January 30, 2006

Subway Bitch Slap

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2006

I bumped into a guy I grew up with. Pedro lived in the apartment building down the street and we went to grammar school together. Long story short, he was a former cracker dealer who went to jail. When I saw him, he was with his wife and driving a brand new Mercedes.

"Things have changed. This is my new wife. I got three kids and a fourth on the way," he told me as he pointed to his wife's large stomach.

Pedro knocked up one of the neighborhood girls when we were in highschool. I think she had two kids with Pedro. She seemed like a nice girl but for the life of me I kept wondering, "What the hell are you doing with a crack dealer?"

In the late 1980s, when crack was the cash cow in New York City, Pedro took advantage of the addictive trend. He started out in an entry level position. He dropped out of highschool and sold nickel bags of weed to kids who would cut class and hang out in the park to get high. He eventually started scamming the private school kids and sold them oregano and other spices. If you complained, he beat your ass to a bloody pulp. Rich Jewish kids were not going to mess with a crazy Puerto Rican with a loaded gun and a pitbull.

Pedro eventually graduated from low level thuggery to middle level drug dealing. He started out at the bottom as a look out, then a runner, then a full on dealer. He would hang out at bus stops and at subway stations and deal his goods as people got on and off mass transit. His peak sales happened during rush hours, when his highly addictive clients would step off the subway and Pedro would be waiting there for a $20 or $40 rock. And it wasn't just poor people smoking crack. Tons of suits and functioning drug addicts with real jobs were part of his expanding customer base. When I was in college in the early 1990s, I heard that he got busted and went to prison upstate.

Years later I bump into him on the way to the subway. Mercedes? How was he making those car payments? The world finally made sense to me now. Former imprisoned crack dealers with four kids are rewarded with luxury German cars late in life. I should have skipped college altogether and started dealing smack in Phuket.

On the subway, a chubby black woman wearing an orange jump suit with Uggs sat across from me. Except the Uggs were knock offs and they were actually called Iggs. The orange jumpsuit hurt my eyes and I wished I wore my sunglasses. She had gang tattoos on her hands and listened to an old school Walkman. She thumbed through an old copy of People Magazine with Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey on the cover. Sitting next to her was the guy who ate is entire breakfast on the train. He got bacon, eggs, sausage and pancakes from a diner. They put it in an aluminum take out container and he struggled to eat everything in his lap. I admired his efforts and the bacon smelled good.

A guy wearing a fur coat got on at the next stop. He carried an oversized Hefty garbage bag with him and stood in the center of the car. His fur coat looked like it was made out of some sort of rabbit or raccoon. The lady in the orange jumpsuit started making fun of him.

"How many dogs you kill for that?"

He ignored her and she continued to taunt him. That happened for three more stops. When he was about to get off, he walked over to the lady in the orange jumpsuit and slapped her. Twice. Her Walkman fell onto the floor and she knocked over the breakfast of the guy sitting next to him. A piece of half eaten bacon slid a few inches away from my right foot. The guy in the fur coat ran out of the car when the doors opened as the woman screamed in agony and embarassment.

Bitch slapped on the subway.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

Two Inches of Banana

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Anniversary in Italy

By John "Falstaff" Hartness © 2005

"This is the best swordfish steak I have ever tasted," I said to the maitre'd. He was hovering since we were the first couple in for the dinner hours.

"Thank you, I will tell my uncle you enjoyed it."

"Is he the chef?"

"No, he is a fisherman. He caught that fish this morning."

This conversation simply does not happen in North Carolina. For one thing, all the grammar was too good. But since I wasn't in North Carolina, rather Taormina, Sicily, I didn't think too much of the statement. It was our anniversary, and we had ditched the tour group to do a little shopping and have a nice romantic dinner all to ourselves. So we meandered through the cobblestone streets of Taormina, wandered through the piazza centro and set off down a side street where I noticed a small sandwich board in front of a lighted canopy.

"Let's try this place."

"Okay, whatever you want."

"Happy anniversary."

"Happy anniversary. So where are we going next year?"

"Let's just see if they have seats first, then we can think about next year."

They did have seats, since it was only 7PM and barely the beginning of dinner hours. I love the idea of a siesta, the nap in the midday that allows everything to be postponed a little into the evening. After all, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. And Americans, but that's beside the point. The point is, 7PM was very early for dinner, so we had the restaurant all to ourselves for our anniversary dinner, from the antipasti all the way to the tiramisu, which after that meal I simply refuse to eat anywhere on American soil. It's simply a pale reflection.

