Friday, November 25, 2005

Love The Holidays

She informed me this way, “ Are you ready?” I’m used to this line of inquiry and expected the usual dog walk. “Be sure to grab the checkbook.” This was the clue that there would be the dreaded ‘shopping’ foray deep into the heart of Federal Way’s shopping menagerie that I normally try to duck.

She was ready for me this time and employed the one caveat that I couldn’t refuse. “We can start at the bookstore..if you want.” I hauled my frame out of the easy chair and we made for the car. Truth be told, I was relieved to get some respite from the book I was reading about the life and death of former Beatle George Harrison. There are lots of different ways to become melancholy during the holidays and this news was just right. So as the wife and I drove toward the glow of tail lights in the packed traffic, I reflected on the good memories surrounding George’s life and music.

I was a devoted Beatle fan, having grown up during the sixties, my brother Pat and I would sit in his bedroom listening to Rubber Soul and The White Album and wonder at the gorgeous harmonies and complex arrangements that would set the stage for the hundreds of rock and pop music groups that followed them. George Harrison would set himself apart with his eastern influenced leanings, playing the sitar beautifully and lending an ethereal, timeless feel to much of the great music the Beatles produced.

George’s lifelong search for spiritual meaning colored all of his music and drew him to establish relationships with the Indian mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, musician Ravi Shankar and to be the first to hold benefit concerts for the less fortunate, raising $15 million dollars for the people of Bangladesh. His spiritual nature came to the forefront as he neared his death and it was reported that among his last words were, ‘Love one another.’

It’s a wonderful, simple message to give, and while some may label it as a vestige of a timeworn sixties peace and love mindset, I felt it strongly enough to say to my wife, “I love you, honey, and... I’ve decided that I love everyone else too.” She is not surprised to hear this declaration because I often come out of left field this way, just to keep her on her toes.

“ Well,” she said, “How about that guy that just cut you off.”
I gritted my teeth and said through the rain smeared glass, “I LOVE YOU!” repeating it several more times to several more lovely cars and their lovely occupants as we jockeyed for position at each jam packed, lovingly unsynchronized traffic light. I was being facetious of course, but that is my way of inserting the larger message.

We got to the first store and waded into the mass of shoppers. The Missus changes visibly when in shopping mode, becoming wide-eyed and light on her feet. She directs me to follow her as she flits around the aisles, deftly checking size and price tags, making audible ‘hoooo’ sounds when she spies something discounted. And like usual, my eyes began to glaze over as my arms fill with Christmas booty and just as I was lamenting not having found one of the elusive shopping carts, I heard someone shouting.

‘America.... America...’ the voice belonged to a woman standing at the store exit. She was moving her head from side to side as she called out.

I watched as she focused on a little girl who was only a few feet from me. ‘America!’ she called, and the little girl turned her face up toward mine. I felt my heart swell like a ten-cent balloon.
She was incredibly beautiful, with cafe-au-lait skin, long eyelashes surrounding eyes the size of quarters, her dolled up hair and clothing made her look like a cabbage patch doll in a Neiman Marcus window display. She was playing with a toy from a discount rack and as her eyes met mine I got that powerful rush of emotions I feel whenever angelic children cross my path. It is a mix of emotions gained by my history of growing up in a big family and of the decision of my wife and I to not have children of our own.

It didn’t seem so difficult at the time. We were young and had good jobs. We could have been excellent parents, but after weighing all the options we didn’t feel the biological burn to have them and from time to time we still tussle with that decision. Now, faced with the beneficent, smiley countenance of this little sweetheart before me, I felt the warm-heartedness of paternal instinct and watched longingly as she spun around and ran to her mother, both of them fading into the crowd outside.

Wife hadn’t seen this and tugged me towards the checkout counter. Because of my clumsy pace, another couple of shoppers bumped their way into the line in front of us. “ Do you still love everybody,” she said into my ear. Still dazed, I think I said, “Yeah...I do.”


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Kalaloch - Time Traveling The Coast

We choose the beach for nearly all our vacations, opting for cool weather, the solitude and salt air over mountain hikes, Mazatlan or the Big Island.
It’s not that we don’t like crowds, glitzy resorts or hot weather, it’s mainly that we’re cheap. Also, we can bring our dogs and this is the part that we like best. The dogs are so dependably exultant when they hit the sand that we catch ourselves grinning just watching them frolic.

Walking the beach feels ancient and grounding. When I get off by myself and reach stride on the expanse of hard packed sand, I often close my eyes and let my sense of balance go where it wants to, the rhythm of the surf to my left and deep gravity of the eroded cliffs to my right pulling me into a zig-zag pattern traceable by the shoe tracks left in my wake.
The ancient part of the Olympic National Park Coastal Strip is evident in the odd rock formations that litter the sand. Sandstone lumps jut from the pebbly beach riddled with finger-sized holes that beckon like a bowling ball does for tactile exploration. Huge stratas of tilted shale pushed out of kilter by the collision of tectonic plates can take on a menacing visage in the half-light of dusk.

I imagine men coming through the mist from the moss-covered forests hundreds of years ago to see the ocean for the first time. Long before Captain Vancouver, Lewis and Clark or the legions of land grabbers that followed, I think of Indians who came here purely out of survival instinct, living on berries and salmon, braving the wetness during the long dark winters. The shapes of the enormous Sea Stacks at low tide became the stuff of stories designed to keep children in line and men and women awake at night.

The Kwakiutl Indians

Pacific Northwest Indians nurtured myths about the land around them here, from stories of a Thunderbird that lived in a cave in the Olympic Mountains, to the two-headed sea serpent ‘Sisiutl’ who attacks and devours people who walk the beach alone. My eyes pop open at this to search for my partner, and I remember the rest of that myth.
Sisutl had one head that is male and the other female, one hot, the other cold, as in yin and yang in the form of a serpent. If one attacks you, do not run. The two heads will meet as it lunges, and as the opposing forces come together, you will achieve tremendous spirit power.
The old chiefs knew people who gained this power, seeing how enlightened Sisiutl’s near-victims could become.
I decide that I like this myth as I’m naturally afraid of serpents. I can use some power and enlightenment. I’d like to find a myth about receiving power from enduring
roller coasters,circus clowns or the I.R.S.

All along this section of sand between Kalaloch and Rialto Beach are tidal pools that secure a multitude of strange looking creatures. Sea stars clutch at overhanging rock, Sea anenomes, urchins, sculpin and nudibranches cling to what was once bedrock while mollusks, periwinkle snails, gooseneck and acorn barnacles glue themselves everywhere.
The sun drops to meet the horizon at sea level in a dull orangy blur and we can smell rain on the way so we turn around and make for the cabin. It rains 200 plus inches a year here and we arrive at the cozy room just as the mist that became a drizzle becomes a drench.
Inside there is a Franklin stove and a nice pile of dry wood. We marvel at the good timing and rain avoidance as the flames lick the logs into respectable heat.

Power Places

I flip through the images on my digital camera and I’m drawn into the weird geology captured there. Sandstone in particular is the most common substance to be carved into exotic moonscapes. Piddock Clams, common along the west coast, are the culprits that form those cool ‘finger holes’ and striations of clay or other softer materials that the ocean waves
pummel away at leave the flatter formations of sandstone looking like huge ruffles potato chips.
I click onto a shot of my wife leaning against an immense, slanted boulder. Smoothed by wave action into looking softer than it is, with rifts dividing it’s surface into thirds, it’s shape is defined by dark algae in the crevices. She calls this ‘a power rock’ and claims to be able to feel the vibrational energies as they well up from the earth.

I learned a long time ago not to question her claims, however bizarre, but I did my own hands-on research there and didn’t feel much beyond a cold, sandy consistency and maybe a bit of loneliness as she walked on without me down the beach.
Still, there is no question that this is a powerful place. The disparate elements of wind, earth and water come together here to form an ongoing natural art project, complete with the joy of animal abundance and the tragedy of death by slow erosion, the beauty it creates completing the cycle.

Masses of interlaced driftwood bones bleached by salt and sun rim the transition between surf and incline cinching up the grassy-skirted cliff for miles like a tumultous wooden belt.
Gray-green rocks from palm-sized to dime-size, rounded to near perfect circles by grinding, sand-laced ocean waves, haphazardly carpet long portions of beach so that they resemble a treasure of stoney coins spilled from a giant’s pocket. A lone bald eagle, enconsced in a high, barkless spar-tree, stoically ignores the harrassment of ravens in a nearly artifically, immobile perusal of the terrain below.

Other naturally powerful places exist in other parts of the world and men have historically sought them out. Mt. Haleakala on the island of Maui is said to be the home of Madame Pele, the steppes of Upper Mongolia hold the ghosts of mongol horsemen for all eternity and the Caves of Shanidar in northern Iraq have been found to contain human remains dating from 60,000 BC.
Beyond all of this, what we find when we walk the timeless sands of ocean beaches is the interconnectedness of all things.
The feeling that any of us get when we tap into something as simple and primal as moving our bodies across very old ground, across living examples of creation, across time itself.

SAR 2001

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hunt For The Crown Vic - Part II

Shining like freshly waxed fruit, the 97 Police Interceptor stood out amongst the other lesser autos on the huge lot. It had the ominous look that Jack coveted, the blacked-out rims, spotlight, antennas and low slung profile. But I had a mild gnawing feeling that we would find a problem on closer inspection. Psycho had a look on his face like ‘oh boy...this one is IT,’ so I followed him to the driver side and we both got in, this time he had the wheel and I was the ‘perp.’

Jack sat motionless for a moment, then turned towards me and said, “ What the fuck’s the deal with this.”
He open-palmed the steering wheel like a game show hostess, revealing huge notches in the perimeter. The entire wheel looked like it had been chewed on by an angry hedgehog. I furrowed my brow and Jack got out of the seat, leaving the door open. Was this a K-9 unit, I wondered? I scooted around in the back looking for tell-tale dog hairs but saw none. Jack stood next to the car and stared at the wheel.

