Living Remnant

by: Patrick J. Dalton

A journey into a life of chaos, one that needs to be fueled, fed, and even shared with others…

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We were always fucked up coming home. We were fucked up no matter where we were going, gin-soaked or otherwise. But coming home at night, back to the “Slope” usually meant we were in the stained backseat of a livery outrunning the dawn, driver using the scaffolding-shrouded steeple of the red church on the corner as a landmark.

For the two years that I lived with her down the block from that place, I never once saw anyone going in or out, no workers on the dilapidated boards surrounding the painted brick façade. Only the occasional dog pissing on the foundation. It seemed fitting being on the outside looking in at the hollow, forgotten testament to redemption and eternal life. As an atheist dating a satanic alcoholic prone to violence, the both of us were always meaning to repair our broken, abandoned relationship but found it easier to drown it in our shared toxicity. Our shared emptiness embodied by the derelict steepled monstrosity on the corner.

Despite my disdain for the Nazarene scarecrow upon his cross and the Irish Catholic ”life is miserable, so let’s concern ourselves with St. Peter’s literacy skills after we fucking die” cult I was born into, my chaotic mind was somehow always quieted in a fucking church. These days they serve as venues for obligatory weddings and funerals only. The journey to adulthood requires wisdom obtained through more random and individual practices that aren’t recognized until long after the scars have healed.

Serenity is a never ending snipe hunt, often intangible and best considered imaginary for the sake of sanity. When your thoughts, memories, fears, dreams, anxieties, and nightmares have congealed and amplified into an internal echo chamber, with the handles missing from every known escape hatch, best of luck to you. Today I possess a Zen-like balance of prescribed neutrality and fucking vertigo. But in those days, through the deafening maelstrom raging behind my fixed, staring eyes, I could hear an apparition blink in the cold marble and oak shrine of the goddamned enemy. And very little else. This was their circus, not mine. The devout participants who engaged in this charade of charity and love, who would soil their precious little souls with the unspeakable shit they did on the other side of those doors and mumble their rehearsed confessions through a screen in a box for five minutes each month in return for a cleansing in the form of recited penance. “May the Lord bless and keep you.” Lather, rinse, & repeat. Amen.

I was once cast as an altar boy in St. Joseph’s weekly sideshows, an overweight tiger caged, taunted, and beaten only to be released for an hour or so every Sunday morning to go through the motions in fear of a nearby whip. It was humiliating enough to have been me in private, constantly dodging wooden hangers, flying cups of coffee, or the occasional cigarette tip, but the Merrick treatment in public was beyond the fucking pale. I’m not an animal. I’m a Catholic schoolboy.

I thought I’d seen it all from that revered stage, at times holding in the laughter, or the vomit, on sore knees in an over-starched off-white cassock that resembled a cheap tablecloth spotted with questionable stains. The thinly concealed bruising, the whispered threats, notes sung that would bleed a whale’s ear dry, and the hypocrisy. Every fucking word spoken under that roof, on either side of the marble slab, was a broken promise before it slid from their fermented tongues.

The foulest tongues of all belonged to Mr. and Mrs. John Barthold, the parents of my brutally abused and bullied classmate, Mary. John and his wife looked like hobos straight out of the Sunday funny pages, with soiled, mismatched thrift shop clothing, patched together in places with duct tape, which affixed their worn out shoes to their (souls). Mary and her six younger siblings, mostly girls, didn’t fare much better than their parents. It was far worse for them, in fact. The majority of those Barthold children faced the daily judgements of their peers at school and the penalties were fucking heinous. Prior to Mary transferring to my school in the 6th grade, I had been the sadists’ target of choice since the 1st grade with the hospital bracelets to prove it. Mary provided me with a much needed break from the savagery, but offered me a new reason to draw their blood. The boys in my class found out Mary was dyslexic and beat her down on arrival by the batting cage during recess, one clenching her by the hair and smashing the side of her face into a tree, another stomping her only pair of glasses on a nearby rock. New, poor, and “retarded.” She didn’t stand a goddamn chance. Welcome to St. Joe’s, enjoy your stay.

Momma Barthold could be seen every fucking Sunday at the lectern for….tithing. The meek shall inherit your pocket lint. These poor bastards’ breadwinner, ‘Ol John, actually worked at an IBM thinktank making a higher salary than anyone else in that mausoleum. And like a good Christian, Johnny handed over seventy percent of his earnings to St. Joseph’s each month while his family suffered in squalor. But John-boy wasn’t just doing the good, honorable Christian thing, he was buying himself a clean conscious which I’m pretty sure wasn’t in stock at the parish gift shop. No amount of tithing, penance, or duct tape could absolve poor Sir John of his sins. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Saint John was sexually abusing his children and raping his eldest daughter, my defeated classmate Mary. Nevertheless, every week, they shuffled into their third row ringside pew expecting the Holy Ghost to greet their solemn souls.

