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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Bleach-blonde zealots

I was in the shower when I heard it coming. In between my Noxema facial scrub and Lever 2000 blue body wash personal rubdown, a thunder clap hit the house and rattled the vinyl siding. I hurried to get out of the shower. Not because I was afraid of the storm, mind you, but because I wanted to get outside as quickly as I could.

I threw on some old blue jeans and my Pig-N-Pancake shirt and ran downstairs, the dog trailing behind me with her own special brand of "I'm not sure why, but I'm exicted, too" excitement. I made it to the back deck just in time to see a giant flash of lightning streak across the sky and see the giant sweetgum tree bend against the increasing wind. Scoop ran into the yard and barked at nothing.

The rain came almost immediately and I called for Scoop to come inside. This time she ran with her own special brand of "that wasn't so exciting" excitement and shook the rainwater off her short hair.

The hail started soon after, coming down first as a pea, then as marbles, then on the inside edge of golfballs. I called my wife at work and she reported that she thought her office had been hit by lightning. Five minutes after I'd explained the size of the hail, she said, "Wait. You have hail?" Shoot it!"

Despite my better judgment, I ran around the house for two minutes, finding the camera, and finding a tape that didn't have footage of my kid babbling on it. By the time I'd rounded up everything, the hail had stopped and was melting on the lawn.

That was a few days ago. I wrote the above paragraphs in a few minutes while the news talked on and on about a Muslim man who had walked into a local evangelistic mega-church and demanded to be let on stage. The security force escorted the man out and into the hands of the FBI who, according to some folks who are supposed to be in the know, had the guy on their watch list.

Whether the man, who had apparently left a briefcase in the lobby, was actually a zealot or a crazy person demanding to be heard in the cavernous church will likely never be known. He was charged with "Disturbing a Religious Service," something that even I, a fomer crime beat reporter, didn't know existed on the law books. Apparently it is illegal for one form of zealot to disturb another form of zealot.

What the weather and the reputed zealots have to do with each other, I can't rightly remember. Furthermore, at first I couldn't recall why I titled this piece "Bleach-blonde Zealots." Then, as I sat re-watching the piece about uber-fraud Stephen Glass, I recalled that I set out to write something about the London bombings and the use of a peroxide-based bomb.

While the news media have not fully explained what a peroxide-based bomb is, I did a little digging and discovered that Sally in the Stands' blonde-making solution can also be used to make blasting caps for bombs if mixed with the right stuff. That's all the explanation I needed.

None of this makes any damned sense, but I'm going to post it anyway. After all, I'm getting ready to head back to Europe in a few weeks and I'm tired of zealots. Not Muslims. Not Arabs. Just zealots. All of them. Evangelists, the FBI, the terrorists. All of them.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Irresponsibility: A retrospective

Looking back (ain't that how a retrospective is supposed to begin?), I suppose I should've heeded more the advice of the weatherman from "Groundhog Day." It's the easiest advice to follow, even if it was given to a groundhog: "Don't drive angry."

I don't listen very well, which is how I end up down these roads in the first place. It starts with one of those rubber-burning starts that scare the hell out of the kids on their bikes and gets you kicked out of the neighborhood association. It evens out about the time you run over the third innocent squirrel. And it ends somewhere in the countryside of your mind, where the roads get windy, but always lead back home.

I've gotten by over the years on sheer luck. The fact that I've never landed in the pokey or seriously injured is only fate having dealt to from a deck full of too many aces. I suppose there are a lot of folk out there like me. I suppose most people are like me and forget not to push their luck.

This good fortune has afforded me many good times over the years. Just skimming this blog in a fit of angry driving, I ran across this old picture, a celebration of a buddy's fatherhood that ended in sheer silliness that is still fondly discussed today.

It's the fun times that keep me sane. Two years ago, just a couple of weeks before Bradoween, I endured the sickest of all possible professional fuck shows. I was emotionally spent, and yet Bradoween was on the horizon. This brief entry pretty much summed it up.

