Stain


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I got my first pair of glasses in middle school.

I think it was sixth grade.

It’s a weird thing, prescriptive eye correction. You don’t really know you need it until someone else tells you that you need it. I had to sit in the back of Mr. Moreno’s class and I couldn’t see the board. I didn’t find it a problem, just moderately annoying, sort of like the gum that was stuck under the tables. The gum wasn’t annoying unless I accidentally touched it. The board wasn’t annoying unless someone asked me to read it.

I went to the coast land center mall and got my first pair of glasses. They were metal, green and heavy. I remember walking outside and not really noticing my eyesight was that much better until I looked at the palm trees lording over the parking lot.

They had individual strands in their palm fronds, making them look like giant, green feathers.

I’d never known that. I had just thought they were a giant leaf, like the plastic palm fronds in my Ancient Egyptian cursed tomb Lego set.

It took me another week, but I started to notice something else, too.

Everything was dirty.

When you have bad eyesight, you can’t see the dog hair on the carpet.You can’t spot the scuffs on the tile floor. You can’t see the dirt marks on the wall. You can’t see the stains in the ceiling.

When you’re half blind, it’s all clean.

But now…

Everything was tainted.

I hated it.

My parents used to look so young, but now…

Now they had wrinkles.

I wanted to go back, back to that fuzzy world where everything was clean and my parents were eternally young.

I couldn’t, though. I had to read the board in Mr. Moreno’s class.

As the years went by, I didn’t notice the dirt anymore.

I got used to it.

At some point, I started to notice the opposite.

I’d see somebody walking to class without a blemish on her face and I’d wonder “are you real?” I’d be at the pool and someone would have no body hair at all and I’d want to ask him “are you a human?” I’d go into somebody’s house and there wouldn’t be a stain in the whole place and I would almost say “why did you bring me here? Let’s hang out where you live.”

People are dirty. They make dirt. If there’s someone you know who isn’t dirty, then they probably aren’t a person.

I’m not saying clean people aren’t people. Most of them are.

No, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

I’m just saying what I want.

I want dirt.

Give me stains.

I take my glasses off and I look around and  think:

I don’t want this bright and clean world. Give me shadow and stain.

I don’t want this museum. Give me a place that’s lived in.

I don’t want somebody perfect. I want someone real.

Give me a waterlogged notebook. I wan’t it’s cover cracked and dyed with watermarks from blood and tears and sweat. I hope you dropped it in a puddle at one point. I hope you remember why.

I hope the words aren’t pretty. I hope they are scrawled almost illegible by a woman whose hand just can’t keep up with her brain. I want reading you to be like solving a riddle, cracking a code, finding the rosetta stone.

I hope your shoe has a hole in it.

I hope your right glasses lens is scratched.

I hope you have a scar on your knee from when you fell off a bicycle. I hope it didn’t heal correctly because you got back on the bike and kept riding anyway because you didn’t want your sister to get too far ahead and your parents had told you they’d get you a cappuccino when you made it to the coffee shop on third street and you love cappuccino even though your only twelve and everyone tells you twelve-year-olds should drink yohoo and coffee will stunt your growth and you know it doesn’t and but you’re a little worried that it does.

I don’t want a pristine world.

I don’t want a clean life.

I want a dirty life. A messy one.

I want a life that, when someone walks into it, they look around at all the underwear and beer cans on the floor and they crinkle their nose at the week old, half-empty coffee mugs on my desk and they glance at my unmade bed and they look at the water stains on my ceiling and they see the plates and the socks and the hair ties and the quarters and wrappers and they everything all over they place and they know.

They know that somebody lives here.

I want a dirty life, rough around the edges and stained.

I hope you have one too.

Those are the interesting sort.

 

Smarts


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He stood at the condiment bar and shouted into his phone.

What the fuck are you talking about? He screeched. Who the fuck told you you were smart? I’m the smart one in the family. I’m the fucking smart one. You’re not fucking smart. I’m the fucking smart one.

Caramelized honey latte, sir? I asked. I slid the cup toward him.

He looked up and gave me the friendliest smile I’d seen all day.

Sure! Thanks!

His voice was so jolly it made my teeth hurt. He took the drink from me and then turned back into his phone.

I’m the fucking smart one. Not you. Not the FUCK you.

I stared at him. He put some sugar in his already sweet drink.

No, he said. No, no, no. Fucking NO! FUCKING NO.

He walked away.

I kept staring.

And I wondered…

What could the other person have possibly said?

I’m assuming it was his brother that he was talking to. Did he call up and say hey brother, guess what? The IQ test came in and… well,, it’s 215. I’m a genius.

The man on the phone, the smart one in the family, probably took this really hard.

When he and all of his siblings came out of Mom, she had labeled them all. She had lined them up in a row and pointed to them, one at a time, and said to anyone around exactly what she thought they would be when they got older.

That’s the smart one, Mom said when the smart one came out.

This one’s the pretty one.

This one’s the dumb one.

This one’s the athletic one.

But this one? The first one? That’s right. He’s my special boy. He’s the smart one.

His whole life the smart one lived in the shadow of his mothers fateful pronouncement. He learned to talk first and it made him seem smarter than his babbling siblings. He walked while his kindred were still crawling around on the floor like slugs. He pooped in the toilet while brothers and sisters pooped their diapers and cried about it.

He was the smart one.

He wasn’t good at sports but that was okay because he was the smart one. He let go of the bat when he swung it, his footballs flopped out of his arms like drunk bananas when he threw them, and he considered it in the hoop if he hit the backboard with his basketball but all of this was fine because he wasn’t the athletic one, he was the smart one.

He wasn’t good at school but that was okay because he was just too advanced for his classes. The other dumb-dumbs held him back. Especially his brother the dumb one. Mom got him in the advanced program later that year, where he barely managed to advance to each grade.

Each time.

He was an alternate on the scholar bowl team. Mom couldn’t explain away that one. She didn’t try to. She just told everyone he was on the team and left it at that, and when they won the county championship she told anyone who would listen that it was the smart one’s doing.

It wasn’t, though.

But they probably didn’t know that.

The smart one didn’t get into the Ivy league. He went to State and eventually failed out. Mom didn’t say anything this time.

She didn’t say anything because she was in the hospital. Again.

Cancer’s a bitch.

The smart one took care of her as his siblings graduated college one by one, especially the dumb one. They all silently enjoyed the schadenfreude of the smart one’s fall from grace. They pursued careers while the smart one held his mothers hand as she lay in the hospital bed and told her it’s okay, mama. The smart one’s here. The smart one’s here for you. Tell me what you need.

She couldn’t articulate it half the time. She couldn’t remember him half the time. In the back of her eyes, though, in the back of her eyes the smart one saw the old fire of the woman who named all of her kids smart, dumb athletic and pretty when they were born, and goddamn it, she was right.

