Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On sailing and hope, from the new story.

Location: Monnickendam, Holland 
Statistics:  N/A
Category: Diatribe
<------ <------ The Boat
Background: I wrote this about my first day sailing, which was a complete disaster with a golden moment at the end. The tone is heavy because a lot of this story keeps coming back to my dad.

I'm not a fool. I know that everything will never be okay. I know that life isn't some grand cosmic funnel, where all of the excess and bullshit and pain is squeezed to this one moment of purpose and clarity, a final Destination on this mottled path from goo to grave. Things don't happen for a reason. They just... happen. And they keep on happening and happening whether we like it or not, until one day we don't have a choice anymore and we're gone for good. Donezo. Roger, over and out. But there are moments, like that one tonight, where, without impossible levels of conceit, the pieces appear to fit. A has travelled to B, C has revealed D. For just a flash, the pain feels purposeful. These are the moments we need to hold onto. We label them Hope. They are what push two-ton sailboats through 8 knots of head wind and impossibly bring us home. Somehow, these moments allow us to accept ourselves even as we are dripping wet failures;  they keep our hands steady and eyes clear when our mortality fails to keep its facade of conceptuality any longer; they embolden us to re-imagine ourselves as men even when our fathers are buried; and they push us, force us, demand that we keep trying, keep expecting, keep living, when all forms and manners of death are sniffing us out too. Even though we know that for all our running the road- not ourselves- will eventually fail us, we keep sprinting, keep breaking our lungs, for that next moment of hope. 

Maybe I am a fool. But at least I know enough to drink beer when it's cold, and mine still was. I drank it without swallowing. All on its own it just slid and slid and slid. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why Sailors Are Drunks

Location: Hoorn, The Netherlands

1 (cliches proven true)
1 (ankles twisted after too many Duvals)
1 (walls shimmied up by my skipper to steal the flag of Hoorn)

So it turns out that the image/ideal/song about sailors is, indeed, correct: damn, do sailors like to drink. Last night I was at a bar near port where a lot of the fleet likes to come to wash the salt out of their throats. I asked Koenraad, my skipper, and a female mate from another boat why it is sailors are such drunks. Here's what we figured out: 
- Liquor keeps better than water, thus, in a way, its safer to drink while at sea.
- Sailors tend to get paid in lump sums at the end of their trips. This leads to alcoholic splurges at the end of trips.
- The tradition of 'aanlegbiertje,' where immediately after the boat is moored and tied, the crew shares a beer. (The owner of my ship informed me the day we met: The rule is no drinking at all while sailing, and as much drinking as possible when you're not.)
- The passengers on ships are on vacation, and likely wanting to party. On a ship like ours, it is actually in the contract that the guests share all their food and drink with us.
- Historically, according to Koenraad, as a punishment criminals and drunks were forced to work ships. This was, in part, what established the culture of drunken pirate mayhem that ensued ever since.
- Sailors dock in new towns at night with nothing to do. What, they're going to take posed pictures by some 15th Century church? Come on.
- 'Getting laid,' the mate said, and then she downed an entire Duval.
- Sailors might naturally be a little socially awkward. (See: choosing a profession that brings you into the middle of the ocean for months at a time.) Koenraad estimates that about 85% of sailors have ADD or an autism spectral disorder. 'I'm pretty sure they all have one or both.' When Koenraad went to get his physical to be a skipper the doctor said that technically he should fail Koenraad, but 'I can't disapprove you because I would have to disapprove the whole fleet.'

So I guess that settles that.

Why Old Men Should Fight The Wars: 5 Questions With A Soldier On Break From Afghanistan

Location: Bar, Flying Pig, Amsterdam


2 (hookers 100 euro richer)

1 (number of me a little bit worse for the wear of this conversation)

30 (college credits this kid might die with)

When I started to ask him if he’d visited any prostitutes he interrupted me mid-sentence. “Two. I really banged the crap out of them.”

The bravado was as false as the orgasms he claimed to have given the hookers. I pictured his scarecrow body naked, shivering. It was easy to imagine him putting his clothes back on, stopping at the door, and asking to be held until his time ran out.

Yes, the prostitute would have answered. Of course.

