Another

First we thought we were going to be professional athletes, then rock stars, then artists; but of course that didn’t happen. So those dreams died and we started, we were kids.

It never stopped, we figured it would stop. Other people seemed to stop, but we kept going, and next thing we knew it was sunrise, and the next thing we knew we were nearing 30, but everyone else had stopped.

We always had one more and we always had one more after that, and we might as well have had the last ones, no point leaving the last ones in the fridge. We were the last ones, because everyone else had stopped.

And it wasn’t cute anymore. It was never cute, but it was funny. We were funny and cool and we were fun to be around, but we kept going and the jokes were stale, nobody else was laughing and it was bitter.

Our palates matured and bitter tasted good, everything went down smooth. When it didn’t go down smooth, we switched things up and we went until the jokes were fresh.

We went until we ensured that the next day was misery, and that the next day after that was misery, and we regretted it all, and we said never again.

And it was never again until we didn’t have work the next day, then we started. Other people started and eventually stopped, but we never stopped, because it was chemicals and there was no fighting that. We weren’t what we imagined, and there was no stopping.

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Accidents

The trees were dying, but I don’t even think that was true. The leaves were changing colors, falling off, shit like that. It was autumn going on winter I guess is what I’m trying to say. And I’m sure that means something, but not that the trees were dying, because they would presumably bloom again.

But maybe they were, I knew I was dying, maybe not actively, but I wasn’t going to bloom again any time soon. I did my blooming over 26 years ago. And I don’t know if I’m trying to be deep or whatever, all I know is that I smashed my face on the concrete or a steel bannister at the train, or something, that was true, but I don’t remember which. It was only a few days ago but I can’t remember which. I just know I smashed my face onto something hard, then I threw up in my lap on the train. It was like 1 or 3 in the morning so there weren’t many people on the train, thankfully. That I remember.

I woke up the next morning and I could feel my front teeth, like a sprained ankle, and the left quadrant of my lower lip was obese.

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I was apartment sitting for this friend of a friend whom just had surgery. She couldn’t climb the stairs to her apartment post-op, so I was apartment sitting for her plus cooking and bringing her food at the hotel she was staying at 5 minutes away.

Before one of my dinner runs to the hotel she asked for me to grab some weed butter she had made and left in her fridge. I brought it to her, and she said there was more at the apartment and that it was nice and mellow, if I wanted to give it a try.

I didn’t really fuck with weed anymore, but I had one of those mornings where I didn’t see the point of leaving bed the entire day, and figured I needed to alter my mind a tad, and since it was mellow…

I cooked professionally for a little bit, that was my last job. So I could do some things in the kitchen, I was no slouch. When I finally forced myself out of bed that morning I made the absolute best eggs of my life, they were incredible and layered and fluffy, like stratified clouds. And they paired perfectly with the weed butter spread over two slices of sourdough bread made from my own starter, the closest thing I’d likely ever have to a child. This simple breakfast was so phenomenal that it momentarily perked me up, but it still felt like I had sludge coursing through my veins and brain.

About an hour passed and I caught myself giggling at some stupid joke I said out loud to myself, and it occurred to me that “oh, I’m a little high,” and I laughed some more because I had forgotten all about the weed butter. It tasted so good I forgot it was supposed to have a mellowing effect on me.

I decided to do some minimal exercising and work up a little bit of a sweat before taking my first shower in a few days, you know, really make it count. So I did that, and turned on the hot water and waited and waited and waited, because the hot water took like 10 minutes to not be freezing water in this apartment. It finally got warm, I went in and I was laughing at something that I can’t recall, and I realized, “oh, I’m very high and I think I’m getting higher.” I laughed at myself even more because it had probably been two hours since I’d eaten the weed-buttered toast, so that meant that this was the beginning of a full on edibles experience, this was not mellow at all. I still had to cook this intricate Indian dish for the crippled lady whose apartment I was living in. I still had to do some food shopping too, and I hadn’t been high in a very long time, and I hadn’t been high off edibles in probably 8 years. I laughed at myself more while the shower water continued to heat little by little, I was in the shit.