She had to have been right.

The dumb one got his novel published a week before Mom died. He called to tell her, but she was asleep and the smart one didn’t relay the message when she woke up.

The smart one was there with her the whole time. He had taken a part time job as the guy who takes parking tickets at the hospital so he could always be close.

He was with her at 2:38 AM when it happened. He felt the strength drain form her hands, and he saw that old fire go out.

No one else was there. It was horrible.

The smart one didn’t know what to do.

So he left the hospital and went to a Starbucks to get some caramelized honey latte and his brother called him.

The dumb one.

Hey brother, the test came back and my IQ is 215. I’m a genius.

The smart one’s stomach clenched up like rigor mortis.

He hand’t told anyone yet. He hand’t told any of them. They hardly ever visited. Would they even care.

He cared.

He was the smart one.

He was.

And then he was gone.

I watched him as he walked away. He didn’t have the gait of someone who’s mom just died.

He walked like an asshole who would yell at his brother over the phone that he wasn’t allowed to be smart because he was the fucking smart one in the family, not him.

He walked like a jerk.

I don’t know how I would walk if my Mom just died. Probably normally.

So I just watched him.

And I picked up a rag.

And I wiped down the bar.

And I put the rag away.

And I went back to making drinks.

And I thought:

No one would call somebody and say the test just came back! My IQ is 215! I’m a genius. It sounds like something from a bad movie.

Nobody would say that.

So I wonder…

I just wonder.

And make the next drink.

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If I were a serial killer


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If I were a serial killer I’d murder people in the drive through at In and Out Burger.

It’d be so easy. No one would be able to drive away, and no one would want to get out and help because they’d be on their phones. They’re always on the phone, especially in the infinite line at 10:30 pm at an In and Out Burger.

I’d go up to the driver side windows and tap the glass with a knife. It’d be a long knife, one of those scary ones you’ve always assumed hillbillies would kill you with if they only got the chance.

It would have been my dad’s knife. He’d have shown he how to skin a deer, but he never would have imagined the uses I’d put it to.

I’d tap the glass, and they’d glance over at me. Their fear would be delicious, like a double double animal style hold the lettuce.

People tapping on your window isn’t that weird in LA, but it is weird when they do it with a knife.

I’d be wearing a black hoodie and have a big, bushy beard.

It’d be dirty.

It’d have burger bits in it.

I’d grin and my gold tooth would show and then I’d duck down under the car. It’d make things scarier.They’d try to find me but they never would. They’d be too distracted by the Facebook or the Twitter. By the little lights blinking on their phone’s screen.

I’d get them in the end. If I were a serial killer, I always would.

If I were a serial killer.

I’m not, though. Most people aren’t.

You read about stuff. You see a headline, you see a Facebook status, you see a flag as someone’s profile picture, you catch a little phrase on the Facebook trending bar, and you get scared.

They mostly put scary stuff on that trending bar. They mostly put scary stuff in headlines.

They don’t do it for any insidious reason.

It’s just that bad news sells.

Bad news sells, and everyone knows things are getting worse.

There was a time in the Roman Empire when people realized things were as good as they were ever going to get.

“This is it,” people would say to each other, “it ain’t going to get any better.”

“Yep,” the would agree, “I’m afraid this is it.”

“Things are only getting worse,” they’d say.

“Worse and worse.”

Can you imagine what the Facebook trading bar was like back then?

Full of bad news, or bad news that was on its way, or bad news that could happen.

Full of scary headlines.

You see stuff like that and you get scared.

You get scared and you go to In and Out Burger at close to midnight and you think about how easy it would be fore some psycho to kill everyone in line and no one would be able to get away or notice everyone else was dead until it was too late.

But most people are good people. They aren’t serial killers.

But it’d be easy to imagine they weren’t good people.

You don’t have to though.

It’d be so easy.

But you don’t have to.

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Tiny, little flickerings


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I play music in a place called Bedrock, L.A.

It’s in Echo Park.

I play music in a part of town with Echo in its name.

I think Bedrock used to be some sort of factory. There’s an old-timey conveyor belt installed next to the metal stairs that lead to the second floor. Rob told me you can put your gear on it and it will convey it to the top for you.

I didn’t believe him. I think it doesn’t work.

Bedrock has dozens of practice rooms. It also has a game room with pinball, video games and air hockey and a professional recording studio. There’s a front office where you can buy strings, rent gear and pay a dollar for shitty earplugs.

I always pay a dollar because I always forget where I left my shitty earplugs I bought the last time.

My favorite thing about Bedrock is when you first walk in. The parking lot is full of cars. If you park behind a car you have to let the office know where you will be so you can move if the person in front of you needs to leave.

All of the cars are beat up and old. That’s how you know real musicians come here.

You see all sorts of people hanging out at the picnic tables on the loading dock. Grunge guys, death metal, electro-pop. folk, and even some traditional mexican music groups. They all hang out and smoke and drink and are pretty friendly.

I like saying hi to whoever’s there, but that’s not the best part.

The best part is walking to our room.

Our practice room is on the second floor, so we have to carry my gear through the labyrinthine first floor, up the stairs and then through the long hallways of the second floor until we finally get to room 85.

Since bedrock is predominantly a practice space, none of the rooms are very sound proof. You can hear everything everyone is playing. All the sounds, the rhythms, the melodies, the lyrics. You can hear the collaboration and the fights. The arguments and the “dude, that was sweet”s.

You can hear the music.

That’s not my favorite part.

My favorite part is imaging what’s behind the door.

Who’s in the rooms.

I carry my amp past an orange door. Electronic music that sounds like a west coast CHVRCHES blasts through the cracks, and then , as if through a porthole, I see two women standing at synthesizers.

They’re dressed in ragged tank tops, black and white, and have half their heads shaved. One of them wears a lot of bracelets. The other one has tattoos.

They bob up and down with the music, turning knobs and pressing buttons in perfects synchronization. They never look at each other. They don’t say anything. They’re familiar with each other. More than familiar.

The song ends and the hug. It’s a familiar hug. More than familiar?

They might kiss then, but I don’t think they do. They’re too excited. The new track rules. I heard it through the door and I agree. It does rule.

They laid on their ratty, red couch the light before. Bracelets’ head was in tattoo’s lap. Tattoo had a legal pad and they were writing down lyrics.

Lyrics or poetry? What’s the difference. I’m not sure.

They’re not fighting. Not this night. They’re synchronized, just like they will be the night before. Tattoo says something funny and bracelets hits her. It’s a gentle hit.A familiar one.

The music…

It reminds me of a time I stood on top of a giant rock in St. Andrews, Scotland. I wore a trench coat and a red scarf. It was a nice day and so I my coat unzipped.

I hated zipping it up. My coat was tan. I always thought people would think I was a flasher.

