Regime Change

Can a Nigga Get a Regime Change?
or
My New Girlfriend Is So Fucking Hot!

by Mark Driver


In remembrance of 9/11 I wore my white American flag sweatshirt to my cubicle and remained quiet during the mandatory five seconds of silence, thinking about how much I want them to drop bombs on evil because I can’t stand it when people hate my freedom. I knew I was not alone. Then I got back to work …

My mind’s on regime change. It’s all the rage. Uganda, citing anti-Ugandan rhetoric coming from Uzbekistan, has adopted a policy of regime change for the despotic Uzbeks. Uruguay, citing danger to all freedom loving Uruguayans around the world and the threatening of Uruguayan interests abroad, has adopted a policy of regime change to the evil and freedom hating nation of Sri Lanka. Fearing rogue dictator Popsintano Corpulata may be massing weapons of mass destruction, the nation of Iceland has been making a case for declaring war on the country of Upper Stalpi, and also has adopted a policy of regime change.

Our clearly unelected (yet cleverly appointed) president George W. Bush, Dick “Greasy Beaver” Cheney, John Ashcroft (a whack job of an attorney general so beloved in his home state that he lost an election to a dead man), Rumsfeld, (a man so ready for war he’d swarm a Canadian kabob stand with seventeen divisions for getting shorted on tahini sauce), these jokers – while not busy increasing logging in national parks to stop terrorism, or figuring out ways to screw American workers out of benefits to stop terrorism, or trying to ban the use of medical marijuana to stop terrorism – have adopted a policy of regime change for Iraq. Undaunted by the will of the American people, Congress, and the opinion of the rest of the world, Bush has threatened to invade Iraq by himself, a pair of six shooters on his hips and Laura-packed lunch of barbecued longhorn, a dimebag of coke, and a tin of skim milk in his Houston Astros knapsack.

“We gonna get getting’ on that crawfishin’ evil amassing Sadam of weapons of mass destruction regime change freedom loving evil evil evil democratic ideals of liberty and regime change,” he squints and reads from the cue cards, making sure to hit every key word that focus-tested strongly before a classroom of beef-fed Christians so bloated and lost in their own sitcom nightmares that they actually believe in the flimsy morality being held before us like a cardboard jousting shield — 10th Mountain Division losing legs and brains to provide a stronghold for the next wave of accountants, oil execs, Kentucky Fried Chickens, and the few other folks still able to make a living during this exciting Race To The Bottom.

Wait. I know have a tendency to oversimplify things, but …

You mean we can drop preemptive bombs on other countries who might be freedom hating terrorists that might attack us in the future AND we get to live under an administration ushering in jail without trial, search and seizure without probable cause, secret courts, surveillance networks of government employees collecting personal info on citizens which may result in a possible sentence of death?

Hey, America, smile! You’re looking great! Where the hell is that flag of mine? I wanna stick it on my car. Right above the gas tank.

Feel that national muscle flexing, little people. It flexes for you. It is your muscle too. Become one with the larger power. Melt into empire. Don’t you feel strong? Don’t you feel potent? Don’t you have war fever? Haven’t you been convinced by all that amazing evidence? Or you can’t wait for evidence? Do you wish they would hurry up and start dropping bombs on people before your family is destroyed by weapons of mass destruction? You may have no control over your shitty little life, but man are you gonna whup some Iraqi ass.

If this issue actually exists, we can deal with it in lots of less violent ways but … fuck that’s no fun. We crave the surgical gore of war! For drama! To spice up our lives! Cos it’s a more interesting spectacle than doing things diplomatically, like a civilized nation in cooperation with the civilized world. We’re Americans, entertain us! We want life to be like the movies. Lots of explosions. Lots of one liners. Heroes. Villains. Wide scale epics with a budget of billions. And as an added bonus, all the extras are played by real human corpses, providing an authentic war experience. Fuck yeah, it looks like we’ve got a sequel on our hands, boys. “Desert Storm 2: This Time Our Premise Is Even Flimsier”.

Perhaps we can promote likeable celebrities to top military posts. Fuck Schwarzkopf, give us Schwarzenegger. Move over Rumsfeld, here comes Charles Fucking Bronson! Or Chandler from Friends! Let’s teach Vin Diesel to Fly an F-18 and put live Fox cameras in the cockpit as he strafes vegetable markets in downtown Baghdad. Wait! He can lead a squadron made up of the cast of That 70’s Show! They can take out milk factories aplenty while our at home audience votes on the next target by touchtone phone! At least until Iraqi anti-aircraft gunners catch on to the fact that every attack took place at 8:30 on Sunday nights.

