Children of Summer


rainy window.jpg

It’s rained a lot this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t like that.

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

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

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

But we were children of summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this year it rained.

If pressed, I would have to say a lot.

People don’t talk about the drought anymore.

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

They talk about dreams of summer.

I do too.

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

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

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

time stopped.

It froze.

And you wanted to kick something.

Not out of malice,

no, not that,

but just to make sure

that this

was real,

and not a dream

or  just

a part

of some movie.

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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.

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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The Rainwalker


(the following was written while listening to Closer to the Edge by Yes)

When you live in Los Angeles and you tell people you walked somewhere, they look at you like you just told them you own five copies of Mein Kampf, one of which is signed.

“Why?” Is almost always their first question.

“Are you okay?” People sometimes ask, as if you something might have slain you while you perambulated around the city.

“Are you crazy?” Still others say.

L.A. is a city of cars. You need one of two things to get around: a vehicle or a lot of extra time. A ten minute car trip can take an hour on the bus.

The buses smell. The people on the buses smell, but in a different way then the bus. The places where you wait for the buses smell, but in a way other than the other two, so that on any different bus trip you have to put up with at least three different kinds of smells, all different, but all similarly colored in varying shades of urine and body odor.

They’re all bad.

So when my registration expired and I was waiting for my tax returns to re-register my car, I decided to not ride the bus, but to walk places. I had become very hermit-like and inactive over the winter months. This happened because I wrote a novel (I’m now in the process of revising it and preparing to send queries to agencies!) and any free time I had not writing a novel was spent sleeping, working, or feeling guilty about not working on my novel.

I was fat and happy so I decided I needed to be unhappy and thin. I would walk to work. It was two miles. Then I’d walk back from work. That was also two miles. All in all, I would walk four miles every day, which I judged to be a sufficient amount of exercise for someone who never exercises.

The last time I walked to work Julian, a co-worker complemented me on how tan I had become. “You look great!” He said. “What’s your secret?”

“Oh, you know,” I lied, “I’m just a creature of the outdoors, really.”

He gave me a shifty look.

Ah, my co-workers. Thou knowest me too well.

“My car broke down so I’m walking to work.”

“Oh,” Julian said, “Why?”

The city is different when you walk. You catch the breeze, the smells, the sounds. You get to witness first hand the furtive looks people give you as you pass them; the quick, downward glances that practically beg you not to murder them.

“Oh, please,” their eyes beseech, “take whatever you want, stranger walking beside me, just don’t take my life.”

I don’t look frightening. I have long hair and wear all black, but so do lots of people. Maybe I achieve alpha street villain status because I sing along to folk music and David Bowie as I walk down the street. Maybe that’s something only crazy people do.

I waited for my refund and I walked to work. I loved it. It gave me a break form writing that I didn’t have to feel guilty about. Sure, I had to leave an hour early and get home an hour late, but that didn’t matter. The stress evaporated from my pores as I walked. It floated up above the power lines and past the clouds. It wafted into the stratosphere and drifted away, eventually becoming not a thing. Nothing at all.

One day it rained.

It was a drizzle. They would have said it was spitting if I was in London.

I wasn’t, so everyone said it was raining. They warned each other to drive safely and, god forbid, no matter what you do, don’t go outside unless it’s absolutely necessarily.

I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never met people that could be so blase about terrifying natural disasters like Earthquakes, sometimes even bragging about how they slept through it.

For a native Californian, I suppose, water is a thing that stays in the sea or comes out of sprinklers. Anything else is just unnatural, proof that the spirits are displeased with us.

The rain doesn’t scare me. I’m was born in Oklahoma, a place where tornadoes wipe out whole towns.

I grew up in Florida, where the rainfall in July would bust California’s drought. I’ve swam in the rain. I’ve drank in the rain. I’ve walked outside in the eye of a hurricane and looked up at the solid black walls of cloud and wind and lightning and water and I’ve laughed, not at the storm, not in any mean way, but just at how utterly bizarre it all was.

I’ve been on top of a mountain on the Appalachian trail during a thunderstorm. Lightning was striking so close that I thought my ears would split. There was so much electricity in the air that all of my body hair was standing at varying degrees of attention. My Dad and I avoided stepping in puddles for fear of getting blasted.

