The Damnable Joys of Manic-Depression

Posted in Chronicles of chrazy (sic) on August 10, 2014 by tom

There are different words today, different terms in the nomenclature: bi-polar disorder; bi-polar one; bi-polar two; bi-polar with caramel drizzle, you name it.

For me, it’s just been three years of soul-rending manic depression–that’s how it feels to me, so fuck the nomenclature. There’s mania, and there’s depression, and neither are pleasant.

Mania can almost be fun. Life is fast and furious, like Mrs. Howell after she ate the radioactive sugar beets on that Gilligan’s Island episode: she was running around with the film sped up to about eight-times normal. It was comedy.

The manic phase of the disorder is like driving downhill on a winding road. It’s fun for awhile, but soon, you wish for a straightaway, or for the road to level out, so you’re just not so unstoppably jittery. It’s like running and running and running, and you want to stop, but you have to keep running and running.

There’s a poem–I think it’s e.e. cummings–and that’s basically it: “running, running, fast, oh, fast.”

You can’t stop. You can’t sleep. You can’t shut off your mind. Your thoughts come so fast and furious, you can’t possibly consider them all, profundities and inanities contrapuntal. I’ve been up for three straight manic days before, driving when I was too amped to be driving, but there was nothing else to do. So I’d drive from St Pete to Sarasota or vice versa just for lunch. It’s a miracle I wasn’t killed, although the idea of dying wasn’t necessarily averse then, just so I could stop. Fucking. Running.

So you’re running or driving, and everything has a glow, a shimmer about it–but it’s too much of a glow or shimmer, something akin to glare, like looking at the Sun two hours before sunset as opposed to two minutes before sunset. Nothing mellow about it. And your skin vibrates. Not literally–most of the time, although I got tingles and twitches–but you feel electric charges running up and down your body.

Then you run–or drive into–the wall.

The wall is depression. You hit that, and your remains slide inexorably down into a pit, into The Abyss, as I’ve often called it. Your lowest point gets on a downward elevator, and you can’t stop. You don’t know how far down you’ve gone, or how far down you’re going to go. Only that it’s a dark place, and it’s claustrophobic as shit, and you just want to curl up in a ball and die. You want the darkness to go away, some how, some way–any way.

This is the part where you curl up in a ball, where you stay in bed for days at a time, if you can. I could. I’d order in food and take care of the cat, but the rest of the time, I was just trying to think of something positive in my life, some reason not to just give up. Suicide was never an option–I’m far too much of a coward to try that–but I’ve tried to eat and drink myself to death. I’m now losing a lot of weight, and I’ve been sober nine years and change, so those failed. This is the part of the disease where I thank God for the Internet, so I can spend my gray hours gazing unfocusedly at stale JFK Conspiracy or Hitler docs, or watch some movie I like okay but have seen a dozen times (Double Indemnity, e.g.).

The Internet is a double-edged sword, though. In addition to my black-and-white world, I might end up on Facebook, and see my friends or family and their perfect, brightly colored lives. “Had a great time cooking out by the pool with the kids! Can’t believe how BIG they’ve gotten!!!!!”

Their lives are exclamation point lives, full of promise and awesomeness. Where would my life be in the world of punctuation? Ellipses? “Tom was in radio, had his station changed so he was unemployed, then he tried another job, and now he’s depressed and doing nothing…” Maybe a dash would be more optimistic: “Tom had some bad stuff happen–and his head blew up for awhile–” That implies a resolution, a “but NOW Tom is doing ____”.

For nearly three years, I’ve been seeing one of the foremost psychologists in the field of depressive illnesses. We’ve been through more bottles of more pills that Big Pharma should buy us both Porsches.

We’re to a point now where the mania still happens, but it’s not as bad, nor does the Abyss seem as deep.

Don’t get me wrong–they both still suck ass–but there’s improvement. Also, when I’m between the two, I might have a normal day or two. I don’t even know what to do with a normal day.

Finally, I can sense when I’m slipping from one to the other, and I feel like I have the tools to protect myself. If depression is coming on, I’m not going to agree to go to somebody’s house where there are small children, for example. If mania is coming on, that might not be so bad.

Naturally, since my brain was starting to heal, something bad happened in my left upper leg. Nobody has been able to tell me what it is. I’ve had prescriptions, enough x-rays to  fuel a quasar, and just finished my fifth of six weeks of physical therapy. I now have an appointment with a new Orthopedist, whom my mother says is awesome. She’s a nurse she knows things. I got a scrip for Tramadol from my GP in St Pete on our “farewell, and let’s check your bloodwork” visit. I told him the problem. He wrote me for Tramadol twice a day with a refill. Okay. I don’t really take pain pills unless I’m in pain, so that was fine. Until one night when GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY, it felt like somebody had cut into my left thigh with a chainsaw, and did it again and again. I grabbed my Tramadol bottle–trying not to scream the whole time–and thought, “the dose is one, Tom, so–SWEET JESUS, CHEW UP FOUR OF THEM!”

I found that in certain positions, there was incredible pain, while in other positions,  there was nothing. Not a twinge or anything. This has continued for the past seven weeks, and it has gotten better, I admit. (aside: My St Pete GP is very laid back. His labeling instructions were “Take one tablet every eight hours as needed.” New GP? “Take one to two tablets BY MOUTH two to three times a day for serious pain.” (caps mine)).

How else would I take these pill? I’m not going to snort Tramadol. Jeesh.

While I was doing my PT on Friday, I saw these charts on the wall. There, on the right-hand chart, I saw my problem. Nobody had touched me or really asked me many question, but the patient seems to have discovered a problem with his left I-T band. I don’t know what that means, except that it radiates from where mine radiates, then up and down where mine goes up and down.  Poor Blue Cross/Blue Shield is paying  a shitload for something I saw on a chart.

