Friday, September 30, 2011

Warren Zevon Will Sleep When He's Dead

Remembering the King
of Gonzo Rock

September 8, 2003

By Brian Bentley

The cover of Zevon’s second album, Warren Zevon, 1976

Warren Zevon died Sunday. He really had a dramatist's flair for milking every second of his final year and why not? It was his duty to do so. An artist writes about what he knows and Zevon certainly knew plenty about the Grin Reaper. He was arguably the most wickedly funny and intelligent writer to ever employ the pop song medium. Left in the shadows by his commercially successful, 70's L.A. peers like the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, Mr. Zevon found the shadows to be a far sunnier place to inhabit.

A former band leader for the Everly Brothers, Zevon’s first solo album, Wanted Dead or Alive, was produced by Kim Fowley. Almost from the get-go, his writing reflected the classic themes of hard-boiled fiction. Many of the songs stung from romantic loss – while violence, guns, lawyers and money shot through his worldview. The definitive record that Zevon never made could have been titled, “The Collaborator,” since there were few musicians in his genre that he did not make music with. His door was always open for a jam session and he nurtured working and personal ties with R.E.M., Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac.

Zevon shone brightest when facing the darkest elements of the human experience. He turned every three minute song into a rock noir novel. "Accidentally Like a Martyr" and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," take depression and loss and celebrate their absurdity. "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," follows the exploits of an already dead mercenary betrayed by his own government. Headless and wandering the fields of war at night, Roland tracks down the man who blew his brains out. It was rich rock and roll and classic literature combined – a Topanga Canyon Raymond Chandler on peyote and Stolichnaya.

There were seldom happy endings to his stories, only darkly fitting ones: "The eternal Thompson gunner, still wandering through the night/ Now it's ten years later but he still keeps up the fight/ In Ireland, in Lebanon, in Palestine and Berkeley/ Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland's Thompson gun/ And bought it."

Death was Warren Zevon's friend and companion to the very end. Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given just three months to live, he stretched it to 12 of the most productive 30-day chapters a dying sonofabitch could ask for. On October 30, 2002, Zevon was featured on The Late Show with David Letterman as the only guest for the entire hour and spoke at length about his illness. With typical arched eyebrow, he dryly noted "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years." Gonzo to his final wheeze, Zevon's fierce and biting political incorrectness made him the musical misanthrope equivalent of lone wolf writers like Hunter S. Thompson (a close friend) and Charles Bukowski.

Warren’s recent poignant and grim video documentary about the making of his final album was a brittle, funny farewell to friends and fans and set rating records at VH-1. That album, The Wind, broke into the Billboard top 20, which suggests his legacy will outlast that of his mentor, Jackson Browne. Zevon was no great pretender. Far from being just another Dead Rock Guy, he stands for so much more. Even in his fatalistic, soul searching approach to his own end, the blunt honesty and sheer balls of Zevon's last music lifted him up from his hospital bed to a loftier height – to a place where life can no longer bring you down.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

America Loses Its Shit After 9/11

A Nation in Panic Mode
October 1, 2001

By Brian Bentley

A stunned President Bush is informed of the World Trade Center bombing

The U.S. continues to suffer the psychological effects of last month's World Trade Center attack. As Americans come to grips with overwhelming feelings of anger, guilt and despair, they are dealing with it in different ways. Yes, even though we are still the greatest country this side of the Mexican and Canadian borders, we need to look deep inside and deal with the depression as individuals. If you are an American who is not deeply depressed, then there must be something wrong with you. And if you doubt the leadership qualities of our newest hero, our duly semi-elected President, George W. Bush, then you're an unpatriotic subversive. Let's make this perfectly clear. WE don't like you.

Here's The Latest:

"God Takes The Fifth"
God, under increasing pressure to choose a side in the upcoming Third World War, has been decidedly noncommittal of late. While he obviously can't condone mass murder, his Holiness is apparently dismayed by the continued success of the Rosie O' Donnell show.

