Posted tagged ‘Comedy’


January 14, 2011

This lady at work, she gave me a joint of weed to try, claimed she grew it herself, called it Purple Train Wreck. I saved it for the evening, planning to relax in my room, listen to music, read a book, practice the guitar. It burned real smooth, had a nice taste, but not much happening otherwise. Disappointed, I jumped in my jeep and headed for the bar.

Traffic was moving fast and furious, streets looked unfamiliar at night. The bar, when I finally found it, was noisy and crowded. People were giving me dirty looks. I started to cough, like I was coming down with something. I could feel it spreading throughout my body. I’m going to die, I thought. The immediacy of that possibility saturated my consciousness with anxieties. I needed a drink.

The bartender said he couldn’t serve me, said I was barred for starting a fight. You got the wrong guy, I told him, I don’t start fights. He said, look what you’re doing now, you’re starting an argument. No, I’m not starting an argument, I said, I’m just defending myself. He threatened to call the cops if I didn’t leave peacefully. I told him to kiss my ass. I didn’t realize the bouncer was standing behind me until he wrapped a beefy arm around neck, and said, we don’t kiss ass here, buddy. Then he grabbed me by the ass and threw me out the back door. I had to climb over a large pile of smelly garbage bags to get out of the narrow alleyway behind the bar.

When I reached the parking lot, I found several cars blocking my jeep but I certainly wasn’t going back inside the bar looking for help. I could either take a cab home or spend the evening on foot in the neighborhood waiting for the parking lot to clear. It was a warm night so I decided to walk down to the next bar just a few blocks away.

Streetlamps were dim and far apart. All the storefronts lining the narrow street were dark as far as I could see except for the occasional bar. The street itself had two lanes of busy traffic with a parking lane on each side filled to capacity. Yet I seemed to be the lone pedestrian on the sidewalk.

I had gone a block and a half when a man and a woman came running at me from out of the darkness of a storefront alcove. The man held an empty wine bottle in the air, and said: “I’m gonna bust your motherfucking head wide open.” And I thought, if he was going to do it, he would have done it, not tell me about it. I assumed he was bluffing. She screamed: “We want money.”

I would have given them money if they had asked me for it. I would have invited them to dinner and drinks at the bar. I found them attractive, somehow, I couldn’t say why. He looked like a taller, aging, emaciated Charles Manson without the swastika on his forehead and she looked like a strung out teenage runaway from a Hollywood casting call: too perfect. How did they get together, I wondered.

A police cruiser stopped in the street and flashed a bright spotlight in our direction. The couple departed as quickly as they had arrived.

“What are you doing out there?” a police officer demanded, his voice amplified and broadcast through a speaker mounted on top of the police cruiser alongside the flashing lights.

“What the fuck does it look like I’m doing?” I said: “I’m walking down the goddamned street. Why aren’t you chasing those muggers?”

“Get in the car,” the officer demanded: “Don’t make me come out there after you.”

They were holding up traffic. And, since I had done nothing for which I should fear being arrested, I climbed into the back seat. The doors locked with a loud thunk as the police cruiser began to slowly move up the street.

“Jesus! You’re reeking marijuana,” the officer in the driver’s seat said. The officer in the passenger seat turned, shinned his flashlight in my face, and said: “Don’t you know that’s against the law, sir? You look ripped. What have you been smoking?”

“Wait a minute,” I said: “I don’t get this. You’re letting those mugger get away but you’re hassling me for copping a buzz and walking down the street?”

“Don’t get smart with me,” the officer responded: “Nobody’s getting away with anything. We’re part of a dragnet operation in force tonight attempting to clean up this neighborhood. If you people would stop coming down here to cop your buzz, at the drug house and the whore house and the bar, and stop wandering the streets stoned out of your mind, that would make our job a whole lot easier.”

A voice deep inside my head told me to shut my mouth, these guys were just doing their job. I handed over my drivers license and showed several other pieces of ID from my wallet. As the officer entered my identification into their computer, a female dispatcher’s voice filled the cruiser’s interior with radio chatter. I had no idea what she was saying but the officers seemed concerned. After handing back my drivers license, the officer in the passenger seat, said: “We could hassle you, sir, if we wanted to, but we don’t. We’re not even going to search you this time. If there is a next time, we won’t be so forgiving. Go home. Stay out of trouble.” They dropped me where my jeep was parked. And then they hastily moved up the street through traffic with lights flashing and sirens wailing.

The parking lot had cleared. I jumped in my jeep, drove straight home, locked the door, sat in the dark, thinking: Why am I alive? Why here, alone in this old house, in this crumbling city? Where am I going in life? I’m too passive, too accepting, allowing things to just happen. I’m always looking backwards, trying to figure out what went wrong. I should be looking forward, getting ready for the future, with optimistic anticipation. When I closed my eyes, I felt myself floating weightlessly in a vast empty space. I saw a dim light on a far horizon coming closer, getting brighter. Then it hit me, like a train wreck.


All Too Human

April 12, 2010

Books had become Johnny’s main obsession. The world of ideas seemed more real to him than the prison cell where he spent most of his time reading, effectively escaping into his imagination.

He had a parole hearing scheduled for the next morning and he wanted a new book to read, something that would distract his mind from obsessing on the future. Would he have enough free time to read on the outside, he worried, how would he support himself?

“I’ve got just the book for you,” the prison libarian told him: “Listen to this: ‘The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world and darken our idea of existence.’ Guess who wrote that.”

“Who?” Johnny responded.

“Nietzsche, ‘Human, All Too Human,’ written in 1878, some of his best writing. And he wrote a lot of good stuff.”

“Good stuff, huh? Can you be more specific?”

