EXIT

The New Owners

Chapter One

Sailboats. Why is it always sailboats? Sailboats, jet skis, water skis. As if any of these pasty faced poltroons would ever actually go out and do any of this shit. Lookadem. I don't think so. No, this movie we're watching is all about lifestyle. Check out the voiceover:

Success. What does it mean? Freedom, that's what. Freedom to be your own boss. Freedom from financial insecurity. Freedom to enjoy the lifestyle (see? Tolja!) you've always dreamed of, the lifestyle you know you deserve.

Next thing we'll hear will be the ‘80's metal guitar. Woah! Is that Survivor? Eye of the Tiger, baby! Or is that Yngwie J. Malmsteen doing hammer-ons while an Izod clad bronze god hops a tennis net to shake hands with the loser. SUCK-CESS!!! Smoke pots explode, the lights go up and the crowd erupts in a semi-orgasmic frenzy. These people put on a show, baby. Kinda like Richard Simmons meets Leni Riefenstahl.

I can't believe I'm here. Actually I can't believe Bruce wouldn't front me any weed unless I agreed to come. "You've got to try it." he said. "I've been doing it for like two months and I'm already making bank, dude." Making bank? He is a bank. Thirty four years old and he lives in a guest house in his parent's back yard, selling chronic and listening to crappy hip-hop CDs. I wouldn't even associate with an asshole like Bruce if he didn't have the best fucking bud in town. Asshole.

Bruce turns to me and gives me this look like "Isn't this great?" I smile weakly and slide down in my seat. There aren't even any women here. Well there are, but most of them look like they got in an axe fight and lost. Wait just a minute. Who's that? Pleasantly plump in purple polyester, stacked up, er, hair and a nervous facial twitch. She's hot. Ooh. I think I've caught her eye. The good eye. Fuck. The lights are dimming again.

SUCCESS-A-THON AND THE BURBANK AIRPORT HILTON ARE PROUD TO PRESENT THE MAN WHO
PUT THE INNER IN WINNER, THE POOBAH OF MOOLAH HIMSELF, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, GIVE IT UP FOR
MISTER – RO - BIN – TONEY!!!!!!!!!!!

All hell breaks loose as Robin takes the stage. He strolls out in a razor sharp suit that somehow looks casual on him. Teeth sparkling, hair and skin glowing, he's six, maybe twelve feet tall. Even the headset mike looks natural on him.

"Do you know what you want?" he asks and a sanctuary like hush descends on the room. "Because if you really know what you want then I can help you get it. A lot of people think that they know but they don't. A lot of people know, but they don't think they know and a lot of people don't know and they know that they don't know and that's fine with them or they think it is anyway but some lucky people – some magical courageous people know what they want. And if you're one of these special people, the choosing ones we like to call them, then come with me. We're not the chosen ones. A lot of people go through life feeling that they've been chosen to live the way that they do. We're not the chosen ones. The CEO in the Maserati, the movie star in the Hummer, the model on the cover of People magazine, they aren't chosen. They're CHOOSERS!! What do you choose? I ask you again. Do you know what you want?"

I am gripped with horror as I realize that I've been nodding my head vigorously for several minutes. I hate this smarmy fuck. Of course I hate him The clothes he wears, his perfect hair, his suntan, everything he stands for I hate. I'll bet he drives a fucking Expedition and lives in a faux hacienda gated community in Woodland Hills so why am I smiling like an idiot? I know this guy is full of shit. His whole trip makes no sense whatsoever. I'm gonna give him a couple maybe five hundred dollars for a start up kit and after a few magic incantations and several thousand sales calls on all my soon to be former friends and family, I too will be sucking down fruity drinks adorned with tiny umbrellas by the poolside in Rio.

