So we’re hanging out one summer day in the back yard of my parents’ house, bored to death, trying to figure what we’re going to do with ourselves for the rest of the day.
Grade school had just let out, and my buddy, my little bro and myself were eager to get our summer started on some exciting adventure.
“Wanna go throw rocks at the bums over at the Blue Line stop on Pulaski?” my buddy asked.
“Nah… We did that yesterday,” I said. “Besides, that one bum that’s always there with the mohawk, he’s going to kill us if he sees us over there again.”
“Let’s go to the park,” my little brother chimed in.
“We’re not going to the park,” I said. “We wanna do something fun.”
“The park is fun,” my brother said. “We can mess around in the playground.”
“No it’s not,” my buddy said. “Well, I guess it is if you’re a little baby.”
“I’m not a baby….”
“I got it,” I said. “How ’bout we go steal some Chick O’ Sticks from the corner store?”
“That’s stupid,” both my brother and buddy said.
“Well what the hell are we going to do?” I asked, as if stealing Chick O’ Sticks was the best option.
“I’ll tell you what we can do,” my buddy said. “I’ve got this lighter, let’s go set shit on fire.”
“Yeah…Let’s set shit on fire.”
So we set out to set shit on fire. First it was little things, like a pile of twigs, or a stack of old newspapers we found in the alley.
Then we moved on to slightly larger things, like a card board box for a TV and a few plastic containers.
We delighted in each act of fiery destruction. We were appealing to our most caveman of instincts: Fire, good. Fire, warm. Fire, pretty.
With each thing we burned, we stood, watching, our little pyromaniac minds filled by the desire to want to burn something bigger, and better. Watch it burn to ashes. But all we had was the lighter, and the larger the object, the more difficult it was to set on fire with just the simple flame.
We came across a discarded kitchen cabinet. My buddy gave it a rip with the lighter, but it wouldn’t take.
Then I had an idea, an epiphany, really. We needed an accelerant.
“We need gas, or lighter fluid,” I said. “You know, to get the flames going.”
“Where the hell are we going to get that?” my buddy asked? “You got money to go buy some?”
“Nah, I’m broke.”
“We can use mom’s hairspray,” my brother said. “That’ll light on fire.”
“Yeah, yeah it will,” I said.
“You little genius,” my buddy added.
“Run inside and get it,” I said.
My little brother ran and got the spray and came back out to the alley where we had the kitchen cabinet.
We sprayed the cabinet all over with the hairspray and lit it with the lighter.
And, man, did the thing go up. But the hairspray wasn’t as flammable as we thought, and the fire soon died down with out completely burning the cabinet.
Disappointed by the results, we decided to give up on setting shit on fire, and returned to the backyard.
Bored once again, we tried to find ways to pass the time. We threw clumps of dirt at each other, took turns jumping the fence into the neighbor’s yard and doused each other with water from the garden hose.
Then, it hit me: Flame thrower.
“Give me the lighter,” I told my buddy.
“Just give it here.”
He tossed it to me and I ran and grabbed the hairspray and began to let out bursts of flames.
“It’s a flame thrower, guys.”
We all laughed and watched in awe as I let out burst after burst of flames into the air.
Then I got an idea, that at the time seemed like a good one: I began chasing my buddy and little brother as I shot bursts of flames at them.
It was fun and games at first. I chased my buddy for a while, then turned my attention to my brother. I chased him down the side walk and into the corner between the garage and the gate the led to the alley, which was closed.
My brother, never thinking to open the gate to make an escape down the alley, just sat there against the gate, trapped and cowering in fear.
I shot a burst towards him, thinking that it would be inches short, you know, enough to scare him, but not actually hit him.
Then I heard a sizzle and my brother scream out and saw a puff of smoke go up.
In my mind I thought, ‘Oh shit I just burned my brother, God is he ok?’
For a few seconds it was pure terror. I wasn’t sure how badly I had burned him. I was blinded by fear.
But then he screamed out, “You burned my hair you asshole.”
