Old Friends

I’ve written on this blog before about my buddy Mike, my older buddy who got booted from the Marines for selling pot on base. Here’s part of our conversation from this morning:

“You’re never gonna’ make that one, son.”

I am not good at real basketball, but I love trying to make shots of litter into the trashcan. The trickier and more difficult the attempt, the better. I have come up with some good ones.

“Oh yeah? I’ll take it up a notch.”

I made a behind-the-back attempt from a ridiculous distance. The empty plastic jar of instant coffee was off by five feet.

“Nice try,” commented another down-and-outer who fritters away his mornings in the federal plaza. He laughed when I said that my specialty was empty vodka bottles.

“Good,” Mike joked as I returned to our bench, “now that you’re out of coffee maybe you’ll chill the fuck out!”

Like all my friends, Mike hates to see me wasted. But I also bug him out when I’ve got too much coffee in me.

“Actually, the term of my generation, or Generation Y or some shit, is ‘Chillax’.”

“‘Chillax?’ As in, ‘Take a break from chopping wood’?”

“Nice try, but it’s a combination of ‘Chill out’ and ‘Relax.’ Because, you know, they save two syllables with that neologism.”

“And then you go and waste ’em right back with whatever that last word was.”

“Yeah, but these stupid kids only use words that can be texted.”

“No fucking shit. They do that shit more than they actually talk. I was at my ex’s last month, and she’s on the front porch, texting my son who’s in his old room. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you actually walk to his room’?!”

“Are they fat? Or scrawny fucks like you?”

“They’re in shape, you know. It’s just a stupid thing.”

“Speaking of stupid things, I had lunch with that lady yesterday. She’s straight-laced herself, but her daughter is 21 and already an alcoholic. I don’t know if she really is or if it’s just the normal drinking of someone that age.”

“Could be either.”

“That’s basically what I said. But–you’ll love this–she said that she was doing fine until she went to that Otakon shit.”

Otakon is one of three or four conventions that entail that Baltimore has several Halloweens each year. People dress up like anime characters and you’ll see people dressed up like the characters throughout downtown. Everyone else laughs at them.

“Fuck, if my kid was into that shit, I’d become an alcoholic myself.”

He instantly laughed when he realized what he’d said, since we’re both drunks.

“I know you say you’re from a redneck area of Bawmore, but I’m from the edge of Pennsyltucky. And my dad was from pure redneck stock. But when I went through my freaky, skate fag stage, he had no problem with that. When I wore shit like a pink sock and a yellow sock to school, my refined mom worried that I was gay.”

“One of my boys went through a Grunge thing, with like black nail polish and a little light make-up. I was cool with that.”

“I could see you taking him aside and saying, ‘Son, I don’t care if you’re gay or what, but stay the fuck away from that goddamn Otakon shit. And if you look for more than two seconds at a My Little Pony horse [a Bronycon reference], I’ll fucking kill you’.”

“‘Here’s a bottle of Jack. Take that costume off and drink it. Want me to get you some coke’?”

“‘How about some whores, son?’ You’d get a call at four in the morning: ‘Mr. Lykens, we’ve got your son down here at Central Booking.’ ‘What’d he do?’ ‘Sir, he attacked an officer so we had to kick his ass.’ ‘Did he have a costume on? Did he really assault them or did he use a toy sword?’ ‘He just kept yelling, “Fuck you all”!'”

“That’s my boy!”

At a Loss for Identity

About two years after I left teaching, I was drinking and smoking with a guy who thought it was hilarious that I once taught at the local community college. He said he had heard that there were two young guys who taught philosophy there. The one was “really cool,” the other “really weird.” Knowing the other guy he had in mind, I really don’t know who was whom.

Several days ago, I overheard a fellow intellectual trying to explain whom I was over the phone. (He may or not may have known I could hear him.) He either referred to me as “the nerdy white guy” or “the dirty white guy.” Again, I don’t know which description was more apt.

