Otis did it again. The dumbass tangled with the wrong alley cat and got his ass kicked.
This beating wasn’t as bad as the one he suffered last year, when my wife and daughters had to take him to the vet and spend close to three hundred of my hard-earned dollars to get the fucker patched up. On this occasion, he just got his face badly scratched and one of his ears chewed up.
Of course, the lovely Mrs. Milo immediately blamed me for the cat’s predicament.
“I wish you wouldn’t let Otis out of the house so often,” she said, giving me the evil eye. “If he stayed inside, he wouldn’t get in trouble.”
“Honey, he’s an outside cat. He needs to go out and take care of business. He’s got important cat shit to do.”
Otis’ problem is that he’s an aging cat. He was two or three years old when he conned his way into my household, and that was more than 15 years ago. The dumbass doesn’t seem to understand that time is no longer on his side.
I know a few guys like Otis, hell-raisers in their 40s, 50s, even 60s, who are determined to defy time. They carry on like frat boys, drinking, smoking, and chasing women, living the high life. They know it will eventually get to them but they just don’t care. They intend to keep the party going until their hearts, livers, or lungs or give out.
Personally, I don’t give a shit about Otis. He’s mean, treacherous, unreliable, and a degenerate catnip abuser. I would have gotten rid of him a long time ago if it wasn’t for the fact that my wife and daughters have, inexplicably, grown very fond of the bastard. They have made it clear that there will be hell to pay if anything happens to the cat.
The last time Otis got his ass kicked, he fell into a depression that lasted for several months. He lost weight, slept poorly and was reluctant to leave the house. He spent most of his time in a catnip stupor, hiding in the basement and feeling sorry for himself.
I was hoping that Otis wouldn’t become despondent again. Let’s face it, nobody likes having a depressed cat in the house.
But, to my surprise, Otis took his ass-kicking in stride. It was almost as if he had expected to lose the fight.
Then it occurred to me that Otis had reached a point in his life where he no longer cared if he won or lost fights. For an aging cat, there’s not much difference between winning and losing anyway.
The important thing, the only thing that matters, is the action.
In that respect, Otis is like some gamblers I know. Winning or losing are secondary considerations. Their primary motive is the action, playing the game.
As gamblers have been known to say, “The next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing.”
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As The Third City’s Society, Lifestyle and Religion columnist, I’m used to people asking me for advice. Over the years, people have come to rely on my good judgment, keen insights, and sound thinking.
That said, I rarely get asked about society issues, lifestyle problems, or religious matters. The questions I’m most often asked by The Third City’s readers are about about whoring, drinking, gambling, or where they can get some good weed.
But last week, I ran into a loyal reader at a neighborhood saloon, and he said, “Hey, Milo, my wife and I just had our first child, a daughter. I heard you’ve got two grown daughters and I was wondering if you had any tips on raising girls.”
“You’re asking me for child-rearing advice?”
“Ah, I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
My wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, was 26 years old when we married, and I was 31. We had our first daughter when I was 37. Our second child came along four years later.
When we were leaving Weiss Memorial Hospital, a few days after the birth of our first child, I stopped by the nurse‘s station and asked, “Is there an instruction manual that comes with this baby?”
“Well, that doesn’t seem right. Everything comes with directions. A bag of microwave popcorn comes with directions.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure things out, sir.”
Three or four months passed and I felt like I had settled into the parenthood thing pretty well. Then, one afternoon, my wife had to leave the house to run a few errands. Before she left she asked me to give the baby a bath.
“Sure, honey, no problem.”
I had never bathed our child before, but I had watched my wife do it many times. There was nothing to it, a piece of cake.
I filled the bathtub with a few inches of lukewarm water and was preparing to put my infant daughter in the tub, when, suddenly, a terrifying thought occurred to me.
What if something happened to me while my helpless daughter was in the tub? What if I had a stroke or heart attack? What if I just dropped dead?
After all, I was a pretty good candidate for some sort of physical catastrophe. I smoked, drank, ate red meat and was averse to exercise. There was no doubt in my mind that my lungs were shot, my heart was enlarged, my liver was diseased, and my arteries were as hard as lead pipes. I had the feeling that anything could happen to me at any time.