I could tell that he felt it too. Something bad had happened in this car. It was palpable, the carma if you will was just wrong. “ I donno...somthin’...” he stopped. “ Ask that guy!” I said, spotting a clipboard dude walking past.
“HEY!” Jack shouted, “ Ahhh... What’s the deal with this car...the steering wheel.. it’s messed up, man.”
Clipboard dude ambled over and peered in through the drivers window. “ Oh..that.. uhh..this car..” he flipped through his list. “ This was a Dade County detective’s car.. the shop guys said the cop was on a lot of stakeouts and stuff..” Jack raised an eyebrow towards me. “ Looks like the guy was sorta nervous....and musta had sharp teeth.”
Clipboard dude leaned in towards Psycho, (never a good idea) “ They said the cop got killed....but not in the car..” he qualified. “’s no other problem with the car, so.....anything else?”
Psycho waved Clippie off and we huddled. “ Shit..this is a clean car...there’s always some fucked up deal.”
he whined. “ Well, this is the last one.. and it does look like it’s got low miles.. whaddya think, J.. can you live with a steering wheel that somebody gnawed on?”

He smiled and shuffled around towards the trunk. “ Just pop the trunk for me ya creep!” I reached in towards the dash and punched the trunk button and noticed something shiny under the edge of the floor mat. I dropped to my elbow and reached down under the seat, peeling the stitched mat back a few inches.
Laying rag-tag in a scattered pile were four shell casings, some ‘pull-tite’ plasti-cuffs and what looked like a portion of some official I.D., slightly burned.

“ Ahh.. J... you might wanna see this,” I said in low tones. “ HEY..There’s a shotgun holder in here!” Jack muffled from behind the car. I eased out of the front with the piece of I.D, leaving the other stuff untouched. “ You’ll love this Pal.” I squinted at the singed plastic card. “ Miami/Dade Police’ 8th Precinct.. yadda, yadda, Det. De La Picssssraaa.. something, something..” the charred edge of the license photo revealed a man with hispanic skintone. Jack slammed the trunk and sidled up to me. “ Wow.. where’d you find THAT!” “ Looks like somebody wanted this gone.. failed to get the job done.” I say.
“Fuck.. it stinks.. it’s .... napalm, man.” Jack says.

I know better than to challenge him on the napalm deal. Even though I don’t really think he’s ever had the awful pleasure of smelling official, government-built jellied gasoline. I imagine that he has made some of his own along the way. Still, I can’t help myself from asking, “ How can you tell though, J?... I mean.. yeah it’s sort of slimy.. but..”
“It’s the way that it’s toasted, buddy.. see how the edges look like they were bubbling..that’s evidence of sticky, high heat.” “ Yes,” I protest, “but.. what would a run of the mill Miami Detective be doing with’re pulling my chain now..”

Jack fumbles around in his jacket and pulls out a small razor-knife. I am not amazed anymore at the things he can produce from his jean jacket, cargo pants, sock or bandana at a moments notice. He grabs the chunk of I.D. from me and scrapes some carbon off to reveal a little more of the unfortunate Cops face.
“De La Picsarro.., Tomas..Vice..” Jack ekes out. “ Vice Squad.. hmmm..well..Vice, Drugs, Gambling, Prostitution, Napalm.. I’d say Dade County has it all!”
And with this he guffaws again like he’s the main attraction at ‘Psycho’s’ Comedy Club. He throws the I.D down on the floorboard of the cruiser and spots the shell casings and quik-cuffs. “WELLL... what else we got here..” He flumps down on the seat and scoops up a few of the shells. “ Ya sure you wanna mess with those, buddy.” I say in vain. Jack is already mauling them, eyeballing the hole and sniffing them as if he could really discern anything worth knowing.

“ 9mm and they arent’ that old,” he says. “Maaaybe.. two, three weeks at the outside.” Now it’s my turn to laugh. “ Oh fuck you, ‘Fatlock...” I said, “ like you’re a bloodhound in your spare time...the only thing you could tell with that misshapen schnozz of yours is if ..” Jack peers up at me. “ speaking of blood...” he trails off and points towards the headliner.

“ OK!” I say. “ I’ve seen enough.. how about a nice Chevy Impala.. I saw one on the way’s near the coke machine.” Jack slides out, sort of ducking as he squints at the headliner. I hate this...because now I know he’s not fooling.

“See for yourself smartass,” he says. “ I know what dried blood looks like.” Not wanting to believe, or even see, I walked around to the passenger door and popped it open. Sure enough.. on the headliner, just above and slightly behind where the drivers head would be, was a spattering of brown stuff. I felt a wooze of nausea, and backed out of the hole. “ there’s some salsa on the ceiling.. big deal.. De La Picshitter likes hot food....long’s not that unusual.” Jack doesn’t appear to be listening to me as he leans over the windshield, poking at the rubber seals with his razor knife.

“ New windshield, dude.” His voice glances off the glass. The paint on the car was shiny, as I’d noticed before.. but now I saw that it was a little tooo shiny. A re-paint. So.. new paint, new windshield, chewed up steering wheel some shell casings, I.D., some cuffs on the floor and a little gray matter on the upholstery. “Dead guy at the wheel.” Jack says and now I’m thinking he’s right. Whewf. I’d seen enough for sure now.. I just closed the car door and walked away.
The J followed me out to a clearing in the sea of wrecks and we stood like deposed kings surveying the wreckage of battle. The wump of the Auctioneer’s bad microphone drew our attention. He was really whipping it up, the sound taking on a higher pitch with each new rattle of numbers and bullshit. I flipped through the auction list knowing we’d seen all the cars and Jack said, “ Aaahh.. lets go over and check out the action for a minute.”
We started towards the metal shed and I noticed a grizzled looking oldster with his own clipboard moving along with us, closing on our position. I figured he would say something but Psycho beat him to it.
“ HEY.. Ahhhh.. you must come out here alot... whats the inside shit on these deals?” I always stifle a chuckle when I hear Jack address strangers with questions. He almost always come out of left field, leaving it up to the hapless target to make heads or tails of what he’s asking.

The old guy was less audible now that we were near the killing floor. “Uh..this is jus’ a regler auction..ya know..jus’ a auction for used veeehicles.” He said that last word like he’d made it up. “Ya git yer number and you find what cha want and then ya bid on it.” We continued sauntering towards the din and Jack piped,
“YEAH.. but.. I mean.. how do you get a good deal?.. you know..I want the hot tip here!” Jack smiles, his shades tilted and crooked. The old guy laughs rheumatoidally, hacking into his fist. “ Aheech..ya just hafta beat the dealer!” And this is about all he had for us. He turned and walked to a drinking fountain and P.J and I waded into the throng.

The Auctioneer stands on a raised platform with stairs on either side, flanked by girls with clipboards. He looks like a gold medalist giving a thank you speech except it’s at high speed and it’s nearly indecipherable. He is overly coiffed, skinny and has on cowboy boots, a flashy shirt with studs and a Texas necktie. I’m sure his name is ‘Westy’ or ‘Twigs’ or something. The girls scribble rapidly as he shoots down each auto offering, the cars moving through nearly non-stop at a 1/2 a mile per hour.
The noise is bothersome and I’m looking for an escape when Psycho tugs at my shoulder.

“HEY BRO... CHECK OUT THE DUDE!” Even mixed with the cacophony of idling cars, auctioneer and crowd, Jacks voice still nearly punctures my eardrum. I wince and he points at a guy on the floor. “ HE’S A ‘PLANT’ MAN!... HE’S WORKIN’ WITH THE AUCTION GUY!” I squint through the exhaust-laced haze and see another ‘dandy’, though this one looks more like a Harvard beach preppie with a sweater tied around his waist and sunglasses perched on his head. He has the same blow dried hair though and I can see that he is indeed locking eyes and exchanging hand signals with Twigs up there on his podium.
The timing is the giveaway because just as soon as Prepster raises or drops his hand with some fingers sticking out, then Twigs yells something that sounds like ‘ZZZZOOLD’, and then a number and then the clunker moves out. I am fairly enthralled with this collusive shuffle and I discern eventually that what is happening is, Preppie is controlling the final sale price by driving it up. In fact, one car that goes through the chute, an 89 Dodge Sedan (beat up worse than a red-headed step-child) gets the Zzzzold signal at what sounded like $6500 dollars.
I leaned toward Jacks ear and tried not to yell, “ Did you HEAR that!... that thing was trashed.”
“YEAH.. YEAH, it was worth about $500 bucks MAX!” I pondered this thinking maybe I misheard the sale price. Then I walked over to a table staffed by young gals. One of the pedestal girls was handing a sheet to one of the table girls and she was attaching it to her clipboard. I stood proxy to the table and tried to make out the sale prices. There it was, 89 Dodge Step-Child, $6500 bucks. I shook my head and re-joined Jack. He turns towards me, spewing in astonishment, “ THAT FLOOR GUY.. HE’S JUST HOSING THESE FUCKERS!”
I spun around and made for the swinging doors, Jack trailing me. We tossed our bid numbers on the counter as we made our way out of the building, laughing at the absurd idea that we could get a fair shake here on a used Police vehicle. We piled into the ‘83 Diplomat and bowled down the lane for home. “The old cruiser is looking pretty good now I’d say,” I offered but Jack was already zoning out on a new plan, his beady eyes narrowed in that squint that says, ‘sorry buddy.. I’m not here right me later.’

