The Wanderlust Misfit

Don't Run From Anything, Run Towards Everything

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Being Open At The Writing Group

The other day I went to a creative writing group, the Columbus Creative Cooperative that I’ve been going to for a few months now. Leading up to that day I’d been in a slump and I wrote about that in a few posts.

I gave the group a copy of The Summertime Ice-cream Girl and they gave some good critiques but I didn’t get from them what I really needed to know; namely if they understood what it was really about (I got the feeling they missed the point of the story), if they found the narrator unreliable, and if they understood the hallway at the end (and the toaster). They gave me some good critiques and brought up some good points, but there were so many questions I had to ask that I never did. I was out of it that day, feeling like shit as if under a riptide that was pulling me out into uncertainty where I couldn’t control a single probability and maybe, as a reaction, I wrapped my remaining possibilities around myself, like a life preserver. I didn’t open myself like I needed to, I couldn’t, I didn’t have the confidence nor the will to explain myself and ask the necessary questions and the only person that hurt was me. Being closed only hurt me.

The point being, if I had been following the flow I’ve been concentrating on I would have been able to open myself, to extend not only mine but everyone’s possibilities. Instead, I was in a shitty-down mood and the sky looked so heavy squashing that I felt flat, separate from everything. I have to always keep in mind my goals, to always hold that one flow in the back of my mind — That’s when I’m confident, that’s when the world glows and everything is open.

But a problem persists: I can’t seem to maintain that excitement and openness and love for life and everything that’s coming. It’s as if I need at times to be sad, to be withdrawn and cynical and sulk in my own little rotting miserable skull. Perhaps that’s just the nature of balance, or manic-depressive. Or maybe I need exciting people in my life, people with the same love of open possibilities and the crazy shining lust of running down train tracks bare naked to find what’s at the end.

Walking

I woke up late and was going to go to Kerouac’s Kafe but instead smoked with a new friend. I’ve decided to refer to everyone by different names and I’m going to have to make a list to keep track, and this new friend was a real cool dude named Trivvy. He isn’t in school either and we got along pretty well bouncing around jokes and such. After he left I decided I was too stoned to go make new friends in strange places, at Kerouac’s, so I resolved on the familiar Travonna’s coffee house instead. But on a sudden strange lovely urge I walked right past the cafe and instead went to ramble around little foreign side streets past all the broad buzzing cars, giving smiles to all the strangers on the sidewalk. I thought I should start saying ‘Hi how are you today’ to people as I walked by but didn’t really feel like it, though it’s something I would like to earnestly do all the time. I walked by a grass field and felt right that I should sit in the middle of it and write. It was right next to the road and the hundreds of cars whizzing by seeing this kid in dirty clothes sitting in the grass where no one ever bothers to even walk. I hesitated though, missing the bright moment and seeing a iron bench instead, so I sat and wrote and dreamed there for a while. And I’ve resolved also to always have my notebook and write little poems and verse about nature and people the empty city of crystals where ever I am.

After that I wound my way back to Travonna’s. I was waiting to cross the street with a few other people, standing on the concrete corner watching cars whiz past. The crossing sign flashed white to cross but the cars kept coming so we stood helpless and waited watching. Then an old broken lady with a crooked head in a wheelchair shot out into the street and the traffic stopped dead for this little old woman and we wondered if she had expected the traffic to stop….

Outside Travonna’s I stopped to smoke a cigarette before going in like I usually do. A man came out in cheap unprofessional business clothes and asked for a cigarette. Yesterday had been the first I saw of him at Travonna’s and he asked me for a cigarette then too. I gave him one this time. He said he was a model agent and went on talking about shaving and why he likes certain razors because they exfoliate and I said they open your pores. He got tried telling me that no they exfoliate and realized confused they were the same. Then his cheap suited business partner came out and he too asked for a cigarette. I lied and said I didn’t have many left, that his friend got the lucky one. They laughed something and I went inside and spent my time reading reading instead of actually writing, and I think it’s because reading the Dharma Bums, with Kerouac’s ephemeral whisps of existence and nothingness, has made me wonder about the nihil. The Isopanisad I’ve been reading too exerts similar ideas of being beyond work and the cogs of society, me thinking this has all given me a larger sense of self-negation and the Universal Will.

Geese and Youth

On Monday I’d gone to a writing workshop that I found called Wild Goose Creative way up Summit which runs parallel to High Street but much farther north than I’d yet to hike. I thought about calling first because I’ve hiked it far for nothing before but I still didn’t  have a phone so I hiked it anyway and when I got there the lights were off. I resolved to sit like an Indian on the little concrete wall in front and read about drunk saints in lonely California nights til someone arrived.

The walk had been lovely through a part of town I’d never seen, old college cottages that look like shit but with fantastic old front porches and giant ancient trees along the sidewalk that you could smell the ivy, to my back the crystal towers of the city real small in the distance still sparkling beside the sinking sun. At one point I passed these brick apartments real old and rustic with wrought iron gates, brown leaves and all the old bricks too covered in ivy and I couldn’t resist walking along in them so I did, and I found a wide brick path cutting through the trees in the back, that ran beneath the road and stretched and wound for miles it seemed, so that I promised myself I’d walk it one day and find the miserable ends of this empty wood path beside the silent trees.

Sitting on the wall there was a coffee shop across the street and I thought of going to wait in there but I didn’t, just sat there reading watching people pass, listening to a kid sing from a balcony while his friend played the guitar. It was getting dark and I felt I could sit right there never moving until I had a full gray beard and wise old eyes but I saw someone inside and when he unlocked the front door I went in. It was a small place, one long skinny room with a bare floor and brick walls, a small stage by the door, some lights, and what seemed a modular counter you could move, with sheets hung up to section a few spaces. The man who’d let me in was short pudgy, with tiny eyes and a fuzzy caterpillar under his lip and a real high voice. He was rolling out a table and I offered to help set up. He said ‘Yeah sure wonderful, that way I can get a pot of coffee going for us, excellent great.’ So I went behind the curtain and rolled out another table and started getting the chairs set up and felt fine that I’d offered because I had opened possibilities for that man even though they were small and didn’t mean too much, but he’d used them to make everyone coffee and I didn’t fail to see how all this works on larger more significant scales: I set up chairs so he could make coffee so we’d all be happy, that’s society ain’t it? A few other guys showed up and the host(ess) with the high voice at once began long conversations and since I didn’t know anyone I walked around to take in the place and was bored in a minute.

The meeting finally kicked off and I realized it was the five of us despite what the guy with the high voice said inbetween playing host and endless talking, mentioning something about at least ten people and more so we’d need both tables and as many chairs. And the median age there was 40. Our host looked like a chubbier Ferris Bueller and he went to get cups in the other room, the whole time talking to us going through the cabinets, keeping his conversation up so that one of the guys looked over at me and started laughing and I was well relieved someone else found the absurdity of all it.

The host had a chubby squat face and well combed hair that he probably uses lots of conditioner singing show tunes in the shower and he wouldn’t ever stop talking so that I got the impression he’d put this group together to talk at people, always saying ‘Yes yes, that’s so right, I know exactly what you mean’ whenever someone else managed to get a word in, and he didn’t care to cut people off, just raise his hand and talk. When he said he taught theater and French it made sense him so much talking talking and loving his voice. He mentioned even a list of five things he would ask strangers to get a conversation going, he’d mention cars, books, movies, music and games and he described it as his ‘scatter-shot’ method shooting out a bunch of topics until someone would talk to him. And now I’m thinking about it, that’s not how you talk with people. The idea isn’t to force conversation and when you’re the only one talking controlling the conversation you’re not broadening any possibilities, you’re not weaving into the Great Quilt of Life’s strings and instead making knots around yourself. The whole point of a conversation is to open yourself and the other person so that at least some of your possibilities take to winding together and when you’re the only one talking you learn nothing of the other person and the conversation fails. But the scatter-shot? If you talk it should only be with the back of your head, whatever ideas flow in just say them, speak because it bounces around between people so smooth and no one will ever be talking at the same time this way.

But back to the meeting. Another guy by contrast was real quiet shy reserved in his long face and real tiny mouth. His story had an interesting point, focus error when you focus too much on one thing that you mess something else up that’s really simple basic, though I think I got the name wrong and the story was poor written. The other guy talked real slow from the side of his mouth, an older guy and now I think maybe he’d had a stroke and wasn’t slow because he tawked reel sla-oh with long low vowels so that he reminded me of the sportscaster from Anchorman.

Anyway I need to get to the point which is real long coming and thanks for staying through but they all wrote shit except for the guy who’d laughed earlier. He wore glasses and a short brown beard and reminded me what I’ll look like in twenty years. He’d written a story, an inner monologue about a father who loses his daughter and it was so distant and distraught and real good sorrowful. Me and him would get to talking about unreliable narrators and mechanisms of writing, agreeing and bouncing off each other’s points and the other guys sat watching quiet while the hostess kept agreeing trying to pry into the conversation. Anyway this guy said he’d based his piece on Ovid’s Metamorphoses ‘which is all about change,’ he said ‘and I found it appropriate you know, with all the change and revolution that’s coming.’

It was embers being kicked up in head

Here I am talking again with people twice my age who see and understand completely what’s coming and happening and why can’t I find people my age with these ideas? Every writing group I go to has failed in this respect and there lies my lamentations.

Where are the youth? The wild and wide eyed so eager to devour without a shame to be spat out? Where is the vibrance to live and create? The youth in whom each moment is a work of art, everything they say and do a flow in the stream like well placed strokes of glow paint in the sky? Where is the excitement for movement? Has the eager desire and lust for American Freedom really been squashed?  Who closed the road and the Great American Highways where thumbs were like bus tickets? Who spoke and silenced, condemned dreams to textbooks and professors? Where are the youth? Where are the triumphant cries to live free on the outskirts and rally fast down burning bi-ways to take empty everything in wild strides? Where is the lust? For life? What heavy thoughts sit on youth’s minds that we cannot see through veils of GPA’s and fast-track careers in business suits? Where is the revolution? Where are the youth?

Won’t Write

I’ve gotten bent out of shape, hollow in the heart and empty in the head. It happens every so often, the swings of melancholy and I believe it stems from loneliness. I have trouble writing, feel a seeping doubt that I don’t believe in and all I want to do is sleep, wake up a new day all fresh and excited to pull the train down the track. But not today, or yesterday, though Greg said he’d read the blog and really enjoyed it, saying this unprompted of course since I’d forgotten I’d told him about it, and that made me happy a bit till I went to write and couldn’t and now I’m in a slump. And I was so happy yesterday! Excited and moving and I met people and dreamed down strange streets with diamonds in my eyes, singing loud and watching airplanes looking straight up while I walked, just acting real crazy and frenetic enjoying everyone staring at me because it soothes knowing you’re different and the stares know you’ve done it, denied the system and found the bliss along perimeters and cliffs.

