Bear With Me: 2004 Election Protest Edition

Bear With Me: 2004 Election Protest Edition

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in 2016. I’m reposting all my old columns before they disappear from my former employer’s website, which has totally happened once already. 

My friend Micah and I were trolling around campus the day after the 2004 presidential election, looking for trouble while we waited for “The Simpsons” reruns to come on at 5.

We sauntered over to the college bookstore — the place that sells you the book your professor published and makes you buy — where a rather lively Iraq war protest was underway. Bullhorns, placards, free soup, the works.

I hate talking about politics, and I don’t really want to hear about yours — unless you believe in your inalienable right to carry an AR-15 into Starbucks. Then I’ll know to stay away from you.

But my brother was in Iraq at the time and had already been shot in the face, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to join in.

We were handed placards and had been there for all of two minutes when a duo of khaki pants and polo shirt-clad chaps and their girlfriends sidled up to the picket line and began screaming at us immediately.

“Bush won,” the men screamed in unison. “Why don’t you stop crying about it!”

I was taken aback, because my sign said something like “No War for Oil” in big, easy-to-read letters.

“This is a war protest,” I answered softly, wondering if they had read the sign.

Before I was done speaking, both chaps removed their shirts and wrote, “Fuck John Kerry,” on their chests with their girlfriends’ lipstick. They also chanted this sentiment, repeatedly, but seemed to grow bored after a few minutes and marched away, barking out, “Bush Rules!”

The next day, the college paper ran a front page photo of Micah standing impassively as one of the painted chaps, pink polo shirt in hand, jammed a finger into his face. The caption said something about Micah being told by the painted chap that he was wasting his time. (Micah had failed to mention to me that a photographer had approached him at the protest.)

I felt that the caption didn’t represent the level of unrestrained jerkiness the painted chaps had displayed. I took to my laptop, mashed out an angry letter to the editor, printed it, signed my name and marched it to down to the paper.

When I saw it in print the next day, I fell irreversibly in love with seeing my name in print. I went back to the newspaper the next day wearing the sheepish grin born only by someone who just insulted someone else and now needs a favor from them.

After giving me an expression that said, “Oh, you’re the guy who just told us we suck and we should learn how to write a caption,” the editor hired me. It paid 30 bucks a day, had 14-hour shifts, free coffee and a lax attitude toward my surliness, which has served me well. It’s been a glorious slow-boat ride to oblivion.

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Hard Case Crime: My endless quest for trashy crime fiction

Hard Case Crime: My endless quest for trashy crime fiction

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in May, 2016 and corrected the name of the publisher. Always nice to see a three-year-old mistake.

In a mostly futile quest to purge myself of repeated viewings of the same television shows and movies on Netflix, I’ve taken to lurking around used bookstores.

The purpose of this change in behavior is two-fold. There is the aforementioned desire to cease my incessant screen fixating and also a pathetic attempt at socializing. That “socializing” consists mainly of avoiding eye contact with the other hunched over misanthropes who hang around used book stores, save for the occasional muttered half-acknowledgment.

I’m fortunate in this new endeavor. I moved to Boulder County about a year-and-a-half ago after languishing for nearly a decade in an ill-defined geographical area I refer to as the Redneck Wasteland. Reading there is illegal or, at the very least, sternly frowned upon.

But here, at the base of the lovely Rocky Mountains, people actually read, and the half-dozen or so second-hand book stores I’ve found are a cornucopia of not-too-musty paperbacks for frugal consumer and not just a collection of dog-eared V.C. Andrews novels.

I went through a phase of trying to read classic literature — Hemingway and his perfidious aversion to adjectives, Orwell and his clean, clear copy so bleak and devoid of humor that it should be kept out of the hands of depressed teenagers. I bought a copy of “Moby Dick” but never read it, because I’ve already seen “Star Trek II,” so I know how it ends, more or less. Williams Shatner is the whale, right?

After coming to grips with my own lack of culturing and refinement, I moved on to the mystery section, which is really a spectrum more than a genre. Some of it is real trash, not worth reading. Some of it also real trash, prurient but well-written and entertaining. That is what caught my interest, specifically, an imprint called “Hard Case Crime.”

“Hard Case Crime” has republished old, out-of-print crime fiction titles by writers like Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. I had never heard of these writers and likely would have passed over them if it weren’t for the book’s artwork.

