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Friday, August 29, 2003

Diagnosis: Acute adrenaline addiction

Eight-six degrees, at a poorly designed intersection. The old barber's daughter is smoking at her front door. Men with big guns stare intently into the mature trees of the historic neighborhood.

The man--just 20 minutes ago--had fired his gun across a busy city street. He was sort of aiming at two officers intent on arresting him. The shooter is hiding under a house. But we don't know that.

The smelly bloodhounds are on their game, today, though. Though everyone is sweating, the dogs know what the ass in the passenger seat of that green car smelled like. And the dogs are on the move.

The moment explodes like a pissed-off woman's slap. The cops are screaming, the guns are out, the civillians are running inside and locking the doors. The man with the gun is running. And now so are we.

The run cools the sweat on the forehead, but the adrenaline makes us hotter. The gunshot cracking through the air only makes it worse.

The man is now on the ground, face-down on the front porch of my favorite guitar store.

Is he dead? No, just stupid. But just smart enough to know to stop shooting at the police, and surrender when the police start shooting back.

It's 30 minutes and a pound of perspiration. But its a fix.

Good thing the adrenaline fix doesn't leave tract marks. I'd never be able to wear t-shirts again.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Is this a sign?

The e-mail hit my inbox at a fairly unfortunate time. As I absorbed the impact of another law enforcement officer in my community dying in the line of duty, the subject line of the quick note seemed terribly inappropriate.

"National day of mourning," it read.

Upon reading the note, I discovered an famous watering hole in my old college town had burned to the ground. The 'Berg had been around since my mama was 13 years old and had liquored up four decades of college malcontents. I had a lot of memories invested in that place. It sat right across the street from the journalism school where I toiled in a vain attempt to become the next Edward R. Murrow.

Slowly, as the community finished its mourning over the fallen deputy, I began to think more about The 'Berg and began to realize what a damned shame it was that it burned. It was a definitive college bar and I can't help but feel bad about it burning.

A few days later, I decided it was time to toast The 'Berg. I drug my tired, near-old body to the one remaining place in my new hometown that I felt comfortable drinking. A year or so ago it replaced my frequent watering hole--the one that turned into a frat bar of sorts--as the default bar for drinking incognito (a place where you won't be recognized or a place where the clientele are as such that it doesn't matter that they recognize you).


The sign couldn't have been much more clear. The place was dark (darker than usual...which was pretty dark) during prime drinking hours. No one was inside. After asking around we discovered that the chief investor had no idea the bar was going to be such a bar. She wanted it to be a nice sit-down eatery type of place. Silly woman. Now they're planning on opening up as a restaurant that doesn't serve booze. Good luck with that one.

It wouldn't bother me as much if there was any place else in town that served my need for an out-of-the-way bar that caters to people who like to drink, listen to a guy play guitar, flirt with the waitresses, and talk with friends...without wondering if the college freshman from Furman University is going to puke on you or the mayor is going to walk in and recognize you as the drunk you really are. It's a fine line this drinker walks.

Plus, just a few months ago, that bar was the site of a great memory. Five great college friends (the ones I drank at The 'Berg with) surprised me by showing up in town without notice. I was sitting in the bar at the time.

Now it is closed. The 'Berg is ashes. And somehow I lost money in a poker game this weekend (for the first time in three years).

Something, friends, is out of alignment. Out of whack. My life as I know it just ain't on its usual track. My watering holes are drying up. My poker game is in the toilet.

And get this: In the past three weeks, quite unexpectedly, I have become very emotionally invested in my work. The stories on which I've been working have been working pretty hard on my head. I'm preoccupied and generally ill-tempered.

Maybe this is a good thing.

It doesn't feel good, though.

Then again, neither does exercise.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

A young man's old man fatigue and the gambler in all of us

In the television news business, you'll hear the old and grizzled harumph in the middle of a long day, "This is a young man's business." They're tired, they're jaded, and the they're trying to figure out how they've made it to 60 years old in a business built for the cock-slinging young studs of news. They don't realize at the time that they used to be one of the young studs and they had the strength to not burn out. The felt is always greener on the other side of the table.

After several long days of sweating through shirts and dropping four pounds in water weight, I've found myself mumble-grumbling the same old phrase. I've forgotten that I'm still a few months short of 30. I know for near-fact that I'm only suffering adrenaline withdrawl. After five straight days of tweaking on high-octane endorphins, I'm in a biofeedback wave trough.

It's in these times I find myself unable to concentrate on much for any length of time. About the time I think I'm refocusing, a tickle in my throat or shooting pain through my melon distracts me from the task at hand and I slip back into withdrawl. Adrenaline is a bitch of an addiction.

It is in these times that I bury myself in poorly disguised vice: the game.

I've never been much of an athlete. While I've played a lot of sports, I've never been much good at them. At the same time, competition is an easy adrenaline fix. As a result, I've become a bit of a gambler.