Egyptian

She looks like an Egyptian goddess: her straight nose, flat eyebrows and ink stretched at the corner of her eyes, black bangs flat and even, the back of her hair so black and perfect, even and smooth flat straight. A gem inked at the base of her throat, a blue star twinkling at the side of her eye, hieroglyphic symbols of mystery on her arms and I want to study each tattoo on her body, every line and ink of art like the mystic who pools over and empties his soul into each line of ancient fresh parchment and verse; her body holds enlightenment and the smooth secrets of kingdoms, this is Isis, Lakshmi and Athena and Cleopatra and Mary and all the firm serenity of dragon tattoos in the diamond sparkles of the clear night sky and one can only hope to ever be blessed enough to enter such a temple.

Carving Phrases

‘She sat with her legs turned under her,’ I was reading Ray Carver because I stole a big book from the library and that’s what he said. And I got to thinking that’s what I like about writing: coming up with words and phrases that describe things you’ve never heard described before and it always feels great, when a line of words comes up in your head that put something so clear as ‘she sat with her legs turned under her.’ It’s something you’ve seen a thousand times but never spoke because the words weren’t there, and in this way the writer creates not just ideas but opens possibilities for everyone and the whole magnificent world because now that you can describe it that something becomes more real, like a piece of ice floating in the river it’s been given shape and you’ll always have that now and you’re going to be sitting ‘with your legs turned under you’ a lot more now.

Oh, and I found another creative writing group in Columbus, heading there in like 15 minutes and I’ll write about it later. Here’s the webpage in the meantime.

Man In The Clouds

Even in class I preferred the back of the classrooms and auditoriums and I’ve recently taken to the back tables at Travonna’s. Just something about seeing the whole room knowing everything that’s around you, knowing yet being as far removed; the man looking down from the clouds has all the more room for thoughts, the same that psychedelia and spaced-out rock, that Pink Floyd spaciousness of thought like hollow caverns in your head, the empty that soars above us the possibilities, the vast space for our thoughts to expand endlessly throughout.

Coffee And Making Order

Coffee’s good not only because it awakens and clears the senses like sometimes liquor does but because it’s two dollars of hot brew at a coffee shop refilling for hours to keep the hunger out until I go to work and pick at all the food while I make calzones for drunk collegiates who have all the fun I used to but got really bored of though I’ll always love it and you know that because I’ve long toyed having the nom-de-plume D.B. McHugh on all the covers but it seems so pretentious having initials like those literary legends when you’re down and sure not whether up is where you’re headed, pretentious like the stories B.S. Nothings write about all their tough lives and troubles growing up as if no one else has problems and their’s are some shining beacons we should all look to to save ourselves and find life-changing profundities when really they’re just bored cogs the products of structured boring American Suburbanism where each child is special and everything isn’t their fault because they’re excellent and smart better than all the rest so why not preach your made-up miseries because I guess we want them sitting in front of MTV and reality because deep down you really know you’re crying out that yes you are different than everyone and it’s just a plea to differentiate from the masses seeing it’s all the same and you need to shatter a cog or two it all just being reactions to monotonous mundane modernity to break away order and find the freeing gorgeous chaos that breathes fire in your chest, so make the drama and fabricate problems to show everyone you have the dark element an you’ll say well Kerouac… yes it too is reactions and striving up river against currents too calm but then go find life and participate and die early because as the role of observer/translator he can only bridge the chasm for so long and you sit there and drum up perceived despair without courage to love openly and take the honest plunge and instead loathe the world and put chaos in your order and never plunge and never drown drown drown swiftly in roiling madness and delicious uncertainty while you struggle so desperately to arrange the dominoes and that’s why I like coffee.

Going to See a Show

I got talked into (always done with relative ease) seeing a show later tonight with a guy Scott I work with, 25 and he’s a easy going guy, same problem I have being mid-twenties and still feeling like I’m fresh from lockers and gym class still excited about everything and just as naive. He went to a horror convention yesterday and showed me the pictures when he got back and stopped in at DP Dough, a few pictures with hot girls from horror movies and I never got around to asking him who he went with but I already figured the answer. So he told me about a show tonight in Columbus on 5th and Neil a few blocks down from campus (where neither of us go to school) and how a bunch of side-show people from this convention would be eating swords and crushed glass and crazy circus freak show stops like that. And the band, Lioness, they play a lot of hard rock so I was in, said I’d meet him at DP Dough at 7 but he has to spot me $20 for the night because I’m beat broke and I’ll pay him back on Friday. Not a problem he said, but I have to pay him back. So I’m using the $11 in tips I made last night for coffee and to get drunk and possibly cigarettes and we’ll see how this show goes.

Open Up

I was at DP Dough and one of the delivery guys who’s been there, both him and his wife, delivering food for what, like three years? Anyway, he’s got a greased back mohawk, tattoos beneath the hair on both sides of his skull and a bunch of other gnarly ink and he was telling me how he gets angry real quick, how he needs to get things off his chest or he snaps and things get ugly, this being why he was thrice showing me how to staple receipt A to receipt B. I told him it’s best, get things in the open instead of letting things simmer, that’s how things should be.

But what it really comes down to is the nature of the fabric of society: that all of our possibilities are entwined and unravel along the same weave. Opening yourself up and being honest, up-front with people is how you tie yourself closer with others and their possibilities, for if they know more about you they can control you more, but they can also open up more possibilities for you, them knowing what it is you need and can benefit from and of course this works in all directions.

So if you allow something to simmer instead of telling the person that person has no knowledge and cannot change what is bothering you. That’s when the simmers boil and fists fly. Open yourself up, be honest and stretch yourself and your possibilities to and through everyone. I’m trying to practice this more and I’m getting better at it, and this guy at DP Dough keeps giving me things to do, whether it’s grab his wings when they’re out of the oven if he’s still out delivering or to throw a bag in the garbage can as he walks past it and I’m elbows deep in suds scrubbing dishes. He’s the only other one who gives me things to do besides my two managers and myself and I’m going to have to get open about it.

But that’s the point I was driving at: We’re all here to expand each other and by closing ourselves off we only hinder progress.

The Empty Night

Midnight walking down the center of the street when all you see is dark windows and yellow street lights on the sidewalks, lots of lights and traffic lights, red and green glowing lights running into the distance above the shiny black pavement and there isn’t a single person or a car. Just you and the road and you feel you can see clear across the city and your possibilities for life are endless. But they aren’t, you think, and it’s just an illusion, some pretty lights and nothing.  — You turn back to your sorry neighborhood, your empty one-bedroom apartment and fall asleep sorry and drunk till the morning.

Paradox of the Sexes

Women want to know all about a man before committing, while men won’t care two shits about a personality to do the deed, yet it is always the man who has to ask all the questions —

My Day

I thought hard deciding I would share most everything — the journal given certain specialties. I read about non-fictional fiction and Dharma Bums. Then I wrote the beginning of it. Got high with friends and ditched by a couple, so I jabbed fingers some more. Now it’s time to sleep, after Dharma Bums. That was my day.

The Summertime Ice-cream Girl

Part I

I had seen her walk up to the ice-cream stand before, the girl who always got the strawberry ice-cream cone. I was seated at a table on the pier, the bar not far behind me, trying to write as I had been for the past few weeks. The ice-cream stand stood on the boardwalk just to the side of the pier, so that it was easy to see this girl looking out at the ocean with her heavy eyes, with a futile hope for things past, slowly licking the dribbles from her strawberry ice-cream cone. She was lightly tanned, this girl, and she usually, though I had seen many of her styles, wore her straw hair pulled back. Whenever she would finish her cone she would look out at the ocean for a moment or two, sigh at the ever-changing face of the surf and float back down the boardwalk. She would walk with her shoulders back and her chin up, not in a haughty way but with a gentle confidence; a person all too comfortable with her surroundings.

I had gone to Seaside that summer to write. I was just finished with college and I had no intentions to immediately begin a career. I wanted to write stories and that was why I was there: the white sand and crowded bungalows where I’d spent my younger years held such potent memories of vibrant emotion, of the vivid clarity of teenage angst and the wild yearning to live free….

The past few weeks I had half written several stories, never finding the heart I needed to finish them. I felt I knew why I was having such an awful time but it remained foggy, vague; as if the reason was buried in my brain at just the place I couldn’t reach it. I had learned in college about the things inside which you can’t control: the need to sleep, eat, love and reproduce; desires if you will. These exist in you but are buried too deep, in some dark corner and you can’t understand them. And as it follows, quite naturally, what you can’t understand you haven’t the power to control; they, in a way, have control and find expression through you. Yet don’t they say that ignorance is bliss? That sometimes, even though you know you can turn it on, it is sometimes better to hold your hand from the switch and walk the corridor dark? I’m sure I’ve heard them say this.

I was having trouble staying focused on my work and I closed my journal, called to the bar for their cheapest beer. It all tasted the same and I sat there at the plastic table baking under the sun, not caring that my drink grew warm. I looked over at the tables in the shade but I didn’t get up, just sat there watching people walk along the boardwalk. I had lately become quite interested in watching people, thinking up stories of what I would say and even how I would act were I in their positions. This is what I did when I couldn’t write, this is the reason I ever noticed this ice-cream girl in the first place. And I know what you’re thinking, but honestly, the fact of the matter stands that I observed this girl with the same detached interest as I did everybody.

I gave up writing for the day. It was still the early afternoon but I knew I would get nothing else done. I gathered my things and didn’t bother to finish the beer. Then I walked over for an ice-cream. I got a small cone and stood against the railing not too far from this girl.

‘Hi. How are you today?’ I said this with polite disinterest as I ate my cone, didn’t even bother to look over.

She shrugged. ‘Not bad I guess, thank you.’ I didn’t say anything back because I wasn’t looking for a conversation, just being polite, but after a moment she said, ‘I’ve seen you over there, you know.’

‘Hm?’

‘Over on the pier. Quite the people watcher, huh?’

‘When I can’t write, I guess I like to unobtrusively watch people.’ I ate my cone and I saw her glance over.

‘So what, you’re not going to say you’ve seen me?’

‘No, I wasn’t going to. But since you mentioned it, why always the strawberry?’

‘It’s my favorite.’ The ice-cream melted onto her hand and she used a napkin to clean it. ‘So what is it you write about?’

‘Life, I suppose. Though it hasn’t been going well lately.’

‘Your writing?’ She finished her cone and looked quietly at the ocean. After a few moments, ‘Well, mister unobtrusive people watcher, I’m sure that I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe from our usual distance, maybe not. I bid you farewell.’

I watched for a moment as she walked down the boardwalk. Odd girl, I thought. I tossed my cone in the garbage and walked back to the house.

 

Part II

It was a small, run-down beach house we were sharing, I and a few college friends for the summer. I lay in bed that next morning, staring for a good while at the dusty sunlight on my ceiling. I felt empty, as if a part of my stomach had been surgically removed and no one told me. Then I got up to eat a bowl of Cheerios at the table in our Formica kitchen. Scott and his girlfriend, at the time, they were sitting next to each other on the couch holding each other in this half-embrace, having a heart to heart. I spooned my cereal and looked over the crossword. I could hear him apologizing to her for the night before, trying to placate this girlfriend of his and he was doing a good job too, she was eating it up real lovey-dovey. They had really been going at it the night before: him drunk and yelling, her drunk and crying. It wasn’t anything really, happens all the time; my roommates and their girlfriends are always arguing, always breaking up, then come the baby scares. But it had taken six of us to calm them down and smooth everything out. Well, I mostly stayed out of it all. Why the drama? I don’t need it. I pulled a warm beer from the fridge and swung the door closed, going back to my Cheerios.