The “Hard Case” books, in addition to bringing obscure crime fiction back from the dead, has also resurrected lurid — at least by 1960s standards — cover art that would have come on pulpy books. Mostly it’s cheap women smoking cigarettes and bad men in cheap suits.

Sure, it’s not exactly high art, but I have been surprised at how well some of these writers can turn a phrase. As a professional writer (and obsessive compulsive) I can’t abide bad writing for fear of contaminating my own.

“Hard Case” also offers new titles done in the hard-boiled tradition. Stephen King contributed one called “The Colorado Kid” which name-drops the Boulder Daily Camera. That filled me with joy upon seeing it as I read the book the weekend before starting at the Camera. It seemed like a good omen.

Clocking in at a brief 150 or so pages, “The Colorado Kid” was also the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. The man can write. I just don’t have 600 pages of time. I’m a busy man. Two hundred pages or less, please.

A Date from Hell: Right Wing Nut Edition

A Date from Hell: Right Wing Nut Edition

Editor’s note: This column first appeared in 2016. 

Internet dating is like ordering a hamburger at the drive through and suddenly discovering at the second window that the hamburger has made other plans.

It’s depressing enough without having to hear your date launch into an invective about all forms of government being evil and unnecessary, and the world being a better place without them.

They really need a Tinder for Wingnuts.

Last week, I had been texting with a woman who seemed really nice. We had a lot in common. We both like tacos and …

She invited me over to her house for coffee and conversation, and I accepted. After informing someone of my whereabouts (in the unlikely event she was a human trafficker), I took a leisurely jaunt to the suburbs south of Boulder County after work.

I had been slightly perturbed when she texted the night before that the police should be outlawed because they tell other people what to do. She seemed nonplussed when I replied that police are good because they arrest child molesters.

Hungry for companionship, however, I chalked it up to a text message disconnect. Sometimes it’s difficult to effectively communicate on that medium. World War I started over a poorly placed emoji.

I arrived at her place, and she informed me we would be chatting in her garage. I entered and sat down at a table littered with empty beer cans, dead cigarette lighters and, oddly enough, a pacemaker that kept going off.

“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “It belonged to my roommate’s uncle. She’s waiting for it to die so her boyfriend can hack it.”

Warning: The following is a dramatic reenactment of the conversation that followed, about 45 minutes in. I try not to smoke cigarettes, but I was bumming quite a few of hers.

“Do you need a light?” she asked.

“No, I’ll just light it off the end of this one.”

“So … tell me one reason we actually need a government,” she inquired, never breaking eye contact.

My stock answer to this question has always been Somalia. There’s a reason “Black Hawk Down” isn’t a romantic comedy.

So I took a shot.

“Somalia?”

“Tell me another place.”

“Um, Libya?”

“And another.”

“Mad Max: Fury Road.”

“And you really think those places would be better with a government telling people how to live their lives? Why can’t they just do it themselves?”

“Seen any good movies lately?”

“By the way, racism is over in America,” she said.

“Hey, I just realized I’ve got to get going. I’m being castrated in the morning, and I should really get some sleep.”

I bought a hamburger on the way home. It was delicious.

Epilogue: Liking tacos is not a sufficient enough reason to hang out with someone. In the future, vet people a little more thoroughly.

Anyway, I need to go. I’m trimming my cat’s toenails tonight, he typed, weeping softly over his keyboard.

The Matrix, but with cats.

The Matrix, but with cats.

I watched “The Matrix” on Netflix the other day because I’ve only seen it 20 times or so since it came out. I find the wealth of options that streaming services offer anxiety-inducing. Call it a 20th anniversary viewing.

The sequels were dreck. I rewatched them about two years ago during an abortive suicide attempt. They couldn’t kill me, only make me wish I was dead for nearly five hours.

Anyway, the original is great, even if the story is completely absurd. Why didn’t the Machines just flush Keanu Reeves’ body down the toilet when they knew the rebels really wanted to get their hands on him? It’s not like they didn’t know exactly where he was.

Answer: Because then we’d only have a 20-minute-long movie about a computer nerd with no life and a woman named Trinity who dresses like a Bulgarian mafioso and can kick ass in slow motion.

It seems the evil agents spent an inordinate amount of time fighting cyberpunky rebels with pince-nez sunglasses, black leather trench coats and hip (for 1999) names like Cipher and Apoc.

Question: Do you think if they made “The Matrix” today, it would have a minor character named Vape and another named 5G?

