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I was driving to Adelanto listening to some comedy radio show. There’s nothing in Adelanto. At least nothing anybody wants. Just a collection of old cracked streets and faded one-story businesses. The people on the radio show were asking the audience:  What would people find in your drawers if you died unexpectedly? Your closet? They weren’t interested in the collection of Christmas sweaters or the stacks of family albums—they were interested in the dirty things, the things you don’t want anybody to see or know about. The naked pictures. The sex toys. The raunchy.

Formed in those halcyon, hard-rocking 80s, Armored Saint wasted little time carving their mark into the arm of the L.A metal scene. Built atop heavy riffs, ambitious songwriting and gritty, soulful vocals, Armored Saint battled through the death of guitarist and founding member Dave Prichard, the unpredictable and ever-changing tastes of the music scene, being dropped from a major label and ever-eluding the critical acclaim that their body of work so richly deserved. Yet in the face of one punishing challenge after another, Armored Saint has defiantly soldiered on, recording multiple albums, cultivating a loyal fan base and converting their three decades of making music into one of west coast rock’s most enduring legacies.

I met Mia in high school. She was a cheerleader with the short black skirt and I was a jock. I liked her right away. She was intelligent and mature, had a regal feel about her. I was a wreck and a prankster. But we had a lot in common. We both liked books and music and would have these long conversations about bands like U2, and why they were heady, and why bands like Poison were shit. And how when we read Robinson Crusoe we were Robinson Crusoe. We were on that island. We liked art and football and thought breakdancing and baseball sucked. Our favorite color was green. We liked Hostess lemon pies.

They have arrived. The NFL playoffs. Back in September, thirty-two teams had their football eyes on the prize. High hopes. Expectations. Experts making predictions. Boneheaded waiters and balding fathers playing football prophet and talking shit.

The Eagles will take the NFC East.

This is the year the Ravens will put it all together.

The Raiders will suck ass.

The Pack will repeat and Favre will hang himself from a sycamore tree.

Blah, blah, blah.

It’s now come down to twelve teams. The talk is over. In the AFC, the Patriots, Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Steelers, and Broncos will be taking the field. In the NFC, the Packers, 49ers, Lions, Saints, Falcons, and Giants will be in the hunt for the Lombardi.

It’s a thing of pure beauty.

Almost more beautiful than Tamron Hall.

Almost.

Let’s see what’s doing.

 

 

The Moody Coach and Mountain Jesus: The AFC

The AFC had a crazy year.

The Bills started off the season winning and had their fans forgetting Scott Norwood. But then the Bills remembered that they’re the Bills and began losing—badly. Their fans quickly remembered Norwood and started choking on chicken wings en masse.

Al Davis took a dirt nap and, surprisingly, Raiders fans didn’t tag and burn the country to a crisp.

The Jets and their fat coach stunk up the field and the world was a better place for it.

The Colts slowly died, week after week, and finally disappeared with a whimper.

Three of the six teams playing in the tournament weren’t considered contenders at the beginning of the year. The Bengals? Most people didn’t even know Cincinnati had a football team. The Texans? For years people have been picking them to finally sink the Colts and take the AFC South, and for years they sucked dog ass and ended up watching the playoffs from their couches like the rest of us poor saps. The Broncos? Good, god. John Fox is as dull as a pair of house slippers and coaches the most boring game of football in the league’s history.  I bet he only fucks in the missionary position.

Most football junkies picked the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers to make the playoffs. They are who they are, and it is what it is. Solid players. Great coaching. No mystery. One of these teams will be in the Super Bowl.

Wildcard weekend will see the Bengals take on the Texans and Pittsburgh travel to Denver. I like the Bengals’ story. They played tough all year, and we saw promising rookie QB Andy Dalton make a name for himself. He very well could be one of the league’s premier quarterbacks of the future, football smart, with a rifle for an arm. Going on the road and winning in the playoffs is a tall order. Especially with a young team that has no post-season experience. But I like Cincinnati and see them squeaking out a victory. The Texans are good, no doubt. They have a good defense. But they’re injured and don’t have any character. This is not a winning recipe. Sure, they might take this game, but it will end for them soon after that.

Pittsburgh and the Broncos. The story here is about Tebow and his Jesus-ness. He loves Jesus. Carries him in his backpack. Takes him to McDonald’s. Tebow’s positive god light has the whole team reading sappy Hallmark affirmations and running to confession. It’s a lame story that has the ESPN gang and everyone and their mother saying stupid things like “divine intervention.” And that the Donkeys are winning because of Tebow’s heavenly ways and have made the playoffs because “something else is at work.” It is, by far, some of the most ridiculous crap I’ve heard, in or out of sports, in my lifetime. The truth is, Tebow sucks as a QB, the teams he beat were shit or gave the game away, the Broncos made the playoffs because the AFC West is pathetic. End of story. The Steelers are beat up but should win the game easily and end the Second Coming.  Thank god.

Finally, the Patriots and Ravens, the conference’s one and two seeds.  They have a bye this week and await the winners of the wild card round.  Brady and his receivers are flying high on offense, but they have a pitiful defense and this is why they’ll eventually lose. There’s nothing that their moody coach, Bill Belichick, and his massive football brain can do about it.  Prediction:  The Ravens—with Ray Lewis’ big mouth and Terrell Suggs’ piranha teeth—will go to the Super Bowl.  A nasty, swarming defense and an effective running game.  That’s the recipe.

 

Packing Heat and Killing Marino: The NFC

The NFC playoff picture is loaded with surprises. Who thought the 49ers, with their obnoxious coach, would be a second seed? No one. The Lions? Most of us thought that bloated pig Matt Millen had ruined the team for good. Guess not. The Giants? Hey, they’re a good squad, but the Eagles with their “dream team” roster were supposed to eat up the NFC East. Didn’t happen. The Falcons?  Well, that’s not too much of a stretch, but their spot was reserved for the Cowboys. And speaking of the Cowboys: I think it’s about time we bury these amateurs for good, or pray that their rich, hillbilly owner either splits or joins Al Davis. He’s looking more and more like good ol’ Al everyday. And that, my friends, is not a good thing.

Just win, baby.

The Lions are heading into New Orleans to get a beatdown like they’ve never experienced. It’s going to be ugly. The Saints have a lousy defense, but they have Brees and that ass-whooping offense. They’re deadly. They’re cool. They’re tenacious. Brees is a badass and I was thrilled to no end to see him squash Dan Marino’s single-season passing record. I don’t like Marino, just like I don’t like Mercury Morris, just like I don’t like Don Shula’s nose, just like I don’t like Miami’s pansy colors, just like I don’t like Miami, just like I don’t like the Heat and loved it when they got their asses handed to them in the NBA finals.

Shoo fly.

The Falcons are going into New York, where they’re going to get slapped around. The Giants are playing solid football coming off a perfect dismantling of the Cowboys last week. Watch out for the Giants. They can play spoiler.

I don’t have much to say about the 49ers. I can’t buy into them. I see a so-so QB in Smith, a good defense, and a cocky P.E. teacher for a coach. That being said, they’re not a second seed for no reason. But I’ll be smiling when they leave the field crestfallen. Especially Harbaugh.

The Packers are the Packers. They’re good. Real good. But like the Saints and the Patriots, they have a weak defense. I see them getting into a shootout or two. Probably not the way you want things to go (especially, against gunslingers like Brees and Eli Manning). But Rodgers is a pure killer and I see him taking the Pack to the Super Bowl where they’ll play the Ravens, win another championship, and Brett Favre will either be found dead or pack up his Wranglers and play in the CFL.