There are things that I can't write about, even in this dangerously honest forum. There are things that can threaten a person's professional life. There are things that are so ridiculous that the mere possibility that they may be taken seriously boggles the mind.

Some fine day, I will write about these things. But for now, let this suffice:

To all friends: I thank you for your shoulder, your ear, and your support.

And bring Bradoween the fuck on.

Those who know me well are aware that I'm a big fan of creating memories. To that end, I sometimes go over the top a little bit. I get excited. It's what I do. To wit: I was inordinately excited last year about Bradoween and found this little web trick to be the bees knees.

It was about that time last year that I was on the verge of becoming a father. I recall the story of an unnamed busy-body talking about how it was unbelievable that I was still throwing my annual party with a seven-months pregnant wife. I could only answer, "Um...she said it was okay."

And hence, I shouted the following announcement from the rooftops.

Bradoween IV--ALERT

While my wife's impending baby production output threatened to cancel the annual Bradoween festival, we have together done the math, calculated the chances of an early arrival, and decided that we are safe to try Bradoween IV this year.

Out of town guests in search of good airfares have started inquiring about the date. That date has now been set.

Bradoween IV (theme and details to follow) will be held at Mt. Willis on June 19th, 2004.

Last year's event (Bradoween 3D, for those who forgot or blacked out in mid-party) was record-breaking and is still the source of many stories. We at Mt. Willis expect, especially with our official youth about to end, that Bradoween IV should be just as exciting.

Remember: Everyone is welcome at Bradoween. Except Darren Whitman. He and I didn't get along in high school and I don't plan on reconciling 12 years later just because I like a lot of people at my damned parties.

At the same time, I was worried about fatherhood. In the weeks before last year's Bradoween, Scoop the Therapy Mutt got sick and I fell into unbelievable fits of worry that led me to a doggie ER in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. I wrote the following upn my return.

My wife (oddly, the voice of reason in matters pertaining to the dog's physical health) has been reassuring me for hours that Scoop is okay. However, she insists my over-concern is a good indicator of being a good father. She watched me check on Scoop every ten minutes, hand-feed her the bland, stinky food, and pick through her droppings to make sure everything looked okay.

She said I'm going to be a good dad.

Me, I think I'm on my way to be one of those dads.

So, let the ridicule begin now. If you need me, I'll be in the Emergency Room for the next 18 years.

That predicition turned out to be about as false as possible. Though I believe it's not for a lack of love, I tend not to worry so much about L'il Otis. Though he's been a sickly kid (due in large part to day care visits), I've not once been as worried as I was about the dog that day.

There's a part of me that worries that it makes me a bad father. That is, if Mrs. Otis believed my worry for my dog would translate to worry for my son and it has not, then, by definition, I'm not as good a father as she hoped and expected.

Now, she will tell you that's not the case. At least, that's what she tells me. Trust me, I've asked.

So, what brought us down this road? I dunno. Not-so-latent guilt I suppose. Now that I've come this far, I don't feel much like thinking about it anymore. I guess that's why I drive. Sometimes you run across an old byway you forgot. Like this one from 2003.

I sometimes stumble after eating Chinese food. I may be allergic to MSG. My head gets a little swimmy, like when you suck the "air" out of a whipped cream cannister. It may go a long way toward explaining why I thought I heard Elizabeth Smart's uncle say, "I've always believed in marigolds."

Miracles, of course, was what he actually said.

Believing in marigolds as I do, I gave the man a hearty "good show, man" and "who took the picture of little Richard?" They are things I say when I don't have a worthy response.

And still, yes, still, I believe in marigolds.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Written in an unguarded moment...

