Children of Summer


rainy window.jpg

It’s rained a lot this year.

We’ve had a deluge of water plummet from the sky.

I’ve only lived here for two years but this much precipitation seems odd for Southern California.

We’re starting to find the cracks in our buildings. Things grow in the dark places under benches and rocks, in the nooks and crannies we didn’t even know our homes had until we detected a strange odor and opened a cabinet to find it full of green.

I had a teacher. Ms. Something-or-other. I remember she was a Ms. and not a Mrs. more than I remember her name because she rarely said her name but she told us all the time about her failed marriage.

We we’re in sixth grade. We just wanted to lay on the floor and watch the overhead fan spin. If you watched carefully you could trace the individual blades with your eyes and it would look sort of like it wasn’t moving at all.

Ms. Something-or-other told me that a lot was a bad word because it didn’t mean anything. I told her it did. She asked me what it meant. I just said more than some.

She didn’t like that.

Better, she opined, to use words like many or several. These words, she told us, had meaning. They had a more concrete value than the lackadaisical a lot.

We didn’t care, though. We just wanted to go catch coquina shells on the beach. They would all sink back under the watery sand when the tide went it. If pressed, I would say there were a lot of them.

Ms. Something-or-other probably wouldn’t have liked that.

But we were children of summer.

South West Florida didn’t have seasons back then. It probably still doesn’t. It has summers. There is, starting from the top of the year, the pollen summer, followed by the wet summer, followed by the hot summer, followed by the good summer, the greatest of them all, dry and temperate, sometimes even cold.

The good summer was nice even though all of the old people came down and clogged-up out roads. Sometimes they would drive the wrong direction on I-75. That wasn’t much fun.

We didn’t care, though. Instead we were in the mall, eating pretzels and chasing the girls around.

I had never understood summer or spring. In music class we would wear romantic orchestras blasting out lovely melodies in honor of the rosy spring and verdant summer, but none of us ever got it.

“Why do they like summer so much?” I would ask Joe Quinn.

“It’s just a bunch of rain,” he would say, her nervous eyes narrowed in skepticism as a flute tweeted and twilled like a bird.

“You can’t even go outside,” I added over the oboes.

Maybe that’s what they liked. Orchestras spent most of their time inside. All they needed was an excuse.

I went to college in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham is a place that has four season, but their all terrible except for fall. There is so much pollen in spring hat I could see it wafting across the quad in great yellow cloud, engulfing freshman fooling enough to try to enjoy the good weather. They would come out the other end on all fours, coughing and clawing at the ground, begging God to open up their air passages. Tears streaked their faces.

Summer had the heat of Los Angeles with the humidity of Florida and the bugs of the Amazon basin. You could only go out at night, and my, those nights were magical. We would prowl around the quad, smoking cigarillos and laughing off the buzz we picked up at the J Clyde.

Sometimes we wold kick things, things like lamp posts or tree trunks, not out of malice, but simple to test if they were really there and this all was’t part of a dream or movie.

Fall was the only tolerable time of year, but it lasted for about two weeks in mid-November.

Winter was cold enough to bite but warm enough to rain. It would be wet and 43. It felt like the heat-death of the universe.

I moved to Los Angeles and expected eternal summer. What I got was perpetual drought. Sometimes it was a cold drought. Sometimes it was a hot one. Most of the time it was a pleasant drought, like the countryside had gotten into a classy hospice.

But this year it rained.

If pressed, I would have to say a lot.

People don’t talk about the drought anymore.

They talk about the unrelenting rain and the perpetual cold. They talk about the holes in the roofs and the green in their cabinets and the brown water-stains on their ceilings and their wet bike seats and how there’s no reason to go outside if you’re going to get wet.

They talk about dreams of summer.

I do too.

For the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to spring and summer.

For the first time in my life, I get why the musicians played.

Because I’m a child of summer, a boy from a land of heat and water, a creature of the everglades and the beach and the sand and the golf courses and the estuaries and the boats and the water skies and the tubes and the wave riders and the pools and the slides and the sprinklers that fired off droplets that would catch the late afternoon light and explode into sprinkles of magic golds that would tumble into the grass that was quickly turning into mud but you didn’t care so you kept jumping and jumping and someone would come out with the water balloons and the kids would screech and for a moment, just for a moment

time stopped.

It froze.

And you wanted to kick something.

Not out of malice,

no, not that,

but just to make sure

that this

was real,

and not a dream

or  just

a part

of some movie.

In search of a camouflage coffee cup



I own a camouflage coffee tumbler. I bought it several years ago when I was living in Tallahassee, Florida. I was in film school and had no reliable way to transport coffee from my apartment, down the creepy trail out back and to class, so I was in the market for a cheap, reliable tumbler that could also express my personality.

I found a camouflage one in the home goods aisle at Publix. It tickled my fancy because I found it so useless. Do hunters really think it necessary to have coffee cups camouflaged? Would a deer really be about to munch on some nuts or grass or twigs or whatever it is that deer eat but then perk up, the delightful aroma of roasted beans filling its nostrils, and scan the wilderness, its eyes locking onto a suspicious black mug with suspicious steam suspiciously wafting from its suspicious top, and then dash away?

Probably not.

It was ridiculous, but I supposed camouflage was more about selling you a lifestyle than anything actually prudent.

I bought the cup and was still using it on January first, two thousand and seventeen.

I had high hopes for the new year. I was three months into my new job and finally starting to figure things out. I didn’t have to work at Starbucks anymore, and I could afford the basic necessities that enabled me to be distinguished as a human being rather than one of our half simian ancestors: razors, shampoo, soap and groceries.

I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. I firmly believe there is no time like the present to do what you want, to change your life. The only person stopping you from achieving that is you.

But I had also never worked a full time job that ate up most of my day and left me too tired to exercise or write or learn songs or trawl the internet looking for eligible women. These things were easy to do when I worked twenty hours a week. Working forty plus, however, made it quite a bit more difficult.