Anyway, earlier this week I was so manic, I wrote 5000 or 6000 words in “Back to Casablanca.” I doubt anyone read them, or even if they make any sense. It was fun to do. Today, I couldn’t even come up with a rude t-shirt for Annie. It’ll come back. I just hope it’s soon: I was having a ball writing those Casablanca mash-ups and creating new people. (Seriously, how often do you get to smoosh together MacBeth, Casablanca, Harry Potter, Annie the Soapmaker (who is indeed real: find her awesome, tom used and endorsed wares here)

Plus some other friends, made-up people, and Brother Ray and ‘Trane, all jammin’ in Casablanca?

I was hurting earlier, so I took a few Tramadol as ordered by my control-freak new doc, and I’m turning into Jell-O.

The two harshest things my psychiatrist told me were A) that I will have issues–cognitive dissonance, et al–which will often require psychotherapy, and B) I will have Manic-Depression all my life. It’s just a matter of finding the right meds and the right behavior tools to control it. I think I’m on my way. I’m getting better sloooooooowly, incrementally.

I’m nowhere near done in my “comeback.”

But now I can sleep. Every damn night

Back to Casablanca: Chapter Four

Posted in Back to Casablanca, Bad Pulp Fiction on August 5, 2014 by tom

Chapter IV

Testarossa Ferrari didn’t so much climb into her boyfriend Ahmad’s huge Roman bath as trip opening the door and fall face first into it. The soap got in her eyes, but she heard splashing from the far end, and made her way over toward the sound.

“I got shot with a tranquilizer dart,” she said. “I shot myself in the foot, technically. Then Annie brought me back here and knocked me out with something. And I’m all woozy, but I wanted to see you, but now I have soap in my eyes, so I can’t see anything.”

‘But,” she continued, “I heard you splashing.” She went over to Ahmad, and kissed him hard on the mouth. “Soft. You must have just shaved.” She kissed him again, running her hands up Ahmad’s hairy chest. However, there was no hair there. Only two shapely, soapy breasts.

“Oh, shit, Ahmad! Did Annie do something to you?” ‘Rossa finally wiped the soap from her eyes, and found herself staring at the rather stunned faces of The Princess of Lichtenstein, The Baroness von Heidelberg, and Jane. Jane still had soap on her face from where ‘Rossa had kissed her.

“You’re not Ahmad,” ‘Rossa observed, “So why are you in his bath?”

“Um, this is our bath. You’re in our hotel room, ‘Rossa: Room من ستة وسبعين at the Casablanca Inn and Spa.

“This isn’t Casablanca Arms Condidmen, no, wait. Comedidum. No, wait–”

“Condominium?” Jane offered helpfully.

“Yes! That’s it.” ‘Rossa smiled. She stood up and looked around the room, then down at the two women.

“You know,” she whispered conspiratorially. “You’re both naked.”

“We’re taking a bath, so of course we are,” the Princess replied. “And as wet as you are, you can see everything through your silks.”

“Uh-oh. That’s not good,” she looked down. “Yeah, boobies and hoo-hoo muffin.”

“Since you’re already wet, you could just join us in the bath. Hang your silks up to dry, and even borrow a robe if necessary.”

“Then we’d be naked in the tub.”

“Because we’re taking a bath “

“Oh,” ‘Rossa looked forlorn.

“What’s wrong,” asked Jane.

“You want me to take a bath with you.”

“Right…and?”

“I was hoping for a three-way with two women. Annie won’t play that way, and the little Swedish girl hates me, but I’ve always kinda wanted to be with two–

“The Baroness of Heidlberg Anastasia, the Princess of Lichtenstein,” shut ‘Rossa up with a deep kiss, while Jane unwound what little silk was left.

And they shared  a bath. And all of their backs  got scrubbed repeatedly. And this author never employs euphemism.

“’Rossa, your silks are trashed. There’s a robe over there on the hook. You can borrow it and wear it home,” Jane offered.

“Can I wear it to Ahmad’s instead?”

“Sure. You can wear it anyplace you want.”

“Whew,” said ‘Rossa. “Okay. Thank you. Ahmad works at The Blue Parrot, but that’s my dad’s place, so I’ll see you at Rick’s tonight. I hear there will be awkwardness and subtruge. ‘Bye!” ‘Rossa left.

“What the fuck?”

“Subterfuge,” Jane translated from ‘Rossa-speak.

“Oh, okay,” replied the Princess. “Now—“she smiled lasciviously—“We might have enough time that I could get my back washed againn!”

 

Rick’s was hopping that night. Far from the tired standards Sam had droned out, Ray Charles led his orchestra through “Hit the Road Jack,” “What I Say,” and dozens of upbeat songs that had some people trying to dance, then falling down, because they were so unfamiliar with real music.

Rick sat at a small table with Annie the Soapmaker, downing shots of Reichstagfeuer, and chasing them with bonded bourbon. They were getting drunk pretty quickly. Annie put on the brakes with a large vodka, extra soda, and lime. Rick just laid-off the Reichstagfeuer, and sipped his bourbon.

“Rick,” Annie said quietly, taking a big sip of her drink. “Don’t lie to me. You have those letters of transit, don’t you?”

“And what if I did?”

“You could get Laszlo out of here on the plane tonight.”

“And make a fortune doing so. But?”

“But you’d forever lose the chick who looks like Ingrid Bergman.”

“Right. She dumped me in Paris, and I don’t want her to leave here without me.”

“Well, send Laszlo with someone else?”

“Pity Ugarte bought it.”

“You’re sure he’s dead?”

“Yeah. That’s what Louis told Laszlo when he and Strasser were `interviewing’ him this morning.” Rick took a cigarette from his case and offered one to Annie. He lit them both.

“The sad thing,” he said, blowing smoke toward the ceiling, “is that all Ugarte wanted was to leave. He didn’t give a damn about Laszlo or the Free French movement or any of that crap. He just wanted to sell the letters, get an exit visa from his source, and get the hell out of here.”

“Yeah,” Annie ashed her cigarette. “Why didn’t he just use the things himself? Get on the plane at the last minute with his letters, and be gone from here?”

“He wanted the money, kid.” Rick sipped his bourbon. “He told me last night he was going to sell them for more money than even he had ever imagined. He wanted the whole pie. Not just a slice.”

“Nice metaphor.” Annie smiled.

