I’m Back


terminator

I’d hit a rough patch about four weeks ago. Hit it so hard I think the wheel came off.

It wasn’t writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writer’s block is simply you not having fun with whatever you’re writing. It’s a blanket explanation, I know, but not having fun could come from dozens of hard to pen down causes. Things like: lack of research, wrong direction, stinkin’ thinkin’, and getting bored with a project.

I didn’t have any of those. I was working on WARLOCK COP, my TV PILOT about a guy who is a COP and a WARLOCK. WARLOCK COP is awesome. I was having fun writing it but…

I just couldn’t focus. I’d find myself drifting away, checking reddit, watching videos on woodcarving and guitar fabrication. Hell, I’d watch videos of other people playing video games.

I’d go on facebook and just scroll around. I’d write blog post around blog post. I’d fiddle with my fantasy football lineup without end.

I’d do all these things and then sit back and go “huh. I should finish warlock cop.”

I never did, though.

Then the internet went down.

I was outside, smoking my pipe and writing down ideas in a notebook when it happened.  There was a truck working on the power lines outside.  I heard screwdrivers and electric sizzles as the worked the pole next to my apartment building.

They finished after some time. My notepad was on the floor. The only markings on the page were pipe ash.

I was busy reading movie reviews on my phone.

Then, suddenly, the next page wouldn’t load. The WiFi wasn’t working. I switched to the LTE network and finished reading the movie review, and then checked the router.

It was working fine, just no signal. I unplugged it and plugged it back in.

It didn’t work.

The first tinglings of fear began to creep up the hairs on my back.

“It’s not supposed to happen like this,” I told the router, “this isn’t supposed to be possible.”

No internet. A millenial’s worst nightmare.

My life is spent on the internet. I pay my bills online. I get paid electronically. I find jobs, send queries, submit stories to magazines, and even write blog posts entirely on the internet. Hell, I get my television, movies, and entertainment form the internet.

The internet turns me into a sappy Nicholas Sparks story. I want to cuddle the internet, stoke its face and tell it “I’m nothing without you. Nothing.”

It was gone.

What was I going to do? What was I going to read? What was I going to WATCH?

Here’s out movie collection:

IMG_1217

The thought of putting any of them in the blu-ray player disgusted me.

I had nothing to do.

So I wrote.

The first day, I figured out the ending to WARLOCK COP.

Unplug, plug, the router still flashed red.

The second day, I wrote fourteen pages.

I fell to my knees and prayed in front of the router, extolling it with livestock sacrifice. It remained silent, and blinked its wicked red eye at me.

The third day, I wrote fourteen pages.

I itched all over. I had trouble sleeping without being able to doze off with south park on my TV.

While I was downstairs getting coffee, I ran into Adrienne, who is staying at my place until the end of the month. I told her how productive I’ve been.

“I guess it was all the internet,” I said, slurping on some hot-brown-bean water, “I kind of hope it stays down so I can finish my script.

Adrienne agreed.

The fourth day, I woke up to a text message from Jared. It just said “Internets up!”

Shit.

The next thing I knew, I found myself in my computer chair, about to hit enter and blast my monitor off to REDDIT land.

My finger hovered over the key.

I went downstairs to get some bean water. Adrienne and Jared were watching the Real World and Road Rules MTC Challenge.

“So the internet’s back up.” I told them.

Adrienne spun to face me. There was fire in her eyes. “No,” she said, “get back upstairs right now and finish WARLOCK COP.” I turned to get coffee. “No,” Adrienne commanded, “write.”

So I went back upstairs and finished it.

The internet’s an amazing thing. I don’t need to tell you guys why, because you’re on it right now, you already know.

Sometimes, though, it makes writing impossible.

So I guess I need to find a place to write that doesn’t have internet.

Either that, or find someone to yell at me every time I start to dither online.

Maybe this guy.

batman write

 

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And a Madness Came to Sherman Oaks


The Shining

You meet a lot of people at Starbucks.  People who are nice, and people who aren’t.  People having a good day, and people who aren’t.  People who are Steve Carell, and people who aren’t.

It’s tough to make a mean person not mean, but it isn’t that hard to change someone’s bad day into a good one.  A dash of kindness here, a dad joke there, a smile, a laugh, and voila!  You have a happy customer and, more importantly, a happy human being.  It’s my favorite thing to do at Starbucks.  If I can cheer somebody up, I feel like it’s a job well done.  I’ve not yet been able to transmute the not Steve Carell’s into Steve Carell, but I’m working on it.  It’d be a big get.  He tipped me five dollars.