Let the games begin.

 

Time flies.

It seems like just yesterday I was depressed because the NFL players and the owners were in a lockout. Months of negotiations. Months of nightmares. It was an anxious time that had many of us lost and nervous. A year without pro football? The reality was a soul killer. I think I read somewhere that alcohol sales doubled in that time. I think. Well, I’m happy to report that that’s a thing of the past, the world’s a better place, and now we’re halfway into the season. As expected, it’s been a beautiful thing. Big hits. Quick slants. High drama. The Pack is undefeated. The Bills are winning. Peyton is broken. Tebow loves Jesus. Yeah! I’ve won some picks and have lost some picks. I’ve sat on my lazy ass for hours watching and yelling at the TV, texting people, calling them losers, and feeding my fat face like it’s nobody’s business. I’m bona fide. There’s a lot of football to be played, people. It’s a week by week deal. Anything can happen and probably will. Here’s a quick recap of what’s going on.

Cheeseheads and Dream Eagles: The NFC

I wrote a while back that by the time Aaron Rodgers hangs up his cleats he’s going to have a championship ring. Well, now he does and is looking for another one this year. The dude is a fantastic quarterback and in my opinion the best QB in the NFL right now. Better than Brady. Better than Brees. Better than all of them and back again.  Green Bay is my pick to win the Super Bowl. Right now they’re playing lights out. The Bears stink. Cutler is about as animated as a dead armadillo. Fuck Ditka. Enough said. The Vikings. They stink, too. They’re looking at a future with Ponder, who looks pretty sharp for a rookie and just won a shootout against Cam Newton, the NFL’s darling. Their season is over (2-6), the McNabb trade a big fat bust. Here’s the deal: I like Donovan McNabb. I think he’s a great ambassador for the game. Doesn’t walk into a club with a gun and almost blow his dick off. No DUIs. Nothing. But it seems his playing days are over. It happens. If I was his ass I’d get a job yapping it up at ESPN and hug up to Erin Andrews. And what about the Lions? Good god. I wrote on these very pages that the Lions would lose for all eternity. That the stench of the lousiest football jerk-off that is Matt Millen had doomed Detroit to wallow in fresh dog turds forever. But no. Something happened. The Millen root was lifted. The Lions are winning! They have a fine QB in Stafford, a madman in Suh, and a cornerback’s nightmare in Megatron. Megatron! They’re not up there with the Pittsburghs and the Green Bays of the league, but they can make the playoffs. There’s no doubt about it. Good for them, you know? They’ve been horrendous for millions of years. Suck it, Millen.

The NFC South is all about Brees and the Saints. I like this team. I like the coach. I like his bunk knee. And more importantly I like their helmets. That’s right.  I said it. If all things stay the same they’ll take the division and make the playoffs eyeballing the Super Bowl. WHODAT! The Falcons are up and down. They have a decent running attack and their QB knows how to manage the game. That’s a good recipe for winning. This division is competitive and looks like it’ll be competitive for years to come. I think the Falcons can take the Saints. I think the Bucs can steal one from the Falcons. It just depends. And what about Cam and the Panthers? He’s no joke, and if he continues on the path he’s on we could be looking at the new kings of the South. Maybe even a championship ring. Same goes for Tampa. Why not? Like I said it’s a competitive division and that’s yummy for any football aficionado.

Right now, the Giants are the best team in the NFC East. They’re not getting much media attention, but are winning quietly. Eli knows how to win. It wouldn’t surprise me if they take the division which was supposed to be won either by the Cowboys or Eagles. The Redskins are another soul-sick team meandering around. That whole organization from top to bottom needs to be canned. Shanahan and his eye. The waterboy. The owner. All of them motherfuckers. The Cowboys are confused. Let it be known that their record doesn’t reflect how talented they are. Saying that, they’re in shambles. They look good one week and horrible the next. They just got their asses handed to them by the Eagles in front of god and everyone. It’ll be interesting to see how they react. They’ve been a favorite to take the East for years but have nothing to show for it. Mike Vick and the Eagles. When the season started they were the team to challenge the Packers. The press was all over their schnitzel. The ever moronic Vince Young (their back-up quarterback) dubbed them the “dream team.” That they were all that. But no. They weren’t. And they’re not. They just gouged Dallas, but they’re still hit and miss, and if their season goes to shit the Philly faithful will want Andy’s head. Despite their losing record, I think they’re going to make the tournament.

Okay.

Whodat.

McOver.

Ndamukong Suh.

The NFC.

 

Bad Necks and Chick Boots: The AFC

The North is a battle of two teams: the Steelers and the Ravens. They don’t like each other and will never like each other. And this makes for good football eats. The Ravens dismantled the Steelers earlier this year. They have a so-so offense, but the defense is solid, and I think it’s enough to get them to the Super Bowl. They can beat the Pats. If Flacco can step up his game and Lewis goes on a praying binge god knows what could happen. The Steelers are winning, which is to be expected. Typical story: they should get into the playoffs and make a run for the Lombardi. Ben is a playmaker and Polamalu is a monster. The Bengals are making a little noise. I like it. It would be cool to see them make a playoff run, but I don’t see it happening. Too young. Tough division. Pay no mind to the Browns. No one does. Well, except for those two drunk hot dog eating b-holes I met at The Palms last weekend.

“Go Brownies!”

The AFC South has been owned by Manning and the Colts. No other teams in that sad division have given them a fight in years. They all suck. In fact, this year the whole division sucks, including the Colts, who are minus the one person that makes them the Colts: Peyton Manning. Poor Manning. His latest neck surgery (he’s had three neck surgeries to date) will most likely have him sidelined for the entire season. There’s some speculation that he’ll never return to play again. If so, that’s horrible. Peyton is arguably one of the greatest QBs in the history of the league. He’s a great guy on and off the field. Let’s hope his days aren’t over. Anyhow, you can put your cashish on the Texans taking the division and going into the playoffs, where they’ll lose in the first round.

The Patriots are the team to beat in the AFC East. Brady is lighting up the field and has already thrown for a trillion yards. Must be those cute boots he’s walking in. Or the girl. Their defense is shabby, but as long as you have Tom throwing the ball you have a shot. The Jets. Jesus. I don’t like them. And it’s only because I don’t like the coach. Yeah, I know that’s ridiculous, but so what. They’ll probably make the playoffs. And that sucks. Buffalo! Who would have thought they’d have a winning record right now? No one. Not even Buffalo fans. I don’t think they’ll make the postseason, but they have a shot. Like the Browns, pay no attention to Miami. They’re the worst.

The AFC West has been owned by the Chargers, and they should take the division again this year. The Chargers are good. Rivers is a competitive bastard. But when they need to win they don’t. And won’t. Right now they’re a bit shaky coming off a pathetic loss to the Chiefs, but they have the talent to fix things. The Raiders don’t look too bad. McFadden is a punishing running back and they just got Carson Palmer in a trade. But he’s been sitting on his ass the whole year so we’ll see. They won’t make the playoffs. The Broncos are horrible, but they have Tim Tebow to save the day. Well, that’s what some people believe. Others believe he blows. I couldn’t care less. The Chiefs are not looking bad. They started off the season like crap, but have steadied themselves and won the last four straight games. Sweet.

So, there you go. This is the time of the season when things get really interesting. Some teams get it together and head into the tournament peaking. Others who started off the season winning fizzle out in November and December. Injuries. Spoilers. Flukes. It’s all at hand. Thanks for tuning in. Eat, drink, and remarry.

Go Brownies! 