I met him at a hostel bar in Amsterdam. He was 23 and had completed one year of school before joining the service. He left me with no doubt that wars should only be fought by old men and the men who give the orders to go to war.

I asked him 5 questions and wrote down his answers. I’m not sure why. The first question is a carry-over of a story he was telling:

1.     You get solicited by male prostitutes in Afghanistan?

I was just walking along and he comes up to me like a panhandler or a cocaine dealer and he says, ‘Are you dirty?’ Except he said it in a Middle Eastern accent. ‘You want to get a dirty hotel?’ Dirty means that you’re gay. I just kept walking. He was wearing traditional Middle Eastern clothing, a little hat and a rope type thing. They look at you and have a big smile on their face. Really creepy.

2.     Have you been in fire fights?

A few. I’ve had bullets fly past me. They’re not very good shots. It’s more of a harassment. They want us all dead as far as I’m concerned. The lower level guys, they’re uneducated, they do what they’re told. They’re just like me.

3.     What do you do for fun over there?

They have a special tv program. Have you heard of Trailer Park Boys? It’s about guys in a trailer park trying to smuggle crack or something. It’s always small crimes. They’re not real, but it’s made to be like reality tv. It’s funny. The Internet is very restricted. It’s like going online at a high school. No porn sites. Very slow. You can get Internet in your room but you have to buy it from the Americans.

4.     Are you proud of what you do? (I let him write the last two himself)

Of course. Who wouldn’t be glad to help out a failed state get back on their feet so they have the same amount of freedoms to most people in developed nations. Understanding they are Muslim, but let them have as much as possible. They are people too.

5.     Do people get/appreciate what you do?

I find it’s hard for people to understand the situation in Afghanistan as the regular population (not military) cannot know all of the information, as it would give away things of operational security, which is in place to keep soldiers safe. So, I find there is a great mix of people: people who support the troops, but not the mission; the mission and the troops, or no support at all. I find a lot of people are misinformed simply because they form an opinion not based on facts, and don’t read into the complexity of things.

Bonus. (He wrote the question and answer himself)

Do you get homesick?

Yes, quite often, because you don’t see any of your family for many, many months of the hardest times of your life. I must make it clear that it’s not only hard for the solder, but his family as well. Your comrades become closer to you than ever, because you can talk to them about ANYTHING. I think that’s where the term brothers in arms came from. 

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Fantasy Draft Recap 2008

location: Associated Press Building, New York City
9 (dudes heavy breathing in a maintenance room)
at every turn (plagiarisms)
1 (stories about a mysterious 'Pigman' Bubsy pitched to the city editor)

So we're all sitting around the naked draft board, toasting some marshmallows in its eternal warmth, wondering where Big Snake is so we can do the damn thing, when I notice that Josh looks horrible. Scraggly beard, not an lick of fat on him, hollow cheeks, he looks like the kid from Into the Wild. 'You okay, Josh?' I ask him. 
'Yeah, B,' he says in a dry, guttural whisper. 
'Why do you look like that?' I ask. 
His eyes widen and glow a little red, like he's a raccoon in the flashlight light. 'Since I got the first pick I've been in the woods near Ipswich, just guarding this thing.'
All of a sudden the sound of a bugle fills the room. A tiny mouse dressed as a 16th Century courier enters the room. He unrolls a piece of parchment paper and grandly reads something no one can hear, and the end of which a fierce wind throws opens the door. Enter Big Snake. 
'Why are you late?' Mikey asks.
Big Snake takes his time disrobing. Then he answers. 'As commissioner I exercised my Draft Night Right to bang one of Adam's ladies until she loses her mind.' He snickers and adjusts his mighty crotch. 'Adam, you  may want to take Ms. Idaho Falls to see the doctor when you get a chance.' 
The little mouse laughs his ass off. The menacing sound of nine grown men shuffling 75 pages of draft notes each fills the room. And I behold when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there is a great earthquake; and the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon becomes as blood. 