Steve Carell

Even if someone’s order is wrong, there are ways to fix it.  Corporate suggest simply apologizing and saying “what can I do to fix it?”  The fact that you want to help changes so many situations from bad to good.  If you care, people notice.

The one thing you can’t change is crazy.  At last I can’t.  Maybe with the proper medication and counseling a psychiatrist could, but I’m a writer.

We had a regular who came in practically every day over the summer.  I never caught his name, because he only ordered brewed coffee, but I did catch his scent.  It was a miasma of body odor and halitosis, not the kind you might find on a homeless person, but rather on someone who just doesn’t care.

He always wore sandals, cargo shorts and colorful Hawaiian shirts.  More often than not he would have a Fidel Castro hat on.  He was a weird guy, but he’d always been polite, and I enjoyed chatting with him just as much as anyone else who came through that I only sort of knew.

It was a May afternoon, and I had been on register all day.  I was looking forward to getting home, cracking some beers, and playing League of Legends.  I fiddled with the cup holder below my register.  The springs were always cracking and falling out.  I was trying to fix it.

A stench overwhelmed me.  I stood up, and there he was, standing at my register, smiling with this sort of vacancy in his eyes, and lack of movement in his face that made him seem very insane.  He practically starred right through me.

“One coffee, please” he said with a mad lilt.

“Of course”

I got him his coffee, and he just kept smiling.  He took it, and passed me two dollars.

“If they come by, don’t sign it.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The people.  They’re coming around with a clipboard and getting you to sign things.  Don’t sign anything.”

I looked over at Andrew, who shrugged.  I decided to do what I always did in difficult situations: pass the blame up the food chain.

“Oh, it’s Starbucks corporate policy not to sign petitions.”

The smile remained.  He pointed a finger at me.

“It’s state sponsored terrorism.”

“I’m not going to sign anything.”

He smiled, nodded, and raised his coffee cup to me.  Once he was out of earshot:

“What the actual fuck was that?”

Andrew was laughing.

“I don’t know.  He was…”  Andrew stopped.  He starred at the coffee bag display.

“What?”  Andrew just pointed.

The guy was back.  He was still smiling.  He pointed at me.

“It’s state sponsored terrorism, okay?”  He shouted.  I didn’t know what to do.  Normally, I just ignore crazy people.  I’ve learned the hard way that if you even look at them, they might direct whatever is happening onto you.  I couldn’t ignore a customer at Starbucks, though.  I smiled a nodded.  “Don’t sign anything.  I’m serious, okay?  Not kidding.”  He laughed.  It was terrifying.

I just nodded again.  He dismissively waved me away and went to put cream in his coffee.

Why couldn’t I just turn him into Steve Carell?

“Welcome back, Mr. Carell.  I loved you in the office, and basically everything you’ve ever… what’s that?  Five dollars?  Thank you!”

A hispanic woman as at my register.  She seemed nice.  Nothing crazy about her.

“Hi, welcome to –”

“HEY!”

I turned to the coffee again.  He was back.  The smile was gone.  All that was left was rage.

“9-11 was an inside job.  The planes, the oil, jet fuel.  It’s state sponsored terrorism!”  He was shouting.  I looked around for help.  Everyone was just as scared as me.  I raised my hands to signal my passivity.  He just kept going.  “No one else heard what you said, but I heard it.  You know.  9-11 was a fucking INSIDE JOB.”

He twitched.

“They’re after me.  I’m a wanted man.  It’s state sponsored terrorism.  They want me because of what I have in here.”  He jabbed at his head with his index finger.  “In my brain.  They know I know and they’re after me.”

This was possibly the most frightening thing he said.  I searched for a weapon with which to defend myself.  I could use our serrated knife, but we only had one, and we might need it later to cut a bagel.

I settled on the broom.

I heard a snort.  Slater was on the floor, counting over the money from the safe.  He was laughing.  He was actually laughing.  I looked at him and mouthed “what” as in “what the fuck is funny about any of this.”

He just shrugged and kept laughing.

I clutched my broom all the tighter.

“I’m calling corporate on you.  You won’t think I’ll do it?” He threatened.

Steve Carell wouldn’t,  I thought,  He’s a nice man.

I didn’t say anything, though and he went away in a huff of anger.

I went to the back ten minutes later.  Michael and Slater were counting the money.  Slater was laughing again.

“Here he is,” he said, looking at me, “he can probably tell it better than me.”

