More True Tales From Humboldt
This is a continuation of an article that started earlier this week. If you haven't read the first part please click here before reading this one.
Charlie the Idiot
To understand my old editor, Charlie, you have to understand that he was a lardass. Literally. He was hugely fat, but in a strange way: His ass was the largest I've seen on a human being. It was, no joke, wider than I was, and if it fell off and dropped to my feet it would easily come to my knees. Imagine two kitchen trash bags filled with gelatin and you have a rough approximation of what was going on under Charlie's pants. As another example: Often I had to sit at his desk to fix mistakes he made. The first time I did it I didn't take my chair, and I comfortably sat in one of the cheek indentations years of butt-abuse had left in the cushioning.
But the size of his ass was nothing compared to his idiocy. As I said Tuesday, Charlie was bar-none, flat-out the biggest idiot I've ever known. I could look at a high school girl expecting her second child and instantly know she possessed more common sense than Charlie ever did. He was a real-life Peter Griffin, both physically and mentally.
This story doesn't revolve around a single event but a series of idiotic things Charlie did over the year I worked there. Here are a few standout examples:
- The spearchucker incident: By all accounts black people were a rare sight in Humboldt. This is likely because it was one of the biggest Klan towns in the country in its early days, and the town history museum has the charred bits of a burned cross in one of its displays. One of the members of editorial mentioned, quite innocently, that a “black guy” played on her pickup softball team as a way to identify him. Charlie, a journalist through and through, asked the most pertinent question he could think of: “Do you ever call him a spearchucker”? Even in a room full of hicks the uncomfortable silence was nearly unbearable. A few weeks later we had to take a course on office sensitivity even though the most “diversity” we ever saw was Noah's office pinup.
- His daughter's pussy: Right after I took the job at Humboldt Charlie purchased a new Web cam and had spent the better part of a week showing us grainy, unlit videos of his trailer (note to future editors: if you want to command respect don't live in a trailer, even if it is a “nice one”). One day I heard giggling from Charlie's cubicle. I did my best to ignore it. It kept up. Finally it got to a point that he was being so loud and blatant I could tell he wouldn't quit until I asked what was up. I poked my head around the corner and he asked me if I wanted to “see a video of his daughter's pussy”. Again, this was in an office full of people. And again, we were all horrified. I peeked my head around the corner of his cubicle and saw a grainy video of a cat playing with a toy. He cracked the joke again, and continued to do so for about a week until the intern brought it up with management. He still occasionally did it when the intern wasn't around.
- Charlie passes out playing softball: Most of the newspaper staff was also involved in a pickup softball league. Charlie was a member of the Daily Register's team. This did not bode well for the rest of us. As an impenetrable mass of junk food byproduct, he was quite possibly the most unathletic person on the face of the planet. He also swung the bat like a woman. In short, Charlie managed to look like a huge bitch playing the most noncompetitive sport ever created. One time Charlie managed to use his girl swing to get a single off an error. He huffed and puffed all the way to first. The batter after him hit a leadoff ball that should have been a double, save for the fact that Charlie literally drug his feet to second base because he was “having trouble catching his breath”. Then, after that, the improbable happened: I, the second most unathletic person on the face of the planet, nailed a leadoff single. Before I got to first I could hear the crowd gasp. I didn't even need to look over to know what happened. Charlie had collapsed in between second and third. His sheer weight sent the field dust up past the lights. It looked like someone dropping a bowling ball on a bag full of baby powder. When we finally got him up on his feet he waved at the crowd. Nobody cheered. If people didn't hate him for being an idiot, they hated him because he was a terrible editor. And also because he was an idiot.
- Charlie eats two Lortabs and pukes all over the office: I had heard the horror stories about office parties and how management had to ban alcohol because of how loopy Charlie got. About how he cried and hugged and laughed and cried again. About how this man, the editor of a paper, a respected job in a community, got so piss-drunk off three or four wine coolers people not only had to call him a cab, they had to put him in the back of it and tip the driver to take him inside when they got to his place. I didn't get to see this, but I did get to see what happened after he got in a fender-bender and hurt his back: Namely, he ate two Lortabs and puked all over the office. Spewed all over the office. Right there, in front of all his employees and his own bosses, not to mention customers and colleagues, he staggered out of his cubicle, dropped his head, and puked all over his shoes. Then the floor. Then an unused desk in the corner (he'd later say he was “aiming for the trash can”). We considered taking him to the hospital until he said he'd only eaten two of the things. Then I just drove him home and handled business for the day. The smell of half-digested slop was a real motivator, I'll tell you what.
