Gentrification

Time was, I could pass out anywhere I damn well pleased in Northeast. Times change. People change, but not me.
I hit the liquor store on New Jersey, every day, soon as it opens.

“Morning, Bert”, Akhmed would say.

“Mornin’? Time is relative,” I’d grumble, cause it is. Least it is if you spend your days drunk, blissful.  And your nights defecating, wretching, grousin’ after hookers by the bridge on 3rd, you know the one, the one with all them hookers, stepping out of the shadows, sweet specters of rentable flesh.  And yeah, I’d poke me a whore or two when my scratch-offs hit.  Get the goblins out, my dad used to say.  And sometimes night was day, wretch by the scrapyard, pass out in the alley behind the food bank on 1st, shit by the bridge, ain’t no daytime hookers out.

See, time is relative if you got nothin’ tying you down.  And I ain’t need no tethering.  I got Akhmed give my syrup. Pints is only $4.99, the plastic bottles.  Whiskey, vodka, gin, don’t matter. Drink ‘em straight,  I ain’t no pussy.  And sometimes I get me a 40 ounce or three.  Malt got them calories if I ain’t planning on eatin’ too much.  Some days I don’t feel like scrounging, or standing in line at the food bank with those shit tossers.  All think they deserve more slop in their bowls, like they got a story I ain’t heard before.

Me, I got no problems.  I just like to get fucked up.  Ain’t trying to work more, for the god damn government to reach in my pockets.  Hell no. I was put here to drink, god damn it.  Akhmed know it, he always glad to see me, and he’s alright for an Arab.

Anyway, life was good.  Then they built that fucking stadium and god damn commerce took off like the Black Plague, Ring around the Rosey, blocks I roamed like almighty Christ, swallowed up by developers and yuppies.

Abandoned row houses I’d pass out in front of, or in when it get cold, that’s all a Wal-Mart now, you believe that?  High rise condos shooting up like Yuppie Babylon over every sodden step I’d take.  Big, clean monstrosities with plush furniture nobody ever pissed on, and off-the-boat African concierges, friendlier than shit.  Bridge hookers still hookin’, but they nervous.  And the scrapyard is a fucking Pei Wei now, with a Sodastream.  Seven god damn flavors of Mello Yello. Seven.  And they keep sayin’ their restroom is for paying customers only, but sometimes I sneak past and take a big old shit, cause fuck ‘em.  I ate their slop before, don’t taste like real Asian food.

You want real shit, you go down to Chinatown.  But they got a stadium there, too, and they’ll chase away all the Chinamen, you just wait.  And they’ll build more bars for the youths, and their Tinders.  And another fucking wax museum, with a Pei Wei in it.  And they’ll have a Lincoln wax, without the head wound, cause nobody wants real shit, don’t know what to do with it if it sat on their face.  They want seven fucking flavors of Mello Yello.

They call it gentrification.  But that word don’t sound sinister enough, do it?  Push all the blacks out.  Turn our titty bars into Tapas, the fuck is Tapas?  Rip the bars off our windows, shove them straight up our asses.  We, the Dreamers.  We, the Low People.  Demolish the shelter and the food bank, build a satellite campus for a liberal arts college, so future yuppie wives can study social work.  Nevermind the starving.  Nevermind the sick.

I tell Akhmed, I say, watch your back brother, they’ll run you out, too.  Raise your rent up so high you’ll work the bridge to keep your lights on, but you ain’t pretty enough.  Neither is they, but they pros, and everybody need a warm place, get the goblins out.  You ain’t no pro, Akhmed, and I sure do doubt you warm.  You watch, brother.  They’ll force you to fold, push you out with me, and the blacks.  Pop your sweet immigrant dream inside out.  All that service you provide to the community, hooch and rubbers and lottos and them Hot Cheetos, gone gone gone.  They’ll tear your building down to the foundation, along with the rotting corpse of the adjacent Radio Shack, build a Total Wines or a World of Beer.  These millennials want variety in their mouths, right quick, and they don’t think about nobody but themselves.  But every piece of marble tile they walk on, you rip it up, you dig down deep enough, through the soil, and I’m there, man.
They can push me out as far as they please, but every bodily fluid I ever done expunged remains, somewhere way down in the guts of our neighborhood, and they can’t take that away from us.

Let ‘em bus us out to bumblefuck, stack Pei Weis on Paneras on Pei Weis on Paneras, straight up to God Herself, but they stackin’ up their gentrified fuck bubble on top of the fossilized piss shit puke and sperm of good ol’ Bert.

Returning to My Favorite Bar, Sober

 

Have I twerked my last twerk?

