I’ve become somewhat of a hermit as I’ve gotten older. My comfort zone has shrunk to a few North Side neighborhoods. I hate to travel. I don’t like meeting new people or seeing new things. I’m uncomfortable with crowds. And I refuse to fly.
I am, in essence, a weird old dude.
The lovely Mrs. Milo, on the other hand, is the most social of creatures. She loves people, parties and travel. Fortunately, she has a wide circle of girlfriends, some of them also burdened with uncooperative or curmudgeonly husbands, who help her enjoy the social pleasures, things that I am unwilling or incapable of doing.
A few weeks ago, my wife approached me and hesitantly asked, “Milo, honey, is there any chance you’ll go on a road trip with me?”
“Upstate New York. My brother’s going to race one of his cars at the racetrack in Watkin’s Glen. It’s near Ithaca, where, if you recall, I was born.”
“What! You’ll actually go.”
“And you won’t grumble and complain.”
“I just agreed to go. I didn’t agree to behave.”
Ithaca is about an 11-hour drive from Chicago. We decided to drive to Cleveland, which is more than halfway to Ithaca, and spend the night at a Bed and Breakfast, which my wife found on the internet. The room was funky, it had a medicinal smell, but the breakfast was excellent.
We stayed at a B and B in Ithaca, too. The room was great, but the breakfasts were horrible. Everything – eggs, potatoes, bacon – was microwaved.
Despite the shitty breakfasts, we had a nice time in Ithaca. It’s a pleasant community, hilly, watered by several streams, with well-maintained homes, and dominated by Cornell University. It reminded me of Gary, Indiana. We did some sightseeing, found a few good restaurants, and patronized a couple of the local watering holes. Then, we were off to Watkin’s Glen to meet my wife’s older brother, Richard.
Richard is a retired naval officer, in his early 70s, with a lot of spare time on his hands. He spends that time buying, rebuilding and racing old Mustangs. And that’s how I ended up, on a fine Saturday in June, wandering around the pit area of the Watkin’s Glen racecourse. My wife and I were going to watch her brother race his Mustang.
I’ll admit that I know nothing about cars. In fact, I have no interest in knowing about cars. If someone had told me that I would spend an entire day nosing around the pit area of a racecourse, I would have laughed out loud and asked what they were smoking.
There were dozens of cars in the pits, most had their hoods up and a couple of guys tinkering with the engines. As I walked past some of these mechanic types, I could hear fragments of their conversations. And I could barely understand a word they said. It was like they were speaking a foreign language.
I realized, then, that these guys were like the kids I knew in high school who used to hang around gas stations, except that they had grown up and were able to afford expensive racing machines.
All of the race cars were covered in product decals – oil companies, auto parts companies, tire companies, etc. As I strolled around with a beer in my hand, I noticed a car with a prominently displayed “Hoosier” decal.
Ah, I said to myself, a fellow Indiana boy. I walked up to the guy working on the car and said, “What part of Indiana are you from?”
“I grew up in Indiana,” I said. “I noticed your Hoosier decal and wondered what part of Indiana you were from.”
He looked at me strangely and said, “I’m from Pennsylvania and Hoosier is the brand name of a tire.”
I smiled, nodded and walked away.
My wife and I spent another day in Watkin’s Glen, but stayed away from the racecourse. We sailed on Seneca Lake, ate at a couple of decent restaurants, and bought some souvenirs. The following morning we left New York State and drove straight through to Chicago. I was glad to get home.
About a week later, my wife approached me and said, “A group of us are thinking about going up to Michigan for the weekend. Do you want to go? It’ll be fun.”
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A few years ago, when I was preparing for major surgery, the doctor asked my wife about my lifestyle. He wanted to know if I had any bad habits.
The lovely Mrs. Milo replied, “Yes, he does. He smokes and drinks and eats red meat. He likes to gamble and he occasionally smokes marijuana with some of his low-life friends. And I know for a fact that he regularly entertains impure thoughts.”
“Let’s hope this surgery makes him change his ways,” the doctor said. “Maybe a few hours on the operating table will put the fear of God into him.”
“Doctor, you don’t know my husband. He won’t listen to anyone’s advice and he takes direction poorly. I doubt he’ll change his ways.”
