Monday, February 18, 2013

Playing Possum

The other night, as I was preparing a pretty disgusting meal, a very disgusting thing happened to me.

The Pretty Disgusting Meal:

Every once in a while you end up with so many forgotten or unused ingredients in your pantry and left-overs in your fridge, that you find yourself concocting dinners made up of several very different dishes that should probably never be served together. It's kind of fun because it looks like you're eating at a buffet; On one very carbohydratey plate you have a small square of lasagna, an enormous pile of mashed potatoes, and three soggy chicken fingers. But the fun of the buffet feeling fades fast when you realize that you would never actually choose those things at a buffet and you're just eating them because it's the only crap you have left in the house. At the very least, you still feel pretty gross afterward – just like after eating at a buffet. 

On one of these “I-don't-feel-like-shopping-let's-just-get-creative-and-combine-a-bunch-of-shit-from-the-pantry” nights, Charlie and I were planning to share a can of Campbell's Chunky Split Pea and Ham Soup with Tuna Gouda Melts. I know... it sounds a little weird, but I didn't think it was all that bad. Soup n' Sandwich, right?... just two flavors that you wouldn't normally pair up.

And then this happened...

The Very Disgusting Thing:

Soups on; Sammies are in the toaster oven... I'm just cleaning up and talking with Chuck in the kitchen when I glance behind him and see a big bloody animal gasping and writhing in the middle of our kitchen floor.

I immediately let out a little bitch scream/gasp. 

My first inclination is to run from it because it's still moving and, in my startled irrational brain, I believed the blood-covered possum came into the house of it's own volition. As if it was some sort of serial killer possum out on the prowl, bludgeoning neighborhood cats and - still covered in his victims' blood - sneaked into my kitchen in search for one more cat.

Since that scary bastard was effectively blocking any exits, I was completely boxed in. So, the very next time it moved...

Which, mind you, was not a movement that in any way should indicate aggression or even an attempt to approach – it was just trying to pick it's bloody head up off the tile and get back out of the kitchen...

But the very next time it moved, I hopped my fat ass up onto the seven inches of counter top directly in front of the toaster oven and clung to the underside of the overhead cabinets to keep from falling back down or burning my lower back on the 375 degree glass door.
Although, that might have been an economical way to get rid of that zodiac/tribal tramp stamp tattoo I got on my eighteenth birthday in the garage of a duplex. Yes, not just a garage, but the garage of a duplex, and yes - not just zodiac, but tribal as well. It's really the best.
The possum is definitely alive and it seems to be unable to decide whether it should run or play dead. It spends about 30 seconds gasping what seems like it's last breath, and then “dies” - only to take another hitching breath and try to get up a minute later.

Because it's body is pointed toward the living room instead of the back door, I'm terrified that in the final throes of death it's going to make a break for it and just end up further into the house, perhaps – God Forbid – on the carpet.

Charlie and I are both shocked, but he is significantly more in control of himself. So, he uses a series of trash and recycling cans to create a barrier that no possum could ever penetrate, while I reposition my ass in front of the toaster oven.

The possum finally stops moving completely, and we assume it's dead – so Charlie gets a paper bag to put it in and throw it away. As soon as he starts to scoop it up, the fucker makes a break for it and then just collapses two feet from the door. We're freaked out and a little stupid, so we still aren't sure if this thing just spent it's last ounce of dying super-possum strength to make a final life saving scramble for freedom, or if it's just playing possum again. Damn you, possum.

We stand there for what feels like hours, with the stench of possum musk and shit – oh, did I not mention that it shit itself? I forgot that part? Yup – possum shit, blood, and fear-stench fills my kitchen... and it's mixing with the smell of split pea and ham soup on the stove, and heated tuna with melting gouda from the oven. It's quite a potpourri. You can imagine how excited we are about the upcoming meal – if we could only get this stinky possum out of the way.

Since the possum is at least facing the door now, Charlie grabs a broom and starts to prod it in hopes of startling it into running out the door. It just lays there. It doesn't look like it's breathing, but there's no way were falling for that shit again. Fool me once, dying possum, fool me once.

Charlie starts to push it toward the door with the broom handle but I make him turn the broom around, and push the possum with the bristled end – because I figured that end of the broom ranks at least marginally higher on a list of desirable final caresses than the pointy handle. The possum is leaving a trail of shit across the tile floor. This is a dignified death if I ever heard one... being pushed across a cold tile floor by a dirty broom while leaving a trail of your own shit behind you. 

Then it hits the track at the foot of the back door, and won't go over. Charlie wedges the broom under the back end of the possum, like a spatula, and flips it ass-over-head. One flip doesn't get it out the door though and he has to flip it a couple more times before it finally tumbles out and lands in an ugly position just outside the sliding glass door. He just slowly slides the door shut and we stare at it. 

It doesn't move for what feels like an eternity. Neither do we. We just stand there, watching it while it does absolutely nothing. Wondering if we'll have to discard a dead animal in the morning, and fearing what would happen if our housemate (my dad) let the dog out before we woke up. We think we see it breathing, so we decide to just close the venetian blinds and let nature run it's course.

