Recent Work By Reno J. Romero

I live with a roommate, her three kids, and their two dogs. One pooch is a shy husky and the other is a squirrely black pit bull mix. Both of them are sweethearts. The kids are in their teens. Two dudes, one chick. Total count: Five human beings and two dogs. It’s a full-house. I’ve never lived with this many people. I maxed out at four people back when I lived at home. Being an extremely private person this has taken some getting used to. Bodies thumping down the hallway. Voices laughing and arguing. Doors opening and shutting.

I hole myself up in my room, open up a book, and dive in between the pages. Or I’ll flick on the TV and watch A&E, the History Channel, ESPN. Tune in the Travel Channel for a sarcastic dose of Anthony Bourdain; the Biography Channel to look into the mad life of Ted Kaczynski. Or I’ll attempt to write something, push out a poem; take on a snappy bout with some flash fiction. Take out my guitar and see if she wants to play with me.

I was watching The Darjeeling Limited when my phone rang. It was Kim my roommate.

“Don’t be mad at me,” she said, in a gentle voice.

“What is it?”

“I’m bringing home two puppies. They’re cute, Reno. Are you mad?”

“Why would I be mad?” I said, my mind seeing cluttered images and calculating the math. Five human beings and four dogs. Nine beasts total. “Hey, no problem.”

And it wasn’t a problem. The puppies weren’t mine. They were gifts for the two oldest kids. The dogs were their responsibility. They were the ones who had to deal with the ups and downs of puppy rearing. All I knew is those little fuckers wouldn’t be pissing and shitting in my room. This I knew. Around ten minutes later Kim pulled up. I heard the puppies running around the house. Immediately after, I heard the typical demands that comes with bringing puppies into your life. Through the walls I found out their names.

“Hey! No! Stop that! Charlie!”

“Ziggy! No! Come lay down, baby! Ziggy!”

Damn, I thought. Here we go.

Then I heard shuffling and sniffing at my door. It was the husky and the pit bull. Chance and Tazz. They wanted nothing to do with the puppies and wanted in. I opened the door and they took their respective spots with agitated looks on their faces.

“What happened, fellas? Yeah, I know. This is how it works, brothers. Out with the old and in with the new. Hear me out now. I’m giving you pearls.”

Chance is as soft as they come. All he wants is pets, gourmet meals, and to sleep on the biggest fluffiest bed in the house. He’s a husky, but could give a damn about snow, the outdoors, Siberia. He has no interest in such things. He likes watching TV and staring at the refrigerator. Tazz, on the other hand, is nuts. I love his energy. He huffs and puffs, chases squirrels and lizards, makes wild sounds when he yawns and is always looking to mix it up. There’s a goat that lives behind us and Tazz is all up in its business. When I let him out he bolts to the fence and gawks at it, his amber eyes ablaze with animal desire.

“You wanna poke that goat, huh?” I asked him when we were alone. “I see that. Well, don’t worry, bro, I ain’t saying shit. Your secrets are safe with me.”

He looked at me with yes and thank you all over his mug.

After a week into the puppies keeping their owners up all night and dropping turds and leaving puddles of piss in their rooms the honeymoon was all but over. Reality set in.

“Charlie! No! You can’t have that! Charlie!

“Oh, no, Ziggy! I just took you outside! Really?”

I told Kim that we might have to call the Dog Whisperer. Give that oddball (I actually think he’s pretty cool) a ring and have him do his magic. I told Kim our conversation would go something like this:

“Hi, my name is Cesar…”

“Yeah, I know who you are. See those two babies, Millan? Good. Fix them. Their owners can’t handle them. They bark, sniff, fart, play grabass. You’ve heard this story before. OK, so I’m gonna go to the bar and get my drink on if you know what I mean. So do your thing. There’s wine and frozen taquitos in the fridge. Help yourself. You have my cell number. Call me when they’re cured.”

Kim was rolling.

“You crazy ass.”

My father always brought animals home. Be it a neurotic cat, a blind dog, or a chicken that had no visible legs. One day he brought a chicken home. He named her Henny. I called her Linda No Legs. He found her on the side of the road in the middle of the desert. She was just sitting in the sand and watching the traffic pass by. My father saw her, threw a U-turn, and brought her home.

Linda No Legs was injured and couldn’t stand, her legs tucked into her belly. He would pick her up and place her wherever he saw fit. Sometimes she’d be in the living room relaxing in a milk crate. Other times when he felt she could use some fresh air he’d put her in the backyard. She was like a duffel bag. Our two dogs were in utter confusion. They didn’t know what the fuck to think looking at a chicken sitting in front of a bowl of feed and a bowl of water. They were mystified.

I don’t know how long the picking up and laying down of Linda No legs lasted, but one day we looked out in the backyard and there she was strolling around pecking at the dirt and stretching out her wings. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was a miracle! The dogs were in a complete state of shock. Not only was Linda No Legs walking, but her newfound mobility cranked up her confidence and she immediately took charge of the backyard. It was hers and she let it be known. She scratched the ground with gumption, walked in and out of the dogs’ house, jumped on top of it, flexed her wings, sprinted across the yard like Carl Lewis, and corralled the dogs to the corner of the yard. It was crazy.

“Jesus,” I told my mom. “I’ve seen it all now.”

My father also brought home a blind poodle which cottoned to my mom, relieving him of the responsibilities of dealing with a dog with a major handicap.

He did pawn off two animals on me because over time he found them to be his nemeses. One was a chihuahua named Buster. I called him Boohea. He was a good-looking dog with a barrel chest and big brown eyes. But Boohea had a problem: he was a sex addict and was always sucking himself off or fucking our labrador. He’d blow himself into a frenzy and his crayon would scream out of his body throbbing under the hot desert sun. It was foul. It disgusted the whole household. And when he wasn’t in the mood to give himself a hummer he’d nip at Jet’s hind legs until he would lay down. Boohea would then mount one of his hind legs and do his thing. This also disgusted the whole household. No matter how many times we yelled and pleaded with Boohea to stop sucking his dick or to quit banging Jet he wouldn’t.

He needed therapy.

He was sick.

And he was mine.

This went on for years.

Then there was a neurotic cat named Maxine. I called her Muga. Or Muga the Sooka. My father brought Muga home for my sister who was a little girl at the time. He got her from his sister who was a crazy pill-popping, beer drinking bitch that had three equally jacked up kids. They all lived under the same roof. Muga was screwed from day one. Anybody or anything living in the droopy frazzled shadow of my aunt was doomed to a life of substance abuse, paranoia, and full-blown depression. I can’t say Muga swallowed benzos or reds or licked booze on the quiet, but she had a thing for rubber dishwashing gloves. After the first taste she was hooked and was always pawing at the cupboards for another fix.

“Why does she eat my gloves?” my mom inquired, examining some gloves that had the fingers ripped off of them.

“She was born into a dysfunctional home, mom, and there’s not a damn thing we can do,” I said reflectively. “We just have to ride it out.”

But Muga soon became my cat when she started shitting in the living room. She was particularly fond of dropping a deuce behind my father’s beloved La-Z-Boy chair. I don’t know what got into her. We always kept her crapper clean. We never neglected her. She all of a sudden went through these spurts when laying down a few dumps around the house was the thing to do. It was like a hobby of sorts. At the time my father was working graveyard and I’d hear him get up (he always woke up pissed off), thud around the house sniffing deeply, trying to locate Muga’s latest steamer. He always announced his discoveries and ended his rants by calling out my name so I could get Muga before he ended her life right then and there.

“Shit! Son of a bitch! Fuckin’, Muga! Shitass cat! Reno! Reno! Come and get your damn cat before I kill her!”

She, too, needed therapy.

She, too, was sick.

And like Boohea she was also mine.

This also went on for years.

I hope that neither Charlie nor Ziggy have a thing for their own peckers or rubber dishwashing gloves. Or acquire any hang-up for that matter. I wish for them to grow up as normal as possible. There’s a touch of craziness rattling through this house and I hope they look beyond this and move into the future with ease. I also hope that none of them gets a wild hair up their ass and think they can nip at Tazz and mount one of his legs. He already told me that he won’t play that shit.

Neighbors

By Reno J. Romero

Memoir

I just moved. Again. This is my fourth move in two years. It seems like all I do is pack and unpack my shit. My truck hates me. My clothes hate me. My guitars hate me. Same for my computer and my books. Same for my incense and my shoes. I promised them that they could settle down, take a load off, that we’d be around for a while this time.

I don’t think they believe me.

This move was a pain in the ass just like all the others. But what I’ve learned over the years is to get down to the bare essentials. If I don’t use it I give it away or throw it away. I moved across the country twice. It was these two dreadful moves that taught me that rat-packing I’ll-probably-use-it-someday crap is ridiculous and a lie. After my divorce I gave everything to my ex. I took my books, clothes, one of the cars, my guitars, and most of my dignity. That’s it. It was liberating. It was very Zen. Today the things in my possession I use. I’m clutter-free for the first time in my life.

When I moved in I noticed my neighbors sitting outside drinking beer. Two dudes in their twenties and an older feller somewhere in his sixties. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen him stumbling around his house drunk. He drinks Budweiser. He never wears a shirt; nipples and dusty gray hair dancing in the desert wind.

“Hey, you play guitar?” he asked me as I was unloading my equipment.

“Yes, sir.”

“Rock and roll?”

“At times, yeah.”

“Hey, you should grow out your hair, man. You’d look cool. Long hair. Guitar. You know?”

“Think so, huh? You’re probably right.”

He didn’t know I’ve had long hair most of my life and recently hacked it all off.

“My name is Gilbert,” he said walking to the fence. I put my guitar down and shook his hand.

Reno.”

Reno? Like in Reno, Nevada? All right. Isn’t that Mustang Ranch close to Reno?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“I’d like to go there, man. They have a website. You should check it out. Some fine women work there. Oh, yeah, some fine women.”

We talked for a bit. He came from Fontana. Ex-military. Liked Santana. He told me to come over one night, down some beer, and play for him. I told him I would.

“The man next door likes, Santana,” I told my roommate.

“Making friends already, huh?” she said.

“Always.”

Scissors

Pam lived above me. Nice girl. Beautician. Huge tits and a flat ass. We’d party together, smoke pot, and drink whatever was at hand. She was sweet on me despite the fact that I had a girlfriend. She had me by five years and was the classic been-there-done-that chick. She didn’t care that I had a girlfriend. She thought Gina was a total bitch which was true. She told me that I should dump her pronto, that I was young (I was twenty-five) and living in Vegas, that this wasn’t the time to be bogged down in a relationship. This all changed when Pam found a suitor. His name was Greg and either he had the world’s biggest dick or Pam was hoping that a porn producer lived in the complex and would draw her up a slutty contract after hearing her nasty contrived wailing.

She was loud.

Painfully loud.