A Conversation with The Heckler and the Irritable Italian

Along with Nature and Nurture, attention should be paid to Name when deciphering a person’s life. There’s people with the word “Law” in their names who pursue a career in that field, as well as people with “Good” indicated who turn out to be righteous people. There’s also ironic cases, like a guy I saw in the news with the last name “Beaver” who was arrested for soliciting sex with two teenage boys. Leave it to such a guy to apparently not be interested in vaginas.

I know a guy with the surname “Heckler.” The name so befits his personality that his name ought to be “Super.” His grating voice resembles a less pleasant Danny DeVito’s, and his abrasive personality almost always rubs people the wrong way. Yet, if only like a fungus, he eventually grows on most people.

I am one such person, and I openly call him “The Heckler.” It’s as if I were referring to a Batman villain. I could easily imagine him hectoring the Caped Crusader:

“Hey Batman! Who pitches and who catches when you and Robin are alone in the Bat Cave?!”

“What’s with all this ‘Wham!’ and ‘Ka-pow!’ shit? I know you’re hitting me, for Christ’s sake!”

“You’re putting on a little weight there, Fatman! No wonder douchebags like The Riddler are getting the best of you!”

Now that The Heckler and I get along, each sharing an affinity for the Dead, we get along well and like to shoot the shit together. We were doing so with our mutual buddy Vinnie the other day. The Heckler is about 15 years older than me, Vinnie 10 years younger. Vinnie has been putting on some muscle lately, which is good because he likes to shoot his mouth off and won’t back down from confrontation. I noted as much during our powwow.

Me: Dude, I can tell you’ve been working out. Is that from work or exercise?

Vinnie: Both, man. You’re doing some lifting too, it looks like.

The Heckler: Yeah, Brian’s been doing more 40 ounce curls. Glug glug glug.

V: Come on now, Steve.

M: I’m also trying to get back into tennis. A lady from my church just gave me a pretty nice reacket. I just need a fucking partner.

TH: What’d you say you need, a “fucking partner?” Aren’t you afraid your hand will get jealous? Heh-heh.

Vinnie shakes his head.

V: That’s cool, Brian. But like Steve said, I’m looking for that kind of partner myself. I need, like a short–real short–Spanish chick.

M: Interesting. I can see the personal ad: “Tall Italian looking for short senorita. Must like Boston sports teams and have between three and seven tats.” Quite a specific fetish there you’ve got going on there, Vincent.

V: Don’t call me that shit, bro. That’s what my mom used to call me. You know who I do think is hot, though?

M: JLo if she lost some height?

TH: But he gets to bitch slap her if she starts to sing!

V: She is hot. But I was gonna’ say Judi Dench.

M: The old chick?

V: Fuck yeah.

Now it was The Heckler’s and my turn to shake our heads.

M: I’ll tell you what I could do. I can’t think of any that are Mexican, but we’ve got a lot of old ladies at my church. If you’re just looking for a GMILF, I could ask around.

TH: GMILF! GMILF!

M: Hey Steve, imagine that dirty talk!

TH: “Sonnie, do me doggie style against my walker!”

M: “I’ve got a New Deal for you in my pants, Granny!”

The Heckler and I are laughing uproariously at this point.

V: You guys are too much, I’ll tell you. Look, I’ve got to jet. Steve, I’ll see you tomorrow. Brian, I’ve got weights at my place, so call me if you want to lift.

M: Sounds good, bro. Take care.

V: You guys–keep being yourselves.

TH: See you, Vin.

As Vinnie neared the corner, The Heckler had to get the last shout in.

TH: Hey Vinnie! Start fermenting some prune juice wine when you get home for some old broads!

Vinnie didn’t even bother looking around, instead just flipping the bird up in the air.

The Booger on the Wall Principle

My transition from teaching to waiting tables was gradual. When the latter became my sole means of income, I desperately sought a restaurant that paid better than the train wreck of a place I was currently attached to. I found employment at a casual fine dining establishment which proved far more lucrative than teaching about useless junk like the Aristotelian notion of the good life or Kant’s byzantine conception of ethics.