The stench is palpable, and there's possum crap smeared across my kitchen floor. I feel like I just watched a PETA video – as if a tiny forklift just skewered a tiny cow at my feet – Sarah McLachlan could be sitting at my kitchen table right now, asking me to make a difference in this poor possum's life. 

We both feel like we just want to go upstairs and lay down and think about it. And then have awful nightmares about it. But instead, we clean up the possum shit, and just go sit in silence in the living room for a while.

A couple hours later, Charlie peeked out the back door and the possum was gone! Entirely! No bloody trail leading up the fence or anything. We have pretty high fences, so he must have been in decent shape to have gotten out of the yard. I tried to tell myself that as I was falling asleep that night – thinking of a dying possum laying in my neighbor's yard.

So – we did what anybody would do – and reheated the soup and sandwiches, and tried not to think of musky possum shit while we ate them. Don't judge. All's well that ends well. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bus Riders - Part 1

I feel the need to preface this piece with a small disclaimer. It's been over two months since I posted a blog because I work a 9-5 that changes to a 7-8 during the holidays. It sucks, it's really trying on your patience, it stresses you out and leaves you with absolutely no time for your own life. You end the holidays feeling like a sore-muscled slave; overworked and under-appreciated. On top of that I had this shitty sickness that took away all appetite, and made me feel exhausted for two months. Most of the meat of this blog was outlined just before the end of October, but all of the editing happened during this super shitty time for me – and I think it's a little obvious when reading through it now. So, I just wanted to let everyone know that while I may already consider my humor a little dark, I'm about to ask you to laugh at sad old people and the homeless. Don't worry, it's still a little funny...

I have lived in Santa Cruz for almost ten years, which is about eight years longer than I should have, but still another thirty-five years away from being allowed to call myself a Local by “true” locals' standards. Here's the standard: If your mother was lucky enough to have ejected you from her uterus while living in Santa Cruz, you are somehow a better person, and thus far more deserved of anything Santa Cruz has to offer when compared to anyone else who merely saved up their own money to move here... But that's all I'll say about the smug locals for now... that's an entire blog waiting to happen...

Today, I want to talk about the crazy locals. The fun locals. The ones that cause gape-mouthed, rubber-necking tourists to rear-end each other on their way to the boardwalk. “Holy Shit! Honey! Look! Is that old man pushing the shopping cart wearing a wedding dress?” << CRASH >>

The ones that inspire the bumper stickers that say


If you've lived here for any amount of time, chances are you have taken advantage of the city's public transportation system. It's not a bad service – clean-air buses with wifi, a good spread of routes, decent fares... It's no San Francisco, but I came from Manteca, where there is one bus that stops three times a day in front of the WalMart - and the next stop is 25 minutes away in Tracy (that's where MC Hammer lives now.)

While the routes and fares for the Santa Cruz Metro are relatively accommodating – it's the fellow bus-riders that most frequently leave you asking, “What the fuck?” In fact - I keep this little notebook in my purse to write down funny slash weird thoughts and memories that I end up sharing here, and as I was going through it the other day I noticed that a vast number of my weirdest encounters occurred on the bus, at a bus stop, or at the downtown Metro station.

Keep in mind that I have a wild imagination and, as Charlie loves to point out, I frequently make up completely falsified back-stories on people I see in public and then base my entire viewpoint on that fictional characterization of them. I have wound myself up with these stories to the point of crying over how sad their pretend lives are, or hating them to the core of my being because of something I bet they would totally do.

It's still real to me, dammit.

So, while some of the following stories are 100% true, and being retold exactly as they occurred – others may just be my version of what happened, and I won't be held accountable for differentiating between the two.
When I was a budding freshman at UCSC (pot pun intended), I frequently rode the bus from campus to downtown. The majority of the buses that service the campus use Bay Street – a long 75 degree angle hill that would leave a freshly juiced Lance Armstrong winded. Even the healthiest of hippies use a bike shuttle to get their roadsters up the hill, and take the easy downhill ride in the evening. (All you cyclists out there, Lucas, who can take this hill without switching gears... while texting with their left hand and eating a meatball sub with their right... just know that when the bus passes you on the hill, the passengers are watching and hoping that a gust of wind from our road-wake will knock you over the curb.)

In 2002, at any time on Bay Street, at some point along it's stretch, you could see the Sisyphus of Santa Cruz. For those of you who didn't pay any attention in high school, in Greek mythology King Sisyphus tricked the gods into letting him escape the Underworld. For his punishment he was forced to roll a heavy boulder up a huge hill only to have it roll back down each time he reached the top. He was made to do this over and over for all of eternity. Shitty.

The Sisyphus of Santa Cruz was a very mysterious character - shrouded in legend and about sixteen thick, black overcoats. I don't think I ever personally saw his face.
He was a large, lurking mass of cloth, almost like the Grim Reaper –
but more bulky and hunched...

Maybe if Quasimodo and the Grim Reaper could have a bastard love-child. Grimmodo! 


But he wasn't just some character – he was a person. He had a name. (His name was Robert Paulson, His name was Robert Paulson!) No – this guy had a really suiting name. Really it's the only name that could do justice to a person like him. His perfectly appropriate moniker: Oscar.

As in “the grouch.”