Resolutions happen when you aren’t happy with something in your life, usually a habit, and you want to fix it.

So I had decided to get back on the laptop and start writing again. It was a thrilling prospect.

So I sat at my desk, my camouflage cup steaming with turmeric tea beside me, and I wrote for about ten minutes, and then I didn’t know what to do next.

It wasn’t writer’s block. I don’t really believe in writer’s block. It was simply that the idea I was working on was so loose that I needed to give it a good back-of-the-mind think before I actually started putting keys to digital paper.

I decided to take a walk. I saw a graph one time that showed how much more active a brain is after a brisk stroll. The weather was perfect, fifty degrees and windy, but with a clear, blue sky and smogless air that promised a bright year indeed. It was also mid-afternoon, and the sun was beginning its descent. The sky was afire with beautiful colors. I walked outside and breathed in the chill. It was perfect.

I called my Mom. We chatted as I walked. I got home, invigorated and ready to tackle a new project. I grabbed my computer from my desk and went to the couch downstairs.

I realized I didn’t have my camouflage cup with me.

I checked my room.

There was no camouflage cup.

I checked the kitchen.

There was no camouflage cup.

Vanished.

I thought back and recalled that I had stopped at some point during my walk to take off my hood of or readjust my shoe. I remembered setting my cup down on a post, or a column, or maybe a low wall.

I also begrudgingly realized the humor in being unable to find a camouflage cup.

I must have left out in the neighborhood, cold and alone, waiting for me like an orphaned child in the quickly approaching Los Angeles night.

I had to go find it. I couldn’t get anything written, I couldn’t even scribble a single letter without my camouflage tumbler. It made it through film school, it survived the three-thousand-mile drive to California. It held beer and coffee and wine and tea and liquor and soda and just plain water. It’s seen it all, that weathered old cup, and it lived to tell the tale.

I rushed outside, grabbing only my keys, and power walked to the first street I walked down. My eyes were wide, taking in as much light as possible, trying desperately to spot my camouflaged, plastic friend.

The trouble with camouflaged cups resting on posts or low walls, I soon realized, was that they blended in perfectly with the local flora. I was taken aback with how difficult it was to differentiate a bushy outcropping from a possible camouflaged Tervis Tumbler. I had to walk up and inspect every bush to make sure I didn’t miss it.

My, what the neighbors must have thought as I rummaged through their shrubbery, cursing to myself and frowning.

I was feeling lightheaded too, but not in a bad way. It was more of a pleasant buzz from the antibiotics I was taking combined with the feeling of finally getting over my sinus infection. The shadows were long on the streets that afternoon, and there wasn’t another soul about. It felt like a dream, a terrible, beautiful nightmare in which I lost my favorite cup.

I turned down a new street and saw two people sitting on the roof of an old house. They looked like models and flashed perfect smiles at me as I passed. I waved. It reminded me of relaxing afternoons on Marco Island, drinking Jeff’s Mom’s rum punch and watching the world float by on white fishing boats.

The models seemed like they were the last two members of a formerly large New Years party, soaking up the last electric charges of two thousand and sixteen and looking forward to what was to come.

They soon lost interest in me, instead turning the unblemished visages toward the golden-pink evening horizon. I passed with no incident, stopping only at their mailbox to ensure I hadn’t left my cup on top of it.

Alas, it was as cupless as the day it was cobbled together, an inauspicious start to a new year.

A gaggle of school girls approached from further down the street. I could hear their shrieks and giggles from half a block away. I could tell from their demeanor that wouldn’t surrender even an inch of sidewalk, and so, as they drew near, I stepped aside into the grass.

The last time I did this I fell in a hole and sprained my ankle.

This time I just stepped in dog poop.

I judged from the consistency that it was old dog poop, which was a blessing, since I reckoned old dog poop would probably be less pungent than the fresh stuff.

I tried to scrape my shoe clean as I walked, causing me to have a bizarre, rocking gait as if I were auditioning to play the part of Igor in a Frankenstein reboot. I reached the end of the street, still relatively certain the poo remained, and I realized that I was done.

I had gone down all the streets I walked before.

My cup was on none of them.

Someone must have taken it or thrown it away.

I could see it now, a quaint family coming home from church to find a mysterious camouflaged Tervis Tumbler with something insidious and orange brewing inside of it. The terror they must have felt.

“How? What?” The Mother would ask.

“Don’t look at it, dear,” the Husband would say, shielding his families eyes as best he could, “It might be the work of ISIS.”

“Do you think?”

“Obama has left us defenseless, I’m afraid. Situations like strange coffee cups appearing on people’s posts are only going to become more common.”

“But what can we do?”

“We can be strong. For the children.”

“For the children.”

They probably called the bomb squad shortly thereafter, who disposed of it with a controlled detonation.

A shame. My cup deserved better.

There was one more street to my left. I was relatively certain I hadn’t walked it’s length earlier, but I would be remiss if I didn’t exhaust all of my options.

The cup wasn’t there, either, so I headed home.

A man walked a good dozen yards in front of me. He wore a dirty hat and was angrily talking on the phone.

He stopped and turned. I saw he had no phone.

Ah.

I kept my distance, walking slow enough that he gained a steady lead. He eventually stopped to talk at an older couple walking their dogs.

“But that’s the things about kids,” I heard him say as I passed. He sounded like Droopy from Looney Tunes. “The thing about kids is that they like anything you show them. Like Donald Trump.”

“The problem with Donald Trump,” the old man said, “is that he doesn’t mean anything he says, or that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“But what’s the difference between him and now?”

“Him and now?” The old man asked. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Before now and now. What’s the difference?”

“The difference is that he’s the president, and he can make some very important decisions.”

“Kids like anything you show them,” Droopy agreed.

I left them to solve the world’s problems.

The walk home was cold. Perhaps this year wouldn’t be any different. Perhaps it’s promises were already disintegrating into lies. Perhaps I wouldn’t write more screenplays or finish two more novels. Perhaps I wouldn’t sell another story or monetize my finished book. Perhaps the new job wouldn’t last. Perhaps all my teeth would rot out.