The bruschetta was fresh, and sliced thin enough to be pinkly translucent. The wine was exquisite, a light and airy Aetna white, so named because the vineyard was on the slopes of that great smoking mountain where we had spent the previous day exploring. For a pasta, I chose spaghetti with sea urchin, tiny balls of sea urchin meat the size of the end of a Q-tip, with a flavor that exploded across the mouth and tongue like a rich, salty firecracker. An oddly earthy taste, sea urchin, brought out well by the slight dusting of Parmesan cheese (Suzy had made the tactical error on our first afternoon of assuming that Parmesan cheese in Sicily was as milquetoast and bland as the Americanized green cardboard can version. Not even close.)

And then there was the grilled swordfish, which I ate without the slightest interest in overfishing, endangered species, or anything else except the fever pitch my taste buds had been brought to by this meal. Light and flaky, but not dry. Exquisitely seasoned, with herbs and sea salt, the fish was substantial enough to rival any NY strip steak I've ever eaten, without the sense of substance. It was filling, yet after the meal was finished I felt almost as though I had dined on moonlight and rainwater. There was nothing to weigh us down as we thanked the nice man for his hospitality, took a photo with him for our scrapbook, and wandered back down the cobblestone alley into the night.

Falstaff is a writer, stage director and poker player in Charlotte, NC. His writing was featured in the collection My South: a People, a Place, a World All Its Own. He can be found online at Poker Stage


By Human Head © 2005

On December 22, every portion of my shitty space in the world was covered in freezing, blowing snow. My friends and I considered our pre-holiday options. In a couple of days all of us would be shackled to spending time with our families, which at the time was an awful thing. What the hell were we all going to do if we couldn't hang out for three or four days? New Years Eve? Oh hell, you can’t bring that up, it's a lifetime away. Let's trip.

The last of the Alice in Wonderland on Humpty Dumpty. Merry Christmas to us.

Hanging out at my apartment was fast becoming a tiring proposition so we decided to head over to Doug's because he had the high end surround sound that would provide an optimal Pink Floyd listening experience. Doug's parents were rich, and oh yeah, he was good at selling drugs. A perfect example of the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in the heartland. Working third shift at the time, for the life of me I can't recall exactly why I had the night off. It must have been comp time or something along those lines. Who cares, really, it's inconsequential.

It was the annual tradition of the company I worked for to give each and every employee a Christmas turkey or ham. They even let you choose. How's that for magnanimous? They always handed out the free food to the coal faces on the 23rd. Deep into the night but early into the fry, I got it into my head that I had missed my free turkey that I would never actually cook, and began obsessing about it as though it were a crucial cog in the cosmic gears of life. What the hell was I going to do? I certainly couldn't spend the next nine hours worrying about this. Yes, nine hours was about what we still had left on the ride, since we had previous confirmation by experience attesting to the potency of this batch of mid-altering paper.

Doug and I were long time tripping buddies. Both of us typically shied away from tripping with our group of friends, well, because we felt like the drugs were wasted on them. Not only did we love our drugs, we took them seriously. Our heroes, the Morrisons and the Hendrixes of the world, knew as we did that one's life could be changed in a moment with this stuff. All a person had to do was be ready, and through every conversation that took place in twisted reality, we were on constant lookout. A request like mine from any other in our group would have invited a chorus of laughter and "what the fuck are you thinking" lectures, but I didn't go off on tangents like this very often and Doug knew it. The two of us promptly jumped into the car and headed out to get that fucking turkey (that I would never cook).

The snow was dry and constantly shifting, like a magical white desert that gave the impression of hovering rather than tires touching pavement. In our little bubble of a Camry, we braved the storm and finally arrived at the factory. Calling the 15-minute drive "wild" would be like calling Liberace "sort of gay." I sought out my boss while Doug tried to learn to play on the giant rolling conveyer belts, a task I had long since mastered through long hours of poorly paid servitude. The turkey I would never cook was going to be mine, come hell or high water.

"What the hell are you doing here," asked Rod (the 3rd shift super), "you don't work till after Christmas."

I stated matter-of-factly, "I came for my turkey."

"We don't give those out till the 23rd."

"Yeah, I know, but c'mon man, I came all the way here."

The look on his face confirmed that he indeed thought this was pretty odd. He seemed to be waiting for confirmation of facts that he must have intrinsically known, even if he didn't want to admit it. I certainly wasn't going to give him the out and out satisfaction; let him figure it out for himself. Then, through breaking brain clouds, there was a moment of clarity.