Oscar didn't push a boulder up the hill – he pulled a long train made up of wagons and shopping carts. There must have been about four or five separate boxcars in his train, all hinged together in a manner that allowed them to snake and bend around the turns of the Bay Street hill. Every cart was carefully covered with more tarps and blankets, just a bunch of lumpy and concealed masses that followed another lumpy, concealed mass. Oscar and his train was a miniature, mobile mountain range moving up and down a larger mountain. That's some poetic shit.

Every single day this man pulled his carts up the hill, in little stints, stopping here and there to adjust something in the carts or sometimes just to stand there. When it was raining, he would prop up about seventy umbrellas to cover his carts, and keep pulling. I'm guessing that when he got to the top of the hill, he must have simply turned around, and gone right back down again. I never personally saw him turn around, but I never saw him reach a destination either.

Once in a while, he and his carts could be seen outside the Safeway on Mission – just a few blocks away from Bay Street (probably showing off his carts to the other carts) but never anywhere else in town. I have a friend who says his neighbor told him - he's gotten to be that kind of Legendary character around here - that Oscar once walked all the way to Half Moon Bay and back, pulling his carts the whole time. That's 100 miles round-trip. I have another friend who says Oscar is a bonafide genius - and yet another who says he's a millionaire. I'm sure all of it is bullshit.

I moved away in 2003 for a little while, and when I came back I didn't see him around any more. I haven't heard any new stories or sightings of him since either. Maybe he finally found where the hell he was going. Or maybe there was some kind of Harry Potter-esque wormhole on Bay Street, and he finally found it. Now he's living an awesome life in a secret world - No wonder he wanted to take all his shit with him. I bet his carts were filled with Hawaiian shirts and khakis, and he was transported to a tropical island with a private resort. Or it was full of vodka and water-socks, because the tropical island is deserted... and you would just want to be naked and drunk all day on one of those. The water-socks are because even nudists wear shoes.
When I moved back to Santa Cruz in 2004, I got a job across town from my house. When you take the bus early in the morning, at the same time every day, you get to know the faces of the normal commuters. On this particular route, it was mostly nurses and Cabrillo College kids with early morning classes.
But three days a week, I had a special addition to my morning people-watching: The Pirate Businessman. This guy was amazing. 

The Pirate Businessman is always in a really nice suit. Sometimes it's just a vest and a tie, sometimes he sports the full three piece ensemble. He carries a leather briefcase and wears a big, shiny watch. This dude could definitely afford an expensive car – but he has to take the bus because he's a fucking pirate, and he wears an eye patch, and cyclopes are not allowed to drive. Which is so cool. (I learned today that the pluralization of Cyclops is Cyclopes. Which is funny to me, because it sounds like an antelope with one eye.) 

He also has kind of longish hair, so it really adds to the whole pirate look. He wears a lot of dark clothes, and a long trench coat in the winter. He's Debonair, with a grain of Party. He actually looks a lot like Gary Sinese as Lieutenant Dan – but all cleaned up, and with an eye patch, and he has legs. So, I guess really – it's not a lot like Lt. Dan at all... but for some reason I have always equated the two. Also, I always picture Lt. Dan with an eye patch - which is inaccurate. Seriously, it is... Google it.

The best part about the guy – while he looks like he could be the minister of a Satanic church – or like he reads too much about Jack the Ripper – or clears his internet search history way too frequently – he is the nicest, most gentlemanly guy in the history of bus riders. I've seen him give up his seat to women, elderly folks, Rosa Parks herself, and move to the back of the bus - or stand with his briefcase wedged between his expensive Italian loafers, while his one good eye focuses on the hand rail for balance. I've heard him engage in polite, intelligent conversations. I've seen him hold the back door open for people exiting the bus after him, and even pull napkins out of his pocket for a girl who spilled her coffee on herself. I've seen that guy finish the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle between stops. That's not true – he only rode the bus on the weekdays. But that guy was so cool, I bet he could do it.

I still see Pirate Businessman around all the time. I wish I knew his name because what if I have one of those weird coincidences where I run into him outside of Santa Cruz, and we both know that we know each other from somewhere, but it's not like I could say - “Hey! Pirate Businessman! It's you!”

That's probably offensive - to cry babies!

And people with one eye... Cry Babies with one eye!

(You can only cry out of one eye anyway, so it's not as bad.)

The weekend commute was a different bowl of mixed nuts. I started my commute from the Westside – a fairly affluent part of Santa Cruz where if you aren't a home owner, you were an asshole landlord who rented to whatever college kids had the wealthiest parents. (Thank god my friends had wealthy parents.) There was also a small retirement community just around the corner from my neighborhood, and every Saturday morning we would stop to pick up the same woman. She was dressed very fashionable – for an ancient relic of a human - all matching pastels, white walking shoes and sun visor. She was the cutest LOL (that stands for Little Old Lady.)

She would hurry herself along just as fast as she could as if she thought it was making us all late just because we had to stop and wait for her to board the bus. It pained me to watch how quickly she would try to get to her seat and settle herself so she wasn't caught standing when the bus started rolling again. The bus driver would never have done such a thing – but she just seemed like the type of person who constantly fears being a burden on other people, and doesn't dare ask any favors because of it.