 

At the bar, a French Resistance soldier and an SS enlisted man were arguing over Yvonne the bar floozy, who was now a proper woman eager to try out her new vagina. The problem was, the men started to scuffle, which caused Jane to spill her two glasses of Reichstagfeuer. In a flash, she smashed the glass against the bar, kicked the soldier’s knee sideways, and held a pointed piece of glass an inch—or about 2.5 centimeters—from the man’s eye.

“You fuck with me again, and I’m jabbing this into your brain, get it?”

“Oui!”

For good measure, she kicked the man square in the nuts. Annie the Soapmaker walked over from her table and kicked the Nazi in the balls as well. Fuck it. This wasn’t The League of Nations; it was Casablanca. Rick walked over.

“Sascha? Could you help this green-faced Nazi back to his table, then sweep this up?”

“Yes, boss.”

Sascha dragged the excruciated soldier back to the Luftwaffe table.

 

Major Strasser walked over from the Nazi part of the bar. Rick stood up, his head only reaching the officer’s shoulder. Annie stood up, only reaching the tall man’s xyphoid process. Concerned, Police Captain Louis Renault came scurrying in from the roulette wheel.

“There is far too much anti-Nazi sympathy in this club,” Strasser said.

“Well, it’s because you are a bunch of twatwaffles.”

“’Twatwaffles’?”

“’Fotzewaffeln’!”

“See what I mean? Captain, I want this club closed down immediately.”

Annie snapped.

“No, you don’t want it closed down. First off, you schwanzsaugenden Nazis would have to drink at The Blue Parrot, and there’s no way your Wagnerian brains could handle such speed and mysticism as John Coltrane has on sax over there. And second, Rick was just about to say how he was going to offer you 10% of the gambling profits as a goodwill gesture, wasn’t that right?”

“Um, yeah?”

The tall Luftwaffe major in his dress uniform and the diminutive young genius in a worn pair of Chucks and an “If You Can Read This: Suck My Balls” t-shirt locked glares.

“Very well, Mister Rick,” the Major said, breaking his gaze first. “That arrangement will be satisfactory to me.”

Rick and Annie nodded.

“Herr Rick. Frau Annie the Soapmaker,” and the Major took his leave.

Louis looked concerned. “I overheard what he was saying, Annie. If he has a complete dossier on you, that means he’s had you researched and watched closely. We all know you’ve done some…unusual things here.”

Testarossa Ferrari had remembered to wear panties tonight, Annie noticed.

“Sascha,” she called. “A round for our table, for Yvonne, and the two pairs of Risk-playing lovebirds over there.” She gestured toward The Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg, Princess of Lichtenstein, and Jane, sharing a table with Lisbeth, and Hermione–fresh back from “Restrepo.”

Annie looked skeptically at her friend. “’Rossa, you never buy drinks for that many people, because you never have anyplace to carry money.”

“In my panties I do.”

Everyone cringed simultaneously.

“However, tonight? It’s on Major Heinrich Strasser of the German Luftwaffe,” she said, taking a big wad of cash from the wallet she’d just stolen from the Nazi. Sascha mixed the drinks grinning ear-to-ear. Even Rick laughed. “They’re all on the house, Sascha.”

“Oh, and that dossier? I can’t believe you lost your virginity when you were—“

“GIVE ME THAT!!”

And later that night, the Nazi report on Annie the Soapmaker’s virginity loss (and other skills, crimes, and sexual predilections) crackled in her ever-fired stove, their smoky secrets wafting away into the desert night.

Back to Casablanca: Chapter Three (w/apologies to J.K. Rowling)

Posted in Back to Casablanca, Bad Pulp Fiction on August 4, 2014 by tom

CHAPTER III

Standing outside a dark and scary forest, a young blonde girl with rather protuberant blue eyes was feeding meat to a rather odd looking animal. It had the feathered head and wings of an eagle, and the landing gear of a horse. The animal was called a hippogriff, and the young girl was named Luna Lovegood.

From the dark and scary forest emerged an odd trio of creatures. One was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt saying “Blow Me.” One was wearing odd robes. The third, a somewhat vacuous and smiling young woman, was wearing harem pants of the finest sheer silk, and scarves draped over and around her chest.

Annie the Soapmaker looked at Testarossa Ferrari and rolled her eyes. “’Rossa? What did we discuss about wearing underwear when wearing really sheer silk?”

“Ohhhh. That’s why it’s so breezy on my—“

“—yes. That’s it.”

“—hoo-hoo muffin.”

“You love saying that, don’t you?”

“Yep. Are these the birds? They’re really big compared to dad’s blue parrot that he keeps at his club, The Blue Parrot.”

Annie the Soapmaker sighed. “Of all the BFF’s to have…”

The third girl was named Hermione Granger, and she once lived in Hogwarts, the giant castle where the Hippogriff was happily munching raw dragon steaks.

“Hello, Hermione,” the girl said airily.
“Hi, Luna.”

“People in school are wondering where you went. I told them the nargles probably sucked you into a distant dimension. Was it nargles?”

“Well, it was more a small Lesbian from another time and place sucking me through a portal in Hogsmeade.”

“Maybe the small Lesbian is a nargle.”

“Could be, I guess.”

Annie the Soapmaker’s head swiveled back and forth, as if watching a tennis match.

“What the frak is a nargle?”

Hermione started, “There this imaginary thing Luna—“

“—THEY ARE NOT IMAGINARY, YOU TWATWAFFLE!”

Everyone stared at the blonde girl, except for ‘Rossa, who was pondering the fact that her pubic hair actually was visible through the sheer silk.

“Do you think anyone ever noticed this before?”

“’Rossa, of course they did. But your father is the leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca, so nobody would mention it,” Annie said. “Plus, you usually remember to put on your underwear.”

“Oh!! Right!!”

“Why are you here, Hermione?” the girl asked. “Harry’s failing out of school without you to do all his homework. I help out Ronald Weasley. I like Ronald Weasley. He’s funny, so I help him with his homework.”

“That’s great, Luna. Listen, we’re pressed for time, and what we really need is a vial of hippogriff blood.”

“Okay. Do you have a spell or something to get it?”

