Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.


Christmas 2004: Ask your trusted family clergyman: this Web site is all about truthfulness and full disclosure. So before I get into it I’d like to come out and preface this installment of the Diary of Indignities with the admission that I did indeed receive a few decent gifts this year.

However, I am not going to write about them. Not only because getting something halfway cool just doesn’t fit the modus operandi here but also because I am, of course, primarily fixated on all the many shitty, weird and vexing things that happen to me. Any thoughts of cool presents or holiday merriment are at this point pretty much background static, dissipating away into an opaque, gray blur while my mind instead focuses its energies on tormenting me with vivid, unending loops that display every transgression inflicted on me this cheery season... Minor, imagined, you name it. Sweet booze, can’t you dull this pain? (No, that’s not a rhetorical question.)

Who knows where it all took such a sour turn? Things started off well. My employers generously gave us drones the day off on… on… What the fuck do you call that day, anyway? Christmas Eve Day? No, that’s stupid. December 24th, B.C.? The Nightmare Before Christmas? Whatever. I had the day off and took my beloved little truck in for a routine oil change.

“Can you guys check out that weird rattle for me, too?” I asked the mechanics. For a few days the truck had been making a clanking noise when I accelerated. It didn’t sound expensive, like maybe a monkey or a jolly Christmas elf had got himself stuck in a fan belt or something, so I wasn’t too concerned with it. But new bolts on the heat shield and a $50 tensioner later, I drove away still hearing that damn monkey. The adjustments to my medication have done a fine job of making the voices and such go away, so I was pretty sure the noise was coming from my truck.

Upon returning to the shop I had this conversation with the mechanic: “Man, that is… that is… That is one hell of a weird noise. I’ve never heard anything like that.”

“Uhhh, I’d like it a lot better if you say something like, ‘No problem, Mr. Hughes! I’d know that sound anywhere! It’s a ten-dollar pulley and we can fix it for you right away!’”

“Can’t help you there, bud.”

So to kick off this holiday season, I bent over and Santa stuck a $750 charge to replace a cracked flywheel waaaaay up my chimney.

I was actually less upset about this than one might guess, because there was no time to get the work done before the holiday and to my way of thinking $750 is a pretty fair price to pay to get out of being around my family. But no, the Grinch That Fixed Truckmas said it would make the trip with no problems.

“You’ll need to fix that flywheel in the next 30 days or so, but right now you could drive that thing out to California and back,” he said. “Just ease up on the throttle. And don’t tow anything. Or drive backwards too much.”

Somehow I knew if I called my dad and said, “Sorry, won’t make it this year. I’m under specific orders not to fly down I-75 doing 90 miles an hour in reverse while pulling my trailer full of Christmas anvils, and you know that’s the only way to make the trip,” the wily old man would see through my ruse. So I girded up my loins and went home to sulk.

A last-minute call from my aunt convinced me to head over to her place for Christmas Eve supper. Normally I’d contrive some sort of excuse, but the whole $750 thing had me a bit down, and I figured things couldn’t really get any worse. And I was right – they didn’t get worse. But boy oh boy, did they ever get weird.

This is the aunt that’s married to the guy I wrote about in the story about getting my eyeball scraped; the one that’s a cross between Ned Flanders and G. Gordon Liddy. Most people I know wouldn’t expect that I’d get along so well with people so enthusiastically religious, but I really enjoy their company. Despite generating that artificial, disconcertingly healthy glow that people who believe in Jesus too much always seem to have, my aunt and uncle are great folks with a great family. And they have some great guns.

When I arrived Uncle Flanders-Liddy was actually displaying some of his prize firearms. He was accompanied by Uncle Bear. Uncle Bear is his mom’s sister’s husband, visiting this year from Michigan with his wife. Who’s my uncle’s aunt…. My uncle-in-law’s aunt… Whatever. Uncle Bear has lived up to his name by getting himself extensively tattooed with pictures of bears. He also has a big, gray beard, lots of Harley-Davidson accoutrements and this Christmas was sporting a stylish leather kilt. In fact, word is that Uncle Bear just refuses to wear pants at all. I can respect that.