“Slater was saying some guy was yelling at you?” Michael asked.

I told him the whole story.  Michael took it very seriously.

“Okay, I’ll call corporate,” Michael said, and I thought thank god!  He’ll get banned, or arrested or something! “Just in case he makes a complaint, I’ll let the district manager know he should just disregard it.”

Disregard it?  Disregard it?  The dude’s crazy!  He’ll probably babble on about moon rocks and the dark lord Cthulhu.   I don’t care if they disregard it.  I wanted a body guard, a Starbucks employed strong man than could protect me for when this man inevitably returned with a gun.

He’d motion with a little wave of the barrel.  “Come on,” he’d say, “we’re taking a walk,” and then he’d take me up to the roof of the parking deck for a murder suicide so we could both board the galactic ferry on it’s way to Cariathor to meet the Lord Xenu or whatever.

I’d stare at him, and I’d say “I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do to fix it?”

Who knows what he’d do then?

I know one thing, though.

If he was Steve Carell, he would have tipped me five dollars and taken his adorable daughter to the Disney store.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.07.59 AM

When it Rains


rain

Los Angeles is a desert.

I remember the first time I saw it.  I was driving in from the West, up and over the mountains, and careening down the 210.  We were coming up from Vegas, Jared, Sonia and I, and had just come through the Mojave desert, where it was so hot that my Garmin wouldn’t stick to my windshield.  I had to awkwardly wedge it up against the dash.  The smallest bump would send it tumbling.

I was coming off a night of heavy Vegas drinking and a bad chicken sandwich that I bought from a gas station in Nevada.  There were signs all over it that told me aliens were real.  I should have taken that as a sign, but I was starving, and ready to make it to my new home.

I crested over sandy hill and there it was, stretching on forever.  In florida, I was used to greens and blues.  In Los Angeles, it was blue and tan, the dry khaki of dirt and sand.

It was a dry land, a land without rain, where it’s tough for things to grow.

It rained once on our trip, on the way back from the Grand Canyon.  It was almost otherworldly.  The Arizona landscape didn’t know what to think.  Here we were, Arizona and I, in a desert, and it was raining.

I love the rain.  I used to sit out on the back porch with my dad during thunderstorms.  This was about every weekend, because, if there’s one thing South Florida has, it’s thunderstorms.  We’d watch the rain, and I’d wonder what would happen if lightning struck the pool cage.

We’d probably fucking die.

It was alright though.  I had a cup of taster’s choice instant coffee, and it kept me warm.  It was cheap, sure, but after years of drinking it, you can even associate cheap with being happy.

It doesn’t rain in Los Angeles.

I would take the 405 to get downtown to my internship every Monday and Wednesday for the first four months I was in LA.  The Santa Monica mountains are basically piles of dirt with a few dried up old scrubs clinging to their slopes.  It was so weird.  The last mountains I had driven in before I came out west were in Tennessee and Missouri.  Those mountains were green and had stuff you could grab onto if you fell off.  These though…

Internships pay you in experience, not money.  I tried eating experience for a while, but it left me hungry and feeling sort of dumb, so I started looking for a job.  No one was hiring.  Not even movie theaters.  It was tough, but I had some money left over from student loans, so I could afford cheap meals:  Ramen with a side of experience.  Chicken broth with a dash of practical skills.  Baked chicken marinated in experience sauce, and a nice cup of experience to wash it down.  Being an intern was working out pretty well.

And the days got hotter, and the nights got drier.

I had never really worked a highschool job.  I was always doing theater or sports or robotics or band, so I didn’t have time.  In college I scanned people’s cards at the gym.  It was amazing.  I worked at summer camps three out of the four summers I was in undergrad.  Besides that, I’d never really worked, so I wasn’t averse to working something like Panera or Chipotle.  McDonald’s was where I drew the line, though.  If I was going to work fast food, I’d at least like it to pretend it wasn’t fast food.

Days turned into months, and November rolled around, and it started to rain.  The city had no idea what to do.  There was a drought, and you think people would have been outside with pots and pans, running around, screaming, trying to catch all the water they could.

Nope.  They were just hitting each other with cars.  I wonder if the driver’s handbook for California recommends flooring it at the first drop of water.  “When it rains,” it must say, “stoplights don’t count anymore.  The only rules are what a man makes for himself.  Hit or be hit.  Him or me.  Blood in and blood out.”

It’s an old joke, but seriously, don’t drive in LA when it’s raining.