‘That girl Annalise was asking where you were the other night,’ piped up Scott.

‘It’s Annabel-lise.’

‘Yeah whatever. She’s goin’ to the show later though, her and Meghan are trying to hangout.’ I ate my cereal. ‘You gonna’ come?’ he added after a moment.

I shrugged without looking up, ‘I don’t know, maybe. I’ll see what’s going on.’

‘Why not? I thought you loved The Down Beats?’

‘Yeah, they’re alright I guess.’

 

I sat at my usual table that afternoon and ordered a few beers, letting them sit long in the sun before I drank them. It was very humid out and the patio was filled with men and women at little plastic tables, sharing drinks and cute ideas. I watched one couple for a while, both of them leaning forward face to face whispering to one another. He would smile and say something cute and she would smile and touch his hand. The patio was overcrowded and I felt penned-up, full of steam that couldn’t evaporate and the sweat rolled off my arms, puddled on the table. I don’t why I bothered going out that day because I knew I wouldn’t get any writing done. All of this was a giant waste of time and I don’t know why I bothered to get out of bed that day.

I gave up, closed my notebook and went for an ice-cream instead. I stood against the railing looking out at the waves while I ate my cone. I’ve always had this thing where I keep looking around me; maybe it’s nerves, maybe it’s self-consciousness or unconscious, I couldn’t tell the difference. But one of the times when I glanced behind me I saw this girl walking up to the stand, though she didn’t notice me catch sight of her.

‘You again?’ she said.

‘Me again?’

‘What, like you just happened to be here at the same time, again?’

‘Yeah, I always get ice-cream after lunch – So what’s your favorite game on the boardwalk?’

She smiled shy and looked down at her cone. She had a thin face. ‘Win Some, Lose Some – you know, the one where you spin the wheel and throw the darts. That one’s my favorite.’

‘Are you one of those people who play just ‘cus they like spinning wheels, but never actually win anything?’

‘Sometimes, I suppose. Why, did you ever win the game?’

‘Once or twice. But the prizes are so small you lose them after a few days. That’s why I play the games with the appliances.’

‘What, are you Mr. Good House-Keeping?’

‘No, but who ever lost a toaster?’ That one made her laugh. We kept talking after we had finished our cones and I learned her name was Cynthia, and I told her I was Robert. I continued to meet her at the stand over the next week, her always getting strawberry and me trying to keep some variance. We struck up a pleasant acquaintance, me and her, it was an easy, relaxed relationship, a sort of disinterested friendship we both knew would never be anything else. She told me how she and her friends rented a house every summer there, working jobs at someone’s uncle’s bar and grill. She also told me about her ex-boyfriend who lived a few miles inland, always stressing how she was so glad she’d ended it, how she felt it had wasted so much of her time and how he never took her anywhere. I told her how I was trying to write and living in a house with a few friends from school.

 

The next week saw a lot of rain; Cynthia and I a lot of movies. In the dark theaters we would kiss and pretend no one noticed. On the couch she would fall asleep on my shoulder and I would kiss her forehead. I knew I wasn’t emotionally attached to this girl, but rather satisfied with the idea of being with someone – as long as it didn’t become an emotional fiasco: I’ve never, never envied the shouts and tears.

The weather cleared up for the 4th of July and Cynthia took off from work; we were going to the boardwalk to see the annual fireworks display. Everyone was together, Scott and Pete and their girlfriends and Cynthia and I. The boardwalk was packed with people: families with their children, indignant teenagers with too much to drink and too much to spare; the goths and guidos, punks and low-down townies and all the office clerks and accountants; everyone was out and the boardwalk lights twinkled.

That whole evening is etched with unfading clarity upon my mind: the colored lights from all the games, wrapping us in warm excitement, the bells ringing and people cheering, the smell of fried dough and the balloons and giant stuffed animals that people would awkwardly carry around, not sure what to do with. I won Cynthia a stuffed dog by throwing darts a wheel. It was a useless thing, but she said she loved it and I figured she’d misplace it soon enough. We stopped for a while at a bar to have a few drinks. Bruce Springsteen was playing from the speakers, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’

‘Didn’t someone use this song in a campaign?’ said Pete. He was ordering drinks at the bar. ‘Anyone else for a shot?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘but I mean yes – Reagan did in the ‘80’s. I think someone lied to him about what the song was about, to use him for publicity.’

‘You mean they turned the tables!’

‘So Robby,’ piped up Scott, ‘You two official yet?’

I wanted to say no, that’s what I wanted my answer to be, but I looked at Cynthia’s wide hazels and I could tell what she wanted me to say: ‘Yeah, definitely,’ I said. It seemed as if she was about to add something, a word poised to burst from her cheeks. Instead, she looked down at her beer, waited a moment, and drank till the can was empty. What an awesome girl, I thought. I still wasn’t into her, honest, we just had a lot in common, and I enjoyed being able to spend time with her; though I dreaded when I would have to break it off, because I could tell she was really beginning to feel for me.

We walked around then, playing all the games, and Cynthia held my hand, smiling all the while. She looked so excited with her beaming eyes, taking in everything and so full of questions. The six of us raced to see who could fill a balloon with a water gun the fastest: that was one of the games. Cynthia won and jumped up and down, clapping as she collected her prize: a small ukulele.

‘This is the most fun I’ve had at the boardwalk, ever.’

‘You sure you get out much?’ remarked Pete’s girlfriend. She wore heavy lipstick.

Cynthia glanced over at her but didn’t say anything back. The look in her eyes I can remember; as if she wanted to scream some truth at her but decided it best not to. Cynthia and I split from the group then, just for a little while and we said we would meet up again for the fireworks.

We stopped at the ice-cream shop and Cynthia tried raspberry coconut for the first time.

There was a moment that night when the two of us stood against the railing, watching the waves break on the beach. We could see spots of light far out on the water, the lighted windows of a cruise ship. I put my arm around her and we talked about the stars in the sky because none were out. Then a long moment was caught, hanging so pleasantly, the perfect moment suspended between her eyes and mine – there was something I wanted, something I craved and needed like a desperate drink of water and a cloud of impulse suffocated my senses. I pulled her tight and felt her hair between my fingers, could taste the fruit on her lips.

‘I really like you,’ she said.

‘I really like you too.’

‘Where should we go to see the fireworks?’

I thought for a moment and looked around. ‘C’mon,’ I said, taking her hand. ‘We need to be quick.’ I hopped over the gate that led to the ramp down to the beach. It was closed, being after 6 p.m., but the gate was only waist-high. I took her hand; she was spry climbing over and down the ramp we hurried.

‘It’s a spot I used to visit in high school.’ We walked along the top of the beach, close to the bottom of the boardwalk so we couldn’t be seen.

‘Is this where you bring all your girlfriends?’

‘No, not at all. I’m not like that,’ I said sincerely. ‘We used to come here at night to drink and watch the fireworks, that’s it.’

The sand at the top of the beach sloped upwards, the boardwalk built on top of the dunes. Certain stretches were fenced off but I knew where the fence ended; several nights and several girlfriends had sort of etched the place into my head somewhere.

‘Have you ever watched fireworks from the beach?’ I asked her.

‘Not once,’ she whispered.

We found a place near the pier and we could hear the roller-coasters, the screams and the clank-clank-clank of the cars on their tracks. We sat in the sand just beneath the boardwalk so we could watch the stretch of sky where the fireworks would appear. Light from the boardwalk flooded the beach and all we could see were the abandoned sandcastles, the empty stands of the lifeguards, the surf where the waves churned white and the cold sand. In a way the beach was the extent of our external perceptions, and beyond that, to us, was nothing: a perimeter of darkness. Even the beach itself sloped down beneath the waves, lost itself in the empty thoughts of a foreign ocean; foreign because we could not see it, but only faintly hear the waves beneath the sounds of vigor from the boardwalk above. And this was where we chose to sit: in the dark beneath the boardwalk, scarcely able to see the expressions on each other’s faces – and this was where we smiled our truest. In the shadows we laid bare our wants and desires, hidden from view where nobody, even ourselves, would ever see them; where deceptive romance would exist forever, unchanged because it was unknown.

The fireworks began to much applause, the fwa-oompsh of the rockets taking off and the red and golds bursting in the night, the sparkles drooping in the sky like branches of a weeping willow. We didn’t see much more than that; we kissed hard and passionate and she pulled me down in the sand – the finale timed perfectly.

‘I’m glad we did this,’ she said after a while.

‘Me too.’

‘Definitely something I’ve never done before.’

I looked at her.

‘Beneath the boardwalk, I mean to say.’

‘Oh. Me too.’

 

Part III

A few weeks later we were sitting on a bench on the boardwalk, eating ice-cream cones. It was damn hot out. Cynthia was enjoying some obscure caramel flavor neither of us had ever heard of, while I ate mint-chocolate. I kept looking over at her, I couldn’t help it: her thin features and supple nose, her wide hazels and even the smudges of sunburn beneath her eyes, the sweaty strands of hair tucked behind her ears. She would look back at me with her eyes bright like the sun, her lashes like rays of sunshine, and smile at me big and full and lovely and I would smile wider still, bigger than ever at the most precious thing to inhabit the Earth. It was a struggle not to constantly plant kisses on her cheek, so fertile as it was, though I knew something had already grown between us, grown and blossomed and that there existed no way in either  Heaven or Hell to trim its wild branches.

She smiled up at me and I smiled back. ‘What happened?’ I said. ‘You don’t enjoy strawberry anymore?’

‘No, strawberry will always be my favorite.’ She had the most unforgiving smile.

Even when I was not with her, all it took was the thought of her smile to burn in my chest a strange unfettered joy. We spent time every day, and in the dark humidity of night we would lie in bed and whisper to each other, our skin still sticky with sweat from love, and she would spill herself to me, and I savored, believed with the fullness of my heart every word she ever spoke. What I loved most was the way we never fought: things existed with perfect balance between us, and I knew they would never change; it was too perfect, and I would never allow them to. I truly cared for this girl, I did, and I would never allow things between us to break apart.

‘Where’d you get that ridiculous hat?’ I said. It was fuzzy and white, with a flower on it.

‘You got it for me.’

‘Liar. I have much better taste than that.’

‘Well you did.’

‘Hm. I must have thought it would look better on you then.’

‘I kind of like it, I think I may start wearing hats.’

‘Please don’t.’

‘If you really don’t want me to, I’m going to anyway.’

We finished our cones and spent a while looking out at the ocean, not saying anything, just enjoying the moment. Then we walked to the Funtown Pier. We’d been going there a lot lately, only paying for the rides that unwound our stomachs. We’d been whirled in circles, spun upside-down, experienced free-fall and been swung on a bungee-chord off the edge of the pier. Our favorite rollercoaster had a dangerously sharp turn right above the ocean, so that every time you’d hope the car wouldn’t make the turn, and instead launch you off the edge of the pier and into the ocean. The rides were half-off during the day, and fortunately Cynthia always had a pocket full of coupons, because despite what she said, I was always the one who would pay in the end.