The congregation’s collective stench of betrayal and blindness that permeated the pews could be seen on their faces, all locked in the same expression of bullshit reverence like they all stole and totalled the same guy’s car and were desperate to avoid eye contact with anything but the ceiling beams.

Clowns aren’t supposed to frequent the circus. Yet here they were.

If I’d only taken those words seriously, I may have avoided the Big Top  I ended up in years later. But I’m not the enlightened, cautious type. If it weren’t for the reward of future regret, I wouldn’t be involved. It’s an ideology that’s more pragmatic than the weekly ritualistic cannibalism of a bipolar zombie who allegedly told a few nameless bystanders “later, bitches” Unicorns are biblical. Nonfiction is mine.

To each deity belongs a house of worship, redundant rituals, and at least one ringleader to spread the word; good, bad, or indecipherable. When the one that you kneel before is Chaos, interpretation is everything. And it becomes verbatim when two combustible malcontents cross paths, turning the elephant parade into a full blown stampede.

Her apartment was more like a curiosity shop, the shelves filled with the skulls, spines, and bones of small mammals and birds, haunted paintings of shifting shadows on the walls, jars with dimly colored beads, stones, and gems. Everywhere you looked, there was something with a story, a past life to be spoken of. And yeah, she even had a stained glass window. What church would be complete without one?

Another bottle of Bombay Sapphire comes out of the freezer as she’s giggling her way through an anecdote-turned-hypothetical-murder-scenario aimed at either myself or her roommate. Can’t tell. When the endorphins within her begin their dance with alcohol, what spews from her lips is a rapid fire soliloquy. Zip-click goes my Zippo lighter adorned with a green enameled Celtic knot as I light up another Camel. Iron Monkey plows through the speakers in the living room, pushing through the combined cigarette and weed smoke and into my head. I’ve heard this CD more times than I give a shit about, but she’s hooked on like two riffs and has the fucking thing on perpetual rotation. It’s been out for three or four years but I have to pay the price for her being late to the party. Fuck it. I’ve paid worse penalties. Zip-click.

She’s shaking her ass, holding her gin and tonic, smoking a Camel Light and applying her makeup all at the same time. I have to admit that there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now. Fine lines and subtle contours, shadow and color blended masterfully, the meticulous hand of a neurosurgeon executing a procedure while on a mechanical bull, defining symmetry before finishing it off with a perfectly centered bindi just above her painted brows. Her eyes in their light red-brown seduction shining back at me like polished nirvana. Goddamn. It’s almost eleven and we haven’t even considered leaving the apartment yet. Zip-click. “Time is just memory mixed with desire.” *  Typical Friday night.

She’s dressed like a metal goddess; the body of a siren on five-inch stilettos with her legs tightly clad in a second skin of leather and a see-through lace top that pours over her toned arms down to her middle fingers. She has the grin of a hangman and lingers in the mood for trouble. Actually, it’s a fucking bloodlust. She knows that anything with a pulse wants her as the stares become a familiar backdrop, their walking fantasy shadowed by their immediate second guess.

There’s more to us than a respective need to numb the self-inflicted pain and soothe each other’s erratic impulses. You see, this isn’t your average relationship, with the average woman dating the average man abiding by the mediocrity of average fucking rules. This is Chaos. We can’t merely tether this between the two of us, for Chaos needs to be fueled, fed, and even shared with others.  After all, sharing is caring and we really give a fuck. Zip-click.

Rather than be predictable and fade into the puddles & dive bars of the Lower East Side, it was secret loft parties in Dumbo or fucking Williamsburg. Elitism at its most sickening and we’re invited. She provides dog-walking services during the day for the wealthy, her clientele includes a roster of celebrities and their representatives. So basically, when there’s some no-talent, West Coast, trust fund baby/shitbird junkie living the highlife in Brooklyn on daddy’s dime, throwing a spare-no-expense “exhibit opening,” she was put on the list. Plus one. It’s the south side of the “heroin-chic” trend and apparently now, the more money you have, the more homeless you look. Zip-click. Outfuckingstangstanding. At five feet tall with paperwhite skin contrasting her raven-black dreadlocks, her exotic makeup, jewelry and tattoos, she’s walking hand-in-hand with a six foot one Irish orangutan with mutton chop sideburns and hair down to his belt. We aren’t out of our element, we’re simply making them squeamish in theirs. We’re sharing!

On this particular night, the venue is in Greenpoint, a desolate fucking place near the East River dominated by warehouses and probably Frank Castle. We step out of the livery and head towards the GNC poster boy standing in front of a dimly lit red door. Zip-click. She’s all smiles and finger wiggles as she tells Jimmy Juicenipples her name, which he checks against the clipboard that he pulls from behind him, tucked into his belt. Without a word or breaking his line of sight with her cleavage, he opens the door like a good boy and in we go.

