Friday, October 29, 2010

Free-Writing VI

10/29/10, 11:31 am-

In 1993 I broke my parents’ hearts. I got suspended from school for stealing, and to make things worse I did it right before Christmas. The way it happened was I was with a group of friends who weren’t trouble-makers and weren’t nerds either, but somewhere in-between, thinking ourselves the occasional rebels while still being liked by our teachers, still maintaining decent grades, some better than others but all passing, doing well. The way those groups go is if someone decides to start trouble everyone joins in, and then a group which was fine before suddenly starts some shit. One of our group, I don’t remember which at this point, noticed our social studies teacher’s keys were left unattended, and this teacher also happened to be the lacrosse coach. I don’t know how he knew this but somehow he realized that one of these keys was the master key to the boys locker room. This meant that every, single locker in that place could be opened by this single key. I’m guessing it was someone elses idea, because in these situations each player always seems to add one ingredient, that those lockers during gym class held dozens of wallets filled with cash. It’s amazing to think back now and not realize that these were people, kids like us, whose money was in those wallets, but one of the painfully unaware realities of childhood is you don’t fully understand the consequences of actions yet. I remember, and with some of those same people, standing at the side of highway underpasses where the trees are dead and no one goes, and throwing small sticks at speeding cars. Then it would graduate to larger sticks, until the point where we were throwing entire branches and once even a baseball at cars to watch them smash and make sounds. The fact is we could have killed someone, sent something through their windshield or made them panic and swerve and crash, but at the time all we could think of was how funny it was. The sounds it made. Who could make a bigger sound, get a louder laugh. This is how kids are, and like I said, we weren’t even bad, just bored. So back to that stinking locker room, we took that key and did exactly what we’d set out to, we used it on those lockers and it worked perfectly, opened them right up, and most of them had wallets in them, and some of those cash, and we snuck in and snuck out with our treasure and divided it up and thought we were just the coolest kids out there, just quality product, and we wished we could brag about how cool we were but it had to be a secret. So of course we did what everyone does when they don’t get caught- we did it again. And again. The problem came when one of our group, a kid named Juan who no one really liked just tolerated, which is another insane symptom of childhood, hanging around people you don’t even like and you don’t know why, but the problem was he got greedy and when the end of the gym period was coming close we told him to stop but he said, “One more” and then when the ten minute bell rang, which was to let the gym kids know they could hit the lockers and get changed before the true end of the period, he still said “One more, just one more” and when he was happy and we were yelling we all piled out of the locker room and went right past the kids who were heading in, saying hey to them, one of them even starting a conversation, and we anxiously said bye and headed off and split the money as always. But this time we’d been made, because obviously kids started noticing their money was missing, and I’ll never know who it was or how it happened but someone obviously remembered seeing us leave the scene, and it doesn’t take a genius, and they told who they had to tell. Still to this day when I think of impending doom and rapid heartbeats, one of the worst times, best examples, standout memories is of the day we were all called down to the office, but not as a group just one at a time, a few minutes between. We were all in the same science class because that year they were trying something new at school, which was that all eight periods were filled with the exact, same kids, we shared identical schedules, so that in every class would be the same group of thirty-odd kids, which is a good idea for familiarity sake but I guess the down side is it can cause miniature clutches of boys who scheme all day long and end up stealing. I still remember that, the first of us being called to the office, and we watched him go suspecting what it could be but not convinced. And then the second name came and kids started to whisper, and then the third, and at this point I wanted to scream, to run, but where would I go, what would I do, and finally they called my name and my face went hot and I grabbed my bookbag and my entire body went numb, but somehow my legs took me down to the office, stopping first to hide most of the money I had on me in my sock, down to the office where I found the group was all split into separate rooms for interrogations, the prncipal and vice-principals keeping us apart like the half-assed detectives they were, coming on tough, looking at us with odd expressions because we weren’t the usual suspects, all of us or nearly all of us invisible because we were those middle kids. Not popular, not picked on, not jocks, not criminals, but apparently we were. Those idiot detectives, they played us against each other, and I tried to say little but I knew they knew some of it, and they’d say things like “The others are blaming it all on you, they say you planned it” but that was ridiculous and definitely not true, and I doubted they were saying those things but even if they were it just wasn’t true, and I maintained that and eventually they said “Open your wallet” and I showed them how little I had and they said something like “That’s all you got? They held out on you” and on the inside, even in the middle of my life crumbling I had to smile a little bit because on that level I’d outsmarted them, made myself look like the lackey and even managed to keep some of it. But the victory didn’t last long because then they were calling all of our parents to come get us, suspending us from school for four days, and this was the day, literally the day before Christmas break started, which meant it was just added on to the end of break, which in a way made it seem less real, made it less effective because it just felt like a longer break. When my mother showed up she’d clearly been crying and that was the worst feeling I could think of, and can probably still think of. She walked me to my locker so I could collect my coat and when we got there she said, “So are we going to fight this thing?” and I had to look at my mother and say, “I don’t know what to tell you, mom, there’s…nothing to fight” and in that moment I saw her heart break. I can’t even remember the ride home, I think it was silent, and when I got home I was sent directly to my room and didn’t come out until I heard my father come home from work. I heard him come inside, heard my mother say something to him which made him say “What?” and then the footsteps down the hall, my door opening, his face there, and just his hand coming up and his finger telling me to follow him. We sat at the kitchen table and he held in his hand the letter from the school, the notice of suspension, and for the reason all it said was “stealing from lockers”, and I can just remember him reading it over and over, trying to take some meaning out of it, trying to extract everything possible from those few words, but he couldn’t, and he talked low and quiet to me. Never lost his temper, and that made it worse. As he spoke he had indigestion because it was bothering him, upsetting his stomach, and to my father’s credit the best thing about this was his speech involved Star Wars. He explained, “You know Star Wars? There’s the good and the dark side? Things like this,” and he held up the letter and the three words I could see through the back of it, “this is the dark side, this is going over to that. And that’s not who you are.” It’s funny to think of now but it’s probably the best way to explain evil to a kid. And so I disappointed my parents that year, my first year of high school and already this, and I had to earn their trust back, their words, and I did my time at the end of Christmas break, and Christmas was a little quieter that year, and then I went back to school and got raked over the coals by my classmates, including one older kid who was friends with us and apparently we had stolen from him though I had no idea, and definitely wouldn’t have if I’d have known because he was that rare kid from an older grade who threw that aside and still hung around with us, or us with him, and we looked up to him. And finally things got back to normal, but for a long time I was so embarrassed by that story I never told it, in fact barely ever have, and because of that very few people know it, and it’s silly to feel that way now because enough time has passed that it was something stupid I did when I was a kid, and all that, but still some part of me knows yes, that was me, I did that thing to those people, but these are the things, and we live with them, and they make us, and sometimes that’s just our history, and history can’t be chosen, only told and written.