“What do you mean we already won the war?” the mustachioed director shouts into his cellphone as he takes cover in a tentflap to escape the blowing sand. “I got seven more shows to get in the bag! The war’s not over until I say it’s over. Wait a second,” he says, pulling a map out of his pocket, “you ever heard of this North Korea place?”

Hey, it’s just one idea. I’m full of them.

You know, if we preemptively captured, lined up, and shot every child in the Middle East, we’d probably nail a few future terrorists in the process. Less expensive then bombing them out of their daycare centers. Who knows how many lives we would save?

Ain’t it a bit strange that the country currently being held up as the Worst Thing Ever, The Most Evil Place On Earth, run by This Generation’s Adolph Hitler — this place we have to go kill for terrorism was the same country from a few years back where we had to go kill them for … uh … what was it? I dunno. Ten years is a long time.

Why war now? Maybe because it’s perfectly timed in-between a national day of mourning and a crucial election in the Senate? Why Iraq? Cos there’s another Texas Oil Man in the White House? The bad terrorists came from Saudi Arabia. When do we start bombing Saudi Arabia? I wanna start bombing Saudi Arabia! They hate our freedom there too! Let’s roll! Remember 911! Why stop there? I got beat up by a Finn once. Regime change in Finland! Down with Helsinki! Freedom bombers for everyone! Democratic napalm! Liberty bone fragments lodging themselves in brains of true economic justice! Feel the foaming fanged bite of the Greatest Nation on Earth! God Bless America and Fuck Everyone Else to Ashes!

Weapons of Mass Destruction. Regime Change. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Regime Change. Cheat and retreat. Cheat and retreat. Chatter. Chatter. Chatter. Evil. Evil. Evil. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Blah blah blah.

Are you guys actually buying this shit? Are you spooked? Has your daily routine and gradual acceptance of an officially sanctioned version of reality rewired your brain completely? Can you be played like an instrument, singing tearfully when given the cues from above? Do you dance on command too? Can they make you cry? How much of ‘you’ is still in you? Are you a creation of someone else? Do have thoughts or do you merely respond to stimuli? Do you trust your eyes? Can your heart be a liar? How does a society as fucked as the one I live in get to hold itself so high above the rest of the world, to determine who gets bombed and who gets aid? Good PR?

Sure, living in Seattle beats living in Somalia, but I just gotta take a drive down the street and see the slums, the poverty, the empty-headed purchasing, strip mall development, another goddamn chain restaurant, another goddamn Wal-Mart, another goddamn traffic jam, another goddamn prison. It’s the same in every goddamn town. There’s bad and there’s good and there’s problems and there’s some nicey nice too. Most of us can carve a little cave out of the chaos, and attempt to pursue happiness, sure, but if the nation I live in is truly the Greatest Thing The Earth Has Ever Seen, and we are, as we are told, The Greatest Nation on Earth, than Earth is a total piece of shit and we should probably stop bragging. It’s like being proud to be “The Greatest Worm on Corpse”, “The Greatest Fold in the Fat”, “The Greatest Disease in the Herd”.

We’re boring Romans with assholes for mouths that lie, lie, lie and lie …

No, for the millionth time, this isn’t being Anti-American. This is being more American than you can get your head around. This is about being honest. Unafraid to speak even in the middle of an idiot mob. There is a glaring discrepancy between the glossy media presentations of reality and the shit we all slog through every day, and we know it. Do not lie to yourself. We are ruled, fooled, feathered, and fucked, and paying for the privilege.

When our grandfathers stormed the beaches at Normandy, they were heroes. I don’t know what the fuck we are now. Not heroes, that’s for sure. Businessmen? Professionals? People with jobs to do? Bottom liners? It’s like my country’s been hijacked out from under me, not by men in turbans but by men in suits who seem intent on flying this place right into the ground, and collecting on all of our life insurance policies in the process. They use words like “freedom” a lot. They’ve ruined that word for me. Now, whenever I hear the word “freedom”, I reach for my wallet, just to make sure my arms haven’t been blown off.

And don’t even bring up Patriotism. It’s a dead word. It’s an economic term. Put the word “Act” on the end of it and it’s cameras in your brain, microphones in your butt, and FBI superpowers that only a Stalin could appreciate. Trust your masters, love the State, take three tabs of Paxil, feed your kids something from the Super Value Menu, ingest nine cups of sugar, eight cups of salt, think about celebrities while you’re having sex, bemoan your ailing portfolio and cheer on that aircraft carrier as it takes poor American kids half way around the world to shoot at and be shot by poorer kids.

There’s plenty of patriotism going around anyway. In a recent survey, 46% of all people polled felt the 1st Amendment goes “too far”, especially in any criticism of our current carpet bombing of Afghani wedding banquets.