My wife was right. Against all common sense, against sound medical advice, and much to the despair of several members of my immediate family, I quickly reverted to form and resumed the low-life diversions that had always been a comfort to me.
Shortly after recovering from surgery, I was, once again, happily wallowing in a mire of liquor, tobacco, red meat, reefer and thoughts of an impure nature.
A while ago, I was sitting on a barstool in Swillagains when an old friend, who I’ll call Pete, sat next to me and ordered a drink. Pete didn’t look well. His skin had a yellowish caste and he looked like he had lost some weight.
When I asked about his health, Pete said, “Fucking liver’s been acting up again.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Doctor says I should quit drinking.”
“Well, that’s something to consider.”
“Ah, the fucker’s been telling me to quit drinking for 20 years. I’m thinking about getting a second opinion.”
A little later, I was standing outside of the saloon, enjoying a cigarette with an old friend, who I’ll call Tim. We were in the middle of a conversation when Tim went into a hacking and wheezing fit that lasted for a couple of minutes.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just the fucking emphysema acting up again.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
“Doctor told me if I wanted to live much longer I’d have to quit smoking.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him I’d think about it.”
Later that evening, as I was enjoying a glass of red wine and mulling over the day’s events, I thought about the choices that my friends Pete and Tim had made. When presented with evidence that their behavior would have detrimental and possibly fatal consequences, they chose to ignore it. They didn’t believe it, didn’t understand it, or didn’t care. In any case, they refused to take their doctors advice.
Now, these doctors had, no doubt, seen the damage that heavy drinking and smoking can cause. They have treated people with ruined lungs and corroded livers. They’ve watched heavy smokers slowly choke to death as cancer squeezed the life out of them. They’ve watched heavy drinkers turn yellow and die because their livers failed. They’ve probably told an untold number of people who led self-destructive lifestyles that they were doomed.
Inevitably, when patients are told they have a terminal illness, the first question they ask is, “How long have I got?”
The doctors generally give an educated guess. It could be weeks, months, or even a couple of years. But deep in their hearts, doctors know that the true answer is, “Not long enough, my friend.”
I wish Tim and Pete would have taken their doctors’ advice.
Man, I’m glad I’m not a dumbass like those guys.
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I roll into Denver with one mission in mind — buy some reefer!
“I gotta find a connection,” I tell my daughter.
“Dad, you don’t need a connection — marijuana’s legal in Colorado.”
“I know, but you need to find out where to buy the good shit.”
“Dad – the Marijuana Dispensaries are all on my app.”
“Fuck that app shit — I’m old school!”
We walk into a restaurant that specializes in sandwiches named after marijuana products.
I figure the dude behind the counter is my go-to guy on account of the fact that he’s got a marijuana leaf tattoo. Generally, a tell-tale sign.
“Hey, man,” I say. “Do you know — ya’ know.”
“Huh?” he says.
“He wants a marijuana dispensary,” my daughter says.
“Oh,” he says, “you want to go to Native Roots.”
“No, man — Roots. Native Roots.”
Back in the old days, we called it Acapulco Gold!
We walk around the corner to the Native Roots building. There’s a security guard in the lobby.
I wink at him.
“Let me guess,” he says. “You’re going to Native Roots.”
“My man,” I say.
“Please,” he says. “Try to be subtle.”
We take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk into a waiting room with a picture of Snoop Dogg on the wall.
The receptionist checks our IDs and tells us the budologist will see us when she’s free.
The budologist is a young woman — maybe 25, tops.
I explain I haven’t smoked reefer since 1980. Though it could be 1981 — “I can’t remember cause I was high at the time.”
She doesn’t crack a smile. Shit — I’m bombing with my A material.
“I want something that won’t make me paranoid,” I say. “You know, like in that episode of The Sopranos where Tony hooks up with that hooker in Vegas and they smoke a joint and wind up in the desert watching the sunrise. You know that episode?”
Remember that scene in the desert?
Apparently, I’ve encountered the only budologist in Colorado who’s unfamiliar with The Sopranos.
“My advice,” she says, “is to stay away from the sativa.”