12:07 pm, 36 mins, approx 1,782 words

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Free-Writing V

10/27/10, 1:37-

I’ve seen myself through the bayou. I’ve gone through gas stations and trees, broken down shacks and stores with jukeboxes and second floors with holes down to the first. I’ve shot men for the noises they make. I’ve called for rafts and then called down the vengeance. I’ve ridden boats pulled by rope, debarked and continued. I’ve passed outhouses, walked over walkways, found what I needed and moved on. I’ve been there when the panic set in. I’ve seen the monsters men become. I’ve held my drink to the sky and lit it on fire wishing I didn’t have to waste it but knowing without that sacrifice there’d be none later. I’ve seen their legs trail through the muck as they closed in. Gone through windows and come out into hell. I’ve kept the path until it ended in steel and supplies. I’ve known these headspaces more than most men. I know this will serve me well in the end, but until then it’s drying my eyes out.

I was there the day the satellite fell. Pulled men from the wreckage and didn’t bother asking if they were okay because all I had time to do was run as it all crashed down. I’ve seen the outcome of this, and it’s not good, and it’s never good, and I look forward to the day that this is all a story but until then it’s my fucking nightmare life extension mission and it’s not a living it’s a dying, so the guitar man says. I saw him on the corner as he sang his sad song and the walls closed in, and the line broke. I don’t wonder where he is now because I know where, and I’m heading there myself but I’m putting it off as long as I can. Our group was larger back then. Larger by one. Now I’m a nothing, an alone, a weakness they watch from rooftops, the others, the every others. This is what I look like through sights. The call goes out and I have to put my knife into another neck. This isn’t a living, this is a dying, and I can still hear his song. What a sweet kid I saw back in that town, but that’ll be a problem for him, always is with his kind. I wish I knew how to help, what to do, but every time I come close it just gets worse and they cry for me to leave and I hesitate. They insist and I go, knowing I ruined it again. Such a sad way, but I suppose it’s always been this way just not as pronounced, not as obvious. The trail is just worn in now. Ancient paths. Deer have those kinds of paths. You see them in the forests between the trees, worn down places where they’ve been cutting through, going to food sources, and you can almost miss them, seems like a trick of the light, a space between bushes, until you see one of them emerge, come out there, and then you might still miss it but you see it again, and you realize these are the legacies cut into the dirt for them, left to them by their parents and grandparents and going all the way back farther than there’s been a name for them, father back, farther back. The forest bends for them, loving them, knowing they bring with them seeds and berries and rubbing their fur on the bark to itch themselves at shedding seasons but it doesn’t just help them, helps the trees too, takes off the old bark to let the new stuff grow. And that’s how it works, feeding. Sometimes the whole arch just shifts on you, drastically, and you find yourself on the bleeding end of it, and hey, it’s nothing personal, and it’s not business, it’s just eating. Just a living that’s just a dying.

That’s how I see that guitar man and the kid and all the guitar men and all the kids. All those towns I found as obstacles. All the ones that fed me before driving me out on horseback and rifle. My memories of them are travel guides of the damned, laminated in panic sweat and worn at the edges. I miss the rest of my group. Just one, but what a one she was. I can’t talk about this anymore or it’ll show on my face. The next time I pop up on a scope they’ll see it on me and then I’m a dead man. Can’t let them know these things unless you’re ready to draw back, throw it in, let them turn you into another week alive. Never could get past the taste myself. Not the stuff I’m used to, though everyone needs a way through.