My bedroom also served as my recording studio and on more than one occasion my mics picked up her moaning. I’d be laying down tracks and then: “Oh! Oh, my god! Oh! Oh! Oh…my…god!” I wanted to charge upstairs, kick down her door, and punch her in the throat. I wanted to tell Greg to quit fucking her. And if he couldn’t do that then he needed to handle her at his place. And the curious thing was that they always banged around nine o’clock at night. After she jacked up one too many takes, I started recording around the humping hour. I had some friends over one night and they got front row seats to Hammerfest.

“Watch, man,” I informed them. “Around nine o’clock you’ll hear Pammy Whammy and Ron Jeremy playing hide the salami.”

Sure as shit around five minutes after nine: “Oh! Oh, yes! Don’t stop! Oh, my god! Yes! Yes! Oh!” My friends were sickened. I was sickened. It was bad. Pam must have had a super cooter because Greg put a ring on her damn finger and she moved in with him a month later.

Them Frogs

My house in Charlotte had a lake behind it. Coming from Las Vegas I wasn’t used to wildlife, real weather, trees or flowers. I had deer roaming around my property. Raccoons clicking. Giant birds casting shadows on the ground. My neighbor was a local, hailed from South Carolina, and had a thing for vodka. I’d always find Tim sitting in his driveway, drink in hand, sucking in the booze and the sticky humidity. He called me Vegas.

The neighborhood was beautiful and made for a great run. As soon as I moved in I mapped out a two-mile run that took me by the lake. Right by the lake was a small pond. That’s where I heard the sound. It was an odd bellowing sound. I’d never heard anything like it before. I told my wife at the time what I’d heard, that it was a haunting hollow sound.

“I don’t know what it is,” I told her. “Sounds like an animal. A sick cow. A moose. Or a camel. I don’t know. It seems to be coming from behind the woods. There might be a farm back there.”

“There’s no moose out here, sweetie. Or camels.”

“How do you know? Might be a farm back there.”

At work I asked the locals. They didn’t know. And if they did they weren’t giving me any answers. I was just some long-haired west coast dude invading their land of fried-pickles and Jesus. I came home one day to find Tim washing his boat. He was drunk. A bottle of vodka sat on his tailgate. I told him about the sound I’d heard right by the pond. I told him I thought there might be a farm behind the woods, that what I’d heard was probably a cow or something. He shook his head and started laughing hard. It took him a while to gather himself.

“What, fucker? Tell me,” I pleaded.

“Vegas, Vegas, Vegas. You’re talking about that little pond that feeds into the lake, right? Yeah, OK. What you’re hearing is a goddamn bullfrog!”

From that day on my name changed from Vegas to Bullfrog.

“Hey, Bullfrog.”

“What are you doing this weekend, Bullfrog?”

“Your Steelers are going down, Bullfrog.” “

Wanna drink, Bullfrog?”

Alison

Chris looked like Elvis Costello. He was a real estate agent, hailing from somewhere in the Midwest. Vegas was full of real estate agents and full of these types. Quasi-slick transplants. Hated their dry little towns. Packed up their junk and came to the neon to cash in. At first glance you would have thought Chris was gay. He possessed all the cliché characteristics: wore nice expensive clothes; walked around the world in a pretty haircut streaked with highlights; had clean manicured nails; got his tans at a tanning salon; drove a nice car that was always in immaculate condition; had a chunky lady friend that was always hanging around him. When I met him my gaydar didn’t register anything. Zip. He was just another pretty boy in a city full of pretty boys. But a few of my friend’s gaydars were pinned.

“Reno, who’s Mr. Skintip?”

“Chris. And he doesn’t smoke skin tips. He smokes a good-looking blond that you’d bang if you had the chance.”

“Bullshit. He’s smoking the skinnies. Remember Mr. Andrews the basketball coach? He was married, had two gruesome kids, but he smoked poles on the side.”

“Well…”

Chris’ girlfriend was beautiful. California blond. Deep sea-blue eyes. Button nose. Pretty hands. Nice body. She was also a nice person and liked literature. Big Faulkner fan. We used to swap books and talk shop. Her name was Sara.

At the time I had a sixteen-pound tabby named Toback. He was a gorgeous creature that viewed himself as a prisoner, always pawing the screen door to get out and see the world. I couldn’t blame him. I was an over protective parent. I cut off his berries, fed him expensive food, and kept the apartment warm and cozy. But he didn’t give a fuck about my efforts. He was fat and he knew it. He wanted to run with the wind and shed some weight. He didn’t have any balls and he knew that. He wanted to look at girl kitties for old time’s sake in hopes that his ghost nuts would twitch reminding him that, yes, he was still a man cat, that, yes, he was still alive. One night I slipped and left the sliding door open. Despite his weight Toback still had some wheels and I caught him flash out the door and over the wall and into the Great Wide Open.

I let him goof around for a bit. He ran from bush to bush, climbed to the top of the small tree in front of my balcony and leaped off into the darkness. He tumbled in the grass and meowed with glee. After a while I tried to get him, but he was having nothing of it. I’d get close to him and at the last second he’d dash. This went on for around ten minutes. It was a game to him. He was winning. I was pissed. Then Toback ran into a bush right by Chris’ balcony. Right when I approached the balcony I saw Sara butt-naked and walking around the apartment with a glass of wine. I dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I turned and slowly made my way to my apartment hoping that she didn’t see me, telling Chris that I’m some sick peeping Tom. I wanted to kill Toback. To hell with him, I thought. Stay out there and get your ass kicked by some feral tomcat! See if I care, Toback! Five minutes later he strolled in coated in dirt and grass. Son of a bitch. That night my band came over and I told them what happened. Two of them understood how creepy I felt. The other two thought Toback hooked me up.

“Dude,” Aaron said. “Toback did you good. All my cat does is eat and shit in the living room.”

“Well, yeah. You can look at that way,” I said, as I saw Sara’s naked body move across my eyes once again. “She was a true blond that’s for sure.”



Like I wrote in my last NFL post no one knows how the season’s going to pan out. It’s a mystery. I yapped it up like every other football jerk predicting the winners and losers. So far I’ve nailed some of my pre-season predictions. Others not so much.

This year has been a bit different. There’s not a dominating team out there. Every week a new team is the best team. Last week it was the Giants. Before that it was the Jets. Then New England. Last night Vick and his Eagles beat the fuck out of the Redskins in front of god and everyone. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was nothing short of cruel.

So now Philly is the best team in the NFL. Next week some other team will take the headlines and the brilliant brains on ESPN will fill up their programs talking about how so and so team is heading to Texas to play for the Lombardi. It’s just the way it goes. Anyhow, folks, let’s see what’s up.

Dead Cowboys and Marching Saints

Most people figured the Saints would be at the head of the NFC pack and they are. Brees is way bad. Great arm. Great talent. They started off the season a bit shaky, but lately have been playing solid football. They took out Pittsburgh and are looking at taking out a few more teams on their way to the playoffs. I said they’d make the playoffs and the train would stop there. I might eat this one. We’ll see. Beads!

Falcons. I said these dudes were going to be knocking people around this year and they are. They beat the Ravens and if they get into the playoffs with home-field advantage then watch out. Hotlanta. No need for Ron Mexico to be on their roster.

I said Tampa would suck all things nasty this year and I was wrong. They’re playing pretty good football and have stunned us all.

The Panthers are dismal and I was right. So were you.

The Cowboys. Huh? No one predicted this disaster. No one. Hell, I don’t know what to say. What’s to say? They’re just no good? Their dull frumpy coach (who’s been fired) simply can’t lead a team? Tony Romo is a handsome devil, but a shitty QB when it comes down to it? Who knows. It doesn’t matter. People are crying and laughing over this one.

I said the G-Men would be good if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot like they did last year. They haven’t so far and are right in the mix even though the Cowboys handed their ass to them this past weekend. Jon Kitna? That praying jackass must have called up Jesus before kickoff.

Eagles. Speaking of Ron Mexico, Vick has the Eagles looking sharp. I said they’d have a horrible season and I was wrong. They’re at the top of their division with the Giants. Last night they blew up the Redskins 59-28 on Monday Night Football. It was sick. Sick. Sick. Sick.

I thought McNabb and the Redskins would have an OK season, but I don’t know if they’ll recover after last night’s shellacking. I’ve always liked McNabb, think he’s a class act on and off the field, but he may want to go the way of Favre. Just saying.

The NFC North has the Pack in the lead. I figured this. So have millions of others. No stretch there. They beat the Jets who’s arguably the best team in the AFC. That’s a keeper. Good defense, great QB in Rodgers. Cheeseheads stand up and shout. Lambeau Calling.

Brett Favre and the Vikings. Another bust. I was wrong, said they had a shot at a good season. Like the Giants last year the Vikings have shot themselves in the foot down after down, game after game. I dig on Favre, but he needs to hang up his cleats, stop leaving naughty messages on some hussy’s cell, and go back to the swamps for a freshly dipped country-fried fritter with all the fixins’. It’s over, homie. Sorry.

The Bears are winning. I said they wouldn’t. I was wrong. Da Bears. Fucking Obama must be thrilled. I’m not.

Detroit. I’m always right on this one. Everyone is. The best thing about writing about the Lion’s woes is the opportunity to blame their pathetic football ways on Matt Millen who’s a bloated human turd. But I’m tired of writing about Millen and his cheapness. We all know how he single-handedly dismantled that poor franchise. Damn you, Matt.

In the NFC West the Seahawks are in first place. Who cares. They’re Seattle. I said they’ll lose and they eventually will. If I’m wrong find me and punch me in the throat.

The story in this atrocious division (if there is one) is the Rams and Bradford their rookie QB who’s led the team to some impressive wins. I said they’d stink up the field this year and even though they have a losing record they’re not rolling over when Sunday comes around. Hey, hey.

And what about the Niners? I never, ever, bought into Singletary’s bulging eyes and his silly tough-man speeches. He blows as a coach and his team sucks big ones. Everyone employed by this franchise will be watching the playoffs and the Super Bowl with my pathetic ass. Enough said.

Ok, the NFC is done.

Manning and T.O’s Big Teeth

Indy is winning again. And again. Manning is a football god and barring no bizarre injuries they are playoff bound as usual. There’s nothing else to write here.

I said the Texans would have a horrible season and they are. Same goes for Jacksonville.

The Titans now have Moss who’s been on three teams this year. I don’t know. I thought they’d have a better record. But we’ll see. They have Moss to stretch the field, Chris Johnson who’s a punishing running back, but I don’t think that means a damn at the end of the day. They can’t beat Indy so it’s a wrap.

Jets. Well, they have a loud-mouthed coach, Tomlinson, and a cute QB. They look good and have won a couple of games in OT. They’re not dominating teams, but they’re winning and that’s all that matters. Namath probably couldn’t care less whether they’re playing lights out or struggling. Hey, and where is Namath by the way? At the bar? Tonguing Suzy Kolber? Regardless, they’re tough and playoff bound.

The Bills are horrible. Period.

I said the Dolphins would have a bad season and they are. Marino? Buler?