I poop-shoed my way into the apartment and up the stairs.

My camouflage cup was on my desk.

Waiting for me.

I just hadn’t looked

I picked it up.

The tea was still warm.

Scenes from a pitch meeting in 1956 juxtaposed with scenes from a pitch meeting in 2016


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CURTAIN UP

INT. BOARD ROOM – DAY – 1956

Several MEN IN SUITS (50’s and 60’s)  sit at a table. They chain smoke cigarettes as if they think cigarettes are good for you.

Come to think of it, they probably do think that.

A WRITER (40’s) enters and sits down.

GREY SUIT: Here. Have a cigarette.

WRITER (lighting his own cigarette): No thanks, I brought my own.

BLACK SUIT: I like the cut of this guy’s jib.

GREY SUIT: So we’re looking for something no one has ever seen before. Something that will shock America and make the housewives go: “Heavens to Betsy!”

BLACK SUIT: What do you have?

The writer takes a long drag and then smiles.

WRITER: A horse…

The Writer exhales his smoke. The Suits hang on his every word.

WRITER: That can talk.

The Suits blink rapidly. They’re programming is overloaded.

BLACK SUIT: A horse… that can talk?

WRITER: Yes.

Blinking intensifies.

Finally…

GREY SUIT: Jesus fucking christ.

Black suit grabs a BRIEFCASE from beneath the CONFERENCE TABLE.

Grey Suit picks up a phone.

GREY SUIT (into phone): Get me the head of the network. I’ve got something he’s got to… he’s just… GET HIM ON THE GODDAMN LINE.

BLACK SUIT (sliding briefcase): Here’s a million dollars.

The writer takes the briefcase and lights a cigarette.

They all light more cigarettes.

CURTAIN DOWN

CURTAIN UP

INT. BOARD ROOM – DAY – 2016

Several MEN IN SUITS (50’s and 60’s)  sit at a table. They chain drink bottles of ARTISANAL JUICE and KOMBUCHA as if they think ARTISANAL JUICE and KOMBUCHA are good for you.

Come to think of it, they probably do think that.

A half deflated blow up FEMALE EXECUTIVE leans casually in the corner. There is a good deal of dust on her shoulders. She hasn’t been touched in quite some time, but does technically count as a woman in the office.

A WRITER (40’s) enters and sits down.

GREY SUIT: Here, have an artisanal juice or kombucha.

WRITER (opening his own kale, red pepper and lemongrass juice) No thanks. I brought my own.

BLACK SUIT: I like the cut of this guy’s jib.

GREY SUIT: So we’re looking for something no one has ever seen before. Something that will shock America and make the millenials say: “I’m lit!”

BLACK SUIT: What do you have?

The writer takes a long quaff and then smiles.

WRITER: A horse…

The Writer sets down his bottle. The suits hang on his every word.

WRITER: That can talk.

The Suits blink rapidly. They’re programming is overloaded.

BLACK SUIT: A horse… that can talk?

WRITER: Yes.

Blinking intensifies.

GREY SUIT: Are you stupid or something?

BLACK SUIT: That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

GREY SUIT: A horse that can talk! What they fuck are you talking about?

BLACK SUIT: I wish you were a horse so you couldn’t talk.

GREY SUIT: We would shoot you when you broke your leg and open a goddamned glue factory.

The Writer recoils from the verbal typhoon. He scrambles for something to say.

WRITER: Um! He’s also an alcoholic!

The Suits blink.

GREY SUIT: Go on.

WRITER: And he suffers from depression and… he used to be a star of a Full House type show and… and… everyone is animals too!

The suits frown.

WRITER: WAIT! WAIT! Only, like, half of everyone else. And also we’ll get that kid from breaking bad to play someone.

Blinking intensifies

Finally…

GREY SUIT: Jesus fucking christ.

Black suit grabs a BRIEFCASE from beneath the CONFERENCE TABLE.

Grey Suit picks up a phone.

GREY SUIT (into phone): Get me the head of the network. I’ve got something he’s got to… he’s just… GET HIM ON THE GODDAMN LINE.

BLACK SUIT (sliding briefcase): Here’s a million dollars.

The writer takes the briefcase and opens a bottle of Kombucha.

They all open more bottles of kombucha.

CURTAIN DOWN

CURTAIN UP

INT. BOARD ROOM – DAY – 1956

Same set up as before.

WRITER: It’s about cops.

GREY SUIT: Yeah, okay, but what do they do?

WRITER: They solve…

He takes a long drag. The suits hang on his every word.

WRITER: Crimes.

BLACK SUIT: Here’s a million dollars.

CURTAIN DOWN

CURTAIN UP

INT. BOARD ROOM – DAY – 2016

Same set up as before.

WRITER: It’s about cops.

GREY SUIT: Yeah, okay, but what do they do?

WRITER: They solve…

He takes a long drink. The suits hang on his every word.

WRITER: Crimes.

Blinks.

GREY SUIT: Are you stupid?

BLACK SUIT: Where’s the hook? What’s the angle?

GREY SUIT: I wish you were a crime that cops had to solve.

BLACK SUIT: A murder.

GREY SUIT: Maybe we should kill you. With a hook.

BLACK SUIT: Or an angle.

WRITER: Wait, wait! The cops have… Amnesia! And everything they used to know is tattooed on their bodies like that one movie… Momento.

BLACK SUIT: Here’s a million dollars.

CURTAIN DOWN

CURTAIN UP

INT. BOARD ROOM – DAY – 1956

WRITER: It’s about a guy and his wacky family. That famous, overweight guy will be in it.

BLACK SUIT: Here’s a million dollars.

CURTAIN DOWN

CURTAIN UP

INT. BOARD ROOM – DAY – 2016

WRITER: It’s about a guy and his wacky family. That famous, overweight guy will be in it.

