Sunday, January 22, 2017

Taking Things Apart

Charlie was a boy of seven, possibly eight, and definitely no more than nine. He had chocolate stains on his fingers and wore a skateboarding helmet when he rode his bike because he thought they looked cooler (he was mostly right). When he was called to dinner and it was mac and cheese and chicken nuggets he knew a babysitter wasn't far behind. His favorite books included The Way Things Work and one about castles his favorite uncle had given him. Charlie liked to take things apart and put them back together, though the putting back often took considerably more time.

Then there was Jessica; tall, blonde, loved basketball and horses, excellent at her multiplication tables. She came to school early and after she stayed late, with all the other kids whose parents had jobs that required this. She was the only one in her grade to have pierced ears, and she'd had them since she was five, which made them all the more special. She would have been the little girl all the boys had crushes on had she not been the one bullying them. She took lunch money, she shoved kids when she was sure she'd get away with it. During bombardment she aimed at heads and she usually got in trouble. Her parents gave money. Jessica was OK.

One day on the playground Charlie's friends called to him from the tire swing: "Charlie! Charlie! Come on! Spin us!" Charlie liked tire swings, they gave him the good kind of dizzy. So he ran over, fast, recess was almost over. And that's when Jessica stuck out her foot and sent his body flying into the air and hard onto the rubber chips that covered the ground. His face, though, that landed on the first wooden step to the monkey bars. Smashed his nose and blurred his vision, somehow not breaking his glasses or teeth or even splitting a lip. He got up and forewent the swing, being plenty dizzy as is. It hurt less than you'd think, and there was no blood. He mostly didn't understand. Jessica didn't seem to enjoy it all that much, she didn't laugh with a gaggle of friends. It was simply one of the many things she did.

The kids were called inside, they got drinks of water and went to the bathroom. Afterward they went to their desks and waited for the teacher. Charlie wiped his mouth on his hands and his hands on his pants, moving the water around. Jessica walked a few feet ahead of him, and as she turned into the class he saw the glimmer of her left ear's golden ring. An idea, an invitation, an impulse. He sat three seats behind her.

Jessica sat, putting the finishing scratches of her name on her desk. She wasn't looking at Charlie when he walked in (not that she would have anyway). There was a tug, hard, and a sting. She looked back to see Charlie sitting down, and brought her hand up to her ear to find the lobe missing. And there it sat, small and fatty on the top of her desk, earring and all. It hurt less than you'd think, but there was plenty of blood.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pre-Show Announcement

Staring at the St-Germain, wondering what I'm doing here. Stuffed between a dozen barstools, six feet from a fat couple on their second round. But they're sipping cocktails and I'm downing Schlitz, and we're all paying these tourist prices. So you tell me: Who's less than?

I just paid seventy dollars American to sit on a stool for three hours. Not this one, the one upstairs, in the city's eponymous theatre for the Bard. Hard-pressed to find too many local actors on that stage though. The yokels in the seats, they don't care about credits, they care about the cities, and the city they care about is the one in New York. They're going to like them no matter what. They can't see the lack of talent like a talented person. Someday I'd like to work there. There were other seats, better ones. I decided to save that money, spend it on drinks, judging people. Half of the women are in fur coats, half the men in caps, the children begging for sugary nuts and overpriced plush toys in between texts, like swimmers coming up for oxygen.

"Know what you want?" I'm being pressured for a second drink. I check my watch, an hour left. The couple to my right excuse themselves to continue their various healthy habits outside. They'll be back, smelling of cheap tobacco and cold air. I say I need a minute. I don't need anymore time than what I've got. I'm not even sure what to do with what I have. I flip the menu over and order the priciest house cocktail and I don't look at what's inside.

There's a movie on, some stupid thing about a couple and the frat next door. The boys are impossibly ripped, their shirts impeccably tailored, the wife incredibly beautiful, the husband a fat old boor. It is a story that could only be told in a world created only by the people in this one. It screams there, vulgarity on vulgarity, as I drink my drink. It doesn't taste very good, but damn is it pretty.

Showtime. I get my check, leave my tip, case the joint. I leave more than I should but sometimes I'm too generous. As I get up I take a piece of chewing gum from my pocket, can't let those yokels know how close I am. And when my nose catches a whiff of my fingers it smells like cinnamon and asshole. The cinnamon's from my gum. The other I'm not so sure.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Qualifier

Molly was taking me around campus: "And there's the church and seminary;" "And there's the lighthouse museum;" "And there's sorority row." The houses that housed departments, the dining hall, it was small-town and old and lavish and simple. "Up there's where I lived," she said, "senior year. About a block." " They had to put a light in here," at an intersection, "because too many kids got hit." And there they were, these kids, inside their backpacks and hoods pulled up, braving against the nearby icy lake wind.

And I saw him outside the car window. "What is it?" she asked as I typed on my phone. "Nothing," I said, "an idea I just got." But really:

Are you back??