The Patriots are doing what we all expected them to do: win. Brady’s healthy and throwing the ball with gun-accuracy. The running game is solid. And despite their defense being young Belichick’s defensive schemes will win more games than not.

I predicted the Ravens to be kicking some football butt this year and they have so far. They’re at the top of their division and are looking at tearing up the Patriots in the playoffs once again. It could happen. I’m not a Ravens fan, but what I do like about them is that they could give a rat’s ass about Indy, the Steelers, Saints, and Brady’s cleft chin. They’ll bring it. It makes for good football. (I won’t engage in my traditional rip on Ray Lewis’ dull jock ways in this post. There’s a lot of football left to play. Next time.)

I’m a big Steelers fan, but I’m not convinced they’re that good. Sure, they have a winning record but they look out of sync, out of whack. The Patriots just kicked their ass in their backyard. It was brutal. So, I don’t know. Ben looks rough. Their defense is vicious, but have been giving up big plays in the second half. Pittsburgh Nation is nibbling at their nails no doubt.

Most predicted the Browns to have another losing season and they are. They’ve showed some light (beating the Pats convincingly), but in the end they just don’t cut it.

And the Bengals…heh. Like Robin Williams said in Good Will Hunting: “How ironical.” On paper you’d think these striped bastards would be taking teams out. But no. They have Ochocinco. So what. They have Palmer chucking the ball. Who cares. They got T.O and his stupid face in the off-season. Doesn’t mean shit. What does mean shit is that they suck shit and it tickles me when I see T.O and his huge choppers slumber off the field having lost yet another game. There is a god.

I said the Raiders would reek. We’ve come to expect this. Al Davis is a dreadful owner and needs to take a dirt nap ASAP. But they’re in first place. First place is first place. Living in Southern California I have a lot of friends that are Raider fans and have been getting hate e-mail from these misfits all season long:

“Raiders dickhead! What bitch? What are you gonna say now? Fuck your Steelers! Raiders, baby, Raiders! Deal!”

“Next time I see your Mexican ass me and my boys are going to jump you, paint you silver and black and teabag you!”

Lovely.

Chiefs have proved me wrong so far and are sharing first place with the Raiders. But they play in a perfectly awful division and I see them falling apart in the stretch. Watch.

I wrote that the Broncos would stink and they do. Like Singletary, I don’t buy into their coach. I don’t care about last year’s quasi-success or that he’s a Belichick disciple. The Broncos will have losing seasons for years to come.

Lately the Chargers have started off the season slow and pick it up heading towards the payoffs. I see this happening again. They’ve dominated this weak division for years. The Raiders will eventually lose and so will the Chiefs. Look for San Diego to squeeze out yet another division title and go into the playoffs.

Whew.

That’s it, folks. Football. It’s a disease. For all you Cowboy fans out there: my condolences. For you spoiled Indy fans: keep smiling and save your cash for that playoff seat. For you Jacksonville fans: pray for the Jaguars to pack up their bags and head for the smoggy and stuffy land that is Los Angeles. There’s a lot of football left to play, but we’re almost there. So don’t stop now, baby.

Ciao.

Monk Quixote

By Reno J. Romero

Memoir

We were at some hotel somewhere in the Inland Empire. We were in bed, post-coital, and passing a bottle of Pinot back and forth and watching the Top 100 Hard Rock tunes on VH1. The wine had me a little loopy and throughout the show I kept saying things like: “Oh, I saw those dudes in concert. They had dry-ice, stacks of amps, and all that rock bullshit. But they sucked big ones.” Or: “I saw those fuckers at some dive in San Bernardino. Oh yeah, man. You betcha. I was all jacked up on whiskey and dating some chick who had pretty brown eyes and bunions.”

Shauna looked at me like she always did: like I was crazy. Then Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” blasted across the screen.

“Don’t tell me,” she said, pursing up her beautiful lips. “You saw those guys at some back yard party and you whipped out your junk in front of Dee Snider.”

“I did see them in concert. But not in some back yard party. And Dee Snider didn’t see my junk. Long Beach Arena. They opened up for Iron Maiden on Maiden’s World Slavery Tour. And guess what? They rocked! Check this out. I was smoking pot with my cousin and his buddies before the show and one of his friends had an epileptic seizure. None of us knew what the hell was happening. So, while he twisted on the ground we started walking away. Not a cool thing to do. But he scared the living shit out of us. A few minutes later he was fine. It was weird.”

“Jesus Christ,” she said, shaking her head. “You guys walked away?”

“Hey, we were like fifteen! And stoned! How were we supposed to know what an epileptic seizure was? We thought he was dying. And we had weed on us. It was a bust if the coppers showed. We were holding, babe.”

“You guys suck.”

“We were fifteen!”

I proceeded to tell Shauna how Maiden were gods that night. How they consumed me. How I knew every song and sang every word. How the stage changed numerous times. How Eddie came charging out during “Running Free” as a beautiful tattered mummy. How they were filming and recording the shows for their upcoming live album that would be called Live After Death. How I was there to hear Bruce Dickinson give the famous line: “Scream for me Long Beach!” How when I walked into the arena a giant Union Jack was hanging and illuminated in glorious heavy metal light.

“They’re here,” I remember telling my cousin. “Maiden is here.”

That night Shauna and me polished off a couple of bottles of wine and I told her more rock tales. Of me seeing Korn with around fifty other people way before they made it big. Of me working for Metallica. Of me seeing Steve Vai in Hollywood and it was probably the best performance I ever saw. Of me seeing Ice Cube in the early 90s and rocking the fuck out. Of me seeing Sublime playing a back yard party in the California desert.

“Those were the days, Shauna Poo,” I said in a cheesy I’m-above-it-all-now tone. “But not anymore. There was a time it was greasy open-face burgers, naughty sluts, and whiskey. Now, it’s wine, refined company, and stinky cheese.”

“Oh, please,” she said, rolling over and leaving me with the TV, my heavy metal memories, and a bottle of wine with one good pull left.

The next day I met up with some friends from Vegas in Huntington Beach. We were old friends from our wilder single days. Fast forward a few years, a few job changes and divorces, and there we were single again. Men in their forties looking for some trouble in Orange County.

There was a celebratory yet anxious feeling in the air for we were all making drastic changes in our lives. James’ divorce was about wrapped up. Tucker was going into rehab for digging on heroin and benzos too much. Joey just filed for a divorce. Corey was going back home to Vegas, quit his job, dump his girlfriend of nine years, and then move to Oregon to take care of his father who was dying of cancer.

And then me. The last year I was on the road for work or pleasure and I found myself in the company of strange men and women, strange towns, and strange highways. What was at first romantic was in the end completely exhausting and made me a little crazy. I was tired of waking up in dank hotel rooms, in my truck, or sleeping on the floor in dilapidated homes that I was fixing.

I was dizzy.

I was cold.

I was sore.

I was all messed up.

So, I was going on a spiritual retreat of sorts to get my bearings. I was disappearing in some posh part of L.A, chop off all of my hair, eat better, run longer, listen to my heart and not my addictive mind, store away my truck and my “material” junk and go monk. Everyone saw it coming so when I made the announcement to the few that I wanted in the know it came as no surprise.

That night me and the gang had a nice dinner and got blind drunk. We ate piles of fish tacos, lobster enchiladas, rice and beans, ceviche, and craziness. Throughout that night we had weird silences, odd moments of realizing what was happening to us. At one point we were all living in Vegas, had wives, our better careers, homes, and now we were all going opposite directions for different reasons.

We were leaving our past for something else. What that was I don’t think any of us had a clue. Life was throwing punches, kicking us around. But we were game even though there was a hint of uncertainty in our voices. Over the table we joked that we weren’t dead, that we had our college degrees, a snatch of cheap talent, a kick-ass CD collection, a chick on the side of the stage named Jennifer, Christy, Angie, and dicks that still worked.

And we had each other.

We’d all been friends for over twenty years.

It wasn’t all that bad.

The next morning I woke up with my head thumping. Bodies stirred on the floor and it smelled like a drunk tank. I started my retreat that day. My check-in time was 2pm. Shauna was driving in from Riverside to take me in.

“You ready, baby?” she asked over the phone.

“I’m ready.”

Corey was already up and reading the copy of Don Quixote I bought him. One by one we hopped in the shower to wash off the cigarettes, vodka, rum and sand, which was painted over us. We looked and smelled horribly. James, who drank twice as much as all of us, was still passed out, his ass curiously raised in the air.

“We ought to field fuck him,” Tucker said. “What do you say, Reno?”

“Absolutely. I’m horny,” I said, making my way to James.

“He does have a nice ass,” Joey observed.

“I’m first!” Corey yelled. “Hold him down!”

James turned over quickly, his eyes red and shot out.

“You sick bastards! Get away from me!”

“We’ll be gentle, honey!”

“Please, James! I’m lonely!”

“Get the hell away from me!”

Field fucking is a Marine Corps activity whereby a Marine (one who’s been an asshole as of late) is held in the doggie position and his brotherhood takes turns dry fucking him. A very communal ceremony.

James wanted nothing to do with this ceremony.

Sissy.

“Wow, James. That hurts. We thought you loved us?”

“Fuck you.”

We went for breakfast at some quaint little diner—the ones with colorful pies spinning in a glass fixture. The waitress was cute. California blond with nice straight teeth, a button nose, and a good sense of humor. We were feeling a bit giddy from the night’s shenanigans and told her how crazy our lives were.

“Did you know this dude is going crazy? You bet! Loony! Right in front of your pretty eyes!”

“And this guy loves heroin. Well, he’s addicted to everything. Donuts. Cigarettes. Spam. Isn’t that just peachy?”

“Well, this guy is divorcing his wife and she’s taking all his shit! His screwdrivers. His chones. His dignity!”

“So wait a minute,” she said chuckling. “One of you is going crazy. One is addicted to heroin and like three of you are dumping your women? You guys look normal, but you’re all screwed up.”

“Why yes. Yes we are.”

Shauna showed up and we said our goodbyes. No tears. Just hugs and firm handshakes. Tucker would be gone for at least three months. James would have to pick up the pieces, find his dignity somewhere in the pale Vegas desert. So would Joey. And Corey would be in Oregon for as long as it would take. Me, I’d be gone at least two months, come out of the wilderness and say hello, and then would probably disappear again.

That’s what my heart was telling me.

“Time to go monk, eh?” Shauna said as we drove into a beautiful L.A day.

“Time to go monk.”

Thank you Mother Nature.

For the seasons are changing. Fall is right around the corner bearing two gifts. For one, my summer depression will soon hit the woe-is-me road for next year. And two, the 2010-11 NFL football season is here!

To hell with baseball!

And lawn bowling!

And Tiger Woods and that soft hobby that has delivered that horny misfit big cash, a divorce, and copious amounts of classy take-home-to-meet-momma beaver!

I mean enough already!

Tiger!

Is this all right with you? Huh?

Good then.

Bring on the blitz!