So it was when I was standing there with Uncle Shooty and his arsenal, and Uncle Bear and his man-skirt, looking down the sights of a real, live semiautomatic rifle, that I first thought to myself, “Now it feels like Christmas.”

I got to open my gifts after my adorable 10-year-old niece showed me her razor-sharp new lock-blade pocketknife and Uncle Bear forced me to drink this special stout from a Flint microbrewery that featured a frothy head the exact same color and texture as the water it’s made with, which is from lovely Lake Michigan. I received a book on how to effectively manage employees (something I’m not inclined or, frankly, allowed, to do) as well as a tie designed by Jerry Garcia.

…Jerry Garcia...

Now, I have nothing against the stupid, smelly hippies of the world, except for the fact that I hate them. But Jerry Garcia… Let’s just say that given half a chance I’d dig up that fat old junkie’s rotting corpse for no other reason than hitting it in the balls with a cactus would send waves of pleasure spasming through every cell of my body. So when picking out a tie a Jerry Garcia model wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice. Thankfully, I have a brother who, rumor has it, once smoked some marijuana, and who openly admits to enjoying the music of something called String Cheese Incident, so I was able to regift that motherfucker before any of its insidious commie hippie taint seeped into my skin.

My aunt’s mother-in-law also came up to me with a present that night. I thought this was a bit weird, because as a last-minute addition to the festivities none of my aunt’s in-laws knew I’d be attending. Still, I was very grateful. I even pretended not to notice the small spot where someone had surreptitiously torn off the tag naming the gift’s originally intended recipient. I removed the wrapping to find a paperback book about soup. Which is… uh… good.

A few plates of lasagna and a few more refreshing glasses of stout later I showed Uncle Bear and Uncle Ticking Time Bomb how to search for vintage German military knives on eBay while they chatted about how Patton was a great American and how people shouldn’t get flu shots because of all the shit like mercury the government puts in them, and how if you do get a flu shot your chiropractor will have to work extra hard to magically suck all the heavy metals and poisons out of your body. Normally that kind of shit is my cue to start mocking and deriding people’s cherished belief systems, but I held off this time, in the spirit of Christmas. And the spirit of not wanting to get my ass shot up by Uncle Fucking Scary Jesus Guns.

Plus I knew I’d get the chance to mock and deride something the next day at my dad’s. The trip down was fairly uneventful, except for one exciting moment where two old people in a Cadillac barreled toward me at a high speed without slowing down. I was stopped at a light with cars ahead of and beside me, and could only watch helplessly as the driver engaged in angry debate with the dog in his lap instead of paying attention to the road.

“C’mon… C’mon old people… You can do it… Just don’t break the neck or the spine… Stay away from the neck and the spine…” I whispered, but as usual my Christmas prayers went unanswered. The old prune’s shriveled wife looked up, saw me and screamed, causing the old man to slam on his brakes. His car bucked, skidded and hopped, finally coming to rest, tires smoking, just a few feet from my bumper. I had no choice but to continue on to my father’s. I did get to see the old lady sobbing and that damn dog fly around the car, though, so it wasn’t a total wash.

It was about noon when I got to my dad’s, so everyone had been drinking for several hours. They also had a typical Hughes family holiday spread, which means cheese and bacon were combined and recombined into dozens of different dips, snacks, beverages and desserts.

One of my brothers (not the hippie, the other one) mentioned that he had taken our dad to see the latest Lord of the Rings movie. Now, several years ago my dad bewildered everyone else in the family by converting from a typical Irish Catholic to the kind of Catholic who actually believes in all that pope stuff. He’s not quite as myopic as Uncle Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, but he does tend to view everything in a religious light. Which is why my dad, my brother and I got to have this conversation:

“How’d you like that hobbity movie, pop?”

“I liked it. The battle scenes were really something. And you could really see the religious symbolism.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. The elves were very, uhhh… ethereal. They were like angels… You know, immortal. And the hobbits, ummm, symbolized… Uhhh, humanity…”

“So then what did the humans symbolize?” said my smartass little brother (a split second before I could get it out), causing my dad’s brain to seize up just long enough for us to make our escape.