I credit my father, I guess. As legend has it, he bought my first baby crib with money he won playing penny-ante poker with his buddies. He taught me to play card games of all kinds. He sat in on games with my friends as we played for nickels and dimes in high school. He took me to my first casino when I was twenty.

Since that time, I've jumped into monthly home games and made a few pilgramages to casinos on both coasts and on the Mississippi.

The defining moment came during a game of $4/$8 Texas Hold'em at the Bellagio in Las Vegas one year ago. I had been playing steadily for several hours and neither won nor lost very much money. At the time, I didn't realize that I was painfully inexperienced at the game and I should've been losing a lot more money. About five hours into the game, I realized the old guy two to my left (red hat, good luck piece to top his cards) was raising every time I was in the big blind (a forced bet designed to get the hand started). His intention, it seemed, was to scare the young rookie off his money. The next time around, I called his raise with some pretty bad cards. Long story short, the hand went my way and I took his money. He grumbled something about me not knowing what I was doing. I didn't say a word. The next time around, I called him again and took his money. It was only two hands out a of lot I played that day. I've since learned I played these hands wrong, despite my moral victory over the old guy. Those facts notwithstanding, it made me want to learn.

In the 12 months since, I've played a lot of cards, done a lot of studying, and learned a great deal. I read internet poker forums on a daily basis. My need for a great story (almost always gambling related) is satiated by a great blog called Love and Casino War. In a few weeks, I'll make the pilgramage back to Las Vegas, where I intend to spend my days in poker rooms and my nights on the town my some very good friends.

There is a lot of harumphing in the gambling world now from the old guard. There are too many young studs entering the business. I am, by no means, a young stud. I have more learning to do than I can express. But in these times of fatigue when I feel like an old man in a young man's business, the fantasy of being a young man again sure helps the synapses fire.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Two young men

I haven't showered, I have barely eaten since Saturday afternoon, and one of my favorite bars in the world burned downovernight. My life ain't that bad.

I'm a little too busy with current events here at home to offer a full report right now. Suffice it two say, two young men (and good one and bad one) are dead. I'll offer more later.

Until then, remember Deputy Andy Mazur as you breathe freely today.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Sweet mountain home

It's 4:30pm and for thirty seconds my tale of murder and family tragedy is important. It only takes the appearance of CNN's John King on my boss' television to throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of the news cycle. I signified the tectonic shift the way I usually do:


Blackouts have a bit of mystery to them. It shoves 21st century America into the Gangs of New York, although I think people threw out their torches and gas lamps years ago.

As I sit here blissfully in conditioned air, my belief in medium-city-living is once again re-affirmed. On the TV overhead, New York City's streets have become the world's biggest sidewalks. Outside my office, only a few traffic lights and a few hookers block my path back to my air conditioned home. When I arrive there, my dog will be cool, my computer will boot up my online poker game, and the TV will broadcast the hell from places north.

I was intoxicated by New York City when I was there a few weeks ago. It's smells and noise were hypnotic. However, despite my desire to force myself into emergencies on any occasion, I'm really glad I'm sitting comfortably in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

A couple of things strike me though.

First, my "uh-oh" was initially aimed at the heart of all American fear: terrorism. For a period of 20 minutes, I was fairly convinced the blackout was the work of terrorists. After all, after the big blackouts of '65 and '77 and the feared mess of Y2K, I figured America's power gurus would have this whole blackout thing figured out. As it looks at 5:42pm, it appears the gurus are still a little light in the "figured out" department.

The second thing: I wonder how many gallons of milk are going to spoil in the next 24 hours. If I were a dairy cow, I'd be udderly hiding my underparts.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Sometimes Serendipity

This is one of those moments where I take two minutes to sit back and breathe. I've just finished a brain-puckering day at work. I've just finished a month-long marathon of business trips, family visits, quick-mini-vacations, and stupidity. Now, I breathe.

I'm literally brusied and battered. I'm tired and hungry. I'm a white-boy blues song in the making.

Regardless, my job did that thing again today. It's the thing that makes me hate it and love it at the same time...like a really good lover who you can't stand to be around unless you're doing the nasty...and then you can't get enough.

Today, she made me scream, then made me hum. I'm now basking in the athletic afterglow and wishing I hadn't hit myself in the head so hard this afternoon during a period of cartoonic frustration.

Ignore the title of this post. I didn't get to the subject. I'm too scatter-brained right now.

Breathe, baby, breathe.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The lap dance was how much?

Youth may, indeed, be wasted on the young. But on a confounding level of waste, I feel more inclined to offer this axiom: Wealth and luck are wasted on the stupid.

Dateline West Virginia. Indoors at the Pink Pony (yes, the Pink Pony). Jack Whittaker, the man who won a Christmas miracle $314 million powerball jackpot, is drunk and confused.