I tried to shake off the feeling of dread. I told myself I was being foolish. I was only 38 years old and in decent shape in spite of everything. The odds of having a massive heart attack at that particular time had to be pretty slim.
But even then, I was an old hand, a veteran of life’s vagaries. I had seen too many aces spiked on the river to have absolute faith in odds, probabilities or percentages. Bad things happen all the time, usually when least expected.
I could not bring myself to give the baby a bath. It was a risk I was unwilling to take.
When my wife came home, a few hours later, she asked if I had bathed our daughter.
“No, I didn’t, sweetie.”
“It’s a long story.”
“”I’ve got time.”
When I explained why I couldn’t give the baby a bath, my wife gave me a strange look. “Sometimes I think you’re losing your mind,” she said.
“Yeah, well that’s your opinion.”
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A few days ago, I went to the Jesse Brown V.A. Hospital to have a few of my vital organs checked, get my meds adjusted, and enjoy my favorite lunch – fried chicken, mashed potatoes, greens, and cornbread – in the hospital’s cafeteria.
When I walked into the office of my primary physician, Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, I could see that he was in an uncharacteristically bad mood.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Dude, it’s been a shit day,” he said. “The VA bureaucrats keep coming up with new ways to complicate my life. It seems like every week they establish new procedures for dealing with vets, especially combat vets and the PTSD afflicted. You fit in that category somewhere, right?”
“Well, then, the VA insists I ask you these questions.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Are you homeless?”
“Not at the present time.”
“Do you have suicidal thoughts?”
“Do you have anger issues? Is there anyone you want to kill or injure?”
“Yes, indeed! I’ve got an extensive shit list.”
“Do you wear a seat belt when you drive?”
“Sometimes, and I usually look both ways before crossing a street.”
“Do you ever…”
“Excuse me for interrupting, Doc, but why is the VA making you ask these dumbass questions?”
Dr. Frankie sighed and shook his head. “Because most combat vets are crazy fuckers,” he explained. “HUD estimates that more than 50,000 are homeless. Their suicide rate is 50% higher than those who never served. According to the Washington Post, combat vets have a 75% higher rate of fatal vehicle accidents than do civilians. Combat vets diagnosed with PTSD commit violent crimes at double the rate of soldiers who never saw action. And don’t even get me started on the subject of substance abuse.”
“What happens if I tell you that I’m going to shoot myself or shoot someone else? What if I say I’m living in a cardboard box under the Western Avenue bridge or don’t use a seat belt?”
“I make a note of it on your computer file.”
“I don’t know. I doubt the VA knows, either.” Dr. Frankie said, with a shrug. “You know, I liked this job a lot better when all I had to do was check your blood pressure, give you some good drugs, and send you on your way.”
When I left Dr. Frankie’s office, I began paying close attention to the former soldiers who were wandering the hallways of the hospital. Sure, most of them looked like regular guys, but after talking to the Doctor, I understood that they were actually bunch of loose cannons, drunken, drug-addled, dangerous men, capable of unspeakable violence at any moment.
Man, I said to myself, I’m glad I’m not like those fuckers.
Still, I was a bit depressed when I left the hospital, so I took a couple of the new pain killers the good doctor had prescribed for me. The pills kicked in as I was driving home and I started feeling better. The unsettling conversation I had with the doctor was beginning to fade away. And I hoped that after getting home, having a few drinks, smoking some weed, and revising my shit list, I would forget it completely.
Some things are best forgotten.
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The other day my wife got on my ass about the state of my physical fitness, or rather, my lack of it. I had just awakened from a pleasant nap when the lovely Mrs. Milo came home after a hard day of selling real estate, lunching with her slutty girlfriends, and teaching Pilates classes.
“Have you been lying around in your underwear all day?”
“Ah, no, dear. I was just in the process of…”
“I wish you’d be more active. You’re starting to look sloppy. You need to exercise once in a while.”
“I took a nice walk today.”
