All The Windows


fear

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

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

Life was good.

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

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

I can shoulder just about any difficulty.

It was the hopelessness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any idiot can point out how hard things are.

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

But nothing is something, isn’t it?

And how long is forever, anyway?

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

Don’t go outside. They’ll shoot you.

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

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

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

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

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

But bravery does not need violence.

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

And I see heroes.

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

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

And I think.

I truly think.

The shadows have nothing against the light.

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

Pay them no heed.

Look out your window.

The world isn’t burning.

And even if it is.

It won’t burn forever.

And how long is forever, anyway?

view_with_a_window_by_ahermin

 

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Dating, simplified


aajsr

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

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

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

The dirty clothes hamper festers.

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

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

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

It still hurt.

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

He wasn’t even out of the box.

He was ready.

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

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

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

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

Like fireflies.

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

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

“No,” his booty blinked back.

The girl frowned and walked away.

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

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

She bent over and showed him her butt.

“How tall are you?” It signaled.

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

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

The first strikeout of the night.

Eric scanned for the cat woman but she was gone.

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

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

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

Eric bent over and presented his butt to her.

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

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

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

She bent over and showed him her bottom.

“So do I,” she blinked to him.

And Eric smiled.

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

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

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

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

Her ass glowed so prettily this evening.

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

“Kiss me,” her ass shined at him.

Then she stood up.

And he did.

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

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

Flashing their asses at one another.

Just like horny semaphores.

Or aroused lighthouses.

Or sexy, back-lit phone screens.

Ah, mon amour . C’est la vie.

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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.

A Song For David Bowie


King_Jareth_with_the_Crystal

I was deeply affected by David Bowie’s passing today. I called my friend Rob to talk about it. We met up later and listened to some of the hits, and then bought a six pack and watched labyrinth. I’d never seen it before. It’s magical.

I tried to find a copy of Bowie’s new record in town, but every store was sold out, and that’s saying something when you live in LA.

Rob urged me not to go buy something. It’s not right, he said. For David Bowie, we need to make something.

So I did.

It’s called Quicksand:

 

*****

 

I was adrift, stumbling around London in a haze. I could tell you I wasn’t drunk, but that would be a lie. I could tell you I had better things to do, but that’d be a lie too.

I came across an out-of-the-way tavern down the east end. It was a tall old building. It looked like it could have been something many years ago, a rich merchant’s house or a church or maybe even a school. It was crumbling now. The top floors looked barely habitable. The dark front door had a worn, hexagonal brass doorknob in the center of it. Above the door, a large, black star that was back lit somehow. I didn’t care how.

I went inside. My buzz was fading and I needed a drink. Plus, I was trying not to go home.

It was a dive. I pushed past the purple curtains that shielded the interior from the cold and found a rotten palace of beer-stained hardwood. Crumpled cigarettes twisted in overfilled ashtrays. Pool balls sunk into deep grooves on the pool tables. The smoke was thick. It made my eyes wet. I was pretty sure it was illegal to smoke indoors, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone to stop.

I just needed a drink.

I stumbled to the bar and found a stool next to a garbage can, which was just perfect for me. It felt like a rock.

“Pint,” I grunted, and an arm slid a glass of something dark and bitter toward me. I downed it. It tasted like mud. Good mud. The kind of mud you could grow something in. It tasted like… like fate. I’m not really sure how, or even what, but that’s just how it was.

“Thirsty?” A voice asked me. I turned to my right and say that the voice belonged to a man. A woman. No… he was a man. He wore a bedazzled, leather 18th-century outfit that would have been right at home at a fancy dress party in West Hollywood, and he smoked a cigarette out of a long holder. You know the kind. Cruella DeVille had one.

Very Femme Fatale.

“What are you,” I asked him, “some kind of clown?” He smiled at me as he picked up a cigarette packet. He offered me one and I took it. I don’t really smoke. I just sort of suck on the things. If I haven’t been drinking, a get a little head buzz from holding something that can kill me in my mouth. I had been drinking, though, so it was all rather pointless.

“I’m the entertainment,” he told me. I glanced at him, and he jerked his head back at a dingy stage. There was an old, upright piano there with an orange and blue lighting bolt painted on it. I smirked.

“Classy,” I said.