-1:51, 14 mins, approx. 799 words

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Free-Writing IV

10/26/10, 11:53 am-

When I’m walking with my dog at night the world feels so empty and perfect. All those houses with lights on but no activity, no one in the yard, rarely in the windows, just the cool street and the rustle trees and occasionally the sound of a dog barking because we’ve come too close. We pass garbage cans and get a peek at their inner worlds. Old playground pieces, toys, television boxes, an old toilet, sticks from pruning, books, bottles of beer on recycling days along with spaghetti sauce and water, all these things that explain in filthy terms what’s been going on in that house for the past few days. Our lives, boiled down to the bi-products. The moonlight makes it look better, the starlight barely there, and it’s disappointing, genuinely, when someone appears on the street. Cars are okay. Their headlights slice past and invent shadow, illuminate hidden things in the gutter, so long as the car doesn’t stop and give birth to a driver. Drivers give berth, cars give birth.

When I look at a yellow notepad I think about all those days in school, taking notes, reporting the words of a teacher and their plans for us. I never used yellow notepads, though, just looseleaf in binders and then later when I got tired of carrying around binders I would just take a folder around with loose paper in it, and that’s when things got much messier, but I tried to keep them together as much as possible. Then a teacher would spring a trap, a binder check, even though they never warned there would be one. If I knew about it ahead of time I would find an empty binder, or rather a useless one and make it empty, and then sort through the omni-folder to take out everything from that one subject and push it into the binder according to date. The other problem was that half of my notes were drawings. At some point I found it impossible to listen to what a teacher was saying without doodling at the same time, still hearing them, just drawing also, but they could never believe that, didn’t want to, never listened. That was how I distracted myself into paying attention. That was my method. But schools only allow one method, their own method, and anything else looks to them like laziness or disobedience. I was only learning how I knew I could, and I did, my grades were always good, I learned the material, but somehow they needed to see that binder. I guess like a lot of other things it’s because they need to control a certain percentage through behaviours like that, but that’s not fair so they have to apply it to all. Not fair or it’s just easier to do the same thing across the board. And I can totally understand that now, looking back and realizing that my teachers were people with jobs, didn’t exist for us only, and it takes a really rare person to apply individual methods to several hundred students. The problem then isn’t the teacher or the student, it’s something more, because more can be learned, more can be achieved if its specific to the person, so new systems have to be in place, and teachers need to be paid what they deserve, and not over-worked and stressed and be made to fit certain goals without the environment to achieve them. I have no idea how yellow paper turned into this but so it happened and I have to deal with that. This is the brain in action and I’d like to think I’m unique but I’m definitely not, this is just why people sound the way they do when they talk to themselves, because thought processes are interwebbed and forever darting and that’s a symptom of complexity. The problem comes in with a lack of filters. And is it so crazy? Maybe we’re doing this to each other, living in constant censorship, "I don’t want to hear this or that", but we’re all thinking it. It would be interesting to see a world where everyone’s thoughts and spoken words are exactly the same, and maybe it would be more peaceful, but maybe there’d be no use in living anymore, because the mystery is what makes things interesting, the distance between knowing and not knowing, what’s said and what isn’t, just like men and women confuse each other constantly but if we didn’t what’s the point, no more mystery, less laughs, no need to keep on digging. Maybe we need our secrets.

-12:08, 15 mins, approx. 961 words

Monday, October 25, 2010

Free-Writing III

10/25/10, 9:39 pm-

She was a frightening girl. She had eyes like icicles, if you looked too long they'd shake and fall and penetrate your head, bleed you out. It was as if fire had no troubling her, heat had no stance, as if the ends of the earth were too brittle to hold the weight of her being there in her fine shoes and tight pants. I watched her every day like that, talking on the street with the winos, breaking the quiet morning with her easy laughs and taunting screams. Men in suits looked at her like a nightmare version of their wives, the worst parts of them distilled and pasteurized into something so pure you could only snort a little or you'd drop. She bled men out. She was the end to their boyish dreams. If she spoke to you, if you were lucky enough to catch her attention, you'd find yourself ten minutes later waking in a daze with no money, no will to live, lipstick on your teeth. She was what the boys called a blood diamond. Sure, she'd solve all your problems, but at what cost.

The day I broke into the convenience store for a pack of smokes I learned her name. Something with an E, I think. I did the smartest thing I could think of and went about forgetting who the hell she was. The way she screamed at me, I knew it would end in love, and that would end in crime scenes, and that would end in my mother coming down from the mountain house and crying in a chair. I couldn't have that. She couldn't see me now, not when I was so close to dying completely in her eyes. It was the second nicest thing I could do for her.

When the train shook me awake that morning I could smell the diesel in my hair, the rattle of bones and veins, the old men coughing up vodka phlegm. It was a way of life for them, a job, and they'd tease me about my clear complexion saying it was a liability of the highest order. I knew one's name was Lem and the other King but I always mixed them up. I'm not sure they knew the difference themselves so I left it alone, let them eat their ketchup and cereal, towel their armpits with paper bags they threw to the ground and let blow into the fence in yellow shame. I remember something about a dream, and in the middle of it Lem or King asking me what her name was, and me saying something with an E before I could catch myself and they laughed themselves hacking.

When I hopped down, I could see her eyes already. Something with an E. She'd be the death of me and you could tell she knew it the way she watched me across the street. It was an inkstain. A bleedout. She was the reason I'd hopped down, I was sure of it, felt it in my toe-bones, felt it in the hot gum of the morning blacktop, the shuffling, the magnet that took me into the backroom of that store where they kept boxes, and when I turned around she'd followed me in before I could tell her not to, not that I could, and she held her hand out smiling, not smiling though, maybe mock-winking, I can't remember her face only the brush against my hand as I put the carton in hers and she ran and I ran, and she pushed the clerk and he grunted and went down and I laughed, I think I laughed, I can't remember, just the wind and the whooping of Lem and King thinking they'd get their share but they never would, I gave them nothing and they gave me nothing, not the usual rules of the streets but fuck them, they'd watched those bar kids fuck with me, kicked my stuff, so fuck them, I don't owe them anything.