BLACK SUIT: Here’s a million dollars.

CURTAIN DOWN

END

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Charlie and the Ice Cream Factory


willy-wonka

I went to the bluebell ice cream factory once.

Well, I think I did, at least. It was back when I was living in Oklahoma. This was also back when I was six.

I get older and memories crack into snapshots, tiny little photos on a news feed that I have trouble figuring out how to scroll.

I think I went there. It’s not as clear as when I went to space camp or the ropes course in North Carolina.

We were at both those places for three days and I only remember certain things: we snuck into a haunted house in North Carolina. I was terrified, but there was this girl and…

I also remember that it rained one night in space camp. The roofs were made out of tin. Very unlike a spacecraft, I thought. It sounded like a drum line all night long. No one got any sleep.

I remember two things about bluebell:

  1. We got to eat ice cream at the end. I was disappointed that it tasted exactly the same as the bluebell ice cream you’d buy in a store, never making the connection that of course it would.
  2. It wasn’t even a little bit like Willy Wonka.

It was cold and polished steel. People walked around in what I thought were haz-mat suits and nothing was growing anywhere in sight.

People weren’t especially jolly.

There weren’t even indentured dwarves.

It was very un-magical.

Sometimes you don’t think about things until it’s too late. It’s why I like to meditate. I don’t just think about the day, but I try to let my mind wander wherever it wants to go. Sometimes it thinks about dogs. Sometimes it thinks about butts. Mostly it just thinks about mountains, but sometimes… sometimes it creates revelations.

The revelation created today was how much Gene Wilder affected my life even though I never met the man. He and John Cleese were always my heroes. Even without knowing it, they were who I tried to emulate when I preformed.

I’d always imagined myself being a Gene Wilder if I pursued acting: utterly bizzare and hilarious.

Being brilliant in everything I did.

I decided to write instead of act because at some point I became wary of most people, but I still wanted to be Gene Wilder. Wild this, Wild that, make it Wilder, man. Something funny and absurd but heartfelt. Something that will make people cry at the end of it all, as the rocket soars up over the city and you see the smile on a young boy’s face as he realizes it’s not just an ice cream factory.

It’s not.

It’s a world. It’s packaged goodness, coming out of a machine and being driven to places where people can buy it and eat it up and help their day out just a little.

That’s what I try to tell myself even on the worst days of Starbucks. You really are giving people sugary joy in a cup. Maybe a wink and a smile, make it Wilder, and you can brighten someone’s day.

Want to change the world? There’s nothing to it.

And so I was disappointed no one turned into a grape or got shrunk and there weren’t any orange slaves or a river made of chocolate when I went to the cie cream factory, but I realize now that I shouldn’t have been.

No.

Because ice cream factories ship joy.

Little boxes of happiness. Little tubs of Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. A round welcoming face, curly hair and occasionally a weird mustache.

Ah, there are so many things I wrote for you.

A tourist mistaken for an Area 51 general. A middle school music teacher who accidentally summons the court of Oberon and Titania. A down on his luck actor who talks like he’s from the Canterbury tales. A fake General Lee who just wants to win the re-enactment of the battle of Gettysburg for once.

Just one time.

So what about ice cream, anyway?

It’s magic. Just like Gene Wilder was magic just like everyone you ever admire was magic, and one day you’re going to wake up and find out they’re dead. They’ve been all used up, like the gross, sweet soup that’s always left in the bottom of an ice cream bowl.

And so you rinse it and the liquid spins down the drain. It goes down a pipe and into another pipe and into a bigger pipe and out to see.

Where maybe some fish enjoy it.

And it’s magic.

There’s a lot of things that are magic.

Almost everyone is magic.

But one day they’ll run out.

So do this.

Just tell them.

Walk right up to them and say it.

“You’re magic.”

Just tell them.

“You’re magic.”

Because you don’t want to do it too late.

All The Windows


fear

I scroll through my Facebook feed and I look at all the windows. My monitor is a thousand-story house, and I am a giant, peeking my hideously large eye into people’s lives.

This is the first election cycle I’ve been an adult about. I didn’t really care about the other ones because I was still in day care. The day care was called high school, college and graduate school, but it was day care all the same. The issues didn’t bother me because I didn’t have any issues. Student loans gave me more money than I knew what to do with, and my parents could always loan me the rest.

Life was good.

Then I moved out and moved to Los Angeles and life was hard.

It wasn’t the bills or the poverty or or my broken teeth or my job that made it almost impossible.

I can shoulder just about any difficulty.

It was the hopelessness.

It was the feeling that nothing mattered because it’s all rigged, anyway. It was the knowledge that there are some people who think you exist just to be miserable and give them money.

It was the thought that no matter how hard I tried I would never make it. I would never write a good book, and I would never get close to a TV writing room, and that, in the end, I would exist as nothing more than a warning to others.

“Don’t chase your dreams,” they’d say, passing by Old Man Brock as he babbles insanely on the sidewalk, “be an accountant. Be something safe. Have a house. Have a family. You’ll do alright if you just don’t chase your dreams.”

A man cannot live without hope. Hope is rain, the water that fertilizes your will to live.

It doesn’t have to be a big hope. It doesn’t have to be a grand design. It just has to be a hope. A hope for a better future. A hope for your family and your children to have it better off than you did. A hope that your hard work, now pointless toil, will one day amount to something. That you will be recognized, perhaps even in your eulogy, when someone like me will stand before your coffin and say: “She worked hard. She battered and she toiled. This is admirable.”

So I try to deal in hope. I try to find the hope in hopelessness.

It’s hard. It’s much harder than dealing in despair.

Any idiot can point out how hard things are.

The universe will one day burn out and die. Everything will be dead forever. All will be nothing.

But nothing is something, isn’t it?

And how long is forever, anyway?

There are people who disagree with hope. These people deal in fear, and hatred, and malice. They are the true evil. They tell you that you were right. That tiny little goblin in the back of your mind knew what it was talking about. You’re works do amount to nothing. It is all going to hell. There are people out to get you.