There were just enough clouds in the sky to be gorgeous and I looked along the coastline.

My, how different it was from Florida. Florida is full of things, and it’s beautiful because of them. Scotland is full of nothing and beautiful because of it. A friend of mine once got mad at me because I told him Scotland was more beautiful than Hawaii.

“Hawaii has palm trees and waterfalls and volcanoes and is green! It’s gorgeous. What does Scotland have?”

“None of that,” I answered. I took a bite of the Thai red curry I was eating.

“Exactly,” He said. I think he crossed his arms.

“Exactly,” I agreed. He made a face, and I smiled.

They start up a new song and my hand gets tired. I shift the amp to my left arm and keep going.

I pass another door. Drums blast through the cheap wood. A syncopated beat. Bum bum bum BAP bum, bumbumbumbumbum BAP bum. Ratta ta tatta ta tatta ta bum bum bum BAP bum, bumbumbumbumbum BAP bum.

I hear the clack of sticks slamming down on the snare’s rim and someone yelling “fuck”.

He’s got long hair, not because he likes it, but because he doesn’t have time for hair. He doesn’t have time for anything except his job. That’s why he’s somehow both thin in some spots like his arms but overweight in other spots like his waist.

He’s an accountant and he’s been putting in the extra hours because Kate had told him there was talk of giving him a promotion. He stayed at his desk so late for so long that the light bulb burned out of his lamp. The whole office was dark and he had to wander around using his phone as a flashlight until he found the office supplies and got a new light bulb.

He could only find a fluorescent. He hated the slightly green light it throws over his spreadsheets, but he knew that he’d have his own office soon and could put whatever lights he wanted in there.

His girlfriend wouldn’t stop calling him. He didn’t answer. He had to get the spreadsheets done. He just avoided her.

He couldn’t avoid her when he got home at two AM. Well, he didn’t actually see her. He saw her note, though, and the angry, jagged writing. He saw the wet spots on the paper, and he went into the bathroom and saw the extra space, saw that half the sink was now empty, saw a small colony of bacteria that until three hours ago was hidden by the charging station for her electric toothbrush.

He took the next day off work and rented out a practice space.

He hadn’t played drums for years.

Not since high school, when he and his friends would sit in the attic and smoke weed and listen to led zeppelin in the dark and dream about the future. It was easy back then. It was too easy. All he did was dream.

He bangs on the drums so hard I worry he’s going to pierce the floor tom’s head.

That’s none of my business, though.

Hell, it might not even be real.

Rob and I make it up to our room and we play our hearts out. The stress of the week melts away. I float in the freedom of not worrying about my book, not worrying about my bills, not worrying about if I never make it as a writer, not worrying about being single, not worrying about getting my teeth fixed, not worrying about anything but rhythm and scales and math and tone and fuzz and fucking crushing heads.

Rob and I come up with a new song and, from that song, come up with what we actually want our band to be. “It’s black Sabbath mixed with Zep mixed with Pentagram and Graveyard and High on Fire.”

“Basically everything we like,” I agree.

“It’s like party music for the seventies,” Rob says, “but at a cool house party.”

“I want people in pool halls to fight each other when this song comes on,” I agree.

“What?” Rob makes a face.

“But in a cool way,” I clarify.

He laughs.

There’s a knock on our door.

I open the door. A scary ogre stands in front of me. He’s got a beard down to his belt and a shaved head. Leather vest and wife beater. Tattoos everywhere.

He does a quick double take. I just stare at him.

“You guys sound good,” he says.

“Thanks.”

“You don’t really look like what I thought you’d look like.”

Rob and I look at each other. “How’d you think we’d look.”

He shrugs. “I was listening at the door. I didn’t want to interrupt the jam. Just thought you’d look… different.”

“Oh,”

“You parked behind me. Could you move your car?” He asked this in the nicest way possible.

Rob nodded.

The tree of us left the room and walked down the long hallway and through the labyrinth below. Music drifted all around us. We’d sometimes stop and listen at the doors, each of us imagining a different thing behind them, but each of us enjoying the same music.

We didn’t say anything.

We just shut our eyes and listened.

Listened in the dark of our own eyelids.

Listened and dreamed.

Led Zeppelin

The Fire Rises


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There was a time, many years ago, back when fire still swept the land the cries of men begged cruel and primal deities for salvation, that a trivia team came in at least second place every time they played bar trivia at the Fermentation Lounge.

They were called Hydra, and fedora wearing nerds everywhere trembled at the mere hiss of their reptilian name.

Hail Hydra.

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The group was composed of a ragtag band of erudite grad students: Stacey, Jared, Erich, Nic, Adrienne and myself. Though our knowledge ranged a variety of subjects, our expertise lay mostly in television, film, history and classic rock.

Hail Hydra.

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The group, though mighty, was torn to pieces when several of us received our master’s degrees and traveled across the great, western wastes in a mighty caravan on a quest to find a job in the film industry.

A quest some of us are still… ahem… questing.

Hail Starbucks.

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Hydra burned, but from its ashes a new trivia team arose, one far fouler and more evil than any trivia team ever formed.

The Quizlamic State.

The Quizlamic State was never quite as successful. Chief among it’s problems was trying to find a fertile staging ground to set up our new quizlamic caliphate. The first bar we went to was a rough affair, more of a sports bar than anything. It was full of heavy, thirty-five year old men who hooted at the TV screens no matter what was on them.

Even for lame sports like NASCAR and HOCKEY.

The trivia was cordoned off in a musty corner of the bar. No one except us was there to play. The other patrons just wanted to hoot. Some drunkenly grabbed answer sheets butt they never filled them out. They used them mostly as poor quality napkins.

Our victory was basically uncontested.

The bar didn’t have any prizes for winning, though.

We migrated, finally settling in a newer, nicer bar that was closer to my apartment.

Then the dark times began.

From the north came a marauding band of music teachers. They were called “We ate an entire pizza with ___.” The blank would be any headline pulled from the news, like “Bernie Sanders,” or “that crashed Russian airplane,” or “Nicholas Cage” or whatever. They wore glasses and had neck beards. Many of them were bald. One of them had a leather jacket that he probably thought made him look like James Dean. It more accurately made him look like Nicholas Cage from Ghost Rider.

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They never talked to anyone else in the bar and drank only water. They spent most of their time laughing at little inside jokes, cheering too loudly when they got hard questions right; and dropping into a sullen silence and staring awkwardly at anyone who dared wander too close to their table.

Oh, and winning.

Did I mention winning?

They won.

A lot.

They never spent their bar cash either. They just drank water. The quiz master had to make a new rule that you were ineligible to win if you didn’t buy anything from the bar.

The very next week the teachers showed up with someone who looked like a discarded rough draft of Michael Cera. He drank beer. He drank a lot of beer. He would stand up on the booth and hoot and dance when they won a round.

