Friday, October 31, 2014

A Work Related Injury


It had been a brutal Halloween for Drunk Dave. He'd hired on as a bar-back at The Pussy's Purr just two weeks prior, specifically to help with the holiday rush, and the soulless managers were making sure he earned every penny of his meager compensation. Many times as he was stocking the ice chests or cleaning the vile bathrooms, he had thought of throwing in the towel and joining in the debauchery with what little money he'd managed to save. In these moments of temptation, only two thoughts kept him going. The first was that he had to scare up enough scratch to rent some kind of room. (Even a bunk at The Faubourg Center would beat passing out at the Drop-In every day.) The second was that there weren't too many jobs you could get with the words “Drunk Dave” tattooed on your forehead.

His name wasn't even Dave. That was the guy who had tagged him as he lay passed out on a band-room floor somewhere in Key West. For years he had put up resistance, insisting on being known by his preferred moniker, Phlegm Wad, but eventually he gave in to the inevitable and accepted his fate. It was not entirely arbitrary, for he was often very drunk.

He had just gotten done mopping up some bum puke from the front entrance, and was taking a break to watch the bouncers toss a guy dressed in a duck costume, when one of the bartenders came up to him and said, “Hey, Drunk Dave, we need two more kegs of Oktoberfest.”

“Aww Christ, just let me breath for a second.”

“We need them immediately! You can breath in November.”

“Fucking automaton...”

“What?”

“Yes sir, I'm right on top of it.”

Dave ambled into the back and went over to the Oktoberfest kegs in the corner. He pulled one off the stack and ran it out to the line, then grabbed the empty and returned for the second keg. As he bent over to pick it up, he felt a strange sensation in his groin area. There was no pain, per se, but something out of the ordinary seemed to be taking place. It lasted only a moment, and Dave promptly went about the business of hooking the kegs to the line.

Finished with the task, and stepping out on Bourbon to have a cigarette, Dave was happy to see his friend Puke Face coming towards him down the street. He was covered in Mardi Gras beads, and wearing a green visor with plastic tits stuck on top. He had a huge frozen daiquiri that he'd picked up off the ground, and was talking shit to every girl who crossed his path. Dave laughed as he walked up and said, “What the fuck are you supposed to be?”

Puke Face clasped his hand and replied, “What, you can't tell? I'm a tourist. I come from Podunk, Iowa to get shit-faced drunk and scream for tits. Do you know where I can get a Huge Ass Beer and a penis nose mask?”

“Sure, just head south down Rampart and take a right on Iberville.”

“Dude, that's the projects.”

“That's where I send everyone who asks for directions.”

“Hahaha! I love you Drunk Dave. Hey man, why don't you ditch this bullshit job of yours and come get shwilly? It's fucking Halloween in New Orleans!”

“I fuckin' want to, but I've got to find a place to stay. I'm on thin ice at the Drop-In ever since I threw up in the washing machine. Besides, the cut off age is 23, and I'm 37. It's starting to get awkward. I can hardly get to sleep in the mornings.”

“Sleep is for the weak, Dick-Balls. Let's get fucked up and take out our agro aggression on some street performers.”

“No, man. I gotta get paid.”

“Alright then, Drunk Slave, I see how it is. I thought we could have a bonding experience, getting blindly loaded and wailing on clowns, but I guess living inside is more important to you. Have fun eating off plates and peeing in a toilet, you oogle motherfucker. You might as well go back and live with your parents.” Puke Face stumbled off down the street, leaving Drunk Dave to contemplate his inauspicious words. Was he really doing the right thing?

As soon as he stepped inside, the green-shirt was on top of him, “Where the hell were you? We need two kegs of Amber, now!”

“I have to go to the bathroom. I'll get them in a minute.”

“Hurry up!”

Dave went into the foul bathroom and locked himself in a stall. He pulled down his pants, sat on the toilet and, looking down, he saw that his testicles had swollen up to five times their normal size. He was speechless. Aghast. They were the size of a large grapefruit, and had roughly the same consistency. Never in his days had Dave experienced such stark terror. Not in the prison showers, not after having unprotected sex with gutter punks, not after smoking salvia divinorum on a Greyhound bus. He didn't know what was wrong with his balls, but he knew he had to get to a doctor immediately. Barely suppressing a sob, Dave pulled up his pants, buckled his belt loosely, and slowly walked back into the bar.