If the Machines really wanted to keep humanity pacified in perpetuity, they should have just convinced people in the simulation that they were the perfect being — lazy, surly yet ultimately indifferent to your presence.
I’m talking, of course, about cats.

The Matrix would be just a two-bedroom apartment with a bay window. Bay windows are like widescreen TVs for cats. The Matrix could play squirrels frolicking and birds chirping on an endless loop. The Machines could power themselves forever, and people would stare out the window for a minute before losing interest and sleeping 22 hours.

Upon entering the Matrix, the Rebels would promptly get bored, ignore the evil agents, chew on their hind feet for a bit and settle in for a nice nap. It would be utopia. I’d willfully give my body over for that.

I’d like to think Hugo Weaving, the memorably sinister Agent Smith, would have delivered a performance just as gloriously unsettling as a guy who lives in an apartment and owns too many cats.

“I’m going to enjoy watching you die, Mr. Pickles,” he would say to his grey and black tabby as it gave him that “you’re an asshole” look from the other side of the room that all cats love to give. “I’m just kidding, Agent Smith loves Mr. Pickles. Yes, he does.”

There is a throw-away line in the movie that humans have to be miserable otherwise the simulation wouldn’t work. To that, I offer this translation of my cat at any given moment during any given day:

“Oh my god, I’m so hungry, Daddy. I’m starving. Please, I beg of you, give me some food. Just a morsel. I’ll never ask for anything else as long as I live. Yes, thank you. MMMmmmmm. This is so good. Oh look, it’s gone. Oh my god, I’m so hungry, Daddy, I’m starving …”

If men got pregnant …

If men got pregnant …

Todd clutched his mid section as he and Sally perused the ramen noodle aisle at Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon. 

“Ugh,” Todd whined, expecting a sympathetic inquiry from Sally.

She didn’t say anything. They did this routine once every three months or so. 

He repeated himself.

“Ugh.”

“Yes, dear?”

“I don’t feel well.”

“Sorry to hear that. What is wrong.”

Sally picked up a package of four cheese ramen and put it in the cart. 

“I’m pregnant,” Todd finally offered. 

“I figured.” 

“How is that?”

“You always get grumpy when you are pregnant.”

“Sorry.” 

“Go get an abortion.”

“Meh.”

“Seriously, we are at the Wal-Mart. They have an abortion clinic at the McDonalds.”

“I don’t like getting abortions at Wal-Mart.”

“Why not? They are completely safe and affordable.”

“I’m just not in the mood for McDonalds. I’d rather have an abortion over Taco Bell. They have those new Cheesy Gordita Crunch’s I want to try.”

“Well, I guess you can go to Taco Bell later today.” 

“You sound like you don’t care.”

“You go out and get drunk and get pregnant every six weeks, Todd. I don’t want to go to Taco Bell. I’m tired. I worked all week. I want to get my Cheesy Ramen and go back to our apartment that I pay the rent on.”

“Fine.”

They continued looking at Ramen. Todd picked up a shrimp cocktail flavored package and put in their cart. 

“It’s crazy what happened in Alabama,” Todd said. 

“Yep, terrible. All those people, vaporized by nuclear weapons.”

“Well, that’s what they get for passing a bill restricting men’s access to abortions to banking hours.”

“Yep.” 

“Babe?”

“Yes?”

“I’m decided to be an adult and just go get my abortion at the McDonalds.”

“Good for you.”

“Yeah,” Todd said. “Good for me.”

Mental Health Awareness Month: I’m just saying no

Mental Health Awareness Month: I’m just saying no

In February, I weaned myself off of my mood stabilizer after 13 years of consuming psychiatric drugs — 17 of them at last count. If they help you, you should take them. They didn’t work for me, however. It’s been 13 years of twists and turns that mostly felt like a labyrinthine trip to nowhere.

In 2006, a doctor diagnosed me with obsessive compulsive disorder. So far, 10 or so health professionals have kicked around the word “bipolar.” Cool. Hemingway was bipolar, and so was Kurt Cobain — two heroes of mine, and they both did very well. At least at first.

I started off on Lexapro. The first time I swallowed the white pill, I felt an immediate wave of euphoria. I would find out 10 years later that such a reaction is not good and I should never have taken that drug. Lexapro also gave me chronic diarrhea and weight gain and ushered in what has now been 13 years of invasive suicidal thoughts, every 15 minutes or so, every goddamn day.