One weekend, the streets actually flooded, and I got a call from Starbucks.  My first interview.  I was hired later that week.  I was on fire with writing, too.  I wrote every day.  I finished three screenplays.  I finally got my film industry mentor assigned to me.  I was talking to some other industry people, too.  It was magical.

And it rained, and it rained, and it rained.

And then it stopped, right around my birthday.  Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months again.  The savings dwindled away, and I just kept working at Starbucks.  I didn’t place in a screenplay competition, and then in another, and another, and another.

I just kept waiting for it to rain.

Stephanie bought a basil plant soon after we moved into our apartment.  She set it on our kitchen windowsill, which gets light for a good portion of the day.  She watered it daily.

It got neglected when she got her editing job.  Either that, or it felt restrained in its pot.  Who knows what plants are thinking.  Probably “wow.  I wish I was something else.”

It was July, and I was home alone.  I walked downstairs for some water, and I saw the plant.  It was brown, and leaned to the side.  It’s pot was encircled by decaying leaves.

I stared at it.  I was holding a cup of coffee.  It was warm in my hands.

I stared at the plant and I wondered if it was waiting for it to rain, too.

So I watered it.  It was right next to the sink.  I can’t believe I never thought to do it before.

It’s getting close to rainy season again and, if the weather people are correct, this El Niño is going to make it a doozy.

I can’t wait to see what this next rainy season will bring.

I keep watering the plant anyway, though.

It seems to be doing better.

basil

A Twitching In My Fingers


coffee farm

I wake up every morning twitching.  It starts in my toes, and then travels upward until it finally reaches my finger tips, which convulse like a dying spider.

Coffee.

But, I mean, come on, man.  I don’t need it.  It needs me.  What red blooded american can get started in the morning without a cup of joe?

Am I right?  Amirite?  A,md kmm lslkfdsmnfs fofdfsnj jkn

Sorry, my hand was spasming on my keyboard.  Be right back.

Ahh, that’s better.  Can you smell it?

Starbucks gives me a free bag of coffee a week.  I’ve sampled every single blend, but I make it a point of honor to grab a bag every week, no matter what.  I consider it a raise.  An extra dollar a day that I won’t have to spend on coffee.

Coffee.

Here’s my current stash, minus the dozen or so I pawn off to the less fortunate.

I could start my own store.

I could start my own store.

I don’t have a problem, though.  I’m just lucky to have that much coffee.  I am the one percent.

The first thing I do after twitching is go downstairs and make some coffee.  I usually make eight cups.  The only thing I hate about making eight cups is how long it takes for the god damn coffee machine to finish making eight cups.

What’s that?  Oh, sorry.  Just… I’m not myself until I’ve had my coffee.

I drink my coffee out of a mug I bought in Scotland.  I normally only have about two mug-fulls.

See? I told you I didn’t have a problem.

Scottish Coffee Mug

Oh, god.  It’s almost as big as the coffee machine.

I just measured.  It can almost hold a liter of coffee.  A LITER OF COFFEE.  That’s like as big as a BUBBA MUG.  Is Scotland the Alabama of Britain, or do they just market these things to oblivious americans whose concept of size is so corrupted from fast food that they look at this coffee mug and say “gee, I could drink one of two of those a morning back in my home, ‘merica.”

Almost a liter.

Maybe I do have a problem.

But as I always say, “what’s the point in being addicted to something if you can’t do it every day?”

Happy coffee drinking, readers.  You know we all need it.

coffee genie

Dogs and Babies Are The Same Thing


dumb ass dogs

My family is a dog family.  My parents have a golden retriever.  My sister has a pug.  If I were able to afford to feed another being other than myself, I would probably have a dog too.  Well, maybe if I didn’t live in LA.

Los Angeles must be hell for dogs.  Their acute hearing must ring with every horn honk and fire truck siren, the stenches of human secretion and garbage that grace the streets must ravage their sensitive noses.  The hundred-degree concrete can’t be good for their paw pads, and the only grass in my neighborhood is already so full of poop that it basically is poop.

Careless dog owners leave the poop.  I like to imagine they think they are doing the grass a service.  In this drought-ridden land, where water is scarce and sprinklers are basically outlawed, dog poop might be the only moisture the grass gets.  In their minds, I think, they are keeping LA green with a little bit of brown.