You’re supposed to lay down in lightning storms. You dot this so your less of an attractive conduit for the lightening. I remember my dad looking at the flooded trail as the storm started and saying “Well, we’ll just have to keep going. We can’t lay down because if lightning strikes any of this water, it’ll kill us.”

So we walked up a side of the mountain in the lightning and the rain.

So I decided to walk to work in a drizzle.

Everything is different in the rain. It’s darker, not just because clouds block the sun, but also because the water stains everything it touches a darker hue of whatever it was before.

There’s a smell in the air. It only happens right after a rain, or during the first rain in several days. It’s a crisp smell, a clean smell. The smell is amplified in Los Angeles. The air is so dirty that when the rain knocks some of the dust and smog away it smells like you’ve been transported somewhere else all together.

I put on Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” and walked to work.

It was wonderful. It was the best walk I had in a long time.

“Did you catch a ride?” Steven asked me when I got to work.

“No.” I said wetly. His eyes widened.

“You walked?”

“Yeah. It was nice.”

He blinked. “But it’s raining.”

“Yeah.”

“And you walked.”

“That’s right.”

“Why?”

I could hear the rain hitting the skylight thirty feet above me. The pattern was soothing in its irregularity.

The thing about rain is that it falls all over the place. It doesn’t aim. It just hits a bunch of spots in the concrete. When it hits, it makes them darker, makes them smell fresh, makes them more interesting.

I ran a cross country race in the rain about ten years ago. It was at the park in the Vineyards. It was raining so hard that when I tried to breath through my mouth my lungs would fill up with water and I would have to cough it all up. I had really bad allergies and sinus problems back then so I couldn’t breath through my nose.

I coughed up a lot of water that day.

I was near the back of the race. All the grass was already obliterated. Instead of a well marked path, there was just a river of mud. There was a canal to my right that was about to overflow, and I wondered what would happen to the alligators that lived in it when the canal suddenly became the whole park.

Back in college, I walked in the freezing rain over the bridge into Beeson woods. I made the mistake of betting against the weather and showing up to German lab. I couldn’t afford to miss anymore. I had arrived just as Caitlyn was leaving. “Haven’t you heard?” She asked me. “Classes are cancelled. It’s not safe to drive.”

It wasn’t safe to walk either. I lost traction halfway down the bridge and almost slid into the ravine over which the bridge spanned. I managed to grab the sign that said welcome to Beeson Woods, and vowed to never leave my dorm again if it was twenty eight degrees and raining.

I walked in the rain down Tottenham Court Road with my friend Erich. We popped into a pub whose name escapes me in order to rewrite his whole screenplay. We got drunk on some fine English beer and by god we did it.I still remember laughing all the way home. I turned up my collar against the stiff wind and all that was in my mind was a cup of Earl Grey and some toast with Nutella and butter.

I walked in the rain on my last day in Florida. My flight had been delayed because of the storm. It was a short walk, just down the driveway to my Dad’s Nissan pickup truck. The driveway was covered in old shells we had brought in years ago. They would always get stuck between the treads in your shoes so that you’d click across our cheap tile floor.

I stopped outside the door and stood in the rain. My dad was doing something in the house. He’s notoriously hard to get going, but once he’s ready everyone else better be, too.

I stared down the driveway, out to Golden Gate drive. I looked over the palm trees and the pines. I remembered all the hot summers I spent walking in between them with a broom to knock down the plate-sized banana spiders who lived in our yard. I didn’t want them to ambush me when I mowed the lawn.

I remembered riding the shiny black lawnmower my grandfather bought me. I remembered the sound it made as it tore up pine cones.

I almost exclusively mowed in the afternoon, and I remembered the pretty, yellow-green color the leaves would take as the setting sun blasted through their chlorophyll.

I remembered imagining whole kingdoms in the grass, and wondering what they would think of the mower as it cut the grass.

I remembered sitting at the bottom of the pool with my sister. It was raining, and we watched water drop onto the top of the water. The ripples made the sky look like quicksilver.

I remembered that the next time I came back to Florida the bank would have repossessed that old house and it would probably be torn to shreds.

I stood there and it was raining. It was raining and, for the life of me I couldn’t think of a better send off.

The house might fade. The yard might disappear just like tears in the rain, but I’d remember. We’d all remember the fights and the love and the laughs and the everything all rolled into one glorious feeling.

It’d feel like home.

And the best thing about that feeling is that you can take it anywhere you go. You store it up in a little box and you walk to work in the rain and you bring it with you, because when you meet Steve at work and you tell him you want a latte and he asks you if you walked in the rain and he says why you can lift the box up.