He was not a good dancer.

This was probably at least partly due to the beer.

He also had a leather jacket that made him look like Nicholas Cage from Ghost Rider. Whoever these teachers were, they must shop at the same Hot Topic.

We hated them.

It wasn’t their skill that made us hate them. We had a friendly rivalry with trivia teams at the Fermentation Lounge. There was one that normally beat us, but we didn’t hate them. We would hang out with them afterwards.

It wasn’t their knowledge of trivia that made an entire pizza so loathsome. It was their personalities.

It was the way they snorted with laughter when other teams got a question wrong. The way they would ask you what you put for number three and then make fun of you to your face if it wasn’t right. They way they screeched like hungry babies when the quiz master announced that they were in the lead.

It was the way they didn’t talk to anyone. Thee way they didn’t buy beer. The way they always took the middle booth and sat there, scowling at everyone, as if worried that the troglodytes they so feared us to be would rack our brains so hard trying to figure out who founded Kelogg’s that something would burst and the reptilian parts of our brains would take over and we would assault them en masse and gobble them up, bones and all, in a bacchanalian orgy of violence and perversion.

Bars a social places. You go to bars to hang out with your friends and meet new people. I met a guy who produces terrible action moves. He told me they were bad and showed me a trailer on his phone.

It looked really bad, but in a good way. In the way that it might be so bad it’s funny. He let me use the table when my friends finally got there.

I met the guy who did the soundtrack for the remake of The Thing.

I met a girl who danced with Nicki Minaj on one of her tours.

I met somebody who had to throw Andy Dick out of a bar.

The cool thing about bars is that I have no idea if any of these people were lying to me. They could have been. Who knows?

More to the point, who cares?

I tried to talk to an entire pizza one time. It had been a close match, and the State had only lost by three points. I went up and congratulated them. I told them I hoped we’d get them next time.

They just stared at me.

They didn’t say a word.

They just stared.

It was then I began to think there was something off about an entire pizza.

I began to wonder if they even liked pizza.

I began to wonder what do they like?

They like shouting obscene jokes at the quiz master. I’ve seen them do it.

They like music. They all wear shirts with quarter notes and other such things on them.

They like winning.

Do they like playing trivia, though?

And I wondered…

What’s the point of doing something if all you care about is winning and all you ever do is win?

It must be terrible.

Actually, I sort of know what it’s like.

I’m a Patriots fan. It’s okay, you can hate me if you want. Hail Belichick.

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I’ve been a fan ever since my friend Nick made me watch football with him in middle school. His family is from new England, and my family is a Florida State family. We watched college, not professional, so I never had a pro team. I adopted the patriots.

I was a fan in 2007 when the Patriots almost went undefeated.

That season started off great. The patriots blew everyone out of the water and it was fun to watch. They kept winning… and winning… and winning.

Each victory made me more nervous. This is history. We can’t lose now.

It eventually got to the point where I didn’t even have fun watching the games. I gripped the couch so hard I thought the leather would tear. Veins stood out on my forehead. I clenched my teeth so hard I probably broke a tooth.

I was so worried that we would lose that I didn’t even enjoy the event.

Then we lost.

It was the Super Bowl and the Giants beat us and I hate the Giants and all I could think about was how relieved I was it was finally over.

It was soul crushing. I felt like shit. It was awful.

But I was relieved.

Ronda Rousey said she thought about killing herself when she lost. It seems like an overreaction, but if you’ve never lost…

Hey, man. I don’t understand it, but I understand that I could understand it if I was her.

It’s hell to be undefeated because you start to question your every move instead of just enjoying your game.

It’s even worse to lose, and the severity of the loss directly relates to the length of being undefeated.

So I’m a little worried for Entire Pizza.

One day they will lose.

Will they pass the water and start hitting harder stuff like soda? Will they ditch the quarter notes and get tattoos of full rests? Will they find another Michael Cera?

I don’t know.

I do know one thing, though.

The Quizlamic State is dead.

We are reforming Hydra from its ashes.

The fire rises.

Let us test an Entire Pizza’s mettle against the flames.

I hope they don’t break too hard, because I don’t wish harm on any human being.

But they made fun of my friends for not knowing who Kenny G was. They laughed in our faces and made jokes about us the whole night.

I hope they don’t break too hard.

But I want them to break all the same.

Hail Hydra.

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The Order


 

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I was in the backroom at Starbucks because I was putting away The Order.

We get The Order every Wednesday because we need more things to make your stuff. I spend hours lifting heavy boxes full of things. I put the things on shelves so that some time later we can take those things from the back room and bring them to new shelves in the main store so that we can later take those things off the new shelves in the store and put them in refrigerators or cabinets so we have the things at hand to make stuff for you when you come to our store and want stuff.

This whole shelf changing process repeats itself for several days until we start to run out of things. They’re little things at first, things you probably wouldn’t notice if we left out, but by the time Tuesday rolls around we’ve run out of most of the things for your stuff, so we have to apologize and say we can’t make your stuff and offer you different stuff comprised of things we still have.

No one likes those things, though. The stuff that goes in them isn’t as good. People become angry because they waited in line for the stuff they like, not the stuff they don’t like, and they find it very irritating that we don’t have the things to make their stuff.

“Why don’t you have the things?” They ask. “I want my stuff. Just order more things so you can make my stuff.”

“I can’t order more things because I already ordered more things. The things come in on Wednesday, when the truck brings them. That’s why I go to the backroom on Wednesdays. I put the things on shelves so that later we can move those things to other shelves so that later we can put those things in refrigerators and cabinets and trays and use them to make stuff for you,” I say, “Sorry about your stuff. Have you tried this other stuff though? Some people say it’s nice.”

“I don’t want that stuff,” they say, “that stuff is junk.”

Sometimes people bring their own things from home and try to get us to put it in their stuff. They see with me with my apparatus and they say “can you put my thing form home in there? I like it. It’s nice.”

I can’t let them put their thing in there because their thing might be junk. If their thing is junk or came into contact with any junk while at home, then it might affect other peoples stuff.

I’ve seen it happen.

“Why does my stuff taste like junk?” she asks, wiping stuff off her lips with a napkin. “Did you put junk in my stuff?”

“I did not put junk in your stuff,” I tell her, “I only put things in your stuff.”

“Then why does my stuff taste like junk?”

I shrug, even though I know it’s because that one person a while ago brought junk form home and asked me to put it in my apparatus. They said it was a thing. I was pretty certain it was junk, but i put it in my apparatus anyway, and now everyone’s stuff tastes like junk and all I can do is apologize.

“I’m sorry your stuff tastes like junk” I apologize, “can I make you some new stuff?”