SAR 2001

Happy Aleut

Happy Aleut

In this place between ice
And the empty blue
Of sky, I live gladly
Needing nothing

More than a strong spirit

There is oil enough
Until we hunt again
Melt is on and today
A song sparrow came

To tell me it’s stories

Should I be happy?
I know satisfaction
In the knots of this baidarka
Of the many times
Seal has lay across it’s bow

And today is a good day.


The Mole Hunter - Part III

The Mole Hunter
(Part III)
None of the trees or shrubs in the 1/2 acre yard showed it, but there was a cold wind moving through us. It was just before sunrise, 0500 hours, and the last vestige of moon shunted off the
boughs of the big cedars and lit the tops of the fence posts that lined the killing field. I torqued my stiffened frame around in the lawn chair to inspect my troops but in the still faint light I couldn’t make out their positions. Just dark, static lumps that might have been plantings, until one of them moved.

“I’m glad to see you haven’t shirked your duties, Lieutenant,” I said. The furry shape ambled toward me, stopping at attention by my feet. Private Zeke gave me an appreciative lick on the hand and laid back down in the wet grass. I heard a slight scratching noise just then and I instinctively swung the big 6 Volt Groundsweeper light beam across the ground in front of me.

There it was! The beginnings of a new tunnel, I held my cool and the boys didn’t notice it at first. I shifted slowly in my lawn chair, leaning to grab ‘the horrible plumbers shovel’ with the sharpened tip when Corporal Mau got wind of the action.

All at the same time, the three of us bolted to the place where the dirt had crested the lawn, Zeke pouncing on the mound, me trying to move him aside with my boot while angling for a shovel strike. At the same time, Mau held the right flank, growling and yelping a vicious battle song. In the half-light and the confusion I heaved my weight into the shovel handle, only to nail my left foot with a glancing blow and then nearly take the end off of Pvt. Zekes nose
On the second try, the shovel sank into the fecund pile up past the hilt to where only the yellow of the plastic handle showed above ground. Frustrated at the thought of failure, I struck the ground several more times, each blow sinking deeper into the mangled lawn hole.
When I quit the attack there was silence as the ancient instinct that men and animals
share when tuned into the pursuit of prey took hold. We stood stock still, the three of us, until we heard another scritching sound about twenty feet to our rear. Mau got there first and began digging like a feral steamshovel. I saw that it was useless to try and chop the marauder in two
since the dogs had alerted him, so I shuffled back to my chair and my warm lap blanket.

The practice of pest control is not a new religion. Sumerians used sulfur compounds to kill insects and mites. Roman Architect, Marcus Pollio designed and built the first rat-proof granary and the Roman, Cato the Censor advocated oil sprays for use as pesticides. As early as 300 AD the Chinese used predatory ants in citrus groves with little bamboo bridges so the ants could move between trees to control caterpillar and beetle pests. In 1476 in the town of Berne, Switzerland, cutworms were taken to court, pronounced guilty, excommunicated by the Archbishop and banished. The punishment of these awful grub-groaters, presumably, gave rise to the first known example of the prosecution of attorneys.

In modern times and on this continent we are far more spoiled. Our pridefulness in the rich green lawns and carefully-coifed flora does not suffer well the dirty destruction of a common tunneler. So, not surprisingly, all manner of remedies have crossed the devious minds of desperate gardeners. I have tried them all and can tell you that the home-style ones are the least effective, and the most humorous.

Human hair, bubble Gum, broken glass, engine oil, mothballs, car exhaust, urine, and dog doo.
All stuffed into the holes, my yard now qualifies as a Superfund Cleanup site. The garden hose
slowed down the number of new tunnels, but one time I forgot to turn the water off and my
neighbor’s basement began to flood.
I’ve used a product called ‘Mole-Be-Gone’, which is simply castor oil in a fancy blue bottle and
which merely annoyed them the way I get annoyed by the guy in the elevator who wears way too much cologne.

And as far as annoying them, the dogs do their part well enough. During peak season, in early
summer, my lawn and garden beds are so badly cratered from the dual action of mole and dog that there is literally more dirt brown than lawn green. At first I discouraged the dogs from digging, but decided that they spend more time on duty here than I do, so they can at least give the moles a bit of their own medicine. And to make matters more difficult, wife has sided with the Mole.

“They do aerate the soil...and they eat some of the little insects that chew on your Azaleas.”
She is ardent about protecting any sort of animal and won’t tolerate their destruction, excepting spiders, which I try to defend in similar fashion, but am only patently ignored.
In addition, the EPA has begun to phase out the production of diazinon and dursban, the only
chemicals that might actually remove the diet of the bad guys, sending them elsewhere.
Not that this would matter anyway, since the Mrs. is also a champion of all things organic and
non-toxic. So, in reality, after all the tooth gnashing and preparations of war. I am reduced to chasing moles with a shovel. It’s not so bad really. I try to look at the bright side ~ What is a man without purpose ~ and... At least I’m getting some fresh air and exercise.


Hank Williams III at The Chop Suey

Hank Williams III at The Chop Suey - Seattle 1-24-03

Attended the Hank Williams III show on friday night, but as a veteran live musical event enjoyee, I've learned the vagaries of show-going, knowing that these days most marqueed, widely known artists don't come out of their dressing rooms until after 10:45 pm at the earliest.

Showing up early out of fear of missing the first song went out in the late 80's for me. I've seen the Stones, the Beachboys, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Elton and even Devo and during that time, none of these made the stage until after some lessor known opening act bored the crowd to tears or just puzzled us with songs we'd never heard and likely would never hear again.

It is much better to take your time getting downtown, find a parking spot in a leisurely fashion, stop off for a beverage at a nearby watering hole and then waltz in after the first band has beat the crowd down with inanities. It was this way at the Hank III show on friday night. And when we finally strolled in the door of the 'Chop Suey', the name band was in full roil.

I was a little apprehensive about going to a 'country music' show, not really having been a fan of country music. I'm familiar with only the periphery of the country music scene, hearing news about the big, high grossing artists like Garth Brooks or Shania Twain. Even without benefit of cable tv, the sheer number of fans that these big names pull in alway seems to make news. I couldn't however name any of the songs they've done. Sticking with my trusty rock n' roll sensibilities, my computer hard drive is loaded with Zeppelin, Collective Soul, Nickelback and good old Elvis.

The music pounding out the door of this club was surprising though. I've heard Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Buck Owens, and so I have an idea of the purer line that those originals layed down, but I'd never heard the slant on this stuff that I was hearing as it filtered through the string of dungerees and tattooed attendees that was in the queue to the main room of this club.

To one side of some tall guy's mangled off-white cowboy hat, in the near distance, I could see two individuals on the stage bobbing their heads madly as the very loud, very correct downbeats signalled a fast shuffle, the rhythm guitar pinning down the top of each of those beats very cleanly, the stand-up bass exactly matching that big kick, the whole of it counterpointed by an amazingly pure steel guitar that rounded off every couple of bars with a tart flourish.

This was country music? As my pal Lorne and I neared the ticket-taker, I nudged him for an explanation. Lorne is a local one-man show in the city himself. For the last twenty years or so he has performed his act as 'Max', doing the tiny stages at places like The New Luck Toy, the Blockhouse restaurant, the Cumberland Tavern and any other place that needs a guy who can do 100 songs for 800 bucks in three hours.
He has many influences, being a fan of all music, but being the son of a local pedal steel guitar player who, as a union member in Seattle in the 40's and 50's played with greats like Ernest Tubbs and Marty Robbins, he has a much more thorough understanding of country than I do.

He turned to me with big eyes and was mostly unintelligible. It was pretty dang loud in there. We nudged and bumped our way into the crowd and when the song ended, he tried again, ' this is great man.. Mississippi Mud!.. that's country!' The next song thrummed up and we snapped back to attention.

It wasn't until I got home here to my computer that I learned that Mississippi Mud was written in 1928, ('it's a treat to beat your feet, on that Mississippi Mud..' ). The bulk of the skinny guy onstage's repertoire, so far, was just this sort of unflappable, original stuff, albeit with a bent on the volumn knob at eleven. Although the rest of the band looked like typical guys you might see milling around in a movie with horses and pickup trucks in it, Hank III himself was recognizable as the grandson of the man himself, Hank Williams I. High cheekbones and close-set eyes, Hank Williams-handsome.

The roman numeral designations, I learned later, was the popular method of understanding the pecking order of the William's family legacy. Hank I being the patriarch, the original Grand Ole Opry mainstay who penned and performed songs like, 'Move It On Over', 'Hey, Good Lookin', and 'Your Cheatin' Heart.' Number 'II' is son, Hank Williams Jr, of 'are ya ready for some footballlllll! fame, who had to make a name for himself in the enormous shadow of his famous daddy. He did so with a fusion of country and rock n' roll which culminated in the eighties with hits like 'All My Rowdy Friends (have settled down)' and 'Whisky Bent and Hellbound'. His son, Hank III is following a similar path, playing the old standards with all the twangy heart but including a set in every show that caters to 'new punk' fans who favor groups like The Misfits and Jesus Lizard.
While Grandpa was known as 'the hillbilly shakespeare'...Hank III, in his 2nd set, has garnered the epithet, 'hellbilly.'

I scanned the crowd to get an idea of what Hank III's fan base was like. There were the cowboy hats for sure. Mostly white, beat up and dirty ones, made out of starched straw like the one I left at home, but a few were black and fancy with silver badges and leather strings. There were permutations of cowboys and punks, 'cowpunks' who sported the hat, but also had arm to arm tattoos, multiple piercings, beer bottle and cigarette. Also in the mix were regular old fat guys like Lorne and me and even a few obviously gay men, which suprised me for a moment until I remembered that this club was in Capitol Hill. The music blared nicely, actually well controlled at the board so that I could still hear the individual guitar strings and force of thumb on bass, pick over pickup. It served to heighten my senses and I found myself hollaring at the top of my lungs with the rest of the crowd, even though I was oblivious to the references Hank made with certain lines.

