone should have done to begin with instead of sanctioning this Feline Redneck Rodeo. Left to wait for the extraction team, I turned my attention to my wounds. The bartender slid a feeble attempt at medical supplies across the bar to me: a Band-Aid and a shot of Jack Daniels. I poured half of the shot on the holes in my hand and then drank the other half. I had just finished covering the injury when the bartender handed me the phone.

“Buffy wants to talk to you,” she told me, and she looked scared.

Buffy was the owner of the bar. I don’t have a lot of experience with people named Buffy, but the name conjured up negative emotions for some reason. As a matter of fact, my only real recollection of that name being used at all, in a non-vampire-slaying way, was when my great aunt used to call her dog. Her dog’s name was Buffy, but Aunt Jewel was somewhere around 114 years old, and she pronounced it “Buff-eh”. She didn’t give it the long E sound it was supposed to have, and she would snap it at the poor dog in a gravelly voice that she had earned by smoking three packs of Marlboro Reds a day for 98 years in a row.

“C’mere Buffeh!” she would growl, and then this poor beat up little black dog would come slinking into the room like some sort of villainous sidekick. So when the bartender handed me the phone and told me it was Buffy, I immediately didn’t like her.

I took the phone. “Um, hello?”

“Tell ‘em you dint git bit.”

My mind tried to process the words, to no avail. “Huh?’

“The Animal Control folks. Tell ‘em you dint git bit or they gon’ lop its head off and send it to Little Rock fer testin’.”

“Look Buffy,” I said, “It’s a little hard to hide when I have blood running down my arm and-”

“Nooooo! They gon’ chop it head off forever! That cat dint do nuthin’. You’re gon’ be fine. Folks get bit all the time ‘round here and don’t nobody die of no rabies. They gon’ put its head in a box and send it off, I’m tellin’ you!” It was like Alice in Wonderland, without the Alice and without the Wonderland… just me and cats with teeth and crazy ladies yelling about chopping off heads.

I’ll be honest; I don’t know the first thing about how you handle a feral cat once it’s been contained. I’m sure that if there is a legitimate concern that the animal has rabies or is infectious, they would be forced to put it down. What I don’t think, is that the State of Arkansas runs around arbitrarily beheading cats. Euthanasia doesn’t include hacking something’s head off with a sword, or scissors, or whatever else Buffy thought they did to something they captured.

More so, if that really is what they do to every animal they catch, then that would mean that there is a Department of Head Receiving somewhere in the great city of Little Rock.  There must be someone whose job consists of unwrapping boxes like the detective in Seven and then classifying their little beasty noggins, and that’s just weird, even for Arkansas.

And I’m pro animal under most circumstances, I really am. If I thought that the cat was going to be shoved into some homemade Southern guillotine I would be the first to step up and say something. I’m not, however, going to stand idly by and let them not run a test on a cat that just chewed on my forearm like a dog bone.

In the next ten minutes the cat was hauled out of the back room hissing and screaming and flashing its claws at anything that came close, the door girl was fired by Buffy for calling animal control, and they started the comedy show. From the back of the room I watched as everyone acted like nothing had happened. A person had lost their job over this. Big Man and the Mullet had long since left. It was just me in the darkness; me, and my fear that I might turn into some sort of zombie-werecat.

So now here I am, sitting in this turquoise room. It is 3:30 in the afternoon on an overcast day in a not-so-affluent suburb, sixty-four degrees and cloudy just like a Pearl Jam video. Somewhere Jeremy is at home drawing pictures, and I am waiting to get shots that will hopefully prevent me from transforming into a rabid Arkansan.

A fat nurse walks out as I contemplate my existence. I may or may or may not have contracted rabies. I won’t know for an hour or so. What I do know is that somewhere in Arkansas there is a horrible woman named Buffy who believes all cats die of decapitation. I know that, and that I never come home with a boring story.

It was borderline impossible to pry myself out of bed.  I sleep in a ridiculous pile of blankets and pillows spread across an illegally comfortable mattress.  The prospects of coffee and accomplishment normally get me up and moving somewhere before noon on a regular day, but today was tough.  Today it was cold.