"Battle of the Network Taglines"
CNN is threatening to sue CBS for appropriating the tagline, "America Fights Back." Sources report that CBS had entered into a handshake agreement with CNN to wait until the latter news organization had debuted their upcoming, much-anticipated slogan, "America Carpet Bombs Afghanistan."

Bunky, the adorable miniature poodle from Sparks, Nevada has died. The pugnacious pooch came to national prominence in a recent People magazine article that illustrated the many creative ways Americans are showcasing the flag. Tragically, Bunky's homemade Stars and Bars sweater was snagged in an idling power mower and America's tiniest new hero was decapitated.

"Irony Pronounced Dead"
After 26 successful years, Saturday Night Live has announced plans to abandon its scathing, Emmy-winning format of political satire. 92 year-old SNL creator, Lorne Michaels, broke the news to shocked NBC Network affiliates, Monday. In the wake of the terrorist attack, NBC had already issued official apologies for every one of the hit comedy's past 450 episodes that may have offended any individual living anywhere on the planet. "We are also changing the opening to the show. 'Live from New York,' might be interpreted as some kind of joke," Michaels said.

"What Do We Tell The Children?"
39 year-old, Karen Simmers, a housewife from Coronado California, has laid down the law for TV viewing at home. "For years, I have forbidden the children to watch TV after dinner because of the incredible violence shown on the networks. But in the case of this national tragedy, I made sure the kids watched every single news report I did. We all saw the crash of the plane into the South Tower, over and over, from every angle possible. The blood, the bodies falling, it's all part of their education. I don't want them to ever forget what it means to be an American."

"Flags Rise to Occasion"
Now that the "official mourning period" is over, state and government agencies have been instructed to raise all American flags from their current half-mast positions. However, no specific instructions were given regarding the flags flown by civilians and many SUV owners were frantically trying to reach their local representatives at presstime.

"Take That Hamid"
In related news, Serge Over, an Arab-American, was beaten senseless by an angry mob in Simi Valley, CA, after the 29 year-old car wash attendant accidentally shredded the three-by-five foot antennae flag of a Sylmar man. "I never served in 'Nam because of my heart problem, so it was good to get my kicks in this time," one of his attackers admitted sheepishly.

"And Your Music Sucks Too"
An early morning American Airlines flight from Houston, bound for L.A., was stopped on the runway, short of takeoff, after several passengers overpowered and pummeled a beady-eyed man in a white beard who was acting suspiciously. When informed it was all a case of mistaken identity, one passenger lamented, "How were we supposed to know it was Willie Nelson?"

Willie Nelson

"You're Not My Homie"
In a move sure to brighten stockholders of Verizon Wireless, the L.A. Public Schools have pushed to revoke the current ban on cell phones. Apparently, to aid crisis communications should an entire high school be hijacked, teachers want the kids to be able to contact both their crack dealers and law enforcement agencies.

"Feel My Pain"
A man who had a tiny replica of an American flag tattooed on his penis was treated and released at a Denver hospital after suffering from swelling and acute pain. "My pride in America still grows every time I touch the flag," said plumber Richard Long.

"Criminals Shut Out Of Healing Process"
The blanket media coverage of the terrorist attacks has left criminals who are in desperate need of attention feeling left out. California, which was averaging one sensational mass murder per week, prior to the WTC attack, has seen a sharp decrease in crime. Suddenly it takes quite a bit to make the evening news. A spokesman for the California Highway Patrol confirmed reports that angry citizens have been calling, demanding to know when the airspace restrictions will be lifted, allowing TV news copters back into the skies. "One guy actually asked me, 'Why should I bother smoking crack, stealing a car and getting into a high-speed pursuit if no one's gonna watch?!"

"Nation Cancels Sex"
"I have a headache because of the terrorist attack," has been the number one reason wives have begged off sex, according to a report just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.