I had been a sloppy and ineffective waiter until the do-or-die direness of my economic predicament demanded that I manifest some mettle. While my intelligence, personality, and wit served me well at this place, I also faced the significant disadvantage of being a bearded, dirty white boy. My boss possessed a peculiar admixture of qualities. While a parsimonious, penny-pinching snob, she also had compassion for those less fortunate.

I don’t know how much shrewd calculation went into this, but hiring me doubled the manliness quotient in the front of the house, balancing out the flamboyant waiters, the generally attractive waitresses, and the Mexicans–some of them illegals–in the kitchen. I became a rather good waiter and made two good friends during my employment there.

The point of this post, as alluded to in the title, was a conspicuous anomaly that persisted for at least a month. In this fancy-pants restaurant, someone–hell, it could’ve been me–had wiped a booger on the wall about six inches above one of the two urinals in the restaurant’s only men’s room. The dullest Mexican there was the one tasked with cleaning the bathrooms. He couldn’t have not seen the bodily emission, but he just consistently let it slide–I mean, stick. He unwittingly set into motion a thought process that roughly half of all pissers surely underwent: when is someone going to wipe that damn thing off?

Moreover, two of the owner’s sons worked there and had obvious financial interests in the classiness of the restaurant. It would’ve been 100 times easier for one of them to just do it themselves, but I know they would have spent ten minutes finding the cleaner, instructing him to wipe it off, and then reprimanding him for being so lax. But they did nothing.

Instead, what transpired was a combination of diffusion of responsibility and a sense of playing chicken. I think we all shared this unspoken grotesque curiosity about how long it would take for the issue to be taken care of. How long would the offending object remain? We were all silently rooting for its longevity, tacitly expressing a deep-seated puerile “Fuck you” to the whole restaurant world in general and this place’s mismanagement and pretentiousness in particular. To be clear, this is obviously different from procrastinating on a serious matter, and it was not an arduous job by even the laziest and most squeamish standards.

I almost always showed up for work with a slight alcohol buzz, but sometimes I had a slight marijuana one going on as well. During one evening shift when both were in the risky zone, I tried telepathically communicating with the boss’s son, the second-in-command.

“Come on, Noah. You know about it, your brother Jacob knows about it. Every goddamn man here knows about it. I don’t care if you realize how buzzed I am right now, or if you know that I suspect your wife has a slight crush on me. Just admit that you’re on our team on one issue: long live the booger!”

Noah did not care for me all that much, and his next action may have indeed been demonstrative of my telepathic success.

“You’re up, Briana. Two in Four.”

I yielded a three dollar tip from the two old ladies he had assigned me to in Section Four, each of whom ordered a salad and a water. And they stayed for two hours.

Don’t try this at home

I have quite limited experience with kids, but I noted something interesting several years ago when I had a light relationship with a girl who had a three year-old daughter.  The daughter would take off my sunglasses and say “Not mine; yours!” and generally engage in other behavior that showed she was learning about possession.  I commented such to my friend who had formally studied psychology, and he said that it was classic behavior for that age.
 
Yet in the adult world, note how many people are apparently not smarter than a three year-old.  Yes, my experiences with skateboarding, alcoholism, and homelessness give me a biased perspective, but have you ever heard any of the following?:
 
    A bartender say “Get out of my bar!”
 
    A security guard demand that you leave his building.
   
    A regular store clerk tell you to “You leave my store!”
 
    A cop say “I don’t want to see you [doing that] on my street.” 
 
“No problem, barkeep/rent-a-cop/Apu/pig.  I just want to see a deed if you’re claiming ownership.  Otherwise, why don’t I just tell you to get the fuck out of my face?  You see, I actually do own that.”

The Reverse Wilson

I was never a fan of Home Improvement.  Frankly, I think Tim Allen should’ve stuck with dealing coke instead of lowering the collective comedic bar.  Yet I am familiar enough with the show to be aware of the Wilson character.  He’s the sagacious neighbor whose face you never see.  You just see the hat over the fence, if I recall correctly.
 