I suppose it's the time of year. Here in the not-so-deep south, the heat wave continues and the televison news strives to remind us that, indeed, it is hot. The 5pm news begins with a pretty weather girl who reminds us that, well, yes, indeed, it's hot. Then the roving reporter confirms, indeed, it is hot and people are forced to work in the heat. Then another roving reporter further confirms, lo and behold, it is hot, and animals don't like it when it's hot, especially the animals that fucking come from Africa but are now stuck in a animal showcase in the middle of nowhere America. And then the anchors tell us, heads up, it's hot and you might want to consider conserving energy, because, who doesn't want to turn off the AC when the heat index of 107 degrees? Oh, and then there's some news to tell you about. It all reminds me of an old joke some TV pals and I shared. TV news consists of the following stories: It's hot, it's cold, college is expensive, and fatty foods will kill you.

Yeesh, that all sounds a little moody and bitter. I'd apologize for that, but I'm done apologizing for the day. I've already apologized to the dog for it being so hot outside. I've already apologized to humanity for not turning off my air conditioning. And I've already apologized to the kid for letting him wear a plaid, sleeveless jumper on Saturday. My bad. But, I'm done apologizing for the day. You want an apology? Get me when I wake up in the morning. My first apology will be for sleeping too late and for forgetting to shower.

Perhaps there is something overly romantic about the notions in my head. The long aimless walks I don't take. The smoke-filled bars I don't sit in and the conversations I don't have with the bartenders that aren't serving me. The back porch sunrises I don't enjoy. The big gambles I don't take.

Yet, this is not some lamentation. It's just that the notions are there, in my head, clouding up the more rational thoughts upon which I rely. I'm not sure exactly how they got there and how they got in such a fight with each other, but they're all there, hold and cold fronts colliding in an unstable cerebral atmosphere.

In the few minutes it has taken me to pound out this screed, we've covered the news of the day and "Up next, John will tell us about how hot it is."

Weather sells, I was always told when I worked in TV. It didn't matter so much what was happening in the community at large. If there was even the slightest hint that a guy two counties away might have his BBQ sprinkled on, by jove, we were going to lead the damned news with it. These days, the promos on TV feature the weather guy and his family sitting around on their back deck looking over a hurricane tracking map. You know, just in case a hurricane threatens to hit us 300 miles inland.

There's a part of me that figures I should go back and erase every sentence of this open letter to the sun gods. Yet, I know there has to be a reason I logged on to write this in the first place and since a grand total of, like, 26 of you read this blog on a regular basis, I figure by the time anyone gets around to coming here, I'll have written about some other inanity.

So, you know...fuck it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

How to stay sane

I saw a lot of ass crack in Las Vegas.

When I told my wife this, she misunderstood and went on to tell me about the most disgusting, pants-drooping, male speciman she'd ever seen. In Vegas, it wasn't plumbers. It was some strange phenomenon in which 85% of the women were wearing pants cut so low, I could see their ankles just below their belt line. It actually became a little game for me. How long could I go in a given day without seeing more of a fully-dressed woman than I would see of girls at the pool? Usually about ten minutes.

But it was a good way to stay sane. Don't ask me why. It just was. In a world where no one is dressed, it's hard to feel emotionally naked.

But, really, that's not the point. I just like to talk about ass. The point is this: I've found that, for most people, it's pretty easy to go off the deep end. Most of the time it has has something to do with the Little Picture. They can't get a grasp on the minutae of life. The kids are screaming, they can't finish the home improvement project, they are too tired to clean up the house.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I know what this feels like. Last night, the dog was barking, the kid was crying, the house was a mess, and I was quite underwhelmed. But, it passed. It always does. That's how I stay sane. I know that a lot can change in ten minutes.

But, then there are those folks who are inordinately obsessed with the Big Picture. The war, the Supreme Court, politics, etc. It's all just so much big picture living that one heart can't take it all.

So, that's why I'm thinking a lot about the Medium Picture. Herein, you know that the little stuff will pass and the big stuff doesn't really affect you that much. A lot of folks would call this concept no more than blind apathy or a guy who is living too fortunate a life. Maybe that's the case, but it's helping me keep sane.

Of course, I'm a guy that plays the ass-crack game, so don't listen to me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

If it's good enough for Tom and Katie...