“Please,” she said, handing me her stuff. I dump her stuff out in the trash bin and wash my apparatus. Then I put things in it and make more stuff. I hand her the new stuff.

“Sorry about your old stuff, “I say, “you’ll like this new stuff though. It’s nice.”

Sometimes, though, I don’t have the things to her make her stuff because The Order hasn’t come in yet.

When that happens, you know someone is going to yell at you. People like their stuff. They want it to be nice, not junk, and when they think it’s junk they let you know.

“What’s wrong with her?” a toad-like woman asked me one time. I was cleaning the counter we put stuff on and my friend Peach was making the lady some stuff. “I’ve asked her to make my stuff without this thing twice, and she keeps making it with that thing! Is she retarded?”

I just shrugged. Sometimes people don’t want things that are hard to take out of their stuff. Peach wasn’t retarded. To this day she still remains very unretarded. She can make stuff well.

I wanted to tell the woman that she shouldn’t say retarded. I wanted to tell her she was being very rude.

I wanted to tell her it was just stuff.

It’s just stuff.

But I didn’t.

I knew she wouldn’t understand.

She really wanted her stuff.

People need stuff.

Not junk.

Stuff.

That’s why The Order comes in.

So every Wednesday I put The Order away. All that stuff. It goes up on its shelves in preparation for moving to new shelves in preparation for going into fridges and cabinets so I can put it in my apparatus to make you stuff and I look at all my things and I wonder…

Do we really need all these things?

Do you really need this stuff?

Do you?

starbucks

 

 

on gold, rainbows and other heavy things


Dingle-1

I awoke on the morning of the second St. Patrick’s day I did’t care about feeling less than rested. I played video games for three hours after losing Trivia the night before. I stayed up until one in the morning. That’s late for me.

I stayed up until St. Patrick’s day.

As we were leaving, the quiz master told us that St. Patrick’s day started in two hours and that happy hour lasted until midnight. I looked around. The bar was quickly filling up with people I don’t want to be around. People who call it “going out” rather than “I want beer.” People who wear a lot of makeup or product in their hair. People who wear tight shirts to show off their muscles. The party crowd.

They were loud and obnoxious, sort of like howler monkeys that had been drinking.

Seth Green was there, too. He wore a millennium falcon T-shirt and played pool with some of his friends. The pool table is exactly in the middle of the seating area, so we all had to watch him while we played trivia. If he came to the valley seeking anonymity, he picked the wrong bar.

But that’s besides the point.

The party crowd was there and I drove myself and I was monstrously broke so I decided not to drink anymore.

So I left.

That night… I just had a hard time caring about St. Patrick’s day.

When I was a kid I would have to wear green or people would pinch me. It got to the point, probably in middle school or later, where no one even really enjoyed the pinching anymore. It was just a thing that you do, like eating a turkey or thanksgiving or stoning a woman to death when she doesn’t marry her rapist. We didn’t necessarily like pinching the same kids (for it was always the same forgetful fools who didn’t wear green) but it had to be done. If not us, then who?

In college, St. Patrick’s day was fun, because drinking was new and exciting and I had a favorite bar r. It was called the J. Clyde, and it had over 50 craft beer on tap. We brought my friend’s roommate there once. He was a hulking defensive lineman on the football team and when he ordered a bud light they laughed at him.

We got a beer for him before he began any manual tracheotomies with nothing but his bare hands and blinding, white rage.

St. Patrick’s Day in grad school was great because the first one was in London. We stood out in the rain in Trafalgar and bought Guinness for ten pounds an eight ounce cup. No one had any fun except me.

But here in LA…

I use Irish Spring soap because I like Irish things.

Wait, that’s not true. It’s not Irish.

I use Irish springs because I like things that make me think about Ireland, a place I’ve never been but know everything about.

Wait, that’s not true either.I know nothing about Ireland, really.

I use Irish Springs because it’s cheap. You can get twelve bars for like four dollars, even in LA.

Every now and then your skin needs something less abrasive, though. So a few weeks ago I went to Target to buy some nice soap.

They had a whole aisle for soap. A two whole rows for lotion. A fucking section for shampoo.

I just wanted less itchy soap. But here was shea butter. Over there was a soap that would apparently make me smell like a wolf. This one would make me smell like the islands of Fiji. Red, black ,blue, green and every color in between was here. Bottles and bars and everything.

It was too much and don’t even get me started on the fucking shampoo.

I just bought some more Irish Springs because it’s cheap and familiar.

The Los Angeles bar scene is like that. Every god damn street corner has the best St. Patrick’s day celebration you’ve ever heard of. They all have better deals than everyone else. They’re everywhere.

That’s not why I’m less enthusiastic than normal this year, though.

It’s mostly because I work until 11 tonight, and then do it again tomorrow.

No… not quite.

It’s because I’m working on three different writing projects at once right now, and they all actually seem to be going somewhere.

No? Maybe.

No. I think what killed it for me was the quiz master.

I told my friend later that night that the thing about famous people is that you’re used to staring at them. You stare at them on the internet, on movie and TV screens, on billboards and posters. All you do is stare at them. You’re conditioned to do it, not in an insidious way, but simply because it’s what you do.

So I was staring at Seth Green when the the quiz master said St. Patrick’s day started in two hours. He was sitting right behind Seth. I had a good view of him. He had a smile on his face and held his arms out wide for the inevitable cheer from the party crowd.

He had a smile on his face but his eyes…

His eyes were dead.

His eyes were dead and the way he said those words, that familiar phrase he must have said a dozen times before, the tone was so practiced and rehearsed, so buried in years of the same thing and same old whatever that it sounded like a cry for help.

He said some joke and everyone laughed, but I just stared at him. I know the quiz master. He’s from Michigan. He’s thirty and he works as a quiz master for his only job and there’s a sadness behind his eyes when he tells party goers that there will be an even bigger party tomorrow night because, frankly, I don’t think he cares, even though he’s Irish.

Hell, if the bar doesn’t care…

So I woke up on the second St. Patrick’s day in a row I didn’t care about and I went downstairs and I got the coffee going and I ate a cookie I made the night before and I thought about what I would make for breakfast. I decided on toast with avocado.

Then I thought about the coming night.

I decided that I’ll just listen to the Cranberries and have a little whiskey. It’s scotch, but I don’t think the spirits will care too much.

The spirits I’m referring to are leprechauns… or maybe the things in my liquor cabinet.

So let’s talk about rainbows.

They aren’t real, you know. Just light refracted through rain drops. There’s no reason to get excited about them, except…

Except there’s something magic about the mundane being made different for no reason. Where once was grey is now color.

There’s one now.

Watch it through the rain-streaked window in your mom’s suburban (it’s the early 2000’s so suburbans are still cool). See how it travels parallel to the car, only not quite as fast.

Touch the glass. You can almost feel it, can’t you?

