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Off work early for all the wrong reasons. Hit Oxford comics to cheer myself up, blew bill money on a few pages of men in tights, and currently smoking a cigarette in the Lindbergh Station parking lot reading them openly. First cold of the winter with nothing between my skin and it but office dress code.

"Lemme get one of those cigarettes," a voice demands and rising out of a technical color brawl exploding from a two-page spread find myself face to face with some kid dressed for the Taun-Taun races and looking at me as if I had forgotten a large sum of cash owed to him.

Behind him not but a running kick away and dressed for what I could only imagine was some sort of local sports-ball match being held in the Antarctic, stood the kid's entourage. Five deep and not a one an inch under 6 feet.

"Sorry," I smile customer-service helpless to the kid, "I've only got a few left to hold me 'til payday."

"I didn't ask how many cigarettes you had," the kid tells me after giving me the once over, "I just told you to give me one."

I laugh. Fat-boy, baldhead, comic-book reading in public me. Playground punching bag me.

"Something funny?" The kid asks eyes bulged in savage appraisal, arms lowered, spread apart from the hip ready to launch fives and tens.

"Yeah," I smile taking what I'm guessing will be my last drag, "it's just I've been on the been on the phone all day with assholes bitching in my ear and so it's probably that I'm not hearing too well right now, but... I don't remember hearing a please."

Flashback: Lil' Jackie Babalon sitting at the kitchen table with a bag of frozen spinach over a black eye. Dad and Mom Babalon sit there while I explain my latest ass-whooping. Both parents agree that I don't address any school authorities about it - Dad Babalon a recreational drug user in his secret identity, Mom Babalon an ex-fuck the police 60s radical. Squealing was a cardinal sin. Dad Babalon gives me a lecture about the nobility of man, how it is the duty of those who know better to do better and not resort to the animal violence that makes a horror show of the front page. Mom Babalon, later that night, tells me my father is right, but that said, to give as good as the world takes from you.

But I'm no good at fighting, I protest.

You don't have to be able to give everyone who deserves one an ass kicking, Mom Babalon insists, you just have to remember not to be afraid of taking one.

Flash-forward: We're doing this... I'm stepping backwards, I don't Kung from fucking Fu, but I know I got a moment of shock for my words to register before everyone moves in and plan on using it to put as much distance between myself and their fists as I can. Heart pounding. Instinct says run, experience tells me their faster. Plan, swing blind, swing fast, and focus on whatever damage you got to give on the kid.

Shit, I'm still holding the fucking comic book in my hands.

Too late. The kid's back in the game, his ensemble as well, their stepping forward out in an arc around their boy...

... when between them and us a maroon hatchback screeches to a halt. Blaring out of its rolled down window is the Exploited - live - with Wattie chanting "You never give up in the army!" and accompanied by a fog-machine dense cloud of pot smoke.

Bud leans out the window, his Mohawk not spiked but draped in devil lock over a single eye, he makes no effort to hide the blunt lit in his lips nor the firearm in his hand. "We got a problem here, Jack?" He asks aiming that free eye at the kid.

Ladies and gentleman, my ride has arrived.

I look at the kid in some John Woo approximation of hard-man stoic and ask with a single wag of eyes ask whether we do or not.
The kid's looking at me, he's not looking at Bud, he's not looking at anything but the iron in my friend's hand when he gives his answer - "Naw, man... no problem here."

The kid steps back, the entourage stand their ground not fully aware of how much the game has suddenly changed, and I pass them all feeling their glare burn on the back of my neck before getting in on the passenger seat.
Before I can buckle in Bud tears ass out of the parking lot and passes me the blunt.

I hit it, sputter a few coughs, hit it again and because he insists I hold on to it in order to catch up with him on a narco-ontological level.

"You're off early." He tells me.

"Yeah," I croak holding a hit in.

"They suspend you again?" He says gunning through a yellow light and cutting off a yuppy tank with a flip of the bird out the window.

"Yeah," I say I exhaling a stream of smoke out my window.

"What'd you say to them this time?" He says swerving around a MARTA bus and remembering to tuck the gun back under his seat.

"I may have inadvertently informed a customer with an especially negative attitude the folly of threatening to kick my ass unless I cancelled his subscription when I had his address in front of me and would be more than happy to show up one night on his lawn to give him just that opportunity."