I remember when we stopped. There were shopping carts and it smelled like chinese food from last night's drunkeries, and we were breathing lungfuls of acid and she was looking at me knowing she'd be the end of me. I was looking forward to finishing the cigarettes. They felt expensive the way they weighed. I was sure it started with an E.

-9:58 pm, 19 mins, approx. 740 words

Free-Writing II

10/25/10, 12:32 pm-

Sometimes I think, when people ask me the question “what’s your book about?” I should tell them, “It’s about a pair of magical shoes. A little boy finds them and gets into all sorts of hijinks”. The reason for that is, against all my better attempts, I just end up fumbling my way through a ridiculous simplification which has nothing or next to nothing to do with my book anyway, and in the end I get strange looks either for my ideas or probably more accurately my portrayal of them. This has a lot to do with who’s asking the question, however. If it’s someone my age, especially a guy, but the age is the most important factor it seems, I’ll give them a one-liner which comes pretty close to what a Hollywood pitch would be. “This guy does this in the middle of this. It’s like this existing property, only better” and the reaction is more or less positive. If they’re as little as ten years older than me, it’s time to REALLY simplify, because any more seems to incriminate me as some sort of maniac who spends his time murdering imaginary friends. Which, of course, is what I’m doing. The best example of this was when I started at my job and I let it slip for the first time that I was a writer. I usually stall out this reveal as long as possible, not for the sake of mystery, like I’m an onion that can be peeled at random times and still show new layers, but to delay the disappointment and horror that always follows. In fact the only time I reveal this information about myself seems to be to justify why I’m thirty-one and working at a job which I have no intention of turning into a career. I explain that every job is a temporary job to me, because in the long run I plan to make a living as a writer, at which most people get fairly excited in a bewildered kind of way, and then ask me what I write, is it poetry or essays or movies, somehow they always seem to avoid the right answer. It used to be, when I was younger, that I’d tell people I wrote short stories since it was all I did in those days, and that would seem to awkwardly end the conversation. Now I tell people I write books, novels, and at the outset they seem much more impressed, more interested, more able to keep the conversation going in that next logical step, instead of attempting to ask something like “Oh, short stories?...What are they about?” and I say “Like, all of them?” and they say “I don’t know, I guess so. Are they mysteries?” which makes me laugh to think how accurate that actually is to so many conversations I shared over the years. So now it’s novels and they can simply ask, “Ooh, what’s IT about?” pertaining to whichever came up, likely A Chemical Fire since it’s completed and in print and so on and so on, and I can answer and then we can move on to them talking about how much they love Dan Brown. But the best example of having to simplify and censor that answer, and I can’t remember if I started talking about this or just thought about it but I can’t stop to look back now, was when I was surrounded by my new co-workers (and yes, I did start saying this) and they asked me what my first book was about. And I looked at my bosses, and the other employees, and three of them were mothers and one a very strict Muslim, and I thought about my book about zombies and painkillers and the awful people I’d dreamed up who burned up and put bullets into one and abused the other, and I thought about the questions it would raise, and how it would make me seem like, AT BEST, a weirdo, and at worst a drug-fueled murderer, and I thought about it a second and I replied, “It’s pretty much about the end of the world.” And then I realized that maybe it made me seem like I WANTED that to happen, like I was a pissed-off Travis Bickle type (is that his name? From Taxi Driver?) so then came the fumbling even if I’d tried to avoid it, and I explained that I always enjoyed movies like Children of Men, which was the most respectable piece of art in that genre I could think of, which sort of worked because none of them had seen it, and most of them seemed to buy it and smile and go about their business happy to have something a little different around walking among them. And then I got into a weird conversation with Kulsoom, the Muslim of the group, about how her religion is so much about waiting for the world to end, and how did I envision it happening, and it would be interesting to compare that with how her faith did, and then I realized something interesting which was that in her own way she was far, FAR stranger than I, because she was telling me how she passionately prayed every day for the end of the world, especially for her kids, and it highlighted the truth about how I feel so different from these people, which is that I feel out of place for not being as crazy as them, or not the same type. Every time I start to think my processes are a little out of whack I turn around and see a married mother of four who is convinced of some idea which I literally think is that of a sick person, and I compare it to how I feel, which may be the opposite, and then I objectively weigh them against each other and realize, no, I’m right here, it’s not right to think that way, and so all that time I feel apart from them it’s not that I want to be a part of them, because to do that would be to accept their fucked up way of thinking and being, their isms nd phobias, and so its not that I want to be a part of them but maybe just appear that way, just wear the camoflauge, like small talk, god I wish I could do that mindless small talk thing. Not that I can’t be friendly and have a good conversation, but so many people are capable of that “So how’s things treating you? Good, good. And the kids? My word, he’s getting so big” and I try it on and it always seems to fall off like a pair of overalls ten sizes too big all floppy down to the floor, and the sound it makes when it hits the tile is so fabricated, as if a .wav file with poor compression plays on impact. It just feels wrong and so I get by on smiles at places like work, and it’s shocking how well that works, but I’ll never memorize their names, or rarely, never get into ten minutes of filler, but people like that, without it they think I’m shy, but no, not really, maybe at odds and maybe anxious and maybe quiet when there’s nothing real to say, but not shy. How could I be? They never give you the chance.

