Stain


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I got my first pair of glasses in middle school.

I think it was sixth grade.

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

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

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

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

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

Everything was dirty.

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

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

But now…

Everything was tainted.

I hated it.

My parents used to look so young, but now…

Now they had wrinkles.

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

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

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

I got used to it.

At some point, I started to notice the opposite.

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

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

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

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

I’m just saying what I want.

I want dirt.

Give me stains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope your shoe has a hole in it.

I hope your right glasses lens is scratched.

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

I don’t want a pristine world.

I don’t want a clean life.

I want a dirty life. A messy one.

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

They know that somebody lives here.

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

I hope you have one too.

Those are the interesting sort.

 

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Smarts


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

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

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

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

Sure! Thanks!

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

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

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

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

He walked away.

I kept staring.

And I wondered…

What could the other person have possibly said?

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

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

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

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

This one’s the pretty one.

This one’s the dumb one.

This one’s the athletic one.

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

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

He was the smart one.

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

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

Each time.

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

It wasn’t, though.

But they probably didn’t know that.

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

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

Cancer’s a bitch.

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

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

She had to have been right.

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

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

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

No one else was there. It was horrible.

The smart one didn’t know what to do.

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

The dumb one.

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

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

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

He cared.

He was the smart one.

He was.

And then he was gone.

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

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

He walked like a jerk.

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

So I just watched him.

And I picked up a rag.

And I wiped down the bar.

And I put the rag away.

And I went back to making drinks.

And I thought:

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

Nobody would say that.

So I wonder…

I just wonder.

And make the next drink.

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If I were a serial killer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’d be dirty.

It’d have burger bits in it.

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

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

If I were a serial killer.

I’m not, though. Most people aren’t.

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

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

They don’t do it for any insidious reason.

It’s just that bad news sells.

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

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

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

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

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

“Worse and worse.”

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

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

Full of scary headlines.

You see stuff like that and you get scared.

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

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

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

You don’t have to though.

It’d be so easy.

But you don’t have to.

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Tiny, little flickerings


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

It’s in Echo Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best part is walking to our room.

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

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

You can hear the music.

That’s not my favorite part.

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

Who’s in the rooms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The music…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He hadn’t played drums for years.

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

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

That’s none of my business, though.

Hell, it might not even be real.

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

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

“Basically everything we like,” I agree.

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

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

“What?” Rob makes a face.

“But in a cool way,” I clarify.

He laughs.

There’s a knock on our door.

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

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

“You guys sound good,” he says.

“Thanks.”

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

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

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

“Oh,”

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

Rob nodded.

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

We didn’t say anything.

We just shut our eyes and listened.

Listened in the dark of our own eyelids.

Listened and dreamed.

Led Zeppelin

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