"Uh-huh... and what else did you 'inadvertently' say?" We race past a row Jack Shacks and Head Shops promising no end of happy endings to the weary Terminus commuter.

"I may or may not have also mentioned that I would take him by the back of the neck, bend him over before friend and family alike, before proceeding to sodomize while calling him 'Sally'."

"Yeah... that just sounds... what d'ya call it?... homoneurotic."

"You're thinking of 'homoerotic' but yeah... it's homoneurotic too I'm sure."

"So how long they suspend you for this time?"

"A full week... it's my last warning too."

Bud whistles with wouldn't-want-to-be-you awe and takes a turn without slowing down causing a cascade of blaring car horns behind us.

"I haven't told Violet yet."

Violet Panick was counting on me working this week to make the rent after she missed a few days at her office job because I insisted we trip balls the weekend before.

"Shit," Bud shakes his head, "that's no good."

"I know, man, I know..."

"You think maybe you want to leave those comic books in the car with me when I drop you off?"

"No," I say looking at the comic book, now crushed in my hands, "she deserves to know the full fuck up she's involved with."

"How much you need?"

"Two hundred," I say and I'm cut short when Bud slams the brakes sending me lurching forward.

"Let me ask you something?" He turns around looking at me all serious.

"Uh... yeah," I say not so much afraid but confused, but yeah a little afraid
also, not for me but for the attention we might be drawing sitting here in the middle of the street.

"Would you let me buy those comic books off you?"

"What?"

"You heard me,... will you let me buy those comic books off you or not?"

"These?" I say holding up the comic shop bag with five issues in it not counting the one crushed in my hand.

"You see any other comic books here, fool?"

"Uh..."

Bud reaches into his front pocket and pulls out a pimp wad of bills and peels off a thin stack off them .

"Here," he hands me the stack of cash, "I'll give you $200 bucks for the ones in your hands."

"But... but they're nowhere near worth that much..."

"Well, maybe they will be in a few years..."

"But.."

"No buts, man, you take the fucking cash, you give me the fucking comics, you give the cash to Violet, and if you're smart, which I fucking you know you are, you don't turn around and blow it on more comics or weed or dancing at the vampire clubs. Now do we have a fucking deal or are we going to sit here all day?"

I take the fucking cash. Bud throws the fucking comics in the seat behind him and peels out.

I say thank you and he just nods focused on delivering me home with as much mayhem as he can inflict on the streets while doing so.

I ask him not to tell Violet about this, he agrees so long as I don't tell his woman about this either.

We drive in silence for a few miles before he bobs his head to the back seat, "Do I at least have any Wolverine or Punisher's in there?"

"Uh... no, I'm more of a DC guy. Their heroes strike me more as archetypes rather than grim gritty 'realistic' heroes and because of that their adventures have mythic overtones."

"Great," Bud rolls his eyes.

We drive in silence a little while longer.

"How 'bout Batman?" He asks as he pulls into the driveway of Violet Panick and I's North Avenue apartment, "You got any of him or is he too grim?"

"I got Batman...," I smile triumphantly, "I mean, that is to say you got Batman."

"Cool," He says as if it was some small measure of good news.

I get out of the car. He pulls off in a screech and cranks the Exploited back up.

A smile, a blink, a return to reality...

... 2016 damn near 20 years later and here I am standing in front of Lindbergh Station enjoying a last smoke before entering the MARTA hump.
In my hands a different comic book with a story that's very much the same I'm sure.

Finish the smoke, tuck the comic away, turn around and walk back into a world a little less mad, a little less beautiful, a little less noble than the one I left behind.
jack_babalon: (Default)
Of course I drop the $5 bill just as my bus pulls up late and of course the wind snatches it from my reach before sending it fluttering into traffic. A harrowing round of human Frogger in the rush hour traffic ensues and after narrowly dodging headlights backed by a few tons of velocity I return back to the sidewalk no richer for my efforts. At the bus stop I watch the 124 ramble off and I've got 40 minutes until the next one.

Immediately I begin shouting at the Big Hippy in the Sky to vent some frustration. I wave a fist as big as a challenge to the violet clouds and setting sun. It was a fair fight I demanded from the Great Impossible Above, one on human terms with none of that omnipotent bullshit.