 

Dollar stores are fairly new to me. I’ve seen them, have heard their praise, but it wasn’t until this last year that I finally stepped into one. Just like I expected. A giant room full of crazies. Aisles and aisles of stupid shit: Chips. Balloons. Shampoo. Towels. Tools. The signs didn’t lie. Everything was a dollar. Three frozen tacos: One buck. A pack of green candles: One dollar.

What a wonderful world.

I was in the candy aisle loading up on chocolate when I noticed some dude looking at me. I thought nothing of it. Just people watching. I got a handful of Toblerone bars and went to the toy section to shop for my nephew. Not that he didn’t have enough cars and trucks and motorcycles and other bullshit scattered all over the house. But, whatever. I’m his uncle. It’s my job to buy him things he doesn’t need. Look, Cole! It’s a giant rubber gorilla! Who does it resemble, boy? Your father! You’re good! Hey, Cole, check out this witch mask I bought you! Awesome! Doesn’t it look like your mom? You bet it does! Hey, Cole! Look at all these markers your bitchin’ ass-kickin’ uncle got you! Tag the walls, son! Who’s the coolest uncle ever!

I was dicking off in ShenaniganLand when I heard:

“Reno?”

I looked over and it was the dude who was looking at me slobbering in the candy aisle. I looked at his face, his perfectly clipped goatee, his neatly pressed clothes. He was gay. I knew the dude. But what was his name?

“It’s me, Matt. Remember me? We used to wait tables together at O’Aces.”

Matt. Son of a bitch. I hadn’t seen him in over ten years. We were old drinking buddies. He was a local Las Vegan, born and raised, and was a full-blown lush when I met him. His boyfriend at the time sold speed so Matt lugged around two monkeys and would come to work speeding like a motherfucker all the time.

“I’m a spun little cookie,” he would say with big tweaked-out eyes and prance out on the floor.

We were good friends, like a couple of kids always terrorizing each other. We’d call each other horrible names. We’d leave foul notes in each other’s aprons, on the dry erase board. He knew I hated the sound of burps and would burp around me all the time. I’d threaten to fart in his station.

“You better not you nasty bastard!”

We’d do this bit where he’d tell me that girls were dirty and that their parts were gross and reeked of dead lettuce. I’d tell him that most men were arrogant pricks and the last thing on earth I’d want to do was fondle and suck their boners. Or listen to them talk. Vote. Or hear them snore. Or watch them walk around in those stupid fucking shoes they love so fucking much. He’d bust up.

“You’re a man. What’s that saying about you then?”

“I’m just speaking the truth, man. I’m giving you pearls. So pay attention and quit staring at my crotch!”

“Kiss my ass, Reno!”

“Just stop. Please. I’m getting sick over here.”

“You’re such an asshole!”

We worked with each other for a couple of years before he got fired. The story was that he showed up to work drunk off his ass and cussed out one of the managers. We kept in touch for a couple of years and then we lost contact. He looked great. His blue eyes, pretty as ever. He had a boyfriend, were going on eight years. He put away the dope, the crazy, and worked for the city pushing a pencil. It was great to see him.

“So what are you buying?” he asked, looking in my cart.

“Oh, just shopping. Looking for some stuff I don’t really need,” I said, remembering the time we got all coked out and danced all night at Drais. I looked up and saw a bloody rubber severed hand hanging behind him. I grabbed one.

“Want a severed hand, Matt? I’ll buy you one. You know, just in case you get lonely. Eight years is a long time.”

“Oh, my god! You jerk! You haven’t changed one bit!”

“Never.”

 

Here’s the deal:

I want to marry you. I do. I can’t find the words to explain why, but yet at the same time I can. Am I confusing you already?

You know, it’s just you. The shape of your eyes. The way you walk. It’s because you didn’t like that song. It’s because you’re smart and like the color green. It’s because you always know what’s best. It’s because you turned me onto cheesecake.

It’s the small things.

It’s always the small things.

Here’s some things you ought to consider before you decide on marrying me: I like books and Mt. Etna. I can cook and uncork wine. I can be an asshole. I like the Beatles over the Rolling Stones. Rain over religion. I like pastrami sandwiches more than I do clam chowder. In fact, I fucking hate clam chowder.

I’m addicted to vitamins. Fish oil. Super B-Complex. Iron. Vitamin D. This dope is the protégé of whiskey and weed. I’d like to think I’ve moved up in my using career. Prettied it up a bit, you know? Out of the gutter and over the counter. But I can’t say for sure.

I prefer a quiet house. I guess you can read this as me actually saying—you guessed it—I don’t like too much drama. And, well, I don’t. I know this world sucks. I know your boss sucks. And I definitely know your sister sucks. I know. I know this. So just grab a beer. Relax. Call a hotline. Do something about it. I promise I will.

I like both cats and dogs. I like them both because, well, there’s more for me to enjoy. I’d like to see it as getting more out of the day.

I also like dresses and skirts. So I won’t hassle you when you wear one.

I really don’t like sweet breakfasts. So don’t give me waffles or pancakes any of that shit. I don’t like it. I don’t like the colors, the presentation. Reds and purples. A twirl of whipped crème. A dash of powdered sugar.

I like eggs and country ham, hash browns, and wheat toast. I’ll take a buttermilk donut if you have one in the cupboard.

And: I like you.

I also like Sunday. Because Sunday doesn’t mean Jesus or the dreaded family dinner. I like Sunday because it means football. And football means happiness. And happiness means life can be navigated better.

It means the broken A/C has us sweating like pigs. But we still have the TV and Ignatius J. Reilly on the shelf. We still have heat.

It means some are innocent, but live their days guilty.

It means your boss will always suck because he’s miserable. You’d be miserable too if you woke up in his house. We all would.

It also means your sister’s a maniac, the Devil, a horrible cook, and her constant bitching about how her world is tumbling down carries the substance and weight of a baboon fart. How she’s a married woman is fucking beyond me. Oh. Sorry. Did I just say that?

It means it’s going to rain right after you washed your car. It means we’re gonna lose a parent or two. It also means the Vikings will probably never, ever, ever, win a Super Bowl.

(Sorry, Franny.)

It means that’s all right. Everything’s going to be OK.

Trust me.

It means I love you.

So. Hey. Will you marry me?

 

 

I arrived at Steve’s house early in the morning. Our plan was to hit the lake early, catch some fish, and get out before the wind gathered up and froze us out. On the drive we counted four cars sporting Jesus stickers on their bumpers.

No Jesus? No peace. Know Jesus. Know Peace.

He died for me…I’ll live for him.

Got Jesus?

Have a Nice Day with Jesus!

I was raised Catholic and the first chance I got to ditch Father Lopez, his unholy stink-eye, and his evil band of moody Sisters I did. I was in the 5th grade. After three years of fear sermons I’d seen and heard enough and told my parents that I quit. Even at that early age there was something about Christianity that didn’t jibe with me. I found it depressing. I found it negative. I found it cruel and unsettling. And the people that packed Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday mornings with their cut-out smiles and scripted greetings? I thought they were professional hypocrites and full of shit.

Despite my skepticism towards the credibility of his followers I liked Jesus and his message. As a kid I prayed to Him constantly. Prayed that my family lived peacefully. Prayed that my father would stop drinking. Prayed that I’d finally kiss Anna Hernandez.

“And Jesus maybe tomorrow you’ll allow me to kiss Anna. Just one kiss. You know how much I like her.”

That prayer never was answered.

In fact, a lot of them were never answered.