“No, but I have a nice sterile needle. He won’t feel a thing.”

“Plus,” ‘Rossa added, “I have a tranquilizer dart gun to shoot him if he freaks.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Hermione. You gave ‘Rossa the tranq gun?”

“Yes. I was hoping she’d hold it in front of her—“

“Gotcha.”

Hermione bowed to the Hippogriff, who bowed back. She walked slowly up to it, and stroked its feathers. “You’re a good boy. You might feel a little pinch.” Hermione gently stuck the needle into the Hippogriff’s vein, and drew out the tube of blood she needed. “Thank you. Again, she patted the Hippogriff, who turned his attention back to the dragon meat Luna was feeding him. All of a sudden, there was a pop and an “ouch.”

“Annie?”

“’Rossa tell me—please tell me—that you didn’t shoot yourself with the tranquilizer dart gun.”

“Okay. I didn’t shooooot mmyyyysseellllfff wiff thuh gunnnnn.”

Annie the Soapmaker looked down at Testarossa’s feet. “’Rossa, there’s a dart in your foot. You really DID shoot yourself with the tranq dart gun.”

“But yooooou saaaid not to tellll yoouuu. I feeeel funny,” and Testarossa Ferrari started giggling. “Thiss is like Jaegermaedchen, only stronger and owier, because theerrre’s a needle in myyy foot.”

The blonde girl kept feeding dragon meat to the hippogriff as if nothing unusual had happened.

“They like dragon meat,” she said.

“Is she some kind of dingbat,” asked Annie.

“Well…she’s different. I could do a memory erase spell on her, but nobody understands her anyway, so why waste it?”

“Fair point.”

The door opened in a nearby cabin, and a boy with round glasses and a lightning bolt scar on his forehead walked out into the group.

“Hermione??” he asked, gobsmacked. “Where have you been?? He noticed the serious girl in the “Blow Me” t-shirt and the translucently dressed girl spinning and giggling with a needle in her foot.

He reached for his wand; Hermione was faster. “RESTREPO!!”

She thought for a minute. “Oh, shit.”

After a year of working together, Annie had never heard Hermione swear.

“What the frak did you do?”

“Um, I put him into a 2010 documentary about the Afghanistan war.”

Rossa fell down in the grass giggling from the tranquilizer. Luna fell down in the grass giggling simply because she’s Luna. Annie stared at Hermione:

“You put him into a documentary about a war? You can’t put people into films, H. It doesn’t work. Either way, he has a magic wand, so maybe he’ll stop the frakkin’ war before I have to go back.”

Hermione shook her head. “He’s really amazingly inept with wandwork. And everything else, except flying. Shit, I have to get him. Can you and your half-naked friend get back okay?”

“I got her. Do what you have to do. Just come back by tonight, okay? We need that potion by tomorrow afternoon, or Sascha’s ass-herpes won’t be gone in time for work Tuesday.”

Hermione nodded and raised her wand: “Auto-restrepo,” and transported herself into a 2010 documentary.

As soon as Annie got Testarossa back to her lab tent, she knocked her out with a sleeping elixir she’d made that morning. The last thing Annie needed was a punch-drunk half-naked girl stumbling around her lab tent.

A little way down the dusty street lay Signor Ferrari’s club/home to his criminal empire, The Blue Parrot. For years, Signor Ferrari—who has no first name—has been trying to hire the singer and pianist, Sam, away from Rick’s Café Americain. Rick would have none of it. However, when Ray Charles staged a coup, and people realized how a good piano player sounded and looked, Rick let Sam go on the spot.

So now, Signor Ferrari was auditioning Sam. He anticipated great things—Sam had always drawn a crowd, and the man could entertain like nobody. The audition wasn’t going well, though. Sam kept moping through songs like “Stormy Monday,” even making “It Had to Be You” sound like a lament. Just when Ferrari was about to kick Sam out, in walked a big black man with a saxophone case. He pulled out a soprano sax, called out a key, and told Sam to try and keep up. The song was “My Favorite Things,” which would be written in 1960, but the sounds the sax man made were lyrical, angelic, and unlike anything ever heard in Casablanca. Best of all, they woke Sam up, showing him that he had multiple fingers that could play actual notes, not just acting like he was playing. He was groovin’.

After the song, the man introduced himself as John Coltrane: “Most people just call me `Trane.’” This cat on the drums is Gene Krupa, and I don’t know who the brother on the bass is, but he can play.

And thus, The Blue Parrot featured the Sandy Sam Quartet, while Rick had Ray Charles with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. For a small dusty place, there was some hellacious music.

None of this helped Signor Ugarte, who was in a cell in the Police Prefect’s Office, being grilled about the murder of two German couriers on a Casablanca-bound train. Specifically, he was being grilled about the location of two Letters of Transit, signed by General Weygand. They could not be rescinded or even questioned.

What Ugarte failed to realize is that those letters were not bullet-proof. Even though Rick was hiding the letters for him, when Ugarte failed to come up with an alibi, two Luger bullets were shot in his head. It wasn’t Major Strasser—his uniform is far too white and clean—but some black-shirted Gestapo guy.

If Victor Laszlo had gotten to Casablanca one day earlier, Signor Ugarte would have survived. As Rick said, “It looks like fate has taken a hand.”

And fate’s hand could bitch-slap anyone.

Back to Casablanca: Chapter Two

Posted in Back to Casablanca, Bad Pulp Fiction on August 4, 2014 by tom

Herr Lehman’s ass un-darted, and his wallet being pillaged, Annie the Soapmaker called over to the Baroness Anastasia of Heidelberg and Jane, suggesting that perhaps playing with sharp objects were not a good idea at that particular moment in time. The Baroness signaled to Karl the waiter, who came by immediately.

“Yes, madam,” he said. “How may I be of service?”

“I’d like a margarita, all top shelf, but with Midori instead of triple-sec, and no salt.”

“Very good. And for your friend?”

“Wife.”

“My apologies. For your wife?”

“A Reichsctagfeuer Cinnamon Schnapps in an iced tea glass.”

“Very good.”

