Much like someone who’s been exposed to cosmic rays or fallen into a vat of chemicals, I have developed a very rare and useful power. Those who know me might think I’m referring to my dead-on Cosby impression, or my uncanny ability to pee in two different directions at the same time, but I’m talking about something way better. I have the capacity to not only tolerate, but actually enjoy the very worst that life has to offer.

Whether it’s TV, music, movies, or food/drink, I get a kick out of the bottom rung. So if you’re serving runny Mexican cheese made in someone’s bathtub, I’ll enjoy it. God-awful synth-pop music of the 80’s? No problem. Urkel marathon on TV? Bring it on. I don’t actively seek out these things, but I do like trying to figure out how their creators could miss the mark by such a wide margin.

This power has come in handy at times. Once, I was on a long flight, and the movies being shown were Inspector Gadget and Jack Frost. Truly, that’s a double bill dreamed up by Satan himself. But whereas everyone else groaned and tried to pass the time by reading the back of airsickness bags, I settled in to enjoy the appalling antics of Matthew Broderick and Michael Keaton.

“Cougarhood is a natural stage of a woman’s development, somewhere between early adulthood and menopause.”

A few years ago, I began to question what this said about me. Maybe it’s not right that I enjoy things that everyone else hates. Am I simply finding comedy in the crappiness, going through life like a wiseass commentator? Or was I finding some genuine sliver of value in the inherently worthless?

I decided to put this ability to the test. By now, you should know that one of my favorite hobbies, besides ostrich polo, is barhopping. And my hometown has dozens, if not hundreds of really classy, fun joints where the atmosphere is friendly, the drinks are tasty, and there’s plenty of cleavage to stare at through the bottom of an empty pint glass.

But there are also bars so horrible, they’re only discussed in a hushed whisper. And you would never, ever seriously consider going to one of them, unless you were being forced at knifepoint by an escaped mental patient. I resolved to seek out these places on the world’s worst bar crawl. I might not make it back alive, but at least I’d discover if my standards were… well… substandard.

For this night of self-induced punishment, I enlisted the company of three close friends: Mike, Matt, and Moose (this bar crawl brought to you by the letter “M”). If those names sound odd, I’ll remind my American readers that approximately 1 in 12 Canadians is nicknamed “Moose.” And when they showed up at my door, I was far less concerned with alliteration than with what they were wearing.

Since the stated aim of the bar crawl was to experience the worst of the worst, they decided we should dress the part. To that end, they bought the cheapest, nastiest, most mismatched clothes imaginable. But the critical thing was that these ensembles were credible. They didn’t look like Halloween costumes, but something put together by someone who genuinely didn’t know any better.

In order to articulate how bad these clothes were, this sentence would have to magically come to life and kick you in the balls. Matt was wearing grandfatherly blue pants with an extremely faggy electric blue silk shirt. Moose sported a plaid shirt with a pair of hysterically nightmarish yellow pants. Mike had on some kind of orange number that was easily visible from space. I had a good laugh, then I saw what they brought for me.

Coming in at under 5 bucks was a black and white checkerboard pattern silk shirt, made of material so thin, you could see each and every one of my back hairs poking out when I put it on. Add to that a pair of green pants that left nothing to the imagination. We all looked like Israeli pimps, but anyone who saw me in those pants could tell I was the Jewish one.

Our first destination was a little bar called The Red Lantern, located not 100 steps from my building. Normally, a neighborhood pub is a real boon, but having this place around sent property values plummeting, I’m sure. Everything about The Red Lantern was designed to be as unwelcoming as possible, from the dilapidated interior to the equally dilapidated clientele.

It’s also kind of a rough place. The regulars were a working class lot, and I think I remember someone wearing an honest-to-god eye patch. I began wondering how we managed to find the cantina from fucking Mos Eisley. The bar went dead silent as we entered. People didn’t know what to make of us. That was fine by me, as long as they didn’t settle on “sodomy partners.”

Looking for all the world like a quartet of gay rodeo clowns, we made our way to a table. The waitress on duty was a gravelly-voiced veteran who’d seen it all, and probably wouldn’t hesitate to stick a shiv in you at the first sign of trouble. We ordered some drinks and decided to play a game of pool, all the better to cover up the snickering.

The pool table was a real gem, replete with scratched felt, mysterious surface lumps, and what appeared to be gravy stains, though I didn’t investigate that too closely. Also problematic was the fact that one too few balls emerged when we fed the table enough quarters. I was in favor of finding the manager, but Mike pointed out to me that it’s usually better to avoid situations where you’re likely to be impaled by a cue stick.

So, after a game of newly-invented “handicap(ped) pool” we ordered a few more rounds. In keeping with the theme, I was drinking the worst, cheapest beer available. I won’t name names, and I hope the Anheuser-Busch company appreciates that. I had one last quarter left over from Handi-Pool, so I decided to drop it into a Pac-Man machine. Of course The Red Lantern would have Pac-Man.

With arcade games getting more and more complicated, it was nice to see an old standby from my childhood. Besides, I really identify with Pac-Man. Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in a maze. When I get really fucked up, ghosts chase me. And occasionally, I eat some fruit. We’re two of a kind. This machine wasn’t a stand-up model, but one of those tabletop deals, with cigarette burns and a greasy joystick for added pleasure.

Normally, I suck at all video games, but on that night, I was unstoppable. Old Pac racked up so many points that surely Mrs. Pac-Man gave him one hell of a blowjob when he got home. Slut. But my friends were too impatient to get to the next bar. They dragged me out of there, before I could even think of a good three-letter swear word to enter as my high-score initials.