“Rainbow!” You shout, and your Mom and Dad and Sister turn and look for it like it’s going to save the world.

You could have caused a wreck but fuck it, there’s a rainbow.

“I see it! There it is!” They shout, and you know their excitement is genuine.

Mom turns her eyes back to the road, but you just stare at it and wonder about the future.

Something itches at the back of your skull and you wonder if, not the first time, there’s a pot of gold at the end.

I mean, come on, you know it’s just light refraction in water drops, right? It’s just refracted light and the cranberries are on the radio and your driving home and the world has that clean scent after rain and there’s a rainbow and you know it’s just light but maybe…

Maybe the legends are true. Maybe it’s different this time.

And you know what?

It’s the maybe that’s the best part.

It’s better than going out and finding that gold.

It’s probably better than if there was even any gold there at all.

So let’s talk about St. Patrick’s day.

Do I like St. Patrick’s day?

Yeah, I like St. Patrick’s day.

I’m just not going out this year because I don’t need to because I know that’s not the best part of the rainbow.

Maybe it is for you, but it’s not for me.

So here’s what I’ll do:

I’ll put on the cranberries and sit back in my chair and sip on some Glenlivet and think about a cold London day when I stood in the rain, or about playing beer pong outside in Tallahassee right after a storm, or about pinching that one girl more than anyone else because you hope maybe this time she’ll turn around and kiss you.

It doesn’t work like that, by the way.

And that’ll be enough St. Patrick’s day for me.

Oh, and here’s an old post about leprechauns I wrote in London.

Cheers!

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Automaton


2a-orange

I sit in the shower with the heat turned up so high that the steam makes it hard to breathe. The mist spirals out of a small, sliding window high up on the wall. It must rise into the night like smoke from a 19th century train

I wonder what people walking by think.

“He’s a steam punk enthusiast,” a girlfriend says to her boyfriends as she points at the window. “He’s in there with red tented goggles and a dark leather lab coat. He’s trying to build an automaton to do his laundry.”

“If he’s really good,” the boyfriend replies, pulling the girlfriend closer, “it’ll do the dishes too.”

A car streaks by. It makes the girlfriends long shirt billow. The girlfriend scrunches up her nose and pecks him with a kiss. “Tonight’s your night.”

The boyfriend smiles. “I know.”

I don’t see any of this, obviously. Not only is the window too high, but the steam would obscure them. They’d just be silhouettes, and I’d only be able to snatch muffled words from their conversation.

I couldn’t see the caring way he holds her, nor the cheap watch on his wrist, nor the three scratches on his glasses’ left lens.

I couldn’t see her dark hair, or the way the skin around her nose crinkles as she scrunches it. I couldn’t see her bracelets or tattoos, nor he calf muscles bunch as she stands on her tip-toes to swoop in for the kiss.

I couldn’t see any of these things.

They might not have even happened.

“You know,” I tell Matt as I make a caramel macchiato for an Armenian woman who talks  loudly on the phone, “one day a robot will do our job.”

“They already do,” Matt says. He dumps some ice into the ice bin. “They’re like Redboxes but for coffee. You can do it all on your phone.”

I think about this as I hand  the woman her coffee. She doesn’t even notice me. My hand might as well be a metal claw.

She brushes up against my index finger and doesn’t even flinch. If my skin were smooth and hard and cold and reflective she would have reacted the same way.

She’d probably prefer it.

“So what can we do?” I ask Matt.

“What?”

“When we’re automatons.”

“We are?”

“Well, our job. We’ll still be Matt and Charles.”

“We’ll have better jobs by then.”

“Yeah, but they already have programs that can write songs and paint pictures.” Matt’s a musician. This hits him rather hard.

“Pretty soon they’ll write self indulgent blog posts too, and then what will I do?” I continue.

“We’ll get drunk,” Matt says.

This is Matt’s answer to everything. It isn’t a bad answer.

“Yeah, but for people like us, people who burn to express themselves, people who make things, people who demand to be noticed, what will we do to satisfy us?”

“Drink.”

“But if there’s a computer program that writes things better than anything I can ever dream of, no one will ever care about my book. No one will even read my blog!”

“I would.”

“Why?”

“Because I know you made it.”

He wasn’t kidding, either.

I looked across the bar. Debbie was there. She’s one of my regulars and always asks that I make her black tea for her. It’s just pouring liquid up to lines marked on a shaker, but she says I do it better than anyone else.

I don’t know if I do, but I know she likes it more because she knows I made it.

I smile at her, and she smiles back.

So I sit in the shower and craft my automaton. The steam makes me cough, but I like it that way. It adds mystery to the world. It’s so hot I sweat, and it reminds me of sweltering summer nights in Trevor’s front yard.

We had these green cloaks we had gotten from a renaissance festival, and my friends and I would play a game where the person with the cloak would run into the yard and just lay down somewhere. The cloak would be over them and it’s uncanny shade of green made it almost impossible to see them. We’d have to find the person in the cloak, and whoever found them first got to wear it next.

It would get unbearably hot under that cloak. Ants would crawl on your legs. Mosquitoes would land on the outside. I probably got West Nile half a dozen times, but you can’t move, you mustn’t move or they’d find you.

I know you can’t make an automaton for that, so I don’t bother.

The girl was right. Making one for laundry is just the ticket.

I craft it out of bronze and leather. It’s powered by a great billows that blows life into its limbs. It creaks as it walks on spider legs.

It does my laundry for me every day except Tuesdays, because on Tuesdays I get my tips and I can’t bare to give my automaton three dollars for the wash. Not when there’s so many other things I can buy.

I never tell it that I take the cash to the laundromat down the street.

I’m sure it will find me one day as it puffs down the street on some errand or other. It’ll do a double take as it passes the plate glass windows and sees its master sitting on a dryer, watching clothes spin round and round in a circle inside a washing machine.

I hope it’s not hurt.

I think it’ll understand.

It’ll lean up close against the glass. It’s vicious claws will hang meekly by its side, and it’s huge glass eye will watch me, and my automaton will understand that sometimes, sometimes you gotta do you’re own laundry.

Sometimes you gotta watch it spin yourself, because even though your automaton is perfect, you’ll never shake the feeling that you do your laundry better.

 

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The Rainwalker


(the following was written while listening to Closer to the Edge by Yes)

When you live in Los Angeles and you tell people you walked somewhere, they look at you like you just told them you own five copies of Mein Kampf, one of which is signed.

“Why?” Is almost always their first question.

“Are you okay?” People sometimes ask, as if you something might have slain you while you perambulated around the city.

“Are you crazy?” Still others say.

L.A. is a city of cars. You need one of two things to get around: a vehicle or a lot of extra time. A ten minute car trip can take an hour on the bus.