-1:07 PM, 35 mins, approx. 1,237 words

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Free-Writing I

10/22/10 12:15 pm-

A few days ago I woke up in the middle of the night, or maybe it was the morning, about 4 am and I looked over at my wife sleeping there to my right, and I looked down at my dog, our small Pomeranian mix Frankie who weighs seven pounds and six of it is attitude. It was quiet and peaceful, really peaceful, and I knew I had to get up for work in a few hours but I didn’t care. It normally would spoil the moment, push feeling into my stomach pit, a dread for my job, which always happens but especially when you don’t like your job. But this time, it didn’t effect me. I don’t know why I was impervious in that way on that morning, but so I was. I had the distinct feeling in that moment that I loved my life. Not my job, of course, and not our debt and the absence of end in sight to that and other problems, but my life, the one I’d created for myself. I chose the right person for me, or had the right one chosen for me depending on how you feel about fate, which I feel mixed but generally positive about, in agreeance, believing that it does exist but not to use it as an excuse for why things happen, simply as a way to smile at them when they do. So whatever it was, fate, choice, all that combined, came together to make a life that I appreciate, that I love. I knew in that moment that I had friends off sleeping somewhere who I valued as people, who were smart people, funny people, good people, that I’d surrounded myself with a wall of quality. I knew in that moment that while I don’t enjoy the company of my family, being so different from, feeling so alien, so wrong, so childish, so something, I knew that I did love them and that they were also good people. The apartment was right, if for now. The things I spent my time on, enjoyable, at times worthwhile. I had the passing feeling that I liked the person I was if for nothing else than I was a sum of those things. Even if my mind may be off, and my way of dealing with people can be flawed, that my anxieties hinder me and make me odd, even if I’m self-conscious and bizarre I’ve still managed to attract and keep these things around me long enough to let them define me, and I believed, in that moment, and now, and hopefully always, that that should mean something, and so it does.

It feels good to let go. I know that this project is a daunting one but I think it’ll be great for me, great practice, build up the muscle memory of free-flow, turn off the inner editor until later on, when it can come out and thrash and knife. This is how I need to write. I need to grow the grass and then cut it. A terrible analogy, but what I mean is, perhaps better, to make the block of ice first, then take a chainsaw to it. That probably sounds better. Fifty-thousand words is a lot of words but it’s not like I can’t repeat any. I wonder how many words I’ve written in my lifetime, not a fully grand total but just the ones for literature's sake, enjoyment, language, not the ones for work but for me. I wonder if I’ve succeeded at hitting the ten-thousand hour rule as defined by Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve absolutely spent hundreds of hours doing it, and I feel it could be up in the thousands. The ten-thousand hour rule has to do with being not just good, but great, but I don’t think it should be something to look at like, hey, I hit ten-thousand, now I’m a genius. Of course that’s because I was born a genius. No, really. We’re all born geniuses is what I mean, not to say that I’m full of myself, but I think that kids are capable of the most brilliant thoughts and wordings and ways of being, that in an adult would be crazy and what’s the word for crazy with money, eccentric, yes, and just the way they live is in a constant state of brilliance that at some point we shed along the way like an old shell for the next kid to come across and move into, and I think the struggle, always, the struggle is to get back to that point, let go, go mad, and I’m really trying very hard to lose my mind. If I could lose my mind I’d be set. People would point at me and say, “Look at the incredible way he went insane. I’ll pay to see that.” And then I’ll have a career being insane, but with structure, always with structure. No one wants to see a man painting the wall with his shit, but hey, some artists do so I shouldn’t even say that, but in general people want to see a very refined madman. Jack Nicholson is a perfect example. I’m positive that Jack Nicholson is insane, he just happens to be really good at it and really charming, and what is charm if it’s not egomania, and people just love to watch him, love to be around him, tap into that energy, hoping to absorb the power he has. All the best actors, comedians, writers, and possibly directors, photographers, designers and so on are all insane. I think that’s why they all move to one place, so the normals will stop judging them and they can relax among the people who are just like them, maybe worse, and that’s fine because it’s better to keep them all in one place where we can keep track of them. So I think what I’m saying is I need to be tagged and tracked too, because there’s good money in it.

-12:45 pm, 30 mins, approx 1,013 words

Friday, October 22, 2010


I made the decision to take on the challenge of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. This means during the month of November I will write an entire novel of at least fifty-thousand words. Some people use NaNoWriMo as a way to finally write a novel, which I can fully respect. The goal of writing a book is something too many people plan to do but never quite get there, and nothing motivates better than a deadline. For me it will be a personal challenge to write as fast as I can without being harsh on myself, shake things up bit, and in a lot of ways have fun without over-thinking anything. I want the thing to have a stream-of-consciousness feel, to be almost a road map of thought that finds its way through the story rather than be a very rigid, planned-out affair, which is my normal route. There's nothing wrong with that of course, it achieves an effect, but at some point it's good to step outside the normal path to get a better look at it. So I'll be writing as fast as possible, almost too fast, to bypass the internal editor, to stumble into new ways of wording things before they're pushed away by years of school and such.