Cynthia was always excited at the pier, full of buoyancy and life and with a vibrant smile would say to me, ‘These are the amusements I like best!’ And I always agreed, I was the same way, and I couldn’t blame her for it, nor did it bother me because I knew she truly cared.

‘What about her?’ Cynthia pointed.

‘Eh… you’re still prettier.’

‘Really? I think she looks like a supermodel.’ Cynthia wasn’t ever jealous, that was another thing: I could be friendly with other girls and that’s another reason why things between us were so simple and perfect: love without jealousy.

‘Don’t say that, I could be jealous, Robert.’

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Yeah! These other girls I don’t care about, but, if you were spending time alone with one of them, I’d be jealous. But I know you, Robert. Sometimes I think I know what you’re doing before you do, so I’m not jealous, just in control of things.’ I leaned over and put my lips to the soft color on her cheek. ‘But I have to go babysit now. I’ll stop by your house when I’m done.’ I wasn’t ready to go back to the house yet; I was bored and I didn’t feel like writing. I thought instead to walk around for a while.

Every house in town was pastel colored, with a little porch, A/C units in the windows and pebbles instead of grass in every yard. And they were all shoulder-width apart. I checked each bar and they were all over-crowded, with over-priced drinks and shitty ‘house’ music. And holy Christ! Why did everyone have to get the same haircuts with too much gel? And the girls! All of them with fake tans and giant hair! But when I thought about it, things had been that way for a while, at any rate.

I did though, happen to pass a maintenance crew working on the sidewalk. They had a long iron bar and kept jamming it into the sidewalk, into the little spaces, really wedging it in there because they were trying to lift a portion of the sidewalk up, or else trying to break it up into pieces, prying at the cracks, and they were really making a lot of noise. But I couldn’t really see what they were doing. It made me think though.

I went back to the house and Scott and Pete were in the living room with two of their friends, and Annabel-lise was there too. Apparently she had come over just for the hell of it, because she was bored and all, but when I walked in I noticed her eyes widen and she sat up straight on the couch. I sat down in the old armchair and didn’t pay her any attention.

‘Annabel-lise, what are you doing here?’

‘I came over for the hell of it. I was bored and all.’ She smiled her big white teeth.

The baseball game was on and Pete was explaining how he still truly cared for this girlfriend of his, but that she used and abused him and was more-or-less of the character termed ‘bitch’.

‘I don’t know what to do. She blew me off all night, finally showed up at like, two, drunk as shit, and of course I flipped out at her –’

And of course we had all heard the argument the night before, it was impossible to miss the yelling at two in the morning. And it so happened that the people who were listening to Pete’s story had been at the house the night before, had invariably gotten themselves involved in the yelling. I had stayed in bed, obviously, and I couldn’t understand how they could sit there and listen to the story when they had been there. They were so wrapped up in Pete’s words, involved, almost vicariously it would seem, in what Pete was saying, offering advice and inanities, consolations by the heap; pandering drama like serving cake to distended bellies. I sat quietly and watched the baseball game. The Yankees were up at bat.

Eventually Pete and Scott had to leave for work, and their two friends got up quick to follow. Annabel-lise stayed behind. I thought of telling her she too had to go, but I couldn’t see a good reason why I should. I wasn’t doing anything else and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. She was good company and what would it matter in the end? I got up to sit on the couch, at the opposite end from her, but only so I could see the TV easier.

She was picking at her nails. ‘Is this all you guys do? Just hangout and watch sports all day?’

‘We do other things. Why, is there something else you’d rather watch?’

‘Just about anything. See what’s on MTV.’

‘I’d rather watch baseball. MTV has only those reality shows and then the Jersey Shore.’

‘Same shit as your baseball.’

‘Huh?’

‘Think about it – would you be so damn invested as to whether or not Posada drove this run in if you hadn’t a sturdy roof and more food than you could ever eat? That’s what I figure. There’s no danger or suspense anymore, we’ve lost the excitement.’

‘You’re crazy, you know that?’

‘Am I?’

‘Well, what’s that say about you and Jersey Shore then?’

‘They’re all outlets – I’m saying they’re the same things. They’re entertaining, but still….’

There was a knock at the door and I got up to let Cynthia in. She placed her bag on the table and kissed me hello. She smelled like cigarettes but I knew she didn’t smoke, so I thought nothing of it. I followed Cynthia back into the living room and she sat in the middle of the couch so I could put my arm around her. I introduced her and Annabel-lise and they seemed to hit things off quite well.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ said Cynthia. ‘So what is it you do, Annalise?’

‘It’s Anna-BELL-lise,’ she politely corrected. ‘And I’m a masseuse at The Captain’s Day Spa.’

‘Oh? I know of that place. How is it being paid to touch people?’ Cynthia meant it as a joke and she gave me a funny look, so I laughed. Then Annabel-lise too gave me a funny look and I realized we should all hang out more, we had common humor between us.

‘What I do is a legitimate form of healing. A practice recognized around the world as a respected method for relieving stress and making people feel good about themselves. But I guess you wouldn’t know about that.’

‘I had a step-dad that saw people for stress relief. Funny, I don’t remember him referring to them as masseuses.’

‘That says something about your family, doesn’t it?’

Cynthia gave me another funny look, so I smiled at her. It was quiet for a while, though I noticed Cynthia and Annabel-lise kept looking at each other, probably thinking of gossip to talk about. Oh, and Posada loaded the count.

‘So Annalise –’

‘It’s AnnaBEL-lise.’

‘– you must be dating one of the guys in the house then, since you’re hanging around and all.’

‘No, I’m not dating anybody. I just like to hangout here because all the guys enjoy my… company.’

‘Really?’ Cynthia sounded deeply interested. But then she glared at me, grabbed her bag and the screen door slammed shut. A moment later I realized and got up to chase after her.

‘Where are you going?’ I caught up to her at the end of the driveway.

‘Really Robert? Really? Who the hell is that girl!’

‘Who? Annalise? She’s just a friend.’

‘It’s AnnaBEL-lise. How long have you been seeing her Robert!’ Cynthia’s eyes were already glassy.

‘What? No! She’s just a friend, Cynthia.’

‘Oh, like I would believe that – Screw you Robert!’ She held her purse by the strap and it dangled by her feet. Her hair fell flat around her head and her posture had sunk.

‘Serious Cynthia, you’re the only girl I’m interested in!’ The simple implication of anything to the contrary welled up a heat in my chest, a boiling anger from the disbelief of being accused.

‘You expect me to believe that! After I walk in on you two by yourselves? How long have you been seeing her, Robert!’

‘I’m not Cynthia! She was hanging out with Scott and Pete and they had work! Stop making a big deal out of nothing!’ I could feel the heat pooling around my eyes, my senses lurid as if it were a heightened state of mind.

‘Oh, so you just kept her around when Scott and Pete are done with her, is that it?’ she was yelling now. ‘And that’s not a big deal, Robert! I told you I was jealous, why would do that?!’ Her words became more and more animated, her arms flailing and her facial expressions twisting.

‘You’re being nuts Cynthia! You know I want nothing to do with her, you know you’re the only girl I care about!’ She stared at me with her jaw clenched, and I felt something surge through me, a clarity, maybe. I stepped forward and reached my hand out.

She yanked her arm away. ‘Get away from me, Robert! How the hell could you do that to me in there! You couldn’t even bother to stand up for me –’

‘What do you mean ‘stand up for you’? What was I supposed to say!’

‘I’m leaving, Robert! Perhaps we should stop seeing each other!’ She turned to walk away.

‘Get back here Cynthia! What the hell’s your problem?’ I followed her into the sidewalk and she quickened her step.

‘Stop following me, Robert! I mean it, I’ll scream!’ The neighbors were outside watching. I stood in the sidewalk and the colors of her skirt were so bright, the sun so hot, clear, I could feel the sweat on my brow, and all the colors of the signs on the boardwalk rising up in front of her as she walked away. I could feel the blood rushing, some heated vigor I thought no longer existed. I stomped back to the house and struggled with the screen door, almost ripping it off. Annabel-lise was still on the couch.

‘You should leave,’ I said.

‘But the Yankees are about to take the lead –’

‘I don’t care, please leave.’

 

 

Part IV

It was obvious to me that couples who fought together, stayed together – I know I’ve heard that before. We’d made amends, sewn our holes and were closer than ever. Lying in bed at night I’d tell her I loved her, and she would smile and whisper back. We talked a lot, and we decided this was real, that this was something meant for and wouldn’t ever be a different way. I truly cared for her and never wished bad between us.

‘Why do you always have to touch everything?’ It was impossible to take her anywhere.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Well it’s annoying. Kids do that.’

‘Oh, so I’m a kid now?’

‘Yes, that’s exactly it.’

We stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. Cynthia had mentioned her mood for sushi and I, having never tried sushi, could not have agreed more. But as we looked at our plates of raw fish it was apparent neither of us knew what we had gotten into. We ate choosingly, and Cynthia would take a large bite, chew timidly with her face squinced and swallow with a gulp.

‘I enjoyed it,’ she said as we were leaving. ‘It was new and exciting, but I don’t think I’ll ever try it again.’

‘You’re crazy.’

Cynthia gave me a funny look, a very suspicious brow. Then she reminded me she had to babysit, kissed my cheek real quick and told me to call her in the morning.

I walked over to Cynthia’s house around noon the next day. I knocked on her door and she threw her arms around me, gave me a kiss. We went inside and I sat in the kitchen at the table while she made tea.

‘How is it?’

‘It’s alright,’ I said.

‘What would you like to do today?’

‘Meh, I don’t know.’

‘You can take me for ice-cream. I’ve always wanted to try butter pecan.’

‘We’re always trying ice-cream. Let’s do something else.’

‘Like what?’

‘I haven’t had lunch yet, let’s go get some real food.’

‘I can’t, I have to babysit in a little while.’

‘So what? We’ve got plenty of time.’

‘I can’t, Rob. I need to make sure I’m on time.’

‘What, but you have time for ice-cream?’

‘It doesn’t take nearly as long to get a cone. Would you like me to make you something here? I cooked dinner last night, we have plenty of leftovers.’

‘No, it’s alright.’ We sat quietly and slipped our tea. ‘How come you have to babysit so much anyway?’

‘It’s my job. They need me and they pay very well.’

‘Yeah, but everyday? Didn’t you just babysit for these people last night?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘You’re always running off on me to go babysit. We don’t spend time like we used to.’

‘You’re being ridiculous, Rob.’

‘Oh, I’m being ridiculous?’ These were completely valid points I was bringing up. ‘You’re always bailing on me to go babysit. What do you need two jobs for anyway?’

‘Oh, I have never bailed on you! And sorry that some of us have to work Robert. We’re not all so lucky to get to sit around all day.’

‘You’re bailing on me right now! I thought we were going to have lunch!’

‘Stop being a piece of shit, Rob.’

‘How am I being a piece of shit? Because I want to spend time with you!’