Some notable picks: 

1. Josh takes Alex Rodriguez. 
2. Bubsy's iPhone takes Jose Reyes.
6. James isn't here, so we take the best 2B in baseball for him, Chase Utley.
9. Jake has the choice between Cabrera and Ryan Braun. 'I wasn't expecting this,' he says, worriedly. Jake sits quietly alternating between smiling like the Joker and placing his hands to his cheeks like 'The Scream.' Luckily his brother Pat is there to give him a Sipps. 
10. Its my turn, and holy shit, has there been a lot of speculation about this pick on the net. One of those overweight divorcees that works at TMZ.com has been following me around all week. I ask Jeff for advice, and he tells me that with fame comes the fishbowl, my man. I pick Santana. I turn around, expecting to see a lot of flashbulbs and flesh, but everyone is gone.

5. We give James slugging 3B Ryan Braun, setting off the first chorus of, 'That's actually a really nice pick.' 
8. Mayhew takes some 2B from Cincinnati. The smell of warm challah fills the maintenance room. 'Is that coming from Mayhew?' Adam asks. 'I sure hope not,' Mikey says.

2. Bubsy takes Ichiro. Holy mackerel is his team fast. 
8. Jeff takes C.C. Sabathia and then leaves to move his car. 'I'll be back by my next pick,' he says cheerfully. He is not seen again for 10 rounds. 

4. Adam takes the oldest of pigs, Magglio Ordonez. When somebody tells Adam that Magglio has been on human growth hormone the past few years and probably won't be very good anymore, Adam looks like he is in great pain. Getting out my little vial of morphine pills, I give him one and tell him to let it dissolve on his tongue. Never have I seen such a wonderful change in a man. I feel like I have done the kindest deed in my life. 
5- 10. Bubsy leaves to smoke a cigarette. Jake gets nervous and searches for him, and that's when he finds Bubsy pitching his Pigman story to the city editor. Jake takes Bubsy by the loose skin of his neck and carries him with his teeth back to the newspapers spread on the floor in the corner. Jake kneels over and whispers something to Bubsy, who responds by licking Jake's nose just once. We are all in love again. 

5. We give James Carlos Guillen. 'That's really a phenomenal pick,' somebody says. 'Precisely,' the rest of us say. Somebody (WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS) logs into mtv.com, pulls up a story James wrote about some singer-songwriter/orphan from Bayonne, and he humps a hole through the screen.

8. Mayhew takes John Lackey. He's a top-10 SP, nice pick. Mayhew smells like a marble loaf. 'You know he's picking well when starts reeking like Jewish-favored breads,' Mikey points out quite astutely. 

5. We give James up-and-coming SP Adam Wainwright. Just as the Pats is grabbing the red marker the lights go out. Cacophony. The intolerable sound of Adam crying. The little mouse goes screaming down the road, waving old racing forms in the air. There is a yelp then a crash. The lights come back on. Most everyone is where they were, Mayhew and Jeff are naked on the ground, but no one can find poor Josh. When Mayhew and Jeff get up we find him. Apparently the lads were trying to do some maneuver and Mayhew was tossed from the table, crushing all of Josh's bones. 
(Later, when Adam calls the hospital to check on Josh, the doctor is furious. 'We've started an abuse investigation on this,' the doctor says. 'And, oh, your cat is dead.')

2. At this point Bubsy hasn't heard of any of the players left so he starts taking people he knows. With the second pick in the round he takes his landlord, George Sherrill. 

2. Bubsy is out of people he knows, so he starts taking movie characters. This round he goes with Michael Bourn. 
6. We realize that James' team is legitimately good so, like the gallant gentlemen we are, we decide to ignore his slot for the last three rounds. 
9. Everybody is losing it. Jake tries to take 'towels.' We try to convince him otherwise, but he insists. 

Josh, Adam, and the Pats are dead. Using a rope Jake ties several bodies together and has Mayhew drag them down from the mountain. It saves us a lot of energy.
8. C.J. Wilson, Pirates, by Jeff. Not a bad late-round pick.

After the draft we do a lot of this
<- - - - - - - 

Overall, it was a great success, considering nobody's mom was called a whore and my team is in good position to repeat. Many thanks to Jake for scoring us the AP. The Pats looks to have he best team, and the fact that he's dead really shouldn't hurt him. This is fantasy. You don't have much control when you are alive. When you die, you won't have control of your roster either.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Time To Shoot The Hound

location: Washington D.C. Greyhound Station
tone: Nasty
1 (tickets to Charlottesville purchased)
6 (times I was convinced I was smelling my own boogers)
1 (people who, without a doubt, were teenage runaways on their way out of town)
More than stars in the sky (dogs disrespected)

I feel like a fat man just sneezed wet and productive all over my freshly shaved head. Of course I do. I just came from the Greyhound station. 

