My day on the Zambesi with George Herbert Walker Babatunde.

George Herbert Walker Babatunde, Treasury Minister

Republic of the Congo

10 Madoff Circle

Kinshasa, Congolese Republic

Dear Mr. Babatunde:

Even though I haven’t had a chance to claim the strongbox containing fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000 US) in gold coins you’ve so kindly offered to hold for me, I wanted to thank you for continuing to keep in touch.  Your thoughtful e-mailed notes with their hopes for my continued good health (and appeals to my desire for shiny things) have cheered me no end.

Although I have no memory of ever meeting a dignitary from an African republic, my recall for names and movie titles since last year’s beatdown from that bouncer at Skybar has been less than perfect.  So I’m willing to take your word that we indeed had a fiduciary relationship and once went eel hunting in the Zambesi. After all, how could I doubt the word of a man who runs his country’s banking system?

In any case, I’ve wired the $1630 transfer fee your representative needs to get the metal box out of airport storage.

I’m hoping to land in Kinshasa International Airport two weeks from Saturday.  Will you be sending someone to meet me with the box of gold or should I arrange pedicab transport to the Treasury offices?

Before I sign off, would you mind a bit of constructive criticism about written communications?   The grammar in your emails, if I may be honest, did not befit a high government official.  If there’s anything that makes me crazy, it’s lazy syntax and misapplied punctuation.

You mentioned how the unsettled military and political situation in your country makes time of the essence.  And I do wish I could come sooner, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon swears, this time, the ATM card worth $ 8,750,000 USD from my Microsoft settlement is waiting for me in Hong Kong.

Then it’s on to Kinshasa.  If you’re looking for me in baggage claim, I’ll be the guy with Jessica Biel’s hand on my ass.

Utmost Sincerity Upon You,

Chief Financial Officer, Gravitas, Baby!

P.S.  How did you get my email address?


I’d like to thank the Academy

I think I had been napping when the voice on the phone offered to pay me to join a UCLA Sleep Study.  There might be some marginal inconvenience, but the fee would help me cover my rent without selling another testicle.

Over four nights, I showed up at a low-key annex to the UCLA Medical Center.  As soon as I was shown to my room, a friendly RN inserted a spigot that would tap the blood in my arm whenever it struck someone’s fancy.

The hospital room lacked some of the amenities I came to rely on in my apartment, things like the cold air blast that rose miraculously from the carport into my bedroom.  And the bed wasn’t king-sized but it was electrically adjustable.

A grad student attached electrodes and wiring to my head, face, chest, arms, fingers, and legs.  This had to be the last remaining piece of equipment North of the Santa Monica Freeway that hadn’t gone wireless.  On the plus side, with the tangle of cords, I was now qualified to perform in a puppet show.

Using the bathroom would require towing wires and monitors through the sleep ward.  So the nurses recommended peeing into a plastic urinal jug.  Was I put off?  Sure.  But I remembered reading how beer and plastic containers were Sean Penn’s constant companions in the years before he hooked up with Robin Wright.  How bad could it be?

Falling asleep with wiring stuck to my face was the real challenge, but eventually I managed to drift off.  And my bedside Sean Penn memorial piss jug worked like a charm.  “I’d like to thank the Academy and my polyethylene urinal.”

The next morning, a nurse smiled, scored some more of my blood, and gave me permission to go home as long as I returned by Nine PM.

The second night, the blood draw was a tad painful but the wiring didn’t trouble me at all.  I slept like a narcoleptic.  By this time, I got pretty cocky about using the polyethylene jug.  Only one problem came up after my 2:45 AM bladder emptying.   When I laid back against my pillow, the mattress evinced a dampness in a temperature range somewhere between 98 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit.   My Spicoli-like penile accuracy had betrayed me.

Falling back to sleep at freakin’ 2:45 am on a urine-soaked mattress was not gonna be an option. And since the moisture from the bed had also osmosed into my sweatshirt, I was fully discombobulated.  I hadn’t peed on myself since my undergrad days.

I rang for a nurse, but they’d all left for the night.  I’d have to get out of this mess without tech support.  So I tried to wriggle out of my urinated-upon sweatshirt.   No problem with my unwired right arm.  But the sweatshirt got only as far as my forehead before the thick electronic linguini said, “Fuck you.  You’re ‘The Urinator.’”

I was at the shore of the idiot’s Rubicon. I couldn’t detach from the wiring without ripping hair out of my skull in an orderly pattern of squares.  So I grabbed the little boom box to which the wires were attached and went for help.  The monitor pulled the wires and my head at an unfashionable angle but it allowed me to escape the moist evidence of my shame and cruise the quiet halls of the Sleep Center.  If anybody asked me what I knew about stray bodily fluids, I planned to deny ownership.

There I was, the weave of wires causing my head to list 30 degrees starboard, searching for someone in scrubs to help me find a dry place to sleep.  Dragging my monitor, my head and piss-infused sweatshirt, I happened upon a minyan of Asian technicians staring at waveforms on a bank of computer monitors.  I asked if I had arrived at The Matrix.

Only one of the men, sensing an intruder or a sweatshirt drenched in pee, turned around.  I explained my trouble. He said something to me in Mandarin which I translated as, “So what do you want me to do about it, white boy?”

No one from Security, not a single cyborg goon showed up to put me out of my misery.  Fortunately, a linen closet full of fluffy white towels beckoned.   More than a few of them could be fashioned into a thick terrycloth layer, an improvised mattress above my wet mattress, perfect insulation from the possibility of my own urine causing me to electrocute myself.