I looked at the dog and she looked back at me as if to say, "What? This is what I do every day." Which was true. She sits around and occasionally goes outside to bark at squirrels. Me, I hadn't been home in a month and had spent very little time with nothing to do.

For the previous six hours, I had been plodding away at some projects I needed to get done. When I finally reached the most tedious project (a full receipt-oriented accouting of my month on the road), I balked.

"Scoop," I said, "I don't want to do anything." Which was, true, too. I didn't want to eat, sleep, read, sit in the sun, drink work, play guitar, play cards, anything. After a month of doing everything, I didn't want to do anything.

Like a bolt of lightning from the ass of L. Ron himself, I grabbed the computer and Googled "Scientology." Because if it makes Katie Holmes a reasonable person, it has to work for me, right? I scanned the opening page for something about aliens, because it has to be their fault. Nothing. Of course, they are going to hide the alien stuff. Just like the American government.

Fortunately, I found something at the bottom that piqued my interest. I took a little quiz and when the computer spit out the results, they read "You could be experiencing a case of severe body pollution, which can cloud your thinking and leave you mentally and spiritually deadened." Well, duh. I just spent a month in the most spiritually polluted place in all of America. Like I'm not going to be a little on the toxic side.

I read a little more and came across this pitch:

"Your personality has everything to do with your income, your future, your personal relationships, and your life. A test of this kind would normally cost you $500.00 and up. It is offered to you here free of charge as a public service. If you are not happy with life, you can find out why. "

Well, I am happy with life, but if it's going to save me $500 to take the test for free so I can prove it to the Scientology commmunity, well then, let's do it.

As I started the test, I made sure to throw a monkey wrench in the mechanics of the CoS machine. I put in the name of an old foe who liked to date girls while I was having sex with them. Or more accurately, I liked to have sex with the girls while he was dating them. Sue me. It was a hobby. The computer spit out an address where I could go if I wanted a full reading of my REAL results. I'm sure that's where they'd tell me about the aliens, but I don't have time to go to Missouri.

The instructions said, "Answer each question as to how you feel RIGHT NOW. The accuracy depends upon the truthfulness of your answers." That was a little odd. Like I'm going to lie to people who already have a relationship with the ETs.

Interesting questions on the test:

3. Do you browse through railway timetables, directories, or dictionaries just for pleasure?

6. Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?

9. Do you consider more money should be spent on social security?

14. Would the idea of inflicting pain on game, small animals or fish prevent you from hunting or fishing?

18. Does an unexpected action cause your muscles to twitch?

27. Do you often sing or whistle just for the fun of it?

32. Would the idea of making a complete new start cause you much concern?

55. When hearing a lecturer, do you sometimes experience the idea that the speaker is referring entirely to you?

59. Do you consider the modern “prisons without bars” system doomed to failure?

88. If we were invading another country, would you feel sympathetic towards conscientious objectors in this country?

113. Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?

125. Are you suspicious of people who ask to borrow money from you?

Two hundred questions later I was paranoid and wondering if the aliens were outside my window. The dog was barking at something unseen outside. The results graph (which I could have specially analyzed at Darren's nearest Church of Scientology) told me I was dangerously nervous and unacceptably withdrawn from my fellow man. It also hinted that at some point I had been probed in an uncomfortable place by someone from the other side of a black hole.

I figured I should get on the ball if I were going to take care of those problems. I looked for some definitive statement about the religion. This was the best I could come up with:

"The aims of Scientology are a world without insanity, without criminals, without war, where the able can prosper and where Man is free to rise to greater heights."

It was about that time that I decided I'd spent too much time on the site. I'm sure my IP address was being tracked and Tom Cruise was going to be at my door within minutes. In the old days I would have asked him to replay the "What the fuck" scene from "Risky Business," but these days I was afraid he'd jump on the couch and proclaim his love for the cold pizza in the fridge.

Instead, I logged off, ate the cold pizza, and shared a slice with the alien that slipped in when I wasn't looking.

At least I have someone with whom to share my anxeity.

