May 3, 2020

Damien: Snippets XIX


If you think your life is miserable, consider this. There are sad and lonely people in the world who collect limited edition Slurpee cups.

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Has anyone else noticed that T.S. Eliot was right about April? More specifically, it’s the third week in April you have to look out for. Every year as we approach April 20th, I’m always on my toes, because that’s when Big and Bad Things happen. Here’s a quick sampler:

            On April 19th, 1993, the FBI and ATF torched the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

            Two years later, on April 19th, 1995, a massive car bomb was detonated in front of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

            The Columbine school massacre occurred on April 20th, 1999.

            The Virginia Tech massacre took place on April 16th, 2007.

            On April 20th, 2010, the Deep Water Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico.

            Last month, seventeen people were killed in Nova Scotia on April 19th, in what was the largest mass shooting ever witnessed in Canada.

            There have been other things as well, but they weren’t as flashy and I’m too lazy to look them all up. Suffice it to say there’s a small window of plus or minus a couple of days around the 20th every year that seems to be a magnet for ugliness. Whether it has anything to do, as I’ve always suspected, with Hitler’s birthday is anyone’s guess.

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Every morning when I wake up and take inventory of my physical state, I have to ask myself, “Do I have COVID-19, or is this just another hangover?”

            So far I’ve been lucky.

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Here’s a question. For those familiar with the ads that appeared in the back of 1970s comic books—mostly from the Johnson-Smith company—those ads for everything from sea monkeys and fake vomit to horror sounds records, hand buzzers and X-Ray Spex, did anyone ever pay $2.99 for the two-man submarine? It was usually a full-page ad featuring a drawing of a submarine cruising along underwater, two boyish faces appearing in the portholes. The accompanying text promised everything from a real working periscope to Polaris missiles. I was always tempted, but never pulled the trigger, having been burned too many times by the fine folks at Johnson-Smith. But I’ve always been curious to learn what you actually ended up with six to eight weeks later. A two-man submarine seemed so damned cool. And for under three bucks?

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Remember when you could describe something as being “about the size of a half dollar”? Would anyone under thirty-five even know what that means anymore? For that matter, do Kennedy half dollars even exist anymore?

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I think I’ve mentioned that in recent years, the years following the death of my brother-in-law, my older sister, now sixty, has been going to a lot of rock concerts. Not just concerts, but festivals as well, mostly to catch aging bands on the nostalgia circuit. As a result, she’d been seeing a lot of decidedly uncool bands, and picking me up tour t-shirts at the merch table afterward.

            Now, of course tour t-shirts from aging uncool bands are, by nature, REALLY FUCKING COOL, right? At least I think they are, so fuck you.

            I didn’t think there was any topping the REO Speedwagon tour t-shirt (“With Special Guests .38 Special and Warrant!”) until she sent me the Poison tour t-shirt. And I didn’t think there was any topping the Poison tour t-shirt until yesterday, when she sent me a Dennis DeYoung tour t-shirt. And you know the only thing cooler (and by “cooler” I mean “uncooler) than a Dennis DeYoung tour t-shirt? A BRAND SPANKING NEW Dennis DeYoung tour t-shirt!

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People I Always Confuse With Each Other Because I’m an idiot, Part I

            *Brian Eno, Todd Rundgren and Van Morrison.

            *Lee Marvin and James Coburn

            *Marshall Tucker and Marshall Crenshaw

            *Lucinda Williams and Wanda Jackson

            *Jonathan Richman and Robyn Hitchcock

            * Scott Baio and Tony Danza

            *ELO and The Moody Blues

            *Howard da Silva and Henry Silva (though they were really one and the same, but it’s a long and complex story)

            *Any writer, actor, musician or artist named “Ian,” whose last name begins with “Mc” or “Mac,” which is pretty much all of them.

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I don’t know if this is the case nationwide, just in New York City, just in Brooklyn, or just in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods, but for the past two years, a full eighty percent of not only spam calls but simple wrong numbers I find waiting on the answering machine are in one or another Chinese dialect. That says something, though I’m hesitant to guess what.