The Great Impossible remains silent but in its place wailed a police siren as my world began to strobe pulses of red and blue panic.
Rewind a half hour ago. Work done, clock out, no car, and huff it on foot a few miles to rendezvous with the Contact. The Contact has a sack on hold for me and a deadline with which I can reach it. No worries, I know a shortcut down the tracks known to professional taggers and hobo lifers exclusively. Shave a few clicks off the hump.

Arrive on time, make the deal, stash the sack in an empty bottle of athlete's foot powder treatment, sample the wares - Blueberry Kush rolls down the throat smooth and the drama goes numb in my head. Contact has places and people to do, s/he shows me the door with a smile and off I go. Two miles and 45 minutes later I'm losing my last 5 to the wind with the Law wanting to know what the bald headed guy is doing shouting at the Big Hippy in the Sky.

I give my spiel to the law about losing the 5 and missing the bus and how I next lost my shit but I'm all good now requiring neither service nor protection from those sworn to do just that. The cops aren't impressed with my plight though. Word is that there's been a male prostitute who fits my description (bald, beefy going on chunky, and prone to shouting on the side of the road). Word is there's some maniac who was running around the traffic like a damn fool and wearing a t-shirt that seemed suspiciously tight.

Well of course I've been many a things in this world but I've only whored myself out twice... one to Uncle Sam and that other time, you know, when the countess wouldn't give me back my soul otherwise. All of which I begin to explain to the good officers assembled but none of which seems to sway their opinion that they've got their man cold.

"If you're not a man-whore why you talk like one?" The younger of the two cops demands.

"Years in the customer service industry, Sir." I answer with a platinum rewards worthy smile.

"Oh yeah, well if you're not a mad cock for hire then prove it." The older of the two cops sneers at me and one cannot help but notice the slow reach of his hand towards the holster.

"How?" I ask shrugging helpless one would to a non-platinum rewards card member.

"Dance sexy for us." The older cop answers sans delay.

"Whuh-what?" I stammer.

"Dance sexy for us... if you manage to not turn us on we'll know you're telling the truth." The older cop explains with an eye roll as if it was all so obvious.

"I... I don't have any music."

The older cops gives a nod to the younger one who grasping the situation runs back to the squad car, hops in, and a moment later the latest Psy single is blaring out over the PA.

"But... but I'm not sure how this disproves my being a sex worker, Sir."

The older cop quick draws the pistol out of his holster, "I said dance you son of a bitch. Dance sexy like you mean it."

"'Kay." I mumble and start to do me the Caucasian Hustle like it's Lady's night in Nowheresville, Wisconsin.

The older cop cocks the hammer back on the pistol, "No! You're not trying hard enough. I said sexy and you're giving me Prom Night for the Short Bus."

I gulp and amp up the nasty. Shaking my flat ass up to the older cop, gyrating my hips, shimmying up and down as I pace around him with the eyes of the matador upon his prey. I go all out, grinding hips up the bus stop sign, swinging around it with wild abandon, only to let go at the song's end and land before the cop in a pounce from which I rise up like smoke a whisper's distance from his lips.

The older cop doesn't so much as blink, the gun remains steady in his hand a long moment before reholstering it.

"Alright," the cop says stoically, "I wasn't turned on at all. You, Doug?"

"Na-uh," the younger cop says shrugging bored as he returns from the squad car.

"Yeah, don't quit'cher day job, asshole." The older cop reaches behind, pulls out a wallet, tucks a crisp, clean $5 bill into the collar of my t-shirt and orders, "Now I want your ass on the next bus out of here and next time try not to dress like a total meat-slut, huh?"

With that the cops depart, twenty minutes later the next bus shows up, and I board it exhausted. From the window of my seat I watch as across the road from us there's a bald, heavy set man in a thong who stops shouting at the passing cars long enough to pluck a $5 bill that just blew in out of nowhere on the wind.

And so the story goes...

jack_babalon: (Default)
Yeah, I was a gimp once. Didn't have much else to do at night back then, minimum charm kept the honey's away and a dearth of cash removed the drug booze oblivion option. My early twenties found me isolated. I couldn't breach a biological alienation that kept me from bonding with the other walking dead that toiled down at the Cube Farm. Yet when I clocked out from my Nein to Jive hustle, immediately found myself jonseing some form of human contact that eluded me otherwise. Such was life before the Internet. Luckily an old navy buddy of mine ran a night club of the whips and chains variety and it just so happened to be that he had an opening for a Club Gimp.