Brave. Brave. Brave. Terror. Terror. Terror. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Victim. Victim. Victim. A nation of groveling pussies willing to give away anything for the illusion of safety. One arm over our eyes, the other one blindly waving a butcher knife at spooky sounds in a darkened room. We can’t sleep. Monsters are everywhere. Once we kill all the monsters, then we’ll ask for our rights back. But until then, you can slip that computer chip right beneath my tongue and I’ll be a quiet little patriot. A glazed eye flag zombie. I’m hugging cops. I’m buying cars. I’m cutting down trees. I’m stifling dissent. I’m drilling in Alaska. I’m harassing cab drivers in turbans. I’m not asking questions. I use phrases like ‘regime change’ in normal conversation.

I’m doing my part to fight terror.

Because when it’s against us, it’s terrorism. When it’s against them, it’s policy. We aren’t aggressively attacking an enemy, we are bravely defending ourselves from the threat of evil. And, when we bravely defend ourselves all the way to Baghdad, step over the mutilated bodies of liberated civilians, put in our new shiny puppet with press bites like “hope for a new, democratic Iraq”, we will break our own arms patting ourselves on the back and then see what’s next on TV.

And hey, maybe a few people make a few bucks in the process. What’s more American than that?

This is not a war, this is a business decision. This is distraction from a collapsing economy. This is election fodder. This is power in action. This is propaganda in its barest form. This is way more cynical than anything I could ever think up.

Overheard on a call-in talk show:

“I mean, I’d like to know what the government is doing in the War on Terrorism thing, but, you know, it’s their business. We elected them. They know more about the situation than we do. They’re there to do a job. I don’t know where it’s our place to get in the way.”


So, who manufactured your reality today? And is Iraqi really the country most in need of a regime change? I can think of a few regimes a little closer to home …

WARNING! THE FOLLOWING HAS NO POLITICAL CONTENT AT ALL! IT MAY AS WELL BE A CHAPTER FROM A SWEET VALLEY HIGH BOOK! PLUS IT RAMBLES TOWARDS THE END AND DOESN’T MAKE MUCH SENSE, BUT THE WORLD CAN KISS MY FUCKING ASS BECAUSE I’M IN LOVE AGAIN!


And speaking of regime change, you should see this new chick I’m dating now. Holy Shit, is she fucking hot! And funny! And she plays guitar! And she knows how to work a printing press! And she’s a triathlete!

Whoa!

New girl?

Maybe I should backtrack. My last column, written circa 1982, ended in another temporary truce with The Girl. In fact, I even used the words “I got The Girl.”

Well, so did a few other guys.

Ouch. Eight and a half years permanently disappeared in a day with one sentence comprised of three words containing two or fewer syllables.

“I’m moving out,” she said.

Was I dumped out of the blue? No. While “Dude, Where’s My Car?” was on TV? Yes. Oh, the humanity.

It started out as a perfectly normal Sunday, a day in our pajamas, dunking buttered slabs of Texas Toast into Mark Driver’s World Famous Turkey Chili and Anus Remover while drooling teenagers wet themselves in the cable box. A little tension in the air, as always. There’d been plenty of rockiness. A few holes punched into walls. A few nights where I faked staying out all night by sleeping in my car. A few nights where she didn’t fake staying out all night. Break up. Apologize. Get back together. Break up. Apologize. Get back together. Repeat until one of us kills the other. I thought we’d smoothed everything over. Well, actually I figured we slapped enough 2×4’s and duct tape on it to get it to our next vacation. The damn thing just kept falling apart. Certainly for the best.

“How’s the chili?” I ask.
“I’m moving out.”
“That bad, huh?”
“I mean it. I’m moving out.”
“Again?”
“For real this time. I found a place.”

Her best friend had just divorced a grump of her own, and the ladies were going to get a place together. I imagined them giggling over gin and tonics at the hipsterfucked Cha-Cha, drunkenly crowing about girlie apartments and new boys and Paul Frank toothbrush holders, and how much fun life was gonna be once they got the boring losers out of their lives. They could have fun tapas dinner parties with their work friends and, oh, they could take road trips to Vancouver and Portland all the time, and get the cutest couch EVER and accessorize the kitchen in green and pink and get mailing labels with their pictures and adopt a dachshund puppy from the pound and —

And this plan, of course, completely fell apart within twelve hours of its conception and I got to enjoy two fine months of living with The Ex while we saved for firsts and lasts. Not the best way to get over someone. Or, conversely, an excellent way to get over someone. Turns out eight years is just enough time for someone to learn every single miniscule thing to hate about you.

