Dizzy Tongues….

The doctor didn’t look like a doctor. He was kind of short, kind of thin, and he had the complexion of a 16-year-old. He must’ve been fresh out of med school. Though he had certainly seen more than you or I, as far as all the myriad crazy-ass things a typical doctor sees, he probably hadn’t seen much yet.

And so he gazed upon Manny Furious’s shoulder as it dangled disinterestedly from it’s home socket. And he frowned.

“What did you tell the nurse happened here?”

“Well,” Furious began. “I got out of the shower this morning. And I was going to wear this blue button-up with a blue and gold tie, because I wanted to walk into Starbucks before work–“

“Uh-huh.”

“And there’s this barista there, Gabrielle, she’s so cute, Doc. Like my tongue gets dizzy and my words can’t keep their balance–“

“Right.”

“And so I like to walk in there before work with a tie on, so I look really important and stuff.”

“Ok.”

“And, but, when I wear a button-up like that, they’re really uncomfortable. So I wear an undershirt. Well, as I got out of the shower this morning, I didn’t really dry off so good and I put undershirt on when I was still wet–“

“Sure.”

“But I realized I put it on backwards. So I had to take it off to put it on right, but it was all stuck to my back. Like it was just sucking at my back like a goddamned octupus or something. So I had to wrestle the fucker off. So I’m twisting and grasping, and this damned shirt just won’t budge. It’s suctioned to my back. So at this point I’m just manic. I’m frustrated beyond all get out–“

“Of course.”

“So I don’t even care if I rip it. I want to rip it off. I just want it off of me. But it won’t come off. Meanwhile, in the course of trying to get it off, I’m twisted up in some indescribable position, my arms looking like a gnarled lump of spaghetti, and I hear this sound like a shotgun blast. It echoed and everything, doc, I swear.”

“Makes sense.”

“And it took a moment. I had to take a moment to figure out what was going on. And I look in the mirror, and I’m blowing air like I just survived a street fight, and there’s my arm, looking like it was drawn on by a drowsy kindergartner.”

“Jesus.”

“And here I am.”

“You went to Starbucks before coming here, I see,” said the Doc.

Furious took a sip of his very masculine “Pink Drink” from Starbucks.

“Indeed. It was too romantic, doc. Van Gogh had his ear. I had my shoulder.”

“And what did Giselle think of all of this? Did she find it romantic?”

“I don’t know. She wasn’t working today.”

Robber Che, Part 2

El Crow related the legend of Robber Chè to Manny Furious. Robber Chè was the world’s lone honest thief. Literally. She was also Rio Frio’s most infamous resident. Her name was littered all over the internet due to her exploits.

She also wore a green and black luchador mask that she never seemed to remove.

What makes her honest is that she doesn’t deny any of it…ever. If she steals from you and you know it was she, Robber Chè, who stole from you (you’d know it because everybody knows it’s Robber Chè who steals shit) and you confronted her on it, she’d admit to you it was her and then offer to sell you back your shit for a fraction of what you originally bought it for and somehow convince you she was doing you a favor. All of it, from her admission to the crime to her convincing you that buying back your shit is a steal, all of it is done by him in a soft, conversational tone of voice and a body language that suggests she is merely relating to you the events of a trip to Wal-Mart the night before. Even the cops are futile against her mind voodoo. Because everyone knows she’s the gal who steals shit, every time something disappears they, the cops, make their way to Robber Chè’s apartment, arrest her and promptly interrogate her. During the interrogation Robber Chè will simply state that all the evidence, “is circumstantial. It’s strictly circumstantial, dude.” And, because she’s honest, she’s not lying. She never denies committing the crime, she just points out that there’s no real evidence against her.

You see, Robber Chè’s too good at what she does and is careful to leave no evidence and to always have at the very least an alibi that is plausible just enough to raise reasonable doubt amongst any police officer (a favorite of said alibis for Robber Chè is, on the night of the crime, going to the movie theater, buying a movie ticket during the time she will admit to committing the crime, leaving the theater to commit the crime, and making it back to the theater in time to watch the end of the movie and to leave the theater in a raucous tizzy about “the lame-ass, lazy, clichéd motherfucking ending” in front of all the concession workers and box office attendants, so that said concessionists and box office attendants are forced to physically remove her from the premises. Then she will illegally download the same film from the internet and watch the entire movie, taking notes of all the major plot points and all, so that when a cop questions her about the recent thieving of a two story ranch-style located on 4th and Washington at around 8:35 in the P.M. while the house’s residents were out for a late dinner, Robber Chè will point out that she still has the movie ticket and the ticket will show that he was at the movie theater at the time of the crime, watching a movie and that if the ticket isn’t enough, the concession workers and B.O. people will vouch for her since they all had to get together and expel her from the premises and if that still wasn’t enough, she could recount major plot point by major plot point all the intricacies of the movie itself. So, Robber Chè will conclude that either she is lying about watching the movie or she is lying about thieving and that it must be up to the officer to decide… when in reality, she lied about nothing, because she never actually denied thieving, she simply pointed out that the evidence didn’t quite add up).