Don’t go outside. They’ll shoot you.

Don’t stay inside. They’ll blow you up.

We’re all selling something. These people are no different. They’re selling fear, and fear is addictive. A girl cowers before a roller coaster. A boy walks away from the girl he loves because he can’t ask her out. A girl stays inside and plays World of Warcraft because she hasn’t left her house in months. A boy doesn’t go to a job interview because he’s scared, he’s scared and it’s been so long.

I am not a violent man, but me heroes are those of violence. They rejected fear. They are the general who said “nuts” to the Germans as they encircled Bastogne. They are the women arrested fighting to vote, or the African Americans beaten for doing the same. They are the man in the Nazi rally photo who refused to heil Hitler.

the-tragically-powerful-story-behind-the-lone-german-who-refused-to-give-hitler-the-nazi-salute

They are people who showed bravery in the face of thousands yelling at them that they should cower, they should fear, they should tremble at the sound of hopeless thunder.

But bravery does not need violence.

So I stand, and my legs are a thousand feet tall, and I peek through my windows.

And I see heroes.

I see people going to conventions. I see people dressing up any way they want. I see men loving men, women loving women. I see young couples being married. Having children. I see my parents buying a dog even though they know it will die. I see love in the face of hatred, bold, shining love that will not be turned away. I see the power of humanity, the power of your very being and I smile.

I peek through the windows, my giant eye filling the entire frame, and I see a world around me, bright a beautiful.

And I think.

I truly think.

The shadows have nothing against the light.

They stand behind their podiums and they scream. “Be afraid!” They shout. “Take my fear!”

Pay them no heed.

Look out your window.

The world isn’t burning.

And even if it is.

It won’t burn forever.

And how long is forever, anyway?

view_with_a_window_by_ahermin

 

Dating, simplified


aajsr

Eric stared into the mirror. The surface was speckled with white spots of toothpaste. His electric toothbrush had painted them on the glass over the course of two years.

He should get around to cleaning it. He really should.

He’s the only one who uses the bathroom, though. Gone are the days of the mad scramble when someone says the words “could I use your restroom?” The frantic, wet sheets of toilet paper swiping across the toilet rim have disappeared. The hasty swiffer across the kitchen floor gathers dust in a forgotten closet.

The dirty clothes hamper festers.

Life is simply the act of trying to appear not as dirty as you actually are. Death is too, in a way. It’s why morticians exist.

Eric moved from where he used to be to where he is now. He had taken wing, a promise of good fortune and new friends was the wind that propelled him to parts unknown. He flew on hope like a seed. He spun in lopsided circles and lost his way and when he landed he had no idea what to do anymore.

Plus someone had torn him from his flower and tossed him away.

It still hurt.

He shaved. He did it slowly. He savored the feeling of the cool steel on his skin. It felt fresh. It felt new. He raked the hair from his visage and he was eight years younger. He wasn’t broken. He wasn’t used.

He wasn’t even out of the box.

He was ready.

So Eric hopped in his car and drove to a field.

It was lit in a way you only get in movies, a sort of erotic, soft blue that signifies it’s night while still be lighter than the dark. Eric wore a suit and tie. He double checked his lapels to make sure they were appropriate and stepped out of his car.

And his breath caught in his chest because a glen beyond the field was full of lights, soft yellows that reminded him of lanterns and porches, of swings and flowing draperies and love, oh how they reminded him of love.

Men and women flitted around the field, bumping into one another. The lights came from their asses.

Like fireflies.

Their posteriors flashed messages, a Morse code of longs and shorts, love and desire. Eric saw a cute girl with a sundress and dimples turn her rear to a dashing gentlemen in a plaid shirt and flash off and on.

“Do you like cats?” her ass signaled to him.

“No,” his booty blinked back.

The girl frowned and walked away.

Eric couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. Couldn’t rip his pupils off her bottom. He sighed, watching the way the light faded in brightness. A sign of disappointment or resignation? He wasn’t sure.

He was going to flutter over to her when a beauty intercepted him.

She bent over and showed him her butt.

“How tall are you?” It signaled.

“Five foot eight,” Eric’s ass signaled back.

She stood up and made a face that was the exact sort of face she would have made if she saw Eric’s apartment and strutted away, her rump blinking its disapproval.

The first strikeout of the night.

Eric scanned for the cat woman but she was gone.

Eric dove into the crowd, flashing left and right, blinking here and there. “No, I don’t make forty thousand a year.” “Yes, I believe in true love.” “No, not yet, but my roommates are nice.”

And then he saw her, standing by a tree and watching the proceedings with an air of disappointment.

Eric scampered up to her. Their eyes locked and she put a hand to her chest in surprise.

Eric bent over and presented his butt to her.

“I like cats,” his ass signaled. He stood up and turned around, grinning like a damned fool.

He’d seen the look that was on her face before. It’s the look everyone gets when they open the fridge and find one, last beer, when they arrive the restaurant and get the last table, when they catch their train at the very last minute.

It was a waterfall spilling over her brows and eyes and cheeks and nose and mouth. It was a paper lantern in her soul. It was hope.

She bent over and showed him her bottom.

“So do I,” she blinked to him.

And Eric smiled.

In his head a song played. It was “kiss me” by Sixpence None the Richer.

Her recalled, faintly, a time, many years ago, when he met women in ways other than blinking at them with his rear. You had to talk to people. You had to sit down and have a conversation and get to know another human being.

You had to clean your apartment if they happened to come over.

It was great to get to know another human soul, but…

Her ass glowed so prettily this evening.

Thank god that German scientist had finally finished his catalog of the firefly genome. Thank god the UN had approved the human trials. Thank Christ glowing butts became mandatory.

“Kiss me,” her ass shined at him.

Then she stood up.

And he did.

And there was electricity as their lips met. Their bodies rubbed against one another and the moon shone above as their asses glowed in that magical glen.