"Go ahead and doubt our results" he is sneering. "Fear of success is what keeps the losers losing. Without it everyone would be in on the secret knowledge with which the rest of us will conquer the world! Some of you will leave here unable to take that step, that leap of courage to financial security. I'd like to say we'll miss you but we won't. And we won't spend a lot of time crying about you either. We'll be too busy making money! I'm moving on to the next level. Who wants to come with me?" Everyone is on their feet shouting "ME! ME!" Bruce is pogoing, the woman next to him is crying, Ms Twitchy is undulating like a massive purple amoeba. The whole scene is like a Grateful Dead show in hell – OK that's redundant - but I've never seen this level of abject creepiness in my life. I want to shout at them: "It's a pyramid scam! It's a pyramid scam! Soylent Green is people!" I'm on my feet. I'm in the air. I'm screaming at the top of my lungs. "ME! ME! ME!
MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

* * *

"That's right, Steve, we really do have to be careful when choosing sun block. When we come back, we'll have a special report on today's single moms. Melanie, Madonna, Nicole. We'll hear their special stories of courage and sacrifice. How do they do it? But first, let's hear from our man in the street Bob Donaldson. Bob?" "Thanks, Wanda. I'm here at the Staples Center where chief Garcetti estimates there are over five hundred protes- "Bob?"

"Yes, Wanda"

"That's Staples Center."

"That's right, Wanda."

"You said THE Staples Center."

"Right, Wanda. Here at the Staples Center-"

"Staples Center, Bob."

Oh yeah, thanks. These people are here at Staples Center to protest what they say is the undemocratic takeover of city hall by corporate interests. Their main complaint is-"

"Thanks for that report, Bob. Now for our feature story. These women have played a lot of roles in their careers, but none so challenging as the role of "mom". How do they juggle career and family and still find time for themselves?

We'll be right back after this word about Defibrillax. You don't have to suffer alone anymore. Ask your doctor about Defibrillax."

I almost regret having thrown it as the bong makes a flatulent splash against the TV. I hope I didn't wake up the kids but I know that I did. Fuck. Probably spilled that bowl. The TV looks OK and more importantly so does the bong. Those teddy bear honey bottles make such perfect bongs. Compact, resilient and just the right shape for optimal air pressure. I'm halfway through the second load when I hear the dreaded sound.

"Daddy?"

I crack the patio door, releasing blue billows of rich, savory smoke.

"Daddy?"

There she is in the hallway and I am so busted. I'm so fucked. She's got those little footy jammy things on with the little race cars on ‘em and I am so fucked. I'm a crippled spaceship trapped in the tractor beam cuteness of the footy jammies.

"Gmornin honey watcha want?"

"Cocoa Puffs Daddy."

"We're all out, honey. Getcher brother up and I'll get you guys some corn flakes."

She looks at me like I just stabbed her with an ice pick.

"Run along little one and go get Wolfgang."

Slowly she turns and walks down the hall. I grab the milk and buff it with a little tap water. This is why I never buy non-fat. You just can't cut it like this when things get low. Things are low. The kitchen is in stage three Mother Hubbard Syndrome. No more dinosaur shaped macaroni, no more bite-sized fish nugget thingys, nothing. Even the tacky ball of pizza slices that I smuggled out of Shakeys Bunch-a-Lunch is gone. I distribute the powder from the bottom of the box evenly between the two bowls and watch the water-milk bubble up through the sawdusty piles. Breakfast is served.

When people find out that I'm a single father they always ask the same question. What happened to the mother? I usually pause dramatically while their imaginations run wild. Cancer? Car wreck? Overdose? Actually the truth is much more tragic. She's a real estate agent in Studio City. Their curiosity quickly turns to righteous indignation. What kind of a mother would turn her back on her own children? I don't know. What kind of a father would turn his back on his? She didn't want to step up, I did. They're here, so what? Sure, I wake up every morning about three o'clock in a cold sweat but hey, wahyagonadoo?

It's time to drop the kids off at the sitter's and pound pavement. Thank God I paid for this month up front. Right before I got the little pink slip that said:

DUE TO RESTRUCTURING CONSIDERATIONS WE HEREBY INFORM YOU THAT YOUR STATUS AS full-time employee__ AND AS employee____ HAS BEEN CHANGED. AS OF today_____ YOUR STATUS IS non-employee____.

THANK YOU.

Yeah, sure. Don't mention it. Hey you forgot to print out FUCK OFF AND GO DIE,LOSER but I kind of got that. Not to worry. I've got a bus pass, enough couch change for Tommy's and the babysitter is a sexy little beast with shaved eyebrows and nipple rings. The world is my oyster.