The question haunted me as I entered my favorite happy hour spot, the rush I used to feel when the bouncer checked my ID immediately exterminated by my new reality.  I’m sober now.  Granted, I had only been a part-time drunk, an “event drinker” as I liked to call it.  Mostly done with the sweaty dungeon bars and shitty faux clubs of my squandered youth, I saved my drinking for tailgates, game watching parties, the rare house party, podcasting, and of course, Thursday night happy hour.  $1.50 beers until 9:00.  $1.50 decisions until the cover band or DJ packed up their shit.

I went to a party school, albeit a party school with solid academics, where binge drinking was the norm.  Naturally, I continued this process after graduating, the rush always sheathing the comedown.  Mini-depression wrapping itself in the cozy blanket of a hangover.  By the time I finally moved to Los Angeles, I was a seasoned party vet, ready to swing and slide and rage and fuck in the devil’s playground.  Too many episodes of Entourage must have seeped into my brain and numbed me to my true self: an aspirer with grandiose thinking, zero discipline, and crippling anxiety.  The anxiety would almost always vanish with a drink in my hand and a few in my belly.  Every party, every alumni gathering was another opportunity to let my beast out.  One particular evening at my friend’s apartment in Filipinotown, I discovered the raw, joyous power of dancing alone.  Just a drink in my hand, dry humping the void in front of me.  I became my own spirit animal.

When I ejected myself from Los Angeles and returned to my hometown, I neglected to leave the beast behind.  How could I?  I regarded it as one of the best parts of me, perhaps my greatest asset.  Who would I be without it?

A few months after moving home, I got a temp job, which then became a “permanent” gig.  More importantly, I reunited with my old drinking buddy slash enabler, an alpha male type who loved to buy me drinks and “take a lap” around the bar, any bar, to browse the women, most of them semi-recent college grads.  Us, not so much.

Thursday nights were our Mecca.  I would emerge from a semi-secret, free underground parking garage and merrily skip up the ramp, feeling like a superhero.  Tonight, anything could happen.  Tonight, I’ll have my magical meet-cute and sparks will fly, and I’ll live happily ever after.  No.

I have five distinct Thursday night happy hour memories, all with the same point of origin:  our bar.

#1:  Taking a much-drunker-than-initially surmised woman to a diner with us at 2AM, convincing her that my friend/enabler and another friend had initially met each other at a Teen Speed Dating event in Cleveland in 1996, and were now working as various types of male models, then watching in bemused horror as she emerged from the diner bathroom with piss-stained jeans.

#2:  Winning a few hundred dollars on the NBA Finals, getting hammered, and passing out in the back seats of our respective cars, in our underground parking garage Batcave.

#3:  Drinking way too much, again, and passing out together in one car in the Batcave.

#4:  Creating fake personas at a happy hour for a conservative political youth organization.  After rejecting my suggested alias of Terrance Rimmer, my friend selected the preppier Blake Ashby.  We gave up our e-mail addresses for a single drink ticket, even though a beer was already a mere $1.50.  I still get e-mails from them, and I suck at gmail.  I am an unintentional hoarder of newsletters.  A serial semi-joiner.  Make it stop!

#5:  Fence Twerking.  There is a short, black metal fence near the stage.  A cover band jammed, the booze kicked in, and the Beast came out.  I hopped onto the fence like Vega in Streetfighter 2, and twerked, and twerked, and twerked, to a decidedly mixed response.   I channeled my inner cage dancer, and damn it, I liked it.

 

I no longer drink.  Not exactly by choice, which would require a concerted amount of maturity, but because of medication.  Thus, my response to “you want a beer/sea breeze/shot of Absinthe” is a resounding “YES.”  But then I must explain to the generous soul offering me a tempting elixir that I can no longer run with my wants.  That I have to find other ways to let the Beast out of his cage.  That I have strangely become the melancholy man who reluctantly returned to my old happy hour haunt, with a couple of much younger friends, and ordered a St. Pauli Girl.

Non-alcoholic beer tastes like piss.  Non-alcoholic beer is the halfway house of unpleasant beverages.  Just hops, barley, the tears of the Fallen, and probably urine.  But I was determined to push through my new barrier, to cage the Beast but leave the door unlocked, because maybe, just maybe, the psychosomatic effect will kick in and I will be way too much fun again.

Oh Brave New World, what have you done to me?  My first sober foray into my ex happy place swiftly resulted in a few smirks at the sight of me nursing my St. Pauli Girl.  Part of me wanted to slip on Frodo’s ring and become invisible, or sink down, down into my chair.  Then came the real blow.  A bus boy approached me and asked “do you know that’s actually a non-alcoholic beer?  Because people come in here and order that and they don’t realize it doesn’t have alcohol in it.”