Then my thoughts turned to,’Oh shit, my parents are going to kick my ass.’
We spent the rest of the day trying to get the burn smell out of my little brother’s hair.
We tried washing his head repeatedly with the garden hose, went to my buddy’s house to get some hair gel to try and mask the smell, we even tried clipping some of the burnt ends off.
In the end, it wasn’t that bad, I had just burned the tips of hair on one side of his head.
And my parents never noticed. And my brother never ratted me out.
So, you know, I got away with it. That is, until my parents read this.
And then I’ll be writing next week about how a 32-year-old man got an ass whipping for something he did when he was 13.
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-You’re late, fucker. Your shift started 45 minutes ago.
-Wow, you’re real observant. What’s got you all twisted?
-Hey, it’s been a long, shitty shift. And it feels like it’s only getting busier.
-I saw three ambulances headed out on my way in. I’m sure they’ll be headed over here.
-Dude, it’s been like that all night. One after another.
-God, it’s going to be a long night.
-Sure the fuck is. So what the hell happened to you?
-I got stuck on the red line. Some asshole jumped the tracks and killed himself.
-I know. We were stuck for an hour while they scraped his ass off the tracks.
-Isn’t that annoying? Selfish fuck.
-I know. I mean, If you want to end it all, who am I to stop you? But do you gotta make me late for work in the process?
-You gotta admire the determination, though, right? Dude wasn’t playing around.
-Fuck yeah, you do.
-That’s not like all these attention seeking assholes we get that take a bunch of pills then call 911 crying, talking about ‘I want to kill myself.’
-Then they get brought to ED and they cry some more and say how they didn’t mean to hurt themselves.
-Nope, you’ve made up your mind once you commit and jump in front of a train.
-No turning back.
-That’s called going out with a bang.
-Oh man, you’re an asshole.
-What? I thought we agreed that the guy was an asshole.
-”Going out with a bang,” though?
-Alright, maybe that’s a little too much.
-What’d you bring for lunch?
-Steak and cheese sandwich.
-Let me get half.
-Fuck no I’m not giving you half. That’s the only thing I got to look forward to tonight.
-You really are an asshole.
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FUUUUUCCCKKKK, I’m tired. What time is it? It’s gotta be at least three. No, maybe it’s four. If it’s four, that’ll mean four more hours to go. I can manage four more hours of being this tired.
One o’clock? Only fucking one o’clock? I’m not going to make it. I’ll die before morning. They’ll walk into this EKG room and find me slumped over in this chair, face down on this keyboard—death by sleepiness they’ll call it.
‘He was a good man. A young man.’
‘It’s a shame how he passed.’
‘How’d he go again?’
‘From lack of sleep.’
Ok, get up and wipe down the cart and EKG machine again. Do something. Anything. Can’t fall asleep. You just got this job. Can’t fuck it up. Cart and EKG machine are clean. What next? What next….
I can’t be in this tiny ass room anymore. Feels like the walls are closing in on me.
Damn, I’m so tired.
Stop being a baby. There are worse things that you could be doing right now than making money. So it’s a little slow tonight and you’re tired. Get over it.
I know. Write your blog post. Yes! I’ll write my post. That’ll kill some time. At least an hour or two.
I’m writing my post….
Yeah, this is good. I’m writing this am I’m not tired anymore. Good shit here, writing this post….
God I’m still tired. Still fucking tired.
Only 15 minutes have passed? Shit! SHHHIITTTTT!
I know, I’ll wipe the cart and EKG machine down again. That’ll kill some time…
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How’d it go?
-What do you mean?
-You were in there for like 45 minutes. That’s a long time to be in his office.
-He said he had some concerns and asked me some basic questions.
-I gathered. About what?
-Just some general concerns and basic questions.
-General concerns, basic questions?
-Yeah, you know, just generally speaking.
-You’re in there for 45 minutes, you come out, and all you can say is he had some general concerns? Nothing specific?
-Yeah. What do you want me to say?
