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Story of the Day: 2-7-11


The Legend of Scary Gary Part 8

The Day of the Dude

I went through some rough times in that apartment. I lived there a little over three years. During that time, Don’s acting career started taking off. Every few months he’d bag a national tour or a regional production and leave the city. The first time he left he sublet his bedroom to Jill, which worked out way better than I expected. (Sublet is the past tense of sublet, BTW. There is no such word as subletted. English!) I hadn’t developed much of a relationship with Jill before Don left; they had an on-again, off-again sort of relationship and I was sort of on the onskirts of it all. Gary was as confused as I was.

“Is that his girlfriend, meh?” he’d ask me when Don wasn’t around.

“Not really,” I’d say.

“Phhh,” he’d say. “Not really. I know, meh. I know.” And he’d give me a look that told me he knew.

“Really, I think they’re just friends.”

“Friends!” he’d roar, shaking his head in wonder at my naivete. “Just friends! Come on, meh. Just friends.” I was a little hurt that he didn’t ever ask if Jill was my girlfriend. He seemed to have no problem believing I would just be friends with a girl. But with Don, he was suspicious.

Once Don was gone, Jill and I got along famously. Most nights we’d get stoned and make craft projects. We turned a bunch of boxes into Robot Don and set him in the chair next to the window in tribute to our absent friend. We drew pictures and wrote songs and listened to music and watched movies and had a hell of a time. She took me to her office Christmas party, a black tie affair. We got super drunk on free alcohol and had a purposely awful picture taken that was printed out and inserted into a souvenir snow globe.

Don soon returned and Jill went off to live with her future husband and everything was status quo for another year or so. I got a great job working at a company that made and sold awful syndicated TV shows. Truly abysmal shows like The Highlander and Special Ops Force starring Dennis Rodman. Special Ops Force was funny because it aired for an entire season under the name Soldier of Fortune. It got dismal ratings even though it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s first foray into television, and he is now the most successful human in the television universe. He could pee into a box and some network would put it on as a mid-season replacement. The soldiers of fortune did not quite smile on him on the first go round, though, so the producers stuck Dennis Rodman in it and renamed it Special Ops Force for the second season. And the funny thing about this is that the creators were convinced the SOF was working; they just needed to change what the letters stood for.

Also during this time, I started dating the girl that I’d secretly been pining for since she was in high school and I was in college and I knew it was not kosher for me to like her as much as I did. She was in school at Michigan State at the time. I was making good money at work, so I’d fly back to Michigan or fly her out to New York at least once a month. It was the kind of ridiculous relationship one gets embroiled in when one is young and making more money than a young person should and thinking that’s just how the world works, that it is just that easy to make money.

Things were going great for awhile, but I soon learned a valuable lesson about life: it sucks and if you have any faith that things are going to work out, you’re a dick. In quick succession, my girlfriend dumped me, my company folded, and Don went away on another tour. He couldn’t find anyone to sublet the apartment this time around, so I spent the next three months unemployed and hanging out by myself in a lonely apartment above a man who beat his dog and (allegedly) his mother and had regularly threatened to shoot a machine gun into the ceiling, just for kicks. I had two friends in the world and I almost never saw them, because I was too busy slinking around in my apartment by myself, feeling depressed.

The most Dude-like moment of my life occurred during these months, when I got into an argument on the telephone with an unhelpful employee at the unemployment office who made me so angry I hung up and threw the telephone through a glass table. I watched the table shatter all over the living room and gingerly stepped over the glass and loaded up a bong and sat on the couch in my bathrobe and unshaven face and watched Leave It to Beaver for 6 hours straight before looking for a dustpan.

When I finally cleaned the glass up and took it down to the garbage can, Gary was standing on the stoop waiting for me like a fat snake coiled to flop.

“Hey meh,” he said, “what was that noise I heard?”

“What noise?” I asked, impatiently.

“That noise! In your apartment!”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I broke a glass table.”

“You put it in there?” he asked, pointing to the garbage bag.

“Yes.”