Now, unlike most people I know who consider riding the Greyhound to be grosser than eating used gum, I have been on and off the Hound my whole life.  She took me from the Connecticut winter to the Florida endless summer, onward to the St. Louis flatlands, and back home to Ridgefield at least half a dozen times, all 24 hours (+) trips. Shit, the Hound half saved my life when I was 19. Old Girl brought me home from the middle of the Mojave after a botched hitch trip. but. buT. bUT. BUT! There comes a day in all dogs life when the pup has got to be put down. It's my unbiased, heartfelt, sing-song opinion that we all chip in and buy the Greyhound Corporation a giant treat, let it sleep on the bed for once, and then tell the lady folk to take a stroll while we shoot it out back.

Here is a list, in no particular order, why it is time to shoot the Hound.

1. Just outside the door leading to the Atlanta bus was a stack of boxes labeled '30 dozen eggs' that was at least 6-feet-high. Not sure this is a reason to shut down a bus company, but I feel like you'll agree that this detail somehow services my point.
2. The Peter Pan Bus symbol is a magnet for pedderasses. 
3. The chubby black man in line behind me danced with his hands while we waited. He had no headphones on. There was no music playing. His hands looked like graceful and beautiful chubby brown dolphins. It inspired me to song, and screw all that. 
4. That same man was chatting to another woman in line. He said, 'Man, the Greyhound can take you anywhere. You know if it's international yet?' I turned around and told him there's a new bullet bus to Prague. I didn't, but still, we should discourage movement among people such as the dolphin hand dance man.
5. The man in front of me in line was wearing a bright yellow life jacket. He had grey, unwashed hair. A rat tail hung over his life jacket. He was shaking. He must have had Parkinson's, one of those really sad diseases. He was the type of guy the Beatles were singing about in Eleanor Rigby. If we shut down the Greyhound maybe this man will die, which would be good for everyone.
6. A fat man was sleeping on the benches with his mouth wide open. TOTALLY gross.
7. There were wet spots on the floor everywhere. I tried to dry them. they.would.not.dry.
8. Then there was the issue of those runaways. Greyhounds make it easy to be a runaway, therefore aiding and abetting runawayism, also known as Tater Tot Syndrome. 
9. The Greyhound station had at least 45 video games, all flashing and beeping, none being used, none I've heard of. Here are the real names: Arctic Thunder. Rush 2049. Time Crisis III. Fatal Judgment. There was one I had heard of: Ms. Pacman. There she was, lounging like a circular tramp. She was the sexiest thing in the room. Which should be No. 10.
10. Any establishment where Ms. Pacman is the sexiest person therein is bad for America, and should be boarded up by the sheriff post-haste.
11. The woman at the counter was a fucking idiot. Maybe she was retarded. Her accent was so thick who can tell?
12. A man who clearly was going nowhere and coming from same said nowhere stared at me as I walked out. He was wearing Kurt Rambis goggles and a flannel shirt. If we do away with the Greyhound, we can force fellas like these to work in the mines, like they used to do in the good old days when America made sense. 

Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, who takes away the Scourge of the Greyhound of the Earth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On the Advent of Sponge Table Tennis Paddles

(from the archives...)

Location: Bombay
1 (Pigeon-toed table tennis players)
0/0/0000 (year)


You could hardly blame Marty Reisman for being a little bit arrogant. Forget that he was the odds on favorite to win the world championship. Forget all about the fortune of gold Marty had just smuggled over the border and which was now glowing in a velvet-lined suitcase under his bunk back at the hotel. It was sometime after midnight and Marty was about to score with the Maharishi's mistress, the one with the eyes like a kaleidoscope and the Persian smile. And get this: The Maharishi was passed out on the couch twenty yards down the grand hall while Marty got stoned off his rum and was trying to make it with his girl. 

Yeah, you might say that Reisman had an excuse for having some skip in his step. 

.. .. ..