“You have to read him to understand what I’m talking about. Everybody who reads him gets something different. Because he makes you think for yourself.”

“How can he make you do anything?”

“Well, yeah, first you need to open your mind and start reading, of course. He can’t make you do that. But once you start reading and thinking about what he’s saying, it’s like looking at the reflection of your soul in a mirror.”

“I’m not sure I want to look at my soul,” Johnny said: “But, okay, I’ll give it a try, thanks.”

In his cell, Johnny slowly scanned through the beginning pages of the book until his attention focused on the words:

. . . I commend my personal experiences particularly to the ears and hearts of those who are burdened with some sort of ‘past,’ and have enough spirit left still to suffer from the spirit of their past . . . above all . . . I commend them to you whose burden is heaviest, you rare, most imperiled, most spiritual, most courageous ones who must be the conscience of the modern soul and as such must possess its knowledge, in whom is concentrated all that exists today of sickness, poison and danger . . . whose lot it is that you must be sicker than any other kind of individual because you are not ‘only individuals’ . . . whose comfort it is to know the way to a new health, and alas! to go along it, a health of tomorrow and the day after, you predestined ones, you victorious ones, overcomers of your age, you healthiest ones, you strongest ones . . .

Johnny’s over-burdened conscience had imperiled his mental and spiritual health for as far back as he could remember. As he marked the page and closed the book, he felt a new confidence surging.

During the parole board hearing, one of the nine panel members asked: “What book are you holding in your hands?” Johnny held the book with its cover showing, and the member said: “Human, All Too Human. I’m impressed.”

The final tally came up five to four in favor of parole. The board granted him a conditional furlough to a downtown halfway house. If he held a job and stayed out of trouble for six months, he could move a step closer to personal freedom.

He signed-out from the halfway house early on the first morning to go looking for a job. After going to the university bookstore to purchase his own copy of Nietzsche’s book, he found a restaurant in which to eat breakfast. When he applied for a dish washing job there, the owner came out to interview him.

Noticing the book, the owner said: “What are you reading?”

Johnny held it up for him to see, and said: “I just started reading it but, so far, it’s a really good book.”

The owner silently stared at Johnny for a moment, and then said: “You look like a sober and intelligent guy, why do you want to work in my kitchen?” When Johnny explained his legal situation and promised to do a good job, the owner said: “I’ll give you a try. Don’t let me down.”

During an afternoon break, less than a week into the job, Johnny sat in a remote area of the restaurant’s basement warehouse reading aloud from Nietzsche’s book, listening for additional meaning as the words passed through his ears:

. . . The strongest knowledge, that of the total unfreedom of the human will, is nonetheless the poorest in successes. For it always has the strongest opponent, human vanity . . .

He closed the book, and said: “I don’t get it. Without free will we’d be mindless automatons. We don’t have total freedom, no, but neither do we have total unfreedom. And that’s not my human vanity speaking, it’s my will to life.”

“Who are you talking to?” the restaurant’s owner said as he came down the steps from the kitchen.

Johnny jumped to his feet, and replied: “I’m talking to Nietzsche, sir. I sometimes get the feeling he’s listening to me. It’s just my imagination, I know. Yet I believe Nietzsche intended to have such an effect, like he’s there and he’s talking directly to you.”

The owner silently stared for an instant, and then responded: “If you can break away from yourself, we could use your help in the kitchen.”

The owner’s sarcasm irritated Johnny. He thought about moving on; but he needed the employment to satisfy his parole conditions and he didn’t feel qualified for anything more than washing dishes and disposing of garbage.

He preformed his physical labors with Nietzsche’s words, “total unfreedom of the human will,” still lingering in his mind. Memories from his criminal past entered his consciousness and he thought about robbing the owner or maybe kidnapping his children and holding them for a ransom. But he rejected these thoughts from his consciousness by the free expression of his will; and, in the process, he disposed of Nietzsche’s total-unfreedom theory, he believed.

He kept the book out of sight and he no longer read aloud in the restaurant’s basement warehouse. He decided instead to read a passage every morning before going to work and then analyze it from memory while engaged in his physical labors. To begin, he randomly selected a short aphorism entitled, “Knapsack of the metaphysicians.” He read it through once before separating its logical elements.

. . . Those who boast so mightily of the scientificality of their metaphysics should receive no answer; it is enough to pluck at the bundle which, with a certain degree of embarrassment, they keep concealed behind their back; if one succeeds in opening it, the products of that scientificality come to light, attended by their blushes: a dear little Lord God, a nice little immortality, perhaps a certain quantity of spiritualism, and in any event a whole tangled heap of ‘wretched poor sinner’ and Pharisee arrogance . . .

Nietzsche’s sarcasm, along with the restaurant owner’s sarcasm, reenforced Johnny’s pessimistic mood. “Scientificality of their metaphysics?” he wondered aloud: “Isn’t that a mutually exclusive, contradictory dichotomy?” He scanned through the book and found another short aphorism, “Incurable.” Again, he read it through once before separating its logical elements.

. . . An idealist is incorrigible: if he is thrown out of his heaven he makes an ideal of his hell. Let him be disillusioned and behold!—he will embrace this disillusionment just as fervently as a little while before he embraced his hopes. Insofar as his tendency is among the great incurable tendencies of human nature he is able to give rise to tragic destinies and afterwards become the subject of tragedies: for tragedies have to do with precisely what is incurable, ineluctable, inescapable in the fate and character of man . . .

Johnny laughed, and said: “Makes an ideal of his hell? Oh, now I get it. Nietzsche’s actually a comedian.”

He arrived at work that day in a better mood as a result of his new interpretation of Nietzsche’s persona. The restaurant owner’s sarcasm no longer bothered him. Instead, he found it rather witty.