Dirty Jobs, Done Dirt Cheap

I like Mike Rowe. He’s a likable dude. If you’re not familiar with his work, he’s the guy that got famous doing that Dirty Jobs show where he visits people who haul garbage or shovel shit, then he does essays and videos online about how you should be happy hauling garbage and shoveling shit.

There’s some truth there, but it’s buried in garbage and shit.

It’s easy to shoot the messenger, so here I go: I can’t forget the times when there have been stories of police brutality and civil unrest in the news and he’s gone out of his way to tell everyone how we should back the big boys in blue and be good little citizens. Those were hard words to swallow from such a usually-charismatic guy, but they echo the thoughts of millions of Americans who think that you can live your lives flying under the radar, hauling garbage and shoveling shit, and never be touched by the jackboot of oppression. That is, until you see a video of a 17-year-old at a routine traffic stop being tased until his heart stops and dragged, limp, across the pavement, then dropped face down on concrete.

Yeah, that cop got sent to prison. Yes, these are exceptions to the rule, which is that vast majority of us will survive a traffic stop. Some of us might have less traffic stops than others because of the color of our skin, and some of us might be more likely to survive, but Mike Rowe’s world is the one in which you just trust that everything is going to be all right, because that’s the system.

Most recently, he’s published a video where he tells everyone not to blindly follow their passions. This is, on the face of it, good advice. I’ve heard similar advice from Billy West at a Q&A session in Richardson, Texas, where he asked for everyone in college to raise their hands then told the hand-raisers to drop out. “You’re going to end up in debt wearing a paper hat with that fancy diploma,” he said. Then, he told us to be persistent, to never give up, and to never let someone “put you in a box and label it.”

What was key, though, is that he said “If you want to work in showbusiness, you can. You may not be the actor or the director but if your talent is doing hair or making clothes, you can do that. They need carpenters, people to machine things…” and so on. Sounds pretty Mike Rowe to me. They’re both suggesting that you find your talents and follow those. They’re not talking about blind passion, they’re talking about realistic expectations.

Most recently I was at the Dallas FanExpo and I witnessed Peter Capaldi’s Q&A session. A mother dragged her six-year-old up to the microphone and, after some prodding, she coerced him into asking about how he could work on Doctor Who when he grows up. It was cute, regardless of the circumstances.

There’s video of this so I won’t butcher it from memory, but the gist of his answer was that the boy needed to explore his talents, find what he was good at, be passionate and persistent, write a letter to the BBC, and maybe some day they’d want to talk to him. Our hearts swelled. We applauded. Perhaps that would be the case. Peter has been a Whovian since childhood, as evidenced by his heavy correspondence with the BBC, and he’s the friggin Doctor. It’s a nice thought. Hell, I’d love to work for the BBC, but I don’t have anything they need.

(You can stop right there, if you’re being so kind. I don’t fancy myself much of a writer. That is, not on par with what they’d require. There is that fear of being, as Mike Rowe said, the guy on American Idol who doesn’t understand how bad he is. I will wrap myself in a protective shield of self-deprecation if need be. This is my hobby.)

When I was a teenager and in need of more attention than anyone could provide, the latter of which is still the case, I began singing on the high school band bus. This led some guys to take notice of me and invite me to practice with their rock band. I can carry a tune but in comparison to the world of vocal talent I am mediocre at best. I probably could have gotten by on that and personality if I’d had any. I don’t know if there was exceptional musical talent in any of us except for the drummer, T.J. Burgess, who did follow his dreams and tour the country in various bands. I’ll never stop seeing the irony in that, because in our band he’d just picked up drumming and the guy who considered himself the band leader was always trying to fire him. T.J. was persistent, though. Tenacious. Always practicing. Never stopping. He got farther and further musically than any of us in that band, that’s for damned sure.

My father, whose philosophy matched that of Mike Rowe’s closely enough, wanted me to come up with a real career idea and do music on the side, as a hobby. He was supportive, though. He bought me a PA system (which I ended up selling), and a 1971 Martin D-18 (which I can barely play and has collected dust for 15 years). I don’t regret my dabbling in music but I wish I had at least gone balls to the wall if I had planned on doing it at all. I could have majored in music at Arkansas State instead of the mishmash of shit I ended up pursuing. I could have sold everything and gone on the road. Instead, I gave up at the first sign of difficulty. In retrospect, I was probably far too used to being petted on the head and given an award for everything. Public school fucked us kids up in the 1980s and 1990s with that “everyone is special” bullshit. Once again, I blame society.

