Vintage K. Doonesbury: The Big Apple

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The following is something I wrote all the way back in 2014 on an old blog. It was also published on GonzoToday.com. Enjoy!

The Big Apple, Or: Small Town Kid Meets The City

Portland’s unofficial slogan might be “Keep Portland Weird,” but for New York it is just a mutual understanding among the locals. When you have a population of over 8,000,000 people, Weird is naturally going to be a demographic the politicians will have to cater to along with the Rich and the Poor and 1,000 shades in between.

It doesn’t matter where you call home, if it isn’t New York City, the natives are going to think you’re from some second-rate BFE. Tell them you’re from the South and all of a sudden you’re an inbred yokel who’s confused by flashing lights and that food can be cooked without lard. And probably worst of all, they suspect you voted for a Bush or a Romney.

Besides flashing lights, the City has a lot to offer. It’s Sodom and Gomorrah and Disney World rolled into one, just with more corporate sponsors.  If you’re an average Joe Schmo, be sure to see the sights. If you’re wealthy and haven’t fulfilled your dream of finally shitting gold, be sure to check out Serendipity 3 and order the $1,000 Golden Opulence Sundae. You’ll be dropping 23-carat nuggets in no time. Just be sure to give them a two-day heads up and they will even let you keep the Baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet that the sundae came in. So bring the kids and the missus. A life’s savings wouldn’t hurt, either.

***

When apartment hunting, you can skip Manhattan. The likelihood of you and yours being able to find and afford anything there with your entry-level jobs isn’t impossible, only mathematically improbable. For the price of a studio in Manhattan with a note stating that you can fit a bed and a dresser but no mention of a bathroom or kitchen, you can get a two bedroom in Queens.

Tourists might be amazed at all of the beautiful, fit youths walking around the City and susceptible to a rumor going around that this is because affordable apartments also require a gym membership. This isn’t because the landlords only want healthy, good looking tenants, but rather because they don’t have bathrooms or showers.

Queens isn’t so bad and if you work in the City all you have to do is hop on what is known to the locals as the Orient Express, the 7 train, and your half-hour commute will leave you 45 minutes late to work. The train also runs local stops if you wanted to be delayed even longer before getting to work. The MTA personnel will reassure you that any and all delays are due to a sick passenger or train traffic ahead of us or both at the same time. People who buy ad space in the trains can sleep easy at night knowing that hundreds of people are familiarizing themselves with the advertisements and pondering if they have the correct career or bra size. At least half of them work, I applied to be a teaching fellow six months after moving here.

Queens, once one of the largest strongholds for the largest Irish communities in the City, has now been transformed into a confused schizophrenic who still believes it is still Irish deep down inside but is actually split between its own Hispanic and Asian personalities on any given day. Young residents of certain communities in Queens are proudly claiming their area is being gentrified, a term thrown around by young Americans hoping that their surroundings will eventually become white-washed and the new hot-spot for 20-something year old hipsters with brewpubs and gourmet BBQ restaurants and a price hike in our rent.

***

Nothing is more welcoming to a new city than having your new New York City apartment burgled while you are at work. If you don’t have time for the 3-hour waiting period for the cops to show up, take it from me, tell the poor saps at 911 that your handgun was stolen. Your wait-time will be cut down to a bare-bone 10 minutes with police lights blazing and not one but two patrol cars if not more depending on how busy the cops are that night.

The downside to getting this speedy police service is that guns are basically outlawed here. Just to have a handgun in your house you need a slew of permits and bureaucratic paperwork. Forget about purchasing one in the City legally. The cops will be the first to tell you that they often go to New Jersey, where gun laws are more relaxed, to pick up their own service weapons since even they can’t stand to deal with the New York laws.

After being cuffed and uncuffed and told we were just going for a ride to the precinct to speak to the captain, just to have a little talk about the details of the robbery, and to report the handgun and other items as stolen, I ended up being booked for a misdemeanor. I was lucky that there weren’t any bullets, I was told. That’s a felony charge. The police locked me up in a holding cell next to a sign strategically placed by the cell stating that if you have a gun that you can drop it off no questions asked and receive $25 for the deposit. Just some light reading after you have been locked up.