"Towering Inferno To Be Re-released"
In a move that stunned cinema buffs, famed disaster-film producer, Irwin Allen, has announced plans to re-edit and re-release the special DVD version of his 1974 classic, "Towering Inferno." All scenes of the burning building will be removed and substituted with outtakes from "Smokey and the Bandit 2."


"Chandra Who?"
With everyone's focus on terror, embattled California Congressman, Gary Condit, may indeed seek re-election...

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Friday, September 16, 2011

We The Sheeple

America Missing in Action
September 20, 2001

By Brian Bentley

The South Tower at The World Trade Center, a split second before it was hit by a hijacked airliner

As I was returning from UCLA Medical Center after my third major sinus operation in 6 years, my friend pulled over our car so I could lean out the door and puke a half-liter of blood and stomach lining into the gutter. The red gooey stuff glistened in the soft afternoon sun and its contents flashed me back to TV scenes of the World Trade Center bombing. I saw the spilled blood of thousands of broken bodies, some buried alive in the rubble. Suddenly I didn't feel sorry for myself anymore. There was no comparing the relevance of dizziness and intense nausea with having a 100-story building fall on your head.

Yes, you can be sick about many things these days, especially when you have nothing to do but mend yourself in front of the TV all day. America is very ill. 6,000 of us have died. For the remaining 250 million, much of the pain is self-inflicted. We are a nation presently on the run, paralyzed, cuddling hysteria like a teddy bear.

John McCain was on Jay Leno Tuesday night. Love him or hate him, when McCain talks, you feel his pain and can't help but listen. He was lecturing his beloved country like a stern father. "What the terrorists want is for us to be afraid. They want to disrupt our lifestyle, to cause us to shrink away and stay at home. That is their victory. We cannot give them that. So, I say to you, if you want to go to that ballgame, do it, if you still want to buy that car, do it. The chances of actually becoming the victim of a terrorist are about the same as getting hit by lightning."

Even with 30 million Tonight Show viewers, was anyone listening? Since the calamity of September 11th, I would say we've turned a collective deaf ear. Boeing, Northwest and Alaska Airlines are hoping for a bailout this Friday from Uncle Sam. If it doesn't arrive, they're out of business. It seems very few frequent fliers possess the guts these days to get on a plane. A group of disgruntled misfits from the Middle East have grounded the most powerful nation in the world.

Based on ESPN footage, there looked to be about 12,000 people at Dodger Stadium last night. The stands had an energy level comparable to a Nebraska little league game. In New York, virtually every Broadway show has gone dark. David Letterman appears even more cadaverish than usual. The stock market is crashing and burning. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of Americans in the travel industry are about to lose their jobs. To Fear. It'll take more than just recycling that tattered Laker flag on your SUV with a Stars and Bars version to lift us up from this morbid state of defeat.

Network affiliates continue to feed the panic by peddling soft core grief with their sobbing soundbites, "And now for more local reaction to the tragedy, let's go to..." It's a different story on cable. The news channels, in particular, the brilliant MSNBC, continue to shine brightly. Hardball host Chris Matthews remains the Kobe Bryant of TV journalists, putting masterful spins on the growing network of terrorist stories, defending his territory with grace, slam dunking his points with ferocity and nimbly assisting his guests to rise higher.

Chris Matthews host of MSNBC’s Hardball

Last night Matthews had Minnesota Governor, Jesse Ventura, in the hot seat. "Governor, if we go after Bin Laden full tilt, don't we just encourage more violence against Americans?" Ventura stared into the camera incredulously. "Look Chris, we just lost 6,000 lives. 6,000 Americans slaughtered in two hours by 19 guys. That's about an eighth of all the lives we lost in a decade in Vietnam. They've even got evidence now that the terrorists profited millions directly from the U.S. stock market by manipulating airline stock in the week before the hijackings! They knew it was going down. Does it really matter at this point if Bin Laden is pissed off?"