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This was post drugging myself on weed butter, the face smashing that is. It was a few nights after and I met up with some friends to go to one of our favorite, dumb events of the year. A local community church thingy or what have you, put together this thing where they showed old horse races, and people paid ten bucks to enter then make $2 bets on these races, drink, and eat hot dogs. I didn’t eat any hot dogs. We pregamed by Teaing-Off and sipping on brews at the pool hall around the corner.

It was called Night at the Races, they also had this silly dice game in the corner where the dice-guy rolled these two big dice, and you bet two or three bucks whether it would be below, over, or exactly 7. Betting exactly 7 gave you 4 to 1 odds, where the over/under was 2 to 1. This was undeniably an event for old people, but we looked forward to the two times a year it popped up. You would think with the small betting structure and the non-party atmosphere that it would be a peaceful and cheap night, but you’d be wrong.

I looked in my wallet the next morning after feeling my sprained-ankle front teeth and huge lip, and discovered that not only did I not hit it big on the $2 dollar races from 1995, I only had 3 singles left. The house always wins, and the sidewalk and/or metal bannister does as well.

.

So the weed butter was in full effect, I came to at one point and realized I had been lying on the bed talking out loud to myself for what was either 10 minutes or an hour and a half. I was mostly discussing mortality with myself, going over whether I liked life or not. I came to the conclusion that life was pretty good, but that nothing really mattered and we were insignificant. So nothing new there, but it felt good to say it out loud to myself.

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I was still living home, kinda, I didn’t have my own place. I would bounce around mostly, never staying anywhere for more than 3-4 days at a time. But this particular morning I woke up at my parents. I wasn’t doing much with my life; just traveling, drinking, writing, putting off the inevitable. I had just came home from backpacking in Europe and wasn’t working, I didn’t see the point. My parents didn’t say anything, but I imagined they were thinking, “what the fuck is this kid’s plan.” They were older and I was their youngest, and I’d never fucked up too much, so they were pretty lenient. But there comes a time where you have to stop smashing your face.

I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted a bed in my own place, where I could lie all day and nobody would know, but New York City was too expensive for lazy people.

I got out of bed and went to get some water, to my surprise they didn’t notice my face until I said something about it when they asked how Night at the Races was. They kinda looked at each other like, “this fuckin guy,” to my surprise they barely even pressed me for details, what a relief. They asked if it hurt, I said, “look at my face,” my mom said, “oh, yea, I didn’t even see that.” “Well it’s fuckin killing me right now.” She jokingly replied, “maybe you have to go back to Europe.” It was never good when your very nice, usually concerned mother was mocking you. I asked her, “what can I use to get blood out of my shirt?” She asked, “you were bleeding?” I replied once more, “of course I was bleeding, look at my face.” She responded, “you really gotta be more careful, I’ll get the stain out, just relax and drink water.” Those were the main components of my mom’s remedies for every physical ailment. “Just eat lite, you know, toast,” was another cure-all. She was a medical professional but wasn’t much for medicine. As the day went on she asked more and more about how my face felt and recommended some aspirin, she was more concerned than she was letting on. Me and my dad were watching football later in the day and he asked how my teeth felt, I told him. He said, “man, lucky you didn’t lose any.” I replied, “yea,” then I shook my head, “so fuckin stupid.” My dad chuckled and replied, “yea, what else can you say.”

.

I still had a few hours before I had to bring this lady healing in her hip Brooklyn hotel room some dinner, but I made pasta mixed with some leftovers for myself a little after my self analyzing death talk, and it was the hardest thing I’d ever cooked in my life. I was hoping if I shoved food into my face it would make me less high, but I was still on the way up. After I threw the pasta in my mouth, I took out some of base ingredients for the dinner, separated them on the cutting board, slowly got the skins off the cloves of garlic, and immediately walked away. There was no way I was going to be able to do anything more than that without cutting my finger off or my head head exploding.