There’s definitely a place in our current society for accountability. I keep coming back to that persistence thing and, while anecdotes are not data, it has been my experience that the people who just kept banging their head against that brick wall are the ones who found some purchase. There’s a corollary, though. They not only didn’t stop banging, but they figured out exactly where to bang.

It’s easy for me, as a late Generation X, early Millennial, Star Wars Generation whatever-the-fuck-I-am, to wallow in our Brave New Global Economy and point fingers at everything else except myself because, like it or not, that is a characteristic we share. Maybe I’m starting to sound a bit like ol’ Mike Rowe himself here but I do come from that MTV generation where we were all going to be rock stars. We were all going to be beautiful famous snowflakes and when I realized that not only were we not going to be on posters in teenagers’ bedrooms but we weren’t even going to be making $30/hr at a factory, that we were going to be sweeping floors and making coffee with our fancy degrees, there was a disturbance in the Force.

We’re rocking and rolling with that right now and, while I do blame society, I also think that maybe some of us should get right with hauling garbage and shoveling shit, although I, too, struggle with it daily. The rest of the world has for all its history. People right now toil their whole lives for little gain, and while politically I’d like for us to do everything we can to improve this situation, I’ve also realized that we aren’t so special that we won’t have to grit our teeth and haul and shovel, ourselves.

See, there’s enough self-hatred in me to take Mike Rowe and run with it. I can do it. It’s in my blood.

I can dream, though. I will dream. I will listen to Mike Rowe and take his broken clock messages and agree when I do and throw a fit when I don’t. I will spend my hard-earned money on shaking hands with actors and telling them how they gave me hope or occupied me during hard times. I will dream that someday I will find a vehicle to speak to more than a dozen people on Fucking Facebook. I will write in my spare time, as Mr. Rowe suggested, because I have to feed my family. There is great honor in not quitting your job and ruining everyone’s lives. There is dignity in working a service industry job where you are disrespected by management and customers alike. Stand tall, because you are doing the difficult task. You’re keeping yourself alive to fight another day.

So we’ll haul garbage and shovel shit. Some of us will be rock stars, but most of us will not. I can’t forget though, that every time I think we’re not meant for much, I see someone get published who can’t put a sentence together. I used to get angry about that, but now it gives me hope. If they can do it, why can’t I?

Well, maybe their uncle knows little Jimmy Patterson, but I digress.

I see you guys crying out for justice, on a number of issues, and I feel you. Maybe it can all be boiled down to this: Your experience ends when you do, and solipsistic as it may sound, you’ve gotta make your own fort strong before you go out and do battle with the world. If all you ever accomplish is taking care of you, you at least did that, and that’s worth more than Honorable Mention. I’d dishonor the majority of the human race who died from famine, disease, and violence, if I looked that gift horse in the mouth.

Maybe I have more in common with Mike Rowe than I’d like to think. Maybe I’m not as dirty of a commie as I thought I was.

Maybe we all balk when Dad Voice comes and tells us to like it or lump it.

So, here’s to us, The Loudest Generation. People have always whined, but we’ve got the tools to take that shit global. We will haul garbage and shovel shit. We will struggle, noble in our efforts. We will fight until there is no fight left in us, and we’ll never, ever, stop fucking complaining.

Junk

It was around 6 pm Saturday at the Dallas FanExpo, and things were winding down. Gina and I stood in line with only a dozen other people to get our photo signed by Arthur Darvill. Peter Capaldi had just gone, and I stared over at his empty table. Gina said something to me along the lines of “I hope our children are Doctor Who fans.”

I said, “Yeah, or all this shit is going to end up in a box.”

My garage is roughly one quarter full of my father’s belongings. I could consolidate it more effectively but it would still be a pile. My siblings and I sold what could be sold years ago. We’ve used the furniture that we can, hung the photos that matter most, and still there’s this heap of things too dear to throw out but not important enough to display. Consider it the Robbie Talbot Museum Archives.

Sometimes while the kids are in the bath and I’m standing in my office, I’ll pull one of his books off the shelf and flip through it. He has a copy of the Arkansas Duck Hunter’s Almanac, which I am familiar with already because customers are constantly requesting it at work (we can’t get it, people. Amazon.), signed by Rollie Remmel. I have one of his “Rollie sticks” leaning by my back door. That guy was a huge deal to conservationists. He has a big museum exhibit at the Arkansas Game & Fish building in downtown Little Rock. I only met him twice, in the 1990s, and he reminded me a bit of Burgess Meredith’s character in Grumpy Old Men.

