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?

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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.

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


come-fly-with-me-tom-roderick

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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Stain


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I got my first pair of glasses in middle school.

I think it was sixth grade.

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

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

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

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

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

Everything was dirty.

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

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

But now…

Everything was tainted.

I hated it.

My parents used to look so young, but now…

Now they had wrinkles.

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

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

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

I got used to it.

At some point, I started to notice the opposite.

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

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

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

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

I’m just saying what I want.

I want dirt.

Give me stains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope your shoe has a hole in it.

I hope your right glasses lens is scratched.

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

I don’t want a pristine world.

I don’t want a clean life.

I want a dirty life. A messy one.

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

They know that somebody lives here.

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

I hope you have one too.

Those are the interesting sort.

 

Smarts


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

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

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

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

Sure! Thanks!

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

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

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

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

He walked away.

I kept staring.

And I wondered…

What could the other person have possibly said?

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

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

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

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

This one’s the pretty one.

This one’s the dumb one.

This one’s the athletic one.

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

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

He was the smart one.

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

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

Each time.

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

It wasn’t, though.

But they probably didn’t know that.

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

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

Cancer’s a bitch.

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

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

She had to have been right.

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

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

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

No one else was there. It was horrible.

The smart one didn’t know what to do.

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

The dumb one.

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

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

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

He cared.

He was the smart one.

He was.

And then he was gone.

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

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

He walked like a jerk.

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

So I just watched him.

And I picked up a rag.

And I wiped down the bar.

And I put the rag away.

And I went back to making drinks.

And I thought:

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

Nobody would say that.

So I wonder…

I just wonder.

And make the next drink.

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If I were a serial killer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’d be dirty.

It’d have burger bits in it.

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

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

If I were a serial killer.

I’m not, though. Most people aren’t.

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

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

They don’t do it for any insidious reason.

It’s just that bad news sells.

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

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

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

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

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

“Worse and worse.”

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

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

Full of scary headlines.

You see stuff like that and you get scared.

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

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

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

You don’t have to though.

It’d be so easy.

But you don’t have to.

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The Order


 

Fluff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve seen it happen.

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

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

“Then why does my stuff taste like junk?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to tell her it was just stuff.

It’s just stuff.

But I didn’t.

I knew she wouldn’t understand.

She really wanted her stuff.

People need stuff.

Not junk.

Stuff.

That’s why The Order comes in.

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

Do we really need all these things?

Do you really need this stuff?

Do you?

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on gold, rainbows and other heavy things


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

I stayed up until St. Patrick’s day.

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

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

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

But that’s besides the point.

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

So I left.

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

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

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

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

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

But here in LA…

I use Irish Spring soap because I like Irish things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No… not quite.

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

No? Maybe.

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

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

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

He had a smile on his face but his eyes…

His eyes were dead.

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

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

Hell, if the bar doesn’t care…

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

Then I thought about the coming night.

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

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

So let’s talk about rainbows.

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

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

There’s one now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what?

It’s the maybe that’s the best part.

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

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

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

Do I like St. Patrick’s day?

Yeah, I like St. Patrick’s day.

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

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

So here’s what I’ll do:

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

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Automaton


2a-orange

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

I wonder what people walking by think.

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

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

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

The boyfriend smiles. “I know.”

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

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

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

I couldn’t see any of these things.

They might not have even happened.

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

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

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

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

She’d probably prefer it.

“So what can we do?” I ask Matt.

“What?”

“When we’re automatons.”

“We are?”

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

“We’ll have better jobs by then.”

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

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

“We’ll get drunk,” Matt says.

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

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

“Drink.”

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

“I would.”

“Why?”

“Because I know you made it.”

He wasn’t kidding, either.

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

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

I smile at her, and she smiles back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope it’s not hurt.

I think it’ll understand.

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

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

 

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