Later, after a few more gallons of booze had kickstarted my old man’s gray matter, he told me a funny story about the night before, when the family played a game of charades. Apparently my sister thought pretending to calmly hold a microphone and stare into space while wordlessly opening and closing her mouth at random would be an effective way to impersonate James Brown. Her husband thought this was pretty lame, and started making fun of her. Then my dad started choking him – not to defend his daughter’s honor, but because he was on my sister’s team and was tired of hearing my brother-in-law talk trash about their shitty performance.

“You choked him?” I asked.

“Ah, I was just joking around,” dad said.

“Dad, there were marks on his neck two hours later,” my brother said.

“I don’t joke around very well.”

Dad throttling a family member during a game of charades? Now it feels like Christmas!

Presents at my dad’s included a baseball cap with a picture of a snook on it (a fish I’ve never caught, and that doesn’t live anywhere around here) and a sampler pack of three (count ‘em!) fish hooks clearly labeled “Promotional Only - Not for Sale.” I did manage to score some extra loot by dethroning my smartass little brother as the champion of Christmas Trivia. After a heated battle, I proudly walked away with a duffle bag bearing the logo of some company called Microgen Systems, while my brother in second place got a box of like 4,000 delicious cookies. I showed him!

After a light Christmas supper of cheese, bacon and liquor it was time to head home. Various family members tried everything short of roofies to get me to stay the night, but all I could think about was my dad’s birthday a few months earlier, when I had to sleep next to a hyperactive grandfather clock, and last Christmas, when I slept on my brother’s floor under a ceiling fan spinning fast enough to pin me to the floor and blow my cheeks out like that one astronaut guy. He had opened the windows too, despite it being about 40 degrees outside. And since I was heading to my loony batshit mother’s the next day, I wanted a full night’s sleep.

Strangely, because my mother is clearly the most dangerous and insane member of my family, the holiday whatnot at my mom’s was pretty uneventful. My sister’s family showed up, and Aunt Flanders brought my little niece and nephew over. Mom put out little cups of soy nog while I sat on the edge of one of her six futons, quietly gripping my knees and rocking back and forth. By the time my mom had declared that she was hot, removed her shirt and started walking around in her bra, I had almost reached a blissful, completely catatonic mindset.

Still, just before I blacked out, my mom walked by and I glanced over at my nauseated 12-year-old nephew. I noticed how the shade of green he was turning nicely complemented the poinsettias and mumbled to myself, “Now it feels like Christmas.”



November, 1988: Okay, so when I was 19 years old I was homeless and went to go live on my friend Lou’s couch in Palm Harbor. Lou and a couple of friends I had known since high school were all employed at this really busy Burger King at the corner of U.S. 19 and 584, and they got me a job there. I spent six or eight months living on Lou’s couch, eating his mom’s food, bumming rides to places, working at Burger King and spending my paycheck on Kool Moe Dee cassettes before splitting in the middle of the night to move back to Gainesville and freeload off of people there. I was a selfish dirtbag with bad tattoos and limited social skills, barely employable and chiefly interested in getting loaded and beating people up. (The first chucklehead to pipe up with something like, "What’s so different about you now?" gets one of these here empty beer cans upside the head.)

Anyway, we’re talking a real high point in my life. In fact, if the me of today met the me of then today, me of today would punch me of then in the balls to teach me of then a much-deserved lesson. And then me of today would run, because me of then was a big, angry, drunken thug who welcomed those bright flashes of pain for the all-too-brief respite they provided from a life spent gazing at the cinders of its own dead soul. And me of today is a puss who watches Truffaut movies and wears glasses and khaki pants and stares at computers all day long and knows about wine.

But working at Burger King wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. First of all, all my shithead buddies worked there, and we could do shit like coordinate dance routines to Misfits songs while assembling the delicious materials we sold as food. It was also the first steady paycheck I ever earned in my life, and dealing with the gig’s meager demands gave me a glimpse at that mystical, fabled land others called "responsibility."