Ah, yes, sound advice — in marijuana and life.
“Back in the day, we called it Acapulco Gold,” I say.
She thinks: No one asked you `bout back in the day, motherfucker.
She says: “That’s nice.”
She hands me a packet of reefer-laced gummy bears, as if to say — this is for the rookies.
A guy walks in wearing a cowboy hat — looks like he just rolled into town on a Willie Nelson touring bus.
“Gimme a lollypop,” he tells the budologist.
Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad about my gummy bears.
On the way out, I tell the security guard: “I got the stuff.”
“That’s nice,” he says.
Yeah, man — just like back in the day.
I once considered becoming a gigolo. With my good looks and physical attributes I would have been a natural. Women would have lined up to have mind-blowing sex with me. As a young man growing up in Gary, Indiana, I knew that I would eventually become a very handsome man. I knew that my looks would be my ticket to fame and fortune. After considering my career options at the time – grave digger, washroom attendant, school janitor, ice cream truck driver or gigolo – I decided gigolo was the way to go.
I had always imagined gigolos to be glamorous, suave, polished men who escorted wealthy, older, but still attractive women to theaters, fine restaurants and glittering social events. And after the play, restaurant or party these graceful, refined men would take their escorts to a luxurious penthouse or fine hotel and give them a thorough, professional-grade fucking, leaving them limp and exhausted, with barely enough energy left to write out a handsome check. Sounded real good to me.
As soon as I had settled on my life’s work, I decided I needed to get in a little practice. Unfortunately, there was a severe shortage of wealthy, older, but still attractive women in Gary at that time. In fact, I doubt there was a woman in the entire county who fit that description. I had no choice but to put my gigolo aspirations on indefinite hold.
Like most kids who never realize their childhood dreams of becoming cops, firemen, or cowboys, I never became a gigolo. Life intervened. Something always got in the way. There was the military and college. Later, there were drugs, booze and rock ‘n roll. I was always a lazy bastard (see my earlier post about the Bum Gene), and, from what I understand, being a gigolo can be time-consuming.
Still, even though I never became a gigolo, I became a first class pussy magnet. I cut a swath through the North Side that made General Sherman’s march through Georgia seem like a stroll through the Botanic Garden. Wilt Chamberlain had nothing on me. Even the great Bruce Diksas, a legendary pussy magnet in his own right, was envious of my skill with the ladies. I became so well known for my amorous exploits that aspiring young pussy magnets would come to me for advice.
“Milo, why do women fake orgasms?”
“Because they think men care.”
“Hey, Milo, does size really matter?”
“Not at all. You can have just as much fun with a fat woman as you can with a skinny one.”
Once a pussy magnet always a pussy magnet. Even though I’ve been married for more than 30 years and not quite the #2 pencil I was in my heyday, women still find me irresistable. They know that when they have the great fortune to find themselves in bed with me that they are in the hands of a master.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not the active pussy magnet I used to be, but I still like to keep my hand in. Every one in a while I’ll sneak out, visit a night spot, pick up a couple of the finest women in the place and proceed to satisfy their wildest…
I’m Mrs. Milo. I saw what my husband was writing and chased him away from the computer with a can of pepper spray. The whole blog is nothing but a pack of lies. He knows as much about sex as he does about quantum physics.
I’ve already made an appointment with a marriage counselor and I’m checking into some sort of therapy. Rehab is not out of the question, either. Plus, I’m considering talking to a lawyer, just to see what my options are. Believe me, if I had known what I was getting into when I married him I would have stuck my head in an oven a long time ago. God, what a loser he turned out to be, just like the rest those idiots at The Third City.
I’m talking to a friend of a friend, who works for the state, about public education, when she says….
“Don’t quote me.”
I’m like — are you for real?
I point out to her that we’re in a noisy bar and it’s after midnight. We’re drinking a beer. I have no pencil, pen or paper anywhere near me. I’m not secretly taping our conversation. I can barely remember her name, much less what she’s saying.
“I couldn’t quote you, even if I wanted to — and I don’t want to!”
Then she says something like — well, you are a reporter.
You know, like reporters feel an irresistible urge to quote every Tom, Dick or Harry they meet.