“What the fuck is wrong with you Dave? We need that Amber on the line!” henpecked the vacuous manager arbitrarily. A gaggle of drunken girls dressed as Charlie's Angels were on stage performing a karaoke version of “Play That Funky Music.” As they warbled out the ghastly tune, Dave felt like he was about to vomit. “Look dude, I have to got to the hospital.” he said.

“Say, you don't look so good, now that you mention it. Did you take some bad Molly or something?”

“No, man. It's my balls. They're all swollen up to, like, ten times their normal size. I've never seen anything like it.”

“Oh, that sounds like you have a hernia. Does it hurt?”

“No, it doesn't hurt at all. I almost can't believe it”

“That's surprising. You'd think your guts rupturing through a wall of muscle in your abdomen and spilling out into your scrotum would be painful.”

Just then the girls busted into the chorus of “Play That Funky Music,” and the room started spinning. Dave could take no more. He ran out onto Bourbon, blowing chunks of French Fry po-boy all over the sidewalk. From down the block, he could hear Puke Face laughing, “Thar she blows!”

------------------------------

The waiting room at Charity Hospital was packed elbow to elbow. Dave was working at The Pussy's Purr on a strictly under the table basis, and needless to say, they did not provide health insurance. They had been nice enough to call him a cab, however, which took only two hours to arrive in the festival traffic. He had wanted to call an ambulance, but the manager said a hernia wasn't an emergency situation, “You can live with one for years.” he assured him, “They're gonna be treating trauma patients all night long. You'll be lucky if they get to you. You should stay and finish your shift.”

“Are you kidding me? I can hardly walk.”

“Hey, it's all good bro. It is what it is.”

As Dave waited in line to sign in, he looked around at the other patients. They were all dressed in Halloween costumes, and each seemed to be suffering from a malady that was somehow ironically related to their attire. There was one guy dressed as a crab who had been scalded with boiling water, for example, and a women dressed as an oyster who'd been stabbed in the chest. It was a ludicrous spectacle. Dave despaired, as he felt certain it would indeed be a long time before he saw a doctor.

When he got to the head of the line, he signed his name on the list, and a triage nurse, looking tired and bitchy, asked him, “What's you're medical emergency?”

“Uhm, I think I have a hernia.”

Without changing her expression, the nurse handed him a clipboard with a form attached, and said, “Go ahead and sign this form and have a seat. We'll be with you as soon as pos...”

“Hey, did you say you were in with a hernia?” It was another nurse, this one much friendlier looking.

“Yes. It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me.”

“Oh, don't worry hon, we'll get you fixed up. Jacky, I'll take care of this one. Dr. Parsons said he wanted me to let him know next time we had a hernia come in. Trying to study up on them, I guess.”

“Suit yourself.” said the indifferent nurse, as she turned her attention to a man dressed as a conquistador who'd gotten his ass kicked by South American natives. (Who just happened to be in town for a convention.)

“Step right this way,” said the cheerful nurse, “We'll get you to your room and have you change into a gown. I'll let the doctor know you're here, and he should be with you shortly.”

She took him to a small cubical divided from it's neighbors by blue curtains. He took off his Exploited shirt, and his patched cargo pants, taking care not to jostle his afflicted gonads, and put on the paper thin hospital gown the nurse had given him. He sat down carefully, and waited for the doctor to arrive.

It wasn't long before he heard footsteps in the corridor. The doctor lingered outside the curtains for a moment checking the chart, then stepped inside. He was an older man with a shock of wavy white hair jutting outwards, and a pencil thin mustache that marked him as obvious eccentric, “Hi there Mr. Wherner, I'm Doctor Parsons. What's the reason for your visit today?”

“My name is Drunk Dave.”

“OK Drunk Dave, what brings you to the emergency room?”

“Well, Doc, it's kind of embarrassing, but there's something wrong with my testicles. They're all swollen up. I think it might be a hernia or something.”

“No need to be embarrassed, son, I'm a doctor. It sounds like you have a serious problem, but you came to the right place. Why don't you hop on up to the bed here and let me have a look at your groin. Nothing to worry about, now. I'm a professional.” The doctor had a rapid, staccato rhythm to his speech, much like newsreel reporters from the forties. Dave sat on the edge of the padded bed and lifted his flimsy gown to show the doctor his distended nut-sack.