My first stop is Mail Box World. I hand the guy my application and assure him that I'll be able to keep track of the inventory and answer the phone. He seems duly impressed by my ability to multi-task and tells me the job pays six twenty seven an hour and would I take a drug test. I tell him no, but I'd be glad to piss in his coffee if he's into that sort of thing. This was actually one of the better interviews of the day as I went from place to place handing clip boards to office chicks and getting eyeballed like an unsightly stain. I feel like an unsightly stain about now. I should have taken that job at the newsstand but the little creep had to go and ask me if I'm a Christian and I had to go and tell him that Satan is my liege and master and would he care to attend tonight's sacrifice to the Dark Lord?

That made me feel a little better but the chuckles are wearing off as the bus approaches the day care center. They're gonna want happy meals. I should have taken that job at the newsstand. I should have gone for Bruce's deal. He's getting "mad commish, dude!" and now I don't have the two hundred bucks to sign up. We'll be dining al fresco tonight, kids. That's right. The continental ambience of the 7-11 sidewalk is hard to beat. Fresh (sic) air, blue(ish) skies, sideways stares from slurpee sucking simians. All this and ninety-nine cent hot dogs slathered with free chili, free cheese, more free chili and more free cheese. Gingerly tugging with my tongue at the shards of meat stuck between my teeth, I try to pull a plan from my ass.

Home at last, tucking Chloe's blanket around her arms, she burps and a disgusting cloud of hot dog gases wafts my way. I've turned my grimace to a grin, now let the story time begin.

"Jacopo Jones was a quiet little boy who lived in a cereal box. It was really very roomy, for Jacopo was tiny."

"What kind of cereal was it?"

"It was raisin bran, Wolfie. The cereal box was cool and shady in the daytime and at night it kept little Jacopo warm."

"Didn't he have a blanket?" Wolfgang's eyes had that glint.

"Of course he did, Wolfsbane it was a stripey one just like yours. One night when Jacopo lay sleeping, a hungry dog came sniffing around and-"

"What kind of-"

"It was a Labrador Retriever with a limp, an eye patch and a rhinestone collar!"

"Oh."

I think I got him that time. Six years old and he can bust my balls like no girlfriend I ever had. And that's saying plenty.

"The hungry dog's name was Theodore. Theodore was sniffing around for something to eat and when he smelled Jacopo's tiny cheese sandwich he became very excited. Although the sandwich was quite small, it was made with a very special very stinky cheese of which young Jacopo was quite fond. Jacopo was usually generous, but he was extremely hungry himself and simply couldn't bear to part with more than half of his stinky cheese. Besides which, with all his scratching and sniffing Theodore had got more than a little dirt and quite a lot of steam inside the cereal box, making the usually unflappable Jacopo quite peeved. Jacopo thought of stuffing the cheese sandwich in his mouth but knew that all the commotion was bound to be horrible for his digestion. He also surmised that Theodore might not consider him to be so much a sandwich eater as an edible sandwich wrapper. Something had to be done.

"Do you like steak?" asked Jacopo. Theodore just grinned and panted.

"How about a Liv-a-Snap?" Theodore just grinned and panted some more. Filling the cereal box even more hot, steamy dog breath than before.

Suddenly an idea came to him. He started to call out to Theodore.

"Howzabout a game of fetch?" Theodore began to twitch and bark.

"C'mon Theo! Get the ball! Get it! Get it!" Theodore became more excited with each call. Soon he was slobbering and panting so wildly that the cereal box became utterly filled with hot stinky dog breath. Holding his nose, Jacopo quickly shut the lid to the box, trapping the steam and turning the box into a hot air balloon! Suddenly, the box began to rise above the-"

Hey why has Chloe been so quiet this whole time? Her back is turned to me as I squat between their futons.

"Chloe?" Nothing.

"Chlowee – Gnocci?" Jesus. That's the biggest fucking roach I've ever seen.

"Chloe DeVillery Swift!" I grab her shoulders and pull back. She is giggling like a tiny maniac. Now I see the reason for her previous silence. It's a little petroglyph of tonight's story, complete with a stick dog, a cereal box and little clouds of dog breath.