Don’t misunderstand; I prefer to sleep in the cold.  I’m that guy.  I keep my AC at home set on sixty-seven year round and I crank the hotel thermostat down when I’m on the road.  I cannot bear to sleep when it’s hot.  Some people can, and I don’t understand them.  Only rarely do I find myself in the charge of these mysterious Heat People; a random friend or relative whose home I’m crashing for the night, a person who lives blissfully in an incubator.  I’m never ungrateful for their hospitality no matter how miserably I get through the night.  I will simply toss and turn in silence, dripping sweat and lying on top of the blankets until morning comes and I can walk outside to cool off under the sweltering Texas summer sun.

Who lives like that?  Maybe these people grew up on a cul-de-sac in southern Hell and maybe their parents made them take naps in the oven as toddlers, but my body chemistry can’t function in that environment.  There should be some sort of compromise so that everyone is comfortable.  For instance, I’ll set the temperature to 70 degrees in your house, and then you can go sleep in the clothes dryer.

Despite my usual love for the cold though, even I have my limits.  I can only handle it as long I have an out.  Mornings are fine because I can crawl out from underneath the covers, turn the heater on, jump in a hot shower, and walk out to a warm room.  When I am put into the constant cold though, I whine like a little girl.  I spent one rebellious January night a decade or so ago camping with a friend of mine in temperatures that dipped down somewhere around Taylor Swift’s age.  It was a horrible night compounded by the realization that the morning wouldn’t bring any respite.  I was one big frozen complaint.  That knowledge has prompted me to buy a zero degree rated sleeping bag in the off chance I’m ever faced with a similar situation.

Last night I pulled that bag out again.  I came home from a gig in Oklahoma to find that the heater in my house had committed suicide.  Not that the winter’s here are insufferable by any means, but the past week has consistently hovered in the forties and the massive windows in my bedroom do very little to help with insulation.  I fell asleep under a mountain of blankets and awoke to see my breath escaping, cloud-like, from my mouth.  I buried myself beneath the covers to combat my fear that I would freeze instantly, like a combination lock sprayed with liquid nitrogen.  Hopefully, I thought to myself, that sort of thing only happens in the movies.

Eventually I talked myself into facing the icy air.  There were certainly solutions waiting for me out there in that frozen, waking world.  I had things to do and I needed to figure out a way to raise the temperature.  I called Home Depot to see if they had a space heater but they informed me that those were “seasonal” down here.  This is Texas and apparently winter already happened here on January 8th.   I missed it.

So now I’m up.  I’m huddled at my desk wearing three t-shirts and a brown hooded sweatshirt that makes me look like a shivering little Jedi or a really tall Jawa.  Feel free to choose whichever Star Wars metaphor makes you feel the happiest.  I am confronted with the ugly reality that I wouldn’t have survived in a pre-technological society.

The American frontier would probably have pushed me somewhere closer to Mexico, where I would have happily fought for independence from Spain in exchange for the promise of more comfortable temperatures.  My ability to get through the day should not ride on whether or not some piece of climate controlling equipment decided to commit seppuku.  If 2012 thrusts us into a post-apocalyptic landscape, I can only hope that I’m truly enough of a forward thinker to have booked myself for a show in Hawaii on December 20.