'I'm gonna get me a #@*%$ an' a #$%@#?>! an then we'll go down to #$%#$ an ' we'll $%@**&?!

'Buuuwaaaaaahhhhh!' the crowd agreed.

All of this was going swimmingly, until a guy with eye makeup and berets in his hair became enamored with the musical beat and began to bump into Lorne. My pal, who is all of 290 lbs and strictly heterosexual, did his patented big-eyed glance at me and tried to endure the weirdo.
There was very little room to move to get away from the over-imbibed trans-whatever, and I was just glad that there was a barrier of Lorne between.
Finally, the mincer sashayed off to one side to begin annoying others and we moved closer to the center of the room. Hank finished a real fast song and then went into a diatribe about the sorry state of country music. He lambasted music stations for playing for pay instead of for the music and the crowd was enthusiastically supportive. He was profane in a loving way, thanking all the mother*#$%#s who came to show for the country set, but now he was gonna take a 5 minute break and when he comes back he was gonna do a Gawd#$% Mother$#*ing Metal set.

The crowd relaxed and smoked a cigarette. 'Three' came back onstage, but now he looked different. No cowboy hat, light brown, sweaty hair to his shoulders, his bass player traded the stand-up for a Fender P-bass and the drummer looked vaguely demonic. With the first horribly loud notes, the moshers began to organize.

For the uninitiated, the front center part of the club of today's popular rock music shows has become a place called 'a mosh pit.' I don't know the origins of the phenomenon, but suffice to say that 'moshing' is like a disenchanted Gen-Xer version of aerobics, and instead of drinking vitamin water and 'sweatin' to the oldies', moshers drink cheap beer and then become human pinball bumpers, crashing into each other in a sort of pseudo-angst, adrenalin driven, semi-controlled and encapsulated mini-riot. The floor, I noticed, was crunchy and slimy wet under my basketball shoes and in the flashes of light I could make out broken beer bottles.

As the next song began to storm up, a guy right next to me with way too much hair began to jump up and down and bob from side to side, standard mosh pogoing. He bumped into me a couple times and I bumped into Lorne. Lorne didn't like this much. He doesn't move very much either. I stepped back a little and tried to appreciate the whole flavor of the scene. I was pretty much digging it all. The energy level was amazing, Hank slamming his guitar, the bass player turning out to be the real demon, standing at the very brink of the stage, eyes and mouth open like three holes to the underworld, he virtually vibrated with the noise and, I think all who attended, at least momentarily, became minions of the gorgeous hellfire.

Hank finished that song, all of two and a half minutes, and launched into another by yelling, 'THIS SONG IS ABOUT F#$KING AND FIGHTIN'
and that's when I tapped Lorne on the shoulder. We schlepped our way backwards as the intensity grew. I saw a beer bottle go tumbling over somebodies head and before we got to the exit door, I saw a guy with an exxon valdez-coated hairdoo start swingin', in honor no doubt of the song's subject.

The night air was like a kick in face. Lorne looked at me and started speaking, but I couldn't hear him. Instead, I heard a haunt of 'You're Cheatin' Heart, but in triple time and with the devil at the mic.


Hunt For The Crown Vic - Part I

Hunt for the Crown Vic -Part I


Our day begins with breakfast. It is a ritual that Psycho Jack and I have held between us since the late 70’s and while I myself am apt to switch gears easily, no one is more a chained to his habits than Jack. Usually we break bread at ‘Hucks’ in Burien because of the ‘Mountain Man’ breakfast of mushed eggs, hashbrowns and other vegetable entrails (Excellent with the requisite large dollop of tabasco.) So it was an out of character move that Jack agreed to meet me in the south end for a meal at my favorite morning spot, Mr. A’s.
Personally, I think it was simply the name of the place that hooked the J, knowing Psycho as a man attached to the language of snappy catch phrases and film noir imagery, the title of this eatery summoned a mob feel to it. And no sooner than we had been seated by the coffee girl in one of the overstuffed, oval booths did Jack spot the mobbish proprietor, Mr. A himself.
A John Gotti look-alike, Mr. A was holding court behind the open grill counter, waggling a ring festooned finger at three waitresses and mumbling something that Jack was sure was a Sicilian/American tongue lashing.
(Jack in Mr. A’s character): ‘And you many times have I told you to meet the customers at the door!.. you must NOT keep them waiting....’
Psycho’s face assumes a ‘one eyebrow raised’ angle while he waggles his finger at me. I’m sure that Mr. A or at least one of his girls can see Jack doing this and I feel the familiar blush of embarrassment at his
dependable behavior. Especially since Jacks version of the dialogue is almost always laced with his idea of how all movie scenes should sound, and thusly, there is no shortage of ‘fuckin’s, gawdamns, and sonovabitches.’
Our waitress rolls up just as Jack finishes up his last sonovabitch. She smiles demurely and makes the mistake of asking Jack if he is ready to order. “ OH.. YEAH.. SHIT.. AHHH.. COFFEEEEE AND.. LOTSA HONEY,’ Jacks voice cranks up to announcement volumn. “ AND WHATEVER MY FRIEND HERE WILL HAVE.”

Psycho’s booming voice is his most recognizable trademark, at least until you see him. And most people who make his acquaintance will back me up on this. Jack is truly heard before he is seen in most cases and I attribute this to two things; Firstly, Jacks stint in the Armed Services. Psycho Jack is the first one to pull ear plugs out of his jacket when you see him at the gun range, truck pull or ACDC concert and I am certain that he learned the value of the little foam inserts from the practical experience of having an M16 cracking off rounds next to his head in some ditch in Italy at midnight in a rainstorm while on manuevers during war games. And this had to have inflicted some hearing loss, coupled with Psycho’s love of the high-throttled throaty thrum of his 69’ Shovel-head Harley and blaring rock songs on the radio.
Jack is hell with a remote control, mashing down the ‘volumn up’ button on his stereo until the big speakers threaten to rattle off the wall shelves.

Secondly, I believe that it is part of Jack’s self image, to be larger than life. Like a caricature of a modern day pirate, one who storms his way through each moment dedicated to leaving a psycho/sonic trail, at least, in the soundtrack of the movie that is his life. (Along these lines, I routinely imagine Jack in movie scenes that I construct as I observe him, complete with panning and dollying shots, tights and overheads, either at his house or in his car, Jacks radio often supplying the amazingly perfect music bed for each storyboarded scene. I can even see the soundman wincing and raising his boom mike every time Psycho’s turn to speak pops up). Once you’ve heard him, the image of Jack falls into place nicely. Now 38 years old, and a solid 6 plus feet and 250 pounds of english/anglo pastiness, his high and tight, blondish army haircut is nearly unecessary given the lack of onsite hair to begin with. Deep set green eyes and questionable, ancestral british teeth, his head is the size and shape of a healthy pumpkin. Like his father was, Jack is a heavy man, and watching him walk is almost painful. Huge strides in buffed jungle boots, his enormous thighs and gut forcing each footfall into an easily audible address of his imminent arrival. He is a denim guy and nearly always wears suspenders, I must suppose, because his dad wore them. In spite of his ungainly appearance, Psycho has had years of marital arts training and in a semi-drunken sparring match with him years ago, he nearly broke my jaw.
We sup at the very good egg dishes and Jack lays out his plan.

“Ahhhh...” J’s face gets pensive. He stirs his honeyed coffee and then looks up to catch my eye. “ I found the paper this morning,” I wait patiently for the other shoe. “ It’s a ‘95, which is not reallllly the year I want, I’d rather have a ‘96... but it’s worth looking at.” Now I remember that Psycho is looking for a car. And not just any car, but an upgrade of the one he favors for his daily driver, the ‘81 Dodge Diplomat Ex-Police Pursuit Cruiser.
Today the car favored by Police Agencies all over the nation is the Ford ‘Crown Victoria’ or Crown Vic to the initiated. It has all the same accoutrements that the original cars came equipped with, as well as the added benefit of air bags, anti-lock brakes, and improved gas mileage.
Jack has a long standing interest in this kind of auto, although he rarely elaborates on his reasoning beyond the fact that they are routinely well-maintained as fleet vehicles. Of course there are multiple scenarios that could flesh out his real reasons, and I posit that they begin with a desire for power.

Simple power over Joe Citizen is what Jack needs. The need to be a couple of heads above the guy on the street. So, a used car with the barely concealed visage of authority, ( that grill in your rear view mirror, that low profile and those antennas bristling from the top and trunk ) creates the millisecond of fear on the highway and in your driveway that Jack uses to his advantage. I know what I’m talking about here because I’ve owned two of these cars myself, an ‘83 Diplomat and a ‘86 Dodge St. Regis Ex-State Patrol Sergeant’s Car.

And yes, I’ll admit that I liked the unusual sense of pseudo-authority these cars offered. I picked up the ‘83 for $1500 bucks, put a Police scanner in it and a blue coffee mug on the dash that rudely resembled the blue light of a real cop car. The result was amazing. On the freeway I would nose up to within six or eight lengths of the rear end of cars in the fast lane and they would always, instantly move to the right.

On at least three occasions, while on my way home from working late shifts, I approached traffic accidents or crime scenes and would be waved in. (I always whipped a ‘louie’ or manuevered around and out of those areas.)