Was this Dad’s Doctor Who? He’d probably laugh at that and say he doesn’t know. In his younger years, he may have declared this an idiotic notion. My father, like Mr. Remmel, worked for the change he wanted. Each have monuments with plaques bearing their name. Post-hospitalization Dad, a much more insightful fellow, might have said maybe. He probably would have been too kind to point out that I’m hanging out with actors instead of creating protected areas for wildlife.

I try not to think much about what’s going to happen to my giant pile of detritus when I’m gone. What is valuable will be sold, what is sentimental will be kept (if anything is sentimental) and much will be tossed. Sometimes the sentimental is sold, or tossed. Sometimes people burn everything.

My name is Bobbymandias, geek of geeks:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

In tough situations I find myself staring at my wall of photos and thinking of better times, or asking Tom what the hell I’m supposed to do, much the same way that I look at Dad or Paw Paw in the upstairs hall where I’ve hung a collection of my ancestors’ images. As a child, I thought it was strange when Doc Brown picked up his photo of Edison and yelled at it. Not so much, anymore.

I could go on Palahniukian rants about belongings. I could punch myself in the face and burn all my shit. Sometimes that feels like it would be cleansing, but if we all became therapeutic arsonists the world would be a cinder six or seven billion years earlier than its scheduled incineration.

I don’t know if I’m building anything. I don’t reckon my name will ever be on a monument other that the one that ends up over my body. I don’t know that any artist ever saved my life, really, but they’ve kept me occupied while I saved my own.

Thank you for being the soundtrack to the fight.

The sea was angry that day, my friends…

I’ve written some of this down before, but it’s been lost to the Internet and time.

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Six months before my father died, we were in Alaska. For some reason he’d gotten a wild hair and decided that he and his boys were going to journey to the Last Frontier and do some fishing. Dad was in the best health he’d experienced since his first hospitalization in 2008, so it was now or never. He, Blake, and I flew from Memphis, Tennessee, to Minneapolis/St. Paul, then we boarded a smaller plane to Anchorage. We arrived, exhausted, and he rented a Chevy Suburban that barely fit through the spiraled airport parking deck ramp. Then we drove for hours, because Alaska is fucking huge.

40429_10150241434875424_399266_nAt the time, I was freshly single and in a mental place I don’t want to fully dissect here. I am not sure if pre-grief is a thing, but since my father’s initial illness, I had been in a sort of malaise about his future, and mine, and what it meant to potentially lose a parent. I made all sorts of wacky decisions in this fugue state that I’m just starting to come to terms with. I flailed around, hurt a lot of people, and spread wreckage over the years before and after his death.

In 2010, I was still wearing my battered cowboy hat and gripping Hemingway, attempting to tame the bronco of life. Obviously, especially to those who know me well, my hubris knows no bounds, but that’s a story for another time.

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It was an overcast day in early August when my father, my brother, and I boarded the Tia Rose to do some deep sea fishing. The old men around seemed to be, if not shocked, then at least a bit curious that the captain was a woman. I will never forget my father asking her permission to come aboard. Always the gentleman, I think he must have had the etiquette book memorized. We were about to set sail with a bunch of wealthy greyhairs and some rowdy teenage deckhands. This was an adventure.

40061_10150241436455424_4317034_nWe set out into the bay, and pretty much immediately my brother and I started having what I’ve always referred to as “the regrets.” I’d heard people speak colloquially about turning green but until that moment I wasn’t aware that it literally happened. I had popped a couple of Dramamine before the trip, but it was no use. Blake was on the back deck puking into one five gallon bucket while sitting on another. I kept looking at the horizon but I felt the illness coming on as well.

By the time we got to the first fishing spot a couple of hours later, we were absolute wrecks. The retirees were all either immune to motion sickness or had scopolamine patches behind their ears. I’d never heard of this magic before, and I’ve never left on a journey without it since. At the time, however, I was experiencing something that rivaled one of my worst hangovers.

38950_10150241436625424_1271772_nWe were barfing everywhere. We upchucked over the side and onto the deck. Dad was visibly shaken by all this and he began to apologize repeatedly. Did we fish? I remember at least two attempts. The first time we were bobbing heavy weights off the bottom of the ocean floor. The old men seemed to be having a great time and I, the guy who could do fifty push-ups, could hardly move it. I got my line all tangled pretty much immediately and a deck hand gave me another. I surrendered about two minutes after that.