“Phhh,” he said, “you don’t put it in the garbage, meh! That goes in recycling!” Gary sometimes took over recycling watch when his mom wasn’t around. I don’t think he gave a shit about saving the planet; he just loved finding new ways to be an asshole.

“I don’t care,” I said, defiantly. “I’m throwing it away.”

“No!” he bellowed. “We’re gonna get a ticket, meh! Take it out and put it in the recycling!”

I was a man on the edge. For a brief, shining moment, I didn’t give a shit if he shot me with his machine guns or sicced his snakes on me or ordered his dog to snack on my neck. I just couldn’t fucking take it anymore. “Goddammit, Gary!” I shouted. “I don’t give a shit about the recycling right now, okay? If you want to pick the shards of glass out of my garbage and move it to the right can, you can do it. If not, then shut the fuck up and leave me alone.” I slammed the lid down on the garbage can defiantly.

To my shock, the look in Gary’s eyes was not one of anger, but one of hurt. I realized then that I’m a terrible bully. For years, Gary had screamed at us, mocked us, cajoled us into doing his bidding, and gotten under our skin in myriad unique and indescribable ways. Yet the minute he displayed the faintest sign of anguish, I felt nothing but guilt, like I’d just punched a baby in the face.

“Hey, Gary, man …” I began.

“Don’t worry about it, meh,” he said.

“No, you know, I just …”

“Don’t worry about it!” he shouted.

I nodded.

“All right, well, I’m just gonna go …”

“Go, meh,” he said quietly. “Go.”

By the next day, he was back to his old tricks. I will say this: after I exploded on him, he never disrespected me again. If it were anyone else, I might have felt like we had finally come to some kind of understanding. But this was Gary, and Gary understood nothing. Just because he displayed an emotion other than anger doesn’t mean I’d suddenly gotten a glimpse of the complex humanity beneath his gruff exterior. Fuck that guy. He might have been a softer piece of shit than I’d always thought, but he was still a piece of shit.

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Story of the Day: 2-6-11


The Legend of Scary Gary Part 7

Getting High with Gary

At some point, Gary started turning to Don and me to fulfill all of his life’s needs. He couldn’t really do anything on his own. I have no idea how he accomplished anything before we came along. He had no car, I’m not sure if he could read, and he refused to take the subway. He claimed to own a bunch of Cadillacs that he had hidden around the neighborhood, but we could never really figure out why he would hide them and not drive them.

One night when Don was gone I heard a knock on the door. Any time I got a knock on the door I knew it was bad news. Because no one knocked on our door except for Gary, and Gary was always bad news. I opened the door to find him clutching a zip-up lady’s wallet.

“Hey meh,” he said. “I need you to fill something out for me.”

“Um, okay,” I said. I was kind of looking forward to smoking a joint and playing Playstation, but what Gary wanted, Gary got.

We sat down at the kitchen table. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a crumpled up piece of paper, and handed it to me. I unfolded it; it was an application for public assistance.

“Gary, man,” I said, “I can’t fill this out for you. There’s a lot of personal information on this form.”

“Yeah, yeah, meh,” he said, “it’s all here.”

He handed me the wallet. I unzipped it. Inside was Gary’s life. Every official document, every picture, everything. Everything was not much. His entire life fit inside a women’s zip wallet.

He rifled through the wallet, found a tax form, and handed it to me. I filled out as much information as I could, but the form was still about 3/4 blank.

“Okay, Gary,” I said. “I need to ask you some questions.”

“Phhh,” he said. “You don’t need no questions, meh. Forget about it. You’re smart, meh. Just fill it out.”

“Okay, but like, how much did you make last year?” I asked.

“Phhh,” he said. “Don’t worry about it, meh! Just fill it out!”

“Um, okay,” I said. I filled the form out to the best of my abilities and handed it back to him. “Here you go, man,” I said. “I don’t know if this is right.”

“Phhh, right. Of course it’s right! You filled it out, meh!” To Gary, there was no difference between a form filled out and a form filled out correctly. As long as there were letters and numbers in the blanks, I had done a good job.

“All right, man,” I said. Hoping he’d take the hint and leave.

Gary never took a hint. “Hey, meh,” he said, his face widening into a crocodile grin, “I’m gonna get you high.”