“Oh yeah. Hmm, yeah, that's a hernia, all right. Looks like a nasty one too. I'm going to have to try and determine the extent of the damage to your muscle lining. It might hurt a little, so I'm going to give you a sedative to keep you relaxed during the procedure.”

“Now your talking!” said Dave, relieved to finally be getting some good news. The doctor took a syringe from the rolling medical cabinet in the corner, and pulled a small vile of liquid from his pocket. Dave thought it was strange that he didn't order the medicine through a nurse, as he'd seen done in all his previous ER visits, but he was not one to question the expertize of a doctor, particularly not one about to inject him with drugs.

The doctor drew a healthy looking dose into the syringe, and wrapped a large rubber band around Dave's arm. “Alright, you're going to feel a little stick.” said the doctor, jabbing the needle into his vein. As he depressed the plunger, he said, “ZOMDV ASCHA BASGIM BOLAPE BASAGIME NIIS ZOMDV BALLSACK GEMEGANZA ARP OIAD NANTA!”

“Whoa, what the fuck are you talking about dude? You're tripping the fuck out! Goddamn, this place is fucked up. I knew I should have gone to Touro.” He got up and went for his clothes, but it was too late. Dave crumpled to the floor, just barely managing to cradle his poor testicles in the fall. His consciousness faded, as Doctor Parsons loomed ominously above.

----------------------------------

For a long time, Dave was passed out on one of the padded leather couches at the Drop-In. He was planning in his mind how he would handle work that night; what strategies he would employ to cope with the petty political maneuverings of his bosses and co-workers. It was only the gradually arrived at realization that he was, in fact, strapped to a wooded board, that brought him back to reality.

And reality was looking grim, as Dave found himself in a dire predicament. He was in a different part of the hospital, a much larger room with unpainted cinder-block walls, and dusty old medical equipment strewn haphazardly about. As he regained his composure and took a closer look, he could see, intermixed with the archaic devices, a subtly intertwining network of barely visible wires that formed geometric shapes of astonishing complexity. The machines themselves were engraved with these exotic geometries, as well as some kind of foreign writing. Seen in this broader context, the arrangement of the machines was not chaotic at all, but instead seemed to adhere to a deranged logic beyond his comprehension.

The board he was attached to was suspended in the center of the room. He was completely naked, with leather straps buckled tightly around his wrists. He couldn't see down to his balls, no matter how hard he craned his neck, but he could feel them clamped into place with cold steel. “If only I had quit my job.” Dave thought, ruefully.

He called out wildly for help, screaming with utter desperation, but help was not forthcoming. Instead, he heard the doctor's voice from somewhere behind him, “Say now, quiet down there son, there's no point in making a ruckus. No one can hear you. Why, I doubt the hospital administrators are even aware this place exists.”

Dave kept yelling, “Oh Christ, you sick motherfucker! What the fuck is wrong with you? I'm going to stomp your fucking guts ou...AAAAaaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhh!!!” A jolt of electricity shot through his balls and radiated up through his entire body. It lasted for only a few seconds, but was blindingly painful, leaving him sweating and gasping for breath. “Keep it down, I said. How can I calibrate this machinery with you carrying on like that? I'll be with you in a second.”

There were some clanking sounds, accompanied by the occasional muffled curse, then the doctor walked into view, pushing a medical cabinet that had an assortment of scalpels and other implements arranged on top. “Oh, please just let me go.” begged Dave, hopelessly.

“No son, I'm afraid that isn't going to be possible. Now, this probably seems like a disturbing situation you're in right now, but I want you to understand that you're about to be part of something big. You should be excited to be involved.”

“I should be excited to be tortured by a lunatic?”

“No need to get nasty there, fella'. I assure you, I'm perfectly sane from a clinical perspective. I know you're in a stressful position, but you are about to take part in history.” said the doctor, as he picked up one of his more gruesome looking tools and started walking towards Dave. “There is a crossroads, Drunk Dave, where science intersects with magick, and the two coalesce to create something greater than the sum of the parts. You're strapped directly into the fulcrum of that intersection.” The doctor applied the bizarre contraption to Dave's long suffering balls, causing excruciating pain.