My buddy Mike and I occasionally hang out in the morning at the outdoor plaza outside the federal building.  I sometimes imbibe, but he’s always got an open beer with him.  He’s one of those former Marines with that “Fuck it” anarchistic mentality.  And where better to commit minor misdemeanor offenses than on federal property?
 
The closest bathroom is in the nearby Bank of America building.  You actually need a code to get into the bathroom.  There’s a guy that we suspect lives in one of the stalls.  Seriously, he spends hours in there.  Every day.  And he’s not shy, as evinced by his chattiness.  “Hey man, do you know if the Orioles won last night?”  “I hear it’s supposed to rain all week.”  And so on.
 
Neither of us has any idea what he actually looks like; we just recognize the shoes.  On those rare occasions when we find ourselves at the spot in the afternoon, the question for whichever of us has just returned is:  “Was he in there?”  No, at some point he moves on.  He probably has an afternoon stall to inhabit.  A “regular” routine, if you will.
 
The phenomenon raises several questions:
 
1)  Did the Bank of America foreclose on his house, somehow compromising by allowing him to live in the bathroom?
2)  Does he suffer from some horrifying, Mask-like facial disfigurement?
3)  Per the Home Improvement scenario, should we start asking him for wise advice?
4)  The Fonz had “his office” in Arnold’s bathroom.  Does this guy have the same M.O. and he’s merely a workaholic?
5)  Does his diet consist of foods that entail incessant, around-the-clock diarrhea?
6)  I have three degrees of separation between myself and Phish.  If I ever get to surpass that gulf, I’ll necessarily ask if they know this guy, based on the following data:
 

Not Even a Blow-Up Doll

I’ve been doing side work summarizing sociological criminology research for a guy who works for the US DOC.  His PhD in social psychology makes him better qualified to digest the material than me, who has a background in philosophy and religion.  But he’s got money and I’ve got time.  Timewise, the trick for me is to proportionally direct my attention to several other things at once.  I’ve been doing this work, at my own pace, since August.
 
Even though the federal prison system does not deal with minors, the work has all been focused on the nature of juvenile delinquency, with an emphasis on preventing such behavior from escalating into full-blown adult criminality.  I recently finished a book on religious terrorism that I was reading for leisure.  It might seem difficult to transition seamlessly from these two topics to my individual contributions to the world of humor, but I did so rather easily.  A good waiter for three years and a bad cook for one, I am a natural multi-tasker who does everything half-assed.
 
Maybe I’ll start another blog about multi-tasking.  And then a couple more.
 
I naturally compared the criminological work with what I was reading about ideological murder.  I could personally relate to the juvenile delinquency work because I dabbled in such behavior extensively.  As an adult, I have broken many laws many times.  I haven’t stolen anything since I was 25, and I haven’t done anything violent since elementary school.  I’m talking about minor stuff like drunken hijinks.  And I haven’t endangered anyone’s life by drunk driving since the last time I drove. 
 
Since I am also very religious, I am intrigued by the zealous fervor that leads others with similar mindsets to kill others and even themselves in the name of God.  And since my books are in the genre of “humorous memoir,” it’s all quite interconnected. 
 
One similarity I found between terrorists and certain criminals was a concern for one’s legacy.  “Better to die fighting than to live as a coward” is a mentality common to both.  Where I grew up, most premature deaths were from car accidents.  Here in (C)harm City, they’re by murder.  In both cases, the sites frequently become memorials to the dead. 
 
One incongruous thing I’ve noticed in the rougher parts of Baltimore is the presence of teddy bears and related items at such shrines.  Maybe a toddler choked to death there, but it’s far more likely that some gangsta’ got gunned down at the spot.  Blow yourself up in the Palestinian Territories and you become a martyr, perhaps your face plastered on a billboard.  Get shot during a crack deal gone awry in the city, and some asshole leaves a fucking Teddy Ruxpin there.  Not exactly bad-ass nor glorious.  The jihadist gets his reward of 72 virgins; you’re mourned by your babies’ mamas.
 