The buses smell. The people on the buses smell, but in a different way then the bus. The places where you wait for the buses smell, but in a way other than the other two, so that on any different bus trip you have to put up with at least three different kinds of smells, all different, but all similarly colored in varying shades of urine and body odor.

They’re all bad.

So when my registration expired and I was waiting for my tax returns to re-register my car, I decided to not ride the bus, but to walk places. I had become very hermit-like and inactive over the winter months. This happened because I wrote a novel (I’m now in the process of revising it and preparing to send queries to agencies!) and any free time I had not writing a novel was spent sleeping, working, or feeling guilty about not working on my novel.

I was fat and happy so I decided I needed to be unhappy and thin. I would walk to work. It was two miles. Then I’d walk back from work. That was also two miles. All in all, I would walk four miles every day, which I judged to be a sufficient amount of exercise for someone who never exercises.

The last time I walked to work Julian, a co-worker complemented me on how tan I had become. “You look great!” He said. “What’s your secret?”

“Oh, you know,” I lied, “I’m just a creature of the outdoors, really.”

He gave me a shifty look.

Ah, my co-workers. Thou knowest me too well.

“My car broke down so I’m walking to work.”

“Oh,” Julian said, “Why?”

The city is different when you walk. You catch the breeze, the smells, the sounds. You get to witness first hand the furtive looks people give you as you pass them; the quick, downward glances that practically beg you not to murder them.

“Oh, please,” their eyes beseech, “take whatever you want, stranger walking beside me, just don’t take my life.”

I don’t look frightening. I have long hair and wear all black, but so do lots of people. Maybe I achieve alpha street villain status because I sing along to folk music and David Bowie as I walk down the street. Maybe that’s something only crazy people do.

I waited for my refund and I walked to work. I loved it. It gave me a break form writing that I didn’t have to feel guilty about. Sure, I had to leave an hour early and get home an hour late, but that didn’t matter. The stress evaporated from my pores as I walked. It floated up above the power lines and past the clouds. It wafted into the stratosphere and drifted away, eventually becoming not a thing. Nothing at all.

One day it rained.

It was a drizzle. They would have said it was spitting if I was in London.

I wasn’t, so everyone said it was raining. They warned each other to drive safely and, god forbid, no matter what you do, don’t go outside unless it’s absolutely necessarily.

I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never met people that could be so blase about terrifying natural disasters like Earthquakes, sometimes even bragging about how they slept through it.

For a native Californian, I suppose, water is a thing that stays in the sea or comes out of sprinklers. Anything else is just unnatural, proof that the spirits are displeased with us.

The rain doesn’t scare me. I’m was born in Oklahoma, a place where tornadoes wipe out whole towns.

I grew up in Florida, where the rainfall in July would bust California’s drought. I’ve swam in the rain. I’ve drank in the rain. I’ve walked outside in the eye of a hurricane and looked up at the solid black walls of cloud and wind and lightning and water and I’ve laughed, not at the storm, not in any mean way, but just at how utterly bizarre it all was.

I’ve been on top of a mountain on the Appalachian trail during a thunderstorm. Lightning was striking so close that I thought my ears would split. There was so much electricity in the air that all of my body hair was standing at varying degrees of attention. My Dad and I avoided stepping in puddles for fear of getting blasted.

You’re supposed to lay down in lightning storms. You dot this so your less of an attractive conduit for the lightening. I remember my dad looking at the flooded trail as the storm started and saying “Well, we’ll just have to keep going. We can’t lay down because if lightning strikes any of this water, it’ll kill us.”

So we walked up a side of the mountain in the lightning and the rain.

So I decided to walk to work in a drizzle.

Everything is different in the rain. It’s darker, not just because clouds block the sun, but also because the water stains everything it touches a darker hue of whatever it was before.

There’s a smell in the air. It only happens right after a rain, or during the first rain in several days. It’s a crisp smell, a clean smell. The smell is amplified in Los Angeles. The air is so dirty that when the rain knocks some of the dust and smog away it smells like you’ve been transported somewhere else all together.

I put on Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” and walked to work.

It was wonderful. It was the best walk I had in a long time.

“Did you catch a ride?” Steven asked me when I got to work.

“No.” I said wetly. His eyes widened.

“You walked?”

“Yeah. It was nice.”

He blinked. “But it’s raining.”

“Yeah.”

“And you walked.”

“That’s right.”

“Why?”

I could hear the rain hitting the skylight thirty feet above me. The pattern was soothing in its irregularity.

The thing about rain is that it falls all over the place. It doesn’t aim. It just hits a bunch of spots in the concrete. When it hits, it makes them darker, makes them smell fresh, makes them more interesting.

I ran a cross country race in the rain about ten years ago. It was at the park in the Vineyards. It was raining so hard that when I tried to breath through my mouth my lungs would fill up with water and I would have to cough it all up. I had really bad allergies and sinus problems back then so I couldn’t breath through my nose.

I coughed up a lot of water that day.

I was near the back of the race. All the grass was already obliterated. Instead of a well marked path, there was just a river of mud. There was a canal to my right that was about to overflow, and I wondered what would happen to the alligators that lived in it when the canal suddenly became the whole park.

Back in college, I walked in the freezing rain over the bridge into Beeson woods. I made the mistake of betting against the weather and showing up to German lab. I couldn’t afford to miss anymore. I had arrived just as Caitlyn was leaving. “Haven’t you heard?” She asked me. “Classes are cancelled. It’s not safe to drive.”

It wasn’t safe to walk either. I lost traction halfway down the bridge and almost slid into the ravine over which the bridge spanned. I managed to grab the sign that said welcome to Beeson Woods, and vowed to never leave my dorm again if it was twenty eight degrees and raining.

I walked in the rain down Tottenham Court Road with my friend Erich. We popped into a pub whose name escapes me in order to rewrite his whole screenplay. We got drunk on some fine English beer and by god we did it.I still remember laughing all the way home. I turned up my collar against the stiff wind and all that was in my mind was a cup of Earl Grey and some toast with Nutella and butter.

I walked in the rain on my last day in Florida. My flight had been delayed because of the storm. It was a short walk, just down the driveway to my Dad’s Nissan pickup truck. The driveway was covered in old shells we had brought in years ago. They would always get stuck between the treads in your shoes so that you’d click across our cheap tile floor.

I stopped outside the door and stood in the rain. My dad was doing something in the house. He’s notoriously hard to get going, but once he’s ready everyone else better be, too.

I stared down the driveway, out to Golden Gate drive. I looked over the palm trees and the pines. I remembered all the hot summers I spent walking in between them with a broom to knock down the plate-sized banana spiders who lived in our yard. I didn’t want them to ambush me when I mowed the lawn.

I remembered riding the shiny black lawnmower my grandfather bought me. I remembered the sound it made as it tore up pine cones.