Now, 15 years later, I think about my motivations and chuckle to myself. Eventually I became bored with these cars - the novelty wore off - and so I am left to wonder why Jack still wants them. He doesn’t equip them with any extraneous gear, save the non-functioning spot-light. And the reasoning of an economical used car might be filled even better by a Volkswagon or a japanese import. I think it must also be the addition of the mystery of a regular guy just wanting a car like this that also drives Jack to own them.
He’s not a cop-wannabe. He respects the job that Policemen do, but never hestitates to say that he’d never want to join the force. As evidence he points out the statistics of shooting and stabbing injuries sustained by Cops on the job - especially during domestic disputes - as the worst sort of job perk.
It’s more like Jack to maintain a layer of secrecy about himself, to act as a buffer. It gives him time, I think, to route out the motivations of everyone he deals with. So in routing out my own motivations, Jack folds a twenty onto the check tray and asks, “Whaddya think bro..should we go look at it?”
“I’ve got a better idea, J.. lets go...I’ll leave the tip.”

Across town is the Washington State Government Auto Auction. It is a huge carlot situated on 30 acres of Auburn Valley silt and is the repository of the vehicular castoffs of bloated governmental transportation budgets - here because of long standing, hand-in-pocket deals that County, State and City governments have with big automakers and local dealers - and here also as bank repos and drug dealer confiscations
They are publicized as the go-to place for a steal deal on great used cars. The ads blare from TV sets like air raid warnings. “DRUG CONFISCATED CARS AS LOW AS $500.00!!” --- “GOVERMENT AGENCY TRANSPORTATION FOR PENNIES”--- “FEDERALLY-SEIZED VEHICLES”

All of this speaks volumns to Psycho. The buzz words must burn in his ears as we amble in through the swinging doors and sign up to get a bid number. The girl behind the counter hands us both auction lists and points us towards the yard door. The place is busy, with lots of different types milling about the neatly spaced cars and trucks. Off in one corner is where the action is already taking place. A metal building with a drive-thru is packed with people surrounding cars idling in single file. As we approach we can hear the auctioneer’s maddening verbalizations. “ Forda-dollas, forda-dollas, forda..FIFTA dollas.. Dew-I-ear Sixty..WE GOT SEVENTY-FIBE, Dew-I-hear..EIGHTY>>goin’...goin’ ---SOLD!! $6thousanssevenhunerdfifty number 326..NOW....wegotta 97chev..(bla,bla,bla)..”

I am aggravated by the staccatto blast of the microphone through the poor quality speakers and I stop short of the throng. Psycho notices and turns toward me. “ Let’s just go check out what’s in the lot first, Jay,” I say in Jack-style tones.

We move towards the middle of the lot where guys with clipboards are poking under hoods, firing up engines and slamming trunks. From past conversations with Jack, I know pretty much what it is he is looking for parameter-wise. I spot a Gray one right away.
“Crown Victoria, 96” I say proudly to him and Jack is surprised, “ Shit Man.. Good eyes!” Psycho goes into a daze as he walks around the car. His focus is intensified and I stand back and watch as he smooths his hands over the hood, finds the door handle and gets inside. “Pop the hood, J” I yell from the front and he yanks the lever. Now comes the information harangue that I’ve learned to expect from Jack. Even though he knows that I am aware of the mechanical basics of these cars, He never forgets to list all the features of them, like an attorney going over boilerplate legalese, he reiterates the facts in case I suppose, he thinks I might forget.

“This is the Cleveland 351 man..without all the pollution bullshit..heavy duty cooling, trans cooler, lifetime battery... fuck man.. this thing gets 20 PLUS miles per gallon!” He leans his big pasty face into mine, “Hows that big truck of yours looking NOW!” Jack unfurls his best guffaws here, attracting the attention of people nearby. Never mind that the joke isn’t that funny--Psycho is often a man of crudely manufactured punchlines--the real laugh is Jack himself, as he holds his ample hand to his ampler gut and rears back on his heels.
I must admit that I enjoy this, and I snigger along with him as he galumphs his way around to the trunk, already slightly ajar. He whiffs it open and says.. “YEP...three bodies and you’d still have room for your shotgun and a six-pack!” I wheel away and sit in the driver seat. The keys are in the ignition and I crank the thing over. Jack piles into the rear seat and screws his face up, knowing that I can see him in the mirror. “ HEY MAN... I DIDN’T FUCKIN’ DO IT MAN... THE BITCH WAS DRUNK.”
This is Jacks imitation of a ‘perp’ who is on his way to jail. He crosses his hands behind his back, almost like he’s knows the position too well. I yell back to him, “ Shut the hell up.. You have the right to remain stupid, if you should refuse an attorney, a nightstick will be introduced to your melon...DO YOU UNDERSTAND!”
More chortling follows and I feel a shadow cross my window. I am startled to see an official looking belt buckle right at eye level. A face with a State Troopers hat leans down into mine. I clicked the ignition off and rolled the window down. “You fella’s like this one do ya?” the Bull asks in a strangely friendly way. Before I can say anything, Jack is out of the back and joking with the Cop.
The Patrolman nods and hooks his thumbs under his belt. “This one is part of a fleet reduction from our department, my friend drove this car ,” he offers. “ Never wrecked, mostly just freeway miles.”
I ease out of the seat, feeling weirdly guilty, and I notice the hugeness of the Policeman.Jack and I are both 6 foot 1 and this guy with the funny hat was nearly a foot taller than we were.
As the unlikely pair bantered, I moved away from them, feeling uneasy even though I haven’t done anything even remotely illegal since I stole some candy from a 7-11 when I was 13.

I scanned the Auction list and found two other Crown Vics. A ‘95 and a ‘97. Psycho notices that I’m walking away and he catches up with me. “ Shit Man..if ya ever want an inside tip on these cars.. THAT’s the guy to talk to, man....He told me about how he drove the shit outta his car and it still came back for more!” The idling motors and the auctioneers voice mixed up the noise so Jacks voice didn’t seem so loud.
“Ok,” I say, “ Here’s a 95.. says it has a leaking head gasket.” The white ex-police car looked sad and abused. “ Shit Buddy.. that’s nothing....I mean.. I bet I could have the heads off this thing in an afternoon.” Jack climbed in and started it up. The engine had a slightly wheezy sound that the first one lacked. “ I don’ t know, J... Maybe we should move on.” We walked a little further, scanning the tops of the cars. “The list shows a Blue ‘97 here somewhere.” I said. I saw the Trooper off in the distance looking like a forest service tower in a prairie of metal car roofs. “ HERE IT IS!” Jack trumpets, and sure enough, standing slightly away from the others is a Midnight Blue ‘97 Crown Vic Police Pursuit Interceptor. (Next: Part II)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Mole Hunter - Part II

The Mole Hunter - Part II

I slept terribly last night. I dreamt about tunnels and dirt, of ruined lawns and flower beds.
I forced my frame out of bed and I took a shower. In the steamy room, I organized my
thoughts and smiled. Today was the day.

After a light breakfast, I went to the garage to make preparations for ‘Operation
Eradication’. The pivotal portion of the plan being my latest acquisition.
‘The MoleBuster 3000 - Insectivora Live Ensconsement Apparatus’. It’s a true beauty,
solid stainless, Swiss engineered and painstakingly assembled, it’s streamlined and
gorgeous and, according to the manufacturer, unavoidable by the awful grub-eating
garden mavericks. I paid a small fortune for it on-line at the behest of my wife, She Who
Must Protect All Living Things.

So, for my $74.95, I will enjoy the pleasure of capturing the lawn manglers alive, ostensibly, so that I may interrogate him before letting him loose on the lawn of one of the neighbors whom I do not like all that much. (That neighbor might have thought about this before he decided to run maintenance checks on his emergency generator just outside my bedroom window every month at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays.)

I popped the box open and immediately discarded the instruction manual, and carried the contraption out to the front yard.
The grunts were on duty, lying about twenty feet away from a huge hole that they had dug in search of the enemy. I could tell from their hang-dog faces that he’d gotten away again, but I cheered them with the news.
“Look here, Men... our troubles are over!” I placed the silver machine on the lawn, the genius of design revealed itself. “It’s our ticket to smoothness, boys” I piped, “ No more lumpy lawn, no more terrible tunnels, and best of all, if we catch him.. we get to torment him!” I raised my voice as I said this and the troops rallied, jumping up and sniffing at the well-oiled tool in approval.

Together we set about engaging the door mechanism. There was a couple of hook thingies, and a big spring, under which was a little red button. “That must be the ‘Go’ button” I chortled and the boys laughed with me, thinking about the hapless, blind dirt criminal who would soon meet it nose first.

Thanks to the diligence of their digging, I only had to drop the machine into one of the craters and look for a covering large enough to shield it from the light. Pvt. Zeke pointed it out instantly.
“Good work Soldier..the kiddie pool is bully good!” I picked it up off of it’s station where it neatly covers the firepit and plopped it over the happy mess.
I spun on my heel and ordered the troops to pull back. “Let’s go, pup one, two, tree..” they pranced about joyously in anticipation of victory and we rendezvoused by the rockery between the apple tree and the compost heap. “Now we wait, fellas.. anybody bring some cards?” They ignored me, tussleing over a stick, I got out my binocs and zeroed in on the catch point.

Anyone who has ever sat in a duck blind, in a high tree hammock, or even just at a bus stop in the rain knows the difficulties in waiting for a deeply desired event to happen. There is the dedicated stare that soon turns to sagging eyes, the tedium that gives way to various tooth gnashings, twitching feet and the low singing of ribald songs. Normally, the wait between battles in times of War are given over to the cleaning of weapons, to the preparation of food and to the reclaiming of much needed rest.
But out here in the awful tundra of pock-marked suburban lawns, we have no weapons to clean. Neither is there appreciable food, (save a mushy apple from the tree or aging tomato) leaving our phalanx nothing else to do but...
So here in the still, dew-laced grass and leaves we bedded down, General and his trusted men, to await the fate of Gods, both human and animal, side by side.

(Next-Part III)


And A Lucky New Year...