I don’t sling much crack anymore.  I haven’t pimped in ages.  And I’m pretty sure the Bloods whom I called a bunch of faggy pussies on funnygangster.wordpress.com knew I was kidding.  But, just in case, I’ve instructed a trusted confidante that if I get shot and anyone so much as thinks of putting any toy at the scene of the killing, they are to take action.  They are to burn down the donor’s housing unit, laugh as it burns, and then immolate himself at the scene.
 
Respect, beatches!

Choose your targets wisely

MSNBC Defends State Senator Who Told Gun Rights Activist “Go F**k Yourself”

Ailing network attacks Infowars correspondent for asking real questions

Paul Joseph Watson
Infowars.com
March 28, 2014

“MSNBC host Chris Hayes rushed to defend Rhode Island State Senator Josh Miller (D) after he told a gun rights activist “go fuck yourself,” laying the blame instead on Infowars correspondent Dan Bidondi for daring to ask real questions of public officials…”

Since I’m so nonconfrontational by nature, I was actually proud of myself when I said to a duo and an individual, “Fuck you!” on two consecutive days.  (My Russian therapist had advised me to do so.)  But I knew that neither of them was packing heat.  Apparently even extremely drunken Brian is smarter than this (presumably) sober talking head.  Shooting your mouth off can, well, get your mouth shot off.

Words Can Hurt (Me)

With the exception of friends, I generally do not correct others’ grammar.  Raised by an English teacher, I am aware how annoying and condescending that can appear.  I didn’t receive any formal grammatical instruction after middle school, but I just have an intuitive acuity of the subject.  When I studied and later taught philosophy, logic, e.g., symbolic logic, and analytic philosophy were two areas of keen interest.  In general, the field reinforced the ideal of applying academic rigor to thought and communication.
 
How “bad” can I be in this regard?  I love the Stones, and am always quick to point out that Keith Richards and I share the same birthday.  Ergo, from an astrological standpoint, I should likewise be indestructible.  If/when humanity gets wiped out, among the survivors will be  cockroaches, Keith, and me.  (Lamentably, the former will probably be easier to communicate with.)
 
Still, when I did “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for karaoke many moons ago, I sang it as “(I Cannot Get) Satisfaction.”  Some to most of the bargoers enjoyed my correction.  (Actually, my only complete flop during a karaoke performance was when I attempted, at a bar where no one knew me, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”)
 
I don’t know if this expression is unique to Baltimore, but I’ve heard a lot of people say, “That don’t make no sense.”  How ironic.  I will joke to an intellectually inclined friend, “That is an irrational statement/action,” or “That is logically unsound.”
 
Surely we’ve all heard “I could care less,” which struck me as wrongheaded even as a precocious kid.  Depending on my familiarity with the speaker, I will say, “I, for one, could not,” or “I could care more.”
 
But what really irks me, mainly because of its ubiquity, is the tautological “It is what it is.”  I actually once heard an acquaintance say, “This is my life philosophy:  it is what it is; that’s all that it is; and it ain’t a damn thing more.”  Stressing that it was his “life philosophy” implied that much thought had gone into such a maxim.
 
I knew the guy well enough to add, “So you’re saying, ‘It is,’ or ‘It has being,’ which merely resulted in his reiteration of the motto.  I thought that if we ever really hung out together, I could make banal observations like “There’s a tree” or “That house is yellow.”  Perhaps he would be fascinated, whereas any passersby would think I was autistic.
 
Of course, sloppy grammar can be useful when one is trying to lie in spirit while technically being truthful.  Slick Willie, a lawyer before he was a politician, erred in trying to explain why he wanted a blowjob by trying to parse the word “Is.”  He would have done better to follow the example of this sage:
 

I’ll pass on the hemlock, thank you

According to the traditional account of Socrates’s life, he was sentenced to death for a variety of related charges:  corrupting the youth, impiety, and denying the state’s gods’ existence being the chief charges.  Here’s Jacques-Louis David’s depiction of him bullshitting up until the end:

Left out of Plato’s narrative, however, is a more fundamental attribute of philosophy’s patron saint.  He was a sarcastic smartass.