Luckily I was making money again. Working sixty-seven hours a week as sole bartender in a swanky martini bar tends to fill one’s bank account. Sure, it was annoying to have some just-out-of-college-and-cocky-got-my-first-real-job skank in her “I’m-going-out-to-meet-a-man” black outfit send back drinks because she was convinced her Sour Apple Martini had been made with a vodka inferior to Belvedere, and hear from some mustachioed penguin that our wine list was horrifically lacking a quality Cotes du Rhone, single-handedly beating back a full bar of slicked hair and shiny shirts demanding mojitos while receiving screaming orders from the cocktailers needing fourteen dirty martinis, three with four olives, four with three olives, one extra dirty, one slightly dirty, one slightly extra dirty, two with onions and olives, three on the rocks, one made in reverse order using salad tongs and stirred with antique dueling pistols – whatever. At least no one was pointing artillery at me. No hypodermic needle attacks. And fuck, these bastards knew how to tip. Still, six days a week, eleven hours a day is a lot to work.

Which was the big problem, according to her. A few months earlier, the problem was that I was pouring pints of pilsner in Purgatory and coming home with gooey murder stuck to my soul. Not fun to be around. So I quit. Was she happy? Nope. After that I wasn’t working enough, that is to say, at all. How can a woman respect that? Get a job, boy. So I get a super-full time job to dig myself out of the shit, get some money in the bank, be a man, etc. Now, apparently, I was working too much. We barely saw each other! Where were my priorities? I didn’t care about the relationship any more!

I tell you, I’m starting to get the impression that women are sort of hard to please.

When a woman says something to a man, she’s lying. She’s really saying something completely different.

“I can’t believe you left your socks in the middle of the fucking living room” actually means “You take me for granted and there’s a cuter guy at work who would probably treat me way better.”

“You don’t talk to me anymore” means “you won’t let me babble on for hours without making faces.”

“I hate you” means “I hate that you’re not as upset and emotional and as crazy as I am.”

“I’m moving out” means “I’m moving out no matter what but I’m still gonna get mad if you don’t beg me to stay. In fact if you don’t beg me to stay, I may stay just to piss you off.”

And so on.

Uck. Break ups. Blame them on my paucity of columns. I know haven’t updated the Driverbox in a while. It was not for lack of writing. It was for lack of writing that someone might conceivably find of interest. Boo hoo, whimper whimper, 9th grade goth girl poetry is not the tool for cutting any sort of mustard with a fickle and demanding public. Combing the tomes of broken hearted tripe emanating from my rectum in the wake of the break-up, I can pull phrases like “being gang-raped by a pack of werewolves and getting dumped at a New Jersey Pizza Hut” and “coming back from fighting a war to find your house burnt down and your neighbors wearing your clothes” to describe the complete disintegration of what I thought my life was.

Loss of identity. That’s where the real heartache lies.

You get so interwrapped with another person’s psyche, it gets hard to tell what belongs to who, and when you pull that monster apart – Christ, what a mess. What a big hateful mess. Girl. Apartment. Cats. Green couch. Yellow rug in the bathroom. Chicken breasts in the freezer. This is reality. This is your life.

And then you’re pushing spackle into nail holes in the white walls of an empty apartment you used to share. Sweeping up dimes and buttons and twist ties and cat toys. Looking at the random pile of moving-out trash she left for you to take to the dumpster. Why yes, Mr. Watery Eyes, I do believe there’s a few pictures of you in that trash pile. Probably left there purposefully. For you to notice. Ain’t love grand?

So what do you do after you’re out and alone, broken-hearted and sitting on a milk crate in the middle of your new studio apartment?

Remember all the good times. All the little things that made you happy. Like how you weren’t allowed to cook fish because it smelled. Like how it was always your turn to buy toilet paper even though you only used two squares a day. Like being nagged for too many after-dinner beers by a two-pack-a-day chain smoker. Like all those boring nights trapped in clouds of gnarly cigarette smoke with her yawn-inducing work friends in bullshit hipster bars gossiping about people you didn’t know. Your guitar was always too loud, the stereo was always too loud, hell — you even ate nacho chips too loud. In fact, no matter what you did, you were always loud, wrong, stupid, or absolutely laughable. Getting lectured for being yourself. Spoken abuse. Unspoken resentment. Your concept of home burning holes in your gut. Avoiding your apartment until you were sure she was asleep. Plates against the walls, police at the door, hours and hours of silent television watching. Ahh, the good times.