Monday, July 18, 2005


It was the middle of the night, maybe the middle of the morning. After a few weeks in the trenches, it seemed irrelevant. There weren't any clocks and my watch and computer clock always disagreed. My body clock had long since shut off in an act of self-preservation. It wasn't hell, but it wasn't heaven either.

I was wandering through an empty hotel kitchen that at once reminded me of The Shining and the scene in Spinal Tap where the boys get lost. "Cleveland!" echoed in my head as I stole glances at dormant can openers and bulk sized bottles of pickles. Later, Pauly would say it reminded him of the tracking camera shot from the opening of Goodfellas. I couldn't disagree with that, but that wasn't what I was thinking at the time.

I was thinking I needed to not be in the kitchen. I needed to not be in the hallowed place they called Benny's Bullpen. I needed to not be in the aged Horseshoe Hotel and Casino, where randomly-placed staircases lead to dark hallways where I'm sure somebody once died, or at the very least passed out from a serious overdose. I shouldn't have walked up those stairs. I was only looking for a bathroom, and I should've known there wasn't one up there. It was too creaky and didn't have any signs indicating my destination was up there.

And really, I didn't have to go to the bathroom. I just needed to get out. I found my way outside and wandered across the outside/inside that is the Freemont Street Experience. I knew I didn't care about the real world that much. That is, the real world that's in the news. The TV said it was hot outside and that people thought it was inappropriate that a lacrosse team wore flip-flops to the White House. Yeah, I didn't care about that. In Vegas, it's hard to remember the real world. There is what is, and there is what isn't. The TV offers a glimpse of the outside, but it's more manufactured than what you see on the inside. And I wanted out.

I stepped into a tourist shop where you can buy shotglasses and t-shirts made in Malaysia. In there I could find a Payday candybar and a giant Diet Pepsi to soothe my stomach. I'd tried beer and steak and both had exacerbated my need, yes, need to be outside. I love beer and steak and they hated me. They knew I needed out. They didn't want to give me an excuse.

Jay had gone to the tourist trap after me and had accurately descibed the smell. It was like there had been a flood ten years before and someone had forgtotten to replace the carpet. But there was no carpet and Vegas does't flood very often. There must have been some other reason, but the smell was the same.

So, it sounds dark, I know. I don't mean for it to. That just happens to be the case. Over the previous four weeks, I had seen the best and worst in humanity and it had all been inside. When you spend that much time with a roof over your head, there is no place for the bad or good to escape. They mix together like grains of sand in a child's sand castle set and trying to seperate them is futile. You just build your own castle and hope it stands.

I knew I would be outside soon enough. Now I am. I hopped in Emilio the SDV-SUV this afternoon and drove a little. It felt odd. I haven't driven anywhere myself since early June.

This is how re-assimilation begins. I suspect there will be some withdrawl. It's already too quiet. I can't hear the slots. I can't smell the smoke. People seem to be genuinely happy. It's all different. I know I like it, but it doesn't feel like outside yet.

I suppose I was afflicted with some sort of Stockholm Syndrome. And if I had more time to think about it, I suppose I would be scared.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Luddite again

My life recolves around technology, but I may just become a Luddite again.

Give me a hammer.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Double 07

Somebody please tell me I wasn't the only one to think this morning that it was odd that this attack on London happened on July 7. That's 07/07.

Double 0-7?

Either sickeningly clever or one odd coincidence.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Children's Day

Re-printed from my day job blog

The World Series of Poker is an environment like none other I've ever witnessed. Pure energy, mainline adrenaline, wanton rain squalls of hundred dollar bills that sometimes--quite literally--rain down from the hands of chair-perched gamblers. At any given time, two thousand people are wagering for millions in chips. Cocktail servers run with tired legs. Dealers hallucinate. And in the middle of it--almost every day--a life's dream is realized for one person in the form of a World Series of Poker bracelet.

It is, without a doubt, a warehouse of mixed energy that one must live for several weeks to truly believe it exists. When the only sun you see rises through tinted, tempered glass, it is quite easy to forget that a real world exists outside the Rio.