Matthews changed gears as smoothly as Mario Andretti. "Well, how IS America feeling right now? Not good it seems. This latest MSNBC poll is rather frightening. 71% of Americans have acknowledged major depression in the past week. 33% are having trouble sleeping and half the country, 50%, are experiencing difficulties in concentrating." His voice trailed off dramatically. No comment necessary.

Unless we intend to begin installing Pez-like Zoloft dispensers in every convenience store in the nation, America better start focusing now. But this may be difficult in our present state of PC hypersensitivity. Blame it on the self-reverential Boomer generation, blame it on the finger-pointing of the Jesse Jackson's, blame it on the weather, but we have become a land of sheep, of people terrified of saying and doing the wrong thing. This makes us look very weak to the rest of the world.

I spoke to reporter Jeff Leeds of The Los Angeles Times about his recent story, "Pop Culture Takes a Serious Reality Check." Clear Channel Inc., the nation's largest chain of radio stations distributed to its disc jockey's a list of songs that might be now in "bad taste." This isn't Orwell's 1984, it's really happening. Apparently, these tunes, which Americans have been enjoying for years, just might push some of us over the edge. A few could have some merit on surface reading, for instance, R.E.M.'s, "It's The End of the World," Steve Miller's, "Jet Airliner" and the Bangles, (LOL) "Walk Like an Egyptian." But "Bridge Over Troubled Water?" "American Pie?" "Fire and Rain?" These are songs of hope in the face of despair. And for many, hope can come in as simple a form as a familiar old song. Have any of the protectors of the PC ever listened to the uplifting lyrics in these American standards?

Clear Channel executives made the oh-so fine distinction with the disclaimer that these were only suggestions, leaving out the fact that DJ's who ignore these suggestions can look forward to the same life expectancy as an "I Love Bin Laden" bumper sticker in the parking lot at Edwards Air Force Base.

Apparently, this notion of self-censorship doesn't play out across the dial. Last weekend, local dinosaur KLOS FM sought higher ratings and better vibes with their jingoistic "All-American Weekend." Saturday afternoon, an aging hipster jock could be heard back-announcing, "That was 'Rebel Yell' from Billy Idol. Before that we had Grand Funk's, 'We're an American Band,' and started it off with 'Born in the U.S.A.' from Brooce." He then cranked-up a recent 10-second George W. soundbite – something to the effect of, "Now we're gonna get em." The entire bit came off like a clip from the movie Billy Jack, as narrated for the blind by Jack Webb.

Oh, I get it.

In times of great hardships people come together by picking up the pieces. But when you padlock their sporting events, sanction their radio listening, instruct them, via the media, as to the appropriate time to grieve and tell them when it's proper to feel better, as if by some grand design – you tie their hands behind their backs. You chop them off at the knees or at their lowest common intellect, whichever comes first. In this irony-less age, the original Saturday Night Live cast would have been burned at the stake. Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin dropped by their labels after their first albums unless they agreed to rehab. We live in an era where those among us who don't fit, the Robert Downey Jr.'s, must be the judged by the masses and then taught a lesson.

My advice is to take the money for that nylon American flag and send it instead to the family of a New York City firefighter. Laugh out loud in front of strangers. Show respect, but show some pride too. Let yourself joke about death, don't be traumatized for life. Throw a pie in the face of the collective doomsayers who only wanted an audience, anyway.

We are in a war. They happen about every ten to twenty-five years. This one started out wrong as wars often do. So now what? John McCain said recently, "America needs to toughen up." The guy spent the best years of his life in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Our prison today is different. It has a key to get out. We just have to remember where we hid it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Four Dead in Ohio

How the Democrats Gave Away Four More Years
November 3, 2004

By Brian Bentley

John Kerry never saw the signs that his campaign was failing

Well, the 2004 Presidential race is finally over and good riddance, I say. For one brief, shining moment the world seemed like it might change for the better and we would make a difference and the truth would matter. But it was all an illusion. The 60's have been dead for 35 years. Grow up and get over it.