"You can't write on the walls any more, Chloe! You can't! We're gonna get kicked out of here!"

It's beautiful. It's the most beautifully proportioned work of art that I've ever seen. Did I mention how completely fucked I am?

Finally they go to sleep and now I can hit the couch. The streetlight is seeping around the edges of the cardboard in the window but nothing will keep me awake now, even if I don't have someone to tell me a story. Was that someone at the door? Oh well who cares? I'm way too tired to defend our home and besides, I pity the fool who breaks in to this dump. Perhaps I'll be able to dream tonight. Something exciting but not too strenuous. I'll be a castaway on a lush tropical island strewn with mounds of drugs and populated by scantily clad buxom beauties, their sinuous bodies glistening in the sun as they beckon me hungrily. You know, the usual.

Coral pinks and Treasure Island golds are marching across my scazzy carpet and they're coming for me. I lie as still as possible, pretending to be a giant burrito but the relentless morning rays have breached my flannel tortilla. Rise and shine. Despise and decline. Surmise and define the fries and the wine comprise what is mine she dies Patsy Cline she sighs with a whine me and mine dine at nine do a line down on vine would be fine get the fuck up. Now.

When we come back, we'll look a ways you can beat the heat with our sizzling summer special. Southland water parks, air conditioned malls, convertible Mustangs-"

"That's right, Wanda. And be sure to stay tuned for my special on Ben Affleck's journey into manhood. Oh yes. It's election day in Los Angeles. We'll have coverage of that, too."

The nasty little plugs of bong resin rest on the coffee filter, their fetid juices drawn from them like little brown Rorschach tests. Oh look. It's Charles Manson. This one's a '63 Buick Skylark. Hey this one's the medulla oblongata of a kid they all said was really smart but had big plans that didn't include school or work. Damn. It's all fucked up. The black ball bubbles in the bowl and blue light pulses in from my temples as I choke back the raspy smoke. I may actually be able to face the day today.

Maybe not. "Look Daddy there's something on the door!"

"It's a love letter from the landlord, honey."

THREE DAY NOTICE TO PAY RENT OR QUIT

"Whatsit say Daddy?"

"It says Wolfgang and Chloe are the coolest kids in the building and I should buy them ice cream for breakfast."

"The landlord's nice, Daddy."

"Yes my little poppy seed the landlord's nice."

* * *

"When can you start?" This is the question which always fills my heart with simultaneous joy and dread. Of course there's only one answer- best served with a smile of gratitude. "Right away."

So here I am, stuffing little boxes with Chinese electronics and Chinese footwear and Chinese renditions of the Last Supper on translucent plastic backlit with Chinese lightbulbs in plastic gilded frames. After each box is loaded, I top it off with Styrofoam peanuts from a giant pastry funnel and sent them down the line to exotic destinations like Dumbass, Georgia and Fuckifiknow, Idaho. I started at 6:00 AM and I've been doing this for about 10 hours I guess and now it's 6:40 AM. Great. I've just earned three and a half bucks. I seriously consider dropping a case of ceramic Jesuses on my foot and filing a claim but I decide to ask for an advance instead. "Wait ‘til the shift is over." Smart guy. I kind of like him. When he fronts me twenty bucks at the end of the day, I like him even more.

I am no longer Johnny Swift, ex-heavy metal wannabe and all around loser. I am Ceasar returning from Gaul. I sign the kids out of day care and we march triumphantly to McDonald's. Sitting here beneath this violent blue-edged neon light, I watch them giggle and squirt orange drink out of their noses and I wonder. I wonder if I'm really supposed to be feeding them this, if there's any nutritional value in those greasy little lumps they're stuffing in their faces. I wonder if I'm only wondering this because they like it so much. Most of all I wonder where I'm going to get rent. I'd ask Bruce but I've got to keep a line of credit with him for more important things than cash. Dad? Fuggetaboutit. The ex? Excuse me while I choke on these Chicken McLugnuts. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Chicken McLugnuts.

"C'mon you guys. Let's go home. While we still have one."

"Daddy! Give us a ride!"

"No."