“Hey, man,” he said, “just relax.”

I took a drag and signaled the bartender. He brought me something else. “Fair enough,” I said.

He watched me as I drained the glass, and then took his cigarette out of the holder and snubbed it on the counter. He crossed his legs and stared at me.

“What’s wrong, then?”

I swirled the backwash in the bottom of my glass. Then I drank it.

“I don’t have any problems,” I told him.

“Everyone has problems,” He told me.

“Yeah? What are yours?”

“One of my eyes is permanently dilated.” He showed me. It was.

“Huh. I never heard of that.”

“It’s called anisocoria. Got it when a bloke hit me in school.” He lit another cigarette. It couldn’t be healthy. “We were fighting over a girl.”

“Who got the girl?” I asked. He just shrugged. I laughed. It was short lived.

“So what is it?”

I looked at my empty glass, and signaled for another. “A friend of mine… well, not really a friend. This guy I looked up to. He passed away.”

“And you’re sad about it?”

I didn’t say anything. The man took a long drag.

“So what did you make him?”

“What?”

“What did you make him?”

“He’s dead, he’s not having a birthday party.”

“No, no. People die, so you make them something. It’s how you remember them, right?”

“I remember people by crying a lot and buying things.”

“Does it make you feel better?”

I didn’t say anything.

He shook his head. “No, no. Make him something.”

“Like… what, like a tribute?”

“It’s not for them, love. It’s for you.” He stabbed the cigarette on the counter and leaned forward. “You feel something, right? You admired this guy?”

“He was unique. He was brave. He was kind.”

“So make something unique. Be brave. Be kind. He made you feel something, so use that feeling and make someone else feel something. You know how people say if you remember someone they never really die?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s bullshit, love. Bullshit. They’re dead, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget. Use what you feel and make something that he would have said ‘yeah, I like this’ about.”

I reached into my jacket and pulled out my manuscript. “I think I did. It’s why I started drinking. I’m just… I’m not sure how it turned out.”

“So you’ve been carrying it around London?”

“Yes.”

“All night long?”

“That’s right.” I laughed. It’s the sort of laugh that you laugh when you’re really just begging for affirmation. “I was thinking about throwing it away. That’s why I took the stool by the garbage.”

He shook his head. “What are we going to do with you?”

“I just need to know.”

The lights dimmed. He smiled again. “There’s only one way to find out.”

He set down a clear, glass orb on the counter and snapped his fingers. The arm brought him two shots of something amber. He downed them both. I smiled.

“I never took you for much of a drinker.”

“Baby, I’m not even really here.”

He walked over to the stage and pressed some keys. I stared down at my manuscript. It was hard to focus. 

“Alright, ladies. We’ve got time for one last song.” He started gently pounding out some chords and singing. “Oh I ain’t got the power anymore, no I ain’t got the power anymore.” He dove into the verse, and I dove into my manuscript.

I read it. He played.

He was better. He was way better. It wasn’t even close, but then again, I didn’t want to compete, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either. He played, and I read, and the music swirled around me, and I felt the power. My mind lit up like a solar flare with the sort of electricity you only get when you’re around someone who cares so deeply about what they’re doing that you end up caring, too.

“I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thoughts, and I ain’t got the power anymore.”

I looked at the garbage. You know how sometimes, in really dim light, you look into something that has volume to it, like a trash can, and it just yawns at you, and it seems like it doesn’t have a bottom, and it won’t ever, ever end?

Yeah, it wasn’t doing that anymore. The trash can, I mean. I could see a condom at the bottom of the liner.

I finished my drink and managed somehow to stand up. The room tilted and whirled so hard it made my brain hurt, but I found a path and made it to the door.

“Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death’s release”

It didn’t really make much sense, but it worked, in a weird sort of way. We made eye contact, and he nodded at me.

I just nodded back.

Then I left.

I suppose I made it back to Bloomsbury at some point because I woke up the next morning in my own bed, wishing I would have died.

I looked at the clock.

Morning. That was being generous.

My roommates would be back from Wales soon, and I…

Had it really been four days?

I rolled over. There was a manuscript on my bedside table. It had a touch of glitter on it. Next to the manuscript was a clear glass orb.

I never did find that bar again. It’s gone now.