We’re instantly underwhelmed as we slowly walk into what could’ve been the set of The Secret Garden had it been filmed on the Gaza Strip. Only it was much dimmer and not as loud. The space itself with its giant treehouse and floral theme reminds me of that shit as well. These are the people I forgot even existed, those without the necessity to vacate their mattress during daylight hours. Wall to wall staggering cries for help. Zip-click.

The DJ is spinning Portishead, the catchall soundtrack for these cultural fucking lampreys, and we begin laughing as we trade suggestions about what requests we should make to piss off the natives. It’s a toss-up between Soilent Green and Bolt Thrower, both of which would only draw a blank stare at best. Zip-click.

There’s no central bar, only little seven foot long minibars situated sporadically along the walls, each with an identical selection of top shelf bottles. Impressive spread for….I’ve no fucking idea. She has already forgotten the purpose for this soiree and we’re both one hundred percent certain that there isn’t a single one of these rubes in this oversized diorama that we’ve ever met before. However, two girls navigating their way through the crowd who stop and shriek, “Hey! I’m so glad you guys are here! Oh my God!” didn’t get the fucking memo.

“Wow! Yeah, me too! What time did you get here?,” she replies back to these college aged blondes, whose irises are dilated enough for me to see my own reflection in as we all exchange hugs and kisses. Zip-click. It’s seamless how she’s rolling right along with this shit and I’m following her lead just as effortlessly. We’re told that there’s premium seating awaiting us in the treehouse along with a variety of party favors. The pair of anonymous girls take us by the hands and lead us towards our new destination, weaving us through backs and breasts. Girl A cups my ear to tell me how relieved she is that I’m there because “Matt’s a lightweight and he’s already passed out.”

“Again? That stupid, stupid son of a bitch! Didn’t he pull that shit last time?,” I ask. Girl A covers her mouth slightly as she starts laughing and nodding.

“Oh my God! Yeah! I forgot you guys were there for that. Hahaha!”, she laughs. Of course we were. You can’t take that fucking guy anywhere.

If she has any recollection of this tomorrow, it won’t matter. They’re both so far gone right now that I know for them that this is the dreaded “this never happened” as it’s fucking happening. Zip-click.

The treehouse is just a giant bunk bed, more or less, surrounded by paper mache “bark” with its branches rising up to the ceiling, across to the walls and back down to the floor, covered in painted paper leaves. Maybe in the next room there’s a volcano, or a rocket! This is where the imagination comes to die. My eyes trace the longest “branch” to the wall on my left where I notice a small counter amongst the leaves beneath a wooden sign stating “ABSINTHE.” Bullshit. Only once before have I experienced the bitter, earthen taste of that fabled elixir from a bottle smuggled in from Prague by a former roommate’s girlfriend. Magic in its purest, most subtle and abstract form. This sign better not be part of this 3rd grade installation, you just don’t fuck with someone by doing that. I immediately deviate from the current course, my heart beat finally waking up to the evening. Zip-click.

According to the nervous guy with the mandatory beard and glasses behind the counter, no one is fucking with me. Behind him on a table is a crude set-up featuring a vertical glass container, filled with roughly three gallons of diarrhea-green bayou water. Absinthe in the raw. I bypass the babbled history lesson that’s he’s programmed himself to spew and motion for two glasses with my fingers, tossing a ten dollar bill on the counter. As I turn away towards the treehouse, I notice her coming from the minibar on the adjacent side with a gin and tonic in each hand. We meet up by the ladder leading up to the lower level of the tree, exchange glasses, and each inhale a cocktail prior to ascending to the next phase of the night. She sneers a “Rawr,” at me as she gestures with her hand in a claw and proceeds up the ladder. Zip-click.

She doesn’t make it more than three steps up before the yelling begins above, causing traffic to quickly descend. Matt has awoken from his mid-party nap by projectile vomiting on any and everyone in a ten foot radius. “Rawr,” indeed. Girls A and B are amongst the eight or so evacuees assembling within arms reach, however now there’s no recognition of us or much else. They’re each yelling over the din of the others, vying for the loudest slurred assessment of their present situation as we make our way to a minibar in the next room howling in laughter. The slow, dripping sort that resonates in colors beginning with the elusive diarrhea-green. Zip-click.