I was teetering, going between pacing around the apartment and sitting down. I felt myself slipping deeper into the edible, but I had to fight it. If I succumbed there was no telling when I would get out, and I had a schedule to keep. An hour passed and I was still high, I listened to a podcast and stared out the window, I paced. Another hour passed and I listened to another podcast and stared out the window, I was done pacing. I could feel the edible in my toes. A couple of friends finally answered my texts that I sent when I first realized what was happening, they talked me off the edge a little bit, but told me I’d likely have to do some of this cooking high.

The cooking I wasn’t overly worried about, I had to go to the butcher shop and get some chicken. I could’ve gotten it earlier that day, but said to myself, “eh whatever, I’ll get it after breakfast,” then breakfast made me terrified of going outside and seeing or speaking-with other humans.

Another hour passed and I decided it had to happen, I had to get the chicken, I wasn’t about to half ass this dish. I went outside, and it was bright and horrifying on a mostly cloudy day. There was a group of kids at the corner, I was praying they wouldn’t recognize I was baked and harass me accordingly. I arrived at the butcher, I was rehearsing in my head what I wanted to order, “4 boneless chicken breasts, 4 boneless chicken breasts,” over and over. The guy at the counter said “next!” and the guy in front of me asked if I was next. I was baffled, he was front of me, why would I be next. So I talk-yelled, “NO YOU GO AHEAD.” I couldn’t deal with questions, why was this guy doing this to me. Maybe I didn’t yell it, because he didn’t look at me like I was crazy, but I saw him as the devil. The other counterman said, “next! Buddy?” There was no one else in line, I was his buddy. In my head it was very lucid, “four boneless chicken breasts,” but the first noise I made was, “fwahh,” I caught myself, recognizing that’s not how humans begin to say, “4 boneless chicken breasts.” I cleared my throat and rapid-fire-talk-yelled, “four boneless chicken breasts, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.” I didn’t say “for the love of god,” I was just screaming it inside throughout my entire body. He gave me the chicken and asked if I wanted anything else. I wanted to say, “what’s with all these fuckin questions,” but instead I said, “no thanks,” and quickly pushed my card across the counter. I was outside with my chicken, the kids were still at the corner, they could’ve murdered me but they spared my life and didn’t steal my 4 boneless chicken breasts. I got back into the apartment and put the bag of chicken down on the table, and I laughed and laughed. I don’t remember what happened next, I either jerked off or started dicing the onions.

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I was leaving the dentist office walking back to my parents house. After a week of shame, regret, and chewing small pieces of food on the side of my mouth; my new dentist informed me that I didn’t have any breaks in my front teeth. I still couldn’t chew with them but he prescribed me some antibiotics and said they should be fine, I couldn’t believe I might come out of the other side of this with no permanent damage. I met up with my friend later on and had some celebratory beers, we smoked tobacco out of his new fancy pipe, like gentlemen. I had a few more beers than expected and forgot to take the antibiotics.

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I got dinner to the hotel by the time we had agreed upon pre weed-buttered toast. I told her my harrowing tale and she couldn’t believe it. She said, “yea it is mellowing, but it’s also potent.” To my mind those were two opposite things, but English was her second language, so I didn’t argue. I was just happy I got out of bed, I was happy I pulled off this intricate Indian dish. She said it was soooo delicious, but she said that about everything I had made. Maybe it was.