This story was published in Fine Homebuilding a couple of years ago. One of two stories that made it into print, they paid me $150 bucks and they provided the artwork. (see the scanned page at left). Neat, huh?

And A Lucky New Year...

It was only a few days before Christmas and our boss instructed Tony and me to put one last decoration on top of the garage roof before he drove off hurriedly (the way he always did before a difficult or undesirable job was about to begin.) After he had left, Tony said “Don’t worry your head, I know exactly how he wants this done.”

This did not temper the worry factor for me because this particular client was by far our wealthiest and our most intimidating. The garage was a six-bay monster with a very delicate tile roof. In each bay was an exquisitely restored showcar, from a gorgeous 1975 Corvette, several makes of very rare sportcars that I had never seen before to a spectacular ‘65 Lincoln Limo with suicide doors.

Tony lifted the tarp from the decoration the boss had left to reveal a big metal and wooden cross, nearly six feet from end to end, and at least eight feet tall, festooned with colored bulbs, the whole affair mounted on a thru-piece of three-inch metal pipe. “ All we have to do is get this thing up there and pop it through the hole in the ridge.”

I whined at Tony about the cars inside, “Can’t we get the caretaker to move them out, just
for a few minutes?”

“He’s not here so that’s not going to happen, just get yourself over here.”

I helped him wrestle the 100 plus lb. cross up onto his shoulder and steadied the ladder as he climbed up onto the fragile cement tiles. I made a joke about how he should really know what Jesus would do now and he shot back, “ Just get inside and catch this thing when I stuff it in the hole.”

In the garage I gingerly maneuvered the ladder around the Corvette and found the ceiling access hole directly over the trunk of the Lincoln Limo. I leaned the ladder against the wall and unhappily eased a new cotton tarp over the back of the car, then I poked the end of the ladder into the access hole, pushing the lid open until it stuck in position.

I gingerly made my way up to where Tony was waiting on the roof above. His muffled voice came through the ridge hole, “Are you ready to catch this thing, it’s starting to rain and this thing isn’t getting any lighter.”

He dropped the tube in and I tried to calm him by humming a little gospel tune while I wrenched the nuts down in the saddle made for holding the weight of the big cross.

“OK PAL,” I yelled, “ We’re all set.. I’ll plug it in and meet you outside.” I heard Tony acknowledge so I plugged the cords together and made for the opening in the ceiling where the ladder was protruding through the hole.

Just as I reached the fourth rung from the top, the ladder slipped on the epoxy-painted floor and plummeted down with me on it, towards the trunk of the perfect Lincoln Towncar.
Through some sort of divine intervention, my arms caught in the access hole and the ladder hooked on the upturned toes of my boots, less than a foot away from the classic auto underneath. I was so surprised at my bad fortune mixed with good that I could only, at first, laugh and it was nearly a minute or so before I realized that I was not going anywhere without help.

“TONY!” I hollered, the sound of my voice absorbing into the insulation above my head. “ I’M

I heard him throwing his ladder back into the truck and it seemed like an eternity before his footsteps made their way towards my position. “ Quit fooling around it’s getting dark an....” he rounded the corner and saw my dangling feet, the ladder hanging inches from disaster.

“Omigod” he grunted as he deftly slipped between the cars and hoisted the ladder back into the opening. “What are you trying to do, get us fired!”

I shakily descended the ladder while Tony pinned it to the floor with his boots and felt like hugging him.

“Merry Christmas Pal,” I said. He eyed me and grumbled, “yeah..sure..and thanks to me....a happy New



The Mole Hunter - Part I

The Mole Hunter
Part I

Saturday 3:15 pm, I was on assignment from the boss. “Honey..there’s another mole hill in the yard,” she said, and my partner Zeke and I went to work. I put on my hunting clothes and battle helmet and Zeke grabbed a quick couple of laps from his bowl on the floor of the laundry room.

I instructed Zeke to stay low and cover my left flank and then I moved in. Stepping over the railroad tie-landscaped border, I spied the first evidence. It was a B&E..breaking and exiting.

The nasty brown pile marred the otherwise perfectly manicured lawn. I felt a welling of anger in my gut, but steeled myself as my partner creeped up from the other side of the lawn. We hunkered together behind a purple rhody and reconnoitered. “Ok pal,” I muttered, “We’re going to have to do this the hard way.” Zeke looked up at me and panted. “Shhhhh!” I said, “Don’t you know these varmints can hear a grub from seventy feet!?” He dropped his eyes and skulked away. The horrible mole hill was ten feet high if it was a foot, casting an awful shadow on my box hedge in the afternoon sun. I slinked over to the cedar trees where I keep my assortment of mole traps and picked out the least rusty one. Just as I was moving into position, I remembered a news story.

“Initiative 713 was passed today by an overwhelming margin of voters banning the use of body or leg-gripping traps. The measure, aimed at the trapping industry, has spilled over into the arena of varmint traps. As the law stands, it is still legal to sell mole traps, but it is illegal to use them, leaving countless homeowners with no light at the end of the...tunnel, as it were.” The story reverberated dumbly in my helmeted head, though the joke at the end was mine.

I slumped onto the concrete garden seat between the trees and cogitated. The law as it stands would not allow me to catch one of the lawn ripping demons with a ‘jaws-style’ trap, but if caught alive, (with one of those expensive but wholly ineffective, PETA approved no-kill traps) I could then legally hit the mole on the head with a hammer. I’m no rocket scientist, but my wife, who works in some secret department for Boeing, might be.. so I asked her.

“Ewwww..” she said, “ You mean those traps have..claws?” I could see she was on the side of the mole. She didn’t have to maintain the lawn in the way to which it was accustomed. I asked my partner. “Zeke..what should I do?” He eyed me from under the bent willow. “I love animals,” I said, “but these little creeps do more than just mess up the lawn, they’re digging up the azaleas and mums, and my sunflowers will never be the same, just look at the leaves..they’re frowning!”

Zeke ignored me and gnawed on a stick. “It’s not like I haven’t tried the other stuff!” There was the mint leaves and chewing gum, which I suspect only left them with better breath. I tried pouring cups of dog pee in the holes, but found that getting the dogs to pee into cups was too tough. I put egg yolks, mustard, cat hair, horseradish, garlic and even crisco in the holes, but I only suceeded in creating a really awful dirt marinara. I even contemplated backing my car up and plugging the exhaust hose down there, but got stuck on a muddy slope and abandoned the plan.

The only time I ever succeeded in ridding my yard of the soil cretins was when I used the standard body gripping, spring loaded scissor trap. “Look Zeke,” I whined, “ You know I’m a softy for cuddly little things like puppies and kitties, but I’m sworn to protect this land.”
I stood up and grabbed the trap and my special ‘mole finder’ shovel, an old clam shovel that I modifed with a poker attachment on the handle to find the tunnels better.

3:30 pm- Zeke and I surrounded the position of our quarry and while Zeke sniffed at the bad guys hideout, I set the trap with the little spreader tools. The jaws opened menacingly and I locked the tab in place, then set the trap to one side. Zeke had pawed some of the dirt aside, locating our entry point and I got to work with the poker attachment.

In a moment I had found the entry and exit points where the dastardly beasts had cruised through, likely at high speed, in search of defenseless nematodes and grubs. I deftly placed the trap with my gloved hand, positioning it so that the next time Mr. Digstoomuch comes by it will be his last time. I did my usual ‘mole dance’ over the hole, (a sort of combination Hutu dance and disco move designed to frighten and confuse the enemy) then sprinkled in some dirt and covered it with a bucket. Zeke nudged the bucket a little, not satisfied with my placement of it, both of us tiptoeing back to the ‘mole blind’ between the cedars and the willow.

We had stayed vigilant for nearly 8 minutes when the boss called out to us. “We have to get ready to go out to dinner, ZEKE.. come in now.. and I hope you two aren’t hurting any little animals out there.” Shoot... she was on to us. I grabbed Zeke by the collar before he could leave. “Make like you don’t know anything about this,” I hissed, “ She’ll thank us next spring when she wants to have her lawn croquet parties!” Zeke leered at me until I let him go, sprinting through the kinnick-kinnick. I turned back for one last look at the field of battle. I could tell this was going to be a long, tough war.


My Good Fortune

My Good Fortune

A surfer has caught the wave;
He stands shakily at the brink and
from the crest, the view is magnificent,
breaths come hard and quick.

In a moment he will descend into
the trough and speed under the curl;
certain failure surrounds him,
yet he remains firmly in place,
his eye on the light at the far end.

His only real skill
he has gleaned from this
natural world - balance, otherwise
only a little foresight and good karma
presage each move afoot.

He wonders, with the noise
and immensity of the ocean
around him, how he got here:
just paddling around minding
his own business.

He hopes this ride will never end
Keeping good images, leaving
his wake of good moves,
aware of his fragility.

But treading water, like life
can only last so long
So, on the cusp of things
is the best way to die.

In lieu of giving up
or beginning again
I leave him there hanging ten;
My alter ego until further notice.

And when the sand is all that is left
and the ocean of my good fortune
has receded, I will move on
to the next big wave.

SAR 2000

Psycho Jack Turns 44

(Part 2 of 2)

The Dim Sum turn-table groaned under the mass of Chinese delicacies and we began spinning the thing back and forth, spooning heaps of gooey mystery meats, dumpling shaped dough-like items and rice ensconced noodley wads. Deano won the prize for ‘gluttonous bastard of the show’ by merely exhanging his human scale plate for one of the larger serving dishes and then creating his own mountain of grotes.