I told Steve about my Christian background. That I went to some old church in LA called Our Lady of Guadalupe. That I hated it and wanted out. That the people that attended the church judged and fucked people over for six days and on the seventh day they clutched their worry beads and mumbled like babies. I told him that over the years I’ve mellowed my feelings towards Christianity. That I tried not to think of their bloody history or their blatant hatred of all things non-Christian. I told him that religion rarely crossed my mind but when I think of Christianity these days I think of Jimmy Swaggart, the insular musings of Rick Warren. I told him I think of naughty Ted Haggard and Stephen Baldwin.

“Baldwin? Isn’t he an actor? The one who called his daughter a pig?”

“No, that’s another Baldwin. There’s like ten of them.”

Steve and I have a system when we go fishing. It’s very simple. He fishes and I sit on my ass looking for wildlife. When I grow bored of that I read. And when that runs its course I take a stab at writing some fiction that’s void of plot and structure—all that technical business I learned in the stuffy English rooms of UNLV. At that time I was putting together a collection of creature stories. Snakes. Insects. Dogs.

A giant hog named Benny that lives in Barstow and dreams of eating.

A rattlesnake that kills a bartender.

An aging flying squirrel that takes his last flight.

Two stinkbugs that get pissed on by a dog.

A donkey that shits money.

A scorpion that sings.

Steve is a master fisherman. Has all the gear. Has a beautiful boat loaded with gadgets and blip machines. He reads the water, knows all the tricks. On this day he’d catch five beautiful big-mouth bass. Gorgeous fish painted in greens and golds. This was our first fishing trip since my return from my spiritual retreat where I ditched my cell-phone, truck, the Internet, all that. I was to pay attention to my damaged heart and soul and not my addictive mind that wanders in bad places. So that’s what I did. I hunkered down and returned to the desert bright-eyed and clear. I returned to the desert a better man.

Sometime in the middle of the day the Dr. Peppers got to me and I had to piss. Steve pulled us into a cove. After I was done I walked around lifting fallen tree limbs and rocks looking for lizards and whatnot. Then something caught my eye. It was a knotted sandwich bag that contained two stones and a folded piece of paper that had Bible passages typed on it. I picked it up and read the typed messages. I’d never seen anything like it. Whoever put it together wanted someone to find it. I was that person. I looked to see if anyone was around. Nothing. Nada. I raised my eyes to the sky. Just like I did when I was a kid. Blue skies running from the San Bernardino Mountains to Barstow.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. John 1:12

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

I showed it to Steve.

“Seems like Jesus is always around,” he said.

I sat on the shore, memories spinning up and over the mountains and sloping down into Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario. Here I was again. Back in California, my birth state. Here I was again twenty-five minutes from the desert where it all began. I came full circle. Jobs and girlfriends. Old songs and new ones yet to be named. Dog-eared books and divorce. Poems and rejection slips. From Jesus to Buddha. Sand and scorpions.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8

I came home and put the bag next to my Buddha and my jade Trickster. They make a good team and look beautiful on my desk. The Buddha and Trickster a gift from a beautiful friend with a big heart. The “Jesus bag” a gift from a stranger that I will keep forever. Everyday before I leave the house I smile their way and open the door with the best of intentions. It’s easier that way.

Signs

By Reno J. Romero

Humor

Into the Fire

By the time you’ve reached my age you’ve probably worked a few jobs in your time. I’ve had my share and started working at an early age. When I was in 7th grade my father was my employer (a mean fucker who didn’t tolerate showing up late to the job site or laziness) and gave me five bucks a week to pick up and bag our dogs’ shit. Three different size dogs. Three different size shits. It was a wholesome positive experience that had to be completed immediately upon waking up.

“Son, did you pick up the turds today?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ok. If I go outside I better not find stacks of dog crap peppering my backyard.”

Legs

Years later I worked for May Company in the domestics department. I knew nothing about sheets or shams or towels. But it was a gig and it gave me money to buy weed and Jack in the Box’s famous dog meat tacos. The woman that hired me was the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my eighteen years of existence. I loved her with all my heart and wanted to marry her and give her multiple babies. To this day I can see her beauty strolling by. Light brown hair, green eyeballs, nice full lips. And the kicker: she always wore dresses. I love women in dresses. Did then. Do now.

Baby Ruth

I worked for Kmart for three months. My boss was a career slob and flaunted a giant bushy mustache. It was hideous. But he didn’t care what anyone thought about the melting Baby Ruth that rested on his lip. He was putting it out there like if it was the thing to do. I gave him my two-week notice when I realized the job sucked.

“This is great company to grow with,” Mr. Baby Ruth told me with raised eyebrows. “Are you sure you want to resign?”

“Very.”

Smell Like Roses

I also worked for Stater Bros. as a box boy. I worked with a checker named Danny who farted on purpose while checking out customers. His favorite victims were old people and teenagers. He’d look at me and smile when they came to his check stand. I knew what was coming and would already be laughing. It was on. He’d be scanning bread, milk, bacon, then: brrrrrr. I’d laugh so hard that tears would stream down my face. I don’t think I ever laughed so hard in my entire life. It was the foulest most hilarious thing I ever witnessed. Fucking Danny.

I Want Your Sex

I worked for JCPenney in the shoe department. I worked with this sultry brunette who was pure sex and nothing else. My first day on the job she climbed up on a ladder and gave me a peek at her girl bits and the bottom of her perfect ass. She was a scandalous she-devil and a man eater. Before I left the job we banged each other on the sandy banks of the Mojave River. There was another lady who worked with us that was missing a few teeth out of her grill. When she smiled she resembled a house with broken windows. She was fired for stealing some stringy lingerie. Which was weird because she was the last thing you’d want to see in a g-string.

Pigs

I worked in the restaurant business for many years. I worked every job from dishwasher to manager. All the jobs were unfulfilling, unmeaningful, shitty, and fully pathetic. I pissed away a lot of good years serving booze and burgers to thousands of starving assholes. I hated all of them and myself.

Give em’ the Ax

I once worked as a school teacher at a dysfunctional school full of dreadful kids who smoked cigarettes and weed, wrote on the walls, popped Ritalin, and hated life. I saw two teachers carried out of their classrooms due to nervous breakdowns. The whole staff wanted to wire the place with dynamite and blow it to hell. I still have nightmares of those little bastards tying me up and chopping me into little pieces.

“Ok, we stabbed Mrs. Blonde Bitch thirty-one times, stole all her jewelry, and littered her forehead with spit wads. She won’t be crying on Principal Dicklicker’s shoulder anymore. Ok, so what so we do with Mr. Romero?”

“Chop his Mesicun ass up!”

Signs

One job I’ve never had (but one that I oddly find interesting) is a sign holder. I doubt that sign holder is the technical job description. It’s probably something like advertising consultant or existential messenger. Anyhow, you’ve seen these people hanging around. They’re the ones that stand on sidewalks or street corners holding signs for businesses. I live close to a main drag that’s lined with these people hustling business. Pizza. Nail joints. Oil and lube. Jewelry. Furniture. Taxes.

Like with any job, I’ve noticed that some people seem to enjoy their jobs more than others. Some folks just stand there like zombies. They lazily sway the sign back and forth and frown at the passing cars. There’s this one guy who works for a local strip club that I’ve passed by dozens of times. You would think the dude would have some fire, flash, zeal, considering that he’s peddling pussy. You know? But no. He’s dead on his ass and just holds the sign still, sucks on his bottom lip, and stares off in the distance. He’s probably on dope.

Then there is this dude that works for a mattress company. He kicks ass. He gets down. He flips the sign high in the air and catches it. He spins and twirls the sign in an advertising blur. He points at cars and dances. Then he does this one trick where he straddles the sign and acts like it’s a motorcycle. Oh, yeah. He revs it up and then takes off. I’ve never seen anything like it. No one has. He’s the King! The King of the Sign Holders!