Heirlooms, Tattoos, and Routines

“Junie,” he stopped just inside the door, letting it close, as he slightly tilted forward and gave a single, concise wave of his left hand, leaving his arm erect like a crane until she responded. Junie looked up, “oh heyyy Howie, g’morning, how are you feelin.” He let his hand drop and walked towards his seat, two away from the store’s front window. “Junie, I’m very well this morning, very well. All that rain last night, who could believe it.” She replied, “I know right, and it’s so beautiful today, who can figure it.” “You know Junie, you’re absolutely right,” he grabbed the paper from his back pocket and unfolded it onto the table so that the sports page showed. He took his seat.                                                               .
Howie needed clean clothes, his father’s washer machine wasn’t working. It hadn’t been working properly for some time, but it seemed disrespectful to get a new one, and he wasn’t sure how to fix it. He searched online, and after much deliberation decided on a laundromat, one that also had a cafe attached to it. He let out a “hmmmmmm” in approving curiosity upon reading about this feature.

After 5 or so minutes of getting situated- taking his jacket and hat off, adjusting his glasses, counting his change- Howie approached the counter. Junie smiled, “usual Howie?” Howie smiled in his serious manner, no teeth showing, “you know what I say Junie, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Junie smiled again, “had a feeling, I just like to make sure all the same.” “He responded, “you know Junie, that’s customer service, that’s customer service at it’s finest, that’s what keeps the people coming back here.” “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.” Howie belted out a single, “HA. You’re a riot Junie, I’ll give you that.” She placed 3 paper cups on the counter, one 7/8 filled with black coffee, one 1/4 filled with whole milk, and one to-go espresso cup with 3-1/2 tablespoons of sugar in it. Howie was recounting his change, “you know Junie, I think I’ll have one of those mini blueberry muffins.” “Not the corn muffin, Howie?” “No I’ll have one of those mini blueberry muffins.” “She replied, ” you got it, no laundry today Howie?” “No, no. I washed a few items yesterday, Randall was working, nice young man.” “Yea, Randy can be nice when he feels like it.” Howie belted another single, “HA. You know Junie, I can see what you mean. Randall’s a very nice young man, but he can have an edge at times.” “He sure can, they can’t all be as nice as me Howie.” “You know Junie, you’re absolutely right, you’re always a delight.” “Well thank you Howie, so are you, that’s gonna be $2.50.” Before she finished saying the number, Howie was placing 2 stacks of 10 dimes each on the counter and 1 stack of 10 nickels in a neat line. “Thank you, Howie.” “Thank you, Junie.” Howie made two trips to his seat, first taking the milk and sugar cups, then the coffee and muffin, silently cheersing to Junie, his arm acting as a crane again before going back to his seat.

Randy walked in a few minutes before his shift started, “hey hey heyyy,” he greeted Junie. “Hello Randall.” He laughed, “Randall? Who are you my grandmother or Howie.” Junie smiled, “Howie, he was commenting on what a nice young man you are earlier.” “Hmm, that’s surprising.” Junie walked over to where Randy was putting his things away, “well just because you’re a cynical jerk doesn’t mean everyone else is.” Randy slowly walked around her, “I’ll take being a cynical jerk over being Howie.” Junie’s eyes and mouth widened momentarily, “you’re horrible. He’s a sweet, lonely guy.” Randy slowly began his beginning of shift routine, checking the levels of coffee, cups, lids, and sugar, “he’s a crazy person.” Junie replied, “he’s just… peculiar.” Randy started to make a fresh pot of drip coffee, “either way I’m tired of having the same conversations with him everyday.” Junie grinned, “I hope people aren’t this mean to you when you’re a lonely middle aged man.” “I’m not mean to him, I’m just increasingly short with him.” Junie started at Randy in a dumbfounded manner, “yea, that’s mean.” “He doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s in his own, lonely world,” Randy laughed, Junie’s eyes and mouth were even further agaped than before, “oh my god, you’re truly horrible.” Randy wiped down the steam wand on the espresso machine, “I’m a very nice young man.”

Howie had been going to the laundromat/cafe 3-4 times a week for about a month, sometimes when didn’t even have clothes to wash. He couldn’t get over what a great concept it was, enjoy a cup of coffee and a treat while you run an otherwise boring errand. Hell, bring the paper if you want, make a morning of it. He decided to leave a review on the website where he discovered it. They only had 4.5 stars, and he felt it was easily a 5 star establishment. He clicked 5 stars and began to think of something to write. Short, sweet, and to the point, he thought. He went with his first draft, “it’s a great place to have a cup of tea or coffee while you wash your clothes.”