-How ’bout some fucking details, Manny, like what he asked you, what was his mood like, how should I respond to a certain question based on the way he responded to your answers to that question?
-Just be yourself and you’ll be fine.
-Be myself and I’ll be fine? I’m a six foot two brown kid with a heavy Chicago accent that goes to a state university with a nonexistent journalism program. Those dudes on staff in there come from a murderers’ row of journalism schools.
-You always do this to yourself. You got the skills and the clips, man.
-A feature on why you should ride your bike to school to save the environment is hardly a solid clip.
-That one prof liked it, said it was well written, said you had a journalist’s knack.
-It was well written, just not the stuff that gets you these gigs.
-You’ll be fine.
-I’ll be fine… I’ll be fine. Fuck, here he comes…
-Who? The guy you just interviewed with.
-Oh, yeah, that guy. He’s a real dick. Make sure you don’t….
-Hello, sir, Rolando Ithier. Pleasure to meet you.
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I started a new job recently at an ER in the city working nights.
So far I’ve been holding up ok. I sleep when I can and when I’m working during the night, I try and stay busy to keep my mind occupied.
Where I’ve been having a problem is the ride home. I live off the red line so I take the train. And staying awake on a train that’s rocking back and forth after a long, 12 hour shift when you’re tired as shit can be a challenge.
Twice already I’ve missed my stop and ended up at the end of the line.
So I decided to try and mix it up. Some days I take the train, others I take the bus, you know, try and add some variety of scenery and pace and all that crap.
And it’s been kind of working. I’m still tired as shit when I’m riding home, but I find that changing it up provides me the bare minimum stimulus my brains needs to keep me awake.
Except for the other day. I got on the bus and I was tired as shit. I mean, tired as shit.
I got on and there weren’t any seats except for a row of three seats reserved for people with disabilities at the front.
I’m not animal. I wasn’t going to sit there. I’m a perfectly healthy young man. So I waited my turn for another seat to open up.
Three stops later, nothing. The bus kept filling up and those same three seats were still open.
‘Don’t be a savage,’ I told myself, through my sleep deprived haze. Those are for the handicapped.’
A few minutes of sleepy misery passed and then I thought: ‘Just take a seat for a few stops, you can always get up if someone who needs the seats shows up.’
So I did. Then I guess I fell asleep. I was then snapped out of my deep sleep by the sound of a man screaming at me like a drill sergeant: “Are you disabled, you fat head mother fucker?”
I quickly sat up and tried to figure out what was going on. The man was poking at my foot with his cane as he yelled, which only confused me more.
“Driver, I know you better get this poor shit head out of these seats, before I fuck him up.”
I was so confused, I couldn’t process what was going on. Seats? As best as I could remember I had only sat down on one. There should’ve been two more for the old crazy drill sergeant to sit down on.
Then I realized that I had somehow thrown my legs up and positioned myself across all three seats like I was on a sofa taking a nap.
I was still trying to figure it all out but I couldn’t and the only thing I could manage was: “I-I-I… It was just a little nap.”
Well that didn’t help.
“Just a little nap?” He barked back. “Well I ought to slap those titties right off that sorry excuse for a man chest, son.”
And almost as embarrassing as falling asleep sofa style on a row of disabled seating on the bus, was my final response to the man after I had processed it all.
I gathered my bag, checked the seats to make sure I hadn’t dropped anything and turned to him and said: “You’re rude, sir.”
Then I made my way to the back of the bus.
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-My Robbie boy, I didn’t know you were picking me up.
-Yeah, grandma. Dad said you needed a ride to your appointment.
-Oh, I’m so happy to see you, Robbie.
-Happy to see you, too.
-How’s school? You doing well?
-Yeah. It’s ok. I’m on break for the summer.
-That’s nice. You dating anyone special?
-Not really. I’m keeping my options open.
-Good boy. You’re too young to be settling down. Have your fun.
-How are things at the retirement home?
-Don’t call it that. You father likes to call it that. It’s a shit show. Not a home.