One day I had enough. I’d seen enough. I had to interview this guy. It was a must! I pulled in the parking lot and proposed my idea. I’d interview him, take his picture, and give him the fine stage that is The Nervous Breakdown. He’d answer great insightful questions. He’d shine. He’d ride his mattress sign off into the damn sunset. But no. No! The guy couldn’t string along a simple sentence. He was dull, uninspired, and half-dead. He was cross-eyed and smelled like lamb chops. I didn’t understand. I was mystified. Where did all that sign-flinging talent go? What happened to the motorcycle man? I was defeated. I had wonderful inquiring questions such as:

  1. Have you ever gotten laid from this gig?
  2. What kind of motorcycle is your sign?
  3. Do you go to parties and tell people what a bad fucker you are, that you’re The King of the Sign Holders?
  4. Have you ever considered giving lessons to potential sign holders?
  5. What do you think of Gene Simmons’ hair?

But it wasn’t to be. Like so many other things in my life. Like becoming a palm reader. Like kissing Anna Hernandez on her cherry-colored lips. But I’ll carry on. After all, summer is right around the bend and I have a handful of new books to devour.

 

You’re So Hot I Want to Eat Your Underwear

Right when we got into the store I realized I forgot my phone in the car. On my way back to the car I noticed a good looking woman getting out of her car which was parked next to mine. She opened her trunk and started shuffling things around, her perfume moving through the parking lot. By the time you’ve reach my advanced age there’s no reason to gawk when you see something pleasant. You’ve seen thousands of good looking women in your day.

It’s not a big deal.

Not anymore.

I was walking behind her when I noticed this old feller sitting in his truck that had a faded NRA sticker on his back window. He saw the woman and his eyes bugged out of his head. He wasn’t discrete and ran his ancient eyes up and down her body. When she got to the side of his truck he used his side mirror to get some more. When she got to the other side of his truck he used the passenger side mirror to get even more. He still wasn’t satisfied and got out of his truck, lifted the hood, and acted like he was fiddle-faddling with the engine so he could watch her enter the store. The fucker shook his head in amazement and licked his lips.

No lie.

He licked his lips.

It was both sick and terribly sad.

I wanted to blow his dick off with a shotgun. I wanted to light an M-80 and tape it to his jerk-off hand. I found my friend who was looking at a painting with a pig jumping into a lake. I told her what I saw.

“Really?” she said, looking at me like if I lost my mind. “Poor old man. He probably has some bitchy wrinkled wife at home. If that’s the case you can’t blame him, right? Don’t get too disgusted, babe. That’s gonna be your ass in a few years.”

Nino’s Shit Pie

I like watching food shows. After spending too many years in the restaurant business I came to appreciate the art of cooking. At one point I even contemplated going to culinary school, but the thought of being around packs of bitchy whiny “chefs” for even ten minutes depressed me. So, I ditched the idea and got an English degree. Can’t say it was a better decision. I was still surrounded by bitchy whiny people. The only difference was I didn’t reek of poached eggs and sea bass when the day was done. I reeked of Kafka and Goblin Markets.

The last year I’ve watched a lot of TV. NATGEO. A&E. ESPN. The History Channel. The Food Network. The Travel Channel. I’m hooked on the Travel Channel. I’ve seen everything it dishes out at least twice.

I’ve watched hours of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Zimmern spans the globe eating things most people won’t. Frog hearts. Lamb eyeballs. Balls. Brains. Bugs. Porcupine. Lizards. Tuna sperm. Spiders and snake dick just to name a few. If you can stomach watching Andrew pop disgusting or “exotic” food in his gaping mouth (he actually does “pop” the food in his mouth and smacks when he chews), and the sight of a fat bald American wearing pastel-colored shirts then this show’s for you.

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. He’s a lush, a jackass, and a pretty good writer. It seems to me that people either love or hate him. He doesn’t wear pastel-colored shirts, but sports equally ugly button shirts, wiry gray hair, scuffed boots, and a lone earring in his left ear. Really, Bourdain? One earring in your left ear? Are we still doing the left-ear-I’m-straight thing? Jesus Christ. Throw that shit away. Or give it to your niece.

I don’t care much for Rachel Ray. Too cheesy. When she hits the tube I tune into ESPN and watch the always bitter Skip Bayless defend white athletes and stir it up on First and Ten.

I like Samantha Brown, but I don’t watch her show much. I think it’s because she looks like a girl I once dated. The apparent differences are that Samantha has a pleasant disposition, smiles, travels the world, and doesn’t have a thing for wearing fuck me boots.

I’ve seen every episode of Man v. Food. Yeah, I know, the show is stupid. But I like stupid entertainment. The reasons why I like Mike Myers films are the same reasons why I can sit through hours watching Adam Richman eating giant burritos and burgers. I’ve seen him go from a husky dude from New York to a bloated dude from New York. According to Wikipedia he exercises twice a day while on the road. I doubt it. If you like cheap surface entertainment then check out Man v. Food. It’s awesome.

There are other shows.

Food Wars (hosted by a pretty girl named Camille Ford).

Carnivore Chronicles.

Hot Dog Paradise.

Bacon Paradise.

So on and so forth.

One day I saw a special on pizza. It was called Pizza Paradise. The show went across the country showcasing the best pizza in the land. Now, I don’t come from N.Y or Chicago so pizza is just pizza to me. Meat, cheese, and sauce slapped on some cardboard. Chuck on some veggies for some color and there you go: pizza.

So I was floored when some tacky jerk-off named Nino Selimaj of Nino’s Bellissima sold a 12-inch pizza that costs $1,000. Yes, you heard right: $1,000! But you won’t get greasy Italian meats and diced veggies on this pizza. Lord no. This silly asshole plops down caviar and thinly sliced lobster on his pizza. But wait! Not only do you have the luxury of shelling out $1,000 and sinking your choppers into what appears to be a really shitty-tasting pizza, but Nino himself (decked out in a suit, oily slicked back hair, and tanned wrists wrapped in mafia gold) will deliver his pizza to you in person!

Oh, joy.

Really, Nino? Will you do that for me?

Fuck.

Benders

By Reno J. Romero

Memoir

I was sitting with Go at a bar on Main Street where years ago I fucked a girl leaning up against the building. We hadn’t seen each other in over ten years and were catching up over wings and whiskey. Go’s real name is Jerrod. We penned him Go because he had a huge appetite for meth. It was Go who gave me my first taste of speed. I was in the 9th grade. He chopped and railed out two fat lines on a Metallica cassette. I remember him laughing as tears streamed down my face. We stayed up all night riding our bikes through the desert until the sun came up.

Even though everyone still called him Go he’d been clean for years. A couple of runs through rehab and he finally got the obsession out of his head. Go came from a family of addicts. His dad was an alcoholic and his mom had a thing for pills. But it was his older brother Tommy who had it bad. He was addicted to everything. Pot. Tweak. Alcohol. Heroin. Coke. It didn’t matter. If you had it Tommy wanted it.

Years later in the sick stale rooms of rehab I heard an addict ask another addict what was his drug of choice.

“What do you have?” he answered.

That reminded me of Tommy.

In college he got into freebasing and everything went downhill from there. Dropped out. Started dealing. Crawled up and down the halls of rehab. Almost died. One night Go and I were on his balcony smoking a joint when a cab pulled up. On the side of the cab it said San Bernardino.

“No,” Go said. “I bet that’s Tommy.”