Man, that won't be me... I'm going to be the craziest, most entitled old bitch I can possibly be. I've been training for it my entire life... at least I thought I was until I found this....


To get to work, I had to take one bus downtown, and transfer onto another bus that went to the east side of town. The little old lady was doing the same thing. But, we didn't get on the same bus during our transfer – because I was going to work, and she was definitely going to the Capitola Mall Seniors Only Mall-Walk. A lot of malls do this on weekends – they open the doors extra early before any of the stores are even open for business, and old people flock to meander around the mall, gossiping about who died last week or whose son is definitely gay. Cute, right? Also sad.

Why sad? Can you honestly say that this is something you could look forward to doing with your retirement years? If yes... your aspirations are a little lame. 


This little old lady would usually find a seat as close to the exit as possible. She would sit with her hands crossed in her lap, and obsessively check her watch the entire ride. So, I learned that she wasn't concerned about making us late – she was concerned about missing her transfer bus to the Mall Walk. What a Selfish Old Bitch!

When we turned the corner onto the street leading up to the metro station, she would scoot to the edge of her seat and grab hold of one of the support bars. As we neared the station, she would crane her turkey neck and check her the watch on her liver-spot-covered wrist again and again – and Holy Shit - if her transfer bus to the mall was gone already... the slump in her already hunched posture and the pure disappointment on her face would crush even the most callous, hateful geriogyngist.

If her transfer bus was still there, she would look elated and speed walk off the bus and across the metro station as fast as her little osteoporosis-riddled legs could carry her. Sometimes, the driver for the transfer bus was late, and I would see her gabbing it up with her friends outside the bus, wasting their good Mall Walk gossip at the piss covered metro station.

But if the transfer bus was gone... ah shit, if the bus was gone... she would sulk down the steps, droop onto the sidewalk, and then just stand there wait for the driver to allow boarding for the return trip to our neighborhood. 

This is where her life gets so shitty, I can't even stand it.
This is definitely what probably happens.


Once back at her tiny apartment in the retirement home, she announces to the framed photograph of her dead husband that she's back early because she missed the bus again. She would take his picture in her rheumatic hands and tell him the gossip she had planned to tell her friends at the mall that day. She would call her friends just to leave them all messages so they didn't worry that she'd had a stroke. Then she'd check her own empty answering machine a few times to make sure she hit the right button each time nothing played back. Then she would sit quietly and wait for next Saturday.

I fucking cried over this old bitch on more than one occasion. Cried. I even tried to tell myself that after she checked her messages she would go to the animal shelter and adopt puppies, and take them home and drown them one by one in the kitchen sink – anything to make me not feel so sorry for this old lady. But that's just not true... her retirement home would never allow her to adopt a puppy, even if she wasn't going to drown it. 

There I go again – trying to make myself sad about this stupid old lady again... she's probably dead by now. Heart attack while running to catch the bus. (I am the meanest person alive.)

It's not over yet - There is another Mall Walker in Santa Cruz that makes me sad. So man up, wusses.
 This next guy doesn't go to the Mall Walk - This guy walks around the mall all by himself during afternoon hours. He looks so depressed, like he's just waiting for the mall to open a gun store so he can register for one, walk around the mall during the 30 day waiting period, and then when he finally gets the gun - he'll kill himself right there in the food court. He's one of the most joylesspeople I've ever seen.

One time, I saw two little girls running through the mall, holding hands and they accidentally clothes-lined him kind of Red-Rover style... he just stood there looking like he was about to cry, waiting for them to leave him alone.

His face is so sad, it looks like it's melting off. He's the personification of Droopy – the depressed cartoon dog.

My theory on this guy is that he used to come to the Mall Walks every week, but his retirement fund was running low, so he had to be transferred to another community - one that has much stricter policies about the hours residents are allowed to leave the premises. So, even though the Mall Walk every Saturday was the highlight of this guy's dying days (since his kids never come to see him and he's never met his own grandchildren) he's not allowed to leave the grounds until after noon; once all his friends have already finished their circuits at the mall. And simply because it's his only opportunity to escape the boring routine of his economically priced senior living establishment – he trudges through the mall, alone, until his catheter is too full to make it another round, and he has to go home again, to have it yanked out by a distracted nurse who lacks any sympathy for an old man's old penis.

Are you depressed enough yet? Sorry. This was supposed to be funny... see what the holidays at my job have done for me? This really passes as humor for me.

There are other people in Santa Cruz that don't make me cry. Promise. Remember Pirate Businessman? The only thing sad about him is forcing a rich guy to slum it on public transportation because he can't see how far away the stop signs are. Haha, not sad. Funny. 

As there are way too many of these stories to fit in one blog, I'm going to have to break it up. Since this installment has been predominately a big bummer... I will leave you with a funny one.

I was sitting at a bus stop one day, on one of those little benches – appropriately edged over to one side in the event that another person would want to sit down. I'm even angling my posture away from the remaining open bench, mostly because I'm looking down the road for my approaching bus, but also because at that time in my life I may have had a bit more of an intimidating appearance than I do now, and I was just allowing for an approachable place for someone to sit. (Honestly, you learn to behave this way when you've gotten your feelings hurt because some scared old lady would rather stand against her walker than sit down next to the weird chick.)