2009 is almost gone.  I feel like I made it through this year the same way I got through high school, which is to say I skipped most of it and barely squeaked by the rest.   One of the greatest perks to writing as frequently as I do is that there is always a record of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
I rolled into this year as unobtrusively as I possibly could, falling asleep on my brother’s couch an hour or so before midnight.  “If I’m quiet maybe ’09 won’t notice me”, I told myself, and for the most part it didn’t.  I spent January in the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced, -21 in Indianapolis.  Negative.  Twenty-one.  At that temperature even your soul freezes.
That probably explains why I was so sick a week or so later in New Orleans.  Instead of wrought iron and beignets and the banks of the Mississippi, I spent my time there huddled in the Ambassador Hotel hiding from fever induced nightmares.  That didn’t stop Wild Bill Dykes and Sam Demaris from dragging me to Vic’s for a glass or two of James.  I went straight from there to the Oklahoma foothills for a few nights of nothing but wilderness and fire.
There was a very blurry weekend in Shreveport somewhere around that part of the year, too.  I remember Justin Foster not wearing pants for most of it.  Sam and I stole a tree.  We also almost fought Elmo and Cookie Monster.  Wait, maybe that was last year.  This year we beat up a midget.  In our defense, he said he was in the UFC, which prompted the response, “Not unless Arianna Celeste writes a number on your chest and holds you over her head between rounds.”
I spent most of my May hopping around the Middle East with Don Barnhart and Bryan Bruner, which is not the place to visit during the summer.  I got to bake in the Qatari sun and walk the streets of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.  It was nice to find out that Saudi was so much different than I had thought it would be.  I got to soak for a few unplanned off days in a lagoon attached to a luxury hotel in Bahrain.  It was an oasis by every definition of the word and a very welcome respite from the hot desert sun.
While on that side of the world I got demolished in a game of soccer by Djiboutian children, met too many amazing people to name, played with wild cheetahs, and watched Christian Slater rescue a Marine girl from being attacked by one.  A cheetah, not a Djiboutian kid.
Somewhere in that same time period a German woman decided to go skinny dipping with polar bears at the Berlin Zoo.  I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.  We were soon inundated with more attacks from the animal world, this time in the form of the Pig AIDS.  Swine flu.  H1N1.  People wore masks and we all watched as the death toll rose on national television.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that it was a pointless thing to be afraid of.  “Save your fear,” we told ourselves, “there are underwear bombers coming in December.”
The King of Pop died right in front of all of us this year, too.  Sam was in Seattle when it happened, and managed to sleep through the news.  As long as I can remember, he has had one line in his show that takes a crack at Michael.  He called me that night to tell me he did the line on stage and was booed by the entire crowd.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“He’s dead!” yelled someone in the crowd, to which Sam replied, “No he’s not.  He just looks like that.”
Here’s hoping nobody dies while you’re hungover in 2010, Sam.
I was almost arrested in Dallas on my birthday until the cop admitted that some friends of mine had set me up.  He laughed as he took the handcuffs off, and I resisted the urge to kick my friends in the head.  It wasn’t the only time I would find myself in a cop car this year.  Back in Indianapolis, Billy D. Washington and I recruited a ride to our hotel from Indy’s most eccentric police officer.  After tazing himself a few times in the leg, he invited us into the cruiser.   What should have been a ten minute drive took forty minutes, reaching a conclusion only after I managed to pinpoint our location on my phone’s GPS.  To this day I’m not certain we didn’t get a ride from a guy that had just recently stolen a cop car.  Billy and I laughed until we cried, making that one of the most memorable weeks of the year.
I got to climb a bit in the Rockies this year as well.  There was a lot on my mind this summer and nothing clears it like thin mountain air and thousand foot falls.  Charlie Moreno and I watched a Gay Pride parade, a Mexicans for Jesus rally, and a Free Iran protest all take place in downtown Denver within a block of each other.  We watched street musicians and crazy people for a few hours before heading back to the Springs.  I was introduced to K’naan on the drive back, which only made the trip that much more worth it.
In July I got to briefly see my friends Kevin and Pete, who I see far too rarely.  I also got share some of the finest Irish whiskeys in the world this year with BC and Mike Flores.
Fall was spent in Canada, riding trains across Ontario, and drinking Alexander Keith’s with a slew of new Canadian friends.  For a comedian, the stage at Absolute Comedy in Ottawa is as close to heaven on Earth as one can possibly get.  It is to comedy what Nirvana is to both Buddhists and grunge fans.  I was also given the grand tour of Toronto by Jeff Schouela.  If you have to spend a few weeks in Canada with anyone, you could do far worse than Jeff.
On top of all of that, I lost my two best friends.  Tiger Woods fell from his perch at the top of the sports worlds.  I saw snow in Houston.  A family pimped their kid out with a childish balloon hoax.  I fell out of touch with my favorite person on this planet.  Billy Mays and Farrah Fawcett and Patrick Swayze and David Carradine and Jim Carroll died.  I made a stupid bet with my friend Titus.  I saw my friend Rachel turn orange.  I met new people and reconnected with some old friends.
And with all of that said, I managed to accomplish absolutely nothing.  I somehow managed to end the year precisely where I began it: in front of this desk, staring at this screen, drinking coffee.
Here’s to 2010.  I don’t know anything about it yet, but like most wild animals, it probably won’t bite you if you don’t look it in the eye.  I was a little passive this past year however, so I may very well pick a fight with this one on purpose.  It might kick my ass the way ’07 and ’08 did, but I also might find a way to tame it.
Good or bad, it’s pretty much upon us.

