Wednesday, December 29, 2004




My car had been chugging and hesitating so I stopped in at a local garage. The mechanic (skinny, late 30's, stained dark blue jumpsuit, long greasy black hair, black baseball cap, slightly askew) took a look and a listen.

"There's nothing wrong with this car," he said. "You just got some bad gas. I'm going to fill you up and and put in some fuel line cleaner and you'll be fine."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Listen," he said, "where have you been buying your gas? From those quick serve stations?"

"Mostly," I said.

He snorted. "All those people who run those stations, they're ragheads, not Americans. Have you noticed that?"

I nodded.

"Can I give you a tip?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.

He bent over and in a conspiratorial half-whisper pronounced: "White people. Get your gas from white people."

He nodded his head slowly, as one does when imparting a great truth. Then he gave me a quick wink, turned, and went back into the garage.

I got about a mile down the road before my car started chugging again, and finally stalled out. I had it towed to the dealer.

Thursday, December 09, 2004



A hundred fifty years ago this guy would have been on the back of a buckboard selling some 180 proof concoction as a surefire tonic for the stresses of frontier living. At the turn of the 20th century he would have been beating the bushes like Professor Harold Hill, selling some useless product to rubes in the heartland.

Today, he's a corporate consultant/trainer. And, unlike earlier versions of this type, the contemporary avatar doesn't even have to pretend that he's delivering a real product. But instead of being ridden out of town on a rail, he's welcomed into meeting rooms, conference rooms, seminars, and is paid handsomely for dispensing his modern snake oil.

He's in his mid fifties. He's got a full head of silver hair combed straight back and a double-breasted silver suit to match. Flashes a gaudy watch and shoots his cufflinks to complete the impression. He's quite taken with himself and assumes we are too.

One of the handouts from Mr. Slick includes a "partial list" of programs that he delivers. Apparently he's an expert in:

"E-Mail Etiquette" (that's got to be a full day program)

"The Art Of Negotiating" (you should have seen him nailing down this gig)

"Preventing Sexual Harassment" (obviously developed in self-defense - women won't leave him alone)

"Forward Thinking Leadership" (revised version of 20/20 hindsight program)

"Managing Time Effectively" (he takes no questions)

"Professional Presentation Skills" (we shall see)

"Communicating For Results" (I said I wanted lettuce and onion on that burger)

Among others. Many others. He's got:

"Dealing With Difficult People" (for the bad minority employess)

"A Dialogue On Respect" (for the good ones)

"Communicating In a Diverse Environment" (for the ones you haven't pigeon-holed yet)

"Conducting Performance Appraisals" (how to skewer the bad ones without getting sued)

"The Dynamics Of Change" (out they go)

And on and on.

Today we are in for an afternoon of "Releasing Your Personal Memory Power"


How It Went

Wednesday, December 01, 2004



We were at a mid-scale bar/restaurant, celebrating JA's birthday. There were a dozen of more of us, essentially the same crowd who would have been standing around a bar like this twenty years before. Not much had changed, beyond the fatness and the baldness and the fact that the wall of booths across from the bar area was full of kids, our kids, ranging in age from 0 to 16, most attacking platters of chicken wings, bowls of french fries, and personal pizzas.

I was having a good night. Buck, JA's brother, had picked up a big fat tab before leaving. Before we even had time to start another one, Steve B. bought LZ and me glasses of wine.

"You'll never guess who I ran into," Steve said.

"Tell me," I said.

"Tommo. Remember him? From the old days?"

"I do remember him," I said. "I had a very strange relationship with him, for a short time."

"What do you mean? Steve asked.


"It all started one night years ago" I said. "I was in a mall parking lot, hurrying to my car. It was winter. It was freezing. I heard someone yelling to me."

And it all came back to me.

"Hey, over here! It's me. Tommo."

I hadn't seen Tommo in a while and I was glad of it. He had always made it clear how much he disliked me. I could only imagine that he was hailing me in this dark parking lot so he could knock me around. He was a big bearded brute, I didn't stand a chance if there was a fight. I couldn't reach my car without running, there was nothing handy I could see to hit him with, so I took a deep breath and turned around to take my medicine. But Tommo was all smiles. He stuck out his hand for a shake like a big furry dog.

"Hey, hey, where have you been?" he asked me. "I've been meaning to look you up. I just bought a house and I'm having a big party in a couple of weeks. You've got to come. Let me give you the address."

Tommo had gotten married right out of high school to a sour stocky woman with thick glasses who was a few years older then he. No one understood the attraction, from either angle. The whole time they'd been married, they'd been living in the basement of Tommo's parents' house, saving up for their own place. So now, after years, they'd made the leap.

I wrote off Tommo's uncharacteristic friendliness as some sort of artifact of his new position as a property owner. He was on a new-house-high, or something on those lines, I figured.

"I'd love to come," I said. And quickly forgot about the encounter.


Jurvoz called. "Tommo says you are coming to his party tomorrow. Can you give me a ride?"

"Don't you have a car?" I asked. "I thought you did."

"I do have one," Jurvoz said, "but it's temporarily unavailable."

"Impounded?" I hazarded.

"Something like that," Jurvoz said.

"Don't you have a girlfriend?" I asked. "With a car?"