It’s brown and sort of bowed out in the middle.

He asks why and you open up the box and you show him.

You’ll just show him.

You know… in movies and TV whenever someone opens a box and there’s something magical inside it glows gold.

Not this box.

I opened this one, and it was blue. Blue like water.

Blue like tears in the rain.

I had a professor tell me that that line is the sappiest line ever written in film.

You should take Viki’s word for it. She a genius.

It’s not sappy to me, though.

Don’t take my word for it. I’m not a genius.

I’m just a Rainwalker.

And I know exactly what Rutger means.

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A little bit of housekeeping:

I’d like to thank My Messy World for nominating me for a blog award. I’m very bad about responding to people’s awards. There’s actually been a few I didn’t respond to until months later and the person who gave me the award had shut down their blog.

How embarrassing.

I’d been meaning to blog for a while, but my novel keeps eating my soul. Messy World gave me a wonderful excuse to come back.

So thanks for that.

You guys should go check out her (her?) blog.

Anyway, I’ll hopefully be blogging more often soon.

Maybe someone cares about that other than me.

Maybe they don’t.

I guess we’ll find out.

Run Away


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I read a lot of blogs. Most of them are the same thing: Normal people posting about their normal days in which they did normal things that will slowly fade back into the tapestry of their normal lives. One day, their normal lives will end, and they’ll look back on it all and say “that was normal.”

I love it.

I love reading about people having problems wth their laundry machine, or someone with an irascible toothache that tormented them all through the day, or how that bitch Carol wouldn’t shut up about her vacation.

I love hearing that you dropped the kids off at soccer practice and almost hit a squirrel, or how you found a new recipe for lemonade that your husband liked so much he made you make a second batch, or how you finally snuck your son into a rated R movie, just so long as he doesn’t tell mom.

I think it’s the normalcy that keeps me grounded. As a writer, it’s easy to get caught up in your own head, an fall down into a pit of snakes. They latch on and don’t let you go. “Wizards,” they hiss, “wizards and demons and car chases and asteroids about to hit earth and aliens and divorces and rockets and armageddon and death and the universe and everything is just so pointless, isn’t it?”

It’s not though. Carol’s vacation isn’t. Nor is Nathan’s baseball game. Don’t forget about pumpkin spice lattes and mortgage payments.

They’re all important in their own ways, in the right perspective which, to me, is a small rectangle full of black and white pixels.

So I read a lot of blogs. I also go on tinder a lot. What do online journals and a dating game app have in common? Not much.

A lot of people on both describe themselves as run aways. They just get up and go, and, like a leaf in the wind, they just can’t help it. To hear them talk about it, it’s like a compulsion, or maybe a disease. As many hipster instagram posts can attest, they just run.

A few months ago, this guy named Jeff transferred to our store. Jeff was a big guy, maybe six feet tall and around two hundred and fifty pounds. He had this peculiar way of moving, like a grandmother scuttling around a kitchen. It was frantic, and when he worked on bar, wiping sweat from his forehead as his cheeks grew flush, he reminded me of Mrs. Doubtfire.

Jeff was a nice guy. He was jolly, always quick with a joke or a compliment, and always ready to work.

He was an actor, just like everybody. I have this weird thing with actors where I offer them roles for movies I’m never going to make.

“You’re a writer?” I always somehow get them to ask.

“Well, yes, though I used to do some acting in high school,” I pause then, as if suddenly realizing who I’m talking to, “Say, I’m working on this thing — no, no, nothing big just a passion project — and there’s a role you might be perfect for.”

“Really?

“Really. Are you looking for a role?”

I don’t know why I do this. I’m never going to shoot the damn thing. I guess it makes me feel important. I feel like I’m doing them a favor. All I’m really doing is playing with their souls.

“Are you looking for a role?”

Jeff paused and scratched his head.

“I don’t know…” he said, but the subtextual addendum to the sentence was clear as day: what I’m looking for.

One day, Jeff didn’t show up.

He didn’t show up the next day either.

When someone doesn’t show up at Starbucks, everything goes to hell. You have one lest person and the customers… they sense it. Like sharks around a sinking fat camp cruise liner, they can smell blood in the water. It’s the worst.

So I was pissed at Jeff. Here, I thought he was a nice guy, and then he goes and gives me two no call, no shows. Who did he think he was? Burt Reynolds?