The Baroness felt a tug at her skirt.

“It’s haunted down here. WOOoooooooooooo.” A bout of uncontrollable giggling came from beneath the tablecloth, along with a large plume of smoke that was clearly not pipe tobacco emanating from beneath the Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg’s skirt.

“Here.” A hand with purple glitter nail polish handed a mouthpiece up the Baroness’s skirt.

“Try again. Aim a little higher.”

“Oops. Sorry.” More giggling. “I almost stuck the mouthpiece into your—“

“And here’s your margarita, Baroness, and your schnapps in a clean iced tea glass, ma’am. Anything else for now?”

“No, Karl. Thank you.”

“—hoo-hoo muffin,” ‘Rossa continued. ”When they’re busy, Karl doesn’t like when I sit under the tables, but it’s like playing farts.” The girl snorted. “HAHAHAHA! I mean farts. NO!! Wait! I mean, I meant forts. Here.”

The hand managed to make it over the Baroness’s skirt this time. She took a deep hit off of the hookah, and floated about 2.5 centimeters—maybe an inch—above her chair. The room took on a kaleidoscopic view, but not a scary one—all the swirling shapes were smiling and enjoying themselves. Even the odd little man yelling “RICK!!” over and over as cop-looking guys carried him away seemed to be laughing.

“Holy fuck,” The Baroness Anastasia of Heidelberg said, handing the hookah to Jane, who’d finished half a glass of her schnapps. “Well, I could try it, I guess.”

She took her hit, and immediately felt sunlight coming from within her, glowing like a star. ‘Rossa crawled out from under the table and sat the empty hookah down. “Aww. Our hooker’s empty.”

“HookAH,” corrected Jane, knowing how The Baroness loathed incorrect English.

“Her-me-own. These ladies need refilling,” Testarossa called to the next table.

“Dammit, it’s ` Her-MY-own-ee,’ and you know it.” ‘Rossa winked at the Baroness and Jane. “’Night, ladies. If you need anything—hotel upgrades, rental cars, rental camels, free drinks at the Blue Parrot, somebody to be `disappeared’—let me know. My dad’s the leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca, but he reluctantly does some legal stuff, too. Any friends of Annie the Soapmaker are friends of mine.”

Jane looked confused. “But we don’t KNOW—“

The Baroness Anastasia of Heidelberg pinched Jane under the table.

“—um, what time it is.”

Testarossa Ferrari laughed. “When they give last call, you go home. You drink more. You fuck. You sleep. You call room service for hangover breakfast, take a bath, maybe fuck again, then get up and do it again, Amen. Until tomorrow. Baroness.” ‘Rossa gave a slight bow. “Jane. Nice to meet you both. ANNIE! I’M LEAVING!!!”

“Okay, ‘Rossa. I’ll catch up with you as soon as I’m done with this, and as soon as you’re done being an uncouth twatwaffle.”

Testarossa looked uncharacteristically pensive. “That could take years.”

“Well, either way, ‘Rossa, I’ll see you tomorrow. Violet said a new bus of tourists came in from Oran today. I told her she could rob them, but only the tourists, not the refugees.”

“My dad sells exit visas. We don’t want to rob refugees. Poor devils. Why do tourists come here?”

“It’s like watching a camel wreck, where those long legs are tangled, the drivers are screaming at each other, sand’s blowing over everybody, but the camels don’t care. They just hang out, happy not to be carrying fat-ass humans on their humps for awhile.”

“So the tourists are complete assholes?”

“Well said.”

“I’m sobering up. Good night, Baroness. Jane. See you in the morning at McDonald’s, Annie.”

“Good night, Testarossa. Stumble carefully.”

Annie picked up the hookah and carried to the Baroness and Jane’s table. Hermione and the small chess-playing girl joined them. Hermione loaded the bowl with something brown and mossy with red hairs.

“Oh, God, no more of that–”

Annie the Soapmaker laughed. “Nah. It’s just a special pipe tobacco we grow in the greenhouses behind my labs. Speaking of which, I’m Annie the Soapmaker. You met Testarossa Ferrari—almost more intimately than you probably would have expected. This is Hermione, and that pint-sized girl over there playing chess with Rick is Lisbeth.”

“I am The Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg, and this is my wife, Jane.”

“Heidelberg doesn’t have a Baroness, though.”

“I know. `of Heidelberg’ is our family surname, so my stupid parents decided to name me “The Baroness Anastasia. I’m really Princess of Lichtenstein.”

“So your name is `The Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg,’ but your Royal Title is `Princess of Lichtenstein’? Why not use both? `My Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen, The Princess of Lichtenstein, The Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg.’ Yeah. That’s a little too snotty and British.”
“Plus, Lichtenstein only has about 20,000 people,” The Baroness continued. “ I know most of their names when I see them at Goering-Marcus.”

 

Across the lounge, Rick and Lisbeth were setting up the chessboard.

“Ugarte?”

“Nah,” said Rick. “He’s done for. They’ll say they shot him trying to escape, or that he killed himself. Anything other than the truth.”

“The Letters of Transit?”

“Yeah.”

“Does anyone realize they’re not real?”

“Apparently not, kid, because a lot of blood has been shed over them”

“Eine Menge Blut ueber sivergossen worden.”

Rick looked at the small woman with the ring in her nose. “What?”

“`A lot of blood has been shed over them,’ in German.”

“You scare me, kid.”

“I get that a lot.”

 

The Baroness of Heidelberg took a deep pull off the hookah. “Let me get this straight. The Prefect of Police keeps arresting the same people whenever there’s a crime and he knows who did it?”

“Yeah. `The Usual Suspects.’ He pays them a salary, and bonuses for Bastille Day and New Year’s.”

“Christmas and St. Patrick’s?”

“Muslim country, mostly.”

“But the Italian Lieutenant?”

“A complete idiot. I wouldn’t trust him to take care of my goldfish.”

“So, Annie,” The Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg started, “You really make soap?”

