Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Rose(Bowl), By Any Other Name

 

The interesting thing about having the email address sbowles@gmail.com is that you realize how many people are named Bowles.

I used to think the surname weird, if not unique. God how I wished my ancestors had dropped the “e” in my last name. I can’t tell you how many times people have read my name and queried aloud: “Scott…Bowels?”

But apparently that’s not a unique lament. I get many emails not intended for me, but for someone with a slight variation on the address, like s.bowles. But in the ethernet chatter, the character(s) get dropped, and I’ll get an email meant for a Sally Bowles, or Stuart Bowles.

Normally the errors are humorous, if not a frightening statement on the human condition:

Sally, thanks for signing up for fat camp.

Stuart, thanks for your interest in penis enlargement pills.

But today it took a briefly menacing turn. At 7:25 a.m., I got an email from a guy named Mat Krotki, the president of PDG-GUS, a wheelchair manufacturer that touts its corporate humanity toward the disabled. But his email betrayed little humanity. I looked through the thread and saw that he meant to send it so s?bowles@gmail.com (I don’t want to add to the world chaos).

Dear Steven Bowles :

Your invoice for the decuctible on your recent claim appears below.
Payment is due upon receipt.

Thank you for your business – we appreciate it very much.
Mat M. Krotki | President | PDG-GUS

bad

I didn’t know what to make of it. Steven? Was that a clerical error? I do face some insurance issues, but I was up to date on my deductibles. Though it’s hard to keep track of all the forms and bills, probably intentionally.

The follow-up email growled:

Hi Steven,

This invoice is severely past due.
This will be my last written attempt to collect payment of this invoice.
If you choose not to respond, you  will leave us no choice but to escalate
our collection action to another level.
I look forward to your timely response.

Thanks
Mat M. Krotki | President | PDG-GUS

worse

When I realized the emails weren’t meant for me, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I got pissed. Then I came to peace.

The anger came from the letters’ corporate tone. The first email had the obligatory polite predicates: “Thank you for your business.” “We appreciate it very much.”

The second showed the business’s and man’s true colors (which usually expose themselves in rain, not sunshine). “This will be my last notice.” “If you choose not to respond, you will leave us no choice but to escalate…” Not even a period at the end of “Thanks.” (Sorry, the word nerd in me won’t allow intentionally poor grammar.)

The peace came when I realized I could turn this into a personal lesson. That how, when you act in haste, anger, greed, from your power perch — when you act from a dark place — you can make small mistakes that balloon into something you wish you’d noticed more. That little things, if left unguarded, have aspirations to go big.

Still, Mat Krotki (love that name) had such an aggressive tenor to his note that it got under my skin, even if it weren’t intended for my flesh. He could have said something human, like “Please get back to me, Steve. This is important.” Instead, the guy had to include a passive aggressive addendum: “I look forward to your timely response.”

So I sent him one, at 7:43 a.m.:

Wrong guy, dickhead.

response

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All Hail the Dancing Damned

I can remember five dreams in my life. Two were pleasant, two were unpleasant, and I can’t figure out the fifth after eight years of analyzing.

The best one, though, atones for any nightmare.

I had it when I was in Washington, DC, my last stint as a crime writer. After my stint in Detroit as a crime writer. A friend once suggested the dream was borne of reporting on street existence for so long. I dismissed it, but perhaps she was correct.

In the dream, I am walking through a familiar-yet-alien block in a downtown city. People are bumping, brushing, bustling past one another. No one apologizes for the collisions.

Amidst the chaos, I see a black man dancing in the middle of the street, keeping tune with a song only he can hear. Full dance moves. Impressive. Certain. No partner, no care who sees. Older, with hair as gray as uncertainty. homeless man

A woman sees the street waltz, and shakes her head in disgust. “That’s awful,” she mutters. “He shouldn’t be dancing in the street.” She has a Southern accent, though I don’t know why. Perhaps because so many bible thumpers below the Mason-Dixon still consider joy a sin.

Then, I hear a man’s voice in response, though I never see his face. “He’s not dancing,” the voice says. “He’s running from heaven.”

I always puzzled over who it was I pictured dancing. Now I’m thinking it may have been Derrick T. Tuggle.

Tuggle was a part-time security guard who was to appear in The Black Keys’ video Lonely Boy. He thought he had won the lottery by scoring a brief scene in the three-minute movie, shot outside a rundown motel in California. The concept: Tuggle would play the hotel manager, accept the room key from the musical duo and hand it to a group of nubile female dancers, who would provide a sexual undertone to the video.

But as the crew prepared to shoot, the director noticed Tuggle, listening to the song, bobbing his head to the beat and dancing ever so slightly as he stood on his mark. The director was intrigued. He asked Tuggle if he could dance on camera and cue.

“Sure,” Tuggle said. “I can dance. Everyone can dance!”

Tuggle asked for an hour to memorize the lyrics. He thought of dancers who made an impression: John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever  fever and Pulp Fiction fiction; Carlton Banks’ moves on The Fresh of Bel-Air.

He mentally choreographed a dance to accompany the lyrics.

Then the cameras rolled. And in one take, all other dancers were sent home. Within a week of the video’s release, 250,000 people watched on YouTube. Today, it has more than 44 million views.