The second time, the captain herself had gone to the back of the boat, hooked a fish, and yelled for me to come back and haul it in. I did it, and as soon as I got it in I handed the pole away and vomited over the side. I’m pretty sure Blake puked on someone’s fish as they pulled it in. This may have been after the captain had cut up a pineapple, which she claimed was an old sailor’s remedy for seasickness. It worked, miraculously, for about thirty seconds, then here came the pineapple express. Dad exclaimed what an amazing cure it was while I simultaneously messed up the cabin floor.

A bit later, the guys were all at the back fishing. I looked out the back cabin door as the bow of the ship pitched up, and there was a commotion at the stern. “Whale!” someone shouted. The old men fumbled for their cameras.

A black hump surfaced, close enough that someone could have touched it with a pole. I don’t know how we didn’t hit it. There was no way I could have gotten my shitty Blackberry knock-off Samsung out of my pocket in time, and I’m glad I didn’t try. A wave lifted the boat into a steep incline and I stood at the top, my view unimpeded above the fishermen’s heads. The whale slid up and then down, as if to say hello, and my father’s voice rang out.

“Bobby, did you see it?”

Yeah, Dad. I did.

40109_10150241436935424_4799088_nThe captain said it was a right whale. She wheeled the boat back around to see if it would pop out again, but it didn’t. I spent the rest of the ride staring at the horizon from the back deck, a seasickness-prevention trick I’d learned from a Hemingway story. I stood out there and shivered for hours, but it worked.

39036_10150241436825424_5380304_nThe deck hands cleaned the fish behind me as we sailed on through what might have been a pleasantly cool day on land. It seemed like eternity, however, as I rocked over the unforgiving damp. I finally stopped keeping track of time and locked my eyes on the dark line above the sea. It eventually grew into looming cliffs. We sailed along side them as thousands of white gulls peeled off to greet us. I am solidly agnostic, but I remember saying to myself, “God lives in Alaska.”

I turned to my left and Blake and Dad were seated in a booth on the other side of the cabin glass. Blake’s head was down on the table, and Dad put his arm around him and stroked his hair. He ran his hand through it over and over, which was something I’d never seen him do. It was the same thing I did to Dad as he slept in his hospital bed. It is the same thing I do, now, when I hold my children.

I looked up at the cliffs. Here lies eternity.

39036_10150241436820424_3414561_nThere is something to be found out there in the wild, whether it is God or Earth or Nature or Life. The Universe. The carelessness of Nothing, but it’s something. You can read about that shit in your History of Ecology textbook, you know. Bust out some Thoreau. I am nothing if not an unoriginal bastard, so I admit that I am not breaking new ground here. Maybe you’ve had a tingle on a camping trip. Maybe you saw the face of God while summiting Denali.

38950_10150241436630424_6967417_nI don’t have any answers for you. The cliffs had none for me. All I can do is tell you what happened. The sea was angry that day, my friends. The bay was quiet. We were there. Now some of us aren’t.

If I were a moral of the story guy I’d tell you to set your jaw and stare at the horizon. That’s as good a line as any. It’s tempting to do that, to the cliffs and the birds. To set a screen on it. To capture the whale. To make it mean something.

Though, as Freud is accused of saying, sometimes a whale is just a whale, and the deep is just the deep.

Thanks, Sigmund. Thanks, Henry. Thanks, Ernie.

Thanks, Dad.

Rust in Peace

I saw what was arguably the best iteration of Megadeth, featuring Marty Friedman and Nick Menza, in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1990s. It was a brutal, rib crushing affair. I hung onto the fence up front for 3/4 of the show, right in front of Dave Mustaine, until I absolutely couldn’t take it anymore. I was in pain for days. It was worth it.

There are two totems from that show that I have carried with me every day for almost twenty years. In my wallet, there is a guitar pick that has Nick Menza’s signature stenciled on it. He threw those out into the crowd after he had run out of drum sticks to toss. This didn’t make sense to me at the time until one of my friends pointed out how expensive drum sticks are, and how cheap picks are. For a guy who was supposed to be so fucking smart I often didn’t put two and two together until I opened my mouth and said something stupid.

The other artifact, a black plastic bottle opener keychain, was handed to me by Marty Friedman on Beale Street before the show with a “here you go.” Little aloof Bobby Talbot didn’t even know what had happened until it was over.  My friends laughed at me and told me who had just given it to me. I put it on my keychain and it has been there every day since. It has traveled the world with me. It has opened hundreds of beers. I have walked thousands of miles with it jingling along in my pocket.