It is a combination of Robber Chè’s aforementioned mind voodoo and the ever-revolving door of incompetent Peace Officers into and out of the Rio Frio Sheriff’s Office that allows Robber Chè to continually make a mockery of Rio Frio’s legal system (There is one cop, however, who is a constant and whose sole purpose as of late has been to catch Robber Chè “once and for all” and “put an end to her reign of terror” and that officer is, of course, the county sheriff, but that’s neither here nor there).

She’s stolen something from just about every resident of Rio Frio County. One time, El Crow was unlucky enough to walk into his house with Manny Furious after a rather spirited session of Taekwondo only to find, with the sole exception of a single steel folding chair and a George Foreman grill, the house was empty. Utterly so. All of El Crow’s other possessions were gone, including, they would soon find out, all light and bathroom fixtures and all of El Crow’s video games in the shed behind the house.  Even some of the molding around the home had been removed.

In the middle of the living room, next to the chair and “George,”  where the dingy couch used to be, was a folded piece of paper with the words, “For El Crow” written on it in chaotic handwriting.

He opened and read the note, and all it said was:

What the ordinary world calls a wise man is in fact someone who piles things up for the benefit of a great thief.”

“It’s Chuang-Tzu,” Furious said.

“No, it’s Robber Chè,” El Crow replied.

“No, it’s a quote, from Chuang-Tzu.”

“It’s nonsense. No one’s ever mistaken me for a wise man.”

On the back side of the note, Robber Chè had left a second message that said, “I left the George Foreman grill because not even I’d take that away from an obese fatass.”

Lone Wolf and Pedolo showed up early the following morning. Both of their abodes had been compromised as well. All of Pedolo’s porn and makeup and sex toys were gone. Lone Wolf said that the only stuff left in his apartment were all the belongings of the seven Lone Wolf Jrs. By noon, Thinktoomuch had staggered in smelling like a long night of pensiveness and was still in tears because someone had stolen his car overnight.

“My baby,” he said, distraught.

“Have you been to your apartment?” asked Pedolo.

Thinktoomuch shook his head numbly.

“Then I hate to break it to you,” aid El Crow. “But I can almost guarantee your PS4 and 60-inch plasma TV are gone.”

Thinktoomuch let out a pitiable shriek–like a diving hawk– and fell to his knees. El Crow hugged Thinktoomuch and attempted to console him. It was the first time I had ever seen either one show any concern or sympathy for the other. The brazen disdain of Robber Chè’s crimes were enough to bring even the most contemptible of enemies together in grief.

A snippet of a conversation between Manny Furious and El Crow about capitalism and language….

“So, if the government tells you to be more productive, to the point of having to pee in bottles instead of talking a restroom break, that’s…”

“Authoritarianism. Tyranny.”

“Amazon does the same thing to their employees….”

“Oh, well, that’s just good, smart business, Furious.”

“Ok, and an individual asks you to be mindful of the things you say….”

“That’s obviously political correctness and a blatant stifling of the first amendment of the constitution of the United States of America. Isn’t it clear?”

“Uh-huh. But when your place of employment asks you to watch what you say….”

“That’s just company policies, Furious. Businesses are private property. They have the right to regulate such things.”

“Right. Moving forward, when a nation has a large percentage of its population on welfare….”

“That’s big government. Socialism.”

“When a large corporation has a large percentage of its employees on welfare….”

“That just means those workers need to learn a more marketable skill, and/or learn to live within their means.”

“Sure, so what you’re saying is that no matter the problem, it’s always due to individuals or governments, but never because of big business? Which wields large amounts of influence and control over both individuals and governments?”

“Businesses have the right to create their own policies, that look out for their own best interests, Furious. Corporations are people too.”

“So are governments. And, you know, actual people.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“…”

[El Crow’s synapses misfire to such a degree that a miniature black hole is created at the center of his amygdala, imploding El Crow’s brain and sucking everything within a six block radius–including Manny Furious and a boba tea shop, two pizza shops, a Staples and three burger joints–into its inescapable Void.]

EL CROW EXPLAINES THE DAO DURING A RATHER HECTIC, VIOLENT AND BLOODY INSECTOID INVASION….

Thinktoomuch gazed in a drooling wonder upon El Crow as he shot, stabbed, punched, choked and careened his way through an entire horde of insectoid alien invaders that bled volcanic gallons of lime-green blood with every injury.

“How do you do that?” asked Thinktoomuch, sitting on El Crow’s dingy, unspeakably dowdy and odious couch.

“Do what?” El Crow asked, refusing to take his gaze or his attention away from the bestselling Playstation 4 game, IGOR, which title was a lazy, nonsensical acronym for lazy, nonsensical “InterGalactic Overlord Rivals.”

“How can you play that game so…so… like how can you do that? How can you slaughter 500 super-strong, super-agile, super-large insect alien warriors while collecting their hostages and reloading and changing weapons while, in real life, simultaneously lighting a cigarette and eating slices of pizza drenched in cheese oil without pausing the game or getting any of the ash or oil on any of the furniture? And you do it without any discernible difficulty. It’s literally unreal. You must be a prodigy of some sort. A prodigy of some stupendously worthless and meaningless kind.”