“Oh, sure! All kinds of products: soaps, shampoos, crème rinses, mud packs, foot cream, C-4 explosive bricks, morphine, and—with the help of my partner in crime (at this, Hermione blushed)—potions and poisons that can do anything but make you piss purple for a month to hollow you out from the insides. Plus, naturally, inoculations for our friends. Stop by my tent tomorrow, and we’ll get you taken care of.”

Jane whispered into The Baroness’s royal-though-not-a-baroness ear. The Baroness Anastasia of Heidelberg gently kissed Jane on her forehead.

“We need to go. Where do we get our check?”

“Bah, you’ll be back tomorrow night. Just settle up then.”

“Do we need, um, to hire that big guy over there to walk us to the hotel?”

Annie the Soapmaker looked at the door and grinned.

“Abdul?” She snorted. “It’s a plastic scimitar, because he kept cutting customers with his real one. He’s also kind of a wuss. A very LARGE wuss, but a wuss nonetheless.”

Annie took a drag off her cigarette. “Finally, you’re friends of Testarossa Ferrari’s. Nobody in this dusty corner of hellions and thugs would dare lay a hand on you. You could probably walk down the street naked, and everyone would avert their eyes. You’d be sunburned to pretzels before you got here, but you probably could.”

Stubbing out her cigarette, Annie watched a tall thin man walk through the front door. “Alas, dear friends. I must away.” She turned to the man. “Come join us, minion/husband. This is The Baroness Anastasia of Heidelberg and her wife, Jane. This is my full-time husband and part-time minion, Abdul.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”

Jane cocked her head to one side. “Isn’t the really big Moroccan guy at the door named Abdul?”

“Yeah,” Annie replied. “My Abdul is Swedish—Abdul Svenborg. Fucked up, ain’t it? See you tomorrow.”

 

Lisbeth handed Hermione another 100,000 Vichy Francs, kissed her cheek, and led her out the door. Karl and Abdul were putting chairs up on tables for the cleaning crew, and Rick was counting money.

“I guess that’s our cue.” The two held hands and walked through the door.

“Ladies?” Rick called from across the bar. “We’ll talk tomorrow. I just felt like letting that weird little Swedish girl kick my ass in chess tonight. Goodnight.”

Abdul opened the door, and The Baroness Anastasia of Heidelberg and Jane stepped out into the quiet desert night.

Back to Casablanca: Chapter One

Posted in Back to Casablanca, Bad Pulp Fiction on August 3, 2014 by tom

I

Long ago, in a dark and scary forest, three witches stood chanting around a cauldron:

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting

 

A young woman walked out from the forest. She wore blue jeans, and a t-shirt reading, “If you can read this—BITE ME!”

“No, you stupid, ancient-school hags. You don’t need all that crap. Just make him a nice cup of tea from this.” The young woman handed over a bag of mushrooms. “These will have him tripping so hard, he’ll kill Duncan, his wife, the staff at MacMacadam’s when he gets the munchies, then himself, all in about fifteen minutes, then you three can work on something so you don’t look so much like hooded green prunes.” The girl made a face of disgust. ” And you know, you three could move into the castle and live there, if you can get out the spots of blood. Hahahaahhahaah! Oh, right…we’re not up to that part yet.”

Another young girl came wandering out of the forest, giggling. “This stuff tastes weird.”

“Aw, sweet Christ with a handbag, ‘Rossa. Have you been eating my peyote?”

The first girl shook her head, and grabbed the second one’s hand. With the other hand, she grabbed the sack of fenny snake filets from Hag #3. “Since you won’t be needing these.” The second girl was alternately meowing and howling with laughter.

“Good Lord,” she said. “Even YOUR dad’s gonna be pissed at me for this one.”

She found an ancient tree, and touched a certain knot about six feet off the ground. A portal opened. She grabbed the meowing girl’s hand and dragged her through. And thus, Annie the Soapmaker returned to Casablanca.

 

II

After changing clothes, and de-felinizing Testarossa Ferrari, Annie and ‘Rossa headed to Rick’s Café Americain. Because everybody comes to Rick’s.

It was packed. People were drinking, trying to buy black-market exit visas, drinking and smoking, trying to sell diamonds to fund drinking and smoking. At the bar, Sascha was still trying to get under Yvonne’s sequined skirt by plying her with good brandy. As always, it wasn’t working.

Rick’s was a strange place, where geniuses and fools, the upright and the scoundrelish, the drunk and the really drunk, all hung out in one big, boisterous club. There was a restaurant, a nightclub, and a smoky casino, where only certain people seemed to win, like those who deserved it, those who were about to get arrested and shot, and those who were Chiefs of Police.

In the nightclub, Ray Charles led his big band through a bunch of R&B and soul numbers, which had half of the audience baffled, and the other half terrified. Sam—Ricks’ original piano player—still fumed at the bar, throwing back shots of Cheap Desperation’s Most-Mediocre Kentucky Bourbon, and chasing them with huge mugs of Broken Dreams on tap.

He’d take Yvonne home that night, and they both knew it, though they would pass out before getting nekkid. This was a good thing. Still, people drinking mugs of Broken Dreams can smell each other from across a crowded bar, regardless of the pea smoke cigarette haze.

Sam was drinking away his pain, because he was a horrible piano player, and Ray Charles staged a coup. Unlike Sam, Mr. Charles’s fingers actually touched the keyboard, and he sang with soul, which had yet to be invented.

The source of Yvonne’s pain was sitting at a small table, upon which stood a chess board. Rick was there, looking sharp in his white jacket and black tie. The girl across from him had a ring through her nose, and was reading the complete works of St. Thomas Aquinas, not watching the game. Rick moved his bishop.

“Check.”

The girl looked up with mild interest, and moved her knight, taking Rick’s bishop.

There was a commotion as a handsome couple entered the bar. He was tall and handsome, and she was also tall, and looked a lot like Ingrid Bergman. (If there were ever a movie about Rick’s, Ingrid Bergman would be perfect to play Miss Ilsa Lund) The man—who seemed to have some sort of device stuck up his ass—told the maître d’ that he’d reserved a table for two, and that his name was Victor Laszlo. The French Resistance people murmured quietly—“Holy merde! C’est Victor Laszlo!!”—then went back to losing their culos at blackjack.