"Well, its 3:30 in the morning, so technically it's the 23rd, so you can go ahead and give me my turkey now. You won't have to bother later this way."

My cold and unerring logic had fucked him up enough that he just mumbled "okay" and went to get the free meat products for which I inexplicably longed. Doug was trying very hard to learn how to balance on conveyers, his face twisted in a determined grimace, so I decided not to bother him and head down to the break room and try to find one of the two or three cool folks there to talk to for a bit.

What I found was far cooler than any people I may have been looking for.
The 3rd shift holiday pot luck. All laid out very neatly for everyone to consume in, ummmm, welllll, geez, I figured about 30 minutes. It dawned on me that I was starving, having eaten nothing since about 9 PM. The mental stress of the journey there had really taken it out of me, and I could feel the drug peak slowly ebbing. There was sure to be more stress on the trip back, and I reviewed the available selections. Gallons of orange juice and a whole lot of food, all the peak-restoring tools were there. I had my excuse.

I went on a tasting frenzy.

When the smoke cleared and I was sated, it occurred on me that I had just done something I'd always wanted to do but never really thought I would. However, living my dream had physical consequences; I made a huge mess and fucked up a lot of food. I was a bit frantic and tried to remain calm as I moseyed back out to the main floor to see if my boss had procured my icy holiday freebie. If he didn't have it I would have to make a quick exit lest more painful physical consequences come my way, courtesy of the general work population. Being around when everyone discovered the war zone buffet would not be a good idea.

I spotted the wandering Rod, still clinging to a stupefied look, holding my frozen bird. I muttered an unintelligible thanks and no further explanation as I grabbed the swag and my fat friend from the conveyers. On the return trip through snow that was no longer shifting, I told my tale of wonder. While he agreed that it was kickass, Doug just shook his head.

"I can't believe we just did all this for a frozen turkey that you won't even cook." Then he just laughed. "Never mind, yes I can."

Doug always knew, kindred old souls are like that.

Wish You Were Here was on repeat as were the joints we smoked on our way to the post-trip mental state we referred to as "The Wastelands." The more superficial of our playmates had long since filtered out the door, some of them disappearing before we returned from our trek. Their absence was a welcome relief as I pondered the recent events and sought inspiration or validation or revelation or whatever it is that 18-year olds search for. I still think back from time to time how it came, in the brief moments on the edge of sleep, unintentionally through the words of a friend.

"You’re not living if you're not tasting."

The Human Head is a writer, gambler, and thinker from Whicita, Kansas.

The West Texas No

By Sean A. Donahue © 2005

Many times I have been forced into bad decisions. There were times in my life I wish and some days choose to forget. I've made decisions to help friends when I should pass and to walk closer instead of running away.

Then I came to West Texas.

The simple West Texas attitude is infectious. Give me a beer, George Strait and a karaoke machine to sing Hotel California or The Chair and a West Texan has found Nirvana. For they love to drink, smoke, chew and party.

But they don't say no.

I thought I had the perfect idea when I came up with my concept of a one-stop shop for bands looking for gigs and bars looking for bands. It was mildly successful but I always ran into the West Texas No.

You see it's like in West Texas they say yes when they are good and ready but you'll rarely hear them say no. "I'll think about it" or "Call me back in a week" were excuses that I heard from club owners. I never was told "Hell No!" or "Son what are you thinking?" or "Lose this number" from them. I always was encouraged with a friendly hello, even by the bastards that I knew hated my guts. But I was never told no.

I guess in the "Drive Friendly" state of Texas they never wanted to offend anybody.

So rather than saying no, they didn't say. If I had deadlines to meet, they blew right by them. If I needed an answer right that second, they were nowhere to be found.

Apologies were always issued. "Man, sorry we never got together," "If you could have seen the mess I had to clean up the other day," were typical West Texas comebacks.

But you couldn't deny them. Maybe their phone did get dropped into a toilet by their six year old; maybe they did have a toilet explode at their offices.

Or maybe they didn't have the heart to say no to you.

I catch myself giving people the West Texas No now. Not returning calls until after a deadline, hiding from the office so I don't have to tell the woman that I have no more concert tickets. Hiding from my mother occasionally when I have no good news to pass on.

Is the West Texas No infectious? I don't think so. I believe that the West Texas No is society's way of dealing with feelings. We are a feeling society, we care about what we all think and feel.