The poop thing doesn’t really bother me.  I live in an apartment.  It’s not my grass, and after my second or third venture into a plot of turf, I’ve learned just not to walk on the stuff.  City dogs don’t bother me, either.  They’re always on leashes and seem so blasé about every new stimulus they come across that I feel sorry for them.  Here comes a doberman pincher, its face droopy with ennui.  A squirrel crosses his path, and the doberman merely watches it trot along before wandering over to a three inch by five inch tuft of scrub to defecate.  Back it goes, into a tiny studio apartment, to sit on a couch and watch re-runs of Law and Order while it’s owner asks it for notes on her audition.

“Yeah, I wanted that line to be ‘bark’, but what if I tried it less ‘bark'”?

The only dogs that bother me are the dogs that people bring into the mall.  If I had to make a list of places where dogs don’t belong, the mall would be included, along with hospitals and the surface of the sun.

I saw one urinate on some of our fake plants one time.  Its owner told him “good boy” and then just walked away.  I’m supposed to call someone when this happens.  Mall security, I think.  I never do, though.  It’s not my fake plant.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I wonder if dogs poop in the fake plants.  It’s why I don’t use the escalators anymore.  They’re just too close.

The only thing worse than dogs are babies.  You would think that babies wouldn’t be as bad.  You can leave a dog at home.  You can’t really leave your baby at home.  Babies are only good at a few things, and finding creative ways to injure themselves seems to be one of them.  “I have no idea how she fell down the trash chute, officer.  I had only popped over to the mall to walk my dog for an hour or, so.  Honestly, how did she have the time?”

Babies are worse because dogs eventually get tired of making noise.  Babies never do.  More often than not, I’ll be on register, writing down someone’s very berry hibiscus refresher on a trenta cup (no ice, extra berries), and a baby will be wailing.  It’s impossible to discern where the noise comes from.  There are dozens of strollers in line, and dozens more waiting for drinks.  Strollers prowl the walkways and block the elevator.  Strollers gently rise up and down on escalators, and jam up the exit routes.  If there were a fire, only people who ran hurdles in high school would be able to make it to safety.  The strollers would foil the rest of us.

I was cleaning the stores lobby when a baby barked at me.  I turned to its stroller, and it wasn’t a baby.  It was a dog.  The dog smiled, wagged it’s tale, and barked again.  It must have been two or three, and seemed to be in perfect health.  Its owner turned and looked at me.  The expression on her face said “well, aren’t you going to complement my dog?”

I looked next to her, where another woman stood behind her stroller.  There was a baby in her’s, and a young couple were fawning over it.

And that’s when I got it.

You don’t bring your baby or your dog to the mall for their enjoyment, or health, or benefit at all.  You don’t take them because you can’t leave them home.

You bring them because it makes you special.  It sets you apart from the rest of us.  Your a mother, or a father, a caretaker of some kind.  You want to be complemented.

You’re showing off.  That’s why you bought the bright pink, two thousand dollar stroller that has a mini AC in it.

The dog owner was still looking at me.  Her face still longed for validation.

I gave in.

“Dogs aren’t allowed in the mall” I told her.

She blinked.

Thirty minutes later, my shift ended, and I got to go home, to blissfully continue my life, free of both babies and dogs.

Because, really.  Can you tell the difference?

dog and baby

People on the Streets


freddie-mercury-yellow-jacket

I woke up at 8:00 AM on Labor Day because I had to go to work.

The mall knows no loyalties, and laughs in the face of the holidays of man.  No one I worked with was happy about it, me least of all.  Sometimes, you wake up, especially on Labor day, and you wonder, would it really be that bad if I didn’t show up?  So what if I got fired?  So what?

Management tried to placate us by running reduced hours.  As if that would help.  Veterans like me knew the score.  Time and a half wouldn’t cut it.  Reduced hours wouldn’t cut it.  Holidays at a mall in southern California are hell.

It starts off slow.  A trickle.  The mall employees come first.  They’re never the issue.  Since they work jobs more or less like mine, they sympathize with the struggle.  Then the families start coming, sun burned yuppies with strollers the size of sedans.  Their children aren’t howling, not yet, but they will be later in the day, when the mall is so crowded with people soaking up the free AC that you can’t even see the floor.

It gets busy around 12, like a tsunami hitting a small coastal village.  You don’t see it coming until it’s already there.  I’ve often stared out over the bar on holidays, watching the line, my molars dry with fear, and wondered “how can there be this many people in the world.”  I’ve thought this before, at concerts or sporting events, when you’re crammed into a stadium with 80,000 other people, the population of medieval London.  How do this many people exist?  What do they do?  How is there enough stuff for everyone?