For Rick’s was truly an international bar. People came from all around: Spain, France, Austria, Hogsmeade, Sweden, The United States of America, Germany. (Many of the Germans were not exactly welcome there, being Nazis, spies, or pickpockets).

There were those, too, who thrived in Casablanca, who loved it there, and wouldn’t think of leaving. Signor Ferrari—the leader of all organized crime in Casablanca—was having a great time, even after that Maltese Falcon thing in San Francisco proved to be a hoax.

His eldest daughter, Testarossa Ferrari, was having a ball with her BFF, Annie the Soapmaker. Annie the Soapmaker and her minion/husband loved Casablanca, too. There was no pesky mildew to exacerbate the minion/husband’s allergies, and—other than the wartime vibe, frequent murders, and high crime rate—a wonderful place to raise their Kindergartner, Violet.

Violet was precocious, already fluent in three languages—and able to swear proficiently in two of them—and, under Rossa’s tutelage, she’d become one of the most effective pickpockets in all of Casablanca. In fact, she once made off with 300 Deutschmarks and a Luger from one unsuspecting Sturmbahnfuhrer who was trying to get under Yvonne’s sequined skirt. On her way out of Rick’s, the Luger accidentally went off shooting Signor Ugarte in his right foot.

“Dammit Ugarte,” Rick growled at him. “Now I’m going to have to have Sascha mop the floor where you’re bleeding all over it.”

“Checkmate,” the girl at the table said. Rick checked the board. He hadn’t anticipated the move she made with her rook.

“Shit,” opined Rick, and tossed 100,000 Vichy Francs (approximately fifteen American cents) upon the board. “Go again?”

“Later.” The odd, short woman in the black Judas Priest “British Steel” t-shirt got up and walked over to a boisterous table, where four women sat drinking Jaegermaedchen, a jilled-up version of Jaegermeister designed especially for women. Annie the Soapmaker—the chemical mastermind behind the liqueur—poured another round of shots for The Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg and her wife, Jane. They linked arms, then downed the shots in one, shuddering as the liquid burned its way down their throats.

“C’mon,” said Jane. “Let’s go play darts.”

“Careful,” warned Annie the Soapmaker. “You could put somebody’s eye out.”

“As if…” snarked The Baroness Anastasia von Heidelberg.

Jane grabbed the darts, and aimed carefully at the board.

Her shot went off at an angle probably seventy degrees right of center, pinning Police Capitain Louis Renault’s hat into the voluminous ass of a Portuguese man. The man was a German expatriate named Hans Lehman.

Hans Lehman was a moron. He’d been living in Portugal for a year, and wanted to get to America, and he’d heard that the best place to find exit visas was in Casablanca. Not knowing that 97% of the people in Casablanca were trying to get to Lisbon, Portugal—where he’d lived for twelve months—he went to Casablanca. Once he got there, he found himself trying to get an exit visa to get BACK to Lisbon, so that he could catch a Clipper to the US. The irony was lost on him. Again: moron.

Hans Lehman didn’t feel the dart in his ass, because it hit him in his very fat wallet, rich with Portuguese and—better yet—American money.

Testarossa Ferrari removed the dart and the wallet from Herr Lehman’s possession, smiled primly as she gave Capitain Renault back his hat. Herr Lehman was quite embarrassed when he got his bar tab—swollen from trying to get under Yvonne’s sequined skirt—and couldn’t find his wallet to pay.

It’s just as well: beneath Yvonne’s sequined skirt was a stolen German stiletto, and the largest penis in all Morocco.

Annie the Soapmaker’s secret sexual reassignment cream required the fenny snake fillets, and she’d been fresh out, ergo the trip to see the three witches.

When Yvonne (born “Ivan”) had come to her for help, Annie the Soapmaker had promised to help her.

The next day, after Yvonne left the chemist’s tent–truly on her way to becoming a woman–Annie rested her chin upon tented fingers and laughed, marveling that this would be the first time the cream user wanted the gender reassignment, at how many Hansels had been frightened to awaken as Gretels.

“C’mon minion/husband. Grab Violet, and let’s go get dinner. Our daughter hit up a wealthy American, and I’m thinking we go to that place where they grill a whole cow for you.”

Having done something kind for a friend, on a perfect desert day, it was good to be Annie the Soapmaker.

 

Going Back

Posted in Back to Casablanca on August 1, 2014 by tom

casablanca3

It’s not Lent, and it may not be every night, but Annie the Soapmaker threatened my life if I didn’t revisit that dusty, drunken jewel in the desert, Casablanca.

And so shall it be. I hope you can ride along with ‘Rossa, Annie, Hermione, Lisbeth, Rick, Ilsa, Laszlo, Louis, Ferrari and the rest, plus–no doubt–some new people I hope won’t sue me.

We leave on the morrow. Pack your pith helmet and your best evening wear, and be careful, for there are vultures, vultures everywhere.

ts

PS: If you missed the original series, “Lent in Casablanca,” you may find it starting here: http://tomzone.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/lent-in-casablanca-night-1/

Aja, 2004

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2014 by tom

Back in 2003, or thereabouts, I got a new neighbor in the apartment across the breezeway from me. Her name was Aja. I first met her when I was coming home from doing mid-days, and she was coming back from the swimming pool. Some women like to use cover-ups when they walk back from swimming, but not Aja. Good Lord, why would she? She had a flat tummy, long legs, large natural breasts, and a lovely face.

She was friendly, too. Every time I saw her, she said, “Hi, Tom,” and I  was somehow ensorcelled that she remembered my name. Many times, I saw her come back from the pool, all healthy pulchritude and youth.

And every time I wondered at the tattoos on her body. Covering her beautiful skin were tattoos that were violent, with sharp corners, horrible shapes, almost like she was punishing herself.

I know a lot of women with tattoos, and some of them are lovely–some truly beautiful. Sometimes it’s a lover’s name tattooed in a heart, or children’s names, or a Chinese symbol the tattooed woman thinks means “power,” but really means “common prostitute,” or “beef lo mein.” (nb: this really happens a lot, so be careful, kids)

But Aja’s tattoo’s reflected self-hatred to me, like she saw her beauty, and wanted it destroyed, wanted to disfigure herself.