Like if you’re having a beer with a surgeon. At some point he or she’ll just have an irresistible urge to take out your appendix.
She explains that years ago she had a bad experience when some reporter misquoted her.
Now it’s getting worse. Not only does she suspect I’ll quote her without her permission. But I’ll misquote her in the process.
Actually, in my dozens of years of quoting people, I’ve discovered that the biggest problem is not when you misquote them as when you accurately quote them. In short, when they say something incredibly stupid or powerfully truthful that it comes back to bite them in the ass.
Then they claim — “You misquoted me!”
Or, like Mayor Richard J. Daley’s press secretary once said: “Write what the mayor means, not what he says.”
Or something like that. I’m probably misquoting him.
Some people are so worried about being quoted that they refuse to say anything unless it’s off the record. My dear friend, Thor, even has off-the-record conversations with his wife.
Mrs. Thor: How was your day, dear?
Thor: Ah, it was okay. But that’s on background only.
In some cases, I can understand why people don’t want to be quoted. Especially teachers in Chicago, who are afraid that they’ll get summarily fired if they say something that offends the boss.
Not only that, but they worry that in the age of the cyberspace, their quotes will live forever. Thus hampering their chances to get future jobs.
In which case, I’m totally screwed just from all the stupid shit I’ve written on this blog.
It’s even worse for Milo, who will forever have the title “pussy magnet” linked to his name thanks to a post he wrote on that topic. Though it might come in handy, if he wants a second career as a gigolo.
But don’t tell Milo I said that. It’s strictly off the record.
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I published my second indie e-book, a novel called “Wassermann Gardens,” a few weeks ago, and nobody seems to give a shit.
The book did not appear on any best seller lists. The paparazzi aren’t hounding me. I haven’t heard from any film producers. None of the talk shows invited me to make an appearance.
Needless to say, I’m hugely disappointed. Where’s the fame? Where’s the glory? Where are the money and the chicks?
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Indie e-books don’t sell nearly as well as traditionally published books.
I tried to go the traditional route with my first book, a novel about a young gambler, which I titled “Schoolboy,” by trying to find a literary agent to represent my interests. I made contact with an agent in New York who said he might be able to sell it if I made a few “minor” changes.
“What kind of changes?”
“First, the story’s too long. You need to cut about 20,000 words.”
“Are you shitting me? That’s a fifth of the book.”
“Second, I think you should consider using a pen name.”
“Change my name? Why in the fuck would I do something like that?”
“Your name’s too hard to pronounce. It won’t fit on a marquee.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen.”
I spent some time trying to find another agent, but found the process demeaning, beneath my dignity, and gave it up after a few months. Taking the advice of a friend, I published “Schoolboy” independently, as a digital book. It’s available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 30 other sites.
About a year ago, I was contacted by the owner of a small-time Los Angeles publishing company, which served mainly as an outlet for his own writing. The publisher, who I’ll call Jerry, was a fan of my blogs at The Third City. He asked if I had any full-length manuscripts that he could consider for publication.
I sent Jerry a copy of “Wassermann Gardens,” which I had recently completed. He called me a couple of days later, raving about the book.
“Oh, man,” he exclaimed, “this is a great story. It’s got everything, natural disasters, violence, madness, disease, young men in desperate circumstances, a bloody escape attempt. It would make a wonderful movie. I’ve got some contacts at the studios. I’ll see what I can do. I’m thinking Shia Labeouf in the lead role.”
“Ah, Jerry, let’s concentrate on the book. We can worry about the movie later.”
“Sure, sure, no problem. I’ll start the editing process…”
“The editing process?”
“Yeah, it needs to be edited. I’ll send the first few chapters in a week.”
When the edited pages arrived, I noticed that Jerry had added a sentence to the opening chapter. The scene is about two men finding a suicide victim. The sentence Jerry added had one of the men asking, “Did he shit his pants?”
I immediately called Jerry. “Why did you put in that line about the guy shitting his pants?” I asked.
“I thought it added a little color to the story.”
“Jerry,” I said, patiently, “every man shits his pants when he dies. People that have seen a lot of death, like the soldiers in the story, know this from experience and would never ask such a thing. It is, in fact, a ridiculous question.”