And the lights of love swirled all around them as the rest of humanity looked for romance.

Flashing their asses at one another.

Just like horny semaphores.

Or aroused lighthouses.

Or sexy, back-lit phone screens.

Ah, mon amour . C’est la vie.

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Amy Lee moaning in my ear again


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I plug my headphones in and press function play on my Toshiba laptop.

My Immortal’s moody piano greets me and Amy Lee start’s moaning in my ear again.

She hasn’t done it in quite some time.

Frankly, I was worried she’d forgotten how.

God, the memories.

They spiral ethereally out of the vibrating, paper cone and tumble through the meshed metal, finally flowing down my ear canal and into my eardrum. The tiny hair follicles hum and send electrochemical impulses to my brain that make me think back to high school, to hot muggy afternoons laying in the grass, swatting bugs and trying not to fart as my partner helped stretch my hamstring.

Brandon never had that problem. He would fart and laugh about it, a chirping melody that was so infections even the girls would crack a smile.

The strange thing is that I don’t even remember what we did at track practice. I guess we ran. I remember what I did before. Blake and I would always go get ranch snack wraps from McDonalds. We’d consume them like they’d disappear in three minutes if they weren’t already inside our mouths.

I didn’t get heartburn back then because I was sixteen and bodies work better when they’ve only been around for sixteen years.

Well, except for the pores on your face. Those get clogged with oil and then you don’t want to go to school because god forbid somebody sees you suffering through the exact same thing they suffer through every day, too.

Here comes the first bridge and that random cello.

Have you ever wondered how many people you’ve met? I don’t mean seen, I mean met, greeted, spoken with, maybe even touched. A safe estimate is that if you live 78.5 years you meet around 80,000 people. A third of that is roughly 26,000 people.

So I’ve probably met around 26,000.

The first chorus.

I’ve never wondered if other people think about me. I suppose they do. Maybe they see something that reminds them of something stupid I did. Maybe they see a face book post of mine, or I text them, or they text me, or they get an email.

Maybe there’s a song.

Maybe it’s My Immortal by Evanescence.

My Immortal makes me think of a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.

She had a room painted black to match her black nail polish that I’m not even sure she ever even wore it just seems like a nice thing, a what do you call it, well, you get the idea. I’m imagining black eyeliner, too, but I doubt she ever wore that. We’d go over to her house and watch horror movies or shoot of fireworks. I only went over every now and then. I realize now I was mostly reclusive, preferring hanging out with just one person rather than being in a group. Groups are confusing. Singular people seem easier.

He had a house right next to mine and we would make movies and then make other people watch them. He had a dog that died. I remember coming over and asking where Josh went. “He died,” he said. Josh was always wandering off, touring the neighborhood and having sex with all the lady dogs in the area. He was very popular. My family’s dogs were always neutered, and I remember this strange sort of magic I encountered when josh walked up with two other dogs that were, evidently, his children.

She lived behind the Checkers on a road whose name I can’t remember. I recall being somewhat frightened of her mom’s husband because she always called him “my mom’s husband,” which made him seem like some sort of thing masquerading as a father, something with claws and maybe a fang or two.

We’re blowing through the second chorus now, and Amy’s moans have turned into wails.

She lived in a gated community that seemed to me to be populated by rich people. The houses were modest, but her dad was some sort of doctor so I assumed they were loaded. The last time I met her we had gotten sushi. Our appetizer was stilted, awkward conversation. Later, as I drove her home in my mom’s car she asked me to buy her some cigarettes and I remember wondering if this whole thing hadn’t just been a ploy to get cigarettes. Strangely, I can’t remember if I ever bought them or not.

And here comes the band and the guitar, because the band version is the only version worth listening to.

Fast forward to a summer where a group of Canadians and I became fast friends. We’d go out into the tick infested woods of East Hampton and drink Caribou Lou, which is a beverage purportedly invented by the rapper Tech Nine. It’s basically pineapple juice and 151 rum.

We ruled the town, and the beaches, and the waves, and the fields, and the woods. The nights lasted forever, and the days were just breaks in between. We’d flirt with the lifeguards. Kids probably drowned as I chatted that one girl up.

We would tear apart the fences along the beach and use the wood to make bonfires. Signs said it was illegal but no one ever stopped us.

Spencer got his Mom’s land rover buried in the sand and we had get these scary rednecks in giant pickup trucks to push him out. The redneck with the biggest truck was somebody’s boyfriend. We had agreed to pay them fifty, but we ended up paying a hundred dollars because we didn’t want our faces rearranged.

We dumped trash in some businesses dumpster because we didn’t know it was illegal. I freaked out but the Canadians played it cool and we got out of there before the cops showed up.

And the music dies back down and I’m left with memories swirling down the drain of my consciousness.

That’s all we have in the end.

That’s all we really make.

So I scoop some of them up. They trickle through my fingers as I carry them over to my novelty Game of Thrones chalice my friend’s Mom gave me as a graduation gift. I drop them in and let them splash around.

I watch the pictures and the images.

That old, beat up Mercedes with the nice leather seats.

My pair of fake Oakley sunglasses that coach stepped on.

Me and Meyers at cross country camp playing dumb games on our Play Station Portables.

There all there.

They swirl around.

So I dump them out

It stains the carpet seashell pink.

The color of history.

The shade of the past.

Green Tea


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I stare a thousand miles deep into my green tea.

I look into the waters and gaze across beaches and oceans, Islands and storms.

A green mountain suffocated by rain clouds. A flute cuts through the falling water. The falling water cuts through the leaves of trees, its simple pitter-patter accompanying the flute in strange and unexpected ways.

A different pitter-patter. Bare feat on stone.

I see a shaky mountain road, stone steps carved over stone steps carved from the living rock. The intricacies of its carving speaks to its age and the reverence with which it is used.