Some days I wish we hadn't been so touchy feel good. Just give me the bad news, tell me no and don't get my hopes up. But we need to feel like we can get an easy path out. We don't tell our girlfriends that it isn't the dress that makes her look fat but the fifty pounds in her ass. We don't tell our friends that we can't stand their brother or sister and we certainly don't want to see their mother either.

But we live in a "Feel Good NOW!" society.

We don't live in reality anymore. In reality exists the words Yes and No.

We live in a society shadowed by incredible shades of gray and no matter what we think white or black is, we exists in the shadows. The West Texas No exists in those shadows. The shadows of feelings and believes that we shouldn't put someone down, just lead them on.

Do I plan on giving the West Texas No to anybody else? I dunno, ask me next week.

Sean A. Donahue is a freelance writer, radio personality and poker amateur. He has been published in For Kids Sake Magazine, Sunlight through the Shadows and is the author of InstantTragedy.com, a website looking a life, liberty, and the ability to have Instant Tragedy when you just add water. He is divorced with two children and lives in Lubbock Texas.

Living la vida Estonia (Three day trip to Talinn)

By Sigge. S. Amdal © 2005

Homemade (ramble)

So I'm at this cafe at Oslo airport, right? I'm there for nothing but a cup of coffee, and standing in line, I notice these huge chocolate muffins the size of a sheep's head, which costs nearly fifty NOK each (that's about ten dollars). They are big, of course, and the looks of it reveals quite a good mocca fill. Anyway, the tag next to them wants me to believe they are 'homemade.'


Now, this is not a local vendor, it's a chain, baby. I'd like to see the home they were made in. That's what I'm talking about. There's no respect these days, when you can call pre-fabricated shit that only needs ten minutes in the oven 'homemade.' It's OK that they say it's "nearly as good as homemade," 'cause that's a comparison in accordance with Einstein's theory of relativity, and far from stating that it actually was made in an actual home.

And I'm not one of those who care so much about where stuff is made. All you need is common sense. If it's cheap, an Asian kid made it. But homemade food is something different, not just expensive.

'Homemade food' has love, security, family and all other sorts of positive relations bound to it that I refuse to just give away to Corporate Crap, Inc.

'Homemade' is not some brand you can buy. Because of the economical world thinking differently, we now have to introduce 'levels of authenticity' in regards of items matching the criteria of being homemade.

I am aware of the public relations that these companies need, and I understand that "pre-fabricated then heated in a genuine stove" doesn't have a nice and appetizing ring to it, but there's a line here and they've crossed it!

Mika, the Finnish lesbian waitress coughed.

"Oh," I said, realizing it was my turn. I cast a hateful glance at the quote unquote homemade muffins and smiled to her. "Just a coffee, please."

Arriving Talinn

The first native word I learned in this, the capital of Estonia, was affald. It means 'trash.' The second one was aitäh which means 'thank you.' In other words I could communicate that I am trash, but appreciate it. Women love that sort of thing.

My first fuck-up was not bringing any cash. Yes, I'm lazy and it was all my fault. But not only the future takes VISA. Estonia does too. My second fuck-up was leaving my camera at home. I despise tourists and consider myself a traveler. A traveler sees what he sees, a tourist what he came to see. I wasn't expecting to see much, though, having to stick with the group and attend all those jaw-busting conferences. It's amazing how far the jaw can open in a yawn. Anyway, having arrived here at the Reval Hotel Olümpia I soon found out that I was on the twenty-first floor. Man, the view from here is awesome! The hotel is pretty good too. They've got plenty of bathrobes, a bathtub (man have I missed one!) and suicide stoppers. When I enter a hotel room I instinctively check for suicide-stoppers by the windows. Could be something from a previous life, or something. It must have ended tragically.

There's just one thing, though. I've got a double bed. Now that is depressing. Which is why I've decided for my third fuck-up this far; checking out the Bonnie & Clyde Bar at the first floor. Good night!

(The fuck-up was far from fucked up, since I got in bed around midnight.)

La Vida Loca

One would think that conferences primarily made up by researchers and government officials would be boring, if you're not into the politics, or whatever it is they call it. But you should think again! These people really can party! Which leads me to my fourth fuck-up, but let us take it one step at the time.

In between sessions of groupwork and plenum presentations, I walked around a little and tried to suck in the atmosphere of Talinn. People there seem to have two moods: they're incredibly happy, or they hate your guts. This woman behind the counter of a kiosk nearly barked at me when I bought cigarette paper with a big bill. The architecture is nice, although a bit worn, but I found a lot of potential in the city. Apparently there's a lot of mafia innit too, capisce?