In addition, on my first day I got to dress up in this bulbous Rodney the Reindeer costume and scream obscenities at passing cars. That was alright. Plus we got free soda, and there were some rock ‘n’ roll chicks working at our shop who were usually up for dirty break-room shenanigans. And there was also the occasional adventure, like when someone would shit on the floor of the customer bathroom or the time Lou figured out a way to operate the microwave without having to close its door and was happily irradiating everyone that walked by.

Rodney goes pee pee. Merry Christmas!

One of the mightiest struggles of the Burger King era involved a "Be Capable" named Kim. Be Capables (get it? "Be Capable?" "BK?") were people with various mental and physical problems that were placed in the less demanding, more menial (believe it or not, there was a slight gradation) Burger King jobs in an effort to teach them skills that would benefit society. I had nothing against most of our Be Capables, probably because at that shitty point in my life I was barely one or two Y chromosomes from being designated Aspiring Be Capable For Life.

But Lou hated this one particular Be Capable named Kim. She was in her early 30s and prone to these weird fits where she would turn into the Mummy and start lumbering around all glassy-eyed and stiff-legged, wrecking things and choking people. Though tiny and suffering from a heart condition that both precluded strenuous exertion and turned her skin an unusual shade of blue, she drew on an immense reserve of strength during these fits and was a real challenge to subdue.

Occasionally her fits would adopt a less aggressive tone than the more common, Boris-Karloff-inspired episodes: She would spin in circles for a few seconds before lurching into action, zipping along blindly in one random direction or another until hitting an obstacle, bouncing off of it and starting the whole process all over again exactly like one of those old battery-powered Radio Shack toys from the days when wireless remote control was available only to high-falutin’ rich kids.

But Kim was also very critical and mean, constantly belittling people (to the best of her limited capabilities) in a squeaky, mewling voice. Which is why I didn’t really blame Lou for not liking her. Kim certainly seemed to like me just fine, probably due to the time where I was squatting down to grab a bucket of foul Burger King pickles and the crotch of my pants ripped from zipper to ass, displaying my dangling, underwear-less weiner and balls. Kim, the only witness to the incident, was delighted. She would talk about it with a faraway look in her eyes at every possible opportunity.

Anyway, Kim’s job was to put frozen burger patties on the conveyor belt that fed the broiler. Nothing else. She didn’t have to go in the walk-in freezer to get the burgers, or open the boxes that they came in, or sweep or do anything at all but load these frozen meat-discs into this giant, clanking robo-oven. But she was incompetent, and during busy periods it wasn’t uncommon for the person working the burger station to have to dash back to the conveyor belt, shove Kim into a corner and throw handfuls of burgers into the machine in a frantic effort to ensure commuters would get their recommended daily dose of soybeans, horse meat and spider eggs (or whatever the hell it was Burger King put in those sumptuous, affordable patties).

One day when Lou, Kim and myself were the only employees on the clock, I was standing at the fry station trying to figure out a way to use ketchup and a hollowed-out French-toast stick left over from the breakfast rush to fake cutting off one of my fingers when I heard Lou curse and run back to Kim’s station to feed the infernal machine. The lunch rush was just beginning and he had run out of meat-stuff.

"Hey Pat!" he barked. "Get me two cases of Whoppers and a case of burgers out of the walk-in! Now! Now!"

I liked the walk-in freezer. The walk-in freezer was nice. It was cool and dark and quiet, and one time this frisky heavy-metal girl that worked with us followed me in there and touched me on the po-po. It had felt good. So I knew Lou needed these burgers pronto, but I couldn’t resist taking a few moments to breathe in that sweet, cold freezer air and enjoy the peace, the quiet and the memories.

When I emerged, Lou was locked in a death struggle with Kim. She was glassy-eyed, drooling and clearly having one of her fits. She also had a pair of metal burger tongs about three-quarters of an inch from Lou’s face. Lou, a stocky and enormously strong guy who played varsity high school football as a sophomore, had her by the wrists and was straining to control her. Every couple of seconds those tongs would clap shut like the jaws of a pit bull. Snap! Snap!

I dropped the burger boxes and rushed over to grab Kim.

"Make… the… burgers," Lou managed to squeeze out while fighting for his life.

"Hold on!" I said. "I’ll help you!"