“Do you know what a homunculus is, Dave?”

“AAArrrrrggghhhhhhhh! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Christ Jesus, mercy!”

“A homunculus is a magickal being called to this Earth through esoteric means. It was thought by the ancient alchemists that one must be gestated in the womb of a dead horse, but there's actually a much quicker way of going about it. The key is in your balls, Dave. I've spent years researching the rituals and building my secret lab, but I've needed a subject to bring my studies to fruition. When you walked in here tonight, on the eve of Allhalowtide, I knew that I had finally found that subject. Life force energy flows freely through your balls Dave, and I will use them to summon the Anti-Christ and foster a new age of Babylon. Hahahahaha!”

As the doctor explained his plan, he was busy working on Dave's balls, inserting them with tubes and hooking them up to the wires and machineries that encircled the room. Every now and then, he would give Dave a jolt of electricity, causing him to yelp in agony. Finally, he finished with his tools and started flipping switches on the machines. “Ok, well, that takes care of the science angle.” said the doctor, as he once again walked out of sight. Dave writhed in torment, unable to form a coherent thought. He was on the verge of blacking out when Dr. Parsons stepped back into view, now bedecked in a flowing robe and a ceremonial head-dress. In his hand was an icepick with an elaborately carved handle made of bone.

“Now, I'm sorry to have to tell you this son, but I'm going to have to jab your balls with this ceremonial ice pick. I'm sure that probably seems gratuitous after all the tubes and electricity and whatnot, but it's actually a very important part of the ritual.” The doctor got down on his knees and chanted as he jabbed the ice pick multiple times into Dave's balls, “NIIS MADZILODARP DARILAPA BABYLON ADAGITA A SALAMAN OL EOL LAP ELAZA!”

He chanted with increasing intensity and resumed zapping Dave's balls with electricity. All around the room, the machines buzzed and whirred, and the wires seems to vibrate with energy. Through the chaos, and despite the chanting, Dave began to hear a gurgling sound, much like a small infant, coming from down in his nether regions. Dr. Parsons shouted, “Yes! YES! It's working. The age of Babylon is upon us! In mere moments you will be fully formed, and I will separate you from your human host. Then I will nurture you on the blood of my enemies until you grow strong, and together we will make all humanity our slaves.” From under his robe, the doctor pulled out a long knife.

Dave was in a state of full panic, straining at the leather straps with all his might. The doctor put the ice pick on the tray beside him and began cutting Dave's testicles, now a partially realized personification of evil, from his body. In spite of the pain, Dave was indignant. Host to the Anti-Christ though they may be, he still felt a lingering attachment to his genitals. Dave pulled at the straps wildly as he felt a great rage welling up inside him. With one last savage tug, he was able to yank his right hand free. The doctor was too preoccupied with the ritual to notice, and continued chanting. Dave reached down and grabbed the ceremonial ice pick lying on the tray, and with brutal conviction, plunged it down into Doctor Parsons' temple, killing him instantly. As he was lunging forward, however, his body twisted away from the board, tearing that remaining bit of skin by which the homunculus clung to his body. He heard his balls fall to the floor with a sickening plop.

Dave unbuckled his left hand and looked down at the homunculus. It pulsated on the floor making strange noises and spitting up blue liquid. It reminded him of Kuato from “Total Recall.” He picked up the knife from the doctor's hand and, steeling himself for bloodshed, he said, “I can't believe that crazy bastard. Now I have to stab myself in the balls.”

But as he stood there preparing to murder his own nut-sack, he found that he did not have the will to proceed. The homunculus was as helpless as a new-born child, and Dave felt a paternal instinct nagging at the back of his mind. To stab the creature would be almost like stabbing a part of himself. He dropped the knife, and picked up the homunculus from the ground, wrapping it in bandages, and stowing it in a green medical bag. “I guess I'm going to have to start nurturing you on the blood of my enemies, huh?” said Dave affectionately, as he tucked his cursed progeny into the sack. Then he got down on his knees and began stripping the doctor of his blood drenched robes, so he would have something to wear on his walk back to the Quarter. It was the best Halloween costume he'd ever had, and he felt like he'd earned it.