We had gotten to screaming at each other again and I couldn’t understand why it had all started. I was angry because we weren’t spending time like we used to and she called me a needy asshole. She began to cry and I told her she was a stuck-up bitch. She told me to leave after that, and I did, I was livid, and for the life of me I could not understand why we were fighting like that – And the games on the boardwalk, the colors were so bright. And when I walked past the stores I could smell the air conditioning in the stifling heat. And I never ate a cheesesteak that tasted so good. And I made some new friends, waiting in line at Midway for that cheesesteak. We all got drunk afterwards, and I told them I was newly single. Then the prettiest girl in the whole bar kissed me.

I napped and slept off the liquor and went back to Cynthia’s later that night. I felt bad about what had happened, I really truly did, but I wasn’t angry anymore. I’d a good day despite everything, the best in a long time, actually, and everything was so clear and vibrant.

I stopped and bought a gallon of strawberry ice-cream, picked up a book by Cynthia’s favorite author. I was going to make it up to her, because I truly cared for her and felt real bad, just terrible about our arguing. I was whistling as I walked up her driveway, found the spare key and let myself in. The house was dark and Cynthia wasn’t due back from babysitting for another hour. I turned on the kitchen light, looked through the cabinets to see what they had. I thought I would have dinner ready when she got back.

I was about to put the ice-cream in the freezer when I heard a voice in the other room; her roommate was watching TV in the guest room, apparently. The hallway light was off, but the door at the end was slightly open and I could see the light behind it. I knew where the light switch was, but I didn’t bother to turn it on and I left the hallway dark. I could hear soft voices at the end of the hallway, could feel the carpet beneath my feet and I ran my hand along the wall; the paint was smooth, cool. The dark of the hallway seemed so comforting, unbreakable and permanent and for a moment I thought that, perhaps, the light there never worked. I was about to turn around, I’d yet to meet Cynthia’s roommate and I didn’t want to disturb her. But I figured I should let her know I was there. Gently, so as not to startle her, I pushed the door open, slowly letting light into the hallway – and I stood there, the light from the room hitting me, seeing her straw hair splayed out on the pillows, her thin face beneath a pair of broad, bare shoulders. I dropped the gallon of ice-cream. Then I heard Cynthia whisper help.

I ran and tackled the guy off the bed, landing on the other side on the floor. I tried to punch him and I missed and he hit me in the eye real hard so that I fell on my back and didn’t get up.

‘Stop!’ yelled Cynthia. She stood in the doorway and turned the hallway light on. She hadn’t bothered to dress. ‘This isn’t what I wanted. I mean it is, but –’

‘How could you do this to me!’ I yelled.

‘To you! What about all the crap you put me through this last month?’

The naked guy in the room wandered over by Cynthia and picked up the ice-cream. ‘Look, our favorite.’

‘Leave, Mitchell.’

‘Who’s this guy?’ he asked.

‘Leave Mitchell!’

‘Okay, I’ll save our ice-cream for later.’ He kissed Cynthia’s cheek on his way out.

‘What the hell, Cynthia!’ I yelled.

‘What, like this is all my fault?’

‘How this not all your fault! How long have you been seeing him, Cynthia!’

‘I don’t know, three, four years.’

‘What! You’ve been sleeping with your ex this whole time!’

‘Well, technically he’s not my –‘

‘Oh, Jesus. You used me this whole time! You never gave a shit about me, did you?’

‘Don’t you ever say that, Robert! I cared, I really did, but I was confused and I didn’t know what I wanted. And you! You’re impossible to be with, Robert! Always with the drama! How could I ever expect you to be honest with me if you can’t even be honest with yourself!’

‘Honest with myself!?’

 

So I drank a lot over the next week, spent much time thinking and Scott and Pete were very helpful, supportive. So too was Annabel-lise. We spent an entire afternoon getting drunk while they listened to me talk about everything. They listened with intent, giving me advice and consolations and it felt good to share the story, to share all the pain and drama I’d suffered because it was all very new to me. I knew Cynthia had lied to me with the sole intent of using me, and if ignorance be the blighted tool of deceit, well, than she had wielded it with surprising acuity. Well I hope those amusements were fun! Quite cheap and painless, no? But I couldn’t stay angry with Cynthia for long, she was partly correct. She knew whole well what I was doing and I sort of wish she’d told me earlier, I hadn’t realized. All told, I had gotten myself a toaster by making a toaster out of myself. That made me feel sick for a while, more so than Cynthia. But it had worked, very well, and one morning I work up fresh and early with the birds and garbage men, went to the pier with a brand new notebook, and at the top of the first page wrote the title, ‘The Summertime Ice-cream Girl’.

And The Piggy Bank Broke

Out of cash and I spent my last handful of coins at the coffee shop before work. I lost my debit card two weekends ago and I’m pretty sure I’ve already wrote about that and I called Wells Fargo and told them to mail me a new one ASAP. 7-10 days they said. I called on day 8, ‘Well definitely let us know if it isn’t there Thursday because that is day ten.’ Thanks for the help because today was day ten and somehow I knew after I called that it wouldn’t get here on time. And of course my phone plan had to end yesterday so I can’t make calls until I pay $50 for the next month.

But where did the paycheck from DP Dough go? The bar. Then I was drunk and bought spice. The rest went to bills and I still owe Greg $75 from this month, plus rent. Bottom line is that my bottom-line hit bottom. But isn’t this where I wanted to go? Haven’t I sang ‘walked on the edge with that hobo way’ (last stanza in ‘I’ve Seen Better Days’) thousands of times at the top of lungs in my head of course? Of course. But now I’m here and I’m broke without a phone and I don’t get paid till Thursday, can’t cash it till Friday so I’ve got a good week with no money. I lied. $5 in tips from DP Dough last night went right to 7/11 bought a pack of smokes. The change from that bought me coffee. Hopefully I get more tips, or a debit card, by Wednesday so I can meet the Columbus Co-op writing group. I’ll have to borrow a phone to call the bank and bitch real hard till someone relents and next-day-air’s me a new card.

@SpendingHabits

Sea of Uncertainty (Spring, 2009)

  I finished reading The Rum Dairy; I turned the last page and laid it on my lap.  It was Tuesday.  I had a paper to finish by Thursday.  Finals were quickly approaching.  It was imperative that my time be spent well: in preparation for finals week which would start the upcoming Monday.  I wasn’t in the mood for any of it.  I wasn’t in the mood for anything I had done before.  Life was getting stale.  I got up and left the library to enjoy a cigarette. 

It was a bright and sunny, end of April day.  Everybody was outside chatting with friends and enjoying pleasant strolls amongst the budding trees and flowers.  Birds welcomed the first warm spring days with pleasant chirps that seemed to compliment everybody’s mood, yet contradict mine.

To my back was the six story university library: that red brick building with that unsightly, off-white façade.  The shallow arched front managed to reach the roof of the library, but in an attempt to embrace the width of the building, failed by a measure of ten feet to each side.  Just as a dilapidated factory can sore the eyes, the façade’s attempt at creating a colonnade of square pillars, a horrendous insult to Greco-Roman architecture, was equally offensive to the organs of vision.

Sprawled out in front of me was a two lane road.  I dragged my cigarette slowly, understanding my time was limited. To the right the road meandered through campus.  To the left it had a fork: the right prong went down to the waterfront, following along the path of the Monongahela River; the left prong led into the center of Morgantown.  A couple minutes to the right of the library was the glass structured student center everybody called the Mountainlair.

The point of the cigarette was to give me a few light headed minutes to regain the motivation needed to tackle my schoolwork.  I was nearing the end of my smoke stick; failure filled my lungs: no motivation had influenced me to return to the library.  A new species of sensation, a certain kind of hunger I had before now never felt, began to seep into the furthest recesses of my being.  I decided to visit the Mountainlair for a bite to eat, hoping food would fill the cracks of my self’s extremes.

I walked up the road.  I stood outside the Mountlair; I teetered as if on a precipice of steep destruction.  The short walk had only fueled the hunger.  Strangely, the thought of eating to subside the new-born craving had altogether abandoned my mind.  I guess the feeling wasn’t hunger at all, but perhaps an excuse to find something to do besides schoolwork.  The hunger was replaced by a steady uneasiness, a feeling of uncertainty that wrapped my entrails like a heavy drenched towel.  I moseyed out to the road and made a left.

I was restless.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I thought briefly of walking home but the idea didn’t ease me.  I kept walking the road, hoping I’d figure a way to keep interested in this place.  Everybody else seemed pre-occupied, walking to class or taking care of some other business.  I had no business.  I thought maybe I’d walk to a friend’s, reasoning that a conversation with a familiar face might keep me grounded.  But the idea passed quicker than the last: I kept walking.

My uneasiness had yet to settle.  I lit another cigarette and kept going, letting my thoughts run unhindered through my patternless brain.  I knew I was heading for something.  I had no clue what, only that it wasn’t a dead end or a bottomless pit; at least I hoped.  It seemed that everyone else around me knew what they were doing: a kind of confidence that the future would be kind to them and everything would turn out alright.  When you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to know where you’re going to be.  I had been in college the last two years, surrounded by people who had been told growing up that college was the only way to comfortably survive in this world.  I had no interests in comforts or pleasantries, only depravity and empty depths, and I had no faith in the piece of paper they called a diploma. 

Cogs had been set in motion long ago, pointing me in a direction I was blind to see.  If only I knew just what their teeth and gears held, I might be able to hoist myself upon the future to prevent myself from drowning in its Sea of Uncertainty.  For now I will flounder in its rising tides.

I had walked far enough down the road that I no longer recognized my surroundings; the empty uneasiness started to subside.  It dawned on me the origin of this turbulence; Morgantown, and everything else I had familiarized myself with.

I had been living here in Morgantown for the past two years while I worked towards my Journalism degree and now I’d grown complacent.  I’d seen what the town offered; knowledge and a good time.  But knowing that in any city of any country I could find them both awaiting my arrival, I decided it was time to leave.

I packed my bags, and by dawn I was on a bus to the nearest airport.

Bus Stop Homeless

Her arms had deep scars from a flesh eating bacteria, kills four for five and she’s the survivor. Diagnosed with a rare mental disorder and she’s been taking meds since 27, that’s twenty years and she’s in two medical journals. Said her pills keep the crazy out but I’m not sure who I’m believing. She married a high school sweetheart at 15 and had two kids, traveling all over Europe with them and even Hawaii. Married for thirty pleasant years with a good job at the hospital till her husband had a mid-life crisis and started smoking crack. Then he divorced her. He crooked her for everything and she told me the IRS emptied her savings and took her house.  She shits behind a dumpster and why don’t her kids help? They’re all grown and on their own she said. Said she can’t get Social Security but is positive that if she smoke methamphetamines — those sorts haven’t a problem getting Social Security, she said. She never asked for a dime or to bum a smoke and said to me she knows attorneys and doctors living at her shelter, all good people and I should come down to write about them. Said she won’t ever open a bank account again. Said she filed her taxes last year for $11,000 and got a letter back saying thanks. It’s only for food lines that she gets to eat. There’s a lot more like her at the shelter, she told me.