This story was a part of my party repertoire for years afterwards, and I finally stopped telling it about five years ago when instead of “fucking cool!” or laughter it received cocked eyebrows and cold stares. The world had moved on.

The world moves on again, today, without Nick Menza, who collapsed and subsequently died on stage at age 51.

I never met Nick Menza. I stood 15 feet in front of him and watched him play the drums. I carried a bit of plastic that he had mass produced for fans. I enjoyed his particular era of Megadeth music.

Someone who knows more than me recently said that every time someone dies he’s a bit pissed off by fans who pour out adulation after it’s too late. A corpse can’t enjoy the thrill of having someone love them. I am guilty of this here, I admit, because I haven’t thought about Mr. Menza in months.

I am 37.5 years old. Every time I read an article or open the obituaries, my mind does the morbid math of “how long.” How old would my kids be? How many years do I have? I try to shove that aside, because for all I know it will be five minutes from now. I keep doing those push-ups. I skip McDonald’s. I check for lumps. I look for reasons. How many drugs did he do? Let me pull the blanket of excuses and blame back over myself. Let me think of Jane Little, age 87, who died on stage playing bass with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Wouldn’t that be nice. Poetic. Beautiful. Fifty more years. Push down Nick (51). Shove down Dad (58).

I cannot tell you how many slow work days I’ve spent gazing into dusty shelves considering the people I knew who went before me, into that “great unknown mystery.” I try to comfort myself with strange philosophies. Maybe consciousness is just a meat-computer status report. Perhaps it’s a trick. Life is just a bowl of cherries. Don’t take it serious. Life’s too mysterious.

You work, you save, you worry so,
but you can’t take your dough
when you go, go, go.

None of this is comforting to Nick Menza.

Here’s the deal:

My good friend Scott, who has taught me much, once suggested that thanking people is one of the things we can do to improve our life and theirs. Just thanking people. It seems simple but really, as I have begun to travel the world to see my heroes, people who entertained me or occupied my mind when it needed distraction, a thank you has never been rejected. In fact, it has almost always been received with great enthusiasm.

Not long ago, Gina and I walked by an autograph table in New Orleans and saw Edward James Olmos seated, fiddling with his smartphone. He was alone except for his handler. I walked up to his assistant and said, “Hey, can I just say hello real quick?” This isn’t always kosher at conventions.

“Sure!” she said. “Go for it.”

So I did.

I approached him (holy shit), said hello, and we shook hands. Then, I launched into a short, arm-flailing, animated speech that went something like “Oh wow, Battlestar Galactica. I wanted to tell you that it’s rare, so rare, when watching a television show, that I am so moved that I stand up, out of my seat and cheer arms raised,” at this point I raised my fists in the air, “and I wanted to thank you for that. Thank you.”

He seemed genuinely pleased. His arm was in a sling so I asked about that. He had dislocated his shoulder. I asked him if he was okay, and we had a short conversation about his arm. I wished him well. He wished me well, and that was that.

As simple as that was, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Right behind having my two kids and marrying Gina, that one is up there with winning the high school band competition at Universal Studios, Florida, when I was a teenager, or flying to London to meet Tom Baker.

I hate to give out advice because I am terrible at it, and I don’t like to draw conclusions about life because there aren’t any, but I have made it a point to tell people what they mean to me. If I can’t see them in person I write them a letter. This is my letter to Nick, post-mortem, unfortunately, because I do not see all, but I will do better.

I am sorry that you are dead, Nick Menza, but you are not forgotten. As long as I breathe there will be a bit of plastic with me that was once, briefly, yours, nestled in my wallet next to the four-leafed clover, which is taped to a playing card, that I have carried with me since I was 12.

It’s the least I can do.

Nick Menza

Just Because

I know that I’ve been careless when I’ve gotten introspective in the past. Memories are malleable and mushy. Every time we go back to touch them we break something, or add something, and before long, if we’re not careful (and sometimes even if we are), we end up with something quite removed from what we started with.

That being said, I’m pretty sure I learned about death when Mr. Hooper died.

If you were a kid my age you grew up watching Sesame Street. You may have also watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, or reruns of Romper Room or The Electric Company, and those were good shows, but in my time, Sesame Street was the place we were always trying to get. If we happened upon one of those old metal garbage cans, Oscar was in there. Where was Sesame Street? New York City, of course. It was actually there and I imagined that if I went there and turned some corner in Hell’s Kitchen, I’d be met with friendly faces and Muppets.