Your sense of nostalgia properly aligned? Good. Now do push-ups, and lots of them. Seriously. Do lots and lots of push-ups. Every time you feel a case of the hate shakes coming on, drop down and give yourself twenty. Even if you have to do them two at a time, I command you to do at least a hundred a day. Do some crunches while you’re at it. Get some dorky shoes and start running. Get strong. If you can’t make your brain behave, you can certainly make your body behave. Shit, you might even start looking good again.

It’s here that I must confess I joined a gym. Ain’t that fucking typical? The dottering divorcee, growing soft and doughy from years of relationship complacency, now on his own, is determined to get his “college body” back by buying a new set of sweats and yanking at some heavy levers at the local fitness rip-off club while Paula Abdul rocks the tinny speakers above. Please don’t make fun of me. My friends have already taken care of that, as if it’s not punishment enough to be subjected to naked men strutting their pot-bellied cocks around the locker room. Laugh all you want. I’m a swimmer now. Thirty-six laps three times a week. My violent campaign against condominium sandwich boards and No Parking signs has been temporarily halted, and my toes, knuckles, and realtors city-wide have all written me thank you notes.

Plus getting yer body strong results in:

Random hook-ups. Like you didn’t have enough shit on your mind. Like you don’t already have enough problems. Like you have anything of substance to offer anyone at this point. But hey, you just escaped from monogamy! Go make out with someone. Rediscover what total pieces of shit people are. How goddamn boring and typical and painful and humorless yer average Jolene is. Ladies who think just ‘cos they’re lookin’ good they can skimp on their summer reading. Honeys who haven’t even heard of Black Flag. Girlies who think the West Bank is a place to stop before she goes shopping at Westlake Mall.

Yes, straining martinis in a trendy bar might bring you into contact with a few cutie pies. Anguishing, arduous, tedious cutie pies. Oh, the inhuman torture I subjected myself to in the pursuit of making out. Nodding understandingly through the pathetically juvenile polemics of the 22 year-old redhead who claimed to be a struggling writer (note: parents paying your rent does not equal struggling, and having a dumb idea for a book does not make you a writer), smiling through stupid just because she was so goddamn hot. Laughing painfully with the stacked ex-cheerleader in her late twenties, head in her high school days, reveling me with highly-detailed epic stories of senior prom and football rallies. I made out in a car with a divorced woman fifteen years older than me, a woman who had been stood up at the bar and drank until last call. She offered me a sad ride home in the rain, making me thankful for the first time ever that there’s never any parking in my neighborhood. There were more. A weirdo third grade teacher who was into water sports and collected Pee Wee Herman dolls. A cocktail waitress who turned out to love Christian rock. A bartender who cried about her shitty life for seven hours straight. An eighteen year old raver with mommy’s car. Drunken sorority creeps still stumbling the streets after I locked the doors at 3 am. Once, I kissed three girls in one night. That made me feel good … for like ten minutes. Thank gawd I didn’t fuck anybody. The emptiness would have killed me. Because it was all so meaningless. Tiny puffs of smoke on a battle ravaged ego. Little sacrifices thrown into a massive hole that wasn’t getting any fuller or smaller.

So I chilled out. Tossed all the phone numbers. Told everyone I finally met a girl I liked. She lived in Niagara Falls and worked as a tour guide. We met in a death metal chat room. She was flying out to see me in August. Her name was Vanya. She was Polish and was going to teach me how to play the accordion. I was going to take her kayaking. We both loved Ethiopian food. She spoke nine languages. We might be getting married so she could stay in the country. She had long black hair and huge blue eyes and had never seen the Pacific Ocean before. She loved waterslides, could pull her labia over her ears, and was currently hatching a bacillus that only killed CEOs who gave themselves bonuses of 3 million dollars or more. Blah, blah. I could spiel that shit forever. I even tried to convince myself she was real. And totally perfect. At any rate, she gave me space.

So there were a few months of quiet. Of reclaiming identity. Of getting used to being solo again. Of calling long lost friends. Hanging out with the folks. Beers with the boys. Of going to work, smiling on cue like a showroom dummy, coming home, and reading, reading, reading. Reading everything I had ever written (man, did that suck. I can’t believe what an idiot I am). Reading books I’d bought but never cracked. Books I’ve read and forgotten. Foucault, Steiner, Hume, Vaneigem, Wittgenstein, Shopenhauer – brilliant minds being dazzlingly brilliant. They talked me down off the roof like a bunch of drunk friends, providing puzzles to read slowly and only semi-understand. Silent contemplation at four in the morning, tiny light in the corner, cold salt of Puget Sound blowing through my makeshift window screens, the occasional long haul truck rumbling down the freeway fifty feet below my window. When the birds started waking up it was time to go to sleep. Sober. Alone. And with my closet door shut (yeah, I sleep in a closet … shut up.), dark and quiet.