I went looking for it my last night in London. The weather was warm, and we took Barclay’s bikes and rode them around the whole fucking town. We didn’t wear helmets, so our hair streamed behind us, and we laughed at the sheer folly of it all, kicked our legs out and screamed like kids, and the blood raced through our veins and our hair was blowing behind us and we could feel the life throbbing through our temples and I never did find the bar again.

I never found it again, but…

Now that I come to think of it,

I’m not sure I ever did.

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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

Bowling Club


glow1

For our first work outing, we collectively decided to go bowling.  I don’t know why.  I can’t imagine many people actually like bowling.  I mean, I’m sure they do, or else bowling alleys wouldn’t exist, but to me, bowling was a last ditch effort at fun for middle-schoolers.  “Well, there’s bowling” we’d say as we lay around on someone’s bedroom floor, the fan spinning lazily about us.  I always tried to track one of the individual blades, but would give up after my head began to hurt.  “It’s better than nothing, right?”  After a while, everyone else grumpily agrees, and off we’d go.

My parents distrusted bowling.  I’m not sure if something bad happened to them when they were younger, or if they had read that bowling alleys were full with kidnappers and sexual predators, but that’s certainly what they thought, and they would always try to discourage us from going.  “Bowling?  You don’t want to go bowling,” my mother would say, “bad people going bowling.  People that want to do bad things for you.”  We could never prove her wrong.  Who knew if the thin, fifty-year-old man in the Harley-Davidson hat was only pretending to be a sad alcoholic, when, in actuality, he was scoping out the joint, searching for kiddies to stuff into a sack and take home?

creep

So I was resistant to bowling, but bowling won out like it always did.  I think it’s because everyone can do it.  It takes skill to be good at bowling, but it doesn’t take much to hurl a ceramic ball down a narrow corridor.  Michael made a list and asked anyone who wanted to go to write down their names so he could get an accurate count and be able to estimate how much it would cost to reserve lanes.  Everyone wrote their names down, including me.  Two of my friends were leaving Starbucks for greener pastures, and I didn’t want to miss one last chance to hang out with them.

This was about three weeks before the event.  In the time in between when I signed on the line and we actually went bowling, I spent five hundred dollars fixing my car, my rent went up, and I lost every cent I had.

I couldn’t afford go.  It was that simple, and it provided a anti-bowling person like me with the perfect alibi.  I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have to feel bad about not going to bowling.  In fact, other people had to feel bad for me because I was unable to go bowling.  It was a win-win; the perfect crime.  All I had to do was tell Michael I wasn’t going to go.

Then another week passed, and I forgot all about bowling until the very Saturday we were supposed to go.

I came into work and Chase asked me if I was going bowling. I stopped and stared at him, and then my face went through some gymnastics I wish someone would have caught on camera.  Surprise.  Horror.  Pain.

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.  I don’t have any money.”

“Gotcha,” Chase said, ever understanding.

“Is Michael here?”

“He’s in the back.”

I walked to the back to tell Michael I wasn’t going just as he set his phone down.

“God damn it!” he shouted.  “That’s seven people who’ve cancelled, and I’m out $200 dollars.”  Then he looked at me.  My face went through some gymnastics I wish someone would have caught on camera.  Surprise.  Horror.  Pain.  Michael noticed.  “You aren’t bailing too, are you?”

“Bailing? Me?  Bowling?  No.  Bailing?  I love bowling.  When do I have to pay you?  Bowling is great.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Just some time next week.”

“Okay, great.”

Ten minutes later, while making a Pumpkin Spice Latte, I realized my mistake.  I hate bowling!  I don’t have any money!  Please, help!  I don’t want to go.

It was too late, so at 11 o’clock that night, I headed over to Pinz Bowling.

pinz

It was a relatively nondescript complex that had some impressive lights and a rather large, nicely maintained parking lot.  I was impressed with how clean it was.  I was also impressed with how close I lived to it.  It only took me three minutes to get there, and I left early, so I sat and my car, like I always do, and listened to Raw Power by The Stooges.

I got out of my car at exactly 11 and went inside.

All the bowling alleys I’ve ever been too were so full of cigarette smoke that you couldn’t even see the far wall, and lit by the sort of fluorescent lights that make you think you’re in a mental institution.