I always dither on my phone for a good hour or so when I wake up.  That labor day was no different.  I checked facebook first, to see what my East Coast friends were up to while I completed my slumber, and then I switch over to wordpress to see how many views the Australians and Indians netted me (here’s a hint, guys: try harder), and then it’s on to reddit, youtube, and email.

That day, someone linked a video of The Foo Fighters, along with John Paul Jones and the drummer from Queen doing a cover of Under Pressure.  It was pretty good, but in my estimation paled to the original.  Master ditherer that I am, I watched a bunch of live videos of Freddy and the boys preforming it as I got dressed.  It was infectious.  I bopped and grooved in the most awkward ways imaginable to the baseline.

Bub bum bum bububu bum.  Left shoe, right shoe.  Bub bum bum bububu bum.  Shirt, bow tie.  Oom ba bob-et.  Oom-oom bob-et.

I kept the party going in my car too.  I blasted my e-dey dahs and oom ba ba bets for everyone to enjoy as I cruised down Ventura.  There was hardly any traffic.  Everyone was still enjoying their day off.  Not me though.  I was driving to work, barely holding my anger in check.  My friends were going to be grilling, hanging out, going to the beach.  I was going to be at the mall, selling frappacinos to chubby kids who smelled.

Oom ba bob-et.

There were a lot of homeless people, though.  They were out in droves, pushing their shopping carts full of their dirty rags, covered in dirtier rags, looking altogether helpless.

I wondered what they thought of Labor Day.

A month before, the battery in my Prius died.  We bought a new one and installed it, but Auto Zone had sold me a dud, and so the car wouldn’t start.  My friend Mike and I took two weeks trying everything we could to fix it.  Turns out we were right with our very first guess, but how were we to know?  The battery tester / charger  had ordered from Amazon was still in the mail, so we scoured the car for any sort of imperfection.

I walked to work for those two weeks.  I actually ended up enjoying it.  Besides the heat, it was a pretty enjoyable trip.  It was the walking back part that I hated, but I managed to get rides from friends pretty regularly, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

It was walking to work one day when I realized I didn’t have any deodorant.  I stopped by a grocery store on my way to work, and bought some Old Spice and a bottle of San Pellegrino.  I left the store and was a good distance down the sidewalk when I realized that if I didn’t want to arrive to work and curl eveyrone’s nose hairs, I should out on my deodorant before I started sweating.

So I did.  I walked down the street casually applying deodorant to my underarms.  Ventura in between Kester and Van Nuys is pretty busy.  I passed by a good dozen people as I slathered deodorant on my arm pits with one hand, and drank a now very flat bottle of Pellegrino with the other.

Ba da dum bum bum… okay!

Everyone gave me looks.  I gave them all looks back, challenging them to say something.

The only people who didn’t say anything were the homeless.  They normally bugged me for money, but on that day, they left me be.  I passed unmolested through their huddled masses.

I realized they considered me a kindred spirit.  I was a desperate man, reduced to using the outside world as his bathroom.

It was then that I realized the that they and I were separated by a very thin line.  One bad rent check, one broken leg, one firing, and I’d be out there with them, in the streets, begging for change and applying deodorant to my underarms.

I thought about this as I turned onto Van Nuys.  There were even more homeless here, and these didn’t even have carts.  They just sat in the shade, their heads drooping in defeat.

And I was on my way to work on Labor Day, the day your supposed to have off.

It always bugged me that Starbucks makes people work on the holidays.  I went to a Starbucks on Christmas Day one time, and the white mocha didn’t taste so great.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized they didn’t do anything wrong.  It was the shame, the shame at giving Starbucks five dollars worth of a reason to stay open on a holiday.

I don’t like working on holidays, but as I drove down the street, I realized it was better than the alternative.

I still have friends who don’t have jobs.  My buddy Mike, the one who helped me with my car, is still unemployed.  He’s been looking for a year.  I’m lucky I have anything.

Dum dum dum dududu dum.

The malls parking lot was almost empty when I pulled it.  It wouldn’t stay that way.  I switched under pressure to my phone and kept listening to it with my earbuds as I walked to work.

I sang along to the nonsense words Freddy shouts throughout the song.  Ee do bob et.  Ee de do bop bop!

I caught movement in my peripherals, and saw that there was some guy walking next to me.  He worked in the mall to, he had heard me singing, and he was terrified, because in my nonsensical shouts he saw what I truly was: a man who would walk down the street applying deodorant to his underarms.

He slowed down and let me go ahead, because he knew that a man who would walk down the street applying deodorant to his underarms is a desperate man, capable of anything, ready at a moments notice to stab you with the business end of a Pellegrino.