I weighed my options. I could A) tell him I was tired and send him on his way, or B) smoke a joint with the craziest motherfucker I’d ever encountered. I know choice A seems like the most logical option. But somewhere in the back of my head a voice was telling me, “if you do not take this opportunity, you will regret it for the rest of your life.”

We moved into the living room. Gary pulled a dirty-looking sack of weed out of his pocket. I handed him a pipe.

“Phhh!” he said. “Pipe! Who needs a pipe? I don’t need no pipe, meh! Gimme some papers!”

Luckily, Don and I were prepared to handle a wide variety of weed-smoking emergencies. If the weed apocalypse were to visit Astoria, we were ready. I opened a drawer on the side table and pulled out a pack of rolling papers. Gary threw the sack in my lap.

“You roll it, meh,” he instructed.

I didn’t want to argue; after all, it was his weed. I sprinkled some of the weed in a sheet of rolling paper and started rolling it up.

“No, meh!” he said. “That’s too skinny! Roll a fatty!”

I took some more weed and sprinkled it on the paper. Gary nodded his head in affirmation.

“That’s a good joint, meh,” he said, approvingly. “You can hit it first.”

I took a hit off the joint and handed it over to him.

“I got hit on the head with a baseball bat ten years ago,” he said, “and now I got the seizure disorder.” He took a toke.

“Does weed help with the seizures?” I asked.

“Phhh, does it help. No!” he yelled, startling me. “I got hit on the head and I got seizures, meh! What do you know about it?” He gave me a cold stare. I was starting to feel like this was maybe not such a good idea.

“Nothing, man,” I said. “I don’t know anything about it.”

He broke into laughter. “Oh meh,” he said. “You don’t know nothing about it.” I became terrified that he was playing with me like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, that any second he was going to pull out one of his machine guns and make me dance.

He took a few more hits of the joint and handed it to me. In for a penny, in for a pound. I took a massive toke and leaned back on the couch. It was really, really good weed. I handed the joint to Gary. He looked at the joint, and then at me. Suddenly, his eyes rolled back in his head. “Gah!” he shouted, and started twitching.

“Jesus!” I screamed. “Gary!”

He opened his eyes and laughed.

“That’s what it looks like when I get the seizure disorders, meh!” he chortled.

I don’t remember how I got him out of the apartment, but he eventually left, taking his forms and his weed and his life wallet with him. Before he left, he showed me a picture from the wallet. In it, a young Gary with long, flowing hair sat on a beautiful beach next to a blond woman. “That’s me, in Armenia, meh,” he said. “I was a hairdresser. That was my girlfriend.”

“Wow,” I said. For a brief moment, I realized that Gary wasn’t always the fat, obnoxious, dog- and mother-beating piece of shit he was today. Before he’d landed in his depressing, snake-filled Astoria apartment he’d been a regular person, with hopes and dreams and a beautiful young girlfriend who he thought he’d be with forever. “Thanks for showing that to me, Gary,” I said, sincerely. “She’s really pretty.”

“Yeah, meh,” he said sadly. “I used to fuck her all the time. All the time, meh.”

“I’m sure you did, Gary,” I said, patting him on the shoulder sympathetically. “I’m sure you did.”

— To be continued —

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Story of the Day: 2-5-11


The Legend of Scary Gary Part 6


The Snakes

Gary loved to make up stories about what he did with his time. What he actually did with his time was hang out on the stoop with his mangy dog and bother us. But in his fantasies, he was the next Scarface.

Of the professions he invented for himself, his favorite was gun-runner. Or gun-sitter, rather. He didn’t run anywhere. People came to him. His stock in trade was machine guns. We first learned about Gary’s side business the way we learned about everything in Gary World: he cornered us as we came home from work and bragged about it to us against our will as we tried in vain to end the conversation.

“Hey meh, you wanna buy a gun?” he asked us.

“We’re good,” we said.

“‘Cause I got guns, meh. I got lots of guns.”

“That’s okay,” we said. “We don’t need a gun.”

We put our key in the lock to the front door, hoping that would give him a sign that the conversation was over.