I stared at this schlub for a beat, with three possible responses dancing through my brain:

  1. “What if I’m a raging alcoholic, on the precipice of relapse, just trying to get through the day?  Don’t you know how to talk to alcoholics?  You work in a fucking bar.”
  2. “Yeah, I don’t drink anymore” – simple, close-ended, get back to work, buddy.
  3. “I really want to kiss you. You have a kissable mouth.  You know that?”

Although I really wanted to open door number three and make this guy extremely uncomfortable (or perhaps really turned on), I resigned to option number 2, pounded St. Pauli Girl straight to the bottom, and declared “let’s get the fuck out of here.”

I’m not sure if The Ride is over for me yet, but I do know this.  You take the alcohol away and a bar is just a place with walls, people you have zero incentive to converse with, and exhilarating memories now made bittersweet.

But hey, maybe I’ll stick around for the band next time.  They still have the fence, and spirit animals never forget how to bark.  They just evolve.

 

 

Letter to Jared Fogle

fogle

 

Dear Mr. Fogle,

My name Xang Xu.  I 8 years old.  I live in the Guangdong province of China.  Maybe you watch secret videos of girl my age from same province?

I work Apple factory every day.  I work very long hours.  Make IPhone 4, 5, 6 all day.  I ride bus long way to Apple factory with workers, some young like me, some very old.  I make assemble IPhone 4, 5, 6 parts very fast, sometimes until fingers bleed.  Work very fast, very hard.  If I bleed on IPhone 4, 5, 6 while make assemble, Supervisor scream and beat me.  If worker bleed worker pay for product loss out of wage.  Very low wage very long hours.

Factory building very tall, many floors.  Few windows but sometimes workers jump out windows to die.  Very sad but job fill next day.  IPhone 4, 5, 6 make assemble for white girl 22 years old in United State to lose drunk at bar and cry.  White girl lose IPhone 4, 5, 6, worst thing to happen in life.  I make more IPhone 4, 5, 6 for white girl parent to replace.  Make IPhone 4, 5, 6 until fingers bleed but no cry.  If cry Supervisor beat me and workers not allowed make eye contact with me until mistake rectify many time over or Supervisor beat whole line of assembly to make bodies bleed, not just fingers.

Make IPhone 4, 5, 6 faster than boy of age 6 next to me, but no bonus monies for work faster better.  Bonus is Supervisor not to beat me.

Father very skill.  Build drones for Alibaba make deliveries.  Mother work Apple factory but jump out window.  I see her fall but not allow to cry or Supervisor beat me twice.  One for cry, two for loss production of IPhone 4, 5, 6 from mother.

I don’t like work for Apple factory, but family need money for electricity and eat Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I don’t like Kentucky Fried Chicken but no other place open when come home from Apple factory on bus.  No time to cook food when come home from Apple factory.  So eat Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Very greasy but taste more good than Subway sandwich.  Subway sandwich, meat too thin.  Subway sandwich, bread soggy, taste like swamp bread.  Subway lettuce cause to vomit.

Mr. Fogle, I would like new job.  As you can see from letter, I can write American words.  You are in very deep trouble for pay intercourse with young girls.   I don’t understand why you don’t go trip to Thailand for pay intercourse with young girls and boys.  Very popular for white men.

You in deep trouble and lose endorsement for all Subway restaurant monies.  And lose freedom from prison.  Make new friends soon in prison, yes?  Friends who make intercourse with you that you do not ask for, yes?

Mr. Fogle, you need Officer of Public Relations to restore image of not-fat white man of below average face looks.  New image is not-fat white man of below average looks who like watch sex movie of children and pay for intercourse with young girls and ruin family.

To work for you is to be upgrade from work Apple factory.  Even though you might find me very sexy and low pay from scrubbing your own butt blood off prison shower floor not good enough to make wage good for me, I want escape from Apple factory.  I want escape very bad.  Please let me write many many letters to repair American public idea of you.  I can not make assemble any more I Phone 4, 5, 6 or go crazy forever crazy.

There is very large banner of Steve Jobs in black turtleneck at Apple factory stare at us and empower Supervisors to beat us through his ruthless divinity that haunts from grave.

Please may I come to America and work for you, Mr. Jared Fogle?

Sincere,

Xang Xu.

 

 

Dear Xang,

Show me your dick.

Best,

Jared Fogle

That Time I Got Wasted With Sisqo on a Weeknight at a Shitty Bar in 2013

Enter the Dragon!!!
Enter the Dragon!!!