Next morning, when the Nurse woke me to steal my blood, we had our “Twilight Dawn” moment, minus the inappropriate touching.  She wasn’t particularly bothered to hear me apologize about what happened to my bedding.  “Honey, you think this is the first time I’ve seen a patient couldn’t hold his water?”

The remaining two nights of the Sleep experiment went off without any hitches or other house-breaking issues.

Apparently, the sleep rangers do not hold grudges.  They’ve approached me about participating in other studies.  I’ve begun taking steps to turn this into a six figure per annum enterprise.   As long as it doesn’t involve bladder control or guiding camera equipment through orifices, how bad could it be?

Has Winning $10 In The Lottery Changed Me?

I promise not to brag about my big haul in last month’s Mega Millions jackpot.  But I did hit two numbers and the Mega Number.  I know this sounds ridiculous but I felt crazy jacked up.  For a ten dollar payout!

But where I screwed up is, I have to take my winnings over 26 years.

That’s a piss-poor outcome for somebody who puts as much time and effort as I have into understanding it all.

Now, after consulting with statisticians, chewing over hedge fund algorithms, re-reading “Freakonomics,” and probing the distant edge of artificial intelligence, I’ve arrived at the following insight on the subject:

The odds of taking home any multi-state lottery jackpot are so astronomical, you actually have a better chance of winning if you don’t buy a ticket.

Yet there’s no escape from any of it.  We’re constantly getting our asses kicked from one lottery to another. The good genes lottery.  The romance lottery.  The born-into-wealth lottery.  The perfect rack lottery.

We seem to enter them all despite the very long odds.

One lottery I played over an extended period bore results you’d charitably describe as mixed:  the Film School lottery.    And I’m damned sure I’m not the only player.  In fact, this game reaches aspiring writers, actors, directors, producers, and studio executives—in short, everyone west of the Ukraine. What justifies it?  The gigantic investor pool and potential jackpot.

If the California State Lottery decided to offer a scratch-off game using this theme, a ticket would display a half-dozen squares with each one containing the logo of an elite film school:  UCLA, USC, NYU, COLUMBIA and, you get the idea.

But here’s the mind-blowing part.  It costs upwards of $50,000 to buy a ticket—And what’s the payoff if you scratch off a winning square?  A couple of screenwriting books.

To be fair, it was an unforgettable decade, and I’m sorry it ended.

The point is, we seem forever to be chasing that big score.  The impulse isn’t purely mercenary.  Some of us will settle for magic when we stumble into it.

And that leaves us where?  I’ve been working with software engineers to create the next family of blockbuster cell phone apps.  We’re very close to marketing a Virtual Toupee app.

When we figure out how to keep the mobile device on your head without a chin strap, we’re gonna be rollin’ in some serious bank.

The Courage to Conform

A tattoo made its first mark on me when I got a bus-bench view of an ex-con sporting a teardrop tattoo on his cheek.  I remember thinking it was a remarkable act of emotional vulnerability for a muscle-bound goon.  I was tempted to ask what could possibly have happened in prison that would make him so sad.

Tats used to be the mark of the outsider–downtown drifters and denizens of the Long Beach Pike.  But now that the practice is so commonplace?  What kind of bold statement does a woman make when she strips off her blouse and flaunts a breast that resembles a Hermes scarf?  And how does a butterfly stencil on the small of your back suggest something more fascinating about you than “I got hammered one night”?   To be fair, some parents of my acquaintance claim their tats helped them gain the trust of their unexceptional kids.

The Bible forbids tattoos and piercings, but with the repeal of the Ten Commandments, I’m guessing few people worry much about a little body art.  If you mention the biblical passage to anyone under thirty, there’s a 50/50 chance he’ll show you the relevant phrase stained into his neck.

I know I sound like a scold, but I’m not immune to social pressure.  On a particular booze-soaked night through Hollywood, a pair of sexy women who prefer their bad boys inked up caught me in a weak moment.  But I was determined, if I was gonna get a tattoo, to make sure it would be something I wouldn’t want to laser off the next day, an image tasteful and discreet, even appropriate.  The tattoo artist would have to have an MFA from a top-five art school.  If he had any talent, the next lucky girl who peeled off my jeans would encounter a haunting, thigh-to-navel illustration of Jockey Brand underpants.

It’s an incredibly intricate design, as if Norman Rockwell hand-loomed a pair of tighty-whities.  The cashier in the tattoo parlor said the ass cleft peeking over the elastic waistband was amazingly realistic.

The girls insisted that I get my nipple pierced too.  But I wasn’t that drunk.  I managed to fool them with a clip-on.

And that’s where the night took a left turn.  Women who get their nipples pierced are not necessarily the sort of people who maintain their piercings.  That night, I saw nipple rings draped with lint, thread, toilet paper, and what I presume were baked beans.

Here’s a bit of dialogue I recall from those hours, despite the alcohol haze.  “Honey?  The string from your sleeve is snagging my belly-button ring.”

And do I need to go into how piercings of tongues and genitalia, no matter how generously-intentioned, complicate what really should be a tender moment?  No man can feel entirely comfortable knowing that an orifice may confront his most vulnerable limb with a pointed metal stud.

If the idea is to enhance sexual pleasure, wouldn’t a session with a sex therapist offer more profound gratification without the risk of tetanus?  If the intimacy takes place outside of a therapeutic setting, say inside a penitentiary cell, reading an excerpt from “Tropic of Cancer” to your partner may get the job done and simultaneously arouse a love of literature.