The cutthroat world of modern politics has sunk into a sewer of voter manipulation and character assassination, where the fruits of victory go to the lowest common denominator. So it is that George Walker Bush, Texas Ranger, will be our President until each of us is four years older and John Kerry is just another forgotten face from the past.

As they are fond of saying in the Super Bowl, nobody cares who comes in second. When the final gun sounded early Wednesday morning in Cleveland Ohio, John Kerry lost it with a fumble on the one-yard line. George W. Bush stomped Kerry into the Buckeye night and the footprints in the dirt belonged to Karl Rove. Back out on the playing field, half of America lay bruised and bleeding, just like in that dusty stadium in Afghanistan where the Taliban used to lead condemned prisoners to public executions.

Make no mistake, the Democrats and Progressives in this country are in serious, deep shit. Yo, Michael Moore, spin this one into a self-serving, e-mail message of false hope and tell us again how we can’t lose. Hillary Clinton, honey you might as well slap the dominatrix gear back on and assume the position. You ain’t goin’ nowhere in 2008. See ya, Tom Daschle, freshly voted-out former Democratic Leader of the Senate. Maybe if you’d had the nerve to pursue the Party’s Presidential nomination in the first place, you wouldn’t be looking for a job in the private sector next year.

It’s been only 24 hours since the Democratic Party imploded into its own private ground zero on November 2, 2004. Just one lost evening, and yet, the fallout will maim and cripple them for a generation to follow.

John Kerry, warrior that he is, was like the platoon leader who storms up the hill, only to turn around and find his entire company has deserted him. Nobody was watching the poor bastard’s back. The very people he was trying to rescue just lay down and died.

Kerry had been fed faulty intelligence from eager sycophants like Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone. The Youth of America, led by MTV, were supposed to line up behind Bruce Springsteen and Rock The Vote. But instead of learning from our mistakes in 2000, we just repeated them. As Pat Buchanan put it, “Bruce, we’re sorry to have wasted your time. It seems everyone showed up for your concert and registered, but they blew off showing up to cast ballots.”

Here’s a figure to remember: 17 percent. It’s a shameful statistic that will hang in the air like a scythe for the next four years, every time some knee-jerk liberal wag trots out the concept of the “Youth Vote.” In this election, only 17 percent of the kids between 18 and 29 who were eligible to participate, managed to unplug their iPods and answer the call of the t-shirt tagline that screamed, “Vote or Die!” How about “Die?” And get this, according to exit polls, half of those 17 percent said they supported the War in Iraq. The demographic with the most to lose in wartime wound up the biggest losers of all.

A 2004 protest march against the invasion of Iraq
"Irony of ironies -- One in Five of us WILL vote!"

If that 17 percent figure sounds familiar, it should. In 2000, when there was a stronger economy, no war, no mass marches in the street or carefully targeted e-mail campaigns, the 18-29 voter turn-out was 17 percent. Four years later, with the specter of the Draft hanging over their apathetic heads and a flat economy of McJobs awaiting, this prime demographic crashed Internet Blog sites by the millions on Tuesday to whine about the vote count, yet couldn’t manage to make their voices heard in the only place that mattered. Somebody tell activist Eddie Vedder that Jeremy has spoken.

Meanwhile, in the land of mortgage payments and afterschool soccer practice, Bush scored a direct hit with the elusive voters dubbed the “Security Moms,” who were said to share his “values,” not to mention being completely scared stupid into believing that Dubya was the only candidate who could fight terror. Hopefully, in a couple of years, when Bush’s fundamentalist backers have overturned Roe vs. Wade, these same moms won’t hesitate to send their pregnant teenage daughters to illegal abortion doctors who operate out of shiny new Land Rovers.