There’s nothing to the video, really. It’s one, uninterrupted shot as Tuggle plays disco mime outside the motel office. It’s a cinematographic nightmare, as the camera catches sunlight dappling a receding hairline. There’s even a goof at the 30-second mark (check out the office window).

But the director made the canny call to embrace imperfection. There’s something hypnotic to its simplicity. And enthralling, as Tuggle becomes a modern-day Tony Manero, a real-life Vincent Vega, a contemporary Carlton. Watch as his sleeves unroll in the frenzy.

Tuggle doesn’t seem to care. He seems the type perfectly comfortable dancing in the middle of the street, critics and tongue-cluckers be damned.

Keep running from heaven, Mr. Tuggle. And thank you for the sinful joy.

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A Confederacy of Ounces

I really should be banned from pet stores. With a wanted poster, like the one for John Wilkes Booth.

booth

Because whenever I walk into a store, or any locked settlement of animals, my thoughts turn to conspiratorial liberation. Or at least fantasies of widespread adoption. I am my landlord. I could be Octodad. I already have two dogs; what’s a half dozen more?

This weekend, I went to Petco where Teddy gets his mani-pedis and hair done. I had to replace his leash, which has been worn thin over the years by dog bites.

But not Teddy’s. Every time I leash the dogs for a walk or a ride, Esme chomps down on the same spot of Teddy’s leash, just below his thick noggin. And she’ll shake her head violently, like a Great White shredding a shark cage. I’m sure she’s just steaming off the energy of anticipation. But I like to think she’s telling Teddy, whose car sickness occasionally ends a road trip prematurely, “Do not ruin this for me.”

tugowar

This time I was dogless (Teddy kind of goes bat shit for all the toys and company). As I headed to the leashes, I passed the hamster/guinea pig/mouse/rat section.

There was a boy, maybe 12, peering into the glassed hamster section. Mom was over him, holding his shoulders as he watched the one-wheel circus as if he were interpreting a Monet.

And I thought of the Lost and Found Mouse, a rodent neighbor when I was married and living in Sherman Oaks.

Our neighborhood was Grand Central for domestic pets. There were the beautiful chocolate labs on the corner, a protective German Shepherd across the street and the asshole Chihuahuas two doors up.

And there was the massive Doberman further up the block. He belonged to a guy I nicknamed Big John, a mentally-askiewed behemoth who walked his dog religiously. I used to think he looked like John Popper, the formerly-globular  lead singer and harmonica player for Blues Traveler. popperBut I’d later realize he was the living version of Ignatius J. Reilly, the mesmerizing, mentally-questionable hero of A Confederacy of Dunces.

John was a frightening guy. He walked his dog down the middle of the street. I once saw him yell at a car. That was parked. And empty. His Doberman had lunged for a squirrel crossing the road, pulling him into my Jeep parked out front. John didn’t reprimand the dog. Instead, glowered at my car and cursed it out like a drunken sailor.

One day, while walking Larry, I saw dozens of hand-written posters on nearly every tree and telephone pole on the block. The posters stood at least seven feet up every tree, and taped so completely that no one could reach, let alone remove, owner’s plea.

“MISSING,” the notes read. “1 PET MOUSE. 50 CENT REWARD.” There was a grainy photocopy, though I’m not sure why. If it’s not albino, what makes for a distinguishable mouse? mouse

“Poor kid,” I thought to myself. “That mouse is crow poop by now.”

But the next day, Julie called. While walking Larry, she found a mouse, just sitting upright in the middle of the road. She thought it would run off upon seeing human and canine, but it just sat there, as if paralyzed. Though she figured he would be long gone, she went home to grab the cat carrier, just in case. Man, Linus would scratch you to the bone if you tried to put him in that thing. He knew: No good ever comes from a cat carrier.

To her surprise, the mouse was there when she returned. Stock still (still) in the middle of the road. Not dead, but perhaps wishing he were. She walked up and ushered the little guy, who seemed more than pleased to enter a safe jail, even if it did smell of cat piss. She called and left a message on the number from the poster. She had to go to work, and didn’t want to leave Mickey locked in the house, particularly with cats.

I suggested she put the cat carrier outside our patio, perhaps will a little water and cheese, the only thing I figured a mouse ate.

I got home two hours later, and found the cat carrier open, with a hand-scrawled note ripped from the corner of a legal pad sitting atop it. “THANK YOU FOR FINDING MY MOUSE.”

Anchoring the note were a quarter, two dimes and a nickel. My god! what an ending. I beamed for days.

A week later, our next door neighbor saw me outside. “I heard you found John’s mouse,” he said.

What?? John was not the guy I presumed. That he could love something that fragile, so much. That he’d wallpaper Knobhill Drive to find a mouse. That he’d remove every poster with those giant paws after his child was returned. That he’d post a reward, and follow through on the promise.

Since then, I’ve wanted to do a children’s book, Lost and Found Mouse. I figure I could write for kids; how many editors consider me a petulant brat? But I can’t draw worth shit.

Still, I picture a child who discovers the mouse — and an important lesson about book cover judgements and fearing the world in which we reside.

But for me, it’s also proof that love is the one thing that is at once priceless and a bargain at any cost. Even at a quarter, two dimes and a nickel.

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