So, I'm looking down the road for the bus, not really paying attention to what's going on behind me, when someone sits down on the bench. Immediately, my personal bubble meter goes into red alert – the person has sat way too close to me, I can feel it. I left a lot of room on this bench, and suddenly I feel human-like warmth next to me. Picture a bench divided into fifths: there's enough room for five people - if you really squeeze - one in the middle, and two on either side. I'm sitting all the way over to one side, taking up one fifth of the bench. This person chose to sit in the 18” closest to me, rather than on any other part of the completely unoccupied bench.

I sense expectation – that feeling you get when you know a stranger wants to talk to you simply because you're near each other and alone. Jesus, I hate that. Just because we're sitting in a waiting room together, or riding an elevator, or waiting for our orders at McDonalds – we're not friends. These people act like because we are both currently involved in a similar situation (and not even an interesting one) that we are somehow kindred spirits who should make the most of our fleeting moments together. Maybe if we were being held hostage in a bank robbery, or we'd both been kidnapped and were rookies in the international sex-trade – maybe then we could chat a bit – but right now, we're just sitting at a bus stop and I'm already pulling out my cell phone to fake a call so you don't talk to me.

Anyway, I sense expectation, and start that ever-so-slow turn of the head. My eyes are aching from stretching my peripheral vision to the max because I'd rather just catch a glimpse of who is sitting so close to me, than make actual eye contact... I slowly turn my head...

The first thing I see is a pair knees belonging to the longest, tannest, hairiest legs I have ever seen in my entire life. Startled, I quickly turn to face my new friend... It's a recognizable figure in Santa Cruz – many people call him “Legs.” He's about 7 feet tall, with long sun bleached hair usually covered up by a blue knit cap pulled down to his eyelids. He wears the tiniest cut-off jean shorts seen on a man since 1976, a little tank top or miniature tee shirt, and running shoes. He always has a backpack with him, but he doesn't wear it on his back, he just clutches it to the front of his chest like a child with a teddy bear.

I've never been caught face-to-legs with him before, so I'm stunned silent. Thankfully (sarcasm) he breaks the silence with a thin, reedy, effeminate voice, “Hi.” He pretty much sounds just like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo. 

“Hi,” I say.

“What are you doing?” he asks me.

“I'm waiting for a bus to go to the mall and do a little shopping.” I'm having a conversation with this guy now. Wonderful.

“Oh, that's cool.” This guys voice is so fucking funny. It's like if Micheal Jackson was on psychedelic mushrooms and thought he was actually in the real Neverland. He's found his happy thought, and just wants to stay a little boy forever! “You want to talk for a little while?”

Oh Jesus Hallmark Christ... aren't I talking to you already? I hate needy questions like that. Are you going to ask me if I'll be your friend next? “Well, we can talk until my bus arrives. But then I'm going to the mall.”

“Oh, that's cool.”

He actually looks a lot like Janice – the Muppet. 

He opens his backpack and takes out a partially consumed 40oz bottle of King Cobra, the worst tasting piss-beer that has ever been invented. I'm pretty sure they only come in 40oz bottles, and that will run you about two whole dollars.

By now, he's almost laying across the bench, with his alarmingly bare legs stretched across the sidewalk. “Do you want to go over there?” he says pointing, “and sit under that tree with me, and share this beer?”

I have now just hit a new low point in my life. I've been asked on a bum date. This is the type of romantic gesture that bums make to their lady-bums. “Hey baby, come over to this public grass area on the edge of a parking lot, and share this warm, flat, dog piss beer with me.” Bashful she-bums probably blush, and bat their lashless eyelids, “My word, my word! Your charms have me flushed and a'flutter, sir! Oh My!” But translated from bum-speak that would be “Why the hell not? Do you have crabs?”

As hard as it was to refuse, I told him in the nicest way possible that there was absolutely no fucking chance that I would ever sit under that tree with him, let alone share that beer with him. I should rescind the part about rejecting him in the nicest way possible, because I think I actually made fun of him a little. It's not like I laughed in his cracked, leather face and said, “Are you fucking kidding me, Legs? You're a fucking bum, and I can smell human scrotum on your breath.” But I definitely called him out for not even having a whole beer to offer - which was a mistake, because I think he thought that meant I would have been interested had the beer been full.

Thankfully, the bus showed up really soon after his proposition, and he didn't get on the bus after me. Because he's a fucking bum who just spent his last two bucks on a 40oz bottle of fermented urine.

I still see him around town all the time, and any locals reading this will know exactly who I'm talking about. 


Hopefully, that lightened the mood a bit from my pathetic ruminations on old people and self-torturing hunchback grim reapers. Don't forget I gave you Pirate Businessman. 

You guys just read over 4,600 words. You should be proud of yourselves for sticking through it. I promised myself that this year I will try to write more pieces that are under 1,000 words each, and post more frequently. So look forward to that. If you know me at all... you know that I am never, ever short on words.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Horseback Riding and Hell - Part 2 - - The Hell Part

This is Part – 2 of Horseback Riding and Hell... and if you've been following along, you know that this is the part about Hell. The Capitalized Version.