That was Lou. A good soldier to the end. I ran to his station and started filling orders. From the back of the kitchen I could hear the continuing sounds of struggle. Kim was groaning low in her throat like Frankenstein with a hangover, Lou was grunting with the effort of battle and those menacing tongs kept snapping shut every few seconds. Snap! Snap! I was pretty sure I heard punches being thrown, but I didn’t look back. Just the thought of the desperate conflict happening back there was bad enough – I was afraid the actual sight of Lou beating up this poor old Be Capable while she had a seizure would scar me for life. I put my head down and concentrated on filling the orders that were pouring in.

After a few harrowing minutes of this, I heard the door to the walk-in freezer slam shut. Not long after, Lou returned to the burger-making station while I ran back to the fryers. He was sweating, breathing hard and his clothes were disheveled. I didn’t like the look in his eyes.

Wordlessly, we worked non-stop for the next hour or so, until the rush was over. As it slowed, the full weight of experience began to hit us, and shock set in. Was Kim dead? I looked over at Lou, but he wouldn’t catch my eye. In fact, he wouldn’t discuss the terrifying experience at all for months to come, and even then would only mumble something about being startled to look up and see Kim coming at him "like a Dr. Who monster" with those metal tongs. I don’t blame Lou for being reticent to talk about it. I mean, to this day I find the whole experience totally unsettling, and I’m not the one who had to engage in hand-to-tong conflict with a Be Capable.

We continued to work. A little while later Kim emerged from the walk-in freezer, a little more blue than usual but seemingly unharmed.

"You guys are mean to me," she said. She died a few months later, but not at work and not because of anything Lou did.

This is Lou. I do not know why he is wearing a helmet.




March 1986

Yep, that's me. On the left, smartass.

Notice the big, clunky motorcyle boots.

I wore these every day for six years and never once got on a motorcycle.

And I'm wearing eyeliner.

I know it was the '80s and all, but still. And how about that hair-do? I look like Depeche Mode's poodle took a shit on my head.

Argh. I think I'm going to go hit myself in the face with a cement block now.



Still More Inexhaustible Historical Indignities
Age 3: I become enraged upon meeting another kid named Patrick. Soon after I become completely inconsolable when it’s pointed out to me that he’s older than me, and therefore has an original claim to the name, which I cannot legally challenge. Bitter feelings of resentment toward my parents that stem from this unfortunate situation linger on well into the 21st century.

Age 7: Oh, that nickel I swallowed? I did it to impress a girl who told me I was “almost as funny as Paul Lynde.”

Age 9: Desperate for attention, I pretentiously decide to start using my full name on class assignments. It’s only after taking a few papers home months later that I learn I don’t actually know how to spell my own middle name.

Age 13: Get sent to live with my dad, and have to transfer to a school where I know no one. While waiting for the bus on the first day of school, a guy named Mike Morakis, who is a junior but already has a beard, takes a look at the Black Flag and Dead Kennedys logos on my folder and starts calling me Tom. After a day or two of Morakis loudly exclaiming, “Hi Tom!” whenever he sees me, the entire bus starts chanting, “Tom! Tom!” at me every morning. I’m kind of mystified by this, but don’t really find it offensive. Until someone tells me that Tom is a married, middle-aged guy living in our subdivision who drives around with a 12-pack of beer in his car trying to lure high school guys into make-out sessions. This experience is somewhat mitigated a full year later, when Morakis (who might still be in 11th grade for all I know) takes pity on me and decides a kid named Pudgy is the “new Tom.”

Age 14: Tisza Langford comes over to talk to me while I’m mowing the lawn. She’s wearing a bikini, and I get a hard-on. I have to turn my back to her because I’m wearing these stupid little soccer shorts. She continues trying to chat with me, and moves to face me while I keep turning away from her. After a few minutes of staring at my back she gives up and pretty much quits talking to me altogether.

Age 15: If you have heartburn and decide to take some Alka-Seltzer, it’s important to wait for the tablets to completely dissolve before drinking ‘em down. You should not swallow them like huge aspirin. Extreme discomfort and forceful projectile vomiting may ensue. Let me stress this: Wait for the tablets to completely dissolve.