But it does.

I learned today that a valued PokerStars player (name witheld for the sake of privacy) who won a seat to the World Series of Poker will not be sitting in his chair come Day 1. He and his wife recently welcomed twin babies into the world. One of the children is quite healthy. The other twin is not faring as well. Our player is understandably staying home.

I spoke to my wife today. She is tending to our ten-month-old baby boy while I'm on the road at the WSOP. When I was a kid, my parents (having enjoyed Mother's Day in May and Father's Day in June) always celebrated a made-up Children's Day in conjunction with Independence Day. Today, my wife and parents took my son to his first fireworks show and gave him his first taste of summer watermelon. When my wife and I said goodbye, I couldn't help but be a little sad at having missed the day.

But then I heard about our player who is sitting at home tonight, willing and praying his baby to good health. The WSOP, I'm sure, was once at the top of his list of things to do. Now, I'm sure, it's all but forgotten.

Perspective comes in many forms, folks. A walk in the sun after having been inside for a week. A phone call home after a few weeks on the road. The realization that life is about much more than the click-clack of chips and winning a gold bracelet.

To be sure, what we're witnessing here at the World Series is poker history in its purest form. To be sure, the hundreds of PokerStars qualifiers are set to experience one of the best events of their lives. And to be sure, everyone should come here with the intention of winning and having a good time.

But, try to keep it all in perspective. This is all supposed to be fun. Remember, if you're one of the 1116 qualifiers, or the family member sitting at home waiting for good news, that one of your fellow PokerStars players won't be making it this year.

If you're the praying type, say a prayer. If you're not, perhaps just think a few good thoughts, hug someone you love, and keep it all in perspective.

Friday, July 01, 2005


It was 10:45am and I hadn't been to sleep since the day before. The bed is comfortable, the selection of pillows is of such a variety that I can't complain about fluffiness, and the room temperature is a steady 72 degress. The room has black-out curtains that shield me from the desert sun. And though I have a room close to the elevator and drink machines, I'm far enough away that neither makes any noise.

I lay on the same side of bed as home, only occasionally stretching out to see how far my legs can cross the king-sized bed, but pull them back in when I admit to myself that the closest I'll ever get to royalty is RC cola.

Indeed, merry conventioneers were actually thinking about lunch when I finally dozed off. I knew I had to wake up by 1:30pm, but I kept telling myself, "Two hours sleep is better than no sleep at all." It became a mantra that I spoke over and over again in my head. It started with "Four hours sleep is better than no sleep at all" and worked its way down from there.

I was pleased when my head finally started drifting to the torrent off off dreams that often accompanies half-sleep.

And that's when it started.

The first morning after I got here, I was sure there was a giant winged prehistoric animal pounding on my floor-to-ceiling windows. It was like a jackhammer outside a city window. I stood and pulled back the curtain, but saw nothing. Perhaps, I thought, another odd dream.

But it happened again the next morning. Refusing to get up, I surmised it was the fast desert wind blowing a loose piece of building facade with such ferocity that only armageddon could comepete. Two hours later it stopped and I was able to go to sleep.

It took a couple of days off and then returned. It's been here ever since. Late morning, every day, a jackhammer noise right outside my...14th story window. I sleep though thunder, screaming, parties, and bloody murder (that was just one awful night), but this sound is only something though which the dead can sleep.

This morning, as the lunch hour approached, the paranoia set it. I knew what was happening.

It's the same thing as the hotel kitchen venting into my room. That little trick is designed to make me feel hungry.

The noise is designed to keep me from sleeping.

These people (you know the people) don't want me to be in my room.

Tonight (this morning, actually), I'm going to thwart the fuckers. Room service just arrived. I can eat it and be asleep within 45 minutes.

No hunger. Enough sleep by 10am that the jackhammer won't make me cry.

Tonight, I take back the Rio. Tonight (okay, this morning), I take back my sanity.

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