I WENT OUT WITH A girl last night to a bar in Los Feliz to play bingo.
The Bingo was free and the prizes were donated by drunks (a typical “prize pack” included a can of green beans and a thong), so it wasn’t as much about winning as it was the atmosphere and the conversation. First, the atmosphere:
The bartender had mutton chop sideburns and wore a boyscout uniform with a patch on the shoulder that read, “666.” For the Antichrist, he was surprisingly inattentive about serving us drinks. “How do we get the boyscout to notice us?” my ladyfriend asked. “You sound like a typical scoutmaster,” I said — a sophisticated wisecrack about child molestation.
A heavyset guy sat down beside us wearing a light blue t-shirt with an illustration of two unicorns fucking under a rainbow. He had a box with him, half the size of a shoebox, made of metal and covered with technical writing. It looked like something you’d insert a pair of keys into to launch a nuclear strike. He told the Antichrist he wasn’t interested in playing Bingo yet ten minutes later he had not one but two cards in front of him.
No one else had two. The unicorn pornographer must’ve been a dangerous man.
The guy calling the Bingo game had clearly gone to a Bingo vocational school — at least a one-year masters program — and would say things like, “Quack, quack, one little duck, B2″ (because the number “2″ looks like a duck) or, “A pair of ssssssslithering snakes, N55″ (the number “5″ looks like a snake).
Then there was “1″ (“That’s a nice, hard cock, B1″) and “7″ (“Ouch, that erect penis just got slammed in a door, B7″).
Not really. But he called a great game overall.
A good game.
Actually, he was terrible. But we really missed him after a second Bingo caller relieved him and read the numbers way too fast, like a horse racing announcer or auctioneer (I27-I27-over-here-B3-B9-O72-O72-go-Go-GO!).
Compared to the second guy, there were only two problems with the first: he would pepper in terrible one-liners — when he had to leave, he said something like, “My name’s Jeff, and if you liked the show, I perform comedy…” — and he took long breaks between every few games, probably to go dig up old Vaudeville routines for get fresh material.
Between rounds, my ladyfriend and I chatted. I don’t know how to describe my relation to her — acquaintance? friend? friend I’m cautiously optimistic about? — but “ladyfriend” is a happy medium because it’s never the best way to describe anyone. Last time we got together, we talked mostly about her, and this time she wanted to know about me.
She got her wish, let me tell you.
I revealed myself with a candor typically reserved for children or the autistic. There are certain things I tell people on a case-by-case basis, things maybe only three or four people know about me, and rarely the same three or four people. Somehow, this girl got me to spill my guts about personal history I thought I wouldn’t have revealed unless I was getting waterboarded.
Here are three (completely true) stories:
1. In ninth grade, I became interested in hypnosis. My mom, who loves metaphysical stuff like that, heard the guy who owned the local record shop “Johnny’s” was not only a hypnotist but something of a suburban shaman. I went to his house after school for a lesson and we started by talking about Joseph Campbell and how to avoid getting trapped in the spirit realm: imagine a cord leading back to the entrance and follow it; or, consult your spirit animal. I never met my spirit animal, however. “Johnny” used a great hypnotic induction script — “Imagine you’re on a beach. You see an old man drawing in the sand. He draws the number “10″ and the waves wash it away and you feel the water on your toes, your heels, your feet, your ankles. You feel complete relaxation…” — that just made me feel warm and loose and fall asleep on his couch. Several naps later, “Johnny” and I parted ways.
2. Sometime in early middle school, I was forced to take dancing and etiquette classes. I allude to them in my infamous “Captain Ahab” routine, but only casually; the fact is, I spent a good 2+ years at it. Aside from table manners and how to treat a lady — all things I’ve since forgotten — I learned to swing dance — to The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and The Brian Setzer Orchestra — mambo — to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5″ — and do God-knows-what to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. I think the old ladies who ran the place wanted to be “down with the kids,” so the playlist every week came from “Now That’s What I Call Music!” As I said, my manners are long gone, but the classes did spark my future interest in altered states, such as hypnosis — I tried many times to move my consciousness out of my body so I could spend Thursdays at 7PM doing something else.
3. The fact that I was baptized Catholic but never practiced it left a void in my life for paganistic rituals and dogma, so after I left the church, I had a few dalliances with Eastern religions and gypsy fortune telling. A year and a half back, I bought a pack of Tarot cards and a beginner’s manual. To practice, I drew a card daily to predict how my day would go. The results were surprisingly accurate. Noteworthy examples include: III of Swords — “disappointment, plans disrupted” — when a car crashed into a telephone pole near my apartment and knocked out power for days; The Empress — “motherhood, nurturing” — when my then-girlfriend’s niece was born; The Tower — “disorientation, a humbling revelation” — when I was on my way to pick someone up from the airport and found out my car had been towed. I quit using them daily a few months back, because whether or not you’re going to have a good day, it’s hard to get off on the right foot when you’re staring down this:
…I do keep the cards around, however, and use them from time to time, either for entertainment or important life decisions.
I found myself telling these things (and others) to a girl I’ve only known briefly and I don’t know why. Every time some shocking new piece of information spilled out of my mouth, I’d gesture to my drink (“It’s the booze talking”) as if it were justification, even though I’m 6’2″ 185 and had only had a pair of cocktails. I’m a lightweight, but there’s a limit.
Less revealing, we also shared our favorite movies. I got a kick out of her affinity for late ’90s Nicholas Cage (Con Air, specifically) and most films where the whole world blows up. Therefore, I was shocked to learn she didn’t care for Independence Day — a favorite of mine — so shocked that I drew a blank when pressed for others.
I only remember the weird stuff. See above.
One film I forgot to mention was Raging Bull. I love that movie. I can really identify with DeNiro’s character’s foul mouth, love of food, and small hands. As matter of fact, I wrote an essay on Raging Bull back in college in response to the following question:
“In pieces of work inspired by historical or biographical fact, to what degree should an artist try to remain objective and factually-accurate?”
Raging Bull is based on the story of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, but Director Martin Scorcese took extensive liberties with it. He changed the order of certain events, added or removed important characters (Joe Pesci’s role was actually a combination of LaMotta’s brother and best friend — two separate people), and altered space, time, and sound (listen close to when DeNiro’s glove makes contact with an opponent’s face in the ring and you’ll hear everything from donkeys braying to shattering glass to a watermelon hitting cement).
I made the case that getting the facts right is secondary to telling “the truth.” All the creative liberties painted a more accurate picture of the real Jake LaMotta than if they’d painstakingly reconstructed every last detail. My essay laid out a convincing argument for why you should always figure out the truth first, then gather the facts, then maybe make some up facts if the real facts don’t fit. Anyone who creates propaganda for a living should have a copy of my essay; I even got an “A-.”
What does this have to do with a meandering conversation between Bingo rounds at a bar in Los Feliz?
Simply put, my essay was spot on.
I need a Scorcese to edit me down to only the most relevant details because my full life’s story makes no sense. Hypnosis? Dancing and etiquette class? Tarot cards? The more you know about me, the more confusing I become. At this rate, my funeral will feature a string of eulogies that begin, “Let’s see now… Mike was a… uh… huh.” My headstone inscription will read:
“(Your Guess is as Good as Mine)”
Malcolm Gladwell has a great essay in his last book, What the Dog Saw, called “Connecting the Dots.” In it, he explains how the problem of intelligence-gathering for today’s military is not getting information, which is plentiful, but having too much and being overwhelmed and confounded by it — similar to trying to get to know me using small talk.
But I like it like that. My ladyfriend? We’ll see.