"Please."

"No."

"Please Daddy."

"No."

"Please."

PLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASENOPLEASE

"OK but just for a minute."

While relatively rock free, the parking lot provides enough topographical irregularities for a truly terrifying shopping cart ride. They screech like little lab monkeys as they clench the cage while I push us up to speed. Jumping on the axle, I deftly swing my ass to steer us around the broken bottles and piss pools that dot our way. Disneyland? Knott's Berry Farm? Please.

"Chloe siddown! Wolfie hold on!" For one sparkly moment the vibrations in the wheels ride up to meet the tingling in my face and I see their faces and I know they're tingling just like mine and this moment will last forever.

An SUV the size of a basking shark comes flying into the parking lot and it's all I can do to slam my feet to the asphalt and drag us to a stop without getting us splattered. Bitch never even touched her brakes. Thanks for not killing us, lady. Hey yeah, FREE TIBET. Right on.

"Are you guys OK?" They are, as only the oblivious can be. "C'mon let's go." After I lift them out of the cart, I spy a little piece of paper with a drawing of a man saluting the flag with his head up his ass.

ART SHOW

woo hoo.

4 BANDS

lah dee dah.

FOOD AND BEER

I'm there.

All I need is a sitter. All I need. All I need is a Maserati with a trunk full of cash. Hey Bruce is sure to be home and he owes me a favor for going to that lame ass seminar. Oh. I forgot. He's Bruce. I wouldn't let that guy watch my goldfish. If I had goldfish. Of course I could always ask Dianne but I'll have to fuck her. What the hell. Dianne's cool and besides, If I spend one more night isolating with my bong I'm gonna blow my brains out.

* * *

Purple shadows murmur at the edge of the warehouse. Little clusters of dark figures undulate and release clouds of luminous smoke. In the center of the room sits a swing set surrounded by barbed wire. Two guards march in front of it, occaisionally accosting partygoers and demanding ID. If this is what passes for culture in early twenty-first century Los Angeles then I'll take it. The art on the wall looks all crude and drippy, like Chloe might have painted it, but there's a darkness to it that I dig. The music is scratchy and fucked up. Some Japanese chick is moaning through the speakers and she's making my dick quiver. Maybe these arty bastards are on to something. I'd have been happy just chugging Jack and listening to Slayer but these people have moved on. Like way on. The bartender, however, seems not to have progressed beyond the Spanish Inquisition. What is this swill? Parts dip? Whatever it is, it's working. Between the sounds, the sights and my steadily intensifying buzz, I feel like Margaret Meade on Mars. Suddenly I hear a vaguely familiar voice.

"…because they don't know that you exist. That's the best and the worst thing about your relationship with them right now. No one can hear a word you say, but one is going to try and stop you. Yet."

I know I've heard that voice before but I just can't place it. I certainly don't recognize the dapper dickhead from whom it's spewing. Natty in a dark hemp jacket and just the right amount of stubble darkening his jowl, I hate this guy but I have to admit it really works for him. Besides, he's surrounded by a coven of alternahotties. Like wow. He's got one in every color. To his left is the statuesque blonde with the faux fur flak jacket, next to her we have the chocolate bunny with shimmering eyes. On the other side is the obligatory Asian chick with the perfectly sculpted, well, everything and my god will you look at her? What is she, Russian? Oh lord! They're like Raver Barbies. Collect all four! "You've got to think in terms of theater! They're not going to come out and hear what you have to say just because it's important. That means nothing to them. They're like fish. Pull them in with something shiny. Something wiggly. At least something smelly! Remember. Even though they have the brains of halibut, they're still the gatekeepers of the public mind. Everything gets filtered through them simply because they're the choosers."

Wait. No way. No fucking way. That's Robin Fucking Toney! Oh this is rich, baby. Here he is, the most heinously porcine bourgeoise pig of them all, talking tactics with commie cadre cover girls. I don't know whether to stay and watch or go back to the bar for another of these utterly fantastic drinks. I'm staying. This is too good. Sammy Glick has morphed into Che Guevara right before my drug-addled eyes.

"…when the sufferers learn to think then the thinkers will learn to suffer."