Tiny footfalls and a girl rounds the corner, her long, black hair following behind her like the past. She scampers up the steps with the practiced motions of a master rock climber, of someone who does this every day, someone who doesn’t care to do anything else because she knows the simple joy of taking deep breaths and clearing her mind, the basic thrill of rushing up ancient stone stairways in the rain, the sublime mastery of picking the tea leaves.

I see a cliff face and, before it, water speckled shrubs.  They grow low to the ground. Liquid pools beneath their stems.A splattering on a canvas: greens and browns and blues and greys.

The girl slides to a stop in front of them. She is soaking wet now. Her hair no longer follows like the past. It clings to her neck like the present, like the moment, the part you can’t escape.

She reaches out a grabs a branch. Tears it form the ground with a crack and a tug.

Lightning flashes.

Thunder sounds.

She looks up the cliff, all the way to the top, and sees a figure in a robe. His stance is regal. To her he seems a deity, some supernatural being come down to the mountain to watch over his crop, his life.

His tea.

She makes no move, except to clench her fists tight. The figure watches her. It’s a shadow. It’s amorphous. It’s a shape. It’s light.

It’s all sorts of things she can’t quite comprehend. All sorts of things you and I would never begin to imagine.

It’s a being of the mountain. It’s a creature of the rain. A master of the tea.

A force emanates outward from him and threatens to crush her but the girl…

The girl focuses on her breathing.

Clears her mind.

And the feeling stops.

And the creature… the creature looks up, away from the girl, up into the sky, up at nothing at all.

And she runs.

Her legs moving beneath her, she knows that the god can never catch her. No one can catch her on that winding trail, the treacherous steps that lead down to the village below, down to a hut with a dying fire and a worried family and a sick, little boy.

She’s right. No one could catch her. Not that day.

The boy doesn’t need all the tea, only one leaf.

It’s enough if you believe it is.

The rest the family sells to a man who sells to a man who sells to a merchant who sells to a factory who sells to a shop who sells to a corporation who loads it in car who loads it on a truck who loads it on a boat who loads it on a truck who loads it in a box who loads it on a shelf where I buy it and take it home and heat up some water and turn on my zen playlist and set it in a mug and pour the water on top and set the mug on the floor.

I sit in front of the mug and I shut my eyes.

And I see a mountain top.

And rain.

And a cliff.

And a figure of light and shadow that I can’t comprehend.

And I smile.

And I breathe.

Oh, I breathe deep.

It’s how you have to breathe.

And I feel a breeze in my living room, and on it waft the scents of jasmine and pine, water and stone, mud and tears.

But mostly tea.

Green tea.

It fills my lungs with it’s fragrance

And I focus on my breathing.

And I clear my mind.

And I look into my tea, and I see a mountain smothered in rain clouds, and a stairway and a girl. I see a figure made of light and shadow, of rain and of tea and of leaves and of branch and bark and stone. I see him, and he sees me, and the girl sees him and he suddenly looks up.

Up at me.

And the girl runs away.

And I stare a thousand miles deep into my tea.

And he nods.

And then I take a sip.

And clear my mind.

The Good Boy


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I called my Mom to wish her a happy birthday and she told me the dog died.

She had to put him down  because he couldn’t even walk.

I was standing in the living room wearing nothing but my underwear and a red North Face t-shirt I accidentally stole from my friend Jeff several years ago.

The cliched thing wold be to say that I had to steady myself on the couch, that I cried, that I felt like I was punched in the stomach, that I coughed, that I bit my lip, that I did moaned in agony or beat my chest like an ancient Greek..

I didn’t.

I went into the kitchen and put a pod in my Keureg. Neither of us said anything. I watched the coffee drip into my mug with a giant letter C on it that a friend had bought me because it meant a lot to her.

There was a time, she said, when she was so poor that she could barely afford to eat. One day she came across one of these mugs the first letter of her first name on it and she bought it on a whim. She must have suffered for her minor splurge, but the mug was all the more valuable for it.

Years later, she bought one for all of us, all of her friends, and hoped that it would be as special as it was to her.

There was silence on the line. Neither of us wanted to talk because we were afraid to say anything.

So I changed the subject. This and that, birthday plans and I hung up.

The crisis of adulthood is trying not to think about death. It haunts you in the news, on the internet, at the other end of the text message from a relative that simply says “call me.”

Just don’t think about it, you say. It’s why TV exists.

My Dad texted me later that day, distraught that I hadn’t been able to see the dog before he went. I was coming home in a month.

I couldn’t think of what to say, so I smashed some words together and said “he loved and he was loved and I think that, in the end, he knew that he was always loved, and that’s really what matters.”

My dad said “you’re right” and we didn’t talk anymore.

I went to work and didn’t bring up the dog.

I feel like I need to preform when I’m with a group of people. Not always, only most of the time. It probably comes from my theater background, or maybe not. Laughter and applause are easy ways to know you are doing well.

I used to struggle when I wasn’t the center of attention. It would baffle me why certain people, people I considered boring, would be invited to things I wasn’t invited to. They didn’t do anything.

They were just there.

That’s it.

Just there.

And so dogs.

What do dogs do?

Dogs do nothing.

When dog people talk about dogs it often times sounds like they are talking about mini-deities. They extol the canine virtues, those little beings of transcendent love and obedience, unconditional caring and good-natured heroism rolled up into a ball of fuzz and fluff with a tail and a tongue and a smile.

I don’t know about that, but I do know that dogs have an uncanny sense to know when to be there. There for you. There for me. Just there.

See here, the boy crying on the white-tiled floor because he can’t remember what was there before he was born. It’s just dark. Just nothing.

His door is only mostly shut, and a snout nuzzles it open and in walks a golden retriever, his loping, side-to-side gait indicative of the hip problems associated with the breed.

The boy cries. He’s afraid and the scariest part of his fear is that he doesn’t know what he’s afraid of.

The dog doesn’t try to cheer him up. Doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t pry. Doesn’t want to fix things. People want to fix things but dogs don’t want to fix things.

He lays down in a huff next to the boy and puts his head in his lap.