Various officers came in and talked to me off and on between reports and phone calls. One came over and leaned on the bars to the cell and started questioning me about the make and model, what kind of wood the handle had, and if I was satisfied with the gun itself. He was thinking of getting one himself but wasn’t sure if he was going to go with that model or a Colt. He was a fan of Westerns and dreamed of being a cowboy. He said: “You’ll be alright. They’ll go easy on you, I bet. Just remember you aren’t in Kansas anymore, as they say.”

At 3:40 am, two officers came in with a fat white man in his mid-thirties and a black male prostitute in drag. They had been caught in the act in his car with what they believed was cocaine. It was then decided that I would be more comfortable at central booking and the same two cops that just strolled in with the fat man and prostitute cuffed me, again, cutting off circulation to my fingers. The marks and bruises would last a week, marks of initiation into an age-old brotherhood of criminals and wrongdoers and those just in the wrong place at the right time.

First, you are put in one cell. Then another. Then it is time for your mug shot and checking in. There’s no way to take a good mug shot. You’ll always end up looking like a crazed Nick Nolte no matter what your race or gender is.

After all this, you are then placed in yet another cell. Here I got to meet the people I’d be spending the day with. From this cell we had a good view of the TV. The news was running a story about how Ariel Castro had committed suicide by hanging himself with bedsheets in his own prison cell. Someone asked who the hell this cracker was and why we should give a shit. “Asshole, he’s the president of Puerto Rico. Dumb motherfucker.”

“Why they got the president locked up in the first place?”

“What the fuck I look like, huh? Some shit that reads the paper? Shee-yit.”

A lady with a clipboard came around and asked for those with jobs to make a line at the bars. “Name of company, address, and telephone number.” When it was my turn, I couldn’t remember the address or telephone number of my employers. I told the lady that and asked what this was for. “Do you have a job or not, and if so, what is their name, address, and telephone number?” It was apparent– they weren’t there for shits and giggles or kind understanding. One poor soul was supposed to start his job that very morning. The lady with the clipboard’s advice, “Well, start looking for something else, son.”

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At first, no one gave a shit about the others there until someone brought up warrants. “You got warrants?” “Oh, yeah, how many warrants you got?” And so on. This cut the tension in the air and those that spoke English (which was the majority of us except for two Chinese guys and three Mexicans). Pretty soon it was a social gathering and all were partaking in the pissing contest that were our crimes. One guy had actually pissed on a cop. He couldn’t hold it while waiting on the train and took a leak off of an above-ground station. As fate would have it, a cop was standing below him being showered upon. As fate would also have it, he had two outstanding warrants. Another was arrested because his girlfriend said he was abusing her, smacking her around at home, but, as he put it, he was going to get off since it was his word against hers… and her friend’s who also saw it. There were also two rowdy drunks with three shoes between them. The missing shoe had been tossed at a cop outside of a bar. The shoe pitcher was easily caught. According to him, it is pretty damn hard to outrun the cops with only one loafer. His friend was arrested for telling the cops to “take it easy.” For the rest of the morning they celebrated their camaraderie until they both sobered up, and we learned they weren’t friends at all and had actually never seen each other before that evening.

Probably the unluckiest person there was Jamel. Jamel had been staying at a motel somewhere as a meeting point for him and his lady. He let us know that that day he had to make multiple trips to the nearest gas station for pop and chips. A 30-minute walk in both directions and he had done this at least 4, maybe 5 times that day. Around 7 o’clock, his lady called him up to let him know that she had a friend that would be joining them for their rendezvous. Jamel, tired of making all those damn trips to the gas station and noticing he needed more chips and pop and “roll-ons” for this endeavor, decided to borrow a car that had been idling outside his room. By his report, the car had been there all day, just running. So, he borrowed it and came right back only to find that the cops were waiting for him and snatched him up even though he felt some of them understood his story and even commented that they might have done the same if they were in his shoes. There he was, stuck in holding in Queens, and his lady and her friend waiting for him at a motel somewhere probably just watching TV and eating his chips.

It was around this time that I got my joint nickname. Racially speaking, we were our own Rainbow Coalition, but I was the odd man out. The song “One of these things is not like the others” being sung by giddy Muppets comes to mind. For the rest of our time together, I was known as “White Boy” by my cell mates.

“White Boy, what you get locked up for?”

“Hey all, White Boy got busted for gun possession. Only White Boy would be arrested for gun possession while not possessing a gun because he called the cops on himself.”