Howie finished his coffee and muffin, then brought his 3 cups and napkins over to the garbage can near the counter. “So how are you today Randall, it was pretty busy earlier.” “Yea Howie, you know, morning rush.” “You handle it very well Randall, you’re very fast.” Randy grinned, “well you know, been doing it long enough.” “That’s right, that’s right, you know what I say, practice always makes perfect.” “Randy replied, “yep, pretty much.” “How long have you been here Randall?” “I try not to think about it.” Howie belted out a single, “HA. There’s that Randall edge that me and Junie we’re discussing the other day.” “That’s what they call me, Randall Edge.” “Do they now?” Randy paused for a moment before clicking his tongue against the top of his mouth, “yea.” He began creating work for himself, recleaing counters and the espresso machine, picking things up and putting them down somewhere else, then putting them back, trying to show Howie how busy he was. “So how long has it been Randall, because I remember when you first started, you didn’t have any of those big tattoos that you have now.” Randall stopped working, succumbing to the conversation, “yea I guess this place kinda paid for them… 4 years I’ve been here.” “They’re very nice, nice and colorful. Ah! 4 years, excellent, that’s shows commitment… A fella who worked with my father had some tattoos from his days serving in the navy, not quite as colorful or as nice as yours though.” Randy leaned his elbow on the counter and his cheek against a bored, soft fist, “yea the artist’s have come a long way.” “I think Jack was the fellas name, worked doing roofing and painting with my father for years, he was also very committed.” “Is that right.” “It is, it is… but my father passed away some years ago.” Randy half heartedly asked, “heart attack, right?” “That’s right, that’s right, so I’ve told you. I’m like a broken record player,” Howie grinned. Randy smirked uncomfortably, “yea I remember you mentioning it, sorry to hear it.” “He was a good man, Randall, raised me by himself after my mother passed when I was very young.” “Wow, that’s rough… he left you the house right?” “Thats right, that’s right, you have quite the memory,” Howie grinned as Randy began to reclean things, “I’m like a broken record player.”

Howie maintained the garden in his backyard that his father kept for years. Howie always had a green thumb, and his father passed down whatever soil, pruning, and pest knowledge that he accumulated to Howie with ease. Howie grew various greens such as arugula, spinach, and lettuces. As well as tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, and carrots, along with several varieties of windowsill herbs. Howie’s neighbors could expect a bounty of fresh vegetables from April-October in exchange for some light conversation. Howie was out back one July afternoon, pruning the suckers off his prized heirloom tomatoes. He knew there was rain in the forecast, but thought he could get the pruning done before the storm clouds rolled in. The sky darkened earlier than forecasted, and the downpour muddied up Howie in less than a minute. Howie went back inside, drenched and dirtied. He figured he’d better shower and get this outfit to the cafe once the storm passed. He could bring them some tomatoes too, he smiled, “blessing that’s in disguise.”