When I quit taking Lexapro, electricity shot through my hands and face for six weeks. One time, I tried to bury myself in the backyard under some yard clippings.

I don’t know the clinical significance, but benzodiazepines — I’ve been prescribed four kinds of those — flick on the same little switch in your head as alcohol. Hi, my name is John and …

I flushed the last of the Ativan down the toilet after hallucinating that the cat was dead.

A fun side note: The doctor who described Klonopin as being “very smooth” and something I’d “like” was busted six weeks later for prescribing quart-size jugs of promethazine cough syrup — the primary ingredient in “Sizzurp” — to anyone with $20.

The drugs have all been fairly unpleasant, some more than others. Paxil felt like a jolt of lightning. Seroquel made me feel like I was watching myself happen. Tegretol caused a painful, red rash to erupt across my arms and chest. My throat swelled closed when I took trazodone. Also-rans include doxepin, Celexa, gabapentin, Abilify and lithium. I’m not sure what any of those did.

Prozac made me experience an emotion I can only describe as equal parts joy and rage. A relative said to watch out for joy rage. On occasion, she believes she is a savior come to save humankind, so I listen to her on matters of mental health. Prozac also caused erectile dysfunction but only after I’d already had sex five times in the past two hours.

The last drug I’ve taken, Lamictal, made my vision blurry for six years. And it didn’t work. I’ve punched myself in the face, screamed myself hoarse and made too many tearful middle-of-the-workday phone calls to my mom than I’d care to remember. Sorry, Mom.

When I went to the psychiatrist two years ago to say the Lamictal didn’t seem to be working, he recommended more drugs. Some of them require quarterly blood tests to make sure your liver isn’t exploding. At least one causes drooling, and another will make the user gain 100 pounds.

I’m just saying no.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month, Everybody!

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month, Everybody!

I was eating a Cuban sandwich and watching TV one night in June. I wasn’t feeling well.

I hopped into bed. About 20 minutes later, I felt it. A panic attack starts in the legs. It’s your body telling you the next four hours are going to last 50,000 years. If there is a hell, it will be a panic attack coupled with a Kardashian reading “50 Shades of Grey” for eternity.

My long-suffering mother was visiting, so I ran to the living room and said, “This is happening.”

I’ve suffered panic attacks for years but none in a decade. Two in two weeks. The first one I rode out for two hours. I called 911 after “Jump off the roof. I can’t take this anymore,” flashed in my mind.

The Boulder police officer I spent an hour crying to was very friendly. I discussed Hemingway with the paramedic. That was nice. I might have them drive me around for a few hours next time and roll me out the back once I fall asleep.

The ambulance, 30 seconds with an ER doctor and a sandwich cost me $1,600. I hope they don’t mind $5 a month forever. So much for affordable health care.

As interesting as that experience was, I wasn’t up for a repeat. For the second attack, I decided to walk it off.

I started on a bike path behind my house. No people. Just walk. Stay in the big long now. Ignore the muscles snapping off the bone. Forget the 1,000 mph breaths.

“Excuse me, sir,” a woman inquired. “Have you seen my dog?”

“No,” I replied, haltingly. “I. Haven’t. Seen your dog. I’m. Sorry.”

Keep walking. Cross the street if you see someone. The passing car seems like a speeding freight train. Wait for it. OK, it passed.

I spent the next two hours spiraling through North Boulder streets. Hoping the cops don’t stop me. I’m getting tasered if they do, because I can’t stop walking. A good tasering might be what I need.

I had been sweating profusely and was close to fainting. Dehydrated. 3 a.m. Keep walking. I was lost, and the thought of keeling over in the street did nothing to calm me.

Solution: yard sprinklers.

I found one, laid down on the sidewalk and sucked up as much water as I could. I moved from house to house and drank and drank and drank. I found my way home. The attack never stopped. I fell asleep at dawn. Finally.

Panic attacks are particularly vexing when you are otherwise happy. No traumatic experiences. Life is good. The doctor at the anxiety clinic told me that, yes, this happens. They have a six-week waiting period. Oh well.

I wrote this with a fair amount of trepidation. I don’t want people to know how crazy I get sometimes. But I’m tired of feeling embarrassed. Hi, I’m John Bear, and sometimes I drink out of yard sprinklers.

By the way, the water in Boulder is delicious. Even out of yard sprinklers.