For a few drink tickets, my name on the guest list, and a few bucks to score a dime my job was to sit there in a rubber suit along with a black mask you needed zippers to see or speak out of and accept whatever madness came my way.

In this suit I would assume a sloppy Buddha lotus position on top of a speaker that pumped out industrial death rock. It was up to the amusement of the passersby that I remained flogged, cattle-prodded, clamped, rubbed-on, licked, smacked, and used as an ashtray. All of which I took in stride, the drinks numbed the pain of flesh, the drugs the wounds of spirit. The rest was all humiliation and the mask took care of that. The mask muffled the screams or blinded the eyes when the damage got too much. After awhile the crowd would feed me drinks, offer me bumps of varying powders, pop pills down my throat, and occasionally use my lap as a pillow when crashing from their own trips.


It didn't matter. They saw a gimp, but me, I felt like an astronaut floating in an alien world there in my black rubber suit all shiny under the alien strobe lights. When I came down I couldn't lay on my back because of the welts and I was smuggling urine into work in case of random piss tests and the drugs were starting to make me trip out of blue and it was getting to be that I felt naked without my rubber suit so I started wearing it to work. At first under my clothes, so I could vibe like I was some kind of Clark Kent. Then come Casual Friday I would walk in with the full outfit all squeaky and shiny - mask included.

Still it got me out of the house and kept the pistol off the lips, so I kept on keeping on. Every night I went home with a different woman's scar but never her number and it made me feel so god damn romantic. Baudelaire me I figured and tried to write the story the damage told or tell the myths those precious phone numbers might have revealed. When I wrote I found that I didn't feel lonely anymore. After awhile I found I enjoyed writing about the damage more than I did taking it.

My visits to the club dwindled. My patience for the madness dwindled as the drama it ensued grew ever more clear in my reflections. Soon I stopped going all together except for the occasional nostalgia fix and to delight in the pretty Nosferitas. There I always saw the new club gimps, sitting stoic, taking the hurt and offering up the necessary canvas. Some better than others, but secretly all I wonder is if they were better than me. Not now, then. When it counted.

Yep, the gimp suit still hangs in my closet and the stories it could tell a black light I'm sure. Some nights I miss it. Being the club gimp, the theatre gimp, even the insurance gimp. But gimpings a young soul's game and the soft skin wouldn't fare so well under a weekend's lashing. Still, occasionally, late at night when I'm several pages deep into this life unreadable... I'll pause to light a cigarette or a pipe and only then realize that I've been wearing the old gimp mask all along.

That's the beauty of masks though I suppose, no matter the years or weight gained, you never truly can outgrow them.

... 02
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Thunder rolling from the mountain, that's how I arrive back in town, disembarking from the Greyhound after being canned for two hours with the other slices of Third World Murica. Sat next to a woman who felt relaxed enough in my company to kick off her sneakers and curl up into a ball with bruised bare feet pressed against the seat in front of her. Meanwhile the space barbarian war chief that, after a most gruesome and violent death, had reincarnated into the baby behind me screamed out the last memories of her bloody conquests. As for the man sitting in the seat directly across the aisle, he seems to content to whisper apologies and death-threats into a candy bar doubling for his phone.

I close my eyes, reach a few hours back through the growing south between us, and snatch at the Space Wifey's kiss goodbye at the station. Adjacent to us is an unmanned prisoner transport van, its driver watching us without care along with my future fellow passengers. But something always pulls me back north into the now. So I stare out the window, watch cold highway sunlight sparking between the last flames of autumn foliage clinging to the skeletal trees. The weight of her absence always heaviest the first few days I prep for melancholy ops and take the dollar store horror around me in rolled eye silence.

Ah, but then the bus takes a turn onto 85 and after a few minutes it begins. The first signs of graffiti bubble out across the husks of abandoned buildings lining the asphalt shores. NOPE! SEVER! HENSE! The forests fades into clusters of strip malls, apartment blocks, empty lots, garages, cluttered porches dead lawns, wing shacks, countless doors concealing the wonder and tragedy of everyday life. Then she rises up before us through the front window and if I see this view a thousand times it instills no less a charge of electric magick than it did the first time. My skyline nowhere near as vast or as packed as the one I was born under but just as strong, just as defiant, born like London from the flames, born like the old West from the rails she launched, born like all the great cities of the world on hope and horror.