Sure enough Tommy got out of the cab. It was the middle of summer and he was wearing a leather jacket and ski gloves. His body language told us he was on a bender. He saw us on the balcony.

“I made it!” he said closing the door. “Hey, give me ten bucks. I don’t have enough for the fare. Twenty if you have it.”

We gathered nine dollars (we’d just spent all our cash on an ounce of weed) and threw it down to him. He counted it twice.

“Hey, it’s only nine dollars! Cheap bastards!”

Tommy was messed up, talking gibberish, and making erratic hand gestures. His eyes were gone, dope-stricken. Apparently, he had it out with the old lady, told her they were done, that he didn’t need to take any of her drama. He went to a bar down the street, got drunk, and called a cab. We got him high and cracked into a bottle of tequila. He said he couldn’t stay because he needed to go a buddy’s house so they could work out a contract because they found a cure for cancer. Me and Go were just looking at each other like fuck. We asked him what the remedy was. He lit a cigarette and examined us for a moment through the smoke.

“Sea water,” he said and headed for the door.


RENO J. ROMERO is our man in Vegas (even though it’s ironic that our man in Vegas would be named Reno), which means he’s money.  He’s also our resident football writer and pigskin prophet.  Reno is a Man of Action.  Join him as he…


…remembers coked-out ants, a drunk handyman, and a landlord who drove around a 1972 Ford Squire.


…looks back at the day that he lost his virginity (cue Billy Squire).


…strolls down Starrcar Lane and looks back at his neighbors from Las Vegas to the kudzu of North Carolina.


…discusses heavy metal, divorce, going crazy, and going monk.


…tells a story about addiction, love, and rehab.


…writes a letter to Greyhound addressing their swearing and pornography policy.


…goes to Hollywood and finds himself in the company of crazy people with literature and booze on their minds.


…flies up to Sacramento only to get his ass kicked in a game of basketball against a beautiful woman.



My landlord, Mr. Harvey, was a slumlord. He was somewhere in his 70s, had long bony fingers, hairy eyebrows, wore second-hand clothes, and ran a shabby ship.

“He’s bush league,” one of my neighbors told me shortly after I moved in. “I can’t stand that old fart.”

The inside of the apartments were not that bad. The one I lived in had new paint, carpet, and nice clean sinks. I’ve lived in worse. Still, the apartments could have used some aesthetic improvements. For instance, the garage doors were different shades of brown. They looked ridiculous and faced the street for the whole world to see. The first time I pulled up to the property I was like: oh, fuck no.

A simple fix one would say.

Not a roof job.

Just paint.

I didn’t care if the paint was neon pink or periwinkle. Just as long as the doors were the same color. And the same went for the paint on the trim around the windows. They were peeling and faded from the sun beating down on them for god knows how long. Probably hadn’t been painted in twenty years. Hell, the whole complex could have used a fresh coat of paint.

I saw one of those home you-can-fix-it-yourself shows once and the woman that was running the show said that paint was the cheapest way to make a big difference to your property. Be it an entire house or a room. Paint it a different color and poof: an instant new look. But he refused to take on this simple task.

One day I was hung over and feeling a bit punchy and I told him that the garage doors looked horrible and that since he had a couple of vacancies that he might want to paint them to make the place more attractive to potential tenants.

“Curb appeal,” I told him, like if I was a real estate agent. “You have a lot of competition out there, sir. You need to make this place pleasing to the eye. Looks like a checkerboard.”

He looked at me with his old blue eyes like if I was crazy. I sensed this and pushed my stance further to prove to him I was perfectly sane.

“Really,” I continued. “It’s a renter’s market. There’s choice up the ying-yang out there. Of course, this depends on how much cashish you’re willing to dish out. But still.”

“Well, that’s very observant of you, Mr. Romero, and I value your opinion. But right now there’s more pressing issues concerning these apartments. It’ll get done. I can assure you of that.”

I guess one of the more pressing issues was the parking lot that was hammered with large dents and potholes. There was one pothole that was no longer a pothole but a small crater. And when it rained the crater got larger and deeper. Over the six months I lived there I saw a handful of people trip over it. I once saw a woman do a face plant. She thrashed on the ground, kicking her legs wildly and flailing her purse. Poor thing. She never saw it coming.

“Oh, my god!” she yelled as I lifted her up. “What the hell just happened?”

I wanted to tell her that she ate tons of shit in a crater because the landlord was a cheap old man. He didn’t give a fuck about her safety or the aesthetics of his property so he could save some money to buy more stale clothes at the Salvation Army and gas up his decaying1972 Ford Squire. But I didn’t tell her that.

So I lied.

To her face.

“Oh, you just tripped up on this pothole.”

“Pothole?” she said looking down at the crater with befuddled eyes. “It’s a swimming

pool!”

Another pressing issue was that the complex was infested with ants. By nature the desert is infested with ants. That’s where they live. That’s where they steal, sting, and work. Big ants in a variety of colors. Black. Red. Purple. Yellow. For the most part they stay in the desert where they won’t be messed with by ratty-ass desert kids. I’ve seen these little bastards in action. Pouring soda or alcohol down the holes. Blowing them up with firecrackers. Blow torching the lot of them via lighters and hairspray.

But these ants were ballsy and seemed to be hopped up on coke. They created whole cities just outside our doors. They were relentless workers and what were once nice grounds dotted with bright desert flowers were turned inside out. Calls were made to Mr. Harvey and after a week or so we saw him creaking around with a giant plastic tank full of poison of some sort strapped to his back. Like the ants, he worked tirelessly covering every inch of the grounds. He penned us a letter and slipped them in our screen doors. Well, at least those of us who had screen doors.

Dear Tenants:

Thank you all for voicing your concerns regarding the ants. Wow, I didn’t know it was that bad! Those suckers really tore up the place, but I’m confident that my homemade brew will kill them all or at the very least will send them underground. Don’t worry the solution is not harmful to your pets or the native animals of the desert such as squirrels, crows, roadrunners, rabbits, and the occasional coyote. If you have any questions please feel free to contact my secretary and I’ll get back to you shortly. Thank you.

His secretary.

Right.

That’s what she was.

What he meant was his wife fresh from some hillbilly town in Georgia. It was hard understanding her. A yodeling mush-mouth. I called her once regarding my shoddy water heater and her responses were nothing but a warbling batch of muddy yeps and yeses. She was a mess with lazy blue eyes, stringy blond hair, toothpick lips, and dirty nails bitten to the quick. Her name was Sherry.

“Hi, Sherry. Nice to meet you.”

“Yep.”

Needless to say, Mr. Harvey’s ant-killing concoction did nothing to the ants but piss them off. They went underground for a couple of days, gathered themselves, and then came back with cold insect agenda and tore the place up to all hell. Ants were everywhere building hills and zipping around in frenzied patterns. It looked like the ground was moving. I felt like I was on acid. We called Mr. Harvey and he came back with the tank strapped to his back and went at it again.

My next door neighbor, who I affectionately called Bowling Balls because he bowled frequently, got the bright idea to strategically place little poison ant pods around the complex to stop the destructive force of thousands of pissed off ants. What an idiot, I thought. The pods did nothing. The ants crawled over them, around them, picked them up and moved them out of their way.

The longer I lived there the more I noticed what a terrible landlord Mr. Harvey was. His secretary sucked wienies and some of our requests and concerns went unanswered. The water got shut off numerous times. Once he didn’t pay his garbage bill (he hadn’t paid it in four months) and they hauled away the dumpster. Some of the tenants threatened to toss the trash on the roof.