It’s midday on a Monday, four days before Christmas.  In typical schizophrenic fashion, the weather has decided that today should be sixty-four degrees of perfect sunshine and brilliant blue.  We mock winter here in the South, so much so that I almost feel like I owe an apology to my friends in the North.  It seems unfair that you should be digging out of a record snowstorm while I wear a t-shirt and crank up my motorcycle.  Of course, I immediately think of the three digit temperatures and sweltering humidity of July and August in Texas and feel instantly less guilty.

It’s a coffee day for me.  I’m on my second pot.  For whatever vices I have or have had, this is the one I am least likely to let go of.  I’ve kicked cigarettes and virtually eliminated fast food from my diet (except for Chik-Fil-A when I’m on the road or the occasional 3:00 am Whataburger run).  There are arguments both for and against the health benefits of coffee and I ignore them all.  I drink it because I love it.

Black and full of sugar.  I’ll leave you to write your own joke there.

It’s almost a ritual for me.  It’s my legal crutch.  It makes me comfortable.  Smoking was always something I had to find a place to do, but not so with coffee.  It’s universal.  Stuck in an airport or wandering the streets of some foreign city or in the green room before a show, it’s always there.  It clears my head and centers me.  Certainly pumping caffeine into my veins every single day can’t be the best of ideas, but it’s definitely not the worst.

I mean I could always be doing crystal meth.

I hardly drank coffee at all a decade ago.  The habit kicked in when I picked up a morning radio gig.  5:00 am every morning, having to be upbeat and alert and aware… you don’t do that without help.  We would load a full brick of dark roast into our coffee pot, courtesy of one of our sponsors, and drink the most delicious caffeinated sludge you’ve ever poured into a cheap Styrofoam cup.  Four hours every morning.  The habit stuck long after the station fired me.

The problem now is that there are a million options when it comes to what you can have.  Starbucks has seen to that.  Coffee is not meant to be run by the massive corporations.  Coffee should remain unique.  Chains have pushed out the small coffee shops I had become so fond of.  Back in my hometown I used to frequent a locally owned place thirty seconds from my house.  Unlimited refills and a faux-Tuscan patio kept me huddled behind my keyboard comfortably enough to churn out pages of writing.  I miss it.  Today I am a half hour away from the closest non-Starbucks.  That’s the big city for you.

Every once in a while I meet a friend of mine for Vietnamese food and we order cà phê sữa đá.  If you’ve never had it, try it.  Clear your calendar for the next few hours though, as it jacks your system up in a way some chain store’s house blend could only dream of.  It has enough sugar and caffeine to get Chev Chelios through a busy day.

That’s a random occurrence however.  For the most part I have to get my fix when I travel, because globally, they haven’t lost what we have.  Coffee still means something in other countries.  There are a few spots I’ve become a fan of in Amsterdam, where I’ve sat sheltered from the cold, wet, winter streets, drinking cafe au lait out of a perfect white porcelain cup.  The Dutch don’t mess around.  That’s the French’s strong point as well.  It’s almost been eight years since I sat in some café whose name escapes me, somewhere between Metz and Paris.  It’s possible that it was the beauty of the French countryside and the perfect weather, but my memory has filed that experience away as an unbelievable shot of espresso that I have yet to be able to recreate here in the States.

It’s more than just coffee.  It’s the experience.

If that is true, then no one understands it better than Ethiopia.  I was in Addis Ababa with my friend Sam a little under two years ago.  It was the first trip for both of us into the Horn of Africa, the area made up of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.  It is third world to be sure, but they are the greatest caretakers of the tradition of coffee drinking.   After dinner I asked my friend Abrahim if he would order coffee for us and he obliged.  I’m used to having coffee brought to me, not the other way around.