In like fashion, Deano eschewed the little fork and began wielding the serving fork like he worked here, Ron and I ate relatively normally. Psycho was doing his routine of crude jokes with a mouth crammed with fish. “So...thna fuggin’ bittch sez, ‘So yewr thna one who pissed in Bill’s sagxaphone!” and at this Jack lets out a huge, prolonged guffaw, head back,his paw slapping the table, food and spittle twisting from his mouth. It doesn’t matter that the joke made little sense, Jack himself is the real punchline. Ron sort of titters, I sputter under my breath and Deano pays no attention whatsoever, preferring to focus on the task at hand.
I made good on my rice quotient and was nearing capacity when Psycho spun the table, stopping it so the plate with the yellowy thing with legs was directly in front of me. “Hey, Man.. ya gotta try some of this shit.. it’s jellied eel!”

Psycho’s face had that kind of gleeful look that a four year old gets when he’s eating mud in front of his mom. I tried to wave it off saying, “ I thought Eels were already pretty much jelly”, but PJ would have none of this and before I could put my Tsingtao back down, he had shoveled some of the gelatinous muck onto my plate.
Another of the things that are descriptive of Psycho Jack is his unfailing generosity. And this is one of the reasons I like to hang with him. I’m not speaking of material things necessarily, although Jack is no slouch in this department either, pulling down a cool 60 plus G’s a year as a Certified Welder (and that’s with more than two months a year just fucking off between jobs), but more to the side of his general nature. He will not let you alone at the dinner table, acting like a sort of deranged grandmother, filling your glass, insisting that you sit ‘on the fuckin’
couch man’.. because it’s the most comfortable place in his house and always walking you to your car whenever you leave.

This kind of behavior seems jarring, coming from a galoot like the man that Psycho appears to be. But there are deep roots in his upbringing. Jack’s Dad was an Army Corps of Engineers lifer and was responsible for large crews of men who constructed major bridges, roads and other public works like Dams, even putting in a stint on the Panama Canal (although my information comes soley from Jack and by nature should be suspected of inequities). He was a huge guy,and sadly, he died last year- in Jacks arms- (which is another amazing story that I will relate in the future), but on one visit to Seattle about eight years ago, I got the chance to meet him.
He looked like a brawler, even at 60 or so, with great sausage fat fingers on ball glove hands, his neck was as big as my waist then. He said little, sitting on my couch, the three of us drinking a beer. Jack beamed at this visitation like it was holy. He was nervous and more bumbling than usual in his Father’s presence and before long, Dad stood, hitched his trousers up and said he had business in town. Jack glowed the rest of that day and revealed tidbits about his Dad that I had not known.

True to fashion though, he never told me his Dad’s first name and I never thought to ask. But he did tell me that shortly after Jack was born, Dad moved off to Thailand, took up with a Thai girl and promptly re-married, leaving Jack’s Mother to raise the infant, soon-to-be hellion by herself. Jack would receive letters as he grew, along with support checks. But to my knowledge, it was cursory information and had no effect on Jack save a longing to truly know his Father. So, by way of default, Psycho was taught right and wrong, good and bad by his Mother.
To say that Mom has made a lasting impression on her wayward boy is understated. Jack as the dichotomite,to this day practices the kind of politeness and decorum that would make Mrs. Manners swoon with praise. For instance, No one that I know is more the doting son than Jack. He has taken care of his Mother since before I knew him, backing away from the extra inning at the ball game, leaving the party early so that he could ‘go see about Mom’. He has set Mom up in a local Assisted-Care facility that’s close to his house so he can bring her home for Holidays and other special occasions. The few times that I have NOT heard Psycho cuss like water is when he’s in the presence of his Mother.

For these things, I have towering respect and it makes me willing to put up with other, less savory aspects of PJ’s bespeckled personality.
He says ‘M’aam’ to the waitresses, and ‘Sir’ to older gentlemen and even though he later lets a few choice ones fly, this kind of verbal social grace seems to pave his way to sweetness. In addition,Jack will not touch his food until every one at the table has been served. Even if someone else at the table has begun to hog away at his meal, Jack will sit patiently until the last plate lands.Most of us ‘Friends Of Jack’ thank the Army for J’s salted vocab, but I can remember when we were in DECA class at Evergreen and Jack would catch hell for cussing in front of our teacher, Mr. Ellis. “ Ahh...Sir.. ahh what the fuck was that thing with the school store inventory again..” and while the class gasped and tittered Mr. Ellis would scold Jack, knowing that it would make no difference at all.
I stared at the rice and jelly on my plate, a wooze of Jack Daniels pushing my brain halves around like a school yard bully.

Ron poured a round and proposed a surprisingly unslurred toast, “ Ahem... I think we can all agree that our Pal Jack here is the ‘Man of Honor’.. yes?..OK..Here’s to Jack, a living example of why Men who never get carried away...should be!” We clapped and pondered what Ron had just said, and Deano pushed his plate away triumphant. “OK..OK.. I GOT ONE!” Psycho honked, and Ron spilled the last of the venom into our besmirched glasses. Psycho stood up with a look in his eyes that made me think that someone else was driving, “I don’t know how old I am because a goat ate the Bible that had my birth certificate in it. The goat lived to be twenty-seven.”
Our bleary party of four chortled together smacking glasses and China Girl whisked through clearing plates. She flitted by, depositing the grub ticket next to me, she smelled of fresh melon or maybe rice candy. I groped for a fortune cookie. Deano grabbed the bill from the tray and leaned over towards me,“I’ll get a third, you and Ron get a third and we’ll pick up the tab for Jack, cool?”

I nodded and belched, thinking that, really, Deano probably ate HALF the food there, but I was too packed with libations to complain.

The fortune cookie disintegrated in my paw and I fumbled the paper out. ‘Psychics will lead dogs to your body’ it said and I must have screwed up my face alarmingly because Jack notices and says, “ What’s up Buddy?..You Ok?” I look over at Ron, who has a similar lemon puss look going. He begins laughing and hands the fortune to Deano, “ That Wasn’t Chicken” Deano cracks, and I realize that there is something rotten in Rat City. Jack grabs his belly and shakes like Santa, slapping his knee and Ron says, “ It’s those stupid fake fortunes again, isn’t it!”
We made for the door and while the three of us stepped into the sobering brisk, I could hear Psycho thanking Vu behind us,” No shit man, it was great, No, No.. really..hey, we’ll be back Vu!.. Your the man!” The glut of food and alcohol had slowed Jack’s vigor to a more manageable level. Deano and Ron were crossing the street diagonally and Jack caught up with me as I stepped into the crosswalk. People were milling about the well-lit storefronts there and I tried to imagine White Center as it was in ‘74. The effects of urban renewal were finally trickling into the now mostly Asian community and I liked the orderly look of the new sidewalks and street lights.

PJ patted me on the back and we fake-punched each other like juveniles while Deano and Ron opened the doors of the Tortilla truck. Now, this is where things got weird in a hurry. And it’s another solid reason why I like to visit Psycho’s World. Nearly without fail, each and every time I hang with Psycho Jack, something will happen that will change the outcome of my day from boring, ‘pay-the-bills-and-let-the-dog-out’ normalcy to ‘Look-Out-Train-Comin’ wild. No sooner had we slammed the Van’s slider door shut, that we heard a rushing, rumbling noise coming from behind and to the right of the back of our position. The noise grew to be enormous and we all craned in different directions to ascertain the source.
A great white Blur roared past the back of the van, and with brutish intent, plowed T-bone style into a small compact car that was crossing the same intersection that we, only seconds before had crossed on foot. The force of impact spun the little car like a top and the Blur continued on, blowing out an aluminum light standard, hitting several more cars parked in Marv’s Broiler lot, then, lurched back onto 16th and blasted away due south. We were

so close that we could hear the tires popping as they hit the curbs and we could smell the burnt rubber and foul smoke. We had jumped out of the Van I think, by the time the big shit diesel of a car had left the scene, and above the moans of the little cars driver and passengers, we could hear the rumbling exhaust and actually still see the hideous white beast that had done this car-nage. It was stopped at the light where 16th crosses 99th street, about 200 yards away, leaning on the rims of it’s shredded tires, idling grossly.
Psycho yells, “ HOLY FUCK! DID YOU GUYS FUCKIN’ SEE THAT SHIT!!!” In the seconds that followed, the four of us bumped our way towards the wreckage. I could see the smoking car as it painfully began to turn the corner towards the Old Round Bank.
It was a '68 Eldorado Coupe, but that was all I could tell from the distance. Psycho turned toward the three of us and said, "Hey,...I got an idea!....let's go bowling!"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Psycho Jack Turns 44 - (Part 1)

This first posting is one of a series of true life stories I've written about my friend Jack. I submitted this to 'Storymania' and it is currently posted there, along with occasional comments from people who visit that site. Your comments are welcome, of course.

(My best friend Jack has a distinctive personality. He is loud, boisterous and often profane. Some would say even, well, somewhat...Psycho. Coined by a mutual friend, I think this is an overly strong descriptive for Jack. But the name sounds better than ‘Crazy Jack.. or ‘Wacky Jack’ to my ears. When I become bored with the day to day existence of being a ‘normal person’ I call up Jack and by the end of the day I always have something to commit to the hard drive.

Hence, the inception of what I call the ‘Psycho Jack Series’. A true-life running diatribe on my misadventures with the big, pasty-faced lug.{The names have NOT been changed. There is no innocence here.} Enjoy- S.A.R.

Psycho Jack Turns 44 (Part 1)

In the world of inebriates like Psycho and myself, the rule goes like this: ‘As long as nobody gets hurt, it’s a good reason to have a drink.’ And mostly, this rule has held true in my outings with Psycho. However, there is another, lesser used but no less important rule that states: ‘Oh fuck, lets get the fuck outta here.’ I knew when Psycho called last Friday that at least the first of these rules would be followed with fervor. I didn’t know that in the bacchanalian, booze swilling loudfest process that we would end up using both. My usual pattern when visiting Jack starts with the perfectly 1973 white boy high five, an insistent fraternal smacking of flesh that Psycho lives by, and after a few warm-up micro-brews (J, for as long as I’ve known him, prefers quality alcohol to pollute with), we run the gamut of horribly cruel sex jokes, racial slurs, Death before Dishonor rants and at least one impossible, bragadoccio story of ironworker derring-do all while lurching and nearly sideswiping our way to some concert, greasy spoon eatery or dive bar in PJ’s 81 Diplomat Ex-Police Pursuit Cruiser.