The Drunken Plunger Rampage
Unlike the rest of these stories, which I wrote to prove what a horrible town Humboldt was, this one is a testament to my own stupidity. I know my mom sometimes reads my stuff on SA so I'd like to apologize in advance, especially since Christmas is coming up and and I don't particularly want an Alcoholics Anonymous booklet as a gift. Mom, I am sorry that a few years ago I did something incredibly dangerous that could have killed me, as well as other people, and put me in jail for a long time. I just really needed a plunger.
A few months before I turned 21 I realized I could buy liquor in Humboldt, despite being underage. All I had to do was take lunch at 2 p.m. on a weekday and drive down to the liquor store. The girl who worked the swing shift there knew I worked for the paper, and since she'd seen my byline under headlines like “Town Debates Merits of Placing Rock near Courthouse” she automatically assumed I was 21. That, and judging by the way she looked and talked she'd probably done quite a bit of underage drinking herself. Really underage, like in her mother's womb. Regardless of what was wrong with her I've never heard anyone else say the phrase “that's $7.70” and have it come out like “wax the nacho Chevy”. That's for damn sure.
Needless to say I played it cool in these situations, mostly by refusing to make eye contact with anyone and literally running across the parking lot with the brown bag under my coat when the transaction was complete. I was a smooth operator. My friends, who were coming up for a visit the night all the debauchery happened, were equally as smooth. When I called them to ask what they wanted to drink so I could pick it up before they got there, they both said the same thing: Smirnoff Ice.
To be fair I, too drank enough of that horrible crap when I was younger. Unlike most alcohol, which taste like horse urine, Smirnoff Ice tasted like horse urine after the horse had eaten a shipping crate full of cane sugar. As a discerning young man who wanted a beverage that could rot both my teeth and my liver, I agreed with their choice, took my late lunch, and bought $50 worth of Smirnoff Ice. For three people, including me, in the dead of winter. Looking back I could have spent that $50 on a bottle of Patron and split it with the guys, but knowing us we would have thought fine tequila tasted “icky” and moved on to painting each other's toenails and reading old copies of Tiger Beat.
That night we did what any group of underage kids would do with $50 worth of alcohol: We drank it as fast as we could and spent the next several hours trying to convince one-another how drunk we were. And boy were we drunk. At first our debauchery was harmless. My friend Rob called the local Dairy Queen and ordered a “Penis Buster Parfait” under the name “Heywood Jablowme”. My other friend, Scott, who essentially looked like he had a bear pelt stapled to his body, pulled his pants down and tried to light a fart, turning his ass and most of his lower back into an intense, if short-lived, wildfire. We hooped and hollered and yelled. It was a fun time.
Then I had to use the bathroom.
One interesting thing about Smirnoff Ice is that it essentially turns your stomach into a boiling, churning flesh cauldron. This is especially true when you have chugged upwards of fifteen of them in a two-hour period. Suddenly the urge – the basic primal need – to get the hell out of that living room and go struck me. I bolted across the kitchen and into the bathroom, did my business. The last thing I want to do here is sound crude, so let me just say this about the aftermath: The water went the wrong way when I flushed. It touched me in a very private spot.
Being the rational human being I was, my first response was to shriek, leap from the toilet, and throw cupped handfuls of sink water onto my exposed manhood. Then, after pulling my pants up, I checked out the toilet. It was half a drop away from overflowing. The murky water sat flush with the lip of the basin, daring me to put my foot down just a little too hard. In my head the theme song from “Jaws” played. Clearly, this was a disaster of Hindenburg proportions. I walked on the balls of my feet across the bathroom, careful not to wake the sleeping horror that lurked in my toilet, and gathered my friends into the bathroom.