“It’s simple,” El Crow responded, again refusing to cease playing of the game, smoking and eating. “I’ve been playing video games on a daily basis for no less than 8 hours per day for the past 25 years. For the first five years, I saw only the controller, the TV, the pizza and the cigarette. They were all distinct and independent entities. For the five years that followed, I still saw the controller, the TV, the pizza and the cigarette, but this time they were all connected. They were part of the same system, the same process. Each element was still distinct, but no longer independent. They all worked together toward some stupid, meaningless goal.

“But sometime during the five years that followed that, the division between the controller, the TV, the pizza and the Cigarette dissolved wholly. They were no longer separate entities, and, more importantly, neither was I. I was not part of the process, I was the process. And now, I can buy any video game on any system and master it immediately. First I simply identify the genre of game, and understand the psychology of the game. The controller disappears, becoming one with my very fingers and hands. When the time is appropriate, I light the cigarette, but have no idea how it got lit. When the opportunity presents itself, I take a bite of pizza without getting grease anywhere, and with no idea where the pizza came from, how it got eaten and how the grease remained in my control.

“Now, should an especially difficult level on the game present itself, I pause momentarily, gauge the obstacle and allow the game to  whisper to me the proper course of action, and, in the end, the game is won, the cigarette is smoked and the pizza is eaten. To explain it is almost to miss the point.

“It is said that a mediocre gamer replaces his controller every six months, because he smashes the buttons and often throws the controller across the room in a frustrated, inarticulate rage. An average gamer replaces his control every couple of years because he punches the buttons. A good gamer replaces his controller only when he replaces his gaming system, because he still jabs at the buttons. But a master gamer, his controller can last 20 years because he slides along the buttons, gliding across the surface without effort, certain of the movements before they must be done.”

Thinktoomuch sat with that information for several too-long moments, the air seemingly pregnant with the profundity of the conversation.

“That,” Thinktoomuch said, “That is THE most moronic fucking idiotic nonsensical nonsense I’ve ever fucking heard in my life. AND I’M A FUCKING POTHEAD.”

El Crow successfully massacred several hundred thousand more insectoid alien invaders over the proceeding five hours.

Third Eye Tingling….

When Manny Furious was at the beginning of his philosophical journey, he went up to his teacher, and asked her the obnoxiously silly question, “What is your spirit animal?” She replied, “The chupacabra.” It was the world’s most perfect answer. In Furious’s own mind he began to refer to her as “El Chupacabra the Apathetic” although she would’ve found the whole thing trivial and obscenely psychically wasteful. But Furious had fun with it.

Soon after, he asked an even more obnoxious question. He asked El Chupacabra the Apathetic, “What is this mindfulness thing all about?” She stared at him dumbly for several too long seconds, a heavy red cloud of perturbation slowly obscuring her face. Finally, she got up, grabbed a thick coffee mug that was sitting on the table in front of them and hit four quick times in his left shin with it. Each time the mug landed on the bone it made a sound like a ringing church bell.

The pain was extraordinary, especially for a 12 year old. Furious howled like a two-bit sinner in the midst of a Catholic exorcism.

SEEMS LIKE YOU HAVE A PRETTY GOOD GRASP OVER THIS MINDFULNESS THING!” she hollered over his cries. The old hag.

Furious is not a smart person. At least not in any meaningful and useful way. Even less so when he was a pre-adolescent. But he caught the gib of her thrust that day, and he felt his third eye tingle, I tell you.

The Satori of Manny Furious….

Then one morning he woke up. The morning sun rays leapt from the face of the sun god and slithered their way through the blinds on his bedroom window and glowed ferociously in angular streaks against the wall and across his face. His eyes fought to stay closed. His mouth and throat were so dry he choked as if he had swallowed the rays of sun directly and all of the photons had congregated into a sandy mass at the back of his throat. When his eyelids finally separated, the morning sunlight attacked his retinas with such savagery that his brain immediately began drilling several paths out of his skull. He tried to fall back asleep to escape the pain, but to no avail.

Like most mornings back then, in his mid-20s, he was hungover. Unlike most mornings back then, he still remembers most of the details of that morning.

After he wrestled himself off of the futon, he stumbled into the kitchen. Furious had one of those huge bottles of ibuprofen sitting on the stove—like 5400 tablets or something like that.  He took 8 of them, with a half-gallon of green Gatorade and chased it with 3 bananas. He thought about making something greasy for breakfast, but that would’ve required simply too much effort for that wicked day.