Dogs are just there.

I know a lot of dogs that are good at things. They run through things and jump over things. They bark at things and catch things. They attack things and protect things. They chase things. They follow things.

My dog Cosmo didn’t do any of this. He wasn’t faster or smarter or funnier or better than other dogs, but I think he knew something that some other dogs don’t. That some other people don’t.

He knew the secret. The key to the pinnacle of life.

It isn’t to be well trained or be obedient. Certainly not that.

It isn’t to be the best, or to be the worst, or to be the middle, or to have the things, or to not have the things or to run or to fly or to joke or to think or to puzzle or to write or to dance or to eat or to sing or to play or to anything or to nothing.

It’s none of that.

It’s to love and be loved.

It’s to jump on the couch even though you’re not supposed to and lay your head on someone’s lap just because you know they won’t mind. It’s to bark at strangers when they’re far away but wag your tail and kiss them when they draw close. It’s to lick people for no reason. To cry. To smile. To frown. To whatever.

It’s to know that there is no other virtue required of you in anyone’s company other than your presence. That’s it.

That’s all it ever was.

You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be dumb. You don’t have to be quiet, don’t have to be loud, don’t have to be happy, be sad, be funny, be stoic, be angry or passive or active or monotone or baritone or any tone or no tone or anyone, no one, this one, that one, me, you, him, her, he, she, it, them, they all of us and none of us or everywhere or nowhere or this or that or whatever.

You just have to be here. Be yourself. You can wag your tail if you want, but it’s not required.

Just be here.

We’ll fill in the rest.

Be here.

Like a good boy.

That’s it.

Just a good boy.

A Cracked Ceramic Tile Covered in Smuckers Strawberry Preservatives That Somehow Isn’t My Fault


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I sat in my living room and wondered where they day went.

That’s not true. Let’s try something else.

I sat in my living room and wondered why I so adamantly avoided working on my novel.

No. That’s no untrue, but it isn’t… accurate.

What really happened was that it was eight and I was sitting on my couch, staring out the sliding glass doors at the Agora and wondering why I spent all day playing World of Warcraft when I didn’t really have too much fun doing it.

“Come on. I’ll run you through some dungeons,” James had told me.

“Okay,” I said, though I knew neither of us really wanted to do it.

We did it anyway.

It was just something to do.

I understood, then, why people smoke crystal meth.

Modern life. It’s boring.

It’s the good sort of boring. The sort of boring that comes from not having to climb up a mountain and find a flower to cure grandma’s cough. It’s the sort of boring that doesn’t have to worry about bears carrying off the youngest, or defending the farmstead from bandits, or securing an alliance with Poland by marrying your daughter to some duke, or even finding a meal.

I have a freezer full of El Monterrey burritos.

My toilet weeps.

No.

It’s a boredom that comes from not having to worry about anything, really. You worry about money and bills and existential happiness and other stuff like that but it’s not tangible. The minute clinic isn’t going to break my kneecaps if I didn’t send them a check for twenty three dollars, even though it would be good for repeat business.

Can you imagine if doctors offices had rewards programs? Like you swipe your Blue Cross rewards card and every twelve kidney stones you get a face lift for free?

God, I should have gone into marketing.

I coudln’t get anything written but I really wanted to write something so I stood and I threw open the sliding glass door and some sort of cute, clean guitar drum combo started playing like I was in a Wes Anderson film and I leapt off the balcony for a quick fly.

There I was, soaring over the San Fernando Valley like I was the Big Lebowski and this cup of chamomile tea was my bowling ball.

The rectangular, segmented blocks lit up like neurons. If the grid of the SFV was someone’s brain I think it would a pretty bad brain. It probably belonged to a food service employee, slightly chemically damaged from a bad joint back when it was in high school. The owner of the brain would live with her parents. She never suffers too much for any of the increasingly poor decisions she makes.

It’s not her fault.

Honestly.

She just got a bad brain.

It was cold up there and I wished I had brought a cardigan or maybe my bath robe but, on second thought, I didn’t want anyone at the observatory to see me and draw an even stronger Lebowski comparison.

I mean, I love the movie, but that’s not why I decided to go for a short fly.

I was really just avoiding work.

I landed up in the mountains and punched a goat in the head.

Well, that’s not all that happened. I just don’t want to get into it but trust me, he had it coming.

It’s strange, up there in the mountains. On one side you get a great view of the biggest city in the whole word, you get a great view of a place that day in and day out for many, many people is there whole world, but on the other side you see black. Darkness. Emptiness. Nothing.

They say one day humans are going to live in mega skyscrapers. Each one as big as a city.The world will be 99.999% wilderness and the billions of us will just live in these impossible, monolithic structures.

Well, not everyone. Sure, you’d get those conspiracy theory nuts and rugged individualists and they’d live out in the woods like savages but hey, man, from the 6987th floor of the Los Angeles tower they just look like ants.

I followed an ambulance down magnolia for a good hour, mimicking its sounds and pretending I was doing something useful. Like I was part of the crew and people’s lives hung in the balance.

I’m not, though. I’m just sitting on my house playing my stereo too loud and avoiding doing anything useful by writing a blog post about it.

The sad thing is that I’ve done it before.

Bah. I’m too lazy to swing at that. Go find the links yourself.

It’s so easy to drop out of doing something you love just by not bothering to do it.

So here I am, drawn back into the whirlwind, flying around in a spinning, windy circle with some barns and some cows and some trees and a pitchfork or two and hey, whoa, man, there goes a wicked witch and a slightly less wicked witch and a mean witch who thinks she’s nice and a nice witch who thinks she’s mean and a mean witch who knows she’s mean and the smart witch who is just trying to figure out why the fuck there are always so many witches in a tornado, metaphorical or otherwise.

Oh, and the whirlwind is me at nine o’ clock trying not to work on my novel.

And the witches are something else.

I’ll let you know when they figure it out.

Yeesh, what a mess.

But there it is.

I’m blogging again.

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