-I know you don’t want to be there but dad’s spending a lot of money to make sure you’re taken care of, grandma.
-Well it’s a waste if you ask me. The place is dingy, the food taste like shit and the staff is made up of a bunch of idiots.
-It can’t be that bad.
-Oh, but it is, Robbie. They almost killed Nancy the other day.
-Your roommate, Mrs. Schwartzman? That woman is never going to die.
-Well she almost did.
-How’d they do that?
-It was terrible. So she has trouble sleeping sometimes, so her doctor prescribed her a sleeping pill to help her sleep.
-Well she only sometimes has trouble sleeping, so she doesn’t always need the pill. But that idiot nurse, Marco, comes in every night with the pill. “Doctor’s orders meesus Schwartzman. Time to take your peel.” That Filipino asshole….
-Ok, that seems annoying…
-…Annoying? It’s idiotic. Sometimes he’ll wake her up to give her the pill. She’s already sleeping and still with the pill, Robbie.
- I know but if the doctor prescribed it to her, I don’t see how it could kill her.
-So, the other night here comes Marco with the stupid pill. Nancy tells him she doesn’t want it, she’s been sleeping just fine. And what does he say?
-Right. So she takes the pill and goes to bed. In the morning Marco makes his rounds, waking the early risers up for breakfast. He comes into our room and wakes me, then, walks over to Nancy and gives her a shake.
-So what did he do?
-Marco starts screaming: “Oh my God meesus Schwartzman is dead! Somebody call 911! Queeckly!” And he starts doing chest compressions.
-I know. I sat there, horrified, thinking, ‘You Filipino son of a bitch. You killed Nancy.’ Then Nancy opens her eyes, sits up and starts screaming: “What are you doing to me?” She wasn’t dead. She was just knocked out cold from the sleeping pill.
-He didn’t check for a pulse or for breathing?
-I told you, they’re idiots.
-What did Marco do when she woke up?
-Of course he thought she was back from dead, he starts crying and screaming: “Oh meesus Schwartzman, you’re back. I saved you. Thank you God.”
-Yeah, we got to get you out of there, grandma
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-I don’t mean anything by it, but aren’t you too old to be driving, Nana?
-What, “too old?” I’m still breathing and walking. Why can’t I drive?
-Well, you’re going to be 80 this month, and your vision isn’t too great. I just figured it would be hard for you to take the driving test.
-Oh, I pass every time, no problem. We got a guy.
-What do you mean, “you got a guy?”
-We got guy–at the nursing home–that takes care of things.
-What things? What guy?
-Javier, the maintenance guy. He’s from Costa Rica. He’s a doll.
-Nana, what things does this Javier take care of?
-Just things, you know, stuff you need.
-Like driving tests. Javier has a cousin at the DMV, that for a twenty spot, helps us memorize the eye chart and all the other stuff for the test.
-You cheat on the driving test?
-It’s not cheating. We all do it. Plus, I know I can drive. Been doing it for all my life.
-But you can barely see because of your bad eyes, Nana.
-Well, that’s another thing he helps with. Javier has a cousin that can get primo grass.
-Weed, honey. I think you kids call it that now. Javier’s other cousin gets us good pot. It helps me focus.
-Nana, I know what it is, I’m, just…you smoke weed? This guy’s getting you weed, too?
-Yeah. I’m old and I’m in a nursing home. Why the hell not? What else am I going to do?
-I don’t know, not smoke weed and cheat on driver license exams cause it’s illegal?
-Yeah, no. You survive to a certain age and you kind of get to do what the hell you want. I earned it. Besides, I’m not hurting anyone, and who’s going to stop an old lady from smoking a little pot and taking a cruise in my car?
-Them? I hit them with the old, “I’m old enough to be your grandma. Of course I’m not under the influence of marijuana, officer.” and they let me be.
-And that works?
-Oh, it works. If not, I call Javier and he’s got another cousin who’s a cop and can get me off.
-Seems like this Javier can get things done.
-Like I said, we got a guy.
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