He wasn’t sure what day of the week it was, so he wasn’t sure if he had to eventually work or not. All he knew was there was a pile of student loan bills sitting next to the ibuprofen and it made enhanced every emetic attribute of his migraine, particularly the headache. He wanted to cry, and if he had had to go to work that day, he probably would’ve. According to a work schedule being held upon the refrigerator by a Domino’s Pizza magnet, he didn’t have to work on Thursday. The woman who lived in the apartment across from his who was always jogging and trying to avoid him, told Furious it was Thursday, after he stuck his head out of his door when he heard her jogging down the steps and while she was desperately trying to wrangle her key into the door knob before she would be forced to speak to him. So, it was a free day, so to speak. Furious was free to do whatever it was he was able to get done in one day. Free to do whatever his pocketbook, his geography, and his circumstances would allow.

Then, without warning, as if in response to that realization that he was free to do whatever he wanted, he was mortified. Manny Furious was drenched in existential terror. Spiritually sick. Standing there in that apartment kitchen, he couldn’t move. He could hardly breathe. He shivered with the anticipation of The Unknown.  There’s actually no real way to describe that moment. It was a moment that wasn’t a moment. Or maybe it was a moment—a supra-moment. All of eternity converged on that moment. There was no concept of time. The entirety of The Universe, all of Eternity, folded onto Itself and Manny Furious realized the Illusion of his life. The dream of separation. The mirage of isolation and alienation. The cruel, cruel lie of Spacetime—a lie that makes the fib of aloneness possible. All of History existed with Furious in that non-moment, except he wasn’t really “him.” He was all of “History”–Past, Future and Present, which weren’t really three separate entities at all. They were all “him”–which really didn’t exist.

When he came to, it was mid-evening. He was back in the realm of human consciousness. The illusion of human awareness created by the Human Central Nervous System was intact, but Furious was still drunk off his visit to The Void. He saw the unfolding of time as a simple overflowing of The Universe’s Creative Impulse as expressed through the human brain.

Furious walked outside. It was a dark evening and the stars burned extra hot, and he could feel the fire of humanity. Its collective pain and sadness and disappointment. But also its collective joy and triumph and love. It was more than that though. He could feel the Love of Existence as a whole. The Love which is the entire reason for Existing.

He felt woozy with sensitivity. He looked up at the stars and at that moment he could feel their gravity. It was tugging at him from infinite directions, but it was the Earth’s gravity that won out. An enveloping force field of acceptance and contentment.  At that moment he KNEW the interconnectedness of everything. He couldn’t tell where the stars ended and where “he” began or where “he” ended and where the stars began.  He could feel the consciousness of the grass under his feet, the calm resolve and splendor of every tree within his sight. Every animal within his immediate radius shared with him their primordial fears and pleasures.

None of this occurred on an intellectual level, mind you. Everything I’ve just written is an attempt to explain something Manny Furious has no means of explaining. First came the experience, which was of and by itself. And now is my attempt to conceptualize or capture in language something that was/is beyond the grasp of words.

Anyhow, after sitting outside for probably 20 minutes or so, feeling the terrible, harmonic vibrations of The Universe, Manny Furious floated back into his apartment and fell asleep. It was the first time in a long memory that he had fallen asleep without much effort. Most nights he spent two or three hours lying on the futon, staring at the ceiling, imagining himself talking to Joe Rogan about his bestselling book about college kids drinking and puking on each other. Or about his revolutionary hip hop album. Or about how he became a professional wrestling champion out of nowhere, even though he was literally half the size of every wrestling champion through history. Or any of a hundred other fantasies he had that had no chance of actualizing.

When he awoke the next morning, the student loan bills were still on the counter, still needing to be paid.

Drinking a Dark and Stormy at the Beginning of Time….

Lone Wolf had been adamant about joining Manny Furious’s summer softball team.

“I will join and I will win MVP,” Lone Wolf insisted.

“They don’t give out MVP awards in summer softball leagues,” Furious responded. “At least not in this one.”

“They will create one just for me,” Lone Wolf declared.

Furious chuckled, shook his head derisively and then, unconsciously mimicking Lone Wolf’s dominant method of communication, shrugged. He had pretended to waffle on the decision of letting Lone Wolf join the team, not because he didn’t want Lone Wolf to play on the softball team, but just because he wanted to fuck with Lone Wolf.

In reality, Furious had been excited about the prospect of Lone Wolf joining the team. In fact, the idea that catalyzed Furious transforming the idea of creating a summer rec-league softball team into a reality was the thought of having someone with Lone Wolf’s talents on his team.

To watch Lone Wolf play baseball in high school was a thing of beauty–at least for those who saw beauty in such things. He played second base as if he had been born, weaned and raised at second base. He moved in the infield as a scorpion moves in sand. His presence was of such naturalness that he almost seemed to blend in. If you weren’t paying attention you might wonder where the second baseman for Rio Frio High School was, and why hadn’t any of the other players or coaching staff noticed.  When he fielded a ground ball, you almost wondered whence he had manifested and how it was possible for him–or most anyone else for that matter–to make the play.

Perhaps it was his moderate immunity to the word virus that prevented it, but Lone Wolf wasn’t one to exhibit much in the way of emotion. He was a living embodiment of a caricature of “stoic.” He rarely smiled, never cried, and wasn’t sure how to express anger beyond a specific kind of shoulder shrug that only his closest friends could identify and understand. However, when he was fielding ground balls or turning double plays there at second base, there was a definable joy. Perhaps he even grinned ever so subtly. And he simply looked like an athlete. Sort of short, perhaps, but all broad shoulders and dense forearms.