Aja was a waitress at Applebee’s. I know this because I found one of those little book things they write your order in lying next to her car, wrapped in an Applebee’s apron. I knocked on her door, but there was no reply, so I just left it on her doorstep. I hope she didn’t get into trouble.

In 2004, I was involved in a heavy program of drinking bourbon. I was working nights, seven till midnight, and as soon as I got off work, I was off to the liquor store. I tried to drink Evan Williams as much as possible, but when my funds were low, so went my taste. If I got a bonus? Hooray! Barrel proof hand-crafted! But Evan Williams was my go-to, because it was good-enough, and it didn’t cost that much.

Once I got home, I’d log on to the computer, and write my best friend a letter. I’d write on the same letter for months. One he got was 110 pages long. He swears he read it all. (If so? Dude, I apologize.)

After I became too drunk to type anymore, and Van Morrison’s “A Night in San Francisco” had finished for the night, I’d turn on MY guitar. I had a 1950’s remake Fender Stratocaster, that I ultimately had to pawn to pay rent or buy more bourbon, one. I also had a little ten-watt practice amp. So what I’d do is play a bunch of rock music with one cup of my Sony MDR-7506 headphones over my right ear, and listen–fairly loudly–to the music coming out of my amp. I was okay–neither great nor bad–but I could get crunchy metal out of that amp, or the warmest tones you’d ever want to hear.

The bottom line is that I was essentially immune to any outside noise, and God help my neighbors, who probably weren’t immune to mine.

One night, there was screaming outside my apartment. Screaming and pounding on a door. A door across the breezeway from me.

The pounding was Aja’s boyfriend. They were fighting constantly, and moving toward an ugly breakup.

Aja was a club kid. I saw her plenty of nights going out in dresses so cut-out, that they were almost fishnet. She’d be drunk and on high–really high–heels. She’d be going out at half past midnight after her shift to get wasted, and I’d be coming  home at half past ready to get wasted myself. Different techniques, granted, but we both got our buzzes working.

Aja and her boyfriend apparently had a huge fight one night. She was already wasted–not just on alcohol: she dabbled in other things as well. Aja finally told him that she was just sick of everything, and she was going to end it. The boyfriend sped over, and reached for the key Aja always kept hidden atop the door-frame molding.

The key was gone. The boyfriend was scared shitless, and started pounding on the door, screaming her name, trying to get her to open the door. The boyfriend called the apartment complex’s emergency number to get a key, but nobody would be able to help him till 8:30 when the office opened. The office opened. The community director drove the hysterical boyfriend–who expected the worst–to Aja’s apartment, and let him in.

It was the worst.

Aja had OD’d on heroin. She was cold, dead, right on the living-room carpet, one of her club outfits on, her phone turned off.

I never blamed myself. These apartments had really sturdy doors, and there’s no way even my Hagridian bulk could’ve crashed through the deadbolt.

But I never heard the boyfriend screaming. If Aja was at that point, and she needed someone to talk to, I couldn’t have heard her knocking. I was living what I called my life back then.

For those of us whose control of grain-based liquid substances gets out of hand (*raises hand*) there are special 28-day “resorts”;-) you can stay in, and when you come out, you will have stopped using those grain-based liquid substances. The trick is to continue to avoid using them, lest ye be back where ye were, which–for me–was the corner of Soulless and Nowhere.

Once you leave the special resort, there’s a secret club full of other people trying to avoid various toxins. For the first five years after I left the “resort” ;-), I went to the secret club regularly. Then I changed jobs, and I stopped going. I’ve been fine, with no urge for grain-based liquid substances for the nine years I’ve been clean. Recently, I started going to meetings again, just to get out of the house and be around interesting–and sometimes frightening–people.

I had a shite day today. I went to the doctor, where I had to wait an hour and fifteen minutes beyond my scheduled 10:30 appointment. Then I had to go back at 3:00 for Physical Therapy, which leaves me sore, but not in pain. But with the broiling heat and the stress….No way I was going out again.

I went out again. This meeting is a meditation meeting, where we read the St. Frances Prayer, and meditate on one of it’s positive affirmations–“where there is darkness, let me bring light,” e.g.–and there’s usually a small crowd, and it is nice to direct the meditation, and the room was silent. We’re supposed to meditate on the obvious things.

All I could picture in my mind’s eye was that beautiful, healthy girl walking up those stairs, looking like perfect nineteen-year-olds do. I wonder where she is today? A Heaven? A Hell? Reincarnated? Energy spread back into the Universe? Part of all of us somehow?

I’ll never know.

Aja might have been a sculptor’s wet dream on the outside (except for the tats), but she was a psychiatrist’s nightmare on the inside. I don’t know why I couldn’t stop thinking about her today during meditation. Maybe it’s because she’s from such a lifetime ago–most of my adult life, anyway–and it was her turn to flash on my mind’s eye so brightly,that I had to remember her, to lament her, to wonder what she’d be now at thirty-three. Married with kids? A junkie on the streets? Someone who cleaned herself up, took classes, and became a teacher?

It’s funny, I had friends in grade school I remember for a brief flash, then they’re gone to that “former acquaintance shred file” we all have.

Aja took her time, but when she came back to my mind, it was a Babe Ruth-esque swat. I always loved her as one loves ones cool neighbors–in a non-gross way–and I was sad that she took this way out. My life went on apace, and I continued to drink myself inflammable.

After my stay in the “resort” ;-), I found a group that I really liked. They met at seven in the morning. This sucked ass for me, because of my schedule, but it was worth it.

A nice couple moved into Aja’s former apartment–Ryan and Collete, and don’t ask me how I remember their names because I don’t know. Sometimes, I’d be sitting in the Nimitz, trying to convince myself to go to this meeting, when Collete would pull up in her car. We’d chat till I had to go. She was a sweetheart. One early morning, she asked me about the people who lived there before.

I think I looked away from Collete’s green eyes and said simply, “She was a beautiful girl, but I never really knew her.”

 

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