“White Boy, your dad got a lawyer? You gotta sue the pigs and then you remember me and we’ll have one hell of a cookout. Yup, White Boy, we’ll live it up big time. Big time.”

We were finally moved to the final holding cells to await our meetings with our public defenders. The hallway is long and has cells on both sides facing each other. We were crammed in a cell with at least 20 other people in them, most of them laid out on the floor using their shoes as pillows. At about 6:30, they served breakfast. The meal would be the same at lunch and dinner. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all three meals. These sandwiches were made from stale bread and the jelly of a single grape and the butter of maybe two or three peanuts. Those not hungry enough to try to eat these sandwiches used them to play a game. The game consisted of seeing who could get theirs to stick to the ceiling. This game then turned into a game that consisted of seeing whose sandwich would stick there the longest. From the looks of it, this wasn’t a game that had just been thought up by us.

These cells have a single aluminum toilet that also serves as a drinking fountain. Only one of us braved to use the thing in either function. And he decided to undress for the experience.

Bit by bit, little by little, people left us and were believed to have been set free. From the original gang, the cop-pisser-on-er was let go first. Then the shoe thrower. Though his “comrade” was left behind and was still there when I left. Towards the end it was just Jamel, the comrade, and I still there. We were joined by two more, but by now our cell was looking pretty thinned-out and conversation was getting kind of boring since we had discussed our cases through and through and we were all now experts on the law after listening to the narrations of veterans of the system. These two new guys were a release from our boredom. One had brought two cigarettes and matches that he had hidden under his testicles. No one took him up on his offer of sharing one. After a while, he decided he didn’t need to get busted smoking by a guard. The other guy came in bragging about getting busted with coke while he was getting serviced by a prostitute. He told the story over and over again, prouder of himself with each telling, happy that the others were eating it up. He looked over to me and said, “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere.”

“Yeah, I was in the holding cell when they brought you in.”

After that, he didn’t seem to like sharing his story anymore. Hubris taken down a notch. Which has my vote as the City’s unofficial slogan.

Dr. Kurt Doonesbury
November 7th, 2k14

P.S. All charges were dropped. A lack of possession set me free.

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“Barry Crimmins” – For A Saint

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A man I admired greatly has passed on. Barry Crimmins was an American saint for all that he did. They say you should never meet your heroes but I did. And I’m thankful for it. I only met him once in person, but Barry’s kindness towards me and his story helped me in ways I have a hard time putting into words other than I’m thankful and grateful he was who he was. If you’re not sure who he was, I recommend Call Me Lucky on Netflix.

I offered to buy Barry a beer. We were both in Brooklyn at a night of comedy for Bernie Sanders hosted by Randy Credico (who I’ve met at least 10 times, and each time he crushes my hand in a death grip, asks me how I’m doing while giving me a look like he knows me but can’t remember how). He declined the beer, his drinks were already on the house, but Barry and I chatted a bit. Then he said he would sign my copy of his book, Never Shake Hands With a War Criminal, instead. It wasn’t my original copy. It was one I re-purchased. The original one, the one I picked up in the dollar bin at a used bookstore in Tennessee, had either been lost, loaned, or packed away, as one does with all the other things from their youth.

I grew up in the South, which meant if you were gay, liberal, or an atheist, you might as well have painted a giant bull’s-eye on your forehead. At the very least, it was a recipe for making sure you felt like you were a loser or some sort of societal fuck-up. Having ticked off two out of the three at a pretty young age, I could at least be thankful I was attracted to women. Going to high school in Crossville, Tennessee, was not “the time of my life” as many of my former classmates have told me. Though, it was a time I’d never forget. After all, who would forget getting picked on by their biology teacher and 25 classmates for being the only person dumb enough to say they believed in evolution after the teacher asked for a show of hands? Lucky for me, it only lasted twenty minutes until the lunch bell rang and, even then, I only got spit on once. I’ll also never forget who spat on me. His name is Bobby Killeen. This was after he said to me, “You don’t see monkeys walking out of the zoo and putting on a shirt and tie to go to work!” Bobby would later grow up and rob old people’s houses, as I heard it, for pills and valuables. I guess he was one of those Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do types of religious people. There were a lot of those.