And then, right when I was approaching normal again, right when I was looking forward to dying alone, when celibacy seemed the eternal way of Driver, right when romance seemed as completely irrelevant as clean underwear, this girl walks into the bar. To call her ‘striking’ is not a strong enough word. She’s like being hit in the base of the spine by Barry Bonds with a nail-spiked 2×4. She was tall. Really tall. Lanky. Long legs in faded jeans. Old T-shirt. Backwards Yankees hat with brown hair spilling out the sides. Big brown eyes. She opened her mouth to speak. Two silver teeth? Fuck me, Jesus. My stomach hit somewhere around my knees. I fell apart on the spot. Like I’d been swimming in the ocean and seen a shark fin. Driving drunk with cop lights behind me. Deep sleep fire alarm at five in the morning. Glock to my temple, grizzly bear at the tent flap, loss of cabin pressure, draft notice in the mail, boss wants to talk to you, your test results are in, we’re going to war, there’s been a bomb threat please evacuate the building — she sits at a table and the waitress brings out menus. But who the hell is this twerp she’s with? Her agent. She’s gotta be a model. They’re laughing together. They’re more than business. Life’s so fucking unfair. I give on humanity completely. She gets a bourbon from a waitress. I go out of my way to totally ignore her, of course.

And then a week or so later, she comes in again.

Now, from behind my bar I’ve faced down seven foot Samoan drug dealers hell bent on mutilation. Ugly sour milk crowds with filthy fivers and pounding fists. I’ve seen blood and I’ve seen pain and I’ve seen hate stripped so white hot bare you’re likely to get contact burns that take dark decades to heal. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to stand my ground and pretend I’m not scared. To shit my own pants with a straight face. I’ve faced thousands of people, stone eyed and completely uninterested in anything but slapping them a drink and getting back a tip. Constant personal interaction with complete strangers is the hallmark of my job. But when this girl walks up to the bar, it’s all off. I’m terrified. Oh please god, just sit at a table. I don’t want to talk to you I don’t want to talk to you I don’t want to talk to you –

“Whaddaya need?” I ask like she’s bothering me.
“You guys do music here, right?”
“Yup. You a musician?”
“Yeah. Who should I talk to about getting booked?”
“Singer songwriter shit?”
“Yeah.”

Arrgh, the bane of my existence. Singer songwriters. Self-important, humorless, socially retarded crooners pushing poorly articulated emotions over unwanted strains of tuneless folk guitar. I faced a showcase of them every week, something I looked forward to like opening an umbrella in my own ass.

“Who do you rip off, Tracy Chapman or Sara MacLaughlan?” I’m an asshole. I can’t help it. She’s soooooooo pretty.
“What?”
“Give me your promo pack and I pass it on to the booker. You’ve got a promo pack, right?”
“Well, I’ve got a CD.” She digs in her bag and I roll my eyes, visibly. Cruelly. She hands it to me and I flip it into a pile of CDs behind the bar.
“Need anything else?”
“A beer I guess.” She takes it and sulks off onto the back deck to smoke. Uck. Fucking smoker. Maybe she’s not so great after all. Maybe her CD sucks too. Maybe there’s lots of other things wrong with her. Maybe the fact that I’ll never get to make out with her isn’t so sad and life crushing after all. She’s probably a dyke anyway. And has a boyfriend.

I don’t see her leave.

And then, a week later, she comes in again. She sits at a table with her friend. Or is it her girlfriend? OK, this it the third time I’ve seen her. I can be cool. I can even flip her a sexy look. I’m fine. Cool. I’m fucking Mark Driver, goddamn it, American hero. Iconoclast! Fearless destroyer of worlds! The man who single-handedly – oh shit, she’s coming to the bar. Act cool. Act cool. Act cool.

“Something drink to the wrong, uh wrong with the drink?” I spit out like a drooling moron. Pull it together man!

“I dropped off a CD a week ago”

“With me?” Yes! Score! See, I don’t even remember you! That’s how little I care!

“Yeah with you. And I’m just sort of following up to see if — “

“If they haven’t gotten back to you, they’re probably not gonna book you.” Seriously, this girl is so cute. How can I possibly be nice to her? I go wait on another customer. She holds her ground.

“You need a drink or what?” I yell as I pass in front of her on the way to the cash register.

She takes a breath. “You know, I’m really putting myself out here. It’s not easy for me to do stuff like this.”

Dude, this is your chance. Walk over there, put your hand on her arm. Say something nice. Something sweet. Look her in the eye. Apologize. Ask her out. Something.