Ever seen Sisqo perform The Thong Song, LIVE, at a shitty suburban bar?  I have.  At least, I think I have.  I was drunkenly manic enough to have completely hallucinated one of the greatest nights of my life.  My own personal VJ Day!  The night The Dragon entered my male pixie heart through the back entrance of a shitty bar, sang The Thong Song, and vanished.

The instant I discovered that Sisqo would be appearing in this affluent suburban mecca, famous for its proliferation of aspiring yuppie bros, tapas restaurants, and aging Peter Pans like myself, I knew my life would never be the same.  So, naturally I prepared for the arrival of the seminal artist of the Y2K era by supercharging my already-fucked brain chemistry with booze.  Tons of booze.  On a weekday.

I pounded four $1.50 craft beers at a happy hour down the street, failing to pull two attractive twenty-somethings into my web of Sisqothusiasm.  Next stop, an empty sometimes-karaoke bar where my buddy and I air-thrusted at each other over 90s dance music, my dear cousin recording us for posterity and/or a potential intervention.  Then I met my co-uncle (my brother’s brother-in-law) in an exorbitantly long line for the shitty bar that had been magically transformed into the hottest club in any minor city, ever, by the magical, holy power of a swarthy, diminutive one-hit wonder.

My co-uncle and I guzzled vodka from his Sprite bottle, reality slipping further away with each guzzle, until it became but a mere memory.  I awoke in a happier place, where unicorns were real and there were no tomorrows.  I awoke in Sisqo Netherworld, and I never, ever wanted to leave.

We time traveled to the front of the line, ushered into paradise by a bewildered bouncer.  Fuck fire codes.  They were going to milk Sisqo Night dry.

I was majestically hammered by this point, but too amped to slow down.  I felt the gurgling anticipation of the crowd around me.  I felt their electric heartbeats.  I wanted to consume everything all at once.  I was a dodo bird, reborn.  A drunk, super drunk dodo bird.  Drunk, and cheap enough to go full stealth mode, slinking around the shitty bar like a drunk ninja, bogarting half empty beers, never detected, never satisfied.  If you took your eye off your beer for a single moment, the Beer Ninja was there to snatch it, my stealth supremacy bolstered by an uncontrollable avarice, an overzealous thirst for life… and for beers that did not belong to me.  The top of the bar, tables, the men’s room, no place was safe from the dreaded Beer Ninja.  I was an artist, nay, superhero, at the apex of his powers.  This was Sisqo in the Suburbs, god damn it.  There were no rules, no boundaries, no shame.

I have never been in love before, but I was dead certain I would meet the one true love of my life, my Forever Everything, drunk as fuck on stolen hooch.  Two lonely souls morphing together on the dance floor, as The Dragon breathed his sweet lyrical fire all over us.  Sisqo was coming to change my life.  Sisqo would heal me!

A cacophonous roar pulsed through my cramped sweathouse kingdom.  Sisqo entered through the back door, surrounded by his much taller security team.  (Yeah, Sisqo still has a security detail, who knew?)   I squealed like the woo girl I was, am.  I felt The Dragon’s presence wash over me like thick smoke.  Suddenly he took the stage and sang a Dru Hill song nobody gave a shit about, yet the vigorous spirit of the crowd glistened with anticipation for what would quickly follow.  I felt achingly, screamingly ALIVE.  Sisqo finished his needless Dru Hill track and launched into his masterpiece.

LET.  ME. SEE.  THAT.  THONG. 

All I remember from that point forward was screaming “let me see it, let me see it!”, groaning “baby make your booty” (but not finishing the lyric), jumping up and down wooing, and standing around like a lecher after last call, Sisqo-less, waiting for the magic switch of everlasting love to flicker on and light my heart as I trudged over broken Bud Lite bottles.

I didn’t meet my soulmate that night.  Or maybe I did.  Maybe Sisqo was my soulmate, and I let him get away, disappearing into the dark suburban night, gone forever.

I Get Around: Tupac vs. The Beach Boys

Arguably the most influential artists in pop and hip-hop, respectively, Brian Wilson and Tupac Shakur each composed smash singles with an identical name, “I Get Around”, and a unifying theme:  Get Ass, Keep Movin’. 

The Brian Wilson-led Beach Boys and the typically-uncredited “Wrecking Crew” gang of studio musicians defined the distinctive sound of 60s California pop.  Nearly 30 years later, Tupac emerged as the most dominant and enduring force of 90’s west coast hip-hop. 

Breaking down the lyrics of both “I Get Around”s, one may conclude that, not only are they titanic displays of braggadocio, they also represent a linear evolution in lyrical frankness.  Take, for example, the seminal passage from the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”:

“We always take my car cause it’s never been beat.    