If you haven't been following along – here's a quick recap... A couple of years ago, Charlie and I drove to Half Moon Bay to go horseback riding at Shithole Ranch. There was a girl with no pants, a mythical creature, and gallons of piss. After that, we found a diner nestled in the fiery pits of Hell. You have to read part one if you want to know anything more about the first half of our day.
In the interest of backwards thinking, part one of this piece is below part two, so you'll have to scroll down to read that if you want to read it before you read the rest of this. Hah.
Take that, common sense.

So, now we're parked in the lot behind Joe's in Half Moon Bay. As soon as we've appropriately calmed down from the non-stop thrill of the 'beginner's trail', we pour from the van amidst clouds of smoke. After riding a horse for about an hour in beach wind and hot-boxing a minivan – we smell awesome – so we immediately light a cigarette, because entering a diner smelling like an ashtray is slightly less embarrassing and definitely less conspicuous than smelling like Cheech and Chong.

The outside of this place looks like a non-chain version of Denny's – which is how some former patrons describe it on However, as a self-proclaimed Denny's expert, I beg to differ. Denny's is the kind of place that has a “Rewards” program like Sears or Kmart or Safeway. They give you tarnished silverware wrapped in a napkin – but they don't bother to spring for the little paper band that goes around it, like some classier joints. Denny's has “build-your-own” menu items, including a milkshake menu that offers bacon bits as an additive.
Denny's has the Fried Cheese Melt Sandwich, which is a grilled-cheese sandwhich filled with deep fried mozzarella sticks. It comes with Bayer aspirin, and a coupon for artery stents. (That's not true, but probably should be.)
Joe's – while maintaining a very chic taupe-colored stucco facade on it's Mike Brady Designs exterior - is a completely different animal once you get inside. When you first walk in, you're greeted by a huge glass display-case that houses a pretty good selection of delicious confectionery creations like pies and cakes and eclairs. I was instantly impressed, because I have a special relationship with dessert items. Me and dem, we goes way back.

Next comes the waiter: white cloth over his arm, a slightly smug Mr. Belvedere look on his face. He was one of those waiters that would describe himself as a Professional Server at a Fine Dining Establishment. Don't get me wrong – he was a really nice guy, and I truly have the highest respect for servers and people who work in the food industry. I'm a huge tipper, and I'm incredibly courteous to wait-staff. However, I call it like it is, and a waiter is a waiter. And this guy was a Fantastic waiter.

But, – whilst he was gracefully escorting us to the huge dining room filled with high-backed booths that were akin to steakhouse/buffet in Reno circa 1988 - it's slowly dawning on me that we probably look like a real couple of winners...
We're as high as a couple of Grateful Dead followers. Our helmet hair makes us look like we just rolled out of bed. We smell like horseshit. And were being shown to a table adorned with cloth napkins and leather menus. It was a bit fancier than we were deserving in our state, but considering there was literally one other table with any guests (RE: three seniors accompanied by someone's 20 year old grandson who never put down his iPhone) I don't think the staff minded our company much.

We take our seats and the waiter leaves to get us our Coke's. The waiter looked a little like The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. I didn't mention that yet. So imagine Steve Irwin in the classic black pants/white shirt combo.
(It's probably hard to imagine him wearing long pants... I wonder if he was buried in pants or if he was put in one of his little Cub Scout uniforms. I'll bet it was one of those gay little boy suits that assholes make their kids wear... you know, with the full suit top half, and the shorts with dress socks and shoes. Ew.)

He comes back with the bev's, “Have you made up your crikey minds yet, mates?” Just kidding. We place our orders, and nothing really seems amiss unless you combine how out of place we feel, and the weird feeling you get in any empty restaurant. The people at the other table aren't talking to each other. They're just kind of pushing food around on their plates and reading newspapers. 
The restaurant is playing some sort of instrumental crap through overhead speakers – the kind you would hear while waiting on hold for your doctor's receptionist. It's a familiar song, and it only takes me a minute to peg it – an orchestral version of “You Light Up My Life.” We both start singing along for a bit, and laughing at each other. Soon, we're just talking about the horses, and the black cowboy on a segway, and the huge piss, and just recounting the day.

I would say about fifteen minutes goes by before we realize that the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life is still playing. Or playing again. That was how the conversation went for the next couple of minutes. Is it just a really really long version of the song? Like some drawn out twenty minute piece of repeating shit? Or maybe another song came right after we stopped paying attention to it, and now this one is playing again because the restaurant only uses the free version of Pandora which replays the same handful of songs in random order. Or perhaps, in our current state, the conversation that felt like fifteen minutes was only a few minutes, and we had just caught the song at the very beginning – so it's bound to end soon, right?

We decide to just keep our mouths shut, and listen for the end of the song to make sure. After a half dozen finale-style crescendos that trick us into thinking it's about to end, the overhead speakers finally fall silent. There is a brief silence that feels like forever... and soon the music quietly starts playing again.

It's the instrumental version of
You Light Up My Life.


This is now the third time we've heard the song – Confirmed. There was a conversation that lasted roughly fifteen minutes, during which we can neither confirm nor deny that said song played through or restarted from the top. Now we have to determine if the song is indeed so lengthy that this is the third time, and not just the second time around for some crazy long version. We spent the entire song in hushed whispers, so as to not miss the end. It is a really, really, painfully long, drawn-out version of the song, but it lasted – at best – eight minutes.