Gifted plumbers (or plan makers) we were not. We hadn't collaborated on anything so important since high school, when we got stoned and tried to steam-cook dinner by running the bathtub full of hot water and shutting a frozen pizza in the bathroom. After inviting my friends into the bathroom to stare at a toilet full opaque brown gelatin, we started to form a plan. Rob suggested flushing again to see if the water would go down. Given the alternative outcome, this was a very bad idea. I myself came up with a brilliant plan to use a bucket to export the contaminated water to the apartment's parking lot, but we quickly vetoed that when we realized the stuff from the side of the bucket would drip all over the carpet. Finally, in that special moment of drunken epiphany reserved for 20-year-olds staring perplexedly at a toilet full of semi-solid waste, something struck us. Rob and I turned to each other and said “a plunger”. By that point Scott had his head buried in the hallway trash can (I can only thank god I remembered to put a bag in it a few hours prior), but later he'd say he got the same idea around the time we did. It was almost psychic, the bond we had.
The problem was that I didn't have a plunger. We searched everywhere. Under the kitchen sink, in the storage closet, by and behind the toilet. Much like the pizza situation this forced us into more harebrained schemes, all of which died on arrival. I can only imagine what would have happened if I took Scott's suggestion to make my own plunger out of a heavy-duty baggie and a broom handle (his reasoning: “It might create suction”). We were frantic. Life had thrown us all head-first into the biggest decision of our lives: Would we spend the evening peeing in the cold, behind the apartment complex dumpster, or risk life and limb driving into town trying to find a plunger? Right as I turned to the guys to say “let's wait” the toilet gurgled and a thin stream of water puddled from the basin onto the floor. The remainder of the nasty stuff shook ominously. It looked like a mud puddle in an N64 game. I grabbed my car keys.
Driving drunk is a lot like driving in a dream. You understand the basic mechanics of the car and how to work it properly, but you also know you're not totally in control. If my Topaz was a Shetland pony when I drove it sober, it was a bucking bronco that night. It roared around corners and screeched at stoplights. One particularly fun habit it had, namely to sway its rear-end so hard I thought it would break off if I drove it over 30 miles an hour, was particularly fun for a car full of drunks. Scott rode with his head out the window for most of the 15-minute trek back to town.
As I mentioned last Tuesday, Humboldt had two real commercial hubs and both of them shut down early. Since McDonald's didn't sell plungers we screeched into the Wal-Mart parking lot. It, of course, was closed. Thankfully, a teenage girl wearing a shirt that said “What Part Of www.no.com Don't You Understand” (the “mouse cursor” on the shirt was giving the middle finger and hovering over the “no”) was loitering around waiting for a ride or a 40-year-old man to come impregnate her or whatever. She told us the only place that might be open was Kroger, which was on the other end of town. I thanked her for the information. She asked me for a cigarette. Scott responded by ralphing out the car window.
The next sequence of events is maybe the stupidest course of action I've ever taken in my life. Somehow convinced that I was A.) sobered up, and B.) a stunt car driver, I tore through the narrow little city streets. At one point I blew a yellow light in front of a cop, a fact that didn't register with me until far after I got home. A few minutes later I took a turn too sharp and ended up with my passenger side tires on the sidewalk, a fact that Scott's stomach didn't appreciate at all. In all honesty it kind of sounded like I modified my car to go “BLOO” every time I punched the gas.
Sway aside maybe the best thing about the Topaz was the fact that, if you turned right too hard, the horn would honk until you centered the steering wheel and punched it really hard. This is why, when we screamed into the Kroger parking lot, a number of things happened:
- I, of course, turned right too hard, making the car blare like a mule with a hot curling iron shoved up its ass.
- Scott, who had spent the majority of the night prior to this puking, continued his course by hanging out the car window and blowing chunks while I was driving.
- The sway caused my car to cut immediately left as I hit the lot's asphalt, which sent my honking, puking, rumbling chariot bumper-first into a line of shopping carts. One went all the way into the Movie Gallery section of the parking lot and exploded when it hit the ground.