“I don’t mind you doing an edit, for grammar or punctuation, but please don’t add anything to the writing. I don’t want or need a co-writer.”
“Sure, no problem.”
I couldn’t believe it. When the next edited chapters came in the mail, Jerry had, once again, added some of his own writing. And the sentences he inserted into the manuscript just didn’t work. They didn’t make sense. I figured he didn’t understand the story or else his writer’s ego made him want to leave his own fingerprints on the novel. Either way, it was unacceptable.
When I called him I said, “Jerry, you’re a hard-headed fucker. I asked you not to add any of your own writing to the story, but you did it anyway.”
“I’m just trying to make it a better book.”
“You’re making it worse. Publish it as is, word for word, or I’m out.”
“But I always edit the writers I publish.”
“Well, then, we’ve both wasted a lot of time. Goodbye.”
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Memorial Day is a wonderful day for politicians. There are graves of fallen American soldiers scattered all over this country and the photo opportunities for Senators, Congressman and Governors are endless. No career political hack can resist the opportunity to wrap himself in the flag and be photographed at a soldier’s grave site on Memorial Day.
For other folks, the best thing about this holiday is that they don’t have to work on Monday. It’s an extra day away from the office or factory, another day free of the indignities that come with working for a living.
Memorial Day has an entirely different meaning for veterans, especially combat veterans. Military personnel who have been awarded the CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge), which is given to soldiers who have personally fought in ground combat operations, often have mixed feelings about a holiday that was created to honor the dead.
Chances are, if a person has a CIB, they’ve seen and done some terrible things. They have spent time in the Inferno. They have experienced true horror. And the absolute worst of those horrors was seeing friends die. The ghosts of Alpha Company still haunt my dreams.
Some combat veterans, including me, are uncomfortable with the overly sentimental veneration of America’s fallen soldiers. It’s too little, too late, and the sentiments are usually off the mark.
It makes me uneasy when I hear politicians exalt dead soldiers, or read editorials comparing them to saints, calling them God’s warriors, elevating them to the status of angels with assault rifles. The image of the American foot soldier as a noble warrior, different than all the cruel, heartless bastards that came before him, is a false one.
The truth is, the American foot soldier is a bad motherfucker, a dangerous, highly-trained, superbly armed, brutal and efficient killing machine.
A lot of the soldiers in my outfit were tough kids, urban and rural poor boys, before they went into the service. A few months in the jungles and paddies made them even tougher. Spending three weeks at a time on Search and Destroy missions, sleeping in muddy foxholes at night, waiting for the next bit of Hell to arrive, and wondering if your next breath will be your last, has a way of bringing out the beast in a man.
After three weeks in the bush we’d be sent to a relatively safe firebase to relax and unwind. Those seven days were spent trying to forget the terrors of the previous three weeks. We drank heavily, smoked copious amounts of weed, and visited the whores who set up storefronts near every American firebase.
The liquor and drugs helped us escape the grim reality of our lives. The intoxicants made it possible, for a short time, to forget some of the things we had seen and done.
The young whores made us feel human again. The act of love, the skin-to-skin contact, the primal connection between a man and woman, helped soften the rough edges of our memories.
True, these were coarse comforts, frowned upon by church, state and the general public, but they were all we had. A few drinks, a little weed, and a piece of ass made an intolerable existence somewhat bearable.
No, we weren’t knights in shining armor. I doubt we would have been welcomed in polite society. We were just common foot soldiers, flawed in so many ways. But we were young and valiant, and did the best we could.
Here are a few lines from a Rudyard Kipling poem called “Tommy,” about British soldiers. I believe it captures the ambivalence that some civilians have for the military, why dead soldiers are honored, and living ones not so much.
“An’ if sometimes our conduck ain’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barracks don’t grow into plastic saints,
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute,’
But it’s ‘Savior of our country” when the guns begin to shoot.”
As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of Memorial Day. It brings back too many bitter memories. But I can understand how the holiday can be a comfort to people, especially those that have lost friends and loved ones in wars.
So, go ahead and celebrate Memorial Day any way you like. I’ll honor the occasion properly.
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