Until then, I'm practicing. I'll share the results up until the end of October. Then I'll disappear.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean: Part V

"I'll be damned."

The old man stopped, scanned the room. I waited to hear what he'd say next, made sure not to give up my position, my angle. Finally he said, "He actually cleaned."

That's the problem with erasing, a place has to be pristine to let you get away with spot-cleaning. Otherwise you have to keep going as far as it makes sense, until you leave no line where it's clean on one side and dirty on the other. Some places, with all the work I put into them, I've had half a mind to send the landlord a bill. That's why most guys will tell you to bring the whole mess to a second spot, something you can control, something unrelated, outside a cop's eye. You hear it a lot in prison, which in my eyes makes it worthles advice. Myself, I make house calls. Find them where they sleep.

The old man wheeled into the living room. He strained against the carpet, going around the craters, the ones that showed where every piece of furniture had sat in the place going back a decade. I glanced around like it was all new to me. The art posters, so proud of being up their own asses, the used appliances I was sure some fashionable store had labeled vintage to jack up the price by forty bucks. Somehow these things came together to make a man she chose over me. His touch, his everything. I didn't understand the math.

"Anything to drink in this place," I asked.

"Jesus, you're still thirsty?" He was parked three feet from the TV screen, banging the remote against his thigh bone. "There's usually a beer in the fridge. Grab me the closest thing to seltzer you find."

I took the green dish towel that hung from the oven handle and used it to open the fridge, then did the same to grab the one can of seltzer in the middle of Malcolm's pussy beer. I didn't want a drink anyway just the chance to offer the old man one. I popped the tab on the way over, before he saw.

"Get out of the way, would you? Trying to watch the race." He craned left, right, left again to see around me. All it did was make him look like a bird, maybe a chicken, something they keep in a cage until its time. I held out the can and he reached for it, then I pulled it away.

"You didn't answer me," I said. He settled back down.

"What would he do, join the circus?"

I said nothing.

"Look I'd be as screwed as screwed can be. Is that what you want to hear? Shit, you're the only other guy helping me out and I just met you an hour ago. If that's not the saddest thing I can think of, then, well, I don't know what sadness is."

I handed him the seltzer, promised I'd help the best I could. Then I sat on the couch and watched him drink it. His eyes were intense as they traced the race cars in their screaming paths. Every so often he took another sip and it would ripple down his neck.

"The wife used to drink this," he said without breaking his stare. "Me, I could never stand the stuff. I don't know why I keep drinking it, guess I got accustomed." He seemed weighed down, his eyes having trouble following the action on-screen. "Does it seem purple in here to you," he asked after a while. His words ran together, mixing like cold cubes in a warm glass.

"I think so."

"Damn kid keeps the purple too high. Waste of money if you ask me." He'd barely finished the sentence when his head slumped down and his fingers let go of the can. It fell to the carpet and glug-glug-glugged into it until I bent down and grabbed it up, put it to the side, most of the seltzer still inside along with the pill. I'd have to remember to bring it with me.

I pushed my fingers to the loose skin of his neck and felt the weak pulse, felt it go slower. And slower. And slower until I felt nothing at all anymore. When it was done I wheeled him to the bathroom, put him in the tub and took him apart.

Some guys throw up at this part. Others cry. It doesn't really matter what you do, the bleach takes care of it.

Picture a man finds a poem. It's about love, about a woman, about a love for a woman stronger than acid, older than the mountains, all that shit. The kind that can't be waved off. The woman is supposed to read the poem, but the woman doesn't read it her man does. Picture what happens to the poet when the man who reads it isn't a good man. Is paid to be who he is by men worse than him but without the gut for it.

Picture what a man like that would do for free.

I ducked out the back. The bag was easy to carry, couldn't be more than seventy pounds. As I felt the weight of it going up and into the back of the pickup, I realized it was the nicest thing I'd ever done for someone. No matter. I went to the ocean, then I left town.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean: Part IV

It took ten minutes of cursing and two minutes of struggle. After half the block was leaning out their windows with their necks stretched as far as they'd stretch, the old man was finally sitting in the passenger seat. I walked around the pickup and got in, found him talking to himself about how the same assholes who make the cars must make the barstools, too.

"Why do people think they need to drive goddamn tanks? You, I get it, you can't fit in no sedan lookin' like you look. But I'm telling you, nothing scares me more than a soccer mom behind the wheel of a plexiglass Panzer, while her kids are jumpin' around pullin' at her bra straps." He put up a fight with the seatbelt until he realized he didn't care.

"I use this for work. It holds a hell of a lot of tools." Duffel bags and handsaws, mostly. I pulled away from the bar knowing I could never go back there no matter how bad a jones I got for shitty gin. I wasn't about to come down with nostalgia over it.

"You know where you're heading?"

"The bartender filled me in."

"He's got a name, you know. It's Andy. I think. And I didn't hear him do anything of the sort."

The old man was sharp. Sharp for an old man. "Twenty-two Holland Street, fifth floor," I said. It was an easy enough address to remember. Especially when it shows up on an envelope hidden at the bottom of your woman's shoe closet.

"That's it, alright," he said, squinting at the sun.