Bowling Club


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For our first work outing, we collectively decided to go bowling.  I don’t know why.  I can’t imagine many people actually like bowling.  I mean, I’m sure they do, or else bowling alleys wouldn’t exist, but to me, bowling was a last ditch effort at fun for middle-schoolers.  “Well, there’s bowling” we’d say as we lay around on someone’s bedroom floor, the fan spinning lazily about us.  I always tried to track one of the individual blades, but would give up after my head began to hurt.  “It’s better than nothing, right?”  After a while, everyone else grumpily agrees, and off we’d go.

My parents distrusted bowling.  I’m not sure if something bad happened to them when they were younger, or if they had read that bowling alleys were full with kidnappers and sexual predators, but that’s certainly what they thought, and they would always try to discourage us from going.  “Bowling?  You don’t want to go bowling,” my mother would say, “bad people going bowling.  People that want to do bad things for you.”  We could never prove her wrong.  Who knew if the thin, fifty-year-old man in the Harley-Davidson hat was only pretending to be a sad alcoholic, when, in actuality, he was scoping out the joint, searching for kiddies to stuff into a sack and take home?

creep

So I was resistant to bowling, but bowling won out like it always did.  I think it’s because everyone can do it.  It takes skill to be good at bowling, but it doesn’t take much to hurl a ceramic ball down a narrow corridor.  Michael made a list and asked anyone who wanted to go to write down their names so he could get an accurate count and be able to estimate how much it would cost to reserve lanes.  Everyone wrote their names down, including me.  Two of my friends were leaving Starbucks for greener pastures, and I didn’t want to miss one last chance to hang out with them.

This was about three weeks before the event.  In the time in between when I signed on the line and we actually went bowling, I spent five hundred dollars fixing my car, my rent went up, and I lost every cent I had.

I couldn’t afford go.  It was that simple, and it provided a anti-bowling person like me with the perfect alibi.  I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have to feel bad about not going to bowling.  In fact, other people had to feel bad for me because I was unable to go bowling.  It was a win-win; the perfect crime.  All I had to do was tell Michael I wasn’t going to go.

Then another week passed, and I forgot all about bowling until the very Saturday we were supposed to go.

I came into work and Chase asked me if I was going bowling. I stopped and stared at him, and then my face went through some gymnastics I wish someone would have caught on camera.  Surprise.  Horror.  Pain.

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.  I don’t have any money.”

“Gotcha,” Chase said, ever understanding.

“Is Michael here?”

“He’s in the back.”

I walked to the back to tell Michael I wasn’t going just as he set his phone down.

“God damn it!” he shouted.  “That’s seven people who’ve cancelled, and I’m out $200 dollars.”  Then he looked at me.  My face went through some gymnastics I wish someone would have caught on camera.  Surprise.  Horror.  Pain.  Michael noticed.  “You aren’t bailing too, are you?”

“Bailing? Me?  Bowling?  No.  Bailing?  I love bowling.  When do I have to pay you?  Bowling is great.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Just some time next week.”

“Okay, great.”

Ten minutes later, while making a Pumpkin Spice Latte, I realized my mistake.  I hate bowling!  I don’t have any money!  Please, help!  I don’t want to go.

It was too late, so at 11 o’clock that night, I headed over to Pinz Bowling.

pinz

It was a relatively nondescript complex that had some impressive lights and a rather large, nicely maintained parking lot.  I was impressed with how clean it was.  I was also impressed with how close I lived to it.  It only took me three minutes to get there, and I left early, so I sat and my car, like I always do, and listened to Raw Power by The Stooges.

I got out of my car at exactly 11 and went inside.

All the bowling alleys I’ve ever been too were so full of cigarette smoke that you couldn’t even see the far wall, and lit by the sort of fluorescent lights that make you think you’re in a mental institution.

Pinz was packed with cool dudes smoking vape pins.  They had backwards facing hats and $900 leather jackets.  They wore brightly colored sneakers and drank craft beers and expensive little cocktails.  The women there wore tight clothing that accentuated their curves, had makeup on, and smelled amazing.  People were flirting, dancing, laughing.  Everyone had all their teeth, and I didn’t see a single knife or syringe anywhere.  There wasn’t even a single guy that looked like a pedophile.

And that was just the lobby.