Randy walked into work a few minutes before his shift started. Junie was talking to a guy at the counter, “yo yo,” Randy said as he passed behind them. “Heyyy Rand,” Junie replied, this is my boyfriend Gerry.” Randy resisted the urge to stop in his tracks, he continued to walk over to the shelf where the staff’s jackets and bags were kept, “hey man,” he put his bookbag down then walked back over towards them, extending his hand, “Randy.” They shook hands, “good to meet you, I’ve heard all about you.” Randy grinned, “don’t believe Junie, I’m not as big of an asshole as she thinks.” Gerry laughed, “it wasn’t all bad.” Randy shot Junie a quick look, “I bet,” then he quickly started his beginning of shift routine; checking levels of coffee, cups, lids, and sugar. Less than a minute later Howie walked through the door, stopping just inside the doorway, letting the door close, “full House this afternoon,” he enthusiastically said. He would’ve given his signature wave, but his hands were full, one with a bag of dirty clothes, one with a bag of tomatoes. “Hey Howie,” Junie replied. Howie walked over to his seat, two away from the front window, set down his laundry on the floor, and took off his jacket and hat. Adjusting his glasses, then counting his change. They were silent at the counter, aside from Randy’s busying around, as Howie went through his routine. He approached the counter, smiling very seriously. “You’re back, Howie,” Junie said. “You know Junie, I was pruning my tomatoes,” he said lifting the tomatoes like a dumbbell, “and the news said I had until 2 before the storm rolled in,” Junie empathetically interrupted, “oh no,” Howie continued, “long story short, I have some very muddy clothes.” Gerry pointed to the bag of tomatoes, “at least it looks like you got a pretty good harvest.” “Thats right, that’s right, the rain in certainly good for that.” “Howie, this is my boyfriend Gerry.” Howie looked back over to Gerry, “you don’t say, very nice to meet you Gerry.” “Good to meet you, Howie.” “You know, Junie is a delightful, delightful young lady.” “She sure is,” Gerry responded, Randy continued to reclean and recheck levels. “Everyone here is delightful; Junie, Randall, everyone.” Junie smiled, “hear that Randall, you’re delightful,” he didn’t look up, “that’s what I hear.” Howie responded, “it’s true, Randall’s just got an edge, like me and Junie discussed the other day.” Gerry replied, “is that so?” They all looked over at Randy, he shot them a fake smile as if to say, “you know me, Randall Edge.” Gerry looked back towards Howie, “so, you come here a lot then, Howie?” “You know, just about every morning for at least 5 or 6 years, it’s like I say, another home when you’re away from home.” “Is that so.” “It is, it is,” Howie became very serious in that moment, “it’s a great place to have a cup of tea or coffee while you wash your clothes.” Gerry grinned, slowly nodded his head and looked at Junie then back to Howie, “yep… I can see that.” Howie smiled, even showing some teeth, “well,” he said after a moment, “these tomatoes are for all of you here, enjoy, they’re heirlooms. A little olive oil, salt, pepper, very good.” Junie beemed, “wow, thank you Howie, that’s so nice. Isn’t that nice Randall,” she jokingly looked over at Randy who was going through his bag on the shelf, without looking up he said, “yea, thanks Howie.” “Don’t ever mention it,” he smiled seriously again, “ok, so I think I’ll put those muddy clothes in the wash, then come get some hot coffee.” Junie grinned, “usual Howie?” “You know what I say, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Howie, Junie, and Gerry grinned.

Howie walked over towards his seat.

Good Music and Dancing

Good Music and Dancing

​One of the younger guys… Chris? Maybe. And one of the older guys-Tim- were the only guys left by around 11:30. They’d been here since around… lets say 7, 7:30. The Yanks just came on when they were filing in, so lets call it 7. So anyways they’re a little, you know, they’re gettin’ there, but I don’t mind, better than sittin’ in this tiny shithole by myself til 3. They started talking bout work like guys like to do, especially the younger guys who are just starting out. I did it when I was working as a fireman, you know for the city, years ago. So anyways the younger guy started going off about the guy he works with.

​“So this guy goes, he goes ‘the work day don’t end at 3 pal,’ we do 7-3, he goes ‘the work day don’t end at 3 pal,’ I go ‘fuck that,’ I go ‘I’m here to do what I gotta do while I’m here, after that I’m done. I don’t take this shit home with me, think about fixin’ fuckin elevators when I get home? Fuck that,” I told him.”

​So Tim, the older guy, goes “yea but you know, you can see what he’s saying, you got a danejruss job, and I’m sure it ain’t easy, you gotta be thoughtful about it, you can see what he means.”