We passed a cop dicking around by his squad car, meaning we'd have to drive all the way to the building for sure, no stops. A few minutes later and we were there. It was one of those hotels people check into and end up living in until they can't pay anymore or someone smells something coming through the wall. I hadn't expected to ever go back there but there I was, just a few hours after I'd left. Just shows you, you never know where a chore might take you. I helped the old man back down to the ground and we went inside.

The same puffy-eyed kid was behind the window in the lobby with headphones plugging up his ears. Flyers were hanging around his head advertising girls with limbs twisted in uncomfortable poses, laying between red phone numbers. I recognized one of them. She'd had a good body but a total lack of dedication. I tried to sneak the old man past but the kid noticed and looked up from his book, taking his headphones out.

"'re back," he said. He seemed to live in slow-motion, like his button got stuck.

"Don't know what you mean. Just bringing my friend here upstairs."

"No. Yeah. You were here already, before."

"Afraid not, kid, I'm not even from around here." I attempted a smile.

"What? No-"

"How many times," the old man blurted, "how many times have I told you to stop smoking that shit?"

The kid looked at me, then back at the old man. "A couple," he admitted.

"You only remember a couple but I tell you every goddamn time I come. By all means, chew and snort whatever you need to, but lay off the smoke. It's destroying your ability to be a helpful dipshit instead of just a plain ol' nitwit dipshit." He went on walking, leaving the kid to his headphones and book and confusion and embarrassment and just a little suspicion. Our eyes met until they didn't.

The hallway still stunk like it was someone's job to throw up in it. I had expected to see a clock where a guy punched in and got to work, but instead there was an elevator and next to that a dinged-up wheelchair. I'd seen it before, wondered who it belonged to. The old man was already lowering himself into it, again with ugly sounds. Then he leaned back to slap blindly at the call button. I came over and pressed it, asked him if he was stealing someone's chair.

"No, no, it's mine. Malcolm leaves it for when I come over." There was a ping and then the elevator opened. I wheeled him in and shoved myself in, too. It was small and I could feel it complain as the door slid closed and as it did the old man said, "That idiot at the front is always trying to throw this thing out, but every time he does Malcolm takes it right back. I tell you, sometimes it's good to have an asshole on your side."

I pressed for the fifth floor. "Have you thought about what happens when he's not here?"

"If. If he's not here. Christ, try to be positive about things."

"I'm pretty positive."

Searching his pants pockets in clumsy stabs, he chuckled. "Friend, pretty and positive are two things you certainly are not." He pulled out his hand to reveal a rusty key with a yellow twist tie looped through the hole. He held it up, showed it to me, victorious. "Don't worry, you're not stuck with me."

When the elevator hit the fifth it dipped down as if right at the finish line it had given up and was ready to snap from its cable and tumble all the way back down the shaft. There was a hesitation, a real quiet one. Then the five light pinged and the door opened and I wheeled the old man out. I could almost hear the thing sigh as my feet came off it.

We rolled to Five-Fourteen and the old man pushed up in the chair to knock on the door. When there was no answer he did it again, this time with angry shouting. Then he used the key. "Don't know where this boy disappears to," he mumbled as the door swung in.

"Maybe he's at the beach."

It was a cheap shot, even if he didn't know it. I pushed him inside and locked the door behind me.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean: Part III

Malcolm Greenstone was dead. I knew that because no one could live through what I'd done to him.

"I can't do booze," the old man said. "I spent twenty years pickled in the stuff but my stomach just can't take it anymore." The more I looked at him the more I saw Malcolm. The chin. The nose. The way they'd looked before I got to them. "I'm switching to beer, you want the rest of this?"

"You've given me enough."

"Don't go pussy on me, just take the damn drink. If it's not you it's the sink, and I think just enough of you to give you first shot." I pulled the glass over and my hand came close to his, nearly touching it. His hands were impossibly dry. Malcolm's were not. He called for a beer while I worked with what I had. "What line of work are you in then?" He was playing with the veins in his hands, pushing them around under the surface.

"I'm between jobs at the moment."

"Of course. Only two men drink that way- the heartbroken and the unemployed."

The bartender brought a beer; shitty, domestic stuff you could see right through. He said, "Women are like jobs and jobs are like women. What do they call that? Interchangeable? You put on your best suit at the start but by the end you can't be bothered."

The old man took the beer. "A big guy like you could find a new one in no time."

"Which are we talking about," the bartender asked.

I said, "You're not making this easier."

"Don't imagine I could." The bartender finished wiping the bottles off and moved to the wood, taking a thin layer of greasy dust up with his damp rag. Then he took out a spray can of lemon cleaner from under the counter and set to filling the air with a choking citrus as fake and constant as the people you find on boardwalks.

"What's that gonna do," the old man asked. "Nothing but a squirt of piss. This place is filthy. It needs a good clean, a harsh clean, with real chemicals like, like..."

"Bleach," I said.

"Did you know that shit kills HIV? Doctors are out of their minds looking for a cure and it's right under their noses. 'Course you can't go injecting people with bleach, but I'm sure they can figure something out, you know they can, just have to be willing to break some eggs."

I pictured Malcolm's white basin sink and a spiral of pink swirling around and around and down the drain, and in my hand the jug I'd brought from the car, spreading it around, covering my hands when the sink was done.

"Listen, the bartender said, "shut up. Neither of you knows a thing about running a business. You think customers will stick around if the place reeks of noxious fumes?"