The next destination was an underground joint called The Lazy Lizard. By “underground” I don’t mean only the A-Team can find it, but literally beneath street level. That’s okay, because one drink there will have you praying for the nearby mercies of hell. The Red Lantern was a dive, but at least it was honest; the Lazy Lizard seemed to be making a genuine attempt at adequacy, and failing worse than an Iraqi Olympic bid.

For seating purposes, the owners staggered a few picnic tables as an afterthought. Hey, my ass doesn’t need a goose-down cushion, but a chair isn’t an unreasonable expectation at a bar. Moreover, these weren’t even particularly good picnic tables; I’m talking peeling paint flaking all over the place, rusty nails sticking out at odd angles, and several carved messages questioning my mother’s virtue.

The Lazy Lizard’s big draw was an outdoor patio. In other words, the owners roped off an area outside the front door and hoped for the best. But they must have forgotten to tell the wait staff about it. Truth is, I’m not sure I saw a single bartender, waiter or waitress the entire time I was there. Since our sexy shirts offered more of a visual treat than actual torso warmth, we gave up on the patio and went inside.

I guess I’ll never know how a bar can remain profitable if there’s no one in charge to exchange money for booze. But I must have acquired more alcohol somehow, because at this point my beer goggles were setting in. And I was only looking at the picnic tables. Getting one back to my place would have been difficult, but, oh, the fun we’d have had!

The next stop on our Tour of Doody was a slightly more respectable pub called Kramer’s. Nowadays, that name evokes images of unwarranted racism, thanks to Michael Richards. I can safely report that his namesake bar beat him to the punch by many years. The clientele inside was as white as a West Texas gun club. Not that our foursome added to the racial diversity. At least our insane clothes didn’t even seem so out of place.

We soon found the underlying reason for this disparity: Karaoke night. It’s no stereotype; older white dudes really love to rock out to Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. It was like going on safari and confirming that lions do in fact enjoy the taste of zebra meat. Not much of a revelation, but still kind of horrifyingly cool to see.

The temptation of karaoke on our Bad Bar Crawl was too good to pass up. Emboldened by my valiant intake of alcohol, I volunteered for some Revenge Karaoke, a game that I described in an earlier article. Basically, I was bound to sing any one song that my friends could choose for me. I knew the “revenge” part would probably never come, but I was too wasted to care. I could always just puke on their shoes when the time was right.

My colleagues had a brief conference, and minutes later, I found myself belting out a crappy song (Rod Stewart’s “If Ya Think I’m Sexy”), in the middle of a crappy bar filled with crappy people, wearing crappy clothes, and drunk from crappy beer. And yet, somehow, it was a great moment.

From there, it was on to the night’s final destination, The Unicorn. This is a moderately popular place, with cheap drinks, and even a small but lively dance floor. What qualified it for inclusion in the Crawl of the Damned was the fact that it’s a known hotspot for woman of, ahem, a more advanced age. And like a demented Dian Fossey, I was about to study some gorillas in the mist.

Cougarhood is a natural stage of a woman’s development, fitting in somewhere between early adulthood and menopause. That’s all our best male scientists have been able to figure out. Maybe there’s some kind of hormonal impulse to seek out guys whose dads might have rejected you 15 years ago. Don’t get cocky, girls, it could happen to you, and probably will.

Cougars shouldn’t be a source of amusement, but try telling that to the 45-year-old divorcee crammed into a halter-top designed to hide varicose veins and mitigate drooping. We weren’t at the Unicorn for 15 minutes before it happened. The air grew thick with the scent of cheap perfume and desperation. We felt hungry eyes upon us. And suddenly, Matt and I were cornered by two past-their-prime specimens.

I won’t lie to you; I was tempted. A formidable amount of alcohol was dulling my wits and here was a woman made willing and eager by years of loneliness and neglect, or so I presumed. How bad could it be? Maybe she wasn’t attractive in the traditional sense, but I bet she could bake a mean cookie, and that should count for something.

Then, she mentioned something or other about her son’s college major, and I snapped back to my senses instantly. Most of my readers are college kids, and it’s hard enough trying to entertain you without having to be a daddy to one of you. It was time to make good our escape.

Inspired by the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops, I devised an ingenious plan. While Matt distracted the leathery monsters, I grabbed two lemon wedges from the bar. Then, when the time was right, I squeezed those lemons right into their eyes, temporarily blinding them. We made a run for it, and didn’t stop until we were safely away. I always knew that mythology would come in handy for something.

For me, the Bad Bar Crawl was, if nothing else, a night of revelations. My goals for the evening were to a) get drunk, b) have a good time, c) determine whether or not my value system was fundamentally flawed, and d) maybe hook up. In retrospect, 3 for 4 ain’t too bad. That’s how Barry Bonds does on a good night, and I didn’t even need steroids.

I figured out that tastes are mostly random, and don’t really need to be questioned or justified. If, like me, you can tolerate RC Cola and Olsen twin movies, more power to you. Someone has to comprise the lowest common denominator, and it might as well be us. And when it comes to the truly important things in life, I prefer the high road to the dirt road.

Essential New Word of the Week:

cancerbowl [‘kænser r‘bol] n

Hanging out with smokers (both tobacco and weed) always gives one a keen insight into the way humans organize their lives. Some smokers are scatterbrained, always searching for a lighter or an ashtray, whereas some are meticulously organized. It’s the organized ones that interest me. Inevitably they’ll have a vessel, filled with roach clips, rolling papers, various means of starting fire, etc. It’s like a reward package for winning an immunity challenge on “Survivor: Pothead.” Given its contents and their purpose, this vessel is called a cancerbowl. I don’t know if that name deters anyone from smoking, because it sounds like a fun charity event or a really awesome college football game.