We were led out of the restaurant and into a hut around back, lit by torchlight.  Confused, we sat around a little wooden table waiting for Abrahim to explain what we were doing.  Soon a young woman appeared with a bowl of green coffee beans which she presented us for our approval.  After getting the okay, she started a wood fire and roasted the beans as we talked.  They were shown to us again before she hand-ground them with mortar and pestle.  Three times we were poured tiny cups of jet black divinity.

Over the course of an hour, Abrahim told us stories of his family and his culture and his people’s history.  It’s what the coffee was supposed to do.   Rather than just wire you up and get you through your day, it was intended to bring people together, to get them to communicate, to enjoy each other’s company.   There’s beauty in any group of people that take their coffee as seriously as I do.  As they say in Ethiopia, “Buna dabo naw” – “coffee is bread”.

I couldn’t agree more.

Well, yippe-ki-yay. It’s December and it’s snowing in Texas. While people skid across the highway and spin into guardrails, I’m sitting in front of this blinking cursor, drinking coffee, while something with a piano in it winds its way out of speakers and into my head. It’s cold and my plans have been interrupted. Not just my weekend plans either, but all of them.

I find myself somehow acutely aware of everything around me. Instead of inspired I feel sadness. Not the depressed, debilitating kind, but the kind that is just there. It’s a part of me that is playing spectator and is unhappy with what he’s seeing. He sees what’s missing instead of what’s there. He sees the things that he can’t have instead of the things he can. He stands with his toes on the cliff’s edge, looking down at some incredible valley below instead of running into it.

He is tunnel-visioned. People see what they are looking for and right now all he knows is this uneasiness. It’s not even a conscious decision at this point, but instead something that has been around for such a long time that it’s grown comfortable, like old leather.  Memories come back like waves on a beach, each one washing in and leaving something old and forgotten on the shore. Always at this time of year. Always December.

Four years ago… I’m driving a new car, a super-cushy bank account, Christmas in five places, my family and my girlfriend’s at the time. I’m standing on stage in my own little empire, small and trivial, but mine nonetheless…

Three years ago… I’m dating a girl that I’m crazy about. There’s a concert in Shreveport. I go to Los Angeles to hang out. I’m eating dinner with the executive prouder of the Academy Awards. He couldn’t care less who I am, he’s just a friend of a friend, but it’s no less cool to me. I have huge plans. I’m anti-Christmas and she is committed to changing my mind about that. She buys me my favorite shirt and I get her a cat. It will end quickly and awkwardly in the almost immediate future.

Two years ago… I’m in St. Louis. I go on stage in ten minutes. My phone rings as I walk through the mall attached to the comedy club. I don’t have time to answer this, but I know she snuck away to call me. A few days later, an empty apartment, laying on the floor and staring at the ceiling… Everything has changed. The truck is packed. I leave for good in the morning. This could be a horrible mistake or it could be amazing. Now I’m flying to DC. My dad’s going in for surgery. My brother calls and tells me that things didn’t go so well. It’s a coma. Showtime is in an hour. Be funny now, Slade. I’m in the airport headed home. I read an email on my Blackberry that makes it a bit better, for the moment anyway. I spend Christmas day listening to piano music in the hospital lobby.

One year ago… This is a first. I’m not just disenchanted with Christmas, I’m dreading it. I’m packing my stuff again for my fifth move in twelve months. These Christmas carols are torturous. Certain people are gone forever, and other people are harder to reach. Oh, that’s why. Great. I’m back in DC now. God, this is déjà vu. I want to call my dad to say hello.  I instinctively pull out my phone and then silently slide it back into my pocket.  A year later and I still do that.  I bury my iPod in my backpack because every song reminds me of something. I send a text message. I don’t get a response.