Mr. Harvey also took forever to fix things. And when they did get fixed he hired some two-bit handyman who never did the job right. One of them was named Greg. Greg was some weathered drunk with small bat ears and elephant skin. He was also missing a pinky finger from trying to catch his nephew’s remote control airplane. He always showed up ripped and talked to himself while he worked. One time he was so drunk he fell asleep while fixing some broken sprinklers.

It was Greg who painted the garage doors two weeks before I moved out. I pulled up and saw him slinging paint and talking to himself. Mr. Harvey was pitching in wearing painter’s overalls and goggles peppered with paint. He looked ridiculous.

“Hey, Reno,” Mr. Harvey called me over. “Looks good, huh? Too bad you’re leaving us young man. I sold one of my houses. Gonna use some of the money to fix this place up. Get it all shiny and new. It’s a new beginning.”

I looked at Greg who was rolling the paint like a 3-year old.

“Well, good luck, Mr. Harvey. Wish I could be around to see it.”

I packed up and hauled boxes and furniture passed Bowling Ball’s front door, faded paint, and thousands of ants building and burrowing in the hard desert dirt. Two months later I happened to pass by the apartments and two of the garage doors still needed painting.

So much for new beginnings.

“Chris Turner,” Candace admitted. “He was the most popular dude in school. He was a jock. All the girls wanted him. So, one night I got drunk and let him have it.”

“Just because he was popular?” Jennifer asked.

“Yeah. Of course. Why not? I fucked guys with a lot less than popularity and looks!”

“Oh, god.”

We went back to our food and our drinks. Images of Mandy’s naked body flashed before me.

“My first time was the worst,” Jennifer said, taking a sip of her martini. “All that romantic business went out the door as soon as it went in. God, I can still smell his cologne to this day. It was that peppery musky crap. How did we get on this topic anyhow?”

“The song,” I said. “The stroke me tune. I heard it on my way down here.”

The song I was referring to was Billy Squier’s “The Stroke”—a rocking tune that’s loaded with sexual imagery. It also served as the background music when I lost my virginity.

Stroke me, stroke me/Could be a winner boy you move quite well

Over the years I’ve found that stories of people losing their virginity came in two varieties. The difference usually depends on gender. For women it was usually a so-so encounter and for men—even if it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be (like in my case)—there was a sense of achievement. Or, at the very least, knowing that you finally did it.

“I crossed over,” a friend told me after he fell into bed with some stranger after a night full of wine coolers and cheap Mexican weed.

I’ve also heard stories of skies breaking, the sun shining sweet sex light on what was up until then an ugly dull life of household chores, high school, and sharing a bedroom with a sister that not only talked too much but farted like a man.

“I hated my life until I got laid,” one of my girlfriends told me. “I hated my parents and my sister. Especially, my sister. She couldn’t keep her mouth shut. And that bitch had rot ass! And she was totally popular, too. The cheerleader. You know that bitch I’m talking about? That bitch. If only people knew how much of a stinky twat she was. I hated her. I still do. Then I got laid! All of a sudden they were of no concern to me. My folks were suddenly invisible. When Kim talked all I saw was her stupid mouth moving. I did my chores in a daze. School was a breeze. My grades even improved. On the weekends me and Danny would hop in his dad’s car and screw. It was cool. He’s dead now. Hunting accident.”

My first time was with a girl named Mandy.

Mandy Quick.

We were in 7th grade.

I told Candace and Jennifer that it happened like a business transaction. It all happened after I accidentally bumped into Mandy at school. We looked at each other, liked what we saw, and made plans to meet at the park. At the time Dolphin shorts were popular. All the girls in the desert were squeezing their bodies into them. I remember looking at the way they hugged Mandy’s girl bits. Tight. Snug. A small mound slowly dipping down.

It was a wonderful sight.

I wanted her.

I wanted in.

But Mandy wasn’t a virgin. She lost her virginity two weeks before to some dude in high school. She was hooked and wanted some more. I was to provide her more. After a few sloppy kisses where she darted her komodo-dragon-like tongue into my mouth we decided to walk to her friend’s house for beer, pot, and a bed. I walked into a roomful of stoners. They were all high school kids wearing black rock band T-shirts. I took a couple of hits from a bong and cracked open a beer. Billy Squier was blasting through the speakers. The pot and beer hit me immediately. I was spinning like a top.

“Let’s go to the room, Reno,” she said.

I followed her down the hall, my stomach fluttering with the knowledge that I was going to get laid.

Put your left foot out, keep it all in place/Work your way right into my face/First you try to bed me you make my backbone slide

We made out some more and then Mandy pulled off her shorts revealing a full-grown pitch-black bush. This posed a small problem. See, by nature I’m not a hairy man. Just not in the follicle cards I guess. I can’t grow a full beard or a thick Pancho Villa moustache and have seen women that have hairier arms than me. So you could imagine how hairless I was in 7th grade. No need for man-scaping here. I don’t even understand that whole dude shaving shit and don’t care to.

So there’s Mandy with her giant muff and there I am with a dash of hair resembling some balding heads I’ve seen through the years. But I wanted to get laid so I mounted her and started moving my hips the way I figured it worked. The problem was that I didn’t know what it was to orgasm. It hadn’t happened by that time. No wet dreams yet. And I didn’t jack off like my friends did. Or like my cousin Johnnie who claimed to beat his dick on a daily basis.

“It’s great, Reno,” he told me once, his ugly scarred face smiling from ear to ear. “You need to try it.”

His face didn’t make it appetizing. Not at all. I don’t know why I didn’t jack off. I think it was because of Jesus. In those years I was still a Christian and was told that dude was always watching my every move and I didn’t want him to see me turning Japanese. I didn’t want to take the chance. It wouldn’t have looked good on my resume.

So I ended up banging poor Mandy for what seemed like three tragic hours. While I pumped away she provided me with a hickey the size of a Red Delicious apple. After we were done I went into the bathroom. That’s when I saw the hickey. My stomach dropped. It was sex-maroon and looked like someone slammed an end of a baseball bat in my neck. It was bad. I was fucked. Literally.

I walked home and went straight to the bathroom and covered the hickey with some of my little sister’s Flintstones Band-Aids. It was a bust. It was over. My mom called me into the kitchen.

“What’s on your neck? She asked, giving me the look that said: You pulled some shit and we’re going to get to the bottom of it now.

“Nothing.”

“Okay, well, you’re lying,” she said looking at the stain on my neck. “So we’ll make this easy. If you ever show up with that bullshit on your neck ever again you’re going to hate your life. I’ll make sure of that. You’re lucky your father is out of town. So go to your room and stay there. And whoever this dirty vampire is you tell her to suck on someone else’s damn neck. Understand? Do you? Good. Bye.”

“That story is hilarious,” Candace said laughing. “A giant 80’s muff! A Red Delicious apple!”

“When was the next time you got some?” Jennifer asked.

“Around two months later. My next door neighbor. Classic butterface. A face maybe a mother could love. Maybe. But her body was built for speed.”

“So you didn’t learn your lesson!”

“No, I did. I just told what’s-her-face no hickeys. I came that time. After that I had it bad.”

Don’t you take no chances, keep your eye on top/Do your fancy dances you can’t stop you just stroke me, stroke me

Flood

I was living in Hesperia right up the street from the California Aqueduct which served as my recreation. For the five months I lived there I’d run the paths that ran along side the dark water. I put miles on those paths glancing at the Mariana Mountains—running passed bugs and lizards and the tiny green ripples that were slowly making their way to L.A.