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After that, I went to college in a town that had a giant painting of Reagan (for those too young to remember, he was an actor turned President and was recently inducted into the US Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor, probably for busting and vilifying unions and ratting on his colleagues for being dirty commies back when you could go to jail for your political beliefs), and it wasn’t much different from high school except now we could stay up as late as we wanted and there was a lot more drugs, alcohol, and politics in our daily lives. Fun fact about the area I grew up in: They love drugs, Jesus, and Reagan. Not necessarily in that order, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Teen pregnancy was also pretty high on the list. But, I’m not sure they loved that. Maybe it was more of an extracurricular activity. Talking about progressive or liberal politics kind of felt like something you had to do behind closed doors because, lord forbid, someone might overhear you saying something that might resemble the Beatitudes. Not feeling like I could openly talk about it, I took to reading about it. I was already in love with Twain and Vonnegut, so when I saw Barry’s book in the dollar bin, I figured why the Hell not.

And that’s where Barry is in my mind, up there with Twain and Vonnegut as Saints of The Written Word and Comedy. I can say, I never shook the hand of a war criminal but I did shake Barry’s hand and told him, “Thank you.” I wonder now, did he take it as me thanking him for signing my book? Maybe he did. And no harm in that. I was thankful for that. But, what I meant, and maybe I should have expressed it better, was that I was thankful for his words and thoughts, which much like Twain’s and Vonnegut’s,  made me feel less like a societal fuck-up and helped me realize that it was society, not me, that was fucked up. This thanks included my gratitude for all the work he did for survivors of child abuse and rape. It included a lot of things. He said, “I hope you enjoy the book.” I told him, I did. And we walked back in to watch more stand-up, and I was made fun of by Judah Friedlander. It was a pretty good night for me.

Barry and I shared some messages on Facebook and Twitter after that. And that was really the extent of our relationship. I’ve tried in recent years to return the favor for what I perceive as the help he had given me with coming to terms with some things from my past, but it felt like it never added up. So, here I go again: If you feel generous and want to help someone out, please help Barry’s wife, Helen, who gave him love and happiness while they both were fighting cancer:  https://www.gofundme.com/helenlysen

Peace & Love, Barry. Peace & Love.

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Twin Peaks: Keep Your Eye On The Doughnut

Deputy Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill: My people believe that the White Lodge is a place where the spirits that rule man and nature reside. There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge. The shadow self of the White Lodge. Legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it The Dweller on the Threshold.

Special Agent Dale Cooper: Dweller on the Threshold.

Deputy Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill: But it is said that if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.

(Twin Peaks, Season 2 Episode 11)

In the world of Twin Peaks, anyone who’s someone has an antithesis. Hell, even things have them. And if you’re really important, you have a doppelgänger. It’s safe to say it is a show about duality. It’s in the damn name for Christ’s sake. This duality is presented in many different ways. And, like with a surreal dream, you’re brain tries and tries to make sense of the information presented to you.

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Twin Peaks: Speculations Written In The Stars

“The one artist that I feel could be my brother is Franz Kafka.”
– David Lynch

“Gentlemen, two days ago a young woman was found murdered by the same individual I believe responsible for the death of Laura Palmer. I have reason to believe that the killer is in this room. As a member of the Bureau, I spend most of my time seeking simple answers to difficult questions. In the pursuit of Laura’s killer, I have employed Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck. But now I find myself in need of something new, which, for lack of a better word, we shall call… magic.”
– Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks

“Jemand mußte Josef K. verleumdet haben, denn ohne daß er etwas Böses getan hätte, wurde er eines Morgens verhaftet. Die Köchin der Frau Grubach, seiner Zimmervermieterin, die ihm jeden Tag gegen acht Uhr früh das Frühstück brachte, kam diesmal nicht. Das war noch niemals geschehen.”

{Translation}

“Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. His landlady’s cook, who always brought him his breakfast at eight o’clock, failed to appear on this occasion. That had never happened before.”
– Franz Kafka, Der Prozeß

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There are a few things I truly enjoy in life. In somewhat of an order, I love my wife, coffee, Kafka, a good mystery, cinema, the German language, and research. And I get all of that Sunday nights when my wife and I sit down to watch Twin Peaks: The Return. Now you might be saying, “But there isn’t anything German in Twin Peaks.” But you’d be forgetting about Heidi.

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