Needless to say we treated the experience like an accidental trip to a gay movie theater, i.e. we got out of there as fast as we could and only peeked back when we thought the other two weren't looking. We were heartbroken. Not only were we running the risk of going to jail, the toilet back home was filled to capacity with Pizza-and-Liquor Chunky Soup. Before I took the turn to get back home, however, an idea hit me. It was Friday night. Nobody would be at the Daily Register. I could grab the plunger out of the men's room, use it, and return it before Sunday and nobody would know better. I was redeemed, and my bathroom tile was saved. I purposely went backwards around the block so I could approach the Daily Register's parking lot from the left side. Then I pulled in, shut the car off, and unlocked the employee door. This was genius. This was great. This was –
A drunk employee walking into a room full of 20-plus circulation mutants.
As you may remember from last week, there was a real “us vs. them” mentality amongst editorial and circulation employees. This is mostly because the editorial people had college educations and thus came from somewhere that wasn't Humboldt. The circulation people, on the other hand, were townies. They stuffed the newspapers together and delivered them. All they needed was a good set of hands, and some of them didn't even have those: One of the circulation employees, a 60-some-year-old guy named Dan, was the victim of a birth defect that left his right hand resembling something in between an eagle's talon and a question mark. It had one large fingernail and it was so dirty it looked like he spent his free time using it to plug up holes in tractor engines.
The circulation people were stuffing the Saturday edition of the paper. I say “were” because the second I walked – no, staggered – into the room, they stopped what they were doing and proceeded to stare at me until I left. You know, when I left stealing company property in front of a group of people who'd say they loathed me if they knew what the word meant. I gave them a shy wave, walked face-first into the door when I tried to open it by pushing, and went back to my car.
In the end the toilet got fixed, I didn't get arrested, and the Times-Register didn't care that I borrowed their plunger. I returned it just like I planned and recanted my story (minus the drunkenness) to my coworkers the following day. The circulation people, to my knowledge, never ratted me out. The only time I heard it mentioned was when Noah pulled me aside and said “sounds like you were having a good time Friday night” a few days later. I almost said “yeah, but at least I wasn't railing a fat chick”, but I let it go. Becoming an adult means choosing your battles. And driving drunk to find a plunger, I guess.
Me vs. Creepy Pervert Neighbor
A few weeks after the plunger incident I ended up breaking my lease and moving to a new house in the middle of town. I'll spare you the boring details, but if any of you youngsters reading this are in the market for a new place, be sure and ask the landlord if the floor gets covered in an inch of water every time there's a bad rain. Also, if said water makes a strange black-and-green mold cover the walls. Also, if the people living beside you have never worked a day in their life but still need to snort an ounce of meth a day to keep their energy going.
The new house was great. Excellent, really. It was old but the landlords, a nice old couple from out of town, completely remodeled it before I moved in. I had a huge (clog-free) bathroom, a beautiful kitchen, and a great living room with brand new carpet. Even the neighbors were great, despite the people on the left side of my yard having an autistic daughter who spent most of her time standing on the sidewalk in front of my place screaming at the top of her lungs. One time I came in from work and, having accidentally left the kitchen door unlocked, found her relaxing on my couch with the Disney channel playing on the television. Of course, the second she saw me she started shrieking and bolted towards the front, running head-first into the screen door and cracking the glass in the process. A few minutes later her frantic parents came over and thanked me for finding her, and even wrote me a check for a new door. Life was pretty good.
Then I had the neighbor on the right side of the yard. Where the other neighbors came by and introduced themselves, I never so much as saw the guy. Ever. He was never in his yard. I never caught him out going anywhere. Sometimes the car in his driveway would disappear for days at a time. Sometimes, late at night, all the lights in his house would come on and the faint sounds of some godawful techno seeped through the wall facing my living room. I didn't take him not coming over as a sign of hostility or anything, but it was pretty clear he liked his privacy. Or so I thought.