I almost exclusively mowed in the afternoon, and I remembered the pretty, yellow-green color the leaves would take as the setting sun blasted through their chlorophyll.

I remembered imagining whole kingdoms in the grass, and wondering what they would think of the mower as it cut the grass.

I remembered sitting at the bottom of the pool with my sister. It was raining, and we watched water drop onto the top of the water. The ripples made the sky look like quicksilver.

I remembered that the next time I came back to Florida the bank would have repossessed that old house and it would probably be torn to shreds.

I stood there and it was raining. It was raining and, for the life of me I couldn’t think of a better send off.

The house might fade. The yard might disappear just like tears in the rain, but I’d remember. We’d all remember the fights and the love and the laughs and the everything all rolled into one glorious feeling.

It’d feel like home.

And the best thing about that feeling is that you can take it anywhere you go. You store it up in a little box and you walk to work in the rain and you bring it with you, because when you meet Steve at work and you tell him you want a latte and he asks you if you walked in the rain and he says why you can lift the box up.

It’s brown and sort of bowed out in the middle.

He asks why and you open up the box and you show him.

You’ll just show him.

You know… in movies and TV whenever someone opens a box and there’s something magical inside it glows gold.

Not this box.

I opened this one, and it was blue. Blue like water.

Blue like tears in the rain.

I had a professor tell me that that line is the sappiest line ever written in film.

You should take Viki’s word for it. She a genius.

It’s not sappy to me, though.

Don’t take my word for it. I’m not a genius.

I’m just a Rainwalker.

And I know exactly what Rutger means.

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A little bit of housekeeping:

I’d like to thank My Messy World for nominating me for a blog award. I’m very bad about responding to people’s awards. There’s actually been a few I didn’t respond to until months later and the person who gave me the award had shut down their blog.

How embarrassing.

I’d been meaning to blog for a while, but my novel keeps eating my soul. Messy World gave me a wonderful excuse to come back.

So thanks for that.

You guys should go check out her (her?) blog.

Anyway, I’ll hopefully be blogging more often soon.

Maybe someone cares about that other than me.

Maybe they don’t.

I guess we’ll find out.

An Arrow


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This isn’t a story about something I did.

I didn’t do it.

This is a story about something I’m going to do.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go do some free archery.

I don’t know anything about it other than my friends do it and they have wanted me to come for quite some time.

So I’ll go.

I’ll have to catch a ride, obviously. I can’t drive my car until I get my tax refund. Then I can finally re-register it.

I will ride with my roommate. We’ll pull up to the park’s parking lot, because I imagine it’s in a park, and the sun will be lazing over the treetops. I’ve been told there’s a lot of children who do the free archery.

From what I’ve been told, I think the class is probably intended for children.

I turned twenty seven yesterday.

Well, physically.

I’ll have to take a brief lesson in bow safety. It’ll be a cinch. They won’t know that I used to have a short longbow.

It was short because my dad got it for my sister and me when I was in middle school and she was probably in high school or something and we weren’t capable of pulling back a full sized longbow. This one didn’t pull as hard. We could shoot it.

We had a big yard when I was growing up. It was variously used for paintball, horses, motorcycles and, eventually, shooting bows and arrows at things.

You’re probably thinking I had quite the country childhood.

Not really. I spent most my time inside playing Age of Empires III and reading Terry Pratchett.

But we had a longbow. I had to string it every time I used it. I got good at bracing it on the ground and pushing the middle with my foot so it would bend and I could fit the string around its notched ends.

There was an old bird feeder in the backyard. This was before my parents found out how allergic to green things I was, so the yard was pretty well-mowed. Kathryn and I had found a paint bucket somewhere and she drew a face on it.

We’d stand about forty feet away from it and try to shoot the face.

We gave it a name and a backstory. We gave it a personality, too. I can’t remember what the name was, but I remember it was a he and he liked to be shot with arrows. They were like vitamins to him.

We obliged.

So yeah, I’ll have to take this class, which I will pass. It’ll take an hour or so, and then I get to go shoot stuff.

A lot of people don’t realize that bow shooting is very taxing. You’re bending a piece of wood over and over again, and the string chaffs your fingers and hits your arm. Most people forget this, in the same way that most people forget how sore your shoulder gets after a day of skeet shooting, but I won’t.

I’ll remember. I always remember stuff like that. Bad stuff.

But I won’t be going because I’m tough. I’m not tough, I just don’t like complaining.

I’ll go because there’s a group of idiots who want me to go with them, and someone else wanting to do something with you so badly that they bother you incessantly about it is the most special thing in the whole world. It’s how I vet my activities, not because I don’t want to do anything until I know it’s good, but because my default state is to not want to do anything at all.

At least when it involves other people.

It’s why I didn’t answer your text. I got nervous and put my phone away. It’s why I didn’t come to your party. I got uncomfortable before I got there, so I just played Call of Duty instead.

It’s why I missed your wedding. I couldn’t afford it and I was embarrassed and I was scared.

I’ll step up to the target, and it will be a paper cut-out of a zombie or something stupid, but I won’t care, because there will be a person to my left who does, and a person to my right who does, too.

I’ll let fly. The arrow will whisper through the wind and the smile will spread across my lips like the drawing of a bowstring. Like the bending of wood.

It’ll spread with a creak, and I’ll look at us.

Oh, you ragged band of fools.

Here we are, shooting borrowed arrows at stupid zombies. Here we stand, laughing and exulting, for a moment forgetting about everything wrong in the world and everything wrong with ourselves.

Oh, you stupid, young things.

We buy gifts for each other with money we don’t have. We hang out on balconies and smoke and talk about movies and music and politics and love as if we know anything about it, anything at all.

The green neon of the McGee’s self storage sign always makes Erich look like a goblin. He acts like one, too.

We play board games on IKEA tables and play music with instruments our parent’s bought us in high school.

We stay up late at night, alone, tossing and turning in our sheets, stunted fans lazily whirling overhead, and we dream. We dream of a world where we’re potent, where our opinions matter, where we get to do what we love and get paid for it, too.

We dream. It’s all we’ve ever done and, in the end, it’ll probably be all we ever did.

Oh, you ragged band of fools, you hopeless phalanx of dreamers. It’s on your back that empires are built, that planets are visited, that the world is changed. You haul the stones step by bloody step. You finish marathons inch by bloody inch. You write novels word by bloody word.

This isn’t about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about yesterday and today and tomorrow, too. It’s about what you’re going to do when you wake up and about what you did and about what you’re doing and about who you’re with and about who you want to be with and about the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars and it’s about an arrow.

It’s about an arrow that I’m going to shoot at a stupid zombie, and it’s about how I’m not even going to watch it.

Instead, I’ll just watch my friends.

I’ll watch the bowstring tighten across their faces, too.

And I’ll know, without even looking, the arrow hit its mark.

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