The tour continued. The bakery, the brunch, the music hall. "I've been up here once before," I was trying to make conversation, get back to normal. "A few years ago. I got ice cream." She named a place. "No." She named another. "No." And another. "No," I said, "that wasn't it."

***

He played with the creamer, building a tower, three ones tall, in different arrangements but there's only so many to be made.

"I'm here."

"Are you back?"

"I'm here."

It was a start. I reminded myself that very little is very good when it's starting out. Answers take patience. "OK." Acknowledgment, acceptance, building blocks toward progress. "Did you tell anyone?"

He opened a creamer and poured it in his mug. The second went in and then the third, until the patterned liquid flirted with spillage. He raised it, hands focused through the trembling, and brought it to his lips. He drank half. "I," he started as he set down the mug, "I didn't really think to."

"OK." Mine sat there, black and cooling. I wondered where all these diners got the same beige mugs.

The bells on the front door rang, a new man walked in. Stef jerked to the sound, eyes widening at whoever might be there. The violence of the motion and the sloshing of his drink all pointed to someone who did not want to be found. He followed the man with his eyes to a booth two in front of ours. When he was satisfied he turned to me and I asked, "Why did you come back?"

"I..."

The waitress saw his cup half-full and came to refill. She was unable to stop the flow after his hand darted out over the top, pouring hot regular over and through his fingers. "Oh my god!" she said. "I'm so sorry! Are you OK?!" His hand, still trembling, clutched the top of his common mug, fingers tight and shaking as he stared down at the table.

"We're fine," I said, after too much silence. She left unsure and I cleaned up with paper napkins.

It had been three years since he'd left with scarce goodbyes. Careful sentences filled with buzzwords: "work;" "world;" "money." I imagined it was those things that brought him back as well. There was never anything dark about him but always things unknown. And now here sat a much older version, as if each year for me was three for him, a decade passed between us. He had bags and greys and veins that showed. He wore a frayed green-colored jacket, which to me always rang out help.

Another man walked in, ring-ring, and sat at a booth two behind. "I have to go," he said. Even I have to admit that when the man saw Stef move to go, he seemed unsure that he wanted to stay. But things are placed easily in my head. I grabbed him by his well-worn arm. "It was good to see you," he said, and with that and a bell he was gone.

The waitress stopped by. "You sure he was OK?" I looked at the mug, the spots of coffee, the three empty creamers. And next to them, though I couldn't be sure, what looked like marks made from four fingernails. "Just the check, please," I said.

***

"It was built before the movie came out, obviously. But after that they remade it to try and make it feel like that. They threw a few big dinners, these feasts, lots of courses and tablecloths and candles. But after a while people just lost interest. It's kind of cool."

"Uh-huh," I said. A roll of the eyes got me to add, "I bet it's really beautiful inside. Do they let townspeople in?"

We drove along the lake, headed back for the highway. "I'll have to take you back sometime," Molly said, "and give you a proper tour. It's too cold right now. But maybe in the spring."

"Maybe." We came to a red light and she scowled. "I'm sorry," I said, "I really would like to see it. But it's hard for me to get as excited as you about a place I've never known. It's your great qualifier, but for me it's just another school."

"If it was yours you'd feel differently." I agreed with her.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

So This is the New Year

And as we waited to get rid of this failure and nonsense, they played songs sixty seconds at a time. No one got comfortable, no on danced. We entered the year with question marks and quarrels, ultra lights and light beers. And as young men shouted to us walking as the women took the car, we thought about how strange it was that everything should feel the same.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Me, Bird

When I make this face I turn into a bird. I did it once at 7 AM and it stuck forever. My arms become wings and my feet become bird feet. I fly away with the sun. I never melt, I never go home. I turn. Ack into myself when I make this face, and then the night goes on. Again I might be a bird, I might be something else. I don't know when I'll be me.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Big City Shut it Down

This is a big city, you'll never find her.

What do you know?

I know this is a big city, and you're inching your way toward stalker.

Shut it.

Made for TV movie.

Stop.

Time not served.

That's not even a thing.

You'll make it a thing. They'll write books about you. Songs about you.

Shut it.

TV movies, Jack, TV movies. Name your washed-up actor. Hope you've had good haircuts.

They never show the whole story.

People don't want whole stories. They want interesting stories. They want blood. What do you want?

I don't know.

Yes, you do.

Shut it.

Shut it.

Shut it.

Down.

Yes.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Broke

I dropped the bottle and it broke and I was disappointed. Whenever a bottle or glass breaks I want it to be because I smashed it on the ground or chucked it at the wall, not because it slipped through my fingers. But I never smash a bottle and I never chuck a glass, and so I am always disappointed.

I unspooled paper towels onto my hand and finished off the roll. Transferring the wad to underneath my foot, I glided out in circles over my kitchen floor. Give me my Olympic gold.

I want my anger to mean something. I want it to sink in. If I'm going to a dark place let me do it my way, let me bring a little light, a little pain, and a little broken glass.