“I got machine guns, meh. I sell ’em. Don’t try to steal ’em, meh. If you try to steal my guns, I’ll shoot up through the ceiling,” he said.

We removed our key from the lock. This was in the early stage of our relationship with Gary, and we didn’t yet know how seriously we should take his threats.

“We won’t steal your guns,” we said. “We don’t even want a gun. We don’t want anything to do with it.”

“Don’t try to get in my apartment, meh,” he continued. “‘Cause I got snakes.”

“Snakes?” we asked. This was starting to sound a little suspect. “What kind of snakes?”

“Big snakes, meh!” he shouted. One of Gary’s many irritating conversational tics was that he greeted almost everything we said as if we were totally naive, no matter how uncontroversial the topic. Like he could say, “Hey meh, you got your keys?” and we’d say, “yes,” and he’d say, “Phhhh, what do you mean you got your keys, meh? You don’t got no keys!”

But back to the snakes. “Yeah, meh,” he said, “I got big snakes. And if you try to get in my apartment, they’ll bite you.”

“Aren’t they in a cage?” we asked.

“No, meh!” he shouted. “Phhhh, a cage!” as if keeping your snakes in a cage was the dumbest idea he’d ever heard. “They just slither around, meh! And if you try to take my guns, they’ll bite you!”

“All right, Gary,” we said, “we won’t steal your guns.”

“You better not, meh,” he said.

“We won’t,” we insisted.

“You better not.”

“We gotta go now, Gary,” we said.

“Go, meh,” he said. “Stay out of my apartment.”

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Story of the Day: 2-4-11


The Legend of Scary Gary Part 5

Garo Zamrutian is the only person I’ve ever met who had absolutely no redeeming qualities. He was the person for whom the word “odious” was invented. He was odiousness and odiosity made flesh. He looked like a pile of shit, he had nothing but evil thoughts, and he hated everyone who wasn’t white, straight, and/or Armenian.

He wasn’t always that way, or so we heard. Primarily from Gary himself. He loved to tell the story about how he got hit on the head with a baseball bat years ago and now he has the seizure disorder. Those were exactly the words he used when he told us the story. “Hey man,” he’d say. He sounded kind of like Cheech from Cheech & Chong, like he said “meh” instead of “man.” “Hey meh,” he’d say, “I got hit on the head with a baseball bat and now I’ve got the seizure disorder.” He told us this story every other time we ran into him, always unprompted. It was his catchphrase.

Son of Talgot confirmed Gary’s story. He wasn’t sure whether it was a random beating or if Gary was involved in something illegal. Gary was pretty cagey about what happened, so I would assume he was partly at fault. But according to Son of Talgot, Gary was a relatively normal guy before the accident. The beaters must have knocked his frontal lobe out of whack or something. We felt a little bad for Gary the first time we heard that he told us the story. After the tenth time, we wished he would shut up. After the fiftieth time, we wanted him dead.

It would have been a lot easier to have sympathy for Gary if he wasn’t such an unconscionable bastard. On top of being a dog-beater, which we observed with our own eyes often, we had suspicions he beat his mother. Twice in the time we lived above her she had black eyes. When we asked her about them, she’d say things like, “Fall … chair … waters … no trash.” To be fair, she was nearly blind, so if she ever actually had cause to stand on a chair, chances are she would fall off. But what kind of 80 year-old woman gets black eyes? Twice? Ones who are being beaten, that’s … what kind.

The bruises weren’t our only tip-off; about once a month, we’d hear Gary fly into a rage-filled tantrum through our floorboards. His Hitleresque screams, pulsing with fury and hatred, still haunt my nightmares. We never knew what he was angry about because his tantrums were in Armenian. But we knew he was yelling at his mother – throughout the tantrum her mousine squeaks would interrupt his screams, ramping his rage up to ever-greater heights. We never heard anything that sounded like physical violence, but I’m not sure what we would have done even if we had. We were prisoners in our own apartment … if the police showed up, they would not have done anything, and there would have been no question which tenants in the building made the call. He wouldn’t blame the Talgots, I’m sure of that, and the Egyptians flew so far under the radar we all pretty much forgot they were there. And after the police left, we would still be in our apartment, right above a lunatic who was prone to fits of fury and who now hated our guts. We weighed our options and decided if Blueberry Ankles had managed to live this long with that nutcase in the next room, she must know how to handle him.