As you know this is prediction time, folks. Everyone and their dope man knows what’s going to go down this year.

The Saints will kiss the Lombardi once again.

Watch out for the Ravens.

The Raiders will blow as usual.

Keep an eye on the Packers.

So on and so forth.

The truth is no one knows what’s going to happen. That’s the beauty. It’s a long season full of cheers, jeers, and unpredictability. What you can count on is that weird shit is going to go down. Bad luck. Dumb luck. Fluke injuries and victories. Some teams will be sickened one month into the party and other teams will bite and claw for 16 brutal weeks and play their best football as soon as the playoffs hit.

One never knows.

Except for me.

Here we go.


The NFC

The South

The Saints took the pie last year and it was a happening sight. Some say they have a good shot at getting back to the big game. History says there’s a good chance they won’t even make the playoffs. They’re defense is sketchy, but they have Brees and a very dangerous offense to boot. They’ll put on a show no doubt. I say they make the playoffs, but it stops right there.

Falcons have what it takes to battle New Orleans for the West. They have a solid young QB in Ryan, a good running game, and a good defense. With Ron Mexico and the Dirty Bird (thank god) in their rearview mirror, Atlanta is one of those teams to keep an eye out for in 2010.

The other two teams, Carolina and Tampa, are horrible. If you see either of these teams on your team’s schedule then have a party at your house that day. BYOB.


The East

The Cowboys are the favorites to take the division. They have Romo, Austin, Bryant, Witten, a frumpy-looking coach, and all of Texas. That’s good eats. Cowboys fans span the globe and I met one the other day who barked in my ear for what seemed forever (she’s lucky she smelled good or it would have been intolerable) how the Cowboys were snatching the Lombardi this year.

“You’ll see,” she said, blowing a cigarette hit into the L.A night. “All you haters will see. Hot-ass Romo in the middle of the field talking about going to Disneyland or some shit like that. Just watch.”

“He’ll be fishing in the middle of the ocean when that trophy is raised.”

“Kiss my ass!”

I understood what that chick was talking about. The Cowboys are a good team and I expect them to be at the top of the conference at season’s end. Last year the Vikings dismantled them in the playoffs and I’m sure this year they’re looking to rewrite that nightmare.

Look for the Redskins to do a little better this year. Which is not saying much. Owner Dan Snyder (a bona fide football putz) signed McNabb and hired Mike Shanahan as the new head coach. You know, the one with the eye. The one with the Super Bowl rings. Their hope is that Shanahan will conjure up some of that Denver magic. I don’t see it. It’ll be more of the same for the Redskins: dish out a lot of fast cash for veteran players and high-profile coaches and keep losing.

It should be easy for the Giants to have a better season than last year. They ate themselves last year and just need to clean up their act. They have the talent. Saying that, their defense needs to pick it up and put the ball in Eli’s hands. If that happens then the Giants fans should have something to cheer about.

Philly ditched McNabb for Kolb and they’ll soon learn that, sure, the dance with Donovan may have run its course, but his replacement is simply not ready to lead the team to any semblance of success. Good defense. Bad offense. They’ll suck this year.


The North

Brett Favre and the Vikings almost made it to the Super Bowl last year but they blew it big time. But if Peterson can hold onto the fucking ball and the receivers can get healthy one never knows. Favre is a veteran and if he knows one thing it’s football. Minnesota fans should be optimistic.

I like the Pack this year. I think Rodgers is a kickass QB and will probably get a Super Bowl ring before he hangs up his cleats for a gig calling games for ESPN. If that offensive line can block for him and that defense can hold their own then watch out. Really.

Da Bears? Fuggedaboutit. Even if Obama gave them a you-can-believe speech before every game they’d lose more games than they’d win. Look for this to happen in 2010.

The Lions? Well, I will never pass up a chance to rip on Matt Millen so here it goes: yeah, I know that bloated jock pig is not on their payroll anymore, but his short-sighted, dimwitted, boneheaded vision of football cursed that franchise (they didn’t need any help) for all eternity. He ripped out their hearts and shitted on their puny dreams because that’s all he knew what to do. He was incapable of doing or knowing any better. Sorry Detroit. Truly.


The West

I don’t have anything to say about this crappy division so I won’t.


The AFC

The South

One word: Peyton. The Colts are still the team to beat in this division and the entire conference for that matter. Peyton is a football god and he’ll take his team into the playoffs without a doubt. Like the Saints, if the defense can hold their own then it’s on. It’s on regardless. Peyton. Say it again: Peyton.

Jaguars. I like the quarterback and have a good friend that hails from Jacksonville. He’s a crazy fucker that builds muscle cars and like me thinks that Amy Hempel is the bomb. Other than that I have nothing to say about Jacksonville.

The Texans were supposed to have a solid year last year. They didn’t. They won’t this year either.

Vince Young has turned his shit around. I thought the man was dead in the proverbial water. But hey. The Titans have the talent to do some damage this year. They have a vicious running back in Chris Johnson and a smart coach that sports a disgusting croissant-like mustache. I’ll be there to see it when they line up against the Colts. And you should, too.


The East

The safe bet is that the Patriots will again be in the Super Bowl hunt. Brady. Brady. Brady. Moss is returning for one last dance. Oh, and Wes Welker is back and the moody coach in the hoodie will be mumbling at the podium. Enough said.

The Jets have gobs o’ players returning to the team after a solid year last year. Sure, their obnoxious coach has a foul mouth and has the class of a road apple, but he has his team believing they can win. Maybe his verbal prowess can stop Tomlinson from being a post-game pussy and get him to just run the damn football. We’ll see. Sanchez needs to keep up his chops of last year or it’s a bust for New York.

The Dolphins shocked a few people last year when they ended the season at 7-9. One would think they’d be better this year. But because I inherently loathe the Dolphins I say they’re going to stink up the field. Let’s hope.

The Bills are perfectly horrible. Again, if you see the Bills on your team’s schedule chalk it up as a win.


The North

The defense-heavy Ravens should be in the fight once again. The Ravens have a thing for playing spoiler and I can see them making the playoffs and knocking off a team or two with a better record. Last year they smacked around the favored Patriots on national TV. It was a pure ass whooping. It’s what they do. I find Ray Lewis to be an utter bore with his lame two-bit sermons, but the man is an animal on the field and has the power to will his team to victory. I’ve seen it happen one too many times.

Roethlisberger’s off-the-field shenanigans have suspended that super genius for four games. If the Steelers can get passed this mess with a couple of wins they’ll be all right. Ben is still a good QB and the Steelers are, well, the Steelers. They know how to win. I look for them to make a run for the playoffs this year.

The Bengals should have an explosive offense this year with the acquisition of T.O and his big teeth. Let it be known that I think that man is a perfect asshole and hope he takes a short slant route right into Ray Lewis’ helmet and his world fades to black. Ray, I already told you that you bore me, but for the love of god, homie, if you have a love for humanity and god the way you claim that you do then you’d take that degenerate out. You have at least two chances this year. Put it to good use, dog.

Forget about the Browns once again this year. Most do.


The West

The Chargers have dominated this cheap division for some time and should have no problem taking it again and go into the playoffs. Good QB. Gates. Sproles. So-so defense and a coach with great infomercial skin. What else can you ask for? A Super Bowl ring? Oh.

The Broncos? Last year they came out of the gate punching and kicking and then petered out when it counted the most. I don’t like Orton. Nothing personal, but he’s not a leader. They’ll be watching the playoffs with you and me.

The Raiders stink but should have a better season than the Chiefs who stink even more. Like last year, pay no mind to either of these pathetic teams.

Whew. That’s it, folks. Lame utterances and fast picks void of solid ESPN research. Straight gibberish. Just the way it should be. Now, it’s time to call my dope man and find out what he thinks. So fire up the grill. Break out the hooch and the brauts. See you at the stadium.


Stucco

By Reno J. Romero

Poem

Behind the faded green duplex
the spider sleeps under the leaf
Where I make volcanoes out of mud
like the ones in Italy

My dad is singing drunk songs,
pounding a wall full of patch-ups
The Chinese landlord smells like vinegar
and mumbles to himself fixing
our broken faucet with the wrong tools
Last week he repaired our cracked front door
by painting over it like Picasso
But he’s no Picasso
He’s a slumlord of a hovel
on American dirt with Italian volcanoes
that someday will drop this place

Just one match away and I’ll make history
and send him to bed mumbling forever
Pull the spark from my pocket
My cat drops the pigeon from his mouth
The spider wakes
The faucet still drips
The roaches bathe
And Picasso watches the smoke rise
from a backyard in Los Angeles

Dear Greyhound, 

Hello. How are you? I’m fine if you were wondering. But last week I wasn’t so fine. In fact, I was pissed off. See, last week I took one of your buses from Victorville to Las Vegas and it was a horrible experience. And I wasn’t in the greatest of moods to begin with. My truck was down (the reason for me taking the bus) and I was going to Vegas not for martinis and kitschy entertainment, but to see my ex-wife and our attorney who was going to deliver bad news to us legally. Ex-wives and attorneys? Not a good time to say the least. That being said, the ride to Vegas wasn’t all that bad. Well, there were some screaming children and it smelled like hot coleslaw and ass, but for the most part is was all right. Sitting next to a friendly good-looking woman did make the ride more negotiable. But I’m not one of those high-maintenance types. In fact, I pride myself in not being a pain in the ass in private or in public. I’m not that whiny cousin or that needy jerk-off who gives the waiter a hard time.  

But the ride home was the worst. Apparently, you guys sold some tickets to some folk who possessed extremely foul mouths and were void of common decency. But let me back up. For starters, the bus was almost two hours late. Two hours is a long time when all you want is to get back home, have a nice homemade meal, and hit the sack. And two hours is a real long time when you’re from out of town, lost all your cash, reek of cheap booze, and need to get back home not for a hot meal and some rest, but to save your sorry ass from further lame destruction. Trust me, Greyhound, I know. I lived in Las Vegas for many years and have seen these bastards come into town all hopped up from Who Gives A Rat’s Ass, USA, and leave the desert crestfallen and looking and smelling like A-1 dog shit. 

As soon as we hit the freeway around six dudes started cussing. Now, this wasn’t a bullshit or a goddamn here and there. It was motherfucker this and motherfucker that. It was fuck you, fuck your whore of a girlfriend, fuck your ugly stinkin’ mama and your limp-dick daddy, kind of stuff. This wasn’t a burst of inspiration that lasted ten minutes either. No. This went on for two hours. People were cringing. It was unbelievable. And to add the proverbial icing on the cake, the same dude that was standing behind me in the terminal watching porn on his laptop was sitting next to me. I was three pages into Paul Auster’s Timbuktu when the reels started spinning again. Girl on girl action with the volume turned up. So, along with the motherfucker and fuck you maxims these geniuses were dishing out there was the scripted moans of two idiots lapping each other’s parts. It was nothing short of disgusting. 