After my run I’d spend time sitting under the Cottonwood Bridge reading or watching the water roll passed me. Sure, it wasn’t the salty view of the Pacific Ocean or feeling the rush of the ice-cold mountain water that made up the Merced River, but it was water nonetheless. Memories flooded my head pulling me through the years as I watched the swirling pools; the ripping desert wind that picked up the water and turned it white; the crows caw, caw, caw towards Rancho Cucamonga.

At the time I was reading Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation. The original owner of the book fell into a quasi-depression halfway into it, had enough whining and bitching, and gave it to me not knowing in the past I had a serious bout of depression that crippled me under the neon lights of Las Vegas. I opened up the book and read the chapters. The prologue read I Hate Myself and Want to Die. One chapter was titled Love Kills. Another read Black Wave. Another read Woke Up This Morning Afraid I Was Gonna Live. Great, I thought, another brooding writer. But I figured my dreary I-hate-myself-and-want-to-die days were so far behind me I’d be safe cracking open the book and reading about someone else’s misery.

I took the book under the bridge and started reading.

Weed

When I was a kid my dad would take me down to the L.A. River. This was his recreation along with smoking pot, selling pot, and drinking Budweiser. Him and my equally fucked up uncle and his three smudged kids and me would climb high into the tiny black widow and rat infested sewers and come sliding down into its nasty piss and shit water. They would scream with glee as they slipped to the bottom where they howled in celebration. This was supposed to be fun. I protested telling my stoned father that I didn’t want to go. But he didn’t listen to me—something that would be thematic throughout our decaying relationship. Almost every Friday night after my father and uncle finally peaked on beer and weed we’d make the trek down Monterey Road through Arroyo Seco Park to the river and do it all over again.

Sandra Bernhard

The aqueduct is full of life. Fish. Lizards. Bugs. Snakes. Squirrels. But the main attraction is the birds. Packs of various types of ducks waddle up and down the water. Mallard ducks with their gorgeous green heads scoot over the water, dip their heads in the water for food, crane their necks 180 degrees and pinch at their backs. There are these small crane-like birds that usually sit high on the wires that are draped along and across the aqueduct. Then they glide down into the water and land like an airplane. When they lift off they fly just over the water at a perfectly measured high speed. It’s quite a sight. But my favorite is this brown duck whose head is graced with wild wispy rust-orange feathers that make it the craziest looking bird in the aqueduct. And it’s the loudest. Every time I saw this duck it was making noise. It’s crazy-looking and loud.

A feathered Sandra Bernhard.

And then you have the crows. They come in the hundreds and litter the landscape in black. Always pecking at the dirt. Always hopping around. Always looking off in the distance for some action. Always in the air hovering, swooping, and landing. Always, always, always. Caw, caw, caw. They’re tenacious, they’re beautiful, and the desert is theirs.

Fish and Whiskey

The fishermen showed up early in the morning. They usually drove trucks or SUVs. I’d watch them as they methodically took out their fishing gear, cigarettes burning and dangling from their mouths, sunglasses, vests infested with pockets. They’d come in all sizes, all ages. Skinny ones. Fat ones. Young ones with baseball caps and old ones in tattered bucket hats stabbed with hooks and lures. I saw many of the same ones day after day, week after week. Some of them I saw from the time I moved in to the time I packed up and left for Los Angeles. They usually had a regular spot, parking their gear where they did the day before and the day before that. They’d set up camp just as methodically as they did when they unloaded their gear. Blanket. Poles. Tackle box. Cooler. Some even set up overhead tents sheltering them from the white desert heat.

There was one fisherman that fished right down from where I used to read. After a few friendly hellos I learned his name to be Gene. Gene was somewhere in his sixties and came from Oklahoma. Tall. Big feet. Bony. Nervous rattling hands and deep blue-gray eyes. He was a Vietnam vet—had stickers telling you this fact plastered all over the back of his scuffed Ford Ranger. One day after he refilled his flask he asked me what I was reading. I told him.

“Depressed woman, huh? Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ve been married twice and have been around the world as least six times. They’re all depressed,” he said, looking over the water.

This got a laugh out of me.

“You like that? Well, I have more where that comes from.”

Over the weeks we got to know each other. He usually showed up high on booze and continued to get high with his luckless pole in his hands. Despite the fact that Gene had an abundance of nice shiny gear and brand new fishing clothes he rarely caught anything. He always had a bucket full of water to hold his catches. I’d always peek in the bucket to see what the day brought. After hearing me comment one too many times that he hadn’t caught anything he’d just give me the update as soon as I walked up.

“No need to look in that fuckin’ bucket, Reno. All the fish are in that goddamn water.”

“Bucket’s empty. Like our government.”

One day there were two fish in the bucket. I walked up.

“Well, go on. Take a look,” he slurred, jutting his chin towards the bucket. “Look and weep, buster. It’s dinner time.”

I looked in the bucket and saw two little green fish. They didn’t look like they’d make one taco. But I didn’t want to piss on the party.

“All right, man! Cook those dudes up.”

Around the same time I finished the book Gene was leaving for a couple of months traveling around the country and then heading back home to Oklahoma to visit his family. He had a tumultuous relationship with his family and this visit was going to serve as the last, that he wasn’t ever going to go back, that he was going to try and bury the ghosts that hovered over his folks and his siblings and come back to California clean. It was the last time I would ever see Gene again.

“It’s time,” he said, taking a hit from his flask. “It’s time.”

Mis Hijos

The legend of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, is a story of a grieving woman who is found lurking around a body of water mourning and wailing the loss of her drowned children. Like many legends there are different versions of La Llorona whose origins can be linked to La Malinche the Indian interpreter and lover to Cortes. In the La Malinche version of La Llorona she drowns her children because Cortes abandons her for a high-bred Spanish woman. In another version she drowns her children so she could pursue another lover. In some versions she dies of old age. In other versions she commits suicide after drowning her children.

Growing up in East Los Angeles the L.A. River served as the stage for La Llorona. It was in the L.A. River where she drowned her kids and where she cried for them walking up and down its concrete banks. The version I was told served as a cautionary tale. I was told that if I misbehaved she was going to come in the middle of the night and take me away. As a kid I was petrified of this ghostly woman, cloaked in a flowing white gown, cold hands, cold eyes, and who wanted nothing better than to take me down to the river and drown me.

Ophelia died in water. So did Narcissus. Either by negligence or by accident, the California Aqueduct has served as a final resting place for some. Workers have died building or maintaining it. People have fallen in the aqueduct only to be swept away by its deceptive speed. Cars have spilled into it. Some have committed suicide in the aqueduct. The body of my high school track coach was found in the aqueduct. Mr. Byers was a good man and when I heard the news of his death I was devastated. He was my coach for two years.

“You know, Romero,” he told me after our last track meet of the season. “You were always my favorite on the relay team. Man, you owned that bend. I loved watching you run.”

Those were the last words he would ever say to me.

I don’t know if Mr. Byers took his life. There were rumors that he did. I don’t know. There were many times I sat under the bridge and wondered what happened to him on that sad day. The water knows. But it’s not saying a word.

I was sitting under the bridge finishing the last few pages of Prozac Nation when a grasshopper landed on the concrete in front of me. It wasn’t the typical beige grasshopper that buzzes over the desert’s hard dirt. This one was fully winged and electric-green. I lowered the book and watched him for a while and then went back to the book figuring that it would soon fly away. But it didn’t. It stayed there stretching out its legs. After a few minutes it climbed on my backpack and sat there for a while. I was reading when I heard it zip off and land in the water. I was confused. Do they do this for a reason? Could it easily take flight when it wanted to? Then I saw it struggling to get out of the water. It twisted in the water. Its back legs kicked feverishly. Then: snap. It was gone.

The aqueduct took another life.