Michael told he had called him and quit. Out of the blue. Just like that.

He just ran away.

Running away never made any sense to me. Well, that’s not true. I’d run from rape-tastic hillbilles. I’d run from a bear. I’d run from the dark lord Sauron.

But a job? A city? It boggled me. One city is the same as any other, really, and you’re going to always need a job, so why run?

You’re just postponing the inevitable.

I still had half the day to go after Michael told me Jeff quit, and knowing why he disappeared didn’t help make the customers any less needy or rude, or make my day any easier at all. I had to close, and we were down a person, so eleven thirty came and went before I got into my car.

I take the freeway back whenever I close. It’s always after ten, and it’s never too busy. It’s much easier to put on some tunes and cruise home without having to stop.

I needed to decompress. I didn’t have a day off until next Saturday. A full week.

Why’d he run off? What was he looking for?

A sign came up. It said 405 north to Sacramento. This was my exit. I take the right lane. Two minutes and I’m home, back to the apartment I can’t afford.

I could go straight, though.

I thought about it.

I could go straight, and follow that sign up north to Sacramento, stop off in San Francisco, make it up to Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Anchorage.

I could just drive.

What was holding me here? I had a full tank of gas, there was no traffic, and I just got paid.

It was a weird feeling.

And then I got it.

You don’t run away from something. You run toward something else.

It’s why you’ve got refugees and people jumping over borders.

You might not know what you’re chasing, but for god’s sake, it’s better than what you had.

I could have done it, but I went home. I like to think it’s because I know what I’m chasing, but sometimes I wonder if it’s just because I’m scared.

Running away is scary, and Jeff…

Jeff never came back.

Sometimes, when it’s two in the morning and I can’t fall asleep, I stare out my window, up at the moon, and I think about an old chevy pickup. It’s brown, and has a lot of rust damage from being in the snow too long. It’s headlights paint weakly through falling snow. It’s not night, but it’s dark, and the trees bob left and right from the wind.

A big, coated figure scurries from the cab over to a payphone. I like to imagine it’s at a tiny gas station, but it could be anywhere, really. The figure has a hunting cap on, and long, black, beard, almost too bushy for civilized society.

He dials a number, and speaks into the receiver through a frost-stained beard.

Don’t worry, he says, I’m alright. No, I haven’t found it yet.

There’s a pause, and I get the feeling the person on the other end isn’t saying anything. I wonder if it’s his mother, or maybe someone else, a friend or a lover.

I haven’t found it yet, he reiterates, but I’m going to keep looking.

I like to think he says I love you. Maybe he does.

He hangs up, gets back in the pickup, and drives away.

Off, down a road, and into a blizzard.

It looks grim, but as we crane up over the wilderness, and everything fades away, and the music comes in and the credits roll, I get the feeling he’s going to be alright.

Yeah.

He’s going to be alright.

When it Rains


rain

Los Angeles is a desert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’d probably fucking die.

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

It doesn’t rain in Los Angeles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just kept waiting for it to rain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I keep watering the plant anyway, though.

It seems to be doing better.

basil

People on the Streets


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oom ba bob-et.

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

I wondered what they thought of Labor Day.

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

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

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

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

Ba da dum bum bum… okay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dum dum dum dududu dum.

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

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

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

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

Ten Minutes With A Dumpster Woman


dumpster woman

I hate taking out the trash at home, but when I’m at Starbucks, I absolutely love it.  It’s my favorite thing to do.  On any given day I’ll clock in and then immediately approach the supervisor and start trash talking.

“Can’s lookin’ pretty full,” I’ll start nonchalantly.  If they don’t ask me to take the trash out, I give them a little nudge.  “It’s going to overflow soon, probably.  Big mess.  I’d hate to be the one to have to clean that up.  Could attract rats.”

That usually works.  If it doesn’t, then I can wait.  Someone’s going to have to take it out at some point, and I’ve already planted my seed.

The reason I love taking out the trash so much is that it’s like a mini break.  Since I work at a Starbucks in the mall, the dumpster we dump our trash into is a few hundred meters away.  Maybe a two or three minute walk.  Getting the bags in the dumpster takes another few minutes, and, before you know it, your coming back eight minutes later, feeling refreshed.

Eight blessed minutes without having to talk to another human being.

If only it were that simple.