​“Being thoughtful about what you’re doin is one thing, bringin this shit home with you? Lettin it consume your life? That’s fuckin crazy. I agree with you, be very thoughtful WHILE you’re there, WHILE you’re workin, of course, cause it is danejruss. But stressin yourself out? Drivin yourself crazy? Letting shit get under your skin when things ain’t going exactly as planned? I can’t see that.”

​I take the guys’ glasses and fill em up from the tap as the younger guy is finishing up his point, I see what’s he’s saying to an extent, but when you’re young, you’re brash, you don’t know everything. Young guys think they know it all, so I chime in.

​I go, “what’re you 25?” I ask the young guy.

​“23.”

​“Aright,” I go, “so you’re workin under this guy basically? You’re like his helper?”

​“Apprentice yea,” he was listening intently now. Guys always think bartenders have some miraculous grasp on life, like we have all the answers. I’m an asshole just like everybody else, I wanna tell him. The wife gets mad at me all the time, I wanna tell him. But I say fuck it, I’ll give the young guy some advice. I don’t mind.

​“Apprentice, right, so don’t you think he has more to lose than you? Like, it’s his ass on the line if shit goes wrong?”

​Tim, the older guy, goes “that too, he got a lot of responsibility too, gotta think about that too.”

​The younger guy shrugs and goes “yea, I mean he does, but he takes his responsibility way too seriously. I worked with other guys at his level and they don’t take this shit that seriously, not anywhere close, they just do what they gotta do. He thinks if he don’t get a million things done in one day the world will stop spinnin.”

​I pick my hands up from my side and go, “so he’s probably a good worker, you could probably learn good from him,” and I walk to the other side of the bar to arrange some boxes of empties.

​The kid goes “there’s bein a good worker and there’s having work be your entire life. I mean I’m sure you guys liked fuckin around at work when you worked? If there was nothing to do, blast the radio and chill out?”

​The older guy Tim, goes “oh yea those were the best days, and back when you could go grab a six pack on the job, those were the best days.”

​I’m laughin, I go “one time.” I’m still laughin, I go “one time we were so bored back at the firehouse we called up one of the escort services in the paper, years ago, before all the shit with the computer,” as I typed in mid-air on an imaginary keyboard, “we called up one of the services and had girls come by and strip, jumping on the fire pole and everything,” I’m laughin, I go “ oh man, what you could get away with years ago.”

​The kid finished his beer as I was tellin my little story, then he started laughing, and I take his glass and go over to the tap and pour him another one.

​The younger guy goes “that’s great, but see that’s what I’m talkin about, there’s nothing to do, shit, that’s a good day. If there’s nothing to do this guy is crawlin out of his skin, he’s complainin how he wished there was some work to do. I’m sittin there thinkin ‘chill the fuck out,’ like this guy doesn’t know how to just relax, I don’t understand guys like that, all I wanna do is relax.”

​Tim, the older guy, goes “guy sounds like he needs a vacation or sumpinn, maybe a blow job,” he laughs to himself, “take a vacation and get a blowjob maybe.”

​That reminded me, I go “yea I learned the hard way last week in Aruba with the wife, can’t get a vacation and a blow job, one or the other she says. I says ‘I’m payin for the fuckin thing’” I look at the young guy, “the vacation not the blow job you sick fuck.” Then I grin to let him know it’s all jokes, “she goes ‘I don’t care, one of the other,’ don’t never get married kid.” The guys always got a kick out of little stories like that, they knew it was all jokes. But in all seriousness, my wife’s a great lady, love her to death, not bad lookin either. They liked that one and we were laughin and the young guy goes,

​“Believe me I’m not thinking about that shit, but that might be the guy’s problem, the guy I work with, that might be his problem. He’s in his late thirties, no kids or nothin’, so all he got is work. Fucks he goin’ home to? A dog? I don’t know, that’s a little depressin’.”

​I go, “yea so he probably got tons saved up, no kids or nothing, he can probably go anywhere in the world, whenever he wants for as long as he wants with the money he probably has saved.”

​“He doesn’t do shit, go anywhere,” the young guy goes, “I never heard him mention one cool vacation or one trip he’s taken,” he takes a gulp as if this has been weighing heavy on him.