At one point it was so ridiculous, so absurd, I started busting up. Mr. Dueling Vaginas looked at me like if I was crazy. I was crazy. Not even my therapist with her framed degrees in faulty-wired brains hinted at crazy. Fucked up, sure, but never crazy. 

Now, hear me out, Greyhound. I’m no prude. I have a foul mouth, too (you probably have figured this out by now). Sometimes referring to some unreasonable person as “difficult” just doesn’t cut the mustard. Such a person would be better labeled an asshole. So, I get it. I understand the need to execute such language. Context is all, right? Sure. You bet. But what was the context here? What warranted such observations? A father with a butter-soft pecker? Someone’s gruesome-looking mother? A girlfriend who happens to be a whore?  

Jesus Christ.  

Really?  

And as for the porn? Again, I’ve been around the block. Good blocks. Bad blocks. For-the-time-being blocks. I’ve seen it all. Still, you don’t get your rocks off on a public bus or in a restaurant or waiting in line at Piggly Wiggly. You just don’t. Go home and beat up your dick. If you want to cuss like a jackass then wait until you get to your buddy’s pad. Or your own pad for Christ’s sakes.  

And what was your driver doing while all this went down? Nothing. He just kept looking back at those people in his rearview mirror like if his stupid bus driver eyes would pipe them down by his stare alone. That’s it. No warnings, no counseling, no reprimands, nothing. He didn’t calm them down so they carried on like if it was nobody’s business. At one point you couldn’t blame them. They were like: well, if this dude doesn’t want to police us then, hell, it’s on.  

Fuck you, bitch! And your fat ass sister!  

Suck my big swingin’ motherfuckin’ dick, homie!  

See what I’m saying? This happened. For hours. 

Well, Greyhound, I’ve had enough with this damn letter. Allow me to counsel you with some plain old common sense advice: train your drivers to take control of the village. Sit these people down and pass out thick packets of the dos and don’ts of driver duties. Draw up a fancy PowerPoint with tons of flashing colors and graphs and go through the steps one by one on how to manage people and then test their asses until they get it right. Passing grade: 100 %. Anything less is exactly that. Seek excellence. Don’t settle. Remember that people are forking over cash for your services. So get your act together. Be professional. Be considerate. Do the right thing for the love of god! Okay. That’s it. Thank you very much for your time and have a blessed day.

 

Sincerely,

Reno J. Romero 

I met Jen in rehab in 1995. She was trying to kick a methadone habit and I was in an ugly battle with the bottle. She’d been in treatment a few weeks before I arrived. And when I did arrive I was running on a two-week binge that had me buckled over and racked with blurred vision. I could hardly move except for my hands that wouldn’t stop rattling. I showed up at their door with a duffle bag full of clothes and a couple of books. One of them being Camus’ Exile and the Kingdom.

They immediately put me in detox. In the bed next to me was this young dude who was hooked on speed. On the other side of me was a middle-aged man whose drug of choice (DOC) was morphine.

“I got addicted after a car accident,” he told me, his eyes pale and gone. He lost two fingers in the accident. “That was the first time I tried morphine. In a hospital of all places.”

When I was in the clear they put me through an assessment and found that I was highly depressed, was loaded with anxiety, suffered from sleeping disorders, and had a problem with alcohol.

I was a walking time bomb.

I was lethal.

I already knew this.

One of the first things they tell you when you enter rehab is that it’s not a place to find romance. Don’t look for a boyfriend or a girlfriend in rehab. That’s not what you’re there for. You’re there to rewire your brain. You’re there to get clean. You’re there to fix yourself. You’re not there to get fucked. You’re already fucked. That’s why you’re in rehab.

But when I met Jen there was an instant attraction between us. She was pretty, had beautiful green eyes, fair skin, and short brown hair. Over the next week I’d see her around the facility. We’d stop and chat, talk about our treatment and whatnot. Small talk. But there was something else going on. One night after a group session I was walking out to my car and she stopped me.

“So, what are you doing tonight, Reno?”

“Try not to walk into a bar and get shellacked,” I said, laughing.

“Sounds like a good plan. How about some coffee? Want to join me?”

That night over coffee and her burning cigarettes we told each other’s story. She came from a wealthy family, was born and raised in Miami. Two brothers, one sister. Mom was a materialistic pill-popping bitch and dad was a functioning drunk who owned a Budweiser distribution center that allowed him to fill up his houses with kitschy shit and wrap his neck and fingers in diamonds and gold. Her brothers were alcoholics and her sister, who owned a successful talent agency, was addicted to everything. Coke, booze, opiates. She was a professional addict who never missed a day of work, never lost control, never went to rehab.

“She has her addictions under control,” Jen said. “If there’s even such a thing.”

Jen worked as a graphic designer and was heavy in the Miami art scene. That’s where she was introduced to methadone. Like many addicts, she experimented with all kinds of drugs including alcohol. But it was methadone that did her in. Her story was the typical drug tale: at first her using was recreational, a weekend thing. And then quietly and suddenly she was in the throes of full-blown addiction: methadone was running her life, waking her up, putting her to bed, and calling all the shots in between.

She avoided friends and family. Her work started to suffer and then disappeared all together. She lost self-respect, her dignity. And then she didn’t care. Didn’t care what happened to her. She packed up and drove across the states to Vegas not remembering much of the drive. I knew the story all too well. I lost my fiancé over alcohol. I disconnected from friends, family, and eventually myself. I told her that when my addiction was at its worse I knew damn well I was killing myself but didn’t care. The pleading voices over the phone didn’t mean a fucking thing. The concerned faces of those who loved me were featureless, blank, nothing.

The bottle won and was eating me alive.

We started to see each other a lot. We’d go to the movies, have dinner. We’d jog the Vegas Strip, hike Mount Charleston. We flew to California and sipped lemonade on the Santa Monica Pier. We watched the sunset and held each other. We couldn’t change the past. What the future held in store for us was a mystery. There were no guarantees—our promises just fragile utterances that could be snapped by the deceitful, cunning, and destructive voice of the addictive mind. But we were sober today. That was our mantra.

Today.

Today.

Today.

On the night that it happened we were walking in Sunset Park and I reached for her hand. We walked for quite a while without saying a word. But there really wasn’t much to say. Our hands weaved together said all there was to say.

“Want to go to my place?” she asked.

We sat at her kitchen table listening to Derek and the Dominos and talked long into the night. We wondered and worried if we were ever going to kick our habits. We knew we were in trouble, that our addictions had a stranglehold on us. We knew that if we continued to use then the end result would be the grave. There was no doubt about it. Two months before I lost a dear friend to heroin. A year before that another friend lost his fight with alcohol. One dead at forty-one, the other at twenty-seven. Good men. Funny, intelligent, gentle. But sick and damaged beyond repair. I was right behind them. So was Jen.

We knew we were in control of this.

We knew we were out of control.

“Reno, I know you don’t love me,” Jen said, looking through me. “But will you make love to me?”

My ex-girlfriend’s face flashed in front of me. Her telling me to wait, to not sleep with anyone, love anyone, that it will only complicate matters, not yet, get clean, please, I’ll wait. I shut off my picture-making machine, pushed away her words, and followed Jen to her bedroom as the opening lead to “Layla” slurred behind us.

Let’s make the best of the situation/Before I finally go insane/Please don’t say we’ll never find a way/And tell me all my love’s in vain

I woke up to Jen sitting on the bed Indian-style reading a book of poems I bought her. She looked beautiful, peaceful, her green eyes bright and clear.

“Hey,” she said, in a soft voice.

“Good morning.”

We stared at each other, examining each other’s face looking for something. I finally sat up, held her face in my hands, and kissed her. Tears rushed down her face. And then I started crying. We crossed over. We broke the rules of rehab. We cared for each other now. We wanted each other to get well, to be happy. We wanted the best for one another. We wanted each other to be clean and sober. We held each other thinking the same thing: please don’t use, don’t drink.

* * *

After three months we completed the program. Jen finished before me, but continued her treatment at another facility. We continued to see each other, but as time passed we saw less and less of each other. We were in love, but knew that because of our addictions a serious long-term relationship would be a precarious situation. We were dangerous for each other and didn’t want to bring the other down if our addictions surfaced again. The statistics said there was a high probability they would. This terrified us and eventually broke us up. We cared for each other too much to take the chance.

I remember our last phone call which would be the last time I’d hear her voice. We thanked each other, wished each other good luck, said that we’ll always love one another, but that it just couldn’t be. It was devastating. I hung up the phone empty, crying, lost, but sober. To this day I can still hear her voice coming over the wire.

“We’ll be all right, Reno. We’ll be O.K.”

I was watching The Joy Behar Show and Ted Haggard’s wife, Gayle, was on there promoting her book, Why I Stayed. For those of you who don’t know, Ted Haggard was at one time the hugely successful evangelical pastor of the New Life Church, which boasted thousands of members.  Then a homosexual feller named Mike Jones came out and said that he and Ted used to check into hotels, do railers of tweak, and bang each other.

It was news heaven for the media.

A blessing if you will.

Everything that Ted built up over the years went to hell in a handbasket at record speed. In short, Haggard was yanked from the Jesus podium and promptly let go by the church shot-callers. As we know, Christianity doesn’t like anything gay. No gay thoughts. No pro-gay dialogue. And definitely no gay poking. Ted is a homosexual—or, at the very least, engaged in homosexual activities. So, the church elders dragged him to the curb like a trash can and even kicked him out of the state until the Gay Devil burning inside of him simmered down or split all together.

So his wife wrote a book about what went down.  Then she went on television, doing the publicity rounds.  She seemed like a nice women and blamed Ted’s gay ways on a sexual encounter he had as a child with a male relative. She said that studies show that homosexuality is created by conditioning and experience. So in essence, if your folks, friends, or billboards tell you enough times that you’re gay, then you’re probably going to turn out gay at some point in your life. Or, if you happen to mingle with people of the same sex enough times, one fine day you’ll wake up, look into the proverbial mirror, and realize that you are a full-blown homosexual.

Poof.

Presto.

Gay magic.

I don’t know about this. Now, I don’t have any data to support my claim, but I’ve always felt people were either born gay or straight. Some may be born with a little bit of both stirring up inside of them. This may be a generic answer to a very complex puzzle. Sure. I can see that. Still, in my experience, homosexuality has nothing to do with conditioning or experience; it just is what it is: some folks are attracted sexually to the same sex and others are not.  Period.

I was raised in a very liberal household. My folks were in their teens when I showed up. They saw the Beatles, Hendrix, Supertramp, Alice Cooper, and countless other happening acts in concert. We burned incense, danced long into the night, went to Dodger games, and backpacked Yosemite. I was raised in thick Let-It-Be smoke. The “gay issue” that so many people get riled up over wasn’t an issue at all.

It should go without saying, but homosexuals are human beings and should be treated accordingly. This country—with its archaic laws in regards to same sex marriage—is cruel, boneheaded, and anti-human.

Peace and love, right?

But why be so harmonious?

We’ll have none of that.

Lord no.