The next day was so hot you could lose twenty pounds of sweat just by opening your eyes. Bombay was a toaster oven on broil, and Marty Reisman wasn't in the mood to lose. It was 1952 and Marty was playing the best table tennis that any American ever had or ever would. Not one player on the sub-continent- and the best group of players ever assembled was there- could claim to be on a hot streak like Reisman. Marty had won the last four U.S Opens, was ranked in the top five in the world, and had just come off a proper throttling of all comers at the British Open, a tournament that at the time was tantamount to winning the Worlds. The 24-year-old version of Marty Reisman was the kind of guy who could pull off a white-on-white suit, and you better believe he was strutting it on the way to Brabourne Stadium that day. 

Marty waxed his first two opponents before their paddles were out of their sheaths. This gave him a little bit of time to stroll around the grounds. Marty decided to scout the sucker he was supposed to face in the quarterfinals of the round robin. It was a slick Brit by the name of Richard Bergmann, a tough draw for Marty since this guy was also ranked in the top-five. 

As Marty swaggered up to the door that lead to the main stage he heard something funny. It sounded like somebody was playing table tennis against one of the Maharishi's purple feather mattresses. There was the familiar pah-thop of the ball hitting Bergmann's hardbat. Reisman could recognize Bergmann's pah-thop in his sleep. See, table tennis is just as much about hearing the ball as it is seeing it, and by now Marty knew pretty well the sound of Bergmann kissing the ball for a short goodbye. But the other sound didn't make sense. It did sound like a mattress. But it also sounded like celluloid smacking against a car tire. 

The scene he walked into made almost as little sense to his eyes. Bergmann was getting undressed by the mascot of the Japanese squad. Hiroji Satoh was supposed to be there to fill out the roster. How in the name of Ruth Aarons was this happening? 

Satoh was'.t moving his pigeon-toed little feet any faster than usual, and he sure wasn't swinging his chicken wing with any more force than normal. But somehow that ball was rocketing off his paddle with what Reisman would later call an 'atomic blast.' Bergmann was pressed against the back barrier the entire match. Being a world class hustler Marty had an eye for somebody taking a dive, but that wasn't what he was seeing. Satoh was beating the seven-time world champ so bad that this geek even had the balls to turn to Riesman mid-point and smile his gaptoothed smile as if to say, "You..re seeing right, motherfucker. And fool, you're next."

Rumor has it that the other members of the Japanese team offered to coach Reisman on how to take down Satoh and his magic paddle. The Japs were ashamed of the way Satoh was compensating for his junior high school skill with some M.I.T worthy technology. See, Satoh was right then and there introducing the sponge paddle to the game of table tennis. Before then everybody used hardbat, the same stuff you probably got sitting on your table down in the basement. What Satoh was doing against Bergmann was changing the fate of the game from dining room ballet to high velocity sporting event. The date is almost biblical in the table tennis universe: 0/0/00 in the year of our sponge, when our Satoh was resurrected from the ashes. 

Marty looked across the table and thought to himself, "I can beat this guy. I'm supposed to beat this guy..." He was able to combat Satoh's aerospace well enough to take the first game. He won using adrenaline and guts. That's about when the bottom dropped out. 

Not being able to hear the ball as it ricocheted from Satoh's paddle was the equivalent to boxing blind. Since Reisman couldn't hear it he didn't know how much velocity to expect or what kind of spin. He sprinted forward as a deep strike darted past him. He faded back when Satoh undercut the ball for a drop shot. The power was what really did him in. Marty had no idea how to reacclimatize his swing to that kind of authority. It was like trying to hit a Nolan Ryan fastball using the splinter they give you on bat day at the stadium. You're going to get humiliated; you just hope it isn't in front of 10,000 people and one seriously unhappy Maharishi. 

.. .. ..

There was no way to win, not on that steaming hot day in India. Marty ended up keeping his gold, but that was no consolation. He flew home with his head hung low and his white-on-white suit stowed in the overhead compartment. Marty Reisman had made the wrong kind of history in Bombay. He wasn't coming home the first American world champion. Marty was returning not as a man but as a human asterisk, the answer to a ping pong trivia question: Who was the man that was supposed to win the tournament that changed everything?