Age 16: My foofy new-wave bangs catch fire when, stoned, I lean just a little too far into the stove while lighting a smoke.

Age 17: I get kicked out of the house for getting two Cs on my report card (really) and movie into an apartment with a guy named Dirty Mike. Dirty Mike takes a lot of drugs and sells my beloved Samhain tapes for crack money. I learn that a mutual love for Naked Raygun should not be used as the only criteria for choosing a roommate.

Age 18: I meet Mike Watt. Well, by “meet,” I mean, “scream because I looked over in the parking lot before the fIREHOSE show and saw a man’s naked hairy ass and he jumped up and screamed too and it was Mike Watt.”

Age 19: Chuck From Hell and I get a couple of cases of beer and crawl through a muddy creek to get into this weird cave under University Avenue to drink. When that gets boring, we go visit Eileen and Tracy. We destroy their apartment and empty the fridge and pee on stuff we shouldn’t pee on and somehow I get to make out with Eileen a little, but we don’t stay long because the sun is coming up and adventure calls. See, Chuck had been in a terrible car accident several months prior, where a guy in another car fell asleep at the wheel, strayed into Chuck’s lane and killed his girlfriend. He wanted to go to Tallahassee and have a look at where she had just been buried. We start driving and I fall asleep. I wake up at a rest stop barely half an hour north of Gainesville, where Chuck had wisely stopped to nap after getting tired. It’s very bright out, and I am half-buried in a pile of empty beer cans, wearing a leather jacket with skulls and spikes all over it and covered in mud and condiments. Families are staring at us. Despite the presence of perfectly serviceable bathrooms at the rest stop, we decide to hit a gas station to clean up. By “clean up” I mean we use an entire bottle of gooey pomade to sculpt our hair-doos into giant, greasy rockabilly pompadours. Fueled by warm beer, we eventually make it to Tallahassee, where we spend 30 seconds looking at Chuck From Hell’s girlfriend’s grave. He pronounces this depressing, so we go to the mall, where he buys a Zodiac Mindwarp cassette and some clove cigarettes and two huge bikers wrinkle their noses at us. Then, after cruising around for a little while, Chuck From Hell remembers he knows a girl in Tallahassee who “likes to get fucked up the ass.” I stand next to him at a pay phone while he tries to track her down. A bum sitting on a park bench and swigging from a brown paper bag looks over at us disapprovingly. A car with two girls in it pulls up next to us. They look over, and I look back and smile. They lock the car’s doors and run the red light.

Age 23: I’m using the bathroom during a Radon show at the Hardback. Clay Smith, musician and reprobate, is at the stall next to me. As I finish and give Lil’ Pat a few hygienic, manly shakes, Clay looks down and comments on the size of my penis. Startled, I look up, and Clay uses the opportunity to smack me right on the head of my dick. Hard. I stand there in shock for a few moments as Clay runs giggling out of the bathroom and onto the dance floor. After gathering my composure, I run out and tackle Clay from behind, inadvertently knocking him completely unconscious. Instantly, six or seven pretty girls run to Clay’s aid, cradling his head, whispering comforts, stroking his brow with their soft, ripe bosoms and feeding him sweet, cold beer. I am not a victim but a bully, and nobody is impressed with my sore pee-pee.

Age 25: New Year’s Eve festivities start early for me and, after drinking just a bit too much, include firing bottle rockets into large, open buckets of house paint, spattering and angering innocent bystanders. Not long after using this same paint to execute a huge pentagram and an anarchy symbol on the host’s garage, I experience a brief moment of clarity and decide that I should head home before I get into real trouble. While stumbling home in a blurry haze, I fall flat on my face at least once. At home, I disrobe, head to the bathroom and begin vomiting. At midnight I shiver, naked, and rest my head on the toilet seat while listening to people celebrating outside my window. “Happy New Year,” they cheer, over and over again. “Happy New Year!” The next day my girlfriend calls me from Tallahassee to tell me she’s in love with some dude. A week later she sends me an invitation to their housewarming party. It has a cartoon of them carrying boxes into their new house together while giant hearts float above their heads.

Age 26-34: Good times.


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