So yes, it's thunder rolling from the mountain when I step off the bus, here where they sell drugs down the block from the very jail they put you in for selling drugs, where the solider stands with a fatigue equally valiant as the single mother nursing her baby behind him on line, where the couple huddle against the odds even as their child dance victorious amongst the luggage. Here where tragedies, absurdities, fuck-ups, adventures begin and end unseen a thousand times a day. Here, where I made my stand against the past and gambled on being one day able to tell a great story knowing that even if I should fail I would have lived a great one in the process.

2015-11-22_08-18-46
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Not sure who I've pissed off or what shit's been talked this time, but either way I've woken from a whiskey induced black-out tied to a chair. Not for the first time either, but usually by now there's either a safe word involved or a blindfold accompanied by the slow hiss of a fuse or the cold clack of the pistol's hammer.

Well, at least this time I'm not naked. A scenario, alas, I have lost the figure for years ago.

Alright, focus, slow the breath out of panic and assess the situation.

Silver moonlight falls through a tear in the roof directly above me. It's sufficient enough to illuminate my captivity but too weak to lend coherence to the surroundings. There's the reek of mold and piss mixed together. There's a faint sound of traffic along with something small and nasty rummaging through crackling trash. There's my wrists bound behind the back of the chair by what the experience of the flesh tells me are stainless steel handcuffs. Ankles seem to be tied to the leg of the chair, tighter, with a wiggle confirming some kind of zip tie.

"Shit," I mumble and realize I haven't been gagged either, meaning my captor isn't concerned with anyone hearing me scream either for help or from pain.

There is a plastic click ahead and to my right then the white beam of a flashlight arcs up from below the face of a hawk.

"He's awake," the Hawk speaks in the soothing yet terrifying voice of a man raised by a feral pack of family therapists.

"I can see that," barks a deep throated man in some sort of Jack the Ripper accent and before me to my left the click of a second flashlight fires up beneath the hollowed eyed gaze of a rhino.

"Right," the Hawk trains the flashlight straight into my eyes effectively blinding me to all but a burning tunnel of light, "shall we proceed then?"

"After you," Rhino snarls training the light to also shine on my face.

"Tell me. What is your name, good sir?" Hawk asks.

"What?" I smirk squinting into the apex of their flashlight's glare, "You telling me you went through all this trouble without knowing who exactly you went through it for? "

'A Smart Ass that ain't willing to risk an ass-beating for his wit', says Skinhead Dan to me as he picks me off the bloodied concrete of my first boot-check back in '89, 'is nothing but a coward.'

The flashlight on my left clicks off even as the one on the right continues to track my face through the twisting and squirming of its target. Something heavy stomps my way, the silhouette of a gargantuan man lumbers down the blinding tunnel until eclipsing its blaze entirely as he towers directly above me. The moonlight lights him up a bit with Hawk's flashlight from behind giving him a spectral glow. From what I can see the man is dressed in a suit as if he's about to step out to opera and given his size he could damn well be making his way to the stage. But what I can see is that he's wearing some kind of mask. The eyes sparkle with a demented rage that escapes even the most vicious of beasts.

"There is a distinctive sound the tip of a metal flashlight makes when slammed directly into the side of the kneecap," Hawk explains, "it's nothing at all like when it cracks teeth or ribs or skulls. Somehow it just sounds so much more... more..."

"Satisfying." Rhino drips the single word out slow.

"Yes," Hawk says triumphantly snapping a finger, "'Satisfying'. And satisfactions must be taken where they can. Especially should they prove to not be forthcoming otherwise. I take it you follow my meaning or will a demonstration be in order?"

"It's been a few years since I marathoned 'Deadwood' but I think I can still sprachen enough of the flowery to follow your meaning."

"Good." Hawk says delighted, "we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot..."

With that Rhino drops what feels to be a very sharp heel into the top of my sneakers. Something cracks beneath the laces of my Chucks and I scream out the loudest - "Mother-Fucker" - you've ever heard. It flies up out of the hole and there is sound of birds roused from their nocturnal slumbers taking panicked flight.