Ironically, the very mindset that Ted fostered and peddled to thousands of people turned on him and turned his life upside down.

Anyhow, this got me thinking: when did I know I was straight? The 1st grade. Sure, I didn’t know what gay or straight meant at the time, but what I did know was that Miss Metheny was a stone cold fox and that I wanted to do things with her. What those things entailed, I hadn’t a clue. But it was something inside of me. A calling. A burning feeling in my gut. A feeling that would become very familiar to me and would follow me through the years and land me in some very, uh, curious positions.

I would find myself gazing at poor Miss Metheny. Her beautiful sea-blue eyes and pretty hands. Her nice clothes and silky blond hair. She smelled good and had a soft voice that said nice pleasant things. I wanted to marry her. Mrs. Metheny Romero. She’d marry a fantastic kickball player, a voracious reader, a builder of mud volcanoes, and a pretty darn good guitar player in the making who would not only grow up to learn how to play Beatles jams, but be able to switch musical gears, fire up the amp, and rip Iron Maiden and Sabbath cuts note for note. Oh, yes, Miss Metheny! How about that, toots! Yeah!

I didn’t feel this way about Mr. Lopez, who taught in the room next door. In fact, I thought his large head and hairy hands were downright ugly. The things he said were harsh-sounding and void of melody. He dressed horribly and smelled like a trash heap in comparison to the edible scent that whipped around Miss Metheny’s beautiful head. He did nothing for my eyes or my thoughts. That fire in my gut that Miss Metheny sparked was replaced by sour milk.

It was set in stone. I was straight. All day. All week. Forever. So, I guess, Gayle Haggard is right: that early experience with Miss Metheny sealed it for me. No dudes. In those early years, they were only good for football games, riding bikes, and stealing their father’s Playboy magazines.

“Oh, my god. That’s ugly.”

“It’s a girl weenie.”

“My brother calls it a cooter.”

“My cousin says it’s a pussy.”

“Oh! My mom calls our cat Pussy Willow! Sick!”

The next year Mrs. Jordan came my way. She wasn’t as pretty as Miss Metheny, but she also had a soft voice and pretty eyes. She smelled good, too. Not the spicy aroma that moved off of Miss Metheny, but like flowers. An acre full of fresh blooming flowers.

Then Anna came along. She had long hair, soft Chicana-brown eyes, and full red lips.

Then Rhonda. She was funny and sprinkled with freckles.

Then Julie.

Then Janna.

Later on, Soft Damn Kisses showed at my door.

Then Too Much Drama stopped by to terrorize me.

Then I Fuckin’ Love You Baby snatched my hand and showed me her feathered bed that overlooked the ocean.

So on and so forth.

As the years went by, men would assume a different role and would become very beneficial to the cause. We ditched football for pool. Ditched the bikes for cars. Ditched the magazines for the real thing. Brothers in arms. Bar dogs. They’re names changed from Eric to Dickhead, James to Jerk-off. We gathered in insatiable packs. We coiled and whispered like tree vipers. Played in rock bands. We got drunk, said lame shit, and woke up in strange, perfumed beds.

Sorry, Pastor Ted.

Sorry, Larry Craig.

I don’t snort lines and my stance isn’t wide.

These days I find myself single again. It’s a trip. I’ve been out of the hustle for over ten years and don’t know quite what to do. Do I pull the same contrived crap I did when I was twenty-five? Hang out with some of the old gang that have found themselves wearing the same shoes as me? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think I’ll sit this one out for a bit. Relax and run in the early desert morning. Meditate and munch on my Fiber One bars. Maybe, this time around I’ll lower the amp a tad and play some soft blues in a dark bar that serves colorful martinis. Pick up my trusty acoustic guitar and strum Carly Simon tunes. Perhaps I’ll hop in my truck, take a long drive up the coast, and keep some notes on what comes my way, see what the day brings.

Yeah, that sounds good.

Real good.

Thank you, Miss Metheny.

You stone cold fox.

The sun was breaking behind me when I hit Highway 58 heading north. I had a head full of coffee and a head full of questions that didn’t have any answers. For what was up ahead, what would transpire, I didn’t know. There was a girl at the end of the road. A beautiful girl. She told me over the phone that she loved me. Told me to come see her. Play guitar for her. Write her poems. I loved her, too.

On both sides of the road the desert spread out like a sea painted in tans, browns, and pale greens. Joshua trees sprouted from the ground in jagged angles—its spiny blossoms splayed out like sharp star light. A train track followed along side the highway carrying the weight of rusted trains marked in faded graffiti. Vacant concrete homes stood lifeless on the hard desert dirt. I hit the gas and pushed forward.  

I was just outside of Bakersfield when my phone rang. It was an old high school friend. I told him that I was on my way to northern California, that I was packed to move there, but didn’t know how long I’d stay.

 “I’m winging it.”   

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “Good luck.”  

Radio stations cut in and out, but the one constant was her face before me. She was smiling. She was across the table sipping wine. She was sleeping next to me as I brushed my hand over her back feeling her skin, feeling the rise and fall of her breath. I could hear her voice coming over the line. “Hey,” she’d say, her voice familiar and warm. “I just called to say that I love you. A lot. Got to get back to work. Have a great day. I’ll call you as soon as I get off. Bye, baby.”

Three hours outside of my destination I pulled over for a bite to eat. A hard wind was coming from the north. Flat agricultural land was to the right of the freeway. On the left was a wall of mountains where the freeway weaved around and disappeared. I sat on my tailgate and watched two crows sitting on a fence, necks swiveling, their feathers lifting and dropping into the black.  

I contemplated what brought me here. The choices I made. The ones I didn’t. My failures and my successes. I thought about my friends and family; most of them not knowing where I was and where I was going, much less what I was thinking. And just like I’d hike the Montecito Hills alone as a kid, here I was moving over a strange highway with no one in the passenger seat. A seat that she’d soon be sitting in, her face turning and catching my nervous profile as it moved through her city.  

How long she’d be in that seat, I didn’t know. She didn’t either. But the drive would be made regardless.

Naked

By Reno J. Romero

Notes

“You have to play the gig, Reno,” the voice said, over the phone. It was Johnny. A virtuoso on guitar and a friend of over twenty years. “Get your ass to California.” 

“Okay,” I said, hanging up the phone, already thinking of what I was going to play. 

Johnny keeps weird hours. Wakes up at three in the afternoon and stays up all night long. Musician hours. So, his call came at midnight. I was watching the news and ready to get to bed. But then the call was made. Then the strong arm was applied and now I was fully awake with my guitar in hand and running through some numbers.  

The next day I loaded up my truck and hit the I-15 going south. I got into Victorville around seven-thirty a bit tired, but ready for the gig that was the next night at the Roxbury Sports Bar in Hesperia, my hometown. My time to hit the stage: 9pm. It was on. Six songs. A quick bout. Uppercut, jab. In and out.  

My truck was acting up, so I had to take the Greyhound bus to Vegas. I wasn’t too happy about this. For one, I would have to dish out some cash to heal whatever ailment (s) my truck was suffering from. And two, the haul to Vegas wasn’t for fun. No hanging out with old friends. No extra-spicy chicken fingers at Danny’s. No wine or whiskey. I was going to town to see my attorney where at the end of our meeting she would tell me that I was officially and financially screwed. Yay for me! How neat! Such a wonderful way to start off the New Year!

But this was on me. This is what happens when you make poor personal and professional decisions. So, I had to eat it. And I had to take the damn bus to get this delightful news. I haven’t taken the bus since my high school days, but I remember it being an ugly combination of dingy people, screaming babies, and the pungent stench of decaying homemade food. This bus ride would be no different. Right when I stepped on the bus, I was hit with smudged faces, pissed off babies, and rotting food.

I found a seat next to this girl whose name turned out to be Jessica. We chatted for a bit. She’d been living in Vegas only for a few months. A transplant from L.A. Vegas was a new start for her. L.A was a bust. She liked Vegas—was taken in by the buzzing neon, the dusty red stone of Red Rock Canyon.

I turned on my iPod that I got from Santa (thanks, Tori) and settled in as we cut through the pale tones of the desert. I moved to the desert in 1981 and was immediately smitten by its perfect silence, its hard dirt, the spiny joshua trees—spooky and beautiful—sprouting out of the ground in ancient desert shapes. I was born in L.A, but it was the desert that wired and built me. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Snow” filled my ears, the lyrics a timely narrative.

Come to decide that the things I tried

Were in my life just to get high on

When I sit alone come get a little known

But I need more than myself this time

The bus weaved over I-15 and my mind tumbled through the past year: leaving my house with two bags full of books and clothes knowing I wasn’t going to return to the woman that was living inside. Befriending a chihuahua named Duke that would sing on cue. Seeing a giant rainbow in Thousand Palms rising from behind the San Gorgonio Mountains. Being holed-up and depressed in a smoke-infested hotel room on Boulder Highway with a fridge full of beer and a large pepperoni pizza. A handful of poems I wrote for a dear friend whom I love from head to toe. Driving through the desert in the middle of the night with an eccentric 70 year-old man who goes to law school and rides his Triumph motorcycle through the desert between Lucerne Valley and Barstow. Not being able to sleep for weeks on end and having late night conversations with Zara Potts. “Get some sleep,” she’d type and send over the wire. Writing a telling song in Woodland, California, that would eerily predict my future. A reading I gave in Hollywood, meeting some great folk for the first time, and in the company of a beautiful woman. The time I was having dinner with a buddy in Vegas and some woman walked up to the table and said, “Excuse me. But are you Reno Romero? I’ve been reading your stuff for years. I’m a big fan of The Nervous Breakdown.” Sleeping in my truck for two days in Stockton while rain and bad thoughts pelted the windshield. A gay pride festival I went to with my friend Trish where the boys were far prettier than the girls. Dancing to Al Green with my aunt and cousin buzzing on cheap beer and howling into the night like a pack of wild dogs. The countless nights I thought about my grandmother and wished she was still around. Jogging on the cracked streets of Hesperia—my hometown—not believing I was back after all these years, but feeling a sense of peace in the jagged shadows of some joshua trees that graced a vacant lot.

I was talking to Megan DiLullo one morning and we talked about the past year. I told her that 2009 was a bad year—that I could never have imagined the unforeseen circumstances that rolled my way in heavy waves.

“I don’t know if it was so much a bad year,” she said, in her charming punk rock style. “But it was a hard year.”

A hard year.

She was right.

It was a hard year.

* * *

After my attorney gave me the predicted news, I headed back to my grandmother’s house. It was over. I signed the needed papers and was free. Free to roam. Free to stay put. Free to do whatever I wanted. I was both sad and relieved. I slipped the key in the lock, opened the door, and smelled my grandmother. Her scent hasn’t left the house. I walked into her room and looked at her bed. She died in her room among crucifixes, paintings of Jesus, family pictures, and some books I bought her. I stepped into her closet and brushed my hands over her clothes that we refuse to put in boxes. I tuned her guitar and played it long into the night.