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Not that long ago, I went into a liquor store and asked for a fifth of Old Overholt rye. The woman behind the counter curtly informed me they no longer sold things in fifths. What I wanted, she told me, was a liter.

            No, I thought. I do not want a liter. What I want is a fifth. Somehow asking for “a liter of Old Overholt” not only sounded wrong, it made me very sad.

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Can anyone explain this to me? I enter my local subway station directly off the sidewalk. After passing through the turnstiles, I then descend down four flights of stairs to the platform. It took me a few trips to realize this, but even after descending deep into the earth down all those stairs, the platform, somehow, is ABOVE GROUND. I cannot for the life of me figure this one out, unless the station was designed by M.C. Escher.

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Our new apartment is across the street from a four-story dry cleaning sweatshop. Like Willy Wonka’s factory, we never see anyone go in or come out, but we can hear the sound of the industrial presses all day and night. Here’s the weird thing. All the windows in the building are covered with blackout curtains. It’s all very grim and lifeless. Shortly after we moved here in February, however, Morgan noticed that someone had pulled back the curtains over the right corner window on the top floor just enough to hang a red cardboard heart before letting the curtains close again. No one inside the sweatshop would be able to see it, but people across the street could. At the beginning of March, the cardboard heart was replaced with a cardboard shamrock. And at the beginning of April, the shamrock was replaced with an Easter cross.

            It all has me wondering—who inside that sweatshop feels compelled to express a little surreptitious holiday spirit, and would they be tortured if they were discovered?

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Now that New York has banned my beloved single-use plastic bags, all those stores that had been using plastic bags up to that point are now either handing out or selling (mostly selling) canvas or nylon tote bags decorated with the store’s logo. Since the ban went into effect on March first, I have already acquired five of these tote bags from different stores in the neighborhood.

            Here’s my stupid concern: am I now obligated to bring the right bag to the right store? If I bring a C-Town bag to the Key Foods, will the checkout clerk refuse to fill it? What if I bring the flowered My Han Deli bag to the Rite-Aid? Will I then be forced to choose between buying a new Rite-Aid bag or carrying my razor blades and anti-fungal cream home in my hands? These are questions no one bothered to answer before the ban went into effect. But I guess that doesn’t matter, so long as people are making money.

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Turns out it was all a moot point. In a cruel irony, a month after the plastic bag ban went into effect, a month of carrying rolled up tote bags in my pocket whenever I went to the store, the pandemic had all but shut down NYC. Two days after the lockdown was declared, I stopped into the grocery store which had sold me my first tote bag to see if anything I needed was left on the shelves.

            I found a few things, but once I was at the checkout and whipped out the environmentally-friendly tote bag, the checkout clerk told me not to bother. In the midst of the pandemic, those canvas bags were nothing but bioterror weapons sopping with Corona viruses, so they decided to switch back to plastic bags. A few days later I read that San Francisco, which had banned plastic bags several years back, had now banned reusable bags like this.

            Kinda funny that a plague which at least in part, it could be argued, had been unleashed by climate change, prompted the immediate rollback of so many long-fought environmental initiatives.

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If you were a smart, geeky kid growing up in a provincial town anywhere in America at pretty much any time, there’s no escaping the fact everyone, especially in high school, assumed you were gay and abused you accordingly. It’s merely a given. Walk through the school corridor between classes, walk down the sidewalk after school, and you could count on being called a faggot by some yahoo at least once a day, usually more.

            Well, my friend Pete, being a smart kid, thought he’d mess with his antagonists’ heads by countering the standard slew of epithets, telling them, “Yes, I’m a queer homo who is sometimes gay and keeps faggots in my garage.”

            (Translated, this of course meant, “I’m an eccentric man who is happy on occasion and keeps bundles of wood in my garage.”)

            This clever bit of semantic interference on Pete’s part did not win over any of his abusers.

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Should you ever find yourself in the position of assisting a blindo on the sidewalk or in a store, first of all bless you—not everyone would take the time. But here’s a small word of advice when it comes to handing out directions or helping a blindo find something. Try to avoid using the phrases “it’s right over there” and “go straight,” as these are absolutely meaningless to us. Thank you.


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