Get this, George W. Bush swaggered into Florida and bagged a 3-1 majority of Hispanic voters. Many of these were Cuban immigrants who responded to his message of less government. In fact, Bush fared surprisingly well across the Latino spectrum. The logic remains a mystery. Let’s see: jobs, healthcare, the Patriot Act … How could this voting bloc be so naive as to reward a candidate who cherry picks their best kids to send off and die in war? The press kit says George W. is supposed to be “bilingual.” Somebody tell somebody this gringo is loco.

No matter how you crunched the numbers in the end, a stone-faced John Kerry was just too difficult a sell for a shell-shocked nation that wanted change, but was afraid it might be change for the worst. When Kerry completely wrote off Southerners in the final stretch of his campaign, he only reinforced the fear that a Massachusetts Yankee would not value their interests. Despite Kerry’s strong economic message, he couldn’t win the battle because he couldn’t win the trust of the people. JK made southern folk uncomfortable, just another patronizing blueblood who never type-matched with voters in the Red states.

Until the Democrats come up with a plan to make gains in the South, they might as well take the next four years off. The only Democrats to be elected President since 1964, have been southerners (LBJ, Carter and Clinton), so tacking John Edwards onto the ticket clearly wasn’t enough.

What was only whispered before this election can now be shouted out loud. There is a Jihad-like civil war going on in this country and it is a vicious clash of cultures reinforced by regional boundaries. Red and Blue State voters completely oppose what the other stands for. In this corner, social liberals, in that one, moral conservatives: polarized values in hand-to-hand combat to decide the country’s direction. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Barbra Streisand, people in Utah who marry young, have kids, go to church regularly and pack guns vote conservatively and more often than hash-smoking, San Francisco bike messengers.

The Democrats clearly need a charismatic Bill Clintonesque ringer to step forward. The candidate must closet his progressive agendas while campaigning on Moderate values, hopefully hoodwinking the Southern rubes as masterfully as Bush stole this year’s Swing voters. The Party needs to either begin moving further to the Right to compete, or consider being marginalized out of the equation entirely. The other option is for the Democrats to split into two branches. The Far-Left wing could then marginalize itself even further with a Howard Dean-type liberal who might have the same chance of getting inside the White House as Dick Cheney has of getting inside Janeane Garofalo’s pants.

So now what? It was a good run while it lasted, but today John Kerry is a dead man walking. His national political ambitions have been reduced to faded bumper stickers. Such is the fate of war heroes who wind up as casualties, blown out of the water by Swift Boat TV campaigns. Despite stellar performances in all three Presidential debates, Kerry, even with 55 million votes, couldn’t close the deal. He was like the candidate for the job who says everything right in the interview but loses the gig to the dude who can play golf with the boss.

But talk of John Kerry is old business. There is much new business to attend to. A world of opportunity awaits the Republicans who now firmly control all three branches of government. George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and cheated his way into the White House. With no real mandate, he ran the country like Al Capone ran the South Side of Chicago.

This time around, Bush was duly elected. With a freshly resurrected Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney pushing the buttons, he will launch offenses upon “Liberal” forces with the same genocidal vengeance that Saddam Hussein used against the Kurds. He has a vested interest in keeping Americans at each other’s throats and the country at war. It is his greatest accomplishment, the Diversion. Like a shell game, the marks can’t keep their eyes on the ball. The purest form of any rule is to divide and conquer. So while Bin Laden chills in Tora Bora, Bush pursues conservative domestic agendas like Tommy Lee Jones chases fugitives.

John Kerry’s agendas now read like weathered Dead Sea Scrolls. Stem cell research and global warming will remain fringe issues until Hell freezes over or the polar icecaps melt. Universal healthcare, like military intelligence, is now just another oxymoron. The good news is that Bill Maher won’t run out of comedy material for another four years. The bad news is that the rest of us have run out of options.