As a batter, he didn’t display much power. He hit just a handful of homeruns throughout his four years of varsity baseball. But he never struck out, and he always seemed to hit ground balls and eye-level line drives to just the exact spots they needed to be hit. And while he was fast, what was more striking was his preternatural foresight on the base paths. He never consulted with the third base coach, but seemed to know–perhaps by pure, distilled instinct– whether to push for an extra base or not and when to slide.

Such talent was only emphasized by the fact that the Rio Frio High School baseball team was emetically putrid. They were without a doubt the worst team in the worst league in New Mexico’s 1AAA conference, which put them in the running for the worst team on the face of the entire planet. So Lone Wolf’s grace, dignity and adeptness on the field shone extra bright, like the first ember in the deepest night that sparked the first man-made flame.

Which is why it was such a fucking bummer when he joined Manny Furious’s softball team more than a decade later and sucked something awful.

To be fair, the entire team was terrible, to a point where it is difficult to put words to just how disgusting it was to watch them play. They didn’t win a single contest, and none of them were close losses in any sense. They were grotesque in their clumsy, pseudo-athletic gesticulations and lack of athletic grace. But Lone Wolf didn’t exactly stand out as a beacon of prowess, skill or competence in an ocean of ineptitude. Sure, he was one of the few members of the team who could catch the occasional fly ball in the outfield, and he may have even hit a ball or two past the infield. But he wasn’t good.  Hell, the only reason he was even in the outfield to occasionally successfully field a fly ball was because he was such a disaster in the infield, that Furious had no other choice than to move him some place where he would never have to field another ground ball. Over the intervening 12 years or so between high school and becoming something of an old geezer, he had become a klutz. He didn’t play softball so much as spasm it.  It was as if the soft tissue in his joints had been tied into knots. He could hardly even run anymore without it looking as if his limbs may simply untie themselves and collapse unceremoniously onto the ground before he reached first base. And when he held a bat, he looked as if he were holding a large, slimy snake, and unsuccessfully wanted to convey to any onlookers that he was neither scared nor queasy about holding it.

In short, he wasn’t having fun.

Because he was Lone Wolf, he didn’t speak much about it. When someone–usually Furious–would try to motivate him or congratulate him for the rare competent play, he would simply shrug a shrug that meant to “fuck off” or to leave him alone and stop patronizing him. On a couple of occasions he did orally declare something to the effect of, “I’m not that bad,” which qualified as an outright brag because he was worse than that bad.

After the last game, the team went out for drinks at the Red Giant Bar and Grill, where the Safeway deli employee who claimed to be the actual Ji Gong of Chinese legend had already been at work, 20 pints deep (at least), at the bar. Most softball teams go to the bar to celebrate being a softball team. But Furious’s team (named, ironically, the “Killah Bees” and who wore black and yellow baseball t’s as uniforms) were drinking as a lamentation. Technically, one supposes, they could’ve been celebrating successfully coping with as much shame, embarrassment and degradation one softball team could handle without completing a mass suicide. Or they could’ve been celebrating the end of such a stupid-ass season. But, really, they were just drinking to numb the pain that accompanies being losers in most aspects of life.

After a couple of hours, all that remained in the bar from the team was Lone Wolf, who had drank himself into an obscene oblivion, as he had no other method of coping with the realization that he was getting older, and his athletic acumen had diminished considerably, to the point of being non-existent really. Apparently you can’t sit around eating chocolate bars and cheeseburgers, and getting the majority of your exercise from occasionally making babies with the felonious stripper Dee Lite and still expect to, you know, be good at moving your body around. He obviously couldn’t articulate this much. He couldn’t think these thoughts, but he could feel them. Something wasn’t right. Something was sad. He had lost something. He could feel it.

But he couldn’t identify it. So he drank to rid himself of the discomfort of feeling something but not knowing it.

Because it was a Tuesday night in Rio Frio, as 9:00pm encroached, the restaurant began to empty, and the employees began to scurry around wiping down the empty tables and stacking the empty chairs. Closing time approached and the waitstaff’s collective conscious was filled with nothing but thoughts of going home and doing things. Non-work things. Mostly they wanted to watch Netflix and post on facebook and snapchat.

Lone Wolf drunkenly gazed at the process. And, from across the restaurant, he spotted someone staring creepily at him from the bar. In his drunken haze, and under the emetic yellow mist of the bar lights, the person reminded him of the aliens from the movie, Signs. But as his vision focused, the spookiness of the  outsized head and jaundiced skin of the man dissolved into the body and countenance of the Safeway deli employee who claimed to be Ji Gong. His head had only looked so big because of the the black beanie he was wearing, emblazoned with a Chinese pictograph Lone Wolf couldn’t read or understand, even if he had been sober.