Pinz was packed with cool dudes smoking vape pins.  They had backwards facing hats and $900 leather jackets.  They wore brightly colored sneakers and drank craft beers and expensive little cocktails.  The women there wore tight clothing that accentuated their curves, had makeup on, and smelled amazing.  People were flirting, dancing, laughing.  Everyone had all their teeth, and I didn’t see a single knife or syringe anywhere.  There wasn’t even a single guy that looked like a pedophile.

And that was just the lobby.

There were twenty to thirty bowling lanes, all glowing faint neon blues and greens.  Hip twenty somethings bowled and drank in the lights embrace.  DJ lighting made strange colors dance playfully across the floor, and pop music blasted so loudly through the ceiling speakers that I couldn’t hear myself softly moan in utter shock.

I met my friends Matt and Wayne, and we went to our lanes.  I walked by more gorgeous women than I had seen in the past month.  None of them were bowling.  They were there trying to be noticed.

I used the computer in the lanes to select the theme for our bowl.  I gave matt’s lane “fairy tale”, which meant that a dragon appeared on the screen and ate a knight whenever someone got a strike.  I picked disco for my lane.  Each possible score was accompanied by a silhouette that would preform a strange dance.  Both themes tickled my fancy more than I care to admit.  Hell, the idea of having themes was hilarious.

I looked around as more people from work started to arrive.  They knew the score.  They were all dressed up, and here I was in my blue jeans and Iron Maiden T-Shirt.  The lights looked so expensive.  The sound system was amazing.  The bowling shoes were shiny and new.  I think I saw someone drinking a cosmo.

This wasn’t a bowling alley.  This was a bowling club, and strangely, even though all of this stuff must have cost more than I’ll probably ever earn in my life, it felt cheap.  I didn’t like how people were laughing and having fun.  I didn’t like how I could breathe.  I didn’t like how I could see for more than thirty feet.

We played three sets.  I was abysmal.  I’m not much of a bowler.  1:30 rolled around, and I decided to call it quits.  A lot of the club crowd had left at this point, too.  My group was having a blast, though, and were planning on staying for another thirty minutes.

I said goodbye to everyone, especially the two people who were leaving my store, and secretly vowed to never return to this terrible, terrible place.

As I left, a man walked toward me.  He was smoking a cigarette, even though we were inside.  The flashing lights and stupid blue glow of the place accentuated his orange tented glasses and receded hairline.  He looked even more thin than he probably was.  He carried a black duffel bag, and I could only imagine what was inside.  A bone saw, or maybe duct tape and a gag.  He was downright sinister.

I thought about my parents, and the bowling alleys of my youth.

We looked at each other as we passed on the stairs, and an understanding passed between us.  You can take the bowling out of the bowling alley, but you can’t take the bowling alley out of the bowling.

He went and started bowling in an open lane.  His only company was a bottle of Jack and whatever demons he brought with him.

I left him be, and returned my shoes.

“Did you have a good time?” The guy behind the counter asked me.

“Not really,” I answered, “but I think this place is growing on me.”c700x420

Cry For Absolution


You approach the great doors.  They’re fifteen feet tall, made of some dark wood, and expertly polished.  Embossed on them are a tableaux: man falls from the mortal plane, down through caverns and holes and finally into a giant lake of fire.

You push the doors open, and enter a sanctuary.

Great stone columns line the center walkway.  The columns and the walls of the place are carved from a dark, dark stone.  No natural light enters the room, but the flickering candles cast strange shadows dancing across the walls and floor.

A wine red carpet leads you past several pews where the faithful wait, towards an altar at the front.  At the altar, a green skin creature in vestments exhorts the crowd.  He wears a hood.  His face is concealed.

“Cheer, oh faithful” he intones, “and rejoice.  The prophecy has been fulfilled.  50,000 views.”  He lifts too clawed hands in a call for exultation.  The faithful respond.

“What?” You ask.  “50,000 views?  How is it possible?”

The green skinned one turns to you.  You see a flash of white teeth behind the darkness of his hood.

“Through the corn goblin all things are possible.”

Your legs feel weak.  You fall to your knees.  The green skinned creature nods.

“What a fool I was,” you mutter, “for not reading his posts.”

“All the things you desire are here, if you only knew to look.”

“How?”