“You probably walked down to Swillagain’s Saloon and spent the afternoon drinking with your low-life friends.”
“So, what’s your point?”
“The point is that you’ve got to start taking better care of yourself. I don’t care for you that much anymore, but your daughters are still fond of you. They wouldn’t mind having you around for a few more years.”
“Okay, sweetie, I’ll give it some thought.”
Physical fitness is important to my wife. When I first met her, she was a touring dancer, in as good a shape as it’s possible for a human to be.
When my wife retired from dance, she had a hard time giving up the physicality of the dancing life. She tried taking an occasional dance class, but old injuries – knee, neck, ankle – kept flaring up. She fretted for years about her physical conditioning. I mean, God forbid that she should gain a pound or two. Then she discovered Pilates, which, as I understand it, is something the Communists invented to replace sex. She liked Pilates so much that she became a Pilates’ teacher. Now she’s happy. She’s found a physical regimen that can keep her busy and in great shape until she’s 112 years old.
One the other hand, I don’t give a rat’s ass about exercise, physical fitness or anything else that distracts me from the important things in life, like drinking, smoking, drug abuse, and eating red meat.
That said, I know my wife will make my life miserable unless I start some sort of fitness program. So, the next afternoon I went down to Welles’ Park, a Chicago Park District Fieldhouse on Sunnyside by Lincoln Avenue. They have a well-equipped gym there which, since I am of a certain age, I can use for free.
The guy behind the counter was a typical Chicago Park District employee – gruff, overweight, with a pack of smokes in his shirt pocket. I thought I smelled liquor on his breath, too, but I wouldn’t swear to it. After I filled out the paperwork and received a laminated Welles’ Park membership badge, the guy offered to show me around the fitness area.
“You ever use any of this shit before?” he asked, pointing out all of the exercise equipment.
“Can’t say that I have. What’s that?”
“That’s called a stationary bike. You gotta watch yourself on that thing. We had a regular customer, used to come in four or five times a week. He’d ride that thing nonstop for an hour. Last week he was riding on it and just keeled over.”
“Was he okay?”
“That’s too bad. How old was he?”
“About your age.”
“That’s a treadmill over there. It’s like a walking machine. A couple of months ago a guy was on it and had a heart attack. He died, too.”
“How old was he?”
“About your age, I guess.”
“What the fuck!”
“That thing over there is a rowing machine. Last month a guy…”
“Don’t tell me. He was about my age, right?”
“No. I believe he was younger than you.”
I had heard enough. I handed the Park District guy the laminated badge and said, “This place is a death trap. I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
I was a bit shaky when I left Welles Park. There’s no telling what terrible things would have happened to me if I had stuck around and tried a few exercises. Fortunately, I had to pass Swillagains on the way home, so I stopped in for a few drinks and enjoyed a smoke with my friend, Nickel Bag Bernie, just to calm down.
I was in great shape when I left Swillagain’s. I was, once again, in the mental and physical condition that I prefer above all others.
I felt real good.
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After our dog died, a couple of years ago, a month shy of her 16th birthday, I swore I would never get another dog. As much as I like having dogs around, I have a lot of good reasons for not getting another one. The main reason, however, is my age.
I’m getting older and don’t want the hassle of owning a dog. They require a lot of time and attention. They need to be walked, exercised and fed. They need their heads scratched and tummies rubbed. They make a lot of noise, leave dog hair everywhere, slobber copiously, fart continuously and occasionally have “accidents.”
Owning a dog takes work, and I’m no longer willing to put in the effort.
A few months ago, my youngest daughter put on her pretty-please face and asked if we could get another dog.
“Nope. No way. Never happen.”
“But, Dad, you love dogs. We’ve always had dogs.”
“I know, honey, but I want to simplify my life. I don’t want to take on the responsibility of caring for a new dog.
“Please, Dad, please!”
“No, and that’s my final answer.”
Of course, I knew that the matter wasn’t settled. It was, in fact, far from over. My daughter is stubborn, hard-headed and persistent. She has always had a problem accepting the word “no,” especially if it comes from me.