Ji Gong, himself glossy-eyed and sleepy, but also happy and smiling, was holding up a large, mostly empty mug in Lone Wolf’s direction. He nodded toward Lone Wolf. Despite his profoundly limited social skills, Lone Wolf recognized the gesture as an invitation. He drank what was left of his own beer–perhaps his fifth or sixth, but who knew? He had lost count after the second beer (Lone Wolf wasn’t a big drinker)–and ambled over to the bar.

“Welcome, my friend,” Ji Gong said. “Have a seat.”

Lone Wolf stood staring stone-faced at Ji Gong for several too long moments.

“Seriously,” Ji Gong said. “Have a seat.”

Funny, Lone Wolf thought, he didn’t look like an immortal, although he was of indeterminate age and only vaguely Asian in appearance.

The legs of the bar stools were solid chrome, the seats were  red vinyl, torn in parts, and the stools creaked when they swiveled. The stool Lone Wolf finally decided to sit on more like whined or whinged when Lone Wolf inadvertently spun as he sat.

“Let me buy you a drink,” Ji Gong said. “What would you like?”

Lone Wolf shrugged.

Ick. Fuck that,” Ji Gong winced. “Here, let me get you a dark and stormy. I think you’ll like it.”

Ji Gong ordered the dark and stormy and then  turned to Lone Wolf.

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why I look vaguely Chinese or Asian, but speak with a Spanish accent.”

Lone Wolf shrugged.

“Yes, You’re correct. As a supposed immortal, it would make sense that  I have lived a long time and traveled to many places, so it is not out of the question that, having perhaps stayed in one place long enough, that I may have picked up a different accent or patois. It is certainly by no means proof that I am not Asian at all, nor immortal. It is not proof that I am pretending to be someone I’m not, right?”

Lone Wolf gazed at Ji Gong as if his tongue had just detached itself from Ji Gong’s mouth and began slithering across Ji Gong’s face. Which it might have. Who knows. Lone Wolf was too intoxicated to insist otherwise.

“So let me tell you,” Ji Gong continued, drawing an accordion hand fan from his trousers and cooling himself with it. “Before moving to Rio Frio, I had spent the past 200 years smoking marijuana on the beaches in Mexico. Starting in the 1940s or so, I owned a small ceviche shack. Several dozen, actually, as I opened up a new one on each beach I traveled to. But the locals never liked my ceviche. And as tourism increased, even the dumb Americans didn’t like my ceviche. Occasionally, a drunk American would come and claim to enjoy my ceviche. But somehow there wasn’t enough drunk Americans. It’s a paradox. I know. But… the good news is I ‘m an immortal and had lived several centuries up to that point and I knew how to get my liquor paid for.”

The bartender, a paunchy, middle-aged lesbian with a crew cut, brought Lone Wolf’s dark and stormy and placed it on a cocktail napkin in front of him. Lone Wolf continued to gaze at Ji Gong with a look of pure discombobulation.

“Anyway,” Ji Gong continued, a beat too late. “The point isn’t about ceviche and mezcal. The point is I spent the past 200 years in Mexico. I saw a lot of fucked up shit, man. I saw wars and revolutions and bandidos and drug cartels. I’ve seen people tortured and maimed. Raping. Pillaging. Genocide. Attempted genocide. Telenovelas. I mean the list goes on and on, man. It makes medieval China look like the land of milk and honey.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d try to help people. I have a few magical powers after all. My wikipedia page even says as much. But, you know, like, there’s only so much an immortal can do. Often, I would even sacrifice myself to save someone else. Many times I did that. Every chance I had, really. But, being an immortal, it didn’t make much of a difference, obviously. Some pistolero and his posse decapitated me using only a fence post and a horse, after I helped his preferred prostitute escape to some town in the Sonoran desert. After the decapitation I rematerialized back on the beach and went back to my ceviche stand. It’s like a video game. I die and I just start over somewhere I was already at at some point. Kill me now, and I’ll probably rematerialize in, like, Albuquerque or something.

“But nothing,” he continued. “Nothing beats what the past 20 years of these drug cartels, man. They’re not human. To call them animals would be a gross mischaracterization of Animals and wild beasts. These were monsters. Are monsters. I became a reporter for a short time in order to report on their crimes, knowing that journalists are often murdered to be silence. But I can’t die, so what did I care? They opened several thousand small abrasions on my skin using the edge of a manila folder, and then threw me in a vat of lemon juice before feeding me alive to several packs of bullet ants. It was the most horrendous thing I could imagine, and it wasn’t even the worst thing I saw these dipshits do, man.”

Lone Wolf drank the dark and stormy in one gulp and promptly went back to staring befuddledly at Ji Gong.

“But the worst, most painful thing I’ve ever seen on this planet,” Ji Gong went on. “It’s nothing physical. The physical pain is, of course, astounding, man. It’s terrible. Don’t for one second think I’m trying to minimize the pain of physical pain. Because I’m not. But the most painful thing human beings do to each other–do to themselves–is be happy. Or, I should say, find happiness in the wrong places.

