Dire, Dire Docks


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My generation is nostalgic.

Look around. Packaged memories are everywhere.

They sell us millennium falcons that open beers and t-shirts with our favorite cartoon characters. N64 video game soundtracks have over a million views on youtube. The most common comment is this simple lament: “getting old sucks.”

We’re not old, not yet, but we feel old.

We’ve lived a thousand lives.

I personally have saved a princess form a castle. I’ve battled across the beaches of Normandy and up into Hitler’s evil castle. I’ve even slain a mecha-hitler or two.

I’ve soared through pink and orange cloud kingdoms on the purple wings of a dragon. I’ve explored shipwrecks, swimming deep underwater to collect the blue coins that would recharge my air. I’ve raided temples. I’ve piloted mighty robots. I’ve soared off into the heavens, watched the Galactic Empire’s downfall, hopped from platform to platform on Venus and partied all night long with the kindly Ewoks.

I’ve seen and watched and played and read more than a medieval peasant could ever even dream about.

Such sights I’ve seen. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.

I’ve seen it all. We’ve seen it.

We’ve spent our lives living in worlds within worlds.

We grew up on the rug in front of the TV, shooting tortoise shells at cars. We watched John Goodman be an animated dinosaur in New York. We saw what happens when you cross the streams, or when let Ms. Frizzle drive you somewhere, or when you dance with the Goblin King.

More than anything, I think that’s what makes us Nostalgic.

We did so much without doing anything at all.

We got to be kids.

Just kids.

And as an adult, as I sit here at a cheap card table, my right molar hurting from a cavity, I look back on my life and I can see it.

You can see it too, if you just turn around.

There it is, stretching out behind you.

A path.

But it isn’t straight.

It isn’t linear like we thought it was going to be from all the books and movies and games. It’s a mess.

It weaves up and down, around boulders and over streams. There’s some heavy woods, some blinding deserts. Ice flows crack together as the frigid water sloshes across their frictionless surfaces, but the path persists.

It meanders, much like this post.

You track it right up to your feet.

You find yourself here, and now.

It’s night.

Is this it?

It could be.

What was it all for? All this wandering, all the mountains and streams and deserts and ice. What was it all for?

And you think back, back to those days at the dire, dire docks. Collecting coins and stars was your only motivation.

Shrouded in a blue glow, a warm blanket, your mouth agape. It’s not just wonder. It’s not your brain shutting off.

It’s getting lost in something else. It’s that brief moment where you forget that you’re you. You’re Mario the plumber exploring a magic castle. You’re a pokemon explorer snapping pictures of wild monsters. You’re James Bond, armed with his trust pp7 and a license to kill.

You’re a kid living in a land of pure imagination.

The games and movies didn’t matter. Not really

It could have been anything.

But they were our anything.

And so I’v sitting here at this cheap card table. I lean back in my even cheaper chair and I pour a glass of scotch and I think. I think about the old days. About collecting oranges from the trees at twilight. About making water balloons with sister. About sailing playmobile ships across our tiny pool.

There was always a storm. The plastic vessels were nigh unsinkable.

I think about those dire, dire docks, and I open youtube and I search “underwater song super mario 64” and I’m greeted by 154,000 friends who have all come to the same place.

They’re all here to remember.

To remember a time when life was about getting coins.

And swimming around pirate ships.

And for a little bit.

Just for a little bit.

We’re someone else.

All of us.

We’re nobody.

And we float in that blissful dream, carried down the currents to the dire, dire docks.

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.

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.

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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.

The Good Boy


lajbkos

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.

Smarts


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

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

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

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

Sure! Thanks!

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

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

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

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

He walked away.

I kept staring.

And I wondered…

What could the other person have possibly said?

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

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

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

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

This one’s the pretty one.

This one’s the dumb one.

This one’s the athletic one.

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

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

He was the smart one.

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

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

Each time.

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

It wasn’t, though.

But they probably didn’t know that.

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

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

Cancer’s a bitch.

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

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

She had to have been right.

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

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

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

No one else was there. It was horrible.

The smart one didn’t know what to do.

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

The dumb one.

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

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

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

He cared.

He was the smart one.

He was.

And then he was gone.

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

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

He walked like a jerk.

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

So I just watched him.

And I picked up a rag.

And I wiped down the bar.

And I put the rag away.

And I went back to making drinks.

And I thought:

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

Nobody would say that.

So I wonder…

I just wonder.

And make the next drink.

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If I were a serial killer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’d be dirty.

It’d have burger bits in it.

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

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

If I were a serial killer.

I’m not, though. Most people aren’t.

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

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

They don’t do it for any insidious reason.

It’s just that bad news sells.

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

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

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

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

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

“Worse and worse.”

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

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

Full of scary headlines.

You see stuff like that and you get scared.

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

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

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

You don’t have to though.

It’d be so easy.

But you don’t have to.

colosseum

Tiny, little flickerings


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

It’s in Echo Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best part is walking to our room.

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

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

You can hear the music.

That’s not my favorite part.

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

Who’s in the rooms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The music…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He hadn’t played drums for years.

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

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

That’s none of my business, though.

Hell, it might not even be real.

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

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

“Basically everything we like,” I agree.

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

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

“What?” Rob makes a face.

“But in a cool way,” I clarify.

He laughs.

There’s a knock on our door.

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

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

“You guys sound good,” he says.

“Thanks.”

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

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

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

“Oh,”

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

Rob nodded.

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

We didn’t say anything.

We just shut our eyes and listened.

Listened in the dark of our own eyelids.

Listened and dreamed.

Led Zeppelin

The Fire Rises


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

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

Hail Hydra.

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

Hail Hydra.

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

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

Hail Starbucks.

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

The Quizlamic State.

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

Even for lame sports like NASCAR and HOCKEY.

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

Our victory was basically uncontested.

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

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

Then the dark times began.

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

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

Oh, and winning.

Did I mention winning?

They won.

A lot.

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

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

He was not a good dancer.

This was probably at least partly due to the beer.

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

We hated them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to the point, who cares?

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

They just stared at me.

They didn’t say a word.

They just stared.

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

I began to wonder if they even liked pizza.

I began to wonder what do they like?

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

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

They like winning.

Do they like playing trivia, though?

And I wondered…

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

It must be terrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we lost.

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

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

But I was relieved.

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

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

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

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

So I’m a little worried for Entire Pizza.

One day they will lose.

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

I don’t know.

I do know one thing, though.

The Quizlamic State is dead.

We are reforming Hydra from its ashes.

The fire rises.

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

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

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

I hope they don’t break too hard.

But I want them to break all the same.

Hail Hydra.

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