He's got meaty beaty big and bouncies, that's for sure. He's quoting Karl Fucking Marx, f'chrissake! I love this guy! Oh I'm gonna blow his cover but I love this guy. If I can just weasel in a little closer I can discern his pontifications above the trip-hop.

"You've got to give them shiny little tidbits that they can't resist. Make them think they're just more tchotckies they can sell. Make them sow the seeds of their own destruction." I have no idea what he's talking about but I'm pretty sure it ain't lifestyle. I would be totally engrossed in what he's saying if the graceful curves of Ninotchka's tits weren't pulling me back to reality, reminding me of what's really important. Where does he find these bad Bettys anyway? I don't know but they're going to shit green bricks of vegan tofu when they find out who he really is. I'm going to weave a dialectical web from which he'll be utterly unable to writhe and then voila! He'll be exposed. Here goes:

"Dude aren't you Robin Toney?"

OK so maybe I'll go with the direct approach.

"You're joking, right? That's good."

He didn't deny it.

"No, seriously, you're Robin Toney, huh?"

"I don't know what gave you that idea. Do I look like him? You must have missed your offramp in the West Valley. I'll bet this guy you're looking for is there." Ouch. The hottest chick here – the one with the lime green dreads- is smiling at me as if I've just wet myself. OK maybe she's not the hottest. Maybe it's the one with the shaved head and enough steel rings in her eyebrow to hang a shower curtain. Yeah. She's definitely the hottest. She's not smiling at me. She's laughing at me. "Dude are you looking for Robin Toney?

"Dude I'm not looking for him I'm looking at him."

"Dude don't even call me dude, dude"

OK that was mildly amusing but I'm giggling uncontrollably and snorting like a retard and the room is spinning and glowing and the whole thing is unbelievably funny like now my whole body is convulsing with laughter and hey isn't that the floor?

* * *

Oh this is nice. The morning sun has begun to heat up the dried piss and vomit in which I've been sleeping and my fucking legs are totally asleep. I just saw a black and white cruise by and I'm squirming like a beetle on its back. Where the fuck am I? 7th and Alameda. Great. Oh and I've pissed myself. This is really exciting. No, really. I've never been roofied before. I'm flattered. Oh my god. Have I been butt-raped? Well my ass doesn't hurt but then again it's asleep. Was I robbed? Since I was already broke it'd be kind of hard to tell.

This sidewalk feels nice and cool on my cheek but I have an important engagement with some Styrofoam peanuts. Styrofoam peanuts and nativity scenes, Styrofoam peanuts and commemorative plates, Styrofoam peanuts in my brain. Turn them sideways and they look like little infinity signs, little eternities protecting precious images of the Sermon on the Mount or the Gettysburg Address or Lou Gehrig's farewell speech or that chick with the dreadlocks laughing at me and what did he mean by "gatekeepers of the public mind" anyway? Was that even him? Yeah. It was him.

The sun has cleared the dumpster and steam is beginning to rise from my crotch. As I warm up to self awareness I realize as never before the importance of laundry.

CHAPTER TWO

C'mon let's go! The little galaxies of swirling lint are getting sucked out of the vent in the ceiling and I can hear their microscopic inhabitants giggling. Wait. That's not giggling. That's the spin cycle. Yeah it's the spin cycle. But what if those airborne particles of borax scented lint really are tiny worlds? Then they must have oceans ond continents and cities with really tiny people with really really tiny underwear which they too have to wash at microscopic laundromats maybe just like this one, where some guy is sitting on an orange plastic chair pondering swirling clouds of detergenty lint each particle of which is its own little world with oceans and continents and woah! That's some good fucking weed, Jack. Damn. I always start off wanting to take the edge off and end up getting completely rounded.

But it is, of course, necessary. How anyone withstands the groaning humid ennui of a laundromat without medicinal reinforcement is beyond me. Hey where's Wolfgang? Oh there he is. He's peeking, Kilroy-like, over a basket of unmentionables at a lovely damsel, dishwater blonde and definite trouble. Dishwater blonde. I've always loved that expression. You can just see her standing in front of a mountain of crusty pots and pans, her weary sighs blowing wispy bangs towards the heavens as she casts her gaze upwards. Dare I say it? Even under my breath? I dare. Looking good, mamasita.