“Like you! You were happy playing baseball, weren’t you? You liked being good at something. Being better than others at something. You would literally laugh when another player wasn’t as good as you, remember? It became part of what today’s psychologists call ‘self-concept.” You identified with those skills. They became a part of how you perceived yourself, man. After all, if you had simply been two inches taller, or played for literally any other high school team, or had the language skills to go to college, you may have made it all the way. Or, that’s what you tell yourself, right? Or, not tell of course. You feel it though.

“But that sort of happiness is fleeting. Even if it were true, even if you had gone to the majors, what then? Were you going to play forever? Eventually you would have to find some other source of pride for the ego, for the self-concept. Maybe you’d be happy that you simply were good at one time. But that’s sort of sad. There’s more to life than being good at baseball for a short period of time.

“Whether athletic ability, or looks, or money or intelligence, or anything outside of yourself, they may make you happy momentarily, but will ruin you in the long-run. If you’re a handsome man, now, and you take pride in it, what happens when you get old and stop being handsome? What happens if you get into a car accident, or a friend’s pet chimpanzee attacks you and rips your face off? What then? If you’re happy about your intelligence, what happens when you find yourself in a room with someone you fear may be smarter than you? Or what if others don’t recognize your intelligence? Are you happy then? Money. When money makes people happy, are they ever content? Do they ever have enough? As we speak, one-percent of the world’s population owns more than half of it’s wealth. Much more. Will they stop trying to get even more of it? Of course not.

“Really, though, at the bottom of all this anxiety is the passage of time, man. The anxiety with having something and losing it. Time takes away all–good looks, athletic ability, intelligence, even the contentment of earning money. All gone. In the blink of an eye. One life is but a lightening bolt, a white horse running by a small crack in a wall, a flicker of a snake’s tongue.

“That is, of course, unless you’re an immortal,” the man claiming to be Ji Gong concluded, matter-of-factly before drowning himself, in a single gulp, in another pint of a high alcohol-by-volume libation.

Lone Wolf really needed to pee. And he had been so distracted by his need to make waste that he hadn’t heard any of Ji Gong’s oratory. He probably wouldn’t have understood it very well, anyway. Too many words. So much language.

And so he sat on his stool, with an overwhelming need to relieve himself, and–having always been prone to motion sickness (in high school he had once became violently ill during a theatrical screening of  The Blair Witch Project because of the handheld method of shooting the film)–he became sick to his stomach from being unable to wholly control the spinning of his stool. There overcame on his face, the sad, helpless look of a man about to blow chow all over the bar and bartender.

However, Ji Gong– basically drunk beyond what any mere mortal could possibly imagine, mistook that sad, helpless look, for one of desperation– and he assumed something in his speechifying had rattled Lone Wolf’s nerves. He assumed Lone Wolf was getting ready to punch him, so he made a “raven’s claw” “fist” by pressing the tips of his thumb, fore and middle fingers together, like an Italian praising a freshly-made plate of pasta, and used the raven’s claw to quickly tap five of Lone Wolf’s energy meridians (i.e. “pressure points”) on his face and torso. Lone Wolf lost consciousness immediately and fell to the floor.

Apparently, Ji Gong had done Lone Wolf some sort of a favor.  Suddenly he was young again. Real young. A teenager. And he was wearing the green and black jersey of the Rio Frio baseball team. There was a horrendous, reverberating ding and without any thought he was shuffling his feet toward first base, easily fielding a ground ball and throwing to first base for the out. It seemed like years had passed, and Lone Wolf had played in dozens of baseball games. That was all. He went from one baseball game to another. Some were played in the morning. Some in the afternoon. Some at night. Some games were hot. Some were played in a Rio Frio spring blizzard. They always lost, sometimes by 20 runs or so, but Lone Wolf was always exceptional. He turned double-plays, he hit doubles and stole bases. There was nothing else during this time. No school. No socializing. No sleep. Just one high school baseball game after another. And he was thrilled.

…Until he awoke, lying in his austerely-decked bed, in his austerely-decked bedroom in his austerely-decked, if somewhat messy low-income apartment in the bowels of austerely-decked Rio Frio. He was old again. Mid-30s. Fat. Slovenly. Forget turning double plays, he could hardly turn himself out of bed.

But Ji Gong had done him another favor–he had insured that Lone Wolf would experience no hangover when he awoke. Lone Wolf didn’t know this, of course. He just assumed it was part and parcel for his superior masculinity. Of course he could drink himself sick and not experience a hangover. He was Lone Wolf, after all. There was nothing he was incapable of.

Except, perhaps, for turning back time.

The First Time Manny Furious saw Lemon Crush….

The first time Manny Furious remembered seeing Lemon Crush was on their first day of work. They had both begun working at the Rio Frio Medical Center in mid-spring, Furious, as a “Family Networks Education Recovery Deliminator ” and Crush, as something referred to as a “Behavioral Analytics Systems Intervention Information Coordinator.” Furious would never quite figure out what a Behavioral Analytics Systems Intervention Information Coordinator did, and he would later come to assume that Crush never did, either.