Mr. Hooper ran the corner store on that fabled street. Will Lee was the actor who had played him since 1969, and he had been one of the people blacklisted as a Communist during the red scare of the 1950s. He died of a heart attack on December 7, 1982, a day after my little sister was born. Instead of sweeping his absence under the rug they hit it head on, albeit almost a year later, during an episode which aired on November 24, 1983, a day after my fifth birthday.

I don’t know if I saw it at the time, and I don’t want to squeeze the Play-Doh of my mind too hard lest I dent it even more, but I must have. I remember kids talking about it on the playground. Still, that’s not the moment that sticks with me. It may or may not have been the spark, but Cyndi Lauper was the fire.

MTV was very much a part of life in those days, just as much as YouTube or Facebook is now. We old folks tell tales of a time when videos played all day and from dusk ’til dawn and that’s the place I’m taking you, fellow traveler. Again, it cannot have been the case, but it seemed like our television was always on that channel. Of course, there were a slew of terrible music videos at the time, but there were also loads that we thought of as high art. I recall having significant emotional responses to them, as they seemed to represent important concepts, especially to a little kid. Adventure. Romance. Loss.

Sometime in 1984, my brother and sister and I were riding in the car with Mom, about right here. I do remember that, distinctly. “Time after Time” was playing on the radio and I began to feel a growing heaviness in my chest. It was an emptiness I’d never experienced before. Through hindsight goggles I clearly identify it as grief, but at the time I was afraid. Then, I looked up from the back seat and asked Mom when she was going to die.

She laughed a little, probably a bit surprised, and told me that she wasn’t going to die for a long, long time. Not anytime soon. I calmed down shortly and my mental film reel ends there, in the fog between Tulot and the Trumann city limits.

And then, it was 1985. Back to the Future. Rambo II. Rocky IV. The Goonies. National Lampoon’s European Vacation! Another Friday the 13th film. How did we see some of these things? I’m sure it involved VHS tapes and unsupervised cable viewing, but they were all the talk of the playground. My siblings and I stayed after school at a daycare center at the end of our street. We lived at 111 North Magnolia.

I don’t want to touch this next day too much. I’m afraid my mischievous brain will create something that didn’t occur. In my research online, which only turned up old posts on a gossip forum, someone claimed it happened in March, because the pool water was greenish black and full of leaves. I remember the water, but I don’t think it was March. It must have been September.

We were in that fenced-in yard and there was a commotion across the street at the municipal pool. It’s a skate park now, and for years before that it was a raised dirt mound beside an abandoned pumphouse, but then it was a concrete pool surrounded by a high chainlink fence. The entryway was cinderblock, painted sky blue, and it too was secured. Closed. On this day, however, someone found their way in.

At some point a teacher called an ambulance and we were ushered inside. I am not sure if I saw the next part from the yard or the window, but I do remember the view. The teachers were too preoccupied to stop us from peeking. I distinctly recall a wet shirt being thrown on the ground beside a stationwagon. The shirt was striped, red and something else. Brown? My mind says long sleeved but I don’t trust it. The weather data for that day says it was 82 degrees Fahrenheit, scattered clouds, no precipitation. Was it grey, or are the skies of my memory always overcast? I’ll step away from that scene before my mind splinters that eggshell any further.

Mom took me to Thompson Funeral Home to see her, the first in a long line of bodies I would view there: great-grandparents, grandparents, friends, and my Father.

The room was dim and a woman was wailing to my right. Tina had one of those kid-sized caskets. It was a light metallic color but I’m not certain which. She was surrounded by toys. This stands out to me now, crystal clear. Little me, standing in front of that box, and her, already buried in a nest of Barbies, miscellaneous toys, a Cabbage Patch Kid. They were well-loved and I could tell that they had been played with hard. Their little faces were dirty. Hers was clean.

I want to say her hair was curly. Please let it have been curly, because that’s what I remember.

If we travel back some time before, fellow adventurer, we’ll find me standing in Mrs. Chitmon’s room, near her desk. It’s an indoor play period and Tina is there, in front of me. We’d probably just spent twenty minutes burning the knees of our jeans out on the concrete floor, a neat trick that some miscreant taught us that day. I had fancied myself a young “Weird” Al Yankovic and no person or song was safe from my parodies. So there she is, looking up at me and I sing, “Tina, tiny little Tina.” She isn’t impressed. She frowns, turns in a flash of hair, and runs away. That’s it, and we fade out. Far out.

What a day, a year, a life it is.