All that having been said … and that’s a lot for me to admit, that I sat by like a scared rabbit as a man beat his dog and possibly his own mother … Gary was not all terror. He was all terrible. But after awhile, we began to see him as all talk, no action. He had no trouble kicking a defenseless dog and slapping an old woman (again: unconfirmed), but he had a strange respect for Don and me. I feel horrible even thinking this, but we were probably his best friends. At no time did we ever like or respect Gary, but as a source of ridicule, he was unparalleled. The comedy begins … tomorrow.

And by tomorrow, I mean later today. I’m really behind on the story of the day.

— To be continued —

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Story of the Day: 2-3-11


The Legend of Scary Gary Part 4

21-20 22nd Drive was a nightmare of a place, a Hell on earth. It meant well, for the most part. And it didn’t really bother us for the first two years we lived there … we were just psyched to be living in New York. But once we saw how fucked up that place was, we could never unsee it, like the penis on a pack of Camel cigarettes.

There were four apartments in the building. Our apartment was on the second floor. Next door to us were the landlady, Mrs. Talgot, and her troll of a husband. When I say he was a troll, I don’t mean it facetiously. He was an actual, living troll, straight out of a Grimm fairy tale. He had long, greasy greenish-white hair and he appeared to be in his early hundreds. His VW van was completely rusted over and it was filled to bursting with old, broken things and the bones of goats and children.

On the Talgot’s mailbox, underneath their name, Mr. Talgot had written “Talgot Frut Distribs” in a childlike scrawl. A few times a week, we would leave our apartment to find a giant box of rotting cantaloupes or maggot-infested apples sitting in the hallway, stinking up the place. I’m not sure who he was distribbing these fruts to, but I hope they had other ways of getting vitamin C.

The Talgots had a son in his 30s who either lived there or just came over to visit all the time. He always had some kind of get-rich-quick scheme percolating. I asked him once why he didn’t just get involved in the family fruit empire, and he turned serious. “The old man’ll die before I get a piece of that action,” he said. I didn’t have the heart to tell him his father was one of the undead.

In the apartment below the Talgots lived two guys known only as the Egyptians. They were very mysterious. I only saw them three or four times in the entire time I lived there. The only thing we knew about them was that they never made a peep and they had a taste for the kind of women who took reservations, if you get my drift. In a post-9/11 world, we might have suspected the Egyptians of being a terrorist cell, but back then they just seemed inconsequential.

Next door to the Egyptians, beneath our apartment, lived the biggest piece of shit to ever slither out of the womb, a 300-pound Armenian former hairdresser named Garo Zamrutian, a/k/a Scary Gary. Gary looked exactly like Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces. Like Ignatius, he lived with his mother, an ancient, unwashed woman with Coke-bottle glasses and a single tooth who wore the same, stained muumuu day out and day in. We called her Blueberry Ankles on account of the prominent varicose veins on her legs. Which was just awful of us … she had the hardest life of anyone on the planet, having to live with that horrorshow of a son.

Still, she was no paragon of decency herself; her only joy in life came from rifling through our garbage, removing items that could have gone in the recycling bin, and presenting them to us with a disapproving lecture in severely broken English. Like, she would go into the trashcan, tear open our bags of garbage, and pull out nasty old cartons of moldy food, then put them somewhere so she could show them to us the next time we left the building. And she’d stare at us with that single-toothed grin and say things like, “This … can … bag … no good.” This happened at least once a week for the four years we lived there. And despite our rude nicknames, we really couldn’t be mean to an old, nearly blind woman, so we’d listen patiently to her lectures while secretly wishing she would fall into one of her beloved trash cans and get carted off to a landfill.