"What the...noxious fumes?"

"Yeah. Noxious fumes."

"You really think that's a problem? Look around, you have no customers!" The old man turned. "You wouldn't mind the smell, right?" I shook my head. "See? If you're gonna clean a place at least do it right. It's called being thorough, and people appreciate it."

I stood and walked along the bar, past the stools and to the door with a sign that read 'men', not that there was a second one for women. When I reached for the handle I missed, reaimed and found it, and I wondered if it was the gin screwing me up or everything else. Then I went in.

The bathroom was small, dim, a toilet and a sink and a fluorescent strip in the ceiling with one tube working, the other a faint, purple pulse with a voice like cicadas. As I pissed I could still hear the old man talking out there, arguing, giving his opinion. He never stopped. He had a gift for words which he'd passed down to his grandson, though it hadn't worked out as well for him. Words get people into trouble. Especially ones that rhyme. I tried not to think about it, then I flushed. When I came back the old man had the bar phone to his ear, the cord stretched across the bartender's workspace and over the counter. He seemed annoyed.

"He's not answering," he said, handing it back. "How the hell am I supposed to get home?"

The bartender hung up with his finger and waited for a dial tone. "I'll call you a taxi."

"Are you crazy? I can't afford that!"

"You're drunk, even if you had a car you couldn't drive it. Hell, I'll pay for it if it gets you out of my sight."

I sat again, noticing my drink was gone. I realized it looked done but the ice holds onto some. "Problem," I asked and he sunk down.

"No, no. He lives a few blocks away, I'll walk, see what's going on. He falls asleep in front of the TV sometimes. Lazy idiot."

The bartender said, "It's none of my business but you probably shouldn't be walking that far at your age."

I threw some bills on the counter. "Don't worry. I'll take him."

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean: Part II

Standing behind his hunch I could see the old man's spine through his sweater. It stuck up like a range of old, wind-worn mountains that stretched from his collar to his belt, and I wasn't sure where to put my hands, not out of some idiot's need for appropriateness because, let's be honest, he'd become sexless years before I met him, but because it all looked way too brittle. Might as well ask me to push a bag of glass onto the roof.

"Here we go," I said, more to myself, putting a hand on either side of his waist. As small as it was to look at it was actually even smaller to touch, the cordorouys, baggy on his pelvis, pushing in under my grip until they hit bone. I lifted him up and he couldn't have weighed more than seventy pounds. It all went easily enough, except maybe for some ugly straining on his part.

"You got paws bigger than some bears I've met," he said, settling in.

"Which is it then?"


I recaptured my seat and grabbed my gin. "A minute ago I was an ape, now I'm a bear."

"Well. A lot can happen in a minute, don't you think?"

"Suppose." I took a pull and it tasted right, like always. I watched my fingers flex around the thick glass.

"I used to have hands like yours, believe it or not. Somewhere along the way I lost track of them. Let them..." he trailed off. "Now if I so much as get a weed in the yard I need my grandson to come pull it out." He sipped his drink and said, "Shit. Now you think I'm some lonely bastard who buys a stranger a drink so he can complain about his lot."

"I'm not that perceptive about these things."

He breathed into his glass, a long, lungish thing, and it took me a bit to realize he was laughing. The bartender glanced over to make sure it wasn't a death rattle. "You're very good," the old man pointed a strange fingernail at me. "You play the oaf but that's not you at all, is it?" I tossed back the rest of my drink until cubes hit teeth. Then I waved for another. The bartender did his job and the old man was still on his second sip. "You would've fit right in with the Gentlesin's Club," he said, "bastard like yourself, they'd have made you a member for sure."

I grabbed a swig, phrased like a question.

"It was a men's organization of sorts, glorious shit-starters hellbent on anarchy. Beautiful men in our own right. Used to get dressed up in our best tuxedos and chew peyote. We liked to say, 'If it's not right, we'll wrong it.' See, we understood what all the greats have- that you can do more damage in shined shoes than you can in stompers."

He went on like that as I finished my second and ordered a third. We sat drinking for a bit listening to a television try its hardest. Eventually I said, "What line of work's your son in?" He looked up slowly from his glass. "He must be busy if it's worth skipping over him and bothering the grandson for help around the house."

"You think so?"

I shrugged.

"And you're supposed to be the 'not perceptive one'." He moved his head around, mocking me. He slid his glass around on the bar and watched the way the puddles moved. "Didn't mean that. It's just, sickness took that boy a long time ago. Sometimes I get a stick up the ass about it."


"The only phone number I got left is my grandson's. Now don't get me wrong, he's sort of an asshole, but at least he picks up. Speaks to a man's character if he can pick up a phone fully knowing I'm on the other side of it."

"Cheers to that." The bartender came over and topped us off. "In fact I'd say Malcolm qualifies for fucking saintdom for putting up with your sour routine all these years."

"Nobody asked you," the old man mumbled.

All of a sudden all that gin in my gut felt like it was weighing me down, ready to fall out my ass like a wet diamond. I pretended to take another slug but instead let it burn at my lips because it bought me some time, kept things casual. "His name's Malcolm?" after I'd counted to ten.

"Unfortunately. It's no wonder he fancies himself some sort of poet with a name like that. But what else can we do but grow into our names? Like goddamn potted plants."

I looked at my hands, wondering if he could smell the bleach on them.