"What are you doing?" Screams Hawk.

"You said we got started on the wrong foot." Rhino answers clicking the light onto his sneakers. "Well, being as I hate metaphors and such I made sure that he's got an actual wrong foot for us to get started on."

Hawk gives the sigh of the Comic Straight Man eternal and continues, "Yes, well, ahem, if you will be good enough to try one more time... your name, sir?"

"Jack Babalon." I answer swallowing back a wave of bile trying to climb my throat as the pain throbs through my foot up my leg and radiates throughout the body.

"And what do you do, Jack?"

"Office manager for a small IT company..."

There is a distinctive thud that slams into the side of my kneecap and as the fool must learn by experience it does indeed sound different than when it hits any other part of the body. Still, the agonized scream sounds just like any other I've given.

"You're a writer," Rhino shouts clicking the flashlight on up into his face, "don't try to tell us otherwise."

"Then why'd you ask?" I whimper.

"We're asking the questions here, " Hawk answers from behind me now, the beak of his rubber mask inches from my face, "and we ask because we need to get the story straight from the source. You're a writer, but lately you haven't been telling us stories. We have need of stories, Jack... when done right they tell us things we already know in ways that somehow surprise us. They distract us from our tedium and offer us a chance to escape the trivial sufferings of this world."

"They give me something to listen to besides the bad things I have stuck in my brain." Rhino adds.

"So, what do you do, Jack?" Hawk repeats.

"Answer questions, apparently." I tell them. "Sometimes even when I'm asked."

I brace for another blow but instead Hawk is chuckling.

"So you're Jack Babalon, a writer, and one who lately feels he has no need for an audience." Hawk crouches back up training the light under his mask. "Now why exactly would that be?"

"Maybe I got nothing to say of late." I answer through the pain.

"You don't look at people when you talk to them." Rhino accuses, clicking the light under his chin as well. "You know that right?"

"Maybe it's because I don't like what I see when I do."

"You think you're no good?" Hawk ponders.

"You think you're better than us?" Rhino counters.

"No." I answer to one of those questions.

"Don't you get lonely?" Rhino asks.

"Don't you have something you need to confess?" Hawk implores.

"Yes." I answer once again to only one of those questions.

"Can't you see people are worried about you?" Hawk coos.

"Can't you see people are sick of your bullshit?" Rhino growls.

"Yes." I answer to both.

"Well then... give us your story, Jack." Hawk says as if explaining to an especially willful child.

I close my eyes, wish for the hundredth time for an escape and for the thousandth a cigarette. Neither presents itself, so I do what I always do. Start anywhere and see where it all goes:

"While for most of us solitude comes by chance or choice, there remain those few weird human animals that thrive in the great alone. The kind who know that a cell door that is locked from the inside can open up to the secret places where other doors cannot. Such a man was the Magician who lived in the City in the Woods. His cell door opened up to necromantic night clubs, ogre mosh pits, faerie raves, and ephemeral realms through which he walked a stranger. Over the years and contrary to his solitary disposition he found himself in the company of fellow travelers. Some would become friends, some would become family, all would become tribe. But one day the magician while scyring through is crystal ball believed himself betrayed by his tribe and something ugly that had been living invisible behind that cell door revealed itself. The shadow of the thing followed the magician around even if he was the only one to see it. It followed him to the bars, through the crowds, through the books, and even began to infect the magic of the words in which he took sanctuary. So the magician stepped out of that magical world and back into his cell. There he struggles to practice his art once again in the solitude from which it was born and in doing so not banish the ugly thing within him back into the shadow but rather bring it forth into the light of reason so that in being understood will no longer be ugly. But until then he knew the ugly thing inside him was too unpredictable, it would show itself in the slam of a glass at a bar, in the venom of a casual joke between friends, in the smolder of a grudge given voice by alcohol. So until that time when the magician can free the thing that lives inside him of its ugliness, the cell door is locked with a key kept safe in the prisoner's pocket."

"We're here." My Uber driver tells me as we pull up to mom's.

I blink discombobulated, sitting upright out of the vision and back into the moment. I fish whatever bills I didn't leave for the waitress out of my pockets and give it to the driver without a word. With a stagger I exit the car and there the moon burns cold over a home that is not my own where behind the cell door the ugly thing waits to be made beautiful.

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September 2016

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