And we’ve never missed yet with the girls we meet

None of the guys go steady cause it wouldn’t be right

To leave their best girl home now on Saturday night.”

 

Now, let’s compare that with this integral passage from Tupac’s “I Get Around”:

“Ayo bust it, baby got a problem saying bye bye

Just another hazard of a fly guy

You ask why, my pockets got fatter

Now everybody’s looking for the latter

And ain’t no need in being greedy

If you wanna see me dial the beeper

Number baby when you need me

And I’ll be there in a jiffy

Don’t be picky, just be happy with this quickie

But when you learn, you can’t tie me down

Baby doll, check it out, I get around.”

 

The message in both songs is clear:  The Beach Boys and Tupac are well-off, wildly successful in their sexual enterprising, and unwilling to commit their priceless time and prized genitals to just one girl.  While Tupac’s “Don’t be picky, just be happy with this quickie”, is more overt in its sexual content, it is also more bracingly and endearingly honest than the Beach Boystune.  Tupac’s track feels intrinsically autobiographical, and seemingly refers to his busy recording and traveling schedule, as an addendum to his own desired promiscuity.  The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”, in contrast, feels more anthemic, a generalized celebration of cool kid culture, rather than an audible snapshot of a young artist enjoying the fleeting temptations of notoriety and financial success. 

The worldview presented in the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” champions the archaic group dynamics of “Entourage”, a prehistoric “bros before hos” mentality buried behind the conceit of not leaving “the best girl home on a Saturday night.”  To the enlightened soul, it comes off as the Beach Boys’ avatars performing charitable works with less desirable females in the interim, whilst ensuring that the alpha target of their sexual desire is properly addressed on Saturday nights.

Tupac’s song somehow manages to celebrate the underlying see ass, get ass impulse of the quintessential male brain, without inherently marginalizing his conquests with a comparison to a more desired mate.  If anything, Tupac himself is the conquest.  “Baby when you need me, I’ll be there in a jiffy” are the words of a man controlled by his ingrained necessity to spread his seed, not a man and his buddies simply amusing themselves with side pieces while they wait on Miss Saturday night. 

Tupac and the Beach Boys both want ass.  Everyone wants ass, or we as human beings, would cease to exist.  But upon close examination, there is certainly a fundamental difference to the artists’ communication of this core tenet of the male beast. The Beach Boys imply that you are not a cool kid unless you’ve got a hot car and a throng of women, and that idealizing their Saturday night siren’s supposed desire to not be left alone, at the expense of the “lesser” females, somehow qualifies as nobility. 

Tupac may refer to a woman as a bitch or a ho in his song, an unfortunate staple in hip-hop, but he never proselytizes behind a veil of insincerity like the Beach Boys do with “it wouldn’t be right” preceding “to  leave the best girl home on a Saturday night”.  Tupac obtains nobility by ignoring its existence.  The rapper just likes procuring quickies and sensual nights of simulated passion on the road.  He hides behind nothing:  “Cause I only got one night in town.  Break out or be clown, baby doll are you down?  I get around.” 

If “I Get Around” was Tupac’s only published work, would one infer that he would also like to find his one, true love?  Is he perhaps a kindred spirit to a young LL Cool J’s breathy, soul-casting coo, “I need love, girl”?  Fuck it, probably.  Regardless, the entirety of Tupac’s verses in “I Get Around” reflect the perks, and perhaps pratfalls, of a lifestyle, while the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” portrays a similar lifestyle as the pinnacle of human existence.

And now, a hypothetical:

Person A is swiping right on Tinder during an airport layover.  He manages to find a match, and after a brief explanation that he is leaving in a few hours, but would certainly fancy a fuck, arranges for a hook-up with a woman “6 miles away”.  He takes an Uber to a Ramada Inn, engages in two brief rounds of furtive intercourse with the stranger, Ubers back to the airport, and hops on his plane to Whereverthefuck. 

Person B is casually dating multiple women in his office building, but only on Sundays through Fridays.  He refuses to offer any of the women a modicum of commitment, and tells them he will never be available on a Saturday night.  Regardless of the relative values of the other women’s character, intelligence, humor, or warmth, Person B decides to reserve Saturday Nights for the hottest-by-consensus-and-therefore-best woman in the same office building.  Not just because he desires this woman more, but out of deference to her projected feelings of not spending a Saturday night alone, as if the “best” woman’s only choices were to wait for Person B to oh-so-nobly rescue her, or stroke her cat as she fills out questions on Match.com.

Person A is Tupac.  Person B, the Beach Boys.  Who’s the asshole?   

tupac