Anyhow, it was the first day of work, and they were required to attend an “All-staff” meeting, wherein about half of the 300 or so employees of the medical center were packed into a conference room to listen to their bureaucratic overlords dispense their demands for the next month or so.

The CEO of Rio Frio Medical Center was literally an empty suit—a stout, waddling empty suit. Red tie, gray blazer and slacks. Not invisible, mind you. Not a puppet or illusion or even a phantom of any kind. It was literally just an empty suit. And when it spoke, its voice was just as empty. There was language there, words even, but there was no real sound. It was almost as if communication were telepathic… but not quite. It was like the flavor of distilled water–it’s there, you can taste it, but you can’t really describe it. It’s an empty flavor. That was the Empty Suit’s voice.

 When it walked in to that day’s monthly staff meeting it was flanked on either side by its two flunkies:  On his right, a tall blonde wearing a pantsuit, a buzzcut, and a welded on smile, and on his left, a mid-40s bureaucratic eunuch with glasses and a strong chin. Neither flunky ever ceased smiling, even when the empty suit was announcing the yearly round of budget cuts and job cuts and pay cuts. For every employee, that is, except for himself and a small cadre of his most valued ass-wipes.

 After they were done explaining the economic doom and gloom, they announced that they were going to complete this month’s raffle. But first, the staff had to get itself into the proper mood, and to do so, the empty suit and its flunkies made a major announcement that they were sure was going to change the way work was done…forever.

“From this day forth,” the empty suit stated, “Work will no longer be known as work. It will be known as ‘fun time.’ Say it with me—FUN TIME.”

 The crowd of employees droned listlessly: “Fun time.”

 The empty suit became immediately displeased with the effort and somehow instantaneously manifested a bull-whip from out of the ether. He swung the whip and it snapped with disapproval.

  “Say it again,” the empty suit demanded. “This time like you mean it.”

 “FUN TIME,” the employees moaned again, this time slightly less listlessly.

“That’s better,” the empty suit declared. “The winner of this month’s raffle is Judy. Judy, you can pick up your mug after the end of your second shift.”

“Jesus,” Manny Furious thought to himself. “This is insane. Am I insane? Is this real?”

During this attempt at self-appraisal, he happened to glance over at Lemon Crush. They were both both standing in the back corner of the conference room, with about a dozen other new hires. She was three arm-lengths away, her face frozen in terror, as though the Empty Suit hadn’t been an empty suit at all, but, instead, had been one donned by a gorgon.

Even in that state, though, he was thunderstruck, not just by her beauty, but by a subtle vibe that emanated from her being. He couldn’t explain it, not even to himself. It wasn’t so much a glow, or an aura. It was more like a magnetism. As though she had had her own gravity. And he felt himself falling into it….

Until she unfroze for a moment and looked back at him. Her gravitational pull subsided, and he realized the entire upper half of his body was leaning in her direction as a flower that bends toward the sun. His eyes got big with the realization of how ridiculous he must look. He averted his gaze quickly, straightened himself back up, dusted something imaginary from his shirt and returned his attention to the bureaucratic horrors of the Empty Suit, the Smile and the Eunuch.

ABOUT PEDOLO, MANNY FURIOUS’S EUROPEAN FRIEND WITH A MYSTERIOUS “CONDITION” AND A SENTIENT HEAD WOUND….

Pedolo once saw on TV a man with a tattoo that said, “Playing it safe kills your soul.” The man was good looking, well-built, adventurous. Pedolo figured the man probably had little trouble getting laid so he immediately came to idolize the man. He took the message of the tattoo to heart. For years El Crow and Lone Wolf had told him he had better get his condition checked, but instead he avoided the doctor until his condition became so bad he had live in an assisted living facility, with a curated lawn and a bunch of old people.

Pedolo also had a collection of DVD porn 12-feet tall in his bedroom (although the ceiling in his room is roughly 8 feet tall [don’t ask]) most of it Japanese anime-style, and a juicy, breathing sentient hole on top of his head that began as a tiny scab about the size of a dime whence a can of olives had fallen on his head while he was looking in the pantry for a snack to eat while watching some anime porn. But he kept picking at it (the scab) unknowingly cultivating the wound and creating a crater so big and foul and infected that eventually he had to be taken to the hospital and all the nurses and staff whispered amongst themselves of the importance of seeing “the freak” in room 203 “with the hole in his head.”

The rumor was you could see his brain, but Manny Furious don’t know how true that was.

“That’s a hell of a collection.” Furious said, observing the stack of porn while he unwrapped gauze from under his chin and around the top of his head changing his bandages with the self-conscious pride and satisfaction and self-pity of a war hero or a lone survivor of some sort of act of god.

“Taking care of myself physically would be playing it safe, brother,” Pedolo said. “As would not watching as much Hentai as I could in this too brief lifetime.”

Some of the pus and blood and mucous seeped through the last layer of the wrap.

“Just living the dream, Furious, Just living the dream,” the wound laughed with a Belorussian accent as Pedolo fed it a Dr. Pepper.