I have been an anxious person as long as I can remember. I was the kid waiting for the sirens to sound and the bombs to drop. Thanks, Nightly News. I was the kid who could read above his comprehension, so that while I knew all about continental drift and the ice age and the expansion of the sun, I was also terrified about volcanoes and glaciers and the sun engulfing the Earth. That bad boy is still coming, and we’ll all be here for it, right? Right?

There was a time in there, though, in the early 1980s, in the foggy grey mud of memory, when I started to realize that we won’t have to worry about crashing into continents unless we’re on a hijacked plane. I recognized that it actually may not be a long, long time.

I learned that they make caskets that will fit a kid.

I can’t tell you what that means. All I can do is tell you what it is, and as Roscoe Orman, playing Gordon, says to Big Bird in Sesame Street episode #1839, it’s “just because.”

Ten Years of Bathroom Selfies and Other Cosmological Revelations

Once upon a time, in a long string of Worst Ideas Ever, I proposed publishing a coffee table book called “Bob Talbot: Ten Years of Bathroom Selfies”. I had considered adding “and Shitty Poetry” but my good friend Scott suggested that I add “and Other Cosmological Revelations” instead.
I probably would have gone with that.

After spending far too many hours digging through the abyss of Facebook, I realized that it was an endeavor far too sad for me to withstand. It was wintertime, my worst time, and my brain was psyching me out for the fifth anniversary of my father’s death. Just looking at the “On This Day” feature was destroying me, and I felt like my life had been trashed and burned on that shithole of a website. Fucking Facebook.

The original plan was to have a page featuring a photo, a small caption identifying place and time, and a facing page with a relevant rant/poem/post from either that day or the closest convenient day.

My rules for myself for what constitutes a “bathroom selfie” were as follows:

1. The camera must be visible.
2. The photo must be of my reflection in a mirror or, barring that, some         other reflective surface.
3. I am in the photo
4. I’m taking the photo.
5. Preferably in a restroom but this is negotiable.

I stuck to this in my selection, mostly, and I’ve posted them here for your perusal, minus the years of shitty poetry and WITTY COMMENTS that I was going to add. I had two recent ones saved that I pasted here, but the rest are lost to time, like tears in rain…

I know you’re extremely disappointed by this.

Anyhoo, I decided to dump the carcass of that idea here because it’s not going anywhere else. It was something I did to occupy myself during a rough period of my life. There’s plenty of shitty poetry on Facebook that I do not care to dig up. I threw it into that pit and I’m done shit spelunking.

Feast your eyes on this.

2008 07 03 Barnes & Noble Store #2250, Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA, Planet Earth, Sol System, Mutter’s Spiral

2008 07 10

Breakroom.

2008 08 23

My razr.

10-15-2008

The only thing interesting going on is the collapse of western society which is long overdue.
I’m trying to decide whether I want to wear white football pads or black football pads after the apocalypse. Black is always in style but the white definitely has a neat 80’s look to it if you accessorize properly.

2008 12 19
St. Bernard’s Regional Hospital. Dad’s first hospitalization in late 2008.

2009 03 21

Airplane restroom, flight from Memphis to LAX, showing off some Stolen Valor from when I worked on the Manhattan Project during the big WWII. 

2009 08 10

Home, upstairs bathroom. Now I have a Samsung Blackberry knock-off.

2009 11 16

Dad’s house, guest bathroom.

09-30-2009
Hey old man with your/Silent Hill strategy guide/stop breathing on me

11-25-2009
There’s no “I” in “TEAM” but there’s one in “EAT SHIT”.

11-27-2009
I wonder how many people got stampeded to death today? The answer: NOT ENOUGH.

12-11-2009
The question is what to do with the Tooth Fairy if you are ever successful in capturing it.

12-21-2009
My bike went from a 21 speed to a 7 speed today. Oh well, I never used those lower 14 speeds anyway.

2009 11 17

Screwing around at work. 

2009 12 11

My boss’s bathroom.  That was a night.

2009 12 23

Work again. Most of these take place here.

2010 03 28

On a plane to LA.

2010 06 12

Work.

2010 07 03

More work.

2010 08 06

2010 now. I’m on a plane to Alaska. This is my old cowboy hat, which I stopped wearing because people kept calling it a fucking Fedora.

2010 08 07

Dad, at Tim Berg’s Alaskan Fishing Adventure. I’m there in the window.

2010 08 09

Store window in Anchorage, Alaska, near the starting point of the Iditarod.

2010 08 09b

In the Gulf of Alaska on the Tia Rose. Dad said “permission to come aboard, Captain?” 

2010 08 09c

The sea was angry that day, my friends.