There were twenty to thirty bowling lanes, all glowing faint neon blues and greens.  Hip twenty somethings bowled and drank in the lights embrace.  DJ lighting made strange colors dance playfully across the floor, and pop music blasted so loudly through the ceiling speakers that I couldn’t hear myself softly moan in utter shock.

I met my friends Matt and Wayne, and we went to our lanes.  I walked by more gorgeous women than I had seen in the past month.  None of them were bowling.  They were there trying to be noticed.

I used the computer in the lanes to select the theme for our bowl.  I gave matt’s lane “fairy tale”, which meant that a dragon appeared on the screen and ate a knight whenever someone got a strike.  I picked disco for my lane.  Each possible score was accompanied by a silhouette that would preform a strange dance.  Both themes tickled my fancy more than I care to admit.  Hell, the idea of having themes was hilarious.

I looked around as more people from work started to arrive.  They knew the score.  They were all dressed up, and here I was in my blue jeans and Iron Maiden T-Shirt.  The lights looked so expensive.  The sound system was amazing.  The bowling shoes were shiny and new.  I think I saw someone drinking a cosmo.

This wasn’t a bowling alley.  This was a bowling club, and strangely, even though all of this stuff must have cost more than I’ll probably ever earn in my life, it felt cheap.  I didn’t like how people were laughing and having fun.  I didn’t like how I could breathe.  I didn’t like how I could see for more than thirty feet.

We played three sets.  I was abysmal.  I’m not much of a bowler.  1:30 rolled around, and I decided to call it quits.  A lot of the club crowd had left at this point, too.  My group was having a blast, though, and were planning on staying for another thirty minutes.

I said goodbye to everyone, especially the two people who were leaving my store, and secretly vowed to never return to this terrible, terrible place.

As I left, a man walked toward me.  He was smoking a cigarette, even though we were inside.  The flashing lights and stupid blue glow of the place accentuated his orange tented glasses and receded hairline.  He looked even more thin than he probably was.  He carried a black duffel bag, and I could only imagine what was inside.  A bone saw, or maybe duct tape and a gag.  He was downright sinister.

I thought about my parents, and the bowling alleys of my youth.

We looked at each other as we passed on the stairs, and an understanding passed between us.  You can take the bowling out of the bowling alley, but you can’t take the bowling alley out of the bowling.

He went and started bowling in an open lane.  His only company was a bottle of Jack and whatever demons he brought with him.

I left him be, and returned my shoes.

“Did you have a good time?” The guy behind the counter asked me.

“Not really,” I answered, “but I think this place is growing on me.”c700x420

Cry For Absolution


You approach the great doors.  They’re fifteen feet tall, made of some dark wood, and expertly polished.  Embossed on them are a tableaux: man falls from the mortal plane, down through caverns and holes and finally into a giant lake of fire.

You push the doors open, and enter a sanctuary.

Great stone columns line the center walkway.  The columns and the walls of the place are carved from a dark, dark stone.  No natural light enters the room, but the flickering candles cast strange shadows dancing across the walls and floor.

A wine red carpet leads you past several pews where the faithful wait, towards an altar at the front.  At the altar, a green skin creature in vestments exhorts the crowd.  He wears a hood.  His face is concealed.

“Cheer, oh faithful” he intones, “and rejoice.  The prophecy has been fulfilled.  50,000 views.”  He lifts too clawed hands in a call for exultation.  The faithful respond.

“What?” You ask.  “50,000 views?  How is it possible?”

The green skinned one turns to you.  You see a flash of white teeth behind the darkness of his hood.

“Through the corn goblin all things are possible.”

Your legs feel weak.  You fall to your knees.  The green skinned creature nods.

“What a fool I was,” you mutter, “for not reading his posts.”

“All the things you desire are here, if you only knew to look.”

“How?”

The green skinned one gestures to the altar.  You see it now.  A giant statue of something vaguely human shaped at sitting with a laptop on it’s knees.

“Put your hands up and reach for the sky.  Cry for absolution.”

The room is quiet now.  You look around.  The congregation of the faithful surrounds you.  You look at their hands.  They all hold corn.

“Please… please… 50,000 views!  How?”

The green one is before you now.  He holds out an ear of corn.

You stare at it.

And then you grab it and take a bite.

It’s rather good, but could use some butter.

The green one grins.

“50,000 views, paid for by viewers like you.”  He looks directly at you.  “It’s a big achievement.  Thanks for stopping by.  Become a reader now, and know that it’s not to late.  A corny absolution could be yours, too.”

“Corny?”  You ask.  Your lip trembles.  He nods again.

“All you have to do is read.”

Goblin

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