During this time, the waiter brings us our food and we all have a really awkward interaction since neither Charlie nor I want to speak because we're concentrating so hard on the song. The waiter looks a little weirded out, but we tell him everything looks great, and he leaves just in time for us to hear the last of the six final climaxes to the song and another 15-20 seconds of silence.

Followed by the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life.

This is now the fifth time the song has played. We've just determined it is less than eight minutes all the way through. Since we took note of the first time it played almost a half an hour ago at this point, then had a conversation during which the song must have played an additional two times, considering that by the time we noticed it was still playing we had to wait another five minutes or so for it to end again.
My math works. If you don't follow me - fuck you, dummy.

We're baffled, to say the least. I think we actually spent the first few seconds of the song trying to hear something else – attempting to mentally warp the sound waves it into a different melody so we didn't start bugging out. I think the only thing that helped us keep our cool was having a heaping pile of food in front of us. That's one thing I will say about Joe's – they give you a ton of food, and it's pretty good.

The both of us are knuckles-deep in some major burgers when the song comes to an end, and the next song to come on is the mother fucking instrumental version of You Light Up My Stupid Life.

This is the sixth time.


Through a mouthful of cheeseburger I yell, “Youb goffafee fuffing gibbing meef?!!?!?” Chews, Swallows... “You've got to be fucking kidding me? Six times? Six Times?!?!” I'm so blown away – I'm not even irritated with it yet, I'm still amused. It's like wanting to exit a parking lot, but being stuck behind some old lady in a brand new Cadillac who decides to make a 16-point turn a' la Austin Powers to get her boat of a car pointed the wrong way down the aisle. You would be annoyed if it wasn't so funny.

By the time the waiter rolls around to see how we're enjoying everything today and can he get us anything else for now? The stupid song has played a total of eight stupid times.

You know how the waiters at every restaurant seem to approach the table and ask if we need anything and how are we enjoying everything so far right after you take a giant, non-lady-like bite of food, and so although you just finished saying to your husband that you were going to ask for a side of ranch dressing, you wave him away with a mayonnaisey smile, wide greedy eyes and satisfied nods of the head.

Not me. Not this time. I held my finger up in the international symbol for – Defer To Me, For I Am Busy With Chewing But Request That All Present Shut Up and Look At Me While I Chew And Swallow My Food Because What I'm About To Say Is So Urgent That There Is No Way The Conversation Should Be Allowed To Continue Until I've Added My Two Cents. I make him stand there while I finish, and I look him dead in the eyes and ask, “How do you deal with listening to the same song play over and over again?”

“I'm sorry?” he asks.

“The music, overhead, it's been playing the same song over and over again – eight times now.” I explain.

“What music?” he asks, quite seriously.

Charlie and I exchange glances, and I know that he had the same horrifying thought... Are we hearing things? Are we having a shared hallucination?

But the waiter finally laughs and says, “What I mean is, I've gotten really good at tuning it out. That's all.”

The relief hit me like a shot of Kaopectate. “I see. But... It's been the same song – the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life – eight times in a row now. Do they really just play the same thing, over and over, all day long?”

“Well, not exactly” he says, “There's a CD with a bunch of crappy songs from that era – but done by a symphony – it's got about a dozen songs on it and they just have it set to random repeat I guess.”

“It's not very random” I say.

“Yah, guess not. What can you do?” he says walking away.

“You can change the damn song, for one thing.” I say to Charlie, as we've been left to just simply deal with it, and enjoy our cheeseburgers with another round of You Light Up My Stupid Fucking Life again. I swear to it – that little Crocodile-Hunter-Looking-Bastard didn't do anything. He didn't try to skip the track, he didn't change the CD, he didn't even lower the volume. Dick.

While the song played another few more times – seriously, a few more times – we got to talking. This is the scary part. It might only be scary to me because to this day I believe we came closer than any religion or myth (same thing) ever has to what Hell is truly like.

I believe the idea started with the suggestion that we might be on a hidden-camera type television show. But the premise of repeating such an old song that's been rewritten for restaurant play, and at such a low volume felt more like real-life torture, and didn't feel like your typical wacky TV antics. The place was just too empty for that scenario – but it started to make us feel like we were being watched. Then one of us said, “What if we died on the way here in a car crash, or back at the ranch in a horse crash? – and this is it. This is Hell.”

The Real Hell: You're trapped in a diner. It's a boring diner. And you will be there for all of eternity.

It seems comfortable at first. Not so bad, really, for being Hell and all. There are big booths, and the wait-staff is really accommodating. There's a pretty diverse menu, and a tasty selection of desserts. It's not crowded; no crying babies, or cackle-backs.
(Cackle-backs are a breed of women, who tend to stay in groups and loudly cackle back and forth to each other, as if there isn't anyone else near them in the restaurant, fitting room, bath room, break room, et cetera, who might not be interested in being forced to listen to the inane conversations of said Cackle-backs.)
The diner is downright nice at first. Especially if this is supposed to be Hell. There aren't any fiery pits, or demons prodding you with pitchforks. There's no forced sodomy or having to hold political conversations with Hitler. In general, it seems not so bad.

But you're stuck there. Forever.