This was embodied in the Socratic Method, particularly as depicted in the Early Dialogues.  In this Method, Socrates’s interlocutors answer a series of questions to defend their position.  Socrates’s cross-examination leads to the conclusion–at least to his satisfaction–that they were talking out of their asses.  The untenuous nature of their positions having been exposed, Socrates implores them to start anew.  Eventually they’ll arrive at the truth.  “Uh, maybe another time, Soc.  I’ve got to get home and watch Greek Idol.”

I am fairly good at this technique, but I use it very sparingly because people don’t exactly appreciate it.  For example, I’ve best manned two weddings, the one a white trash affair, the other quite ritzy.  At the latter, after the bride’s family had lavished us with drinks for two days, I asked the host if I could grab a beer from the garage at the Sunday brunch.

“No drinking today; it’s a Sunday.”

“Oh,” dejectedly, “okay.”

What I wanted to initiate was this dialogue:

“So this is because of your Catholic beliefs, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“And I noticed the care that everyone took to ensure that the betrothed parties did not see each other the day of the wedding.”

“It’s tradition.”

“Yet you’re surely aware that they cohabitated for three years before the sacrament.  I’m no theologian, but it seems to me that repeated and systematic premarital sex is a more serious sin in your religion than allowing me to get a goddamn drink [or seven] to alleviate the shakes that two days of Dionysian drinking have left me with.”

*   *  *

So while I generally avoid such confrontation, humor is an indelible personality trait I will never renounce.  Sarcasm is part and parcel of this skill.  When I am with friends–the kind where busting on each other is vital to the relationship–I am a natural smartass.  My friend with a limp (and a Monty Python fan), laughs when I tell him that he has the lamest silly walk I’ve ever seen.  I likewise take no umbrage when he makes fun of one of my two personal shortcomings.  If anyone ever apologizes because they feel they’ve gone too far, I tell them to shut the fuck up because nothing offends me.

I was chilling with two buddies recently, and I made a joke about the Marine background of one of them.  After he got the barb, he laughed and said, “You know, practically everything you say is sarcastic.”

“I just didn’t think you ever noticed.”

“Case in point,” the other friend added with a chuckle.

Immediately, the exchange brought to mind an incident from about a decade ago.  I had made a new friend recently, and one night we went to one of his old friend’s place to party.  I had seen the other guy around but had never really spoken with him.  I did know that he had a football player’s physique and seemed eager to fight.  At the bar one night, one fight threatened to escalate into an all-out bar brawl.  He pulled off his shirt and emitted a guttural yell.  Translated into English, he was saying, “I would like to fight one or multiple other people.  Would anyone care to engage me?”

The night we imbibed and inhaled at his house was kind of a blur.  I do recall being “on” in the comedic sense, and that the three of us had a rip-roaring good brew ha ha.  When I saw my friend two nights later, he furnished a different account.  “Dude, I couldn’t believe you the other night!”  He said this not with condemnation, but rather with excitement. 

“Shit,” I reflexively thought in such situations, “did I piss somewhere other than the toilet?  Hit on someone’s girlfriend?  Try to make love to a houseplant?”

“Dude, you had him scared in his own house!  You were wisecracking about everything and he just didn’t know what to make of you.  He was kind of freaked out.  It’s all good, though.  No hard feelings.  I just got paid so let’s smoke this joint and go tear up the bar.”

My athletic evolution has gone from pathetic Little Leaguer to scrawny skateboarder to weightlifting tennis and racquetball fanatic.  Yet anyone who would bet on me in a fight against this guy is the type who would bet against the Harlem Globetrotters.  I found it amusing that he was afraid of me.

My humor and expression of controversial views have gotten me in a raft of trouble over the years, but they have fortunately never gotten me into a fight.  And while some say I look Greek, including Greeks themselves, it’s probably best that I never visit there.