My job at the Daily Register required me to get up really, really early. Most mornings I had to be in at four a.m., but on particularly busy days I had to be there by three or even two. Since my job revolved around anything Charlie couldn't do (namely, everything), I was a reporter-slash-page designer-slash-photographer. At that point I wasn't particularly good at any one of them, but I was the only person who could do all three. This got me certain perks. Using really nice company cameras away from the office, for instance. This mostly revolved around me setting the shutter speed way high so I could take “artistic” photos of water droplets coming out of fountains and blur-free shots of children playing on swingsets, but whatever. I'm the first to admit I was a giant dweeb back then.
One morning I got up around three to get ready. Since my usual evening mantra went something like “you can work eight hours on three hours of sleep, go ahead and keep playing that video game”, I was in a particularly foul mood. I stepped out of bed, put a pot of coffee on to brew, and hopped in the shower. Again, I'll spare you any boring details, but maybe the worst thing you can experience after three hours of sleep is a blast of freezing water to the chest when you turn on the shower. I only bring this up because, as I shut the water off so I could set it to come out of the bathtub faucet, I heard something in the living room. Someone was knocking at the door. Thinking the dog was screwing around I ignored it and turned the water back on. It got louder. Then, the dog started barking. I knew someone was there.
Looking back I would give anything to go back in time and answer the door with actual clothes on, instead of a towel I'd tied around my waist. I didn't know what was up. I figured if someone was banging on my door at three in the morning there was an emergency. Maybe my car was on fire. Maybe the autistic girl set it on fire. Maybe the autistic girl herself was on fire. While none of these three outcomes would have been ideal, they were certainly better than what happened. I opened the door. Someone was standing there. He looked vaguely familiar.
“Hi, I'm Tom,” he said. “I live across the yard.”
In this one instance I am using a real name. This is because not only was the guy's name Tom, he looked almost exactly like Tom Savini. I mean, he was like a carbon copy, down to the goatee and crazy, shifty eyes. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and asked him what was going on. Again, I was still half-sure I'd see the visage a flame-engulfed, autistic eight-year-old right behind him, so I was maybe more polite than I should have been. You don't start cursing at people when they might be doing you a favor.
“I saw the camera in your car,” he said. “I have a little job if you want to make some money.”
At this point a few bells should have gone off in my head. Of course, none of them did. Seconds later later I'd chastise myself for leaving a $2,000 dollar camera in my car in the middle of winter, not to mention leaving it exposed in my passenger seat. I should have also realized that – hey – this dude was out looking in my car windows at three in the morning. I was too tired to think at the moment, however. I just asked him what the job was. I wasn't planning on taking it or anything, I just wanted to take the quickest possible non-confrontational path from the conversation. I had city septic systems to write about.
“I work for a Web site,” he said. “I have $5000 in my bank account right now, and you can have half of it if you take a few pictures for me.”
More missing bells. Three in the morning? Check. Guy wearing an unbuttoned shirt with blue flames on it over a wife beater? Check. He needs you to take vaugely defined “pictures” of something? Check. He's offering you thousands of dollars to do it? Check. No, Evan, this is a completely normal situation. Go ahead and ask him what kind of pictures. I'm sure they're of kittens.
“Well, like I said, I work for – well, I mean, I'm on – this Web site, and...”
DING DING DING
Let me set something straight: I'm no homophobe. I might have the record for having said “faggot” the most on Something Awful, but that doesn't mean I spend my weekends picketing AIDS clinics with signs that say “no track marks, no treatment”. I'm a tolerant person. That said, before the guy ever finished his sentence, before he said “and I was wondering if you could take some nudes, I'll pay you”, I had my answer ready.
“No, dude,” I said. “I don't really get into that and I have to go to work, and I don't appreciate you looking in my –”
“I'll pay you,” he repeated. “A lot. I need to get these in. It's kind of an emergency.”
Before you Internet tough guys start writing in about how I should have kicked the dude's ass down my porch steps and stomped his neck if it didn't bend at enough of an angle when he fell, let me reiterate that I was, and continue to be, a giant sissy. I hate physical confrontation. Any time I've ever struck another living thing it was because I absolutely had to. Instead of hitting the guy or at least being more forceful in telling him no, I wussed out and turned my back on him and walked to the kitchen, which was about two steps from the front door. I thought he'd get the message. He didn't.