2010 08 09d

Cabin restroom. Soldotna, Alaska.

2010 10 08

Fucking work.

2010 10 12a

Mopping overflowed urinal for 800th time.

2010 10 12b

Hrnghhhh.

2010 10 26

Fuck work.

2010 11 25

Restroom of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

2010 11 27

I had to immortalize this stupid, stupid fucking hat. I replaced the cowboy hat with an actual Fedora-esque felt hat. Definitely a step in the wrong direction. I have Fedora deep inside me. Explains a lot.

2010 12 05

Closing time at B&N.

2010 12 21

2010.

2010 12 28

One of dad’s hospital rooms.

2011 09 13

Arkansas State University. That’s my fathers Ducks Unlimited sponsor hat.

2011 09 17a

Cregeen’s Irish Pub, the summer after dad died. I barely recall taking this. 

2011 09 17b

I went home and almost fucking died. Those were great times. Wearing dad’s hats and trying to drink myself to death.

2011 11 12

A book signing at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.

2011 12 12

Arkansas State University, perhaps my last day before Graduating with a Bachelor’s in Jack Shit. “Interdisciplinary Studies”. Five years later, I still work retail.

2012 01 15

Another signing, Harding U, Searcy, Arkansas.

2012 09 19

Craighead County Fairgrounds, Jonesboro, Arkansas.

2012 10 01

Restaurant in Buffalo, New York.

2012 10 16a 2012 10 16b 2012 10 16c

Some shaving at home.

2012 12 17 2012 12 17b

Little Rock Zoo.

2012 12 25

A gift from my brother and sister-in-law. It’s my daughter’s face on Che’s head.

2012 12 29

Celebrating opening at Midnight on Black Friday.

2013 02 23

Dropped a register loading up at Harding and sliced my finger on the register paper blade.

2013 05 26 2013 08 01

Some angry bald idiot.

2013 10 17

Ex-wife’s orthodontist’s office. Jonesboro, AR.

2013 11 20

Gained 20 lbs, grew a beard, started wearing sweaters.

2013

Cregeen’s.

2014 08 21

Fucking around with the merchandise.

2014 09 28

Hotel in Puebla, Mexico, at my brother’s wedding.

someone thinks they’re Gone Girl
the truth is, they’re a Yawn Girl
the object in her meaty mitts
that she’s mistaken for a scalpel
or Chris Kyle’s sniper rifle
is a sledgehammer
an atom bomb fired point blank
laying waste to all
men, women, children held hostage
in the glow of stupid radiation
the dumbest fucking radiation
the hantavirusebolaAIDS
that she wishes was a laser
tear down the walls
I shot the Archduke
and she murdered Europe

2014 11 25 2014 11 25a 2014 11 25b

2014 12 05 2014 12 05a 2014 12 22a 2014 12 22b 2014 12 22c 2015 01 21 2015 01 25a 2015 01 25b 2015 01 25c 2015 01 25d 2015 01 25e 2015 01 29

At home, celebrating getting to see my children. There aren’t many Cora selfies because she wouldn’t stay still. I had Bea in the football hold so she pretty much had to participate.

America
Shall I compare thee
to literary dystopias
or fascist clowns of yesterday
elicit laughs and shaking heads
dismissal of the slow crush
from people who know better
after all, it ain’t that bad
America
Empire seat of the world
poor Southern men weep
as that guy from The Hangover
puts children to sleep
and dirty hands
with fat farmer tans
echo “savage”
crocodile tears and the raising of beers
to our modern Achilles
the Man With Two First Names
who slew the dusky hordes in New Orleans
(or so he said)
dented Ventura’s dimpled chin
(or so he said)
And, Justified, did work for us
(or so he said)
’til chaos or your God, etc.
sent the Marines to Rough Creek
to put down a rabid dog
America
there are heroes, still

2015 02 15 2015 02 15a 2015 02 15b

Brushing our teeth.

2015 02 25 2015 02 25a

Memaw’s house, Judd Hill, Arkansas.

2015 07 06

Lost 15 lbs. Started lifting, BRO. GONNA GET SWOLE BRO.

2015 08 07

First Great Western train from London to Cardiff.

2015 08 08

Had to include this one by Gina.

2015 08 08a

Outside the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, UK. This is a reflection off the surface of what we call the Torchwood Tower.

2015 08 23

The garage.

2015 08 25

Hell, USA. Replacing a toilet seat. This is the new one, of course. The old one covered me in piss rust.

2015 09 26Still kicking.