She’s also got a mean streak, inherited, no doubt, from her mother. She began a vicious campaign of harassment that was designed to break my will and change my mind about getting another dog.
She bombarded me with emails containing photos of cute puppies. She invited friends who owned dogs to come over and hang out, then asked me to watch the dog “for a few minutes” while they ran a quick errand. Sometimes they’d be gone for hours. Whenever we had a discussion, no matter the subject, she always managed to steer the conversation toward dogs. I was on the receiving end of a tsunami of canine propaganda.
When I complained to my wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, she said, “I think I’d like to have another dog.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Why are you being so stubborn about this? You’ve always liked dogs. I know that once we got a dog you’d love him like you loved all of our other pets.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Oh, and what exactly is the point?”
“I, uh, just don’t want another damned dog.”
“Too bad, you’re outnumbered and outvoted.”
I don’t remember the circumstances or when it happened, but I finally gave in and agreed to get a dog. We are now the proud owners of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, named Hubble.
A few days after the dog moved in, I overheard my daughter and a friend talking. “How did you talk your dad into getting the dog?” the friend asked.
“I waited until he was liquored up and then asked him.”
“What did he say?”
“The same thing he always says when he’s drinking.”
“Sure, honey, whatever you want.”
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As if being the Lifestyle, Society and Religion columnist at The Third City isn’t enough of a workload, now the editorial board wants me to take on the job of Military Affairs Correspondent. Benny Jay, who helps run this scabby crew of barely literate hacks, called last week to offer me the position.
“War is the hottest thing going right now,” Benny said. “We’re already fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and bombing Syria. And there’s a real good chance we’ll be taking on Russia soon. Every blog site in the world is writing about these wars. We need to get on the bandwagon.”
“I see your point. But why do I have to do the job?”
“You’re the only guy at The Third City with military experience. I’ve got your resume right here and it says you were a highly decorated Colonel in the Navy Seals.”
“Heh, heh, I may have exaggerated a bit.”
“Well, you were in Vietnam, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, but I barely rose above the rank of Private. It was something to do with character issues.”
“Okay, Milo, let’s quit fucking around here and get down to business. How much money will it take for you to run the Military Affairs desk?”
I didn’t want the job. I was a disinterested soldier at best when I was in the Army and my feelings haven’t changed much in the last four decades. But Benny is a stubborn fucker and refuses to take “no” for an answer, so I named a price I knew The Third City could not possibly afford.
I was shocked when he accepted. “Okay, we’ll give you the extra 12 dollars a month. But I expect solid reporting and analysis, not like the usual shit you write. And don’t try to sneak any of your stupid dick jokes into the stories, either.”
My first assignment was to write a general asessment of America’s military situation. I didn’t want to write from ignorance, so I spent a couple of days studying the subject. I watched a few episodes of “Hogan’s Heroes” and “McHale’s Navy.” I reread Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22.” I even watched a military-themed porno called “Stalag 69.”
Still, I felt my knowledge was incomplete, so I called my old friend, Bruce Diksas, who had once reached the exalted rank of First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I figured that as an officer, he had been privy to a lot of inside information that was inaccessible to me.
More to the point, Bruce used to lunch regularly with Colin Powell at our Division base camp in Chu Lai, in the former Republic of South Vietnam. Maybe Bruce picked up some insights simply from being in close proximity to the great man.
“Hey, my man, what’s going on?” I said, when he answered the phone.
“Ah, fuck, I’ve got a hangover.”
“You have my sympathies. Listen, I need to pick your brain about something.”
“I haven’t seen the Racing Form yet this morning.”
“No, no, I’m writing a blog piece about America’s current military situation. As a one-time officer and former gentleman I thought you might give me some tips.”
“I didn’t know anything then. I know even less now.”
“I thought you used to have lunch with Colin Powell. You must have learned something.”
“That was just a mandatory monthly brigade lunch. There were dozens of us there, mainly junior officers. Powell was a Major at the time. I don’t think we ever talked.”
“That’s it! That’s all you’ve got for me?”