Somewhere in the misty graveyard of CBS News, a pallid and ghostly Dan Rather wanders the empty halls at night, a lost spirit who cannot rest in peace. He has instructed his underlings in the newsroom to leave Ohio in the undecided column until every last provisional ballot has been counted. What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

Outside, a mob has formed and the gathered masses light torches and press harder against the studio gates like they are pushing against the gates of Hell. They can smell the blood of a wounded animal. Inside, Rather girds himself for a date with oblivion like Tony Montana snorting lines at the end of Scarface. Dan’s 1968 CBS News tour covering Vietnam taught him that good soldiers go out with commentary and guns blazing. “Say hello to my little friend.”

Just then the newsroom’s private hotline rings. For one brief, delirious moment Rather imagines it has all been a dream and that this is the call he has been waiting for. Maybe Ohio has gone to Kerry after all. But neither the cavalry nor Bill Clinton is on the other line. Instead, the caller is Ralph Nader, giving Dan the inside scoop that he’s announcing his candidacy for 2008.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Accidental Vigilante

Listening to your Inner
Charles Bronson

August 5, 2001

By Brian Bentley

Muggers look for potential victims who are not paying attention

With nothing in particular to do on a Saturday night, I decided to go solo to see the excellent Pernice Brothers play Spaceland. It had been a weird day, ominous vibes all around, and as I exited the 101 Freeway at the Silver Lake Blvd. offramp, a full moon was just coming into its own. When the show ended, I walked along the empty street, lost in thought, my ears ringing and my heart a little empty.

I approached my car, parked on Silver Lake Blvd. I was in that special state of mind one reaches after witnessing a great show and I wondered aloud what the subject matter for my next writing column would be. A beat-up, maroon Ford Grenada was cruising up and down the street looking for a parking spot. I walked around to the front of my car and pulled out my keys. At that exact moment, the cruising car lurched right next to me and slammed on its brakes. I was in a fairly tight parallel parking position, but now, with another car exactly parallel to my car, about five feet away. I was boxed in. The two black guys in the car, two of the meanest looking men I have ever seen, weren't looking for a parking spot. They were hunting humans.

The one in the passenger seat with cold eyes reached into his waistband and began to pull out either the butt end of a 9 mm, or a flashlight shaped like a gun that was wedged between his drawers. The other guy said something like, "Let's go," and opened his driver's door. Had I been a cop, I would have shot to kill at that exact moment; there was no doubt in my mind that something very bad was about to happen. Visions of Joe Cole and Henry Rollins flashed across my brain. The moment the driver opened his door, I took off running, free and clear of the containment zone, just beyond the grasp of my would-be assailants. If this was to be a carjacking and not just a simple robbery, they had been about a second too SOON (I hadn't opened my door yet) and I had been a few degrees more perceptive than the average guy walking along that avenue with a 2 a.m. buzz.

Now the driver was loping along, chasing me, about 25 yards behind. Terrified, enraged, I tried to jump-start my adrenaline by screaming at him as I ran. "You fucking asshole, you're too slow, give it up man or I'll just throw my car keys over the fence here, you get nowhere, you blew it." He slowed down, pissed off to the gills. A crowd of kids were coming. He trotted back to his car and then these two lovely guys, thugs who might have robbed, beaten, shot me and stolen my car, trolled off in the other direction.

I drove home dazed, thinking about how random life can be – a second here, a second there, a step away from life or death. And my point, I guess, is that some of the bad stuff is avoidable. Most criminals are not particularly bright. Sometimes doing nothing at all is the worst thing you can do. It pays to know where you are and think in terms of results and not fear. As much as my fantasy would have been to pull out an AK-47 and literally dissect this pair on the spot, I obviously made the right move. As Ben, my friend in junior high, used to say, "He who runs away lives to fight another day."

This has been a true story, brought to you by the good folks who think that on any given night they can get away with murder. Only tonight, there were no victims, just two frustrated bad guys. Whatever they had in mind wasn't happening this time and in this place. And it wasn't happening to me.

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