The green skinned one gestures to the altar.  You see it now.  A giant statue of something vaguely human shaped at sitting with a laptop on it’s knees.

“Put your hands up and reach for the sky.  Cry for absolution.”

The room is quiet now.  You look around.  The congregation of the faithful surrounds you.  You look at their hands.  They all hold corn.

“Please… please… 50,000 views!  How?”

The green one is before you now.  He holds out an ear of corn.

You stare at it.

And then you grab it and take a bite.

It’s rather good, but could use some butter.

The green one grins.

“50,000 views, paid for by viewers like you.”  He looks directly at you.  “It’s a big achievement.  Thanks for stopping by.  Become a reader now, and know that it’s not to late.  A corny absolution could be yours, too.”

“Corny?”  You ask.  Your lip trembles.  He nods again.

“All you have to do is read.”

Goblin

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.

FullSizeRender

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

 

A Tryst With Racism


pour over

He said his name was Carlos, and I wrote it on the cup and passed it down the line.  I, as I often do, immediately forgot his name as the plastic left my hand.  It’s a bad habit, but not an uncommon one at Starbucks.

He told me he needed another caramel macchiato, but this one was a hot one .  I wrote his order on the cup, along with a name, and slid it down the line of drinks.

Moment’s later, someone went on a break and I had to go bar.

It’s weird when you go on bar from register and there’s a long line of drinks.  You end up making drinks for people you already connected with at register.  It feels sort of dirty, like seeing someone you used to date while you’re on another date.  You hope they don’t tell everyone else you’re up to your old tricks again.

“Have a nice day?  A nice day?  He told me that not five minutes ago, and look how nice my day turned fucking out to be, waiting in a line for my god damn hibiscus.  Nice day?  Please.  Come up with something original.  And don’t listen to him when he says you have a nice bag.  He told me that one, too.”

So I just didn’t talk to the people I had already talked to.  They didn’t talk to me either.  There was shared understanding.  We both knew too much.

And then I got to Carlos’s hot caramel macchiato.

I doubt there’s anyone who seriously considers them self a racist, just like I doubt there’s anyone who considers them self a villain or a serial killer.  No no, they say, I’m not evil.  It’s everyone else that is.

I’m not a racist.

But…

I wrote Jose on Carlos’ caramel macchiato.

I don’t remember doing it, but there it was.  His name is Carlos, not Jose.  Jose is what a racist person would write on Carlos’ cup.  Jose or Pedro.  That’s what fat rednecks or Donald Trump call Mexicans when they complain about them taking our jobs or jumping the border or whatever.  And I wrote it on a cup,

I was terrified.  To me, for some reason, at that moment, Jose and Pedro were the most racist names possible.  I looked over at Carlos.

He hadn’t seen it yet.  Thank god oh praise the sun he hadn’t seen it yet .  He was watching, yes, he was watching, but he hadn’t seen it yet.  I reached around in my pocket and ah ha!  A sharpie.

The milk finished steaming.  The shots were done.  I had about six seconds to make the drink before the shots died and I had to start all over.

I scribbled out the name.  What was once Jose was now a big, black, angry scratch.  I looked up, and Carlos was watching me.

I handed him the drink.

I told him to have a nice day.

He asked me if I scribbled out the name.

I looked at the cup.  The name was clearly scribbled out.  There was no getting around this one.

I told him I had.

He asked me if it said Jose.  I blushed.  My throat itched.  I couldn’t stop blinking.

He knew.

I told him I’m not racist.

He said what?

I told him it was an accident.

He cocked his head and asked me why writing Jose was racist.

Well, you know, it’s like, a stereotypical name.  It’d be like writing George or something on white guy’s cup if you forgot his name.

He told me no it’s not.  It’s a name.  There are plenty of people named Jose.

So it wasn’t racist?

He said no.

Are you sure?

Yes, writing Jose on a cup isn’t racist, but thinking it was racist was.

I said oh.

He said bye.

And everyone was watching.  I went back to my drink, feeling like a big racist.

But then I realized that, since bad guys don’t think their bad guys, and evil dictators don’t think they’re evil dictators, and racists don’t think they’re racists, then, by thinking I’m a racist, I just proved to myself that I wasn’t a racist, right?  Right?

Right?

caramel macchiato

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