“Well, one thing I do know is that officers love war. They need to cover themselves in glory. They have to prove that they are warriors before they can become leaders. Ambitious young officers will do anything to get a combat command. War is where reputations are made and promotions get handed out. You can’t climb the ladder in the Army unless you have combat experience. Even Colin Powell, as a young man, led an infantry company. I doubt he would have risen as high in the ranks without his Combat Infantryman’s Badge.”
“So, you’re saying that the military’s upper ranks eventually get taken over by scheming, brutal, bloodthirsty bastards who’d cook and eat their own grandmothers to win a promotion. You’re telling me the people who advise the President and set military policy, are a bunch of crazy, treacherous, gung-ho fuckers who owe everything they have to the glories of war?”
“I’d say that’s pretty accurate. It’s the nature of the military beast. War is what they do best. Ruthless, cold-blooded, conniving bastards make the best general officers. A well-developed mean streak is an asset to a combat officer. And it doesn’t hurt to be a little bit crazy. Nice guys generally don’t do well in life or death situations.”
“Damn, I’m glad the military doesn’t run this country.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”
I had a bit of a cocaine problem in the early 1980s. I wasn’t the only one. At the time, there were a lot of people enjoying cocaine. It was considered a harmless drug, although I’m sure that the person who spread the myth of the drug’s harmlessness probably worked in the public relations department of Pablo Escobar, Inc.
My dance with cocaine lasted about two years. I don’t remember the first time I tried it, but I’m sure it was with friends, in a tavern or someone’s living room.
I liked it. I mean, I really liked it. The next day, I made a few phone calls, found a connection and bought a gram.
I had good intentions. I was going to be smart about using cocaine. It would be for recreational use only, on weekends or special occasions, or when I needed a little pick-me-up. There was no way I was going to be one of those dumbasses that got hooked on cocaine and let it take over their lives.
Good intentions, however, are usually not enough. In my case, they weren’t even close. In about six or eight months, I became a raging, full-blown, runny-nosed, babbling cokehead.
I was using the shit every day, spending ridiculous amounts of money to keep the buzz going. I was drinking heavily, too, which just added to the madness. I was doing stupid things, keeping bad hours, and piling up the bad karma. If a highway to hell actually existed, I was on it, headed for the exit ramp.
Oh, and did I mention I was married?
The lovely Mrs. Milo and I had been enjoying wedded bliss for about three years when the weather turned bad and I got lost in a snowstorm. I don’t know what was going through her mind at the time, but I’m sure she was wondering what sort of hell she had gotten herself into.
I imagine she hoped it was just a phase I was going through. When it turned out to be something much more serious, something that could destroy the life we were trying to build, she confronted me.
“Milo, honey,” she said to me, one bleary morning, “this has got to stop. You know I love you, but I hate what you’re doing to yourself. I can’t stand it anymore. I will not, and cannot, be married to a drug addict. Do we understand each other?”
The choices couldn’t have been any clearer. I considered my options for about two seconds and decided to give up cocaine. I went cold turkey.
I spent the first few days of my post-cocaine life just sleeping. When I wasn’t in bed or dozing on the couch, I was eating.
After three or four days of doing nothing, I began to get bored. I was antsy, on edge, and short-tempered. I had to get out of the house and do something. But I knew that going to any of my favorite haunts or hanging out with friends would be disastrous.
So, I decided to go to the show.
I was living on Roscoe, near Southport, at the time, just a short walk from the Music Box Theater. The Music Box had a different policy in those days. They would feature six or seven different movies, and they changed them each day. For one admission price, a person could watch all of the films.
And that’s what I did. I would show up at the box office around noon, when it opened, and watch all of the movies — old films, new films, art films, foreign films, and Hollywood classics.
When I got home, about nine or ten at night, I’d have a bite to eat and go to sleep. When I woke up the next day, I’d get cleaned up, have breakfast and then walk over to the Music Box Theater.
I stuck to this schedule for nearly two weeks, until the day came when I decided that I could find better things to do than spend 10 or 12 hours in a darkened movie theater.
It was also the day I realized I no longer had a desire for cocaine.