I end the night, always, by refusing more excellent Italian espresso laced with huge dollops of Jack Daniels and demanding my jacket, which Psycho always hides in some out of the way closet, why, I do not know. Psycho Jack Turns 44 - Page 2In this way, I’ve always gotten home in one piece and been richer for the experience, as long as I can remember whatever it was we did. Saturday was Jacks 44th birthday and, oddly, the first time I can remember ever being invited to celebrate it with him. To clarify, I’ve known this miscreant old pal of mine since we were too short to steal candy off of the 7-11 gum rack, and I’ve probably spilled more beer with him than a few of these Yuppie-brew-come-and-gone-distilleries ever made, but in all of this time, he has never told me, nor requested my partying presence when his actual birthday was due to arrive. This is part of PJ’s ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy, and if you ask him, he’ll be glad to not tell you why he won’t tell you. Of course, I had to be there and on the way, I promised myself that I would remember everything this time because I had eaten a big dinner in order to better soak up the quantities of booze I knew I’d soon be tussleing with.

As soon as I stepped out of my car I knew tonight was a little bit off. I could hear Jack bellowing from inside his little nondescript frame house like an enraged bremaloe. Chuckling my way to the back door,(Psycho never receives guests at the front door- Booby traps, reportedly), He was just stumbling out, flailing his meaty arms in a haze of smoke. ‘Fuck!... Gawdamn it... I thought that bad boy was open.. Gawdamn it!’ I rounded the corner, up the step and peered in to see the usual. Psycho had lit the fireplace up before opening the flue, just like always. He didn’t see me pass him in the smoke-dark, unlit entryway and I was sitting on the couch, below smoke level when he came back in. ‘ FUCK.. Buddy!..Wow.. fuckin’ magic, man.. ALRIGHT!’ High fives follow, Jack stomping to the fridge, Sam Adams presented in a proper Irish bar glass. As soon as the uninitiated are in Jack’s inner sanctum, they notice one thing right off the bat. The room noise volume goes up dramatically. The decibel level of PJ’s voice is directly proportionate to the amount of joy juice he has infused. Tonight, he was already at a six beer din.

Fortunately for me, I am 20% deaf in my left ear and to Jack, my head is always angled away from his blast source voice to save my good ear. I end up looking like I have a permanent crick in my neck, but the alternative is worse. In the smoked room I make out two other old pals of Psycho’s, Deano and Ron. They are a welcome addition in my mind because of their tendency to act as buffering bookends for Jack to bounce off of in lieu of me alone, absorbing the worst shocks and saving the public from too much Psycho babble. ‘HEY MAN.. LETS GO GET SOME FUCKIN’ CHINESE, MAN!’ Jack blats, ‘MAN, I KNOW THIS GREAT FUCKIN’ PLACE IN RAT CITY.. C’MON MAN.. LETS GO!’ We all agree to go, but Ron says, ‘ Open yer stuff dude, we got ya some shit’. Ron points his beer at the table full of booty. Strangely, Jack’s voice sloughs a few db’s, embarrassed I suppose,’ SHIT MAN.. You fuckers didn't have to..’ and at this PJ already has the first package torn asunder to reveal a spanky new bottle of JD, his favorite. ‘A MAN AFTER MY OWN HEART’, Volume boy chorts. And as Deano pushes another gift at him, Psycho deftly spins the cap off of the thinly disguised Grain Alcohol and snaps off a swig, rotating the bottle towards my face. ‘ BUDDY.. HERE MAN!’

Who could resist the male bonding primalness of a scene like this. I hoisted the rude poison and self-administered. Deano’s gift was a perfectly-preserved WWll 50 Cal. Ammo belt, each slot filled with a 4 inch chunk of Pepperoni Stick. ‘AW FUCKIN-A DEANO...’ Psycho feigns speechlessness for a millisecond, ‘C’MON.. CHINESE..’ then at even higher volume, ‘ I’M BUYIN’!!’ ‘Hey..Scotty got ya somethin’ J..Check it out.’ Deano shoved the small bag towards Psycho with his foot. “ FUCK MAN..WHAT IS ALL THIS SHIT.’ He picks up the bag and guffaws. A huge likeness of Stone Cold Steve Austin the Wrestler raged back at Jack, bald pate, like Jack’s, skimpy mustache like Jack’s. These two could be brothers, which begs the question: Why isn’t Psycho a professional wrestler? I don’t think too long about this because Jack is ripping open the stuff inside like a drunken mandrill. ‘ Hey Numbnuts!’ I gentle, ‘ there’s some fragile shit in there.’ He paws more slowly at the wrappings and pulls out my gift to him. A 1942 Army Issue Harley Davidson Model,1/16th scale, fully assembled, in olive drab, black out lights, saddle bags and topped off with a rifle scabbard laced to the forks. ‘Buddy!..shit man.. ‘ Jack assumes a semi-reverent tone.

He marvels at the detail like King Kong sniffing at Jessica Langes panties. ‘That fucker’s got some amazin’ detail’ Ron says, and PJ carefully swings the little kick bale down and sets the toy gingerly on his fireplace mantel. Reverance aside, the Birthday Boy resumes bellow.’ OK.. SHIT..LET’S GO EAT FER CHRISSAKES.’ Deano has a company mini-van from his job at the La Mexicana Tortilla factory so we all pile in, Jack riding shotgun so he can manhandle the radio. Before we hit 4th Ave, J has changed the stations four times. ‘Gawdamn it.. theres virtually NO GOOD FUCKIN’ MUSIC on the radio anymore!’ Inside enclosed, padded spaces, Jack’s tone is gratefully muffled. He settles on some REO Speedwagon and rolls his window down, frosting me in the ambassador seat, with the wind-chilled 40 degree December night air. The radio is too loud to attempt to get Jack to half-glass his window hole, so I console myself with a snort of the JD that Ron has smuggled into the car. Deano wheels the Tortilla truck into a space near the corner of 16th and 98th and we pile out, Psycho pulling on his hat and leading the way across the street. I recognize where we’re going now.

The Emerald Dragon used to be The Epicure Restaurant, the place where my Dad met his wife and courted her to marriage a million years ago. I’m enjoying this little mental diversion, my brain snugly laced in Jack Daniels as we go through the door.

Now we’re in Hong Kong and nothing looks like it did when I was 12, eating french dips and cadging gum from the waitress. Jack is nothing if not good at picking places to eat. He favors oriental fare predominately, but his sense of good value and good flavor are as dependable as the next thing he does, which is to begin to yell. ‘ HEY... HOW ABOUT A FUCKIN’ SEAT IN HERE.’ And before Ron, Deano and I can admonish him, we see that the proprietor has come around the corner, a smallish older Chinese man,(who else?) who immediately slaps Jack on the back and smilingly says. ‘ Hey.. you clazy assho.. you wan dinna or not!’ ‘VU... JUST GET MY FRIENDS AND ME SOME TSINGTAO’S, CHOP CHOP.’ Jack has a huge grin on his mug, massively pleased at this exchange of old patron, old Chinese pal. Vu seats us at a traditional Dim Sum table in the very back and within seconds a comely young Chinese girl is pouring tea. ‘Now you aren’t gonna give us any trouble tonight are you Jack?, she says in perfect White Center english, her beautiful almondine eyes flashing. Jack says nothing but smiles broadly and nods knowingly at me, then towards the girl. This is supposed to mean that Jack knows this creature carnally, which is a complete falsehood, but which is part and parcel of Psycho’s ongoing self-image propaganda campaign. I nod back half wishing it was true, just for the proximal thrill.

The Tsingtao’s arrive in seconds more and Vu appears and says, ‘ Jack.. you wan regla deal?’ Vu’s teeth are widely gapped and yellowish. His smile is so wide it looks painful. Jack horfs, ‘ YEAH, YEAH VU..BRING US THE MOUNTAIN!..And VU..ANOTHER BEER AND SOME CLEAN GLASSES! Psycho’s most identifiable habit is ordering two drinks for himself as soon as he sits down, one drink usually being quaffed solely as thirst quencher, no matter the poison. If bounty hunters ever wanted to find Jack in a crowded bar, this is the way they’d start.

Vu leaves and in lowered tone Psycho explains, ‘ The Mountain is a fuckin’ PILE of fuckin’ food man!.. and it’s CHEAP!..Cheap..but GOOD MAN!.. We’ll be takin’ a shitload of this stuff home tonight man!’ Ron and Deano laugh at this. Deano is 250 lbs of eating machine with a Buddha-rivaling gut and pate to match. Ron is as skinny as Deano is rotund but eats like a teenager. They are not impressed with the threat. Ron promptly produces the Jack Daniels and pours the first boilermakers. In the process of boilering my head with JD and Chinese beer, I make a mental note to avoid the foods that have legs and to eat lots of rice. I figure I’m going to need the extra stuffing to keep par with the swillers to my left, right and middle. China Girl gets lovelier with each pass through the room until she begins to look like Audrey Hepburn’s and Joan Chen’s love child and then the Mountain arrives: plate after plate of beautifully prepared dishes - Kung Pao Chicken, Oyster Fried Beef, Sweet and Sour Prawns, a whole fish in a red sauce, mounds of noodles and vegetables, something yellowy with legs and and an eye and lastly, a giant-ass bucket of white rice.--- Part II to follow