The next morning I went for a jog, taking my old route. Hacienda to Nellis, Nellis to Russell, Russell to Mountain Vista and back down to Hacienda. Just like old times. After a five-star lunch that consisted of Jack In The Box’s dog food tacos and Vegas tap water, my aunt dropped me off at the bus station that was littered with action: two Hispanic dudes smoking a joint in the parking lot. A batch of disheveled Chinese tourists with swollen I-didn’t-get-any-sleep-last-night eyes guarding their luggage. A pissed off American with greasy dirt-blond hair making a scene because he missed his bus to Albuquerque. A pretty brunette staring at a wall of casinos in the distance. Some black dude dancing in front of the terminal dressed in a stained wife-beater and wearing shorts that sat just below his nuts. A young woman peppered with zits nervously smoking a cigarette and checking her cell phone.

And then to make things even more entertaining, the bus was running late. Not one hour, but two hours. Curses and moans filled the room. Faces were twisted and long. Some people walked up to the counter and bitched. The dude behind me—who reeked of booze and cigarettes—sat on the floor Indian-style and watched porn on his laptop. I looked down and saw two chicks eating each other out. Now, I realize there are a lot of men (and women for that matter) that enjoy watching girl-on-girl action, but I’m not one of them. I’d rather eat a trough of liver and onions and then mow fifty acres of crabgrass. I text a friend who’s a big fan of seeing girls fuck each other.

“In Vegas. The bus is late. Too bad you’re not here with me, vato. I’m watching two chicks munching each other.”

“Shut up! In person?” he immediately fired back.

“No. Sorry. On some asshole’s laptop.”

“Bummer.”

The bus finally arrived and as fate would have it, Mr. Porn sat next to me and cranked up the sticky show once again. I couldn’t do anything, but laugh to myself. What a crazy life, I thought. Truly crazy. Attorneys with bad, yet good news. Memories of men and women. Rainbows and rain. Poems and cheap beer. An unscripted future up ahead. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” came through the earphones as the bus passed Bell Mountain and dipped into the Mojave Narrows where years ago I used to catch snakes and scorpions and kissed Julie Newland on a warm desert night.

There’s a girl in New York City, calls herself the human trampoline

And sometimes when I’m falling, flying, tumbling in turmoil

Well, I say so this is what she means

She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

I got off the bus in Victorville and met a man that just got out of the prison that’s down the road on the outskirts of town. He was kind, was going back home to Seattle where he said he was going to stay out of trouble, do the right thing.

“Good luck out there, man,” I told him with sincerity and shook his hand.

“Hey, you too,” he said, and boarded his bus.

Well, folks, the NFL season is coming to an end. Which for me and countless others means depression is creeping in. No more deep passes and corner blitzes. No more audibles, hot routes, bruises, or broken fingers. Like Thom Jones wrote, “Oh, baby, I’m so depressed.” ESPN and its talking heads will be neck-deep in baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and NASCAR. Not good. Don’t count me in. I’ll be watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians, keeping tabs on Kim’s sultry, almond-shaped eyes and manufactured bolt-ons. And let’s not forget Bruce Jenner! I’m fully bewildered by his 70’s haircut and his train wreck of a face-lift. It’s a wild sight. The man is truly weird looking. Anyhow, football. The 2009-2010 NFL season is almost a wrap. This is what happened.

Life is a Brees: The NFC

In the NFC the Saints came out of the gate punching and kicking. Their offense was prolific and they scored TDs like Costco sells frozen chicken fingers: in bulk. Brees was a badass and lit up defenses all season long. It was something to see. They butchered the Cardinals in the Divisional playoff game and squeezed out a victory in overtime against the Vikings. People predicted them to make it to the Super Bowl and that’s exactly what happened. They’re going to Miami, hoping to bring a Lombardi to New Orleans. We’ll see. Who Dat!

Favre and the Vikings made a run for the big game. They played the Saints in the NFC Championship game and had the thing won, but Favre threw a costly interception that sealed their fate. They had their chances despite five turnovers. Now, the big question is: will Brett retire once again and ride his dusty tractor off into the hillbilly horizon? Brace yourselves, people. Another teary-eyed retirement may be on the way. Whay.

The Packers had a good year and made it to the playoffs and had a shootout with the Cardinals that had both teams scoring a million points apiece. They came up short, but watch out for these guys next year. I like Rodgers and see him doing great things in the years to come.

The Eagles made it to the playoffs but got their asses handed to them by Romo and the Cowboys. In recent history the Eagles are the quintessential almost-but-not-quite football team. They’ve made the playoffs pretty consistently and even made it to the Super Bowl in 2004, but could never snatch themselves a Super Bowl ring. They might be cursed. But by who? Ron Jaworski? Terrell Owens and his big horse teeth? Regardless, I think their best days are behind them. Sorry, Donovan. Have some chicken soup and take a napper.

The Cowboys played well all year and in December—when they’ve historically imploded—they played their best football of the year. Their running game was solid, their defense was tough, and Romo was making plays. They smacked around the Eagles in the playoffs and then went on the road and got pummeled by the Vikings 34-3, sending them back to Dallas dizzy and crestfallen. Go figure. That whole sentiment of the Cowboys being “America’s team” has to go. Really. They’re just another team that watches the Super Bowl with the rest of us.

“They will never win with that pussy-looking coach,” a Cowboy fan yelled over the phone. “He looks like a fat eleven year-old with wrinkles.”

It’s true. He does.

So who are the teams that stunk up the field this season?

The Bears and Lions are perfectly miserable teams and thus had perfectly miserable seasons. Especially, the latter that have been eternally screwed by Matt Millen who’s an impeccable fool and a bona fide loser. As usual, the Redskins had yet another pathetic season. Don’t watch the Redskins snap another ball, folks. Don’t do it. Put on the Travel Channel and watch Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and watch that bald fucker scarf down a pair of sautéed bull nuts or gnaw on rabbit doused in a creamy chocolate sauce. It’s far more entertaining. Really.

The Seahawks, Niners, Falcons, Panthers, Bucs, and Rams were equally horrible (well, to be fair, the Niners and the Falcons didn’t look that bad) and should have quit a month into the season and worked on their golf game. They should have hired Tiger Woods for some pointers. But it seems to me that at that time Mr. Woody’s schedule was constantly booked with dewy waitresses and other assorted star fuckers.

There you go: The NFC.

Peyton’s Place: The AFC

The AFC will be sending the Colts to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning is phenomenal and is arguably the best QB to ever play the game. Like the Saints, a lot of people saw these dudes making and winning the Super Bowl with ease and Manning getting sized for yet another championship ring and a healthy cash bonus to boot. Cha-ching. I do see them winning the Super Bowl.

Indy barreled through the Ravens in the Divisional playoff game, shutting Ray Lewis up until next fall. I saw the game in a dinky bar in Highland, California, and was thrilled. Now, don’t get me wrong, Ray Lewis is one hell of a linebacker but he’s arguably the most vacuous human being to ever put on an NFL uniform. He’s a five-star bore and his pre-game sermons are lame, dimwitted, and dull. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lewis becomes a TV evangelist after he hangs up his cleats drawing cheap boneheaded parallels between football and salvation. Lord have mercy! Please, Lord, have some damn mercy!

The Patriots made the playoffs but weren’t as good as people predicted. They looked flat and uninspired all season long and got their asses kicked in their own back yard by the Ravens in the Wild Card game. The Chargers played solid all year long. They scored big points and kicked in some teeth along the way, making them a serious contender to get to Miami. But then the Jets came into town and kicked in their teeth in the divisional playoff game and strolled into the sweet San Diego sunset eating fish tacos and eye-balling the ladies.

The Jets came out of nowhere this season. No one predicted them to win with a rookie QB in Sanchez at the helm. And definitely no one saw them making the playoffs. But they did and knocked out Ochocinco and his Bengals with ease and then zipped off to San Diego to piss on Rivers’ parade. Their Super Bowl dreams croaked when they got to Indy. But it took the best team in the AFC to eliminate them from the tournament. That’s saying something. It was a good ride loaded with a vicious defense and their obese coach flapping his insatiable gums every time a mic was in his face. That guy was a sound bite machine and has a body the size of a full-grown rhinoceros. Step away from the buffet coach. Please.

So, who were the teams that bored us with their inept football ways? Here they are:

Miami, the Raiders, Chiefs, Jacksonville, Texans, Titans, Buffalo, Browns, Steelers, and Broncos. I think that’s everybody. I may have forgotten somebody. But does it matter? The answer is no. Jacksonville and the Texans had a shot at the playoffs but came up short. The Titans—who started off the season losing a batch of games in a row—came back at the end of the season and had a slight chance at making the playoffs. But when the final whistle blew it was a no-go.

The Browns have been horrible for decades and will continue to be horrible for decades. The Steelers—the reigning Super Bowl Champs—delivered a perfectly shitty product this season that had Jack Lambert knocking out his choppers once again. The Bills and Dolphins are lousy and fully incapable of playing football on a professional level, period. The Chiefs were horrible this year. As usual. And the Raiders? Sure they had a decent defense but they suck and Al Davis sucks even more. That old fart needs to take a dirt nap or retire. He’s a disease. And the Broncos? Well, at the beginning of the season people were singing their praises. I was one of those that didn’t and was waiting for them to shit in their bed. And guess what? They did. A giant steamer that floated across this football land and beyond. Call me Ishmael. Call me Nostrareno.

Well, that’s it. That’s how it went down. Next stop: Miami. Colts v. Saints.

Watch it.

Order pizza and drink beer.

After all it’s a National Holiday.

Cheers, folks.

I moved back to California around two months ago. What brought me back home after fifteen years? Well, a few things. Personal things. Some things not so personal. In the end, I was feeling a bit tapped out in Vegas. The bones weren’t tumbling like they used to and I was almost at the point where I didn’t give a shit either way.

I weighed my options. Perhaps, a stint in Phoenix? Washington? One thing I knew for sure: I was staying on the West Coast. That’s what I knew. I didn’t care if it was a dinky little town in the green of Oregon or the pale hard concrete of L.A.

I lived on the East Coast. In Charlotte. Right in the middle of the Bible Belt, blatant racism, and heavy unapologetic ignorance. The experience crippled me. Life became less romantic overnight. When I moved back to Vegas a year and a half ago I returned a different person.

“Come to California,” a friend told me over the phone.

Maybe it was the way she said it. Maybe it was because thoughts of quaint rustic coffee shops and rolling foothills filled my head. Maybe it was because of who was saying it. I packed up in the middle of the night and headed for the California state line.

On my way to Sacramento I pulled over at a gas station just outside of Bakersfield. I took out my notebook to jot down some notes and came across some jumbled song lyrics that had a line that said: “So, what’s wrong with California?”

I found the line fitting.

So, what was wrong with California?

The long gold beaches?

The weather?

The culture?

Its politics?

Paris Hilton?