The Bookloft, Theft and Pretty Red-Heads

I went to the Bookloft in the German Village section of Columbus. It’s the Brewery District, really, old brick factories and warehouses with their walls like they would fall over if you had a running start. It’s a sharp old neighborhood, successful at keeping out modernities like asphalt streets and house siding everything old clay bricks stamped with the factory they came from, real dedication to nostalgia and quaint peace.

But the Bookloft, yes, 32 rooms wall to wall bookshelves, bookshelves even in the spaces beneath the stairs. It’s a house turned bookstore and they use every inch, even books in the garden. It’s a cramped place, especially looking through stacks in walk-in closets, the rooms for the most part not too big and each room dedicated to a different genre. Signs are posted and dangle from the ceiling telling you where you are and where everything is. I found myself surprised the Federal Government didn’t come in and shut the place down as a fire hazard, it’s tough to find your away around and I tried giving a guy directions to the door. Of course the first person I see is one of the old women from the writing group I had come from, the one who wrote ‘No Sex In St.Tropez‘. Old ladies and sex. She doesn’t know I linked to her book and I’m almost excited to tell her about it next week.

Funny seeing you here, I said to her. She turned around surprised and started talking that her and her friends always came by. ‘Oh cool. Well I’m going to get myself lost for a few hours, have a nice day’ and I hopped up the stairs real quick because I didn’t want to get caught in a conversation and old people tend to drole. I got bored quick wandering around and not finding what I was looking for, actual works of literature and not the commercial fictions on the best-sellers’ racks, and anything philosophy. I wanted the old leather bounds, the yellowed paperbacks that smell like dusty old libraries when you flip the pages. Too much new and plastic coated. To replace honest nostalgia corny ’50’s music  played in every room, inescapable pop-jingles your grandfather sings and the smell of cinnamon candles was everywhere. I was losing interest getting bored when finally I found the American Classics, began thumbing through fresh-printed copies of Hemingway and Twain. The wall behind me was gay and lesbian literature and I saw walk over what I supposed were mother and daughter. I was sitting on a foot stool reading Kerouac and these two came over, began browsing the shelves behind me and the older one said ‘Five seconds here and I learn more about you than I ever did.’ An awkward conversation would start like that and I wanted to think of other awkward conversations it could lead to (We’ll get back to this sometime) but Dharma Bums really had me. I got up and walked around a bit more, waited till no one was around and tucked Kerouac’s Dharma Bums into my jeans and tightened my belt so it wouldn’t slip. Then I went back downstairs, got my bag from the register because you aren’t allowed to bring bags in for security reasons, and got back to the street.

It was hot out with still a few hours to kill before the next writers’ meeting which was in an old winery. I found a deli/cafe, can’t remember the name though I should’ve gotten it and it had some tables outside in the shade. The outdoor tables were all empty save for a very pretty red haired girl who sat at the far end, hair held up in a clip reminding so strongly of a face I can’t find the name for. I thought immediately of taking the table next to hers, always trying to position myself where possibilities are most plentiful but this would have me right in front of the window and I didn’t think the owners would let people use the tables without buying anything. I had to save my last $2 for the bus ride back so I took a table at the opposite end from her where I wouldn’t be seen by those inside. I thought of asking her if the owners got mad at people sitting and not buying anything but I didn’t and when she went inside I felt bad I’d missed my chance. But I never saw her come back out, and it’s a very lovely place to sit and write. I’m sure I’ll go back.

Last week I’d missed the writing group that I’d been going to, The Columbus Creative Co-op because I had no bus fare but I managed to find a group a bit closer. I went expecting to meet some ‘contemporaries’  and found the median age to be 55, though they were glad to have someone who could finally get up to turn off the ceiling fan. The first week I went there was a girl about my age, my generation at least who was a chubby dyke in leather jacket with a penchant for the pretentious stories of self-trouble, because no one has problems worse than yours, right? but still she was friendly and her writing wasn’t all that bad. She wasn’t there this week. Just me and the Golden Oldies who are a lively and joyful bunch at that, with lots of experience all of them published and knowing the in’s and out’s, as well as the connections of the traditional routes. And they were happy I’d brought something to read and they seemed to enjoy it, The Summertime Ice-cream Girl and it was the first time I’d shared that story. Quite accidentally though I signed myself up to read a short story by a dead man who never published, to read for a book on tape sort of thing. I owe the group something so I don’t mind doing it, won’t take long either, and I just read the story, I enjoyed it and can definitely learn a thing or two, posthumously of course, from this guy. That was my day.

Talking With Hookers.

I was at the bar yesterday, St. Patrick’s day. Got there early, around eight to eat breakfast. I’m sitting there, the bar mostly empty, eating my food and enjoying a Guinness when an older woman, round forties, takes the stool two from mine. She reminds me of my friends’ mothers from back home, sweet and Irish and enjoying her beer. She hat a big green hat, a blouse and was clearly drunk. We started shooting the breeze, good bars to visit and where the parade was. Then I noticed she wore fish-net stockings, thought she was too drunk to properly dress. She wouldn’t stop talking to me. At first I was inclined, being polite to such Irish fare, but I asked her name and she replied ‘Moon. Moon Jettz, with two t’s and a z,’ she said. Moon Jettz gave me her e-mail address, said she lived in a house with a bunch of other girls, that they shot lots of movies all over the place and that I’d never know who would be in them. Then I realized I was having my first  conversation with a hooker.

 

I Wore Black On St. Patrick’s Day

I intentionally wore black. If somebody ventures to mention this, following with doubt considering this man’s Irish heritage then bail me from jail, I have work tonight.

There isn’t much for what society allows a white man to find culturally insensitive. Well I’ve dug around and decided it sickens me, the way people wear green, and those shamrock antennae headbands. Are we insects? No, you are not being cut or festive, and if you are Irish I see not why your insides don’t burn. Cultural Insensitivity.

When our ancestors landed these shores they were hated, spurned, signs adorning windows ‘Irish Need Not Apply’, the slums and the plight of a people fleeing forced starvation for abject poverty and soot; and bagpipes are ‘cute’ today. The Irish man was not considered of European heritage, a species apart he was. Cultural insensitivity? Nea, he was met with forward racism.

And the bars find it acceptable to play U2. If the Federal Government can dole assistance through the ‘Minority Business Association’, where is our help? The Irish built this Union, did the noble and left everyone alone, respected their liberty, only to find colden hearts when their cousins arrived 100 years later. 1/3 of the Continental Army, Irish men. Of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, three were Irish born. Pertinent facts do not escape my mind; no one is more independent than an Irish man, and no other will break every bone just to cry ‘Freedom!’ at the very face of those who oppress. And no one, I mean ever, put a finger to help the Irish. Affirmative Action? Minority Quotas? The Irish are always ignored; ignored because we did the noble, recognized Liberty and left each man to be his own; only for those left alone to come back demanding. Well Fuck Off! You All! There is not a soul more independent than the Irish man, no more empathetic! But no; do not wish this blood for yourself!

You are safer to be anything but Irish. We think too much, it bides alcohol, the chronic imbibing of such. Independent you say? Ask the Irish man to part from his whiskey. Depression, as our foreign kin Dostoevsky put, is our condition for thinking too much. And we are angry at our mothers while we weep over the short-comings of our fathers, only to find it was rigid independence that brought about such. And the bar is playing U2. What a happy, light-hearted day; one easily forgets, or rejects to understand: this is the celebration of plight; for what else is life?

Luck O’ The Irish. Only if there was as such. The truth, our demons eat us without our knowing. Yea, we may be aggressive, to hide insecurities, but if we come off friendly it is because we ail. Such is the Irish Plight. And they take pictures in silly green hats.

I lost an uncle to alcohol. No, make that three. And my Grandfather drank beer on his death bed. Cigarettes and drugs took four others. Go drink your green beer; it’s a celebration after all, no? My father found his way out of it, the only thing I find grace in this heritage. It was freedom. My father is a saint, but three cheers to the man who slaughtered the Celts, forced Catholicism and became the preamble for the Conquistadors. Yea, that Englishman Patrick is a saint. I understand why the DJ in the bar is African, cultural sensitivity is something to be practiced. So go find your leprechaun; I’ve never met a man so short — Fuck off! All of you! Go enjoy your water-colored shamrock tattoos and get drunk as shit; this day is not somber, but Nea! a reason to drink! Go catch your leprechauns while I sulk! And Savage Garden is playing, while everyone puts on green….

The Chicken! No! The Egg!

Here’s to settling things: chickens evolved from dinosaurs, which laid what? Problem solved.

DP Dough

The Dude* has found gainful employment, at DP Dough. The hours are absolute shit and the pay is damn crap but it’s easy work and the people there are frickin’ awesome, I mean, the coolest group of people I’ve ever worked with. DP Dough, for those not in ‘the know’, is a fast-food, cal-zone chain that brands itself as ‘the alternative to pizza’. They got all kinds of cal-zones, whatever you want in it, come by, I’ll make you one or four.

DP Dough has the late night thing going on. The big rush, when a shit-ton of cal-zones are ordered, events just around two a.m. when the bars close. DP Dough is only a block or two from my apartment, which is great, but that also means it’s right near campus and it’s clientele will mostly be drunk college kids and that to serve all of these drunk college kids we have to stay open until four a.m. each morning. Ok, only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; during the week we shut the doors at three. We get some interesting characters in at those times: the girl who puked on the floor, the kid who painted on the menu sign as it was being hung on the wall, the drunk drivers that get pulled over and subsequently arrested across the street, and the always frustrating attempts to understand what people on the phone are saying. ‘Can you repeat that number again, sir? No, dude you’re giving me too many numbers.’ ‘Okay, 487232.’

I work 9-close Wednesday through Saturday so I’m working on changing my sleep all around. I figure I can write in the afternoons and evenings before I have work. Then when I get back it’s shower and right to bed where I’ll read for a bit before dozing off. I always have to read before falling asleep, unless I’m really drunk, because for whatever frustrating reason that’s the time of night when my mind goes on over-drive and every possible thought concerning my life needs to be reanalyzed. But this is one of the things about working at DP Dough that’s quite good: it leaves me plenty of time to write. I’m off Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and the rest of the week I write when I’m not folding dough. I told my manager I needed at least twenty hours a week because anything else, with the shit pay of $7.70, wouldn’t pay bills.* He gave me 26 hours a week and when I did the math I’ll be making $700 a month, which after bills gives me about $350 and I’m going to strive to save, kind of have to. But the fact that the pay and hours suck so hard is all the more motivation to keep writing.

Everyone there is cool as shit (hopefully after a few weeks I don’t recant). The new owners, or partial owners, I don’t how it works, are just real laid back and easy going. It’s a husband and wife, late twenties at the oldest. The wife’s real sweet and the husband’s a funny guy, real easy to work with. He was telling me last night about how he spent a season on a commercial fisher in Alaska, and this all something I’ll definitely keep in mind, he told me all you have to do is walk along the docks and just be like ‘Hey, you need an extra deck hand?’ And you’ve got yourself solid pay for four months. He even did it with a full beard and dreads. Everyone else is real cool, helpful, easy to get along with, they all drink, smoke pot, everyone there smokes cigarettes, and they all kid around, tell crazy stories and what not while the dough’s flipping and filling with cheese and such.