This year… it is snowing. The DC club is closed now and I’ve decided that I never want to see that city again. Every time it comes up, I lose something else. More is gone every year. I watch as it deteriorates and fades around me. Maybe this is what it’s supposed to be like. Maybe I’m being stripped down to my emotional skeleton for a reason. I’ve given up trying to understand or make sense of other people’s actions. Find some solace in having been wrong about them. It makes you human. It pushes me to find congruency in my own life, a balance between what I say and what I do. I never want to contradict myself like that. Just click “delete” and move on…

It’s okay to feel this way this year. Just this year though. Immerse myself in it. Succumb to it. They tell you that you can’t, that you have to pick up your head and regroup and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Who has bootstraps? I’m okay with the experience of it. Not every Christmas is blinking lights and children’s laughter and sugar cookies and sleigh rides. Sometimes you are allowed to watch it all from the street, through frosted windows, standing in the cold, wet air.

It is snowing.

It could be any of us outside that window, fogging up the glass, and if it’s you, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one standing in that street this year.

It starts when we’re children, the desire to be older than we are. We “lie up” for the first two decades. We tack on a year or two depending on the situation, whether it’s to impress someone we’re talking to or to reap the benefits awarded to an older person. I used to lie about being older a lot. Somewhere though, and I don’t remember when exactly, I caught on. “I see where this is going,” I told myself.

You don’t get any of those days back. Not the ones that actually pass anyway. I’ve written a thousand things in the past explaining why I have ended up doing what I do for a living. The underlying theme to it all is that ultimately I cannot wrap my mind around the concept of waking up at the same time every morning and driving to some office to play some other person’s silly little games in exchange for a set sum of money.

I want to remain Pan.

I am content to continue to trick the world into paying me to do what I do now, which is basically just to travel and think. In my head I’m still a seven year old kid laying on the living room floor dreaming of dinosaurs and booby traps and foods covered in ketchup. I don’t want to grow up. I won’t. They can’t make me. They can make me pay taxes and tickets and they can hold me accountable legally for a bunch of ridiculous laws and rules, but they can’t take my days from me. I keep telling myself that anyway.

I may have found a way to keep the vultures at bay mentally, but physically… physically they are beating their wings at the walls and doors like the end of a Hitchcock movie. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been neglectful of my body, but I also have not done the greatest job of self-preservation. If the body is a temple mine is one of those that the Incas abandoned centuries ago.

Fifteen years ago I was in amazing shape. I was young. I had never touched a cigarette. I was running a sub five minute mile. When I think of the last fifteen years however, I am surprised any part of me is still mobile. A decade and a half passed where I ate fast food literally three times a day. That rhythm was only broken if someone I knew cooked. It certainly wasn’t going to be me. I was been anything but inactive over that particular stretch, but that was my competitive streak and not an attempt at actually exercising.

Even after all of that abuse, I managed to squeak out an eight minute mile a year ago, ending with me throwing up and almost drowning in fountain in Dallas while my “friends” Titus and Rachel laughed at my convulsions… but I was really proud of that eight minutes. **

And then I quit smoking. My body started making decisions for me. My body decided that if I was going to deprive it of one vice then it was going to force me to fix all the rest. And now we’re mad at each other.

We had an agreement, I thought. It would keep my metabolism an ungodly high rate and I would continue to feed it delicious What-a-Chicken sandwiches with cheese. That was the contract. You fix whatever I do to you and I’ll make sure it’s worth it. Well, one of us reneged on our end of the deal. I took the cigarettes away and it slowed down my metabolism. In return I had to cut out the relentless pursuit of double cheeseburgers. When those went my body decided it would jab at me with hunger pangs. I met those with attempts at running to distract myself and that was met with knee pain. My body is resistant to anything healthy. It fights it like a virus. We’ve battled every day for over a year now.

I still won’t eat vegetables but I am over the fast food part.

I realize it may appear a little whiny to be upset over what has never been more than a ten pound swing in my weight, but it is principle. Other people deal with these things, not me. The people with regular jobs and kids and mortgages. Not me. I have to find a way to justify growing up in this one regard. I have to convince myself that I have to make these adjustments now in order to better run my little Neverland.

That will all sort itself out though. I’m going to take my motorcycle out and go play in the sun. I’ve wasted enough of my day already.

-S

** The rest of that story can be read here:
http://www.sladeham.com/rant_archive.php?act=more&ID=172#172