After a session on trafficking, more precisely the term 'vulnerability,' in which this woman from the Social Department of Estonia made me feel like a chauvinist, I decided to have a bath. It was a really good bath. I hadn't had a bath for years (since I left the North of Norway, late summer of 2003, actually). In this wonderful bath, an hour which I treasure immensely to this day, I had a long monologue which concluded that having a penis doesn't make you a chauvinist after all. It comes in addition. I just got the double package.

There were two hours left before the big dinner after which the drinking would commence, and I went down to the bar. Had a cup of coffee with one of the researchers who wanted to discuss my future. Almost everyone wants to know what the hell I'm doing this fall, so let me spill it out to you once more: I have no effin' clue!

Anyway, we were soon joined by two more, and we decided to head into the old town to get a head-start on the drinking (told you so). We ended up at this place where women in old style farm girl dresses served mugs of beer. The kind of place you just have to like. The beer was plain but the company amusing, drafting - among other things - a common bird's sex life, and after an hour or so we were ready for some food.

We went up to this restaurant whose name begins with the letter 'M.' I can't remember more than that, but if you ever get to Tallinn, just give me a call and I'll direct you. It is highly recommended to go somewhere else.

The food was tacky and didn't have much taste (so much for traditional Estonian food, sorry to say), the service was slowly killing us, and the only thing keeping us alive was the steady flow of beer, wine and spirit that we more or less had to provide for ourselves. During the meal, which we masterfully managed to press in between the drinks, I had a terribly interesting conversation with a sign-language translator. I have no idea what we talked about, but I can tell it was interesting.

One beer led to the other, but we soon found the restaurant too bad a place for our loitering, and headed back to Bonnie & Clyde. This is where the fucking-up begins.

I was already on my way to get pissed, you see, and the lack of real food had made room for extra beer, that's what I was thinking, at least. So, in Bonnie & Clyde all we had to do was race for the bar and get a beer. The band was playing crappy music, and later on the arrogant DJ (who swore on his mother's life that he'd never heard of Tom Waits) would take over, sending vibes of crap all over the place.

I got into conversation mode, since I tried to escape these looney students at the institute, who had this idea that making me dance would be a real blast. I think they had something of a bet going on. So I kept refusing.

I remember at one point giving up on the entire party, walking piss drunk out into the Estonian night heading for this Heavy-rock place I'd seen down the street.

Thank God it was closed.

After that, things kind of took off.

I woke up wearing all the clothes from the night before, my zipper unzipped. My throat was sore, my tongue thirsty and my cellular phone was stuck into the stuffing of my James Dean leather jacket. I had a glass of water. I had a litre of water. Then

I remembered: "Shit! We're going home today!"

I had a look at the watch, it was midday, and I had time for a shower.

Then I checked out and headed into the restaurant where lunch was to be served, knowing that I'd missed a couple of "classes" and would loose my head over it. I found a table with the students mentioned and I sat down without looking at them, poured myself a glass of water and had a piece of dry bread.

"Tired today, Sigge?" one of the girls said. I grunted. They laughed.

There was something in their laughter, some hidden knowledge that I presumably had lost.

I manned myself up and turned to them: "Did I dance?"

"Sigge, don't you remember?"


After a while, having eaten my lunch in a very solitary mood, there was a pat on my shoulder. I looked up into the grinning face of my boss.

"So, Sigge, what was all that about the mafia, then?" The girls giggled.

Being my boss I gave him my best answer: "I have no idea."

I must defend myself. I think someone must have slipped me something. Maybe three shots of whisky. The thing is, girls are very secretive. Especially if there is something they know which they know you want to know. After a week I learned that I'd tried to pick up a few women from the institute, that I'd asked the DJ to go fuck himself and that I'd danced half-naked on the dance floor to "I'm too sexy for my shirt…" in addition to running over to my boss (getting dressed) screaming that there was mafia all over the place out to get me.

Jesus Christ.

There are two lessons to be taught from this trip:
1) Having a penis doesn't make you a chauvinist
2) Drinking too much at seminars (or in any other co-worker scenario) is probably the stupidest thing you will ever do. It comes back to haunt you whenever someone wishes to set you back. And I have a lot of enemies. Including the mafia.
But apart from that, it was a good trip, and the first thing I did when I came home was got pissed. Not a runner-up, but a cover op. Should've seen more of the city, though, so Worry, Estonia! I'll be back.

Sigge S. Amdal is a word wanker from Oslo, Norway.