I got into Sacramento in the afternoon, rubbernecking the city from off of I-5. It was a beautiful day, a light blue sky stretched from side to side. Deep-green pine trees lined the freeway. Cars with white license plates that said CALIFORNIA (One reading CBlondie. No shit.) in fancy handwriting passed by me. Sure, it wasn’t home as in Southern California, but it was home nonetheless.

To celebrate, I found a bar and pulled over. It was a dark little thing loaded with neon signs and good beer. A couple was in the corner in conversation. There was a guy sitting at the end of the bar reading Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith.

Nice, I thought. A secular man. A fellow homeboy. I was on the West Coast indeed.

I looked bad. My face was drawn from the 10-hour drive. My clothes were wrinkled. My hair was sticky and dreading up. My baseball cap was on backward. The bartender carded me.

“That’s you?” she asked, raising her plucked eyebrows, looking at my ID and then at me. “Wow, you look real young for your age. Vegas, huh? I love that place. Just got back a few weeks ago. I want to move there.”

“Give her a try,” I said, my mind flashing over the Strip, the little condo in Henderson. ”You can take my place. She’s a good city.”

It’s funny when people want what the other has. What’s an old story to you is new one to someone else. She wanted out of California. I wanted in. She wanted my old city. I decided to let that city go.

I wondered what it was that made her want to move to Vegas. Did she fall for its hot neon lights like so many have before her? – like I did back in ‘95 with some electric guitars and a head full of craziness. Was she captured by the slow silence in the parched desert that surrounds her glow?

Or was it something else? Not so much with Vegas, but with California. Did she hate her boss? Her apartment? Did those quaint rustic coffee shops brew nothing but bitter memory?

So, what’s wrong with California?

The traffic?

Happy Hour?

Hollywood?

A friend took me to “the City” a few weeks back. “The City” is San Francisco to the locals. I haven’t seen San Francisco in years. What a sight. Blue-gray water. Blue sea skies. The skyline, bold and jagged and bursting at the seams.

That night we saw Patton Oswalt in concert at the Masonic Theater on Nob Hill. The crowd was in full force. The comedy crowd. Beanies and Buddy Holly glasses. Tight button shirts and mischievous faces. I’ve been a fan of Oswalt’s for years. Sarcastic. Sharp. Always in a state of shock by what he sees and hears. We busted up. He killed. 

“Thank you very much,” he said, before he left the stage. “Your city kicks fucking ass.”

After the show we walked in a biting wind to find something to eat. After a long haul that took us by some big-cash retailers and dozens of closed Chinese restaurants we found a worn down diner with slow service. While we waited for our food we talked about San Francisco, its kaleidoscope delivery, and watched the blurry show from inside the restaurant.

Artists and business folk walking side by side. Homeless people moving about in smudged footsteps. Taxis squeezing in between cars and bodies. And the wind: Sweeping around stop lights, faces, and gutters.

I thought to myself: I could live here. Forever.

So, what’s wrong with California?

The trees?

The Bees?

The blondes?

Arnold Schwarzenegger?

I found the move to California inspiring. Having somewhat of an idea of who I am, I figured this move would provide me with some new material. And sure enough I knocked out a few poems, took a couple of swipes at some fiction.

But the guitar took over and I started banging out songs. One song. Two songs. One night I woke up in the middle of the night after dreaming of some guy singing to me: “Been ninety days since I’ve seen her Spain.” I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my notebook and scribbled some lyrics, some chords, and passed out right there on the floor.

In the morning I had a skeleton of a song. By the time the day was done the song was done. It’s now a tune called “Bleed.” Five chords. In the key of A.

Hit the road under a sheet of stars/Headlights on in a rolling car/What was up ahead/Could drown her bed

Then more songs came:

Could Be Better.

All I Want.

These Horses.

Walk.

The black in me/How she comes then wants to leave/The girl’s alive/Dressed herself and walked on by/Now she’s sweet as apple pie/If I ate you once, I ate you twice

It’s been a good run and as I write this I know it’s not over. The last couple of days I’ve been walking around humming this tune. I don’t have my guitar with me so I’ll just have to continue walking around humming this melody until I get my guitar in my hands.

It’s in E minor. I know that.

The other day a friend asked me how long I was going to be in California as if it was an experiment of sorts.

(Hell, maybe it is.)

“I don’t know,” I said.

That was the truth. I don’t know. Could be six months. Could be six years. Maybe longer. Maybe not. But what I do know is that I’m here. I’m not in Vegas. Or Washington. Or L.A. Or some dinky little town in the green of Oregon.

But here.

In Northern California.

Or Nor Cal.

Riding down its streets.

Feeling its heat.

Writing songs, sipping coffee.

Eating it’s politics, it’s culture.

Living.

So, what’s wrong with California?

I don’t know.

I’m a night person. I pull all-nighters. No, I don’t do speed (although I might as well). I simply hit an hour of no return and there I am watching the clock roll into the future. Bringing in the next day. Telling me I made one more.

2am.

4:30am.

Usually, if I get to bed before 10:30 then I’m good. But if I pass that time then who knows what’s going to happen.

1:30am.

3:20am.


As of late, I’ve been night binging. Like a junky. But I like the night. I like the deep black and find comfort in it. I like the silence that the light of day doesn’t offer.

In my latest binge I’ve reread Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Strange Pilgrims; John Fante’s Wine Of Youth; A.M Homes’ Things You Should Know; and Ishmael Reed’s The Free-Lance Pallbearers. Last night I started Annie Proulx’s That Old Ace In The Hole.

It’s pretty good. Annie’s a brutal unflinching writer. I love her to bits. I want to kiss her lesbian lips.

Muah, Annie. Muah, baby.

A few of these nights were spent talking to Zara Rose Potts via IM. A dear person in this life and any other. We shared notes on our respective countries. We talked politics, food, world accents, volcanoes, earthquakes, and the man/woman predicament, among other things.

I now know that fish and chips sounds like fush and chups on the New Zealand tongue. And what Americans refer to as screwing is rooting over there.

Rooting!

I told her that I don’t refer to sex as screwing but call it handled.

“Like in, ’Yeah, I handled her,” I told her over the long wire across the sea that divides us.

We had a good laugh. I told her she could have it, pass it around her town that in my mind is covered in green and distant gold.

We got off the line one night and she told me: “Kia ora.” 

A nice sentiment indeed.

Kia ora, Zara

Just waiting for the chocolate.

I’ll gobble them up and wink your direction.

Dimples and all.

Kia ora, Zara.

Kia ora.

* * *

I live in a cluttered neighborhood full of bleached houses and faded cars.

And action.

One night I sat in my driveway and took in the sights. Cats, like ghosts, floating across the street. A couple of dudes walked by smoking, the tips of their cigarettes sparking red like lightning bugs. I heard one of them say: “She’s a bitch.”

The people across the street opened their door, pulled out their lawn chairs and started drinking beers. They fired up a joint, throwing back their heads and blowing their hits into the tree they were sitting under.

The pot hit my nose and took me away in soft memory. I wasn’t the only one that was up at 3:30 in the morning. Burning through the day.

Night people.

We’re nuts. We’re going crazy.

I stood up and noticed the glow of a casino.

From my house I can see the neon pulse of the Eastside Cannery. It wasn’t too long ago a friend came into town and we stumbled in there and ended the night in a blur of smiles and flashing hands. I woke up, head spinning over the pale splash of the Boulder Strip, and shoveled in a huge plate of dry eggs, hash browns, and bacon in my hurting mouth.

No more whiskey, I told myself. No more fucking whiskey.

* * *

The late night also brings on a slew of commercials that you won’t see when Regis finally shuts his mouth.

Enter Girls Gone Wild. They own the late night. Young college chicks pulling off their silky bras and ripping off their skimpy thongs. Bodies twisting, turning, and bending over for your viewing pleasure.

These videos are big business. It’s straight porn. Make no bones about it. Porn, folks, porn. Sure, no johnnys flying around winking at you and sinking in, but porn nonetheless.

“We’re looking for the hottest girl in America,” a girl announces, her tits taking in some lame sun.

Then you get hit with a barrage of chicks pulling all kinds of stunts: flipping over. Kissing each other, slowly pulling down their best buy and revealing the goods.

Vagina.

It’s hysterical.

Totally hysterical.

But I remember those days.

Young reckless days.

Girls snapping bras and throwing them across the room. Strangers splayed in front of me laughing from the buzz of cheap beer and whatnot.

Girls bending over in front of me and going: “Reno, what do you see?”

Those videos sell for the obvious reasons.

Sex.

Sex.

Sex.

Like religion and cockroaches.

They’re here for keeps.

For better or ill.

* * *

Another amusing thing you’ll see when you stay up late at night is the infomercials that take over the TV. People who need this must need junk.

It’s pure Fool’s Gold.

Soaps that clean everything – even your dirty soul.

Mops that can wipe away your latest crime.

Quick cash cuts that will pull you out of your current predicament.

Make-up that will make you prettier than your eyes are telling you.

Knives that cut through tin cans and then slip through a piece of fruit with ease.

Those Jesus swine telling you their mud smells better than yours.

Cookers of various kinds that will make you look like a five-star chef. Or a one-star chef – depending on if you follow the directions correctly.

Exercise machines that will fix your flabby arms, chicken legs, flat ass, and bulging mac n’ cheese-filled gut. 

Dudes with big muscles, twisting and curling. Shiny skin, greasy jock hair, and dumb flat smiles. Girls in tight colored uniforms bending over, stretching back their arms pushing out their fake Vegas tits. Their faces the same: tight with make-up and stupid nervous. Hair pulled back. Cheap cheerleader smiles.

It’s High Art.

But the one that rules the night and is stamped on a thousand channels: ExtenZe.

Now, according to the commercials your performance is bumped up a few notches. The pills give you some extra fire, some extra zest. So, when your lady friend hits your bed you’ll have the ammo to knock her boots out of the proverbial park.

Smack.

Going, going, gone.

Homerun, baby.

Daddy’s home.

You’re alive again and not that limp shell of a man you were before you started popping pills.

Got to love science.

Wait! And the best part: your willy may get bigger. Oh, yes. And what man doesn’t want a bigger johnny?

What man?

* * *

Again the hours tell me the night is coming. Again the cats slipping across the gutted street looking for some shit. Again more books eating what’s left of my Mexican brain. Pick up Dylan Thomas, Carver, Cheever and Tomas Rivera and put them in my hungry I-want-it-all mouth.

I don’t know moderation.

Unfortunately.

Again those sleek steak knives and machines that will tighten up my ass and lift my sagging arms. Again, I’ll remember those slippery girls telling me things I could never tell my dear mother.

I’ll do away with the for-sure cash payouts, the make-up, the fuck pills, and those Jesus con-artists that make my Jesus as appealing as a dead rat.

And I’ll be there. Eyes wide. Watching like a child. Taking notes. Shaking my head. But maybe wanting a mop to clean my dirty soul.

Hey.

Hey, hey.

Goodnight, folks.

Sleep well.

Okay.