I’m going to like it there. I won’t love it, I can’t, but I’m going to keep on writing, save up as I can, and get out of Columbus when it’s right.

*I swear I won’t start calling myself ‘The Dude’, I was only having fun.

*Minimum wage. I wanted to say how I don’t like Federal minimum wages. One of the guys I worked with used to live in Glendale, right outside Los Angeles and he said he was mainly friends with foreigners because everyone else was a pretentious asshole (I’ve heard this before). One good friend was recently in from Albania, a veterinarian is what he was, his wife owning her own practice. He came here and got a job painting. ‘Why don’t you go work for your wife?’ the guy I work with asked him. ‘Why would I? They give me eight dollars an hour to paint!’ From this I find, what I believe to be, a logical conclusion: drop the federal minimum wage and have the states lower their’s as well. Want to bring back manufacturing? Want the population to keep growing? Get the word around the world that you can make $6 an hour painting, or hammering, or doing whatever in a factory. The point being, there are millions of people like this recent Albanian immigrant. Entice manufacturing to come back this way by offering them ‘cheaper’ labor. And don’t give me all that bullshit about ‘well, you can’t raise a family on $6 an hour, they won’t be able to buy medicine, or a nice car,’ no shit,  that’s why they come to America, to work their asses off so their children can have those things. Ever wonder why this is the first generation to not enjoy higher standards of living than their parents?

Job Hunts and Weed

Back from another hiatus. Last week I was killing it, I mean I was really hustling my ass off and it felt great; running (or walking miles) all over Columbus trying to find a job and during the time in-between writing and reading as much as I could. My best moods appear a) when I’m seeing a girl I’m really into, b) when I’m going places I’ve never seen before, and c) when I’m feeling like a genius (some call it confident) and writing well. Since I’ve come out to Columbus one of the most important things I’ve realized is that I’m only happy and in high spirits, ready to take on the world and conquer life, when I’m writing. If I don’t spend the better part of the day scribbling away at something I feel like a piece of shit, as if I’m wasting my time, my life and getting not a thing accomplished.

Last week, as I said, I was in a great mood. I had lots going on, interviews and a wonderful story I was working on. I was also reading deep into existential works and I participated in a Flash Fiction contest (I posted the story: How to Ride the Bus). But on Thursday night I went to go hangout with some friends and I drank, well I guess I pounded like nine beers real quick. Then me and Greg went to pick up some bud, he went, I went along with. The kid ended up smoking us up a shit load and I ended up wobbling home. Seriously. The plan had been to pick up the bag, then go back to the other kid’s house to smoke. Then the kid whom Greg was picking up from decided to pack, well, I don’t know, like four bowls while we were outside hiding in the service door-way of some OSU building. I told Greg I couldn’t go back, I had to go home. He said whatever and I walked off. I realized shortly after that I had no clue where I was, and after three of four phone calls Greg still wasn’t answering his phone — I was going to tell him to come find me haha. Eventually I figured it out and I was walking down High Street, go figure, but that’s the main road and we live right off of it so I made it back no problem, except that I was wobbling across the sidewalk, swooping and meandering and waiting for a cop to approach. The thing was, I knew I was wasted to a point I haven’t experienced in years, since freshmen year at WVU (great times on the Stoner Steps, who’s got me?), I knew I was wobbling all over the place and as I much as I tried I couldn’t help it, my eyes themselves were wobbling in their sockets. I made it back, tried to eat, puked in the bathtub and went to bed. I scribbled a sign that said ‘Out of Service. Will fix akdgaso’. My handwriting devolved into incoherent scribbles. The point to all this is that every time I get a great streak going, when I have all of this momentum to write and succeed and make smart choices, it only ends when I get fucked up. That’s when I hit the rut. That’s when the melancholy seeps through. Keep writing. It’s the only thing I can do.

How to Ride the Bus (600)

I reasoned and I decided to take a bus to the library.

I waited next to a very old man who was much shorter than I, stooped in posture and frail in his face. His coat was old, faded and worn-through yet his old eyes wilted with interminable joy.

A woman spilled her purse and before a thought the old man was hands and knees in the sidewalk gathering her things. People kept walking into him knocking him over. ‘Watch out you old fool!’ they said.

I thought I too should help and leaning over I noticed the man to my left place his shoe on top of a twenty dollar bill sliding it beneath him. I handed the woman her belongings and said nothing.

This man was much taller and thicker than myself, barrel chested in a very tight Armani Exchange shirt with two massive limbs of meat burgeoning from his shoulders. He didn’t have a neck, just very big shoulders and a head that looked like a pea on top of a potato. He had a protein shake and a very expensive watch despite the very expensive smart phone he had clipped to his belt.

A homeless man was asking if anyone could spare a dollar.

‘I would love to help,’ said the old man, ‘but I haven’t money either.’

‘You know it costs two dollars to take the bus, right?’ said the woman.

‘Why no, I didn’t. Thank you.’

‘Can you spare a dollar, sir?’ asked the homeless man.

‘Sorry, I don’t have any dollars on me.’ I intentionally don’t carry dollars on me because I can’t stand lying.

‘Can you, sir? Please spare a dollar.’

‘How many times do I have to tell you I want you to stop talking to me!’ His shoulders and arms seemed to rise as he spoke and the homeless man hurried away.

‘Here,’ said the woman. ‘They won’t let you on without it.’

‘Oh, no, I couldn’t take that,’ said the old man.

‘Please? I insist.’

‘No really, I’m not at liberty to.’

The woman relented pocketing the two dollars. ‘Where is it you want to go?’

‘I can’t decide,’ he smiled.

‘No wonder the old man got nowhere with his life – worthless,’ muttered the man wearing cologne to the gym. A bus arrived and we were   surprised to see it, none of us had seen it coming.

‘This is it,’ said the old man.

‘Where’s it going?’ asked the woman.

‘I don’t know yet.’

Perhaps this was my delusions but it seemed the old man pulled his face off and his clothes and skin slid from his body like a cheap costume and from this emerged a small child plush and chubby, innocent and delightful with straw curls and rosy cheeks and this nude babe, who though a small child was every bit controlled and stoic in motion as any man, glided onto the bus, his nimble feet not once touching the ground. The bus pulled out and in every window I saw the man’s face, his big wondrous eyes and gentle, curious smile.

‘He’ll never get where he wants to go,’ said the big man to my left. He boarded the next bus. ‘I wanna to go t’ Graceland,’ he yelled at the driver. ‘Take me to Graceland!’

‘Yeah, sure thing, whatever you want, right. Two dollars.’

The sign on the bus read ‘Main St/ Bexley’ and as it pulled out I looked through all the windows and couldn’t find the big man anywhere, and maybe this was still my delusions but there was a small, feeble jackal sitting in the back.

The next bus arrived. Its sign read ‘Liber’ and it dropped me off right in front of the library.

Citizen Whores: An Accurate Depiction of the American Financial System (3,100)

Part I

A few ceiling lights towards the front were on. The warehouse was one giant room and beneath the lights sat a group of men around a poker table. Nobody was paying attention and they were dressed in pomp – velvet suits, silk shirts, multi-colored, ridiculously frilly cravats and silk hats with feathers in them. They had bejeweled canes and drank voraciously from bejeweled chalices of gold. Stacks of money were spilled on the green felt of the table. Stacks of money were spilled on the concrete floor next to the table, and in the dark expanses of the warehouse rose endless pallets and piles of stacks of money, like huge green mountains to the top of the cavernous warehouse ceiling.

“I see your seven and I raise you nine,” said the one man.

“That’s it?” said another man. His velvet suit was a bright, lime green, six sizes too big.

“What do you mean ‘that’s it’?”

“Aren’t we playing in hundred thousands?”

“No you dumb shit, we’re playing in millions.”

“Oh come off it, nobody’s paying attention. Nobody here ever knows what’s going on.” He looked over at the three men huddled around a laptop looking at porn.

“All in,” said the one man. His eyes were stuck to the screen and he tossed a few stacks on the table.

“You’re a dumb shit,’ the first man said to the one in lime green. “That’s what I’m calling you now. Dumb Shit.”

A man walked in carrying a large metal drum. He dropped it upright on the table and the stacks of money bounced.

“What is it?”

“No clue. But they said I’d make lots of money so I invested half the warehouse in it.”

“Was that smart?”

“Of course. There’s absolutely no risk and it’s perfectly safe and I know exactly what I’m doing with everybody else’s money.” He popped open the valve at the top of the drum and began pouring its contents on the piles of money. The contents were a bright yellow-green.

“Are you sure? Isn’t that a toxic symbol on the side?” It was.

“Hey guys, look what I’m doing!” The first man had made the man in the lime green suit drop his pants and bend over. He kept inserting a thick roll of money into his –

“Ahh Shh–it!” yelled the man with the barrel.

“What is it?”

“It’s melting!”

“What’s melting?”

“The money!”

The guys at the laptop looked over, “What’s happening? We weren’t paying attention. What’s going on?”

“The money’s melting!”

“I told you it was toxic.”

“What’s toxic?!”

“That stuff you bought.”

“What do we do?!”

“Call for help!”

“Hey guys, look what I’m doing!”

 

Part II

Red high-heels and business slacks, red lipstick and a soft face framed by tight blonde curls. She was smoothing out her business jacket, adjusting her well-framed breasts with the red tie dangling loose between them. The light was bright like in an office and she stood in front of a doorway. The door was slightly ajar, read Mr. Burns on the nameplate, and inside could just be seen a wide bed with the blankets pushed to the side. The tellers asked Baby-lon if she needed anything else as she walked out. “No, I’ll be fine,” Baby-lon waved unsurely.

Outside in the dreary lit sidewalks the neon sign for Sparky’s flickered on. The pink light was lost in a large afro. Tigris stood there smoking a cigarette in six inch pumps and a dinner jacket. She had long legs and black shorts with a fancy, and revealing, white blouse. Baby-lon and Tigris began walking down the block.

“Thanks for waiting.”

“Not a mention.” Tigris pulled a cigarette case from her bra, flicked it open and offered to Baby-lon. “You should check out my place. Low rates, free checking.”

“I like this place, great rates for APY CD’s and MM deposits. Plus, they help with my 401(k).”

Most of the stores they passed had been boarded up in the past few months. The store fronts displayed signs of ‘Clearance Sale!’ and ‘Liquidation Sale!’, ‘Everything Must Go Sale!’ They were already covered in spray-paint. There was one diner left in town. It was dark and the streets glowed with neon signs, the bars being the only places people were willing to spend money.

“Watch your step Baby-lon.” There was a puddle of yellow-green sludge on the sidewalk. Baby-lon stepped around it. The sludge was trickling from beneath the door of a boarded-up coffee shop.

“You know what’s weird?” said Baby-lon. “You know how before I mentioned I was horny, like a Latina?”

“Yeah?”

“Well after that small, insignificant deposit it’s all gone.”

“Maybe money just doesn’t get you going.”