By it’s very nature, a mall is a communal institution, the dumpster pit doubly so.  Everyone in the mall uses the dumpsters.  Sometimes you have to make small talk.  Dumpster small talk.

It’s as uncomfortable as it is banal.

“Oh, hi!  How are you?  Yep, just taking out the trash!  Yes, I know.  Can’t wait for winter!  Work sucks, right?  Yeah, we’ll get better jobs one day!”

How I hate it.

It was night, and I had was bringing a bunch of cardboard boxes to the recycling dumpster, which is right next to the trash one.  I wheeled my cart up the ramp and threw a box in.

“Ow!  Hey!  Stop it!  Somebody’s in here!”

My heart seized up.  There was someone in there.  There was someone in there!  Both the dumpster have pneumatic trash compactors that could easily, easily crush anything left inside.  To death.

“Sorry?”  I asked.  I stared into the dumpster.

A head popped over the inside ledge.  A pretty head.  A woman’s head.

There was a woman inside the dumpster.

Meeting women by the dumpsters is not uncommon in my line of work, though most of them are pale, thin, and utterly unresponsive.

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This one was different.  She wasn’t a mannequin.

So I asked the obvious question.

“Oh, you know,” she replied, “just looking for stuff.”

Stuff?  “This dumpster is for recycling only.  It’s mostly just cardboard boxes.”

“Well, that’s great.  You can never have too many cardboard boxes,” she said with a smile, and the disappeared again.

I looked over at the big, green button on the railing.  The one that started the compactor.  The one that would compresses her to a pulp.  The one that literally any unknowing passerby could press.

It’s loud.  The pneumatics would drown out her screams.

“They’re all squished!” she lamented

“That’s because you’re inside a trash compactor.”

The head popped up again.  “Really?

“Yeah.  You could die.”

“Huh,” was all she said.  She looked at my boxes.  “Are you gonna use those?”

I shook my head, and the woman climbed out of the dumpster.

I don’t know what I expected, but It wasn’t what I saw.  Here, crawling out of a dumpster, was a gorgeous twenty something woman in very chic clothing and, I kid you not, high heels.  Her hair was perfect.  Her nails divine.  She even had makeup on.

I stared.  She noticed.

“Sorry,” I said, “I just thought that someone… of the dumpster… wouldn’t look like…”  I took a breath.  “Aren’t you nervous someone might see you?   Someone you know?”

“Hey,” she said, “everyone needs boxes.”

Again with the boxes.  Who was this woman? Did she live in a box?  Did she and her lumberjack, rugged, cover of Men’s Fitness husband construct a house out of used cardboard?  Do they sleep on a cardboard bed?  Eat cereal out of cardboard bowls?  Did she send a lot of packages?

“I guess…” I said, as the woman picked up all of my cardboard and carried it to an infiniti CRV not too far away.

She left me alone with my thoughts.

Why?  Why would someone who didn’t have to climb inside a dumpster?  Who would do that?

She stayed on my mind as I walked back to the store.

I was mopping the floor when my friends showed up.  Nate and Britt had just graduated from the same graduate film program I had, and had made the move to LA less than a week ago.  Nate has two internships and film production companies.  Britt has some set jobs lined up.

I was in a green apron, mopping the floor, and I’d been here for a year.

Time flies.  When I first moved out here,  lived in a beach house thanks to a mix up with the apartment I would rent.  I stayed there for a week.  I was interning at a production company, the same one Nate was interning at now.  I was living the dream.

beach house

And now I’m mopping floors in a mall, taking trash to dumpsters, talking to strange women who dwell within.

At this point, I thought I’d be writing for TV show.

“There he is,” Nate said as I walked around the bar, “Looking good in that apron.  Has it been a good day?”

“Sure, it was busy earlier, but it slowed down now.”

Nate looked around, smiling.  “So do you like it here?”

I looked at my mop.  I thought about Starbucks.  I thought about the customers.  I thought about bills, and paychecks, and rent.  I thought about student loans.  I thought about fixing my car.  I thought about my health insurance, and my free coffee, and my computer, and my writing, and the industry, and movies and TV and socks and money and beer and people and friends and life and death.

Most importantly, though, I thought about a woman in a trash compactor stealing cardboard.

Hey, everybody needs boxes.

“Yeah, I do.” I finally said.  “What can I get for you guys?”

He got a very berry hibiscus.  Just like I knew he would.

very berry hibiscus

 

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