“Hey look, I’m the bartender. I pour drinks, OK? And I’m sort of busy right now. Sorry.” Not much of an apology. I shrug and leave her there.

And then, the next week, she comes in again. Another friend. Happy hour in an empty bar, no way to avoid conversation. Jeez, what the hell is wrong with her? How many chances do I get to blow it? The waitress isn’t into work yet so I have to take the table. I slap down menus. Her friend says something about the hazardous possibilities of a hole in the bar’s wooden floor. I say something stupid about how the owner’s pet cobra living down there makes it twice as dangerous, but anyone who gets bitten gets half price appetizers on their next visit. Guh. What a stupid thing to say. Mild smiles. Be cool. Don’t hover. Go back to the bar and pour the beers they ordered.

I bring out beers and the girl I like stands up, takes hers, and goes out for a smoke. Holy shit, she’s taller than I am! That is so fucking hot! I mean I’m 6’1″ … and she’s taller than me? Fuck! It kills me! I want to ask her friend about her while she’s gone, but that’s suicide. Total mistake. No girl wants to know that you like her. I gotta do this just right, and by just right I mean chicken out at every possible chance I get. And shit, girls like that always have rich fiancés anyway, and I actually am enjoying the solitary life of a monk, all those nights alone … just me and the books and the stereo and my Playstation … and the porno mags … and all those potatoes on top of the fridge … and that big bag of rice I can drag into bed and curl up with … yup. We were all so happy together. Why throw a girl in the mix and upset the divine balance of sadistic bachelorhood?

They leave without further incident.

Two days later she comes in again. She sits at the bar. I ignore her the best I can, but give her cheap drinks.

“I think you gave me the wrong bill.”
“Nope. That’s right.”
“Oh. Thanks.”

She pays by credit card and I say the tiny embossed name seven times in my head so I don’t forget. But I don’t say her name out loud when I hand her back the card. That’s some Cheesecake Factory shit.

“Do you have a piece of paper?” she asks, still holding the pen she used to sign her credit receipt.

Holy shit. She’s giving me her number.

“Yeah,” I give her a business card for the bar and go check on something far away to give her space to write.

“Here,” she yells. I walk back and she hands me a card. I read the words ‘You Suck.’ Before I can fire something undoubtedly unclever at her, she says “if a girl with long blonde hair comes here looking for me, give her this.”

“She stood you up?”

“Looks like it.”

Shit. Getting my hopes up again. I’ll bet she acted like she was going to give me her number on purpose. Just to be mean. Just to see the brief blast of hope run cold out of my face.

And then, to be meaner, she goes away for weeks. I don’t see her. My friends have to hear starry eyed wailings about the mystery girl in noxious doses, but at least I’m not bitching about The Ex anymore, even if my angry bitching was far more entertaining than my pathetic pining.

“Mark, I think you’re using this fantasy person as an excuse not to engage in any real sort of relationship, building an unobtainable ideal to judge all others against, and in the process stem off any series of promising advances made by the opposite sex so that you can’t be hurt again.”

“Fuck you, Tony. And pass the Pabst over here.”

OK, I know, I’m like some little private school bitch clutching her English books and skipping from third to fourth period because Bobby Driscoll might ask me to the Winter Fun Fling, but give it to me. My life has been so choked of romance and cuteness and sexiness for the past year. Jerking off to the moon and waking up hungover. Flies in my eyes, puffy gums, bloody stool, a rusty meat fork to the solar plexus of anyone who tried to make me smile. Muddy thoughts, misfiring emotions, wired like a beartrap, sealed sticky and shut by spilled Goldschlager, vomited Jagermeister, and thirty thousand tons of refried beans. Sitting in a tiny, dark apartment with wine in my lap and metal on the stereo, staring at the highway traffic for hours. Enough “Drunken Driver” stories to double this lousy archive once the statutes of limitations are up. Fistfights and dead ends and hopeless brokenness and feverish work dreams running in my head 24 hours a day. A complete removal of one reality and the brutal enforcement of another where I was sick and drunk and perpetually unhappy. Lots of people live that way every day. It’s their reality. Fine fine fine. Not me. I’m not happy. I need a better reality.

I know there are plenty of readi-made realities to select, to pick and choose from until I have a personality that approaches ‘normal’. I can buy into being an “American” or a “Democrat” or a “Sports Fan” or a “Christian” or even a “Starving Writer” or an “Alcoholic” or a “Lonely Guy” or any other identity taken from somewhere outside of myself and put on like a suit while the salesperson nods approvingly. It’s just that when I put those suits on, the only thing I notice is how poorly they fit. And how bad the pants chafe at the crotch. They don’t help. There’s no instructions, and they make me schizophrenic. How can I pretend to be so many people when I’m not sure where the real center lies? I suppose we’re just the sum of the people we pretend to be, to others and to ourselves.