Think about it - Are you going to curl up and sleep on one of those big comfy booths every night? They aren't going to seem so comfy after an eternity of nights in fetal position, using a pile of sugar packets as a pillow, and as many of the linen napkins you can filch for a blanket. And – holy shit - what if everything you do or everything that happens just resets every night – like in that (awesome) movie Groundhog Day? So, you'd spend a whole day using the dental floss from your purse to stitch the napkins together into a little quilt to sleep under, only to wake up cold and shivering at 6AM and find the linens have magically wrapped themselves back around the silverware.

Then there's the wait-staff – They seem so friendly, and helpful at first. But they are only there to try to keep things at peace. They pay you compliments, and offer you coffee when you look cold. But if you mess up – they turn into claw-footed demons, with fangs and horns. Or maybe they just use mind-control, or black magic to make you submit to the boring, docile order of the diner - you start talking about trying to find a way out, and they seal your mouth shut. You try to lash out, and hit them – they stop your arm mid-air and make you punch  yourself in the vagina/balls.
They would be oh-so patronizing and sweet all the time, and it would eat away at you how they would never act like anything more than a friendly waiter. You would never become real friends, or have a real conversation with them. And every single meal you have – they will approach right after you take a big messy bite, and ask you the same question, “How is everything? Can I get you anything else? You want a refill?” Every meal. Every day. Eternity. And you can't throw your Coke at them, or spit your mouthful of food at them or anything - mind-control, remember? - so you just have to wave them off, or ask for ketchup through a mouthful of food.

And how about those meals? From that “pretty diverse” menu? Not such an extensive list of choices after you've had everything on it... a dozen times over... A hundred times over.... A thousand times over. I love french fries, but after eating them every single day for a few years, I would definitely get sick of them. (Don't judge me about my daily diet of fries, I'm already dead and in Hell in this hypothetical). I love coffee, but having to sit in that coffee smell day in and day out, all day long would make me puke, and then eventually shove the puke up my nose because I'd rather smell the puke than continue to smell weak restaurant blend coffee.
Variety is the spice of life... I don't care if you have a menu like the Santa Cruz Diner (where it's all about quantity of items, not quality, and there's literally over 300 mediocre menu items to choose from). If I have to eat from the same list for the rest of eternity, I'm going bat shit crazy. You may be saying – but Meg... if you're in Hell, you're already dead, you don't have to eat, remember? Well, Stupid. You're wrong. I've decided that's not how Hell works. You can refuse to eat all you like. But you'll still feel hungry, your stomach will growl, you'll shrivel like you're dying of starvation, but there will never be any relief of death. And every day, while you try to abstain from eating so that someday you might slip into a coma, that damn waiter is going to come ask you if you still need a few more minutes with the menu, or if you'd like to hear the specials.

And don't forget.... you get to listen to the song... that song... the same song... the whole time...


At least it's not crowded, right? Wrong. Charlie and I have a wonderful marriage, full of laughs, and great conversations, and new ideas. And I know we may have vowed something along the lines of “eternity” when we said our vows (who remembers? I don't think either of us do) but I think if we did vow marriage to eternity, we were both under the impression that there would be other people around to talk to.
I guess eventually, we would both go insane, and that might make for some more interesting interactions. We could pretend we were other people and have conversations in character, such as: I'm Carlos Mencia, and Charlie is Whoopi Goldberg, and we get to debate who's a crappier comedian while speaking only in alliterations. Or we could discuss in strict iambic pentameter whether or not Shakespeare really wrote his plays. That sounds like fun. But... eternity?

We never really settled what kind of role the people at the other table would play. Did they get there the same time as us? Have they been at the diner for hundreds or years already, and that's why they don't react to us? Or talk to us?- Because they've been there so long their souls are retarded now? Or maybe they are just fixtures like the waiters and cooks, and they don't engage in any real interaction with us or each other due to a pre-programmed Matrix-like existence.

We talked about all (most) of this while we ate our food, and actually had the auricular fortitude to order dessert (the best goddamn chocolate eclair that has ever been in or around my mouth place) All while the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life played over and over and over. We never heard a single other song.

When we got up to leave, my heart was beating at super-speed. I had really convinced myself that the door would be locked, and we would really be stuck there. Some of the theories that we had passed around were spooky; we would open the door and a rush of heat and smoke would reveal those missing fiery pits of Hell, scorching our eyebrows and forcing us back into the diner; or you open the front door, just to walk right through the back door of the diner, in an endless chain of diners.

Can you imagine if the door had been mistakenly locked? I'm prone to panic already – I would have simultaneously screamed, peed, and fainted.

But the door opened just fine. It didn't stick or anything, and we left – after hearing the stupid god-forsaken instrumental version of You Fucking Light Up My Stupid Goddamn Life FOURTEEN TIMES IN A ROW.

That, my friend, is the real Hell.

Alright Folks – Let's see some comments on this shit. You just read through over 3,600 words – you've got to have at least a few of your own...


VVV Right Down There VVV

You don't have to be a member of Google+ or anything. So, go ahead... Leave me a comment... It's not like I check it every day and never find anything but one comment from 3:30AM from my drunk friend – which, by the way Stephanie – totally made my day. :-)