“Wish it did. Can barely afford a loaf. I haven’t found a job in months.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

“Say,” started Tigris after a few moments, “You got anything going on tonight?”

“Just said, didn’t I. Not a single new client, nothing to do.”

“Then come to this meeting later on.”

 

Part III

The auditorium was dark, dim lit with incandescent chandeliers. It was small, packed 800 girls in suit jackets and brassieres, business skirts and bow-ties, sultry pumps and fish-net stockings. Where the stage would be was another two rows of seats facing in, vixens and damsels with top-hats and monocles and leather boots. They held clipboards and briefcases and filed their nails. A woman stood at the podium, thick blonde hair pulled back beneath a top-hat, long legs and pumps. She adjusted her monocle, took the cigar out her mouth and pounded the gavel.

“We have called together this meeting to discuss an urgent matter whose solution, so steeped in simplicity, we have compounded in confounding complications and complexities. Namely, a poor economy.” She spoke with authoritarian austerity, blatant pomposity mistaken for righteousness. “Nobody has been hiring in recent months, nothing like a few years past. Banks aren’t investing, stores aren’t opening, and we are finding ourselves increasingly strained for cash, time and jobs. The reason for this, we have learned, is due to the policies and practices of a small group of individuals, those few businessmen we call our ‘top clients’.”

A girl in the crowd stood up, cherry blonde curls and a tie between her breasts, “They’ve been screwing with us for too long!”

“They control too much!” shouted another.

“Enough!” sounded the gavel. “We, the people you have elected to make all major decisions concerning your lives, have heard and pretend to acknowledge of all your complaints, worries, ideas, theories and solutions. With that in mind we have arrived at the only solution. Our top clients have the largest networks, the most capabilities and investment power. They will get us out of this mess. But first we must help our top clients so that they may help us. I hereby dictate that this union will provide a timeshare to our top clients of no less than 700,000 hours, atop of all regularly scheduled hours.”

“This is an outrage!” yelled the crowd. “We hardly have any time as it is! You owe more time than you can possibly ever create! They have all the time! Time is money, you idiots!”

“Girls. Girls! Let’s be rational and reasonable and proceed with restraint. Our top clients are close to the edge here. They’re stressed. They’re in serious trouble. If we give them a hand and make sure they don’t feel stressed anymore, they have capabilities, lots of capital. They can invest. They can put us back to work. Our top clients can provide us much needed jobs and clients. But first we must help them. We must take the stress off our big clients. This is how we put this blessed union back to work, how we help ourselves. We cannot allow these clients to fail! They will help us if we help them. This is how we fix this, our blessed economy!”

“You’ve never worked a day in your life!” went the crowd. “You don’t know what it’s like getting screwed over for so long!”

“I’ve worked plenty.” She adjusted her monocle.

“I heard your dates end after they buy you dessert!”

“That’s not true.”

 

 

Part IV

Melting butter and Baby-lon was pouring syrup on her pancakes. The diner was empty. Baby-lon put down the syrup, grabbed a fork and knife in each fist and looked up at Tigris. “$75,000 Tigris. At least. That’s what this timeshare is going to cost each of us.”

“What, like you think there’s a better way? Let them fail? We wouldn’t have a single client then.”

“They wouldn’t fail. And there is a better way. I mean, what would you do with $75,000? If each of us had that kind of money I bet all those stores would still be open. We’d still be spending. The banks would stay open.”

“Yeah but they know how to spend the money better than we do. They’re smarter. I mean, look at us, what are we? Who are we to decide how to spend money?”

Baby-lon looked over at the clock. “Shit. I gotta jip on you Tigris.”

“Where you going?”

“To do my duty to this beloved city.”

Snarls, grunts and squeals. He was thrusting from behind while she sang ‘Oh daddy! Yes daddy!’ – it was his idea, she was just along for the ride. Bent over clutching motel pillows. He smacked her ass. Thrusting from behind.

 

Part V

She brushed the sweaty blonde curls out of her face. ‘OH, Daddy! Yes! Oh!’ Her head was hitting the headboard. He was thrusting, thrusting. Snarls and grunts and greasy eyes. He smacked her ass. He was done.

He stood in front of the mirror fixing his sweaty comb-over. Cheshire smile, greasy eyes. She was lying in bed pulling black lace panties up under her bottom. He was buttoning a silk shirt.

“You still owe me,” said Baby-lon.

He was tying his cravat. The frills kept hitting him in the face. “I don’t owe you shit.”

“I saw you three times last week. Twice so far this morning.”

“Get dressed and scram. I got a meeting to go to. Something about market stability and basic human morality. I never understood –”

“You’re not listening to me. You owe us still.” She was standing in front of him, gold curls dangling at her shoulders. He smacked her open-palmed. She fell back on the bed, sat up holding her cheek. Tears felt cool as they slid down it.

He got in her face. “Get it straight sugar-tits, I don’t owe you shit, ever. I fuck you whenever I feel like it and there’s nothing, not-a-thing you can do about it. That little pussy you’re wearing is mine and you better fall in line start acting appropriate,” he jabbed a finger in her forehead, “because your whoooole sorry way of life depends on me,” he jabbed his chest. He buttoned his velvet suit jacket and adjusted the flag pin on his lapel.

Baby-lon got dressed and left. The tellers asked if she needed anything else on her way out.

Tigris was waiting outside. They stepped around a yellow-green puddle. The hardware store was boarded up.

“I thought that had been the deal,” said Baby-lon. “I thought that was why we were helping them.”

“It is. And it was. Look, things are a lot better right now than if we hadn’t.”

“It’s been three years and we’re still not finding clients. We gave those assholes all of this time and what did we get as a result? We owe more hours than physically exist to some foreign city. We helped them, didn’t we? Where’s the return?”

“Things are looking up, Baby-lon. Don’t be so down. Things are a lot better than you realize.”

“You know what they’re doing with all that time? They’re lending it back to the city and collecting interest. They’re lending us our own time and making us pay for it.” They stepped around a puddle. “And you know what else? There’s a provision in the timeshare deal that lets them deposit time back into the city clock. In three years they’ve literally racked up trillions in interest. Now we owe them, somehow.”

“Hey, you got anything going on tonight?”

“Really?”

“You should come to this meeting.”

 

 

 

Part V

The girls had packed into the auditorium more than could fit. Girls in dinner jackets stood in the aisles. Girls in tuxedos stood by the doors. Girls with red lipstick, brassieres and wide lapels stood on the seats shouting, pumping their fists forward in the air, ‘Where’s my help! Where’s my timeshare!’ they shouted. ‘I gamble too! Abate the Ate! Burn the Plutocracy!’

Overhead lights clacked on and the woman with her blonde hair bunched beneath her top-hat stood at the podium. Her face was pursed and she adjusted her monocle. The two rows of seats behind her were encased in shadows. Only shiny shoes and a few inches of colored velvet could be seen. The gavel pounded.

“This city is a great city, a hard working city full of hard working people, who we are putting back to work! This city was and still is the most free and prosperous city in world history, thanks to the actions taken by us, your democratically selected masters.”

“Bullshit!” yelled the crowd. “Plutocracy!” they cried.

The woman continued. “The timeshares have worked. The banks are investing, people are working, and across this wonderful city new businesses are opening up! But the timeshares haven’t gone far enough. There are still factories threatened by bankruptcy, families threatened with foreclosure. We will save everybody because we are the greatest leaders in city history and you are blessed to have us. We will do more than we have to, more than we should to save every last person, because this is a free city!”

“Trickle down failed for a reason! Weren’t work programs useful once!”

“Enough! You arrogant little proles! Do you know what we do for you? We enable your very existence! We’ve absorbed entire companies on your behalf! Liquidated and made worthless centuries’ worth of hours! We stabilized this economy by crushing it and re-inflating it with artificial minute-rates! We have planned everything for you! You should be grateful!” shouted the woman. The girls in the audience rose from their seats like a swell of water before a breaking wave; began making their way down the aisles, towards the podium, silent, their faces severe. “Who do you think you are!” bellowed the woman, veins at her neck. “You wouldn’t exist without us! You are worthless! You need us! YOU DEPEND ON US!” Someone flipped off her top-hat. She looked startled and there was a greasy comb-over beneath her hat, and close-up in the light, her jaw-line looked so square, stubble seemed to appear on her cheeks. She backed up nervously into the shadows. Chains and metal clanking, gears turning and a partition lowered from the ceiling. It continued till it slammed into the floor and it completely separated the shadows from the auditorium. The wall turned on. It was a television screen. A large gray face with a black moustache began speaking, “Our city is back to work. Your leaders have fixed the economy. They ended the debt like they said they would. War is no more. Wealth is widespread among the masses. Freedom across the city has actually increased….” The girls began throwing chairs, bottles, shoes, everything they had to stop the talking face. They hated it. They didn’t believe a word it said. The face would not stop talking.

“Attention. Hello! Please, everyone, listen to what I must say.” Baby-lon had taken the microphone, stood atop the podium. “For too long we have been run by these fools. For too long we have allowed them to dictate policies, control our economy and run our lives. They cheat us when we’re down and entire centuries pass secretly between closed fists. And they ask for help? In the name of economic recovery they’ve centralized their power. Our Council is nothing but their velvet glove and they’ve clenched their fists! We’ve seen where their ideas and leadership bring us. We know what lies behind those greasy eyes, at the end of those greedy stares. Desire and filth prompt the Cheshire grin and the fattest hands will always fill the velvet glove. But we have a way out! We still have choice! We can fix our own problems, we do not need them. Only we can prevent the very corruption that singes our freedoms. With our money they bought their power, with our money they filled their greedy hands, but no more! It is we who gave them power and it is we who shall take it back! We shall take back our power and give it to the rats no more! No longer must we allow for the concentration of our wealth, we see what it brings! We must dissipate power, spread it as thin as possible and end the corruption, cronyism and plutocracy! It’s time we took back what is ours!”

The auditorium went wild cheering. Girls sat atop one another’s shoulders, shouting slogans, cheering and clapping and the entire auditorium was a roiling mass. Baby-lon hopped down from the podium and a path was cleared for her as she led them into the streets. They carried banners and torches, shouting ‘Take back what’s ours! Burn the Establishment!’ Baby-lon marched down the street and stopped at the ATM. She looked around and the cheering had stopped, the other girls looked blankly at her. ‘Well, go!” she said. Baby-lon withdrew what little money she had and walked into a little store with a chime on the door. The walls were bare bricks, and one little man in a Good Will suit sat behind a desk. Above him read a sign, ‘East Side Building & Loan’. A small safe was in the wall behind him.

“I would like to open an account and make a deposit,” said Baby-lon.

“Thank you! Thank you for banking with us,” he said. He politely kissed her hand. “Now we can help Mr. Houghton finance his new café on 3rd Street, by the old hardware store.”

Baby-lon looked over at Tigris. “The interest rates aren’t nearly as high here. I’m okay with that though. I think it’s better this way.”

In a small shed on the outskirts of town sat a man on a pail. His frown drooped like a miserly clown and his cravat was all undone and messy. “Pull your pants up, Dumb Shit,” he said, flicking through a thin fold of dollars. “I don’t have enough anymore.”

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