It comes back to identity. Whether you’re allowed one of your own, or can be swayed to take another. I certainly have had different ones in the past. With a girl, with success, with failure, with money, without money, with horrible and meaningless jobs, with no jobs – and at each of these times, the world has forced me to take on roles that were not me. Even now, I’m the Bartender. People I’d normally make fun of I now have to smile at and serve. Not because I’m afraid of getting fired, just because that’s the shortest route to the end of my day and it puts more change in the tip jar, which is why I’m renting myself to my boss in the first place. But, for me, the fact that I’m not ridiculing some drunken bozo when he so richly deserves it is a form of lying. We all do it every day. And I’m pretty sure it makes us crazy.

So, I’ve had it. No more identity. It’s too hard to keep myself intact. I’m opting for constant re-assembly and not naming what comes out the other end. Nail together what I can with what I’ve got, something to get me through whatever needs getting through that day. Which is what we all do, I suppose. I’m just doing it on my own, without the help of anyone who’s trying to sell me anything. When you’re down, you’re easy to lie to. When you’re scared, you can be sold easy answers at marked-up prices. When you hurt, you cause pain. When you take on a rigid identity, you limit your action and paint yourself in a corner. You either become a robot or a hypocrite.

Me? I’m duct tape and bird spit and speaker wire and discarded swimming goggles all soaked over night in a shallow pool of flat Black Label and set on fire when the sun comes up.

Freedom from self. Nothing to uphold. If I can pull myself apart and reassemble myself at will, I can handle anything. I can be rich. I can be homeless. I can be in love. I can be alone. I can be a cop. I can be a criminal. I can take up golf. I can hate golf. I can pretend it doesn’t exist, for I am nothing.

Yeah, that existential bullshit lasts for like twenty minutes. And then my mom calls.

And then I get email from a friend of mine.

Hey Mark, came across this thing you wrote me a while back. Can’t remember if it helped me much but thought you could use it now:

“Dude, you’re alive this morning and, chances are, you’re gonna be alive when you go to sleep tonight. Now, you can handle the shit that happens in-between by being a grumpy, self-destructive asshole, or you can just relax a bit, take a sum of the stuff that is going well, and quit being such a crybaby loser. It’s like we always told Seth, if you’re not happy, fucking fix it. So fucking fix it, bitch.”

So fucking fix it, bitch.

Oh no, my own advice thrown back in my face! Damn I wish it were that easy. Wish I could think my way out of a bummer. I wish any amount of advice helped. It just takes time to get over shit. You just put on your bunny costume and terrorize one kindergartener at a time. Take little sips and eventually you’ll drain that big box of whine. Start by kicking over some election posters and before you know it, you’ll be back to torching billboards. Take care of the little things and hope the big things eventually fix themselves. And they do. It just takes way too long.

The next time she comes in and sits at the bar, there’s no hesitation on my part. It’s been weeks. I’m feeling sane. My fear that I’ll never see her again overrides my fear of being shot down in horrible flames. Two shoes, nothing to lose.

“So you’re a singer type?” I ask, leaning into her. She pulls back a bit.
“Yeah,” she says, waiting for a barrage of insults.
“I can’t get you a gig here.”
“I just want a drink. Can you handle that?”
“But I’ve got a home recording studio.”
“So?”
“So, you should come over and record sometime.”
“Uh …” she doesn’t seem to believe me.
“We can talk about it over beers.”
“Uh …”
“Somewhere besides here.”
“Yeah?” she asks.
“Yeah.”
“Really?”
“Really.”
“For real?”
“For real.”
She gives me a metal-toothed smile. “OK.”
“Me too,” I say like a total idiot.

And yes, we talked over beers. Unfortunately, we didn’t get around to recording until our fifteenth date.

Life’s good y’all.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Thanks to all of you who’ve written me nice and mean shit to get me off my ass and start writing again. Sorry I didn’t write anyone back. I’m lazy and in love again. You know how it is. Although I’ll probably be lazy and heartbroken again soon, so that’s my future excuse. And then after that I’ll be lazy and lonely. And then eventually lazy and in love again. Shit. I’ll probably be broke and unemployed somewhere in there too. Might as well give the whole thing up …

No new news on the book. Still sending pitch packets out to agents, still getting nice, encouraging handwritten letters of rejection back. Probably be best for everyone to stop thinking about it. Then, like finding $10 in an old pair of pants, it’ll pop out of nowhere. And then we can all go get beers. Word.