(If we are not already Facebook friends, I'd encourage you to send me a request at https://www.facebook.com/mad.mike.773 . I post lots of photos and short pieces over there, and it is by far the best way to keep up with what I'm doing.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Narrow Escape


I'd found thirty dollars on the ground over the course of a couple days and decided to do some drinking. On the second night I was laying in my ditch in a semi-coherent stupor, when it occurred to me that I should take a stroll up to the hill to see if there were any fresh paintings and/or drugs on the ground that required my attention. It's so close to my camp that getting there was no problem despite my inebriated state, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the place entirely deserted.

Now, this was the second weekend of the Austin City Limits festival, so the absence of tourists could mean only one thing: that the police had been there recently and chased everyone away. This possibility intrigued me, for the wise scavenger knows that drugs tend to materialize on the ground in the wake of police activity, particularly in places where art lovers dwell. Nausea not withstanding, and heedless of the danger, I began staggering up the hill.

Upon reaching the zenith it was only a few short minutes before I found what I was looking for. Through the dark of night I saw a crumpled plastic baggie gleaming in the grass. Bending over to pick it up, the smell was so strong that I knew what I had found before even seeing it. Sure enough, it was a good two grams of dank nuggets, lying in wait of a new owner. At moments like this, I'll admit, I'm sometimes dumbfounded. How can I be so consistently lucky? I stood for several minutes staring at the bag, wondering what it all means. (Aliens)

So deep was my astonishment that I almost didn't notice another man, a big metal-head dude with long hair and a beard, climbing up the hill. He was carrying a bicycle, and didn't seem to be familiar with the terrain, ignoring the easy routs and blundering forth oafishly through rocks and shrubs. When he reached the level nearest the top, I said, “Hey man, if you're trying to get up here, there's a path behind that wall right there.”

“It's all good. I'll get up one way or another.” he said. Then, to my surprise, he reared back and flung his bicycle up to the top level next to where I was standing. He then jumped and grabbed hold of the ledge, and struggled for just a second before hoisting himself up. “Haha! Well, that's one way to do it.” I said.

I'm not usually all that social, but partly because I was drunk, and also because I was stoked about my score, I said, “That was pretty impressive, buddy. Hey, I just scored some killer weed. You feel like burning one?”

“Hell yeah.” he said. I could tell he was a smoker, if only because he was there. Who else would come to the hill at that hour of the night? “Do you have a paper?” I asked.

“No, I don't. And I lost my pipe earlier today.”

“It's no problem, I'll just make one out of a beer can.” I picked up one of the cans that lay scattered on the ground and poked holes in all the necessary places using a safety pin I keep affixed to my shirt for this very purpose. “There, that ought to work nicely. I'm Mad Mike, by the way.”

“Dangerous Dave.” he said, reaching out to shake hands.

We sat down on the ledge as I loaded a liberal dose of weed into the pipe, took a toke, and passed it to Dave, who I now realized was just as drunk as I. His conversation was rambling and hard to follow, and, rather than taking a hit and passing back the can, he sat it down beside him as he continued to talk. I can't recall exactly what he was saying, but I remember that I started to get annoyed with him and finally said, “Hey, why don't you hit that pipe?”

“Hey, why don't you just ask me for it instead of telling me what to do?” He reached over to grab the can, but his movements were uncoordinated, and he ended up swatting it off the ledge down to the bushes below.

“Jesus Christ,” I said wearily, “So much for that. Good work dude.”

“You got plenty of weed. Just go get the can and load another bowl.” he slurred, in a tone that veered way too close to command for my liking.

“Nah, I'm not feeling your vibes anyway. I'm out of here.” I said, getting up to leave. Even under the best circumstances I have little tolerance for the foolishness of strangers, less so when I've been drinking.

“Fuck that, you think you're just going to talk shit and walk away? You're not going anywhere.” He stood up, staggered drunkenly, and pulled out a long camping knife, opening it with an audible click. I've had guns pulled on me before, but this was my first knife. Though I did feel fear it was strangely distant, as though I was listening to it on the radio or something. I jumped back and said, “Whoa, chill out now, buddy. Just stay back.”

“You were trying to make me feel stupid, weren't you? With your tone of voice? Like I'm some kind of idiot because I dropped your weed.”