We moved into the apartment in the fall of 1997. Jill and Don drove out in a U-Haul and my dad and I followed them a few days later. As I found out when I arrived, the trouble with Gary started the minute Don and Jill started unpacking the truck. According to Don, Gary insisted on helping them unload. Which would have been great if he’d actually bothered to pick up an object and carry it into the apartment. Instead, he stood by the truck and told them they were lifting things the wrong way for the 2 hours it took them to unload everything. Which was a very Gary thing to do … like his mother, he liked nothing better than to lecture you about what you were doing wrong. And his advice was never, ever useful. Like, you’d wear a new pair of shoes, and he’d say, “hey man, how much did you pay for those shoes?” and no matter what price you told him, he’d say, “Phhhh, that’s stupid, man. That’s too expensive. You shouldn’t pay that much for shoes. Why would you buy shoes? You’re stupid, man.” Like, literally, he would question why you would ever buy shoes. And if you tried to argue with him about it, he’d get angry. “No no no no, man,” he’d say, “You don’t buy shoes! You just get them! You know what I’m saying? You just get shoes!”

It took about two weeks for this act to get old and about three for it to become downright torturous. And we couldn’t avoid him, because he spent every minute of every day guarding the front stoop with his mangy, terrifying pit bull on a leash next to him. That pit bull was a fucking menace and it was because Gary beat the living hell out of him several times a day. He was scrawny and underfed and had this crazed look in his eye like he was just one kick away from ripping out Gary’s jugular and tossing it in our trashcan so Blueberry Ankles could find it and accuse us of fucking up the recycling.

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Story of the Day: 2-2-11


The Legend of Scary Gary Part 3

Before we could move to New York, we needed a place to move to. Luckily, Don knew an old queen with an apartment in Spanish Harlem where we could crash for a week while we looked for a place. Don’s straight, but he was a musical theater major who worked out all the time, so old queens fell all over themselves to give him the keys to their apartments.

The day we left, Don informed me that we had to stop and pick up his friend Jill on the way. I had no idea anyone was going with us, but Don was the master of the ol’ switcheroo. And more often than not, the switcheroo was directly connected to the possibility of Don getting laid.

Jill was okay, but I didn’t really get much of a chance to connect with her. That is to say, I thought she was just okay at the time … over time we became really close. But that’s a story for another time. On the apartment-hunting trip, at least, we didn’t become best friends. Part of the problem was that she and Don were both musical theater people, and they forced me to listen to the Rent soundtrack all the way to New York and back while they harmonized along in musical theatery vibratos. That was most of the problem actually. The other part of the problem was that she and Don seemed to have a thing for each other and I was the giggling jackass who had invited myself along to their party. But if this was what it took to get me out of my pathetic post-collegiate haze, then I was prepared to suffer.

My roommate Jesse in Ann Arbor was from New York, so before we left, I asked him how to find an apartment once we got there. He told me to check the back of The Village Voice. So as soon as we got to New York, I stopped into the nearest convenience store … which I soon learned was called a “bodega” in New York … and bought a copy of the Voice. New Yorkers will immediately recognize the rookie mistake in that statement – the Voice is free. The guy at the bodega wasn’t even sure how much to charge. He was polite enough to take my money when I offered it, though.

The Voice turned out to be useless. Unless you woke up at 5 AM on Wednesday, the day it came out, there was no chance of you getting a no-fee apartment. We had to go the other route, which was to hire a broker. I’m not sure if it still works this way, but back then, apartment brokers in New York took it from both ends. The landlord would pay them to find a renter, and the renter would pay them to find an apartment. It was not cheap, either; one and ½ month’s rent was typical. My second apartment was right above the realty office. I paid the broker something like $1500 to unlock the upstairs’ door.

After a few days of hunting, we found a place in Astoria, Queens, right off the Ditmars stop on the N/R line. It was small, but good enough for two people. Good enough for two people. Not quite so good for three. But Jill couldn’t find a place, so three it became, with the agreement that Jill would move out after we had settled and gotten our bearings. I was somewhat annoyed with this arrangement, having little interest in becoming a third wheel in my own apartment.

I soon learned that three wheels weren’t nearly enough. We needed four wheels, five wheels. We need an army. It was the only way we were going to survive living upstairs from Scary Gary.

— to be continued —

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