Another round is waiting for me as I wind through the shifting bodies dancing on the open floor making my way back from the restroom, and I wish that is all. Tonight is also the night that blacked out girls may have wished to have avoided being bathed in bile by their shared manchild while tripping balls in a paper tree, but that didn’t necessarily make it fucking so. Zip-click. She’s in an increasingly heated argument with some jackass leaning on the minibar, her pointed finger coming within inches of his scowling face with each threatening jab. I pick up my pace as best I can before reaching the clearing near the edge of the crowd, close enough to hear him say “Fuh….,” before charging into him at a dead run, sending him flying backwards into the brick wall. He immediately opens his hands yelling “Okay, okay!,” quickly shielding his face as she grabs his hair and knees his knuckled guard, screaming “You motherfuckerin’ cocksucker! You’re fucking dead!” I tug her by the hand and we both make our way towards the exit at a reasonable clip. Reasonable in that we remained upright and didn’t wall-plant anyone else on the way out.

Out the door and to the left, bypassing Juicenipples altogether, all I can hear is the click-clack of her heels and our syncopated huffing, as we make our way to the corner. The next block over is a main drag where we’ll easily find a livery and get the fuck home. Rounding the corner, the sound of hurried footsteps snatches my glance over my right shoulder in time to narrowly sidestep our sparring buddy charging at us full blast. I catch his plaid shirt in both of my hands and swing, keeping his momentum going, right into the side of a parked car. My boot meets his face over and over as he’s caught between the curb, the undercarriage, and my size twelve Vibram soles, as he blindly swings back with his left hand. Down, just go the fuck down. I drop my knees on his left hand and chest, a few quick hits. His right hand is reaching. Underneath the car, his right hand is reaching for his waist. She calls my name, I look up and she hands me a thin rod, a broken off car antenna. His hand is pulling it from his waist. I sink the broken end into his neck. Once. Twice. Tangled. I pull it back harder to free it from his skin and looped around the other end is a beaded necklace,holding a leather-framed golden badge.

We are halfway down the block, my chest has a xenomorph trying to bust out in double-bass thrash standard, and it fucking hurts.

Click-click.

“You’re dead, fuckin’ maniac! This is where you fuckin’ die!”, another voice shouts. This guy is wearing the same gold badge around his neck, only this one’s a lot less bloody .

“Fuck you. Get the gun out of his face! Get that fucking gun out of his face!” she screams, tears appearing in her eyes. That should scare me. Out of all of the times I’ve had a gun pulled on me, I’ve never seen anyone cry over it.

“Shut your fucking mouth, NOW!,” he yells at her with his eyes bulging out his skull. As he returns his gaze to me, a body slips between me and the barrel of the pistol.

We’ve reached our destination: Mayhem.

This unknown ingredient in our newly formed clusterfuck silently appears out of the night air. My eyes can’t look away, one second fixed on the barrel of a nine millimeter are now staring at a stranger’s patch of male-pattern-baldness. As his high pitched voice tries reasoning with Officer Boyfriend, I detect an Eastern European accent singing our defense, only making out the words as they’re repeated. “But my friends do not see this man is police, right?” with the gruff chorus of “Move outta the way, step aside.” Now footsteps again as Officer Boyfriend sprints back to his partner and MPB turns to me, smiling wide before smothering me in his embrace. I hug the guy back in disbelief as I’ve no fucking idea what just transpired. “Guns are problem, right? Come, let’s have drink, is ok. Is ok.”

We’re ushered into an unmarked storefront just short of the corner, vanishing into the background of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I head to the restroom to wash the shit off of me as best as I can, the adrenaline transforming into  familiar shakiness, as I ponder the acceptability of my flawed appearance in this poorly lit joint. She is demanding, in the sweetest way possible, that MPB allow us to reciprocate monetarily.

“You tell bartender ‘scotch and soda’, and is it. Ok. Right?”, he says. She counters “You almost took a bullet for him, from that fucking psycho, and all I can do is get you a drink? Dude, that’s insane! C’mon, man, name your price! You saved our goddamn lives out there!”

I do not wish for déjà vu heading to the bar as MPB is laughing. He holds me around the shoulders with his slab of arm, looks me dead in the eyes and says “You tell bartender ‘scotch and soda’. Just do it.”

I turn my face towards the bartender, not at all occupied by anything else three feet away, and say “How’s it going? Scotch and soda.” I look at MPB who nods once at me and says “Is good, now. Is ok”, with two reassuring pats on the shoulder. I look back at the bartender, who hasn’t budged, and order two gin and tonics. She makes the two drinks and pours a third, a shot from an unmarked bottle. She hands all three to me as I slide a twenty dollar bill across the bar and pass the shot to MPB, the other gin and tonic to her. We gulp them down in silence before one final “Thank you.” MPB points behind the bar and says “You go out there, is ok.”

Less than five minutes later, we are in the back of a Town Car heading back to the Slope. She is laughing hysterically as we recount the vomitorium, its arboreal inhabitants, and something about “abs-breath.” We’re both exhausted, far beyond the point of discussing tonight’s events with any clarity. Perhaps tomorrow or next week or whenever we get around to it. Right now, I’m looking down the Avenue for the church steeple. Once that’s in sight, the rest can safely fade in the rear view mirror.

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