“Listen, you work at the paper, right?” He'd followed me in. “If you don't want to do it do you know of anyone else who would?”
I ignored him. Truth be told I was terrified. I walked towards the coffee pot on the counter, thinking I might have to grab a knife or something out of the sink to scare him off. I couldn't think of any other way to get him out. I told him to leave again.
“C'mon, man,” he said. “Fat chicks? Any fat girls? They always love doing that. Done it before. Any fat girls working at the paper?”
“No,” I said. “If you don't leave I'm going to call the cops. Get the fuck out.”
I'm sure I sounded pretty scared, and I think he picked up on it. He took a couple steps closer.
“This is really important to me,” he said. “I'm not trying to be a weirdo or anything but this is how I make my money. I really need to get this done.”
For whatever reason this guy's indignant tone, his sense of entitlement to my house and my things, really set me off. I lost it. I screamed at him. I like to think I sounded tough but in reality I probably sounded like an angry woman flipping out on her husband for coming home too late. I was tired and scared, and those don't necessarily equate to scary. He sat and listened to me the whole time. Then, when I was done (I screamed so loud I coughed up blood the next few days), he came just a little bit closer.
At this point I've asked you readers to do a lot in believing that all of this is true. This is because, unless I got hit in the head with a brick at some point and started making up false memories, it all is. I'm asking you all to give me some trust in return for some stories about the weirdest stuff that's ever happened to me, but one thing I'm not asking you to do is suspend disbelief in that “this can't be true” sense. With God as my witness everything written in both of these articles is as accurate I can remember it. The only exaggeration is stuff that I'm clearly joking about. I'm even avoiding using straight dialogue as much as possible for fear I'll screw something up. I say all of this because what happened next is easily the strangest thing I've ever experienced, in Humboldt or any other town. Given these stories, not to mention other ones I could tell about other places, that's saying quite a bit.
“Listen,” he told me. “I got a second chance. I should be dead, but I got a second chance from God. Check it out.”
He pulled up his wife-beater and showed me his stomach and chest. A fat, pink scar ran from below his waist line to right under his left nipple. It was pretty gruesome. It shined under the lights like a pair of wet lips. When he inhaled it thinned out and lost its color, then filled back out when he exhaled.
I reached around on the counter behind me. Nothing. Felt a little more. Still nothing. One more time and something burned my fingertips. The coffee pot was finishing up. I wrapped my fingers around the handle.
“This isn't any strange stuff, man,” he said. “It's legit. If you can't do it I'll pay you to find someone else. It's really important. I got a second chance. I need –”
I pulled the pot off the heater and flung it at him. I'd love to say it was a climactic, movie-like finish, where the pot shattered on his head and he ran out crying. I'd love to say that the coffee poured down his face and burned him up, then the breaking pot gave him a scar on his neck to match the one on his abdomen. It would very much please me to say that he apologized and got out of there before I could hurt him worse.
But that didn't happen. Instead the pot thumped off his chest, spilled a little bit on his waist and upper groin, and crashed on the floor. At least he kind of yelped and jumped back. There was coffee and broken glass everywhere. He wasn't even wearing sandals, so the mess didn't even burn him or cut his feet up. I can say, however, that it got him out of the house. For that I was thankful.
“Jesus, man,” he said. Those were the last words I ever heard him say. He walked out and I slammed the door behind him.
Needless to say I didn't go to the Daily Register that day. I called the cops and filed a report, then went to the courthouse when it opened and filed a temporary restraining order. I wasn't a big fan of Humboldt cops but in that instance they were a huge help in getting everything taken care of quickly. I spent the rest of the day huddled up on my couch under a pile of blankets, watching movies and playing video games. Much like the other, scarier experience with Marty, I kept a knife right under the couch to make me feel better.
Tom went to jail on some minor charge but posted bail immediately. He never bothered me again. In fact, besides one time when I pulled into my driveway and saw him shirtless, in his yard, painting a board on some sawhorses, I never so much as saw him after that morning. I had moved by the court date, so I dropped charges. I didn't want to have to go back for any reason. I don't think anyone can blame me for that.