"She can't come," Jurvoz said. "She has to work. It's the busy season."

"I'll be over a little after nine," I said.

"Maybe you should stop at the liquor store before you pick me up," Jurvoz said. "Get a bottle of whiskey and some beer, as a housewarming gift, from the both of us."

"There's an idea," I said.


Tommo still liked me. "Hey, hey. My man!" he said. And he gave me a big hug as I entered the house.

His wife just stared, as if she couldn't place me. Then she gave me a quizzical look. She had placed me and she didn't know why I'd been invited to her house.

I shrugged my shoulders. I didn't know either.

The party was the first of many. It turned out that Tommo loved to entertain. We worked our way through February, marked March with a St. Patty's get together, were back in two weeks for an April Fools Day bash, and were more than happy to make use of Tommo's pool and barbeque facilities once the weather broke.


As the summer wore the parties grew larger and more intense. There was often a frantic feel to them, as if fun were a zero-sum activity, only to be gained at someone else's loss.

The picnic tables at the back of the property had been claimed by an unfriendly group of hippies, who were there because of some tenuous connection with Tommo's sister. They applied themselves grimly to the task of getting and staying high. They only time they socialized was when one of their number was deputized to the grill area for a food run.

The pool was taken over by aggressive horseplayers. Balls and frisbees flew everywhere. Anyone coming close to edge of the water was unceremoniously thrown in.

Some serious drinkers had set themselves up at Tommo's cabana bar area. Tommo's liquor was for their use exclusively, for everyone else it was BYOB.

There was another group who spent most of the afternoons and evenings hanging around Tommo's cellar door. At regular intervals a few of them at a time would disappear down the cellar stairs, reemerging a few minutes later, looking conspicuously inconspicuous. We assumed some serious drugging was going on, but no one wanted to ask.

Tommo's wife hadn't been out all summer. She was said to be at her computer, working. No one knew on what, or for that matter, what kind of job she had.

And Tommo himself had become a sort of low rent Gatsby, usually just surveying the goings-on from his deck before retreating inside. It was said that on the 4th of July he had actually taken a swim, but if so, I hadn't seen it.


The few of us who were unaligned with any of the major factions spent a lot of time at the horseshoe pit, throwing game after game. I was in the middle of yet another thrilling match with Joe T. when a bolt of lightning lit up the sky followed by a shotgun blast of thunder. I looked up: the sky was darkening quickly; I felt the wind pick up.

"That's it for me," I told Joe.

I found FW. "Let's take off," I said. "It's turning ugly."

FW's eyes were glassy. I suspected that she'd been having some illicit fun herself.

"We can't go now," she said. "We have to take Jurvoz and Alanna."

"Forget it," I said. "Jurvoz won't leave until that keg's empty, and I haven't seen Alanna since we got here."

Then there was another loud crash. This one wasn't thunder, it was a late-arriving party guest, who had driven his car onto Tommo's lawn and smacked into a tree. He fell out of the car, laughed, and walked toward the keg. The car was still running, steam was billowing from under the hood.

"I don't need a plague of locusts to get the message," I said to FW. "Let's go."


As we were driving home, The Eye Doctor, who'd had a few too many, slipped and cracked his head on the side of the pool. There was a rush to the house for first aid supplies, for the telephone, for the host.

Someome burst into a bedroom where Tommo was entertaining Alanna. A lot of things became clearer. Jurvoz left in a huff. He and Alanna were through. Tommo's wife kicked Tommo him out the next morning. Jurvoz moved into Alanna's apartment, but that didn't last long. Tommo's wife divorced him and sold the house. She moved out west and got a job managing a dude ranch.

(The Eye Doctor chipped some bones in his neck, but was OK. The incident scared him so much that he swore off drinking. Although not permanently, as we have seen.)


"So, that was that," I told Steve. "No more pool parties. I never saw Tommo again. How's he doing after all this time?"

"Not well," said Steve. "Things just kept going downhill for him. He was depressed. He drank a lot. He lost his job. He was even homeless for a while. Now he lives in a cabin in the pine country. He's like a savage. He's got nothing."

"Does he live off the land?" I asked. "Like a mountain man?"

"No," Steve said. "Apparently he tried to at one point, but he was no good at it."

"Tommo was one weird guy," I said. "He always hated me, then he acted like we were best friends, then he disappears."

"Well," Steve said, "he's bipolar. That could explain a lot of his behavior."

"Bipolar," I said. "How about that? It never crossed my mind."

"Oh sure," Steve said. "That's probably why he acted that way towards you."

"Is that what bipolar means?" I asked. "First you hate somebody for no reason, then you like them, also for no reason?"

"Absolutely," said Steve. "That's exactly what it is."

"How about that," I said. I thought for a minute.

"So, if Tommo couldn't hunt or fish, how did he get by?"

Steve laughed. "Hunt or fish? Tommo couldn't even forage. He got a job as a janitor at the Dollar Bonanza Outlet."

"I don't think I'm familiar with that store," I said.

"It's a store where they discount the stuff they couldn't sell at regular dollar stores," Steve explained.

"Sound pretty brutal," I said.

"They get a rough crowd in there, " Steve concurred. "Tommo told me he's had to wield a mop, in self defense, one more than one occasion."

Steve waved the bartender over.

"I've got this round," I said.

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