The deeply Christian man had only stepped into the Pink Pony, one of several strip joints he frequents, for a few dozen drinks. Why bother bringing in his briefcase. It might get in the way of Ms. Hicksville's crotch-grinding-for-dollars exercise. The fact that he was carrying more than half a million dollars in the briefcase and the poetic silliness of the entire situation must have escaped Mr. Whittaker about the time he slipped a hundy in the g-string of Ms. Pregnant West Virginia.

If he had been truly lucky, he would've had to take a pee in the parking lot about the time somebody decided to make off with the $500,000 brief case. Unfortunately for Mr. Moneybags, his old crotch was otherwise occupied.

Justice would have the thief in Aruba right now, sucking on a frozen-fruity drink and lighting cigars with $20 bills. But the thief was even more stupid. He left the briefcase behind the dumpster. Must have found the highlighters and got to huffing. Mr. Whittaker was allowed to wait out his drunken-brain before he left the strip club at 5am.

I wouldn't be so vituperative if it hadn't been for Whittaker's holier-than-holy efforts to fund Church of God charities with his winnings. I have no moral disagreement with strip clubs. I have no moral problem with gambling (a possible reason given for Whittaker carrying around so much money). I do have a problem with hypocrisy, however.

Now, if it had been me, and I still had the male need to see naked woman and gamble, I would bring the naked women to my own personal casino and hire two big mountain men to guard my briefcase. But that's just me.

All silliness aside, I think Whittaker's issue points directly (and, perhaps, erectly) to something I've come to believe about man. No amount of money, no amount of happiness, no amount of comfort will soothe the human being's nature to seek out its carnal needs. We, friends, are animals. We deny, we deny, we deny our nature. But like the frog an scorpian, we can't deny what we are. Fucking animals. We know what we want. We either take it or kill ourselves by denying it.

Give an animal a hundred million bucks and watch what he does with it.

Update from the Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A strip club manager and his girlfriend are accused of drugging a Powerball winner and stealing some of his money.

Police in West Virginia say Jeffrey Caplinger and Misty Arnold drugged Jack Whittaker inside the club Monday. They say Caplinger then took $545,000 from Whittaker's vehicle as it idled outside the club.

Police say Caplinger broke into his own car and took some items to cover up the alleged robbery.

The money was recovered. The couple was arrested on robbery charges and face up to 18 years in prison each if convicted.

Whittaker was already a millionaire businessman when he hit the nearly $315 million jackpot on Christmas day. He claimed a $113 million cash option.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Hiatus interuptus (aka Finding Otis)

Breathing has a tendency to speed up on you when you find yourself overoccupied. You find your head slipping out of the game and into a fastlane. That's when you start forgetting things.

Wheels down, back from New York, and everything got busy. Well-rested after a couple of days of sleep, I pretended I was 21 again. Three bars, a Thursday night, and remembered I was not a youngster anymore. Friday morning workday hangover drudgery is not for the elderly.

The summer skies have been active and brought a rip-shot thunderstorm to my little burg. With the rains, an eviction notice for a frequent source who has been locked in a gut-punch land battle with the city for some time. Back at work before my ass gets used to sitting in a chair at home. By 11:30pm, I was making potato salad and getting ready to get up.

Saturday morning, no hangover, but my hands smell like potato salad. Pack up Emilio, round up the crew, and drive four hours through North Carolina's mountain towns and moutain valleys. Wheels down in Tennessee and on the Ocoee River. The rapids were as tough as they come in this region of the country. They were so tough, the Olympic rafters in 1996 used the river for their feats of strength. We survived with only minor injuries. Camped in the rain, sang songs around a campfire, ate until we couldn't move, soaked in a hottub.

Sunday, the rain returned to camp and forced the muddy denizens of Camp Fatigue back onto the road. The drive back consisted of a sleeping wife and a search for Arby's Market Fresh sandwiches. Sleep came easy.

And then, the first ever "Otis as a Sitcom Husband Fuck-Up." In years past, there have been real screw-ups. The drunk-dial to an old college friend (who happened to be a woman) ranks among the top. But past screw-ups have never been those you might find on "Everybody Loves Raymond." Monday morning's fuck-up was pure primetime, baby.

Otis: Hey, you going out to pick up lunch? If you do, would you get me some?
Wife of Otis: I'm going to Barnes and Noble to pick up the new Sweet Potato Queens book. I think I deserve it.
Otis (mind-scrambling to make sense of Wife's last sentence): Um..okay. You DO deserve it. What about lun-- (Otis collapses on the street and starts hugging himself like a mental patient)--and...Happy Birthday, baby.

Yeah, that's right. Otis temporarily forgot the Wife's birthday. She took it in stride. She's experienced worse (read: college friend drunk-dial).

So, getting the old melon back in the game is the raison d'etre right now. Concentration is the key, as the inlaws are coming in town for an extended visit this weekend. Lack of concentration could result in a regional incident that may or may not be suitable for network primetime. HBO may be interested, however.

So, if you know where Otis (or his melon) might be, drop us a line here at Rapid Eye Reality. We've been looking for him. He owes two months of rent.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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