Wolfgang has her trapped. She's clearly not in the mood to socialize but he's so damned cute that she's beginning to melt beneath his x-ray gaze. A curly little smile is forming at the side of her mouth, You go, Wolfie! I'll let him soften her up for just another minute before I move in for the kill.

"Excuse me, sir, is that your daughter?"

Chloe is waving her pants above her head and is sitting ass deep in a washing machine making the face of sweet relief. Oh Chloe! Whydja do it? If I weren't so high I'd probably be embarrassed. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to feel embarrassed. The security guard sure seems to think so.

"I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"That's OK."

"What's OK?"

"It's OK to ask. You shouldn't be so apologetic."

"Do I have to call the police?"

"Jesus I hope not. I mean, you do have a gun, after all."

Chloe seems to have finished her business and the murmurs of realization are growing into laughs and omygods all around us. Who the lucky recipient of Chloe's fabric softener is will no doubt soon be revealed. Yup, here she is.

"Thanks loads."

Oh no. Wouldn't you just know it. It's her. My mind scrambles in vain for a way to come out of this with any dignity at all, much less her phone number. Oh well I guess some days it just doesn't pay to be hygienic. Maybe I can convince her that I work for Viacom and we're filming this for a new show. I still haven't mustered the courage to determine if it's number one or number two we're dealing with here. A glance and a whiff assure me it's the former, thank god.

"This is so not like her" I proffer. "Usually she waits until we get on the bus and pisses on some old woman's lap" That's great, Johnny. Let her know that you lack a car as well as any control over your children. There goes the "I work for MTV" ploy. My only hope now is that she finds my pitiful condition endearing. I'd better make a feeble attempt at restitution, at least for the cost of a new load.

"Can I buy you-"

"Lunch? Yeah, you can buy me lunch. I'm starving."

Oh fuck I've hit the jackpot. She's hot, she's sweet and she's obviously damaged. Jackpot! Uh oh here comes security boy.

"You're going to have to leave, sir." Why is it no one ever calls me sir unless I'm in some kind of trouble?

"OK, OK. I'm just trying to help the lady with her laundry."

"I said NOW!"

"Actually, you didn't say now you fucking weasel cub. Don't get yer panties all in a bunch. I'm leaving, already."

Suddenly my Super Friends X-ray vision detects the approach of a land shark across the parking lot. I can't believe the little twerp actually called the cops. Maybe they're not here for me. Then again maybe I've got warrants.

"C'mon kids. Let's find a more respectable establishment."

I gather the soggy laundry as quickly as possible and head for the door while the chick just shakes her head and walks away. I guess she wasn't damaged enough. Fucking hell. Who knew two loads of laundry could weigh eight fucking hundred pounds?

Here's our bus, kids. Here's our high-performance sweat-injected tuna melt on wheels. Yippee! To the back! Children and duffel bags secure? I center myself, plant my feet and pretend the bus is a giant surfboard. Look, kids, no hands! I'm just about to do my best "Blue Hawaii" Elvis when the driver slams on the brakes and sends me flying up the aisle. The kids are certain that I planned the whole thing and they're laughing uncontrollably. Oh well. What's a minor concussion in the scheme of things? As long as the children are happy. They are the future, you know. Little shits.

The same motion that put a lump on my noggin has disturbed the slumber of the poor slob who'd been snoring on the back bench. Oh man. The crust which had been holding his stink in is now cracked. All hands reach for the windows simultaneously. This guy is tore down bad. Stringy matted hair festooned with scabs and bits of paper, the cuffs of his double-knit polyester poopy drawers way too high above blackened swollen feet, he starts rocking back and forth and humming a little Beethoven, punctuated by angry growls. He looks up at me. "Jgzzzonggy? Wha fuhk ,mahhhh?

My forehead doesn't hurt any more. I feel like someone kicked me in the chest. I don't want to believe it but I can't deny it. Sitting before me is Jimmy Fucking Cardinal.

"Whassamater, Daddy? Why are you crying?"

"Snuthin, honey. Siddown. Snot safe."