“No, not at all,” I said “I can tell you're a really smart guy. Just chill out man, no need to get violent.” As I was talking to him I walked slowly backwards, occasionally making like I was about to try and run passed him. Each time I did, he would move to block my path as he continued to advance forward with the knife. This was misdirection on my part, however, as my real plan was to make it to the far end of the park and jump down from the wall onto the path below. It's not obvious from the top of the hill that there's a path behind the wall, and I was betting that Dave was only aware of the one I'd told him about, back when we were friends. (The wall I'm referring to can be seen at the top of my cover photo on Facebook.)

“Oh, it's gonna get violent.” said Dave, obviously relishing what he perceived to be his control of the situation. I kept walking backwards towards the wall, apparently cornering myself. If that had been the case, would Dave really have stabbed me? It's hard to say. More likely he would have beaten me while using the knife for intimidation, a cowardly ploy.

He didn't get the chance, though, because as soon as I made it to the wall I jumped down to the concrete ledge below and then four feet down to the narrow, rocky path. I ran down the hill, and was safely at the bottom within seconds.

You may be wondering why he didn't just follow me down the hill and stab me at the bottom. The simple fact is that it was very dark, and the path down is treacherous and steep. Dave would have no trouble climbing down, but it would put him at a tactical disadvantage, as I could be hiding in the shadows below, waiting to bash his head in with a rock.

Which is exactly what I was doing. I lurked in the darkness at the base of the hill and made ready to brain him with a cantaloupe sized stone the moment he set foot into the light. I waited for maybe three minutes, though it seemed much longer. Suddenly, I had a psychedelic epiphany in which I realized that I didn't need to be doing what I was doing. I had options. There was no compelling reason to lurk in the dark, waiting to fight a knife wielding lunatic to the death, and all kinds of compelling reasons to avoid that scenario. Besides, who wants to be remembered as the guy who brought a rock to a knife fight?

I put down my weapon and walked out to the front of the hill, looking up towards the top. Dave was perched on his bike, peering down like the predator he is, “Hey, you're just gonna run away? What kind of pussy shit is that?”

“I don't have a knife. Throw away the knife and I'll whip your ass.”

“It takes balls to talk shit from fifty yards away.”

“It takes balls to pull a blade on an unarmed man? You're just another sick fuck on a power trip. I'm lucky I'm not a girl.”

Just then I heard sirens in the distance. I knew they probably weren't for us, but decided to improvise, “Hey, you hear that, asshole? They're on their way. Just keep talking shit for a few more minutes.”

I saw immediately that my ruse had worked. Dave was visibly panicked, and started riding towards the gate. (There are roads leading away at both the top, and the bottom of the hill.) “You called the police, you fucker? Why don't you just man up and fight me?”

“It's too late for that Dave. Just keep talking.”

Fearing the approach of predators even more dire than himself, Dave fled the scene, cursing me a last time as he rode out of sight. I waited for a few minutes to make sure he wasn't riding around to the base of the hill, then climbed up to retrieve my pipe. With the help of the flashlight app, I was even able to salvage a tiny nug of the weed that Dave had dropped. I went over to a hidden nook, loaded a bowl, and sat smoking for maybe an hour before finally walking home.

It had been an unsettling experience, and I was somewhat rattled. It was freaky how quick things had gotten out of hand. It's true that my reaction to Dave's mistake was not as sensitive as it could have been, but I would argue that he lost any claim to just grievance when he introduced a deadly weapon to the situation. If I had been in his position, feeling slighted by a stranger, I would voice my opinion, possibly in strident fashion, but would only resort to violence if I felt threatened. I can be a dick sometimes, but there are lines I don't cross. It's baffling to me that so many people do.

The story would have ended there, and I might not have bothered to tell it, but for an odd epilogue that occurred yesterday. I was making my morning rounds on the top level of the hill and, looking down, I happened to notice something orange underneath a bush. I reached in, and saw that it was the very same knife that Dave had pulled on me eight days earlier. Even as he was brandishing it at my head, I couldn't help but admire the quality. “I'm about to get stabbed with a really nice knife.” I thought. Dave must have truly believed the police were coming for him, and figured he'd better get rid of the evidence. He threw the knife under that bush, and there it sat unnoticed for some time, lying in wait of a new owner.