​Tim, the older guy goes “makin all that money? For what? Workin hard? For all that money? What for? Not gonna enjoy it? I got some money from my workin days, I try to enjoy as much as possible, could drop dead tomarra, gotta enjoy it. That’s why ya know, I try to get out to Phoenix every couple of years to see my brother down there, he got a place down there, try to get down there every so often, ya know, enjoy myself.”

​The younger guy goes “exactly, but that’s what I’m ascared of, I’m gonna spend all this time workin, when the hell am I gonna enjoy it? I think about quittin’ and just goin, ya know? Just goin’, for a little while at least, we waste our lives doin’ this bullshit, that scares the hell outta me.”

Every young guy starting out has had the pickin up and just goin fantasy, and you have it for a little while, but then you come to your senses and realize… it ain’t practical. Where you gonna go? Every place is the same for the most part, I think at least, but what do I know? The young guys freakin’ out, and I understand, cause years ago, I was a young guy too, just like him. He’s freakin’ out so I get him a shot on the house and refill his beer and I go

​“Yea that sounds good in theory, you know? But,” I stammer a second, “it ain’t practical, once you settle down, have some kids, you’re gonna realize how great havin’ that job is. When you need it, you’ll realize that.” I go, “there’ll be plenty of time for vacations, like Tim said, you’ll see, you’ll have buddies and family that’ll be moved around, you know, go places with the Misses when the kids are in college, like I’m doin. You got plenty a time, and you’re lucky, not a lot of guys have a good job like this at your age, some guys would kill for that job.”

​Tim, the older guy, he’s starting to slur a little like he does when he’s been at it for a while, he goes, “yea in Phoenis, my brother’s down there, down in Phoenix, and we go out there, me and the wife and him and his wife.” Tim takes a sip from his glass and goes, “His wife knows of a few places down there, she’s from there originally, from Phoenis… So she knows a few spots down there, and they’re nice spots, got good music and dancing, got some bands that play there, you know, guys with the guitar,” Tim plays an awkward version of air guitar with stiff, straightened fingers. He goes “the guys are good too with the guitar, they play at some of the places and it’s a good time, got good music n dancing, I don’t really dance, but the option’s there, so.” Tim empties his glass and goes, “so if you’re lookin’ to go somewhere, Phoenis ain’t too bad, I don’t know, I like it down there, in Phoenis.”

The young guy nods as if he doesn’t know what to do with that information, and empties his glass as well. I reach for the young guy’s glass and tilt it towards him, the universal sign asking if someone would like another. The young guy shakes his head and starts to count his money on the bar. The bar is quiet for a minute, the kind of uncomfortable quiet that can only be experienced after an off topic tangent about Phoenix and dancing.

​I go to the young guy, “headin’ out?”

​The young guy goes, “yea I better, gotta be up at 5 for work.”

​I stick out my hand to him and go, “Aright take it easy, safe home. Don’t let it drive you crazy, that’s a good job you got.” He nods and shakes mine and Tim’s hands before leavin’ the tip and exiting the bar.

 

It was a little after midnight now and it was just me and Tim. I was waiting for him to start talking about Phoenix again, I really didn’t want him to, but that how Tim was. But Tim didn’t bring up Phoenix the rest of the night, he didn’t say a single word. We sat in silence with the faint sound of me refilling Tim’s glass and the same rock songs that have been playing on the radio for thirty years.

Sleeping Alone in Different Places

   I was gonna offer the guy sitting next to me some of my Pringles, it was gonna be a long flight and we were seated next to each other, but what was the point. I mean, it was the start of a new adventure, I could’ve transformed into the guy who offers his Pringles to strangers. I could’ve been that guy, but what was the point. 

      It was true, I worked slinging coffee for a while, a good while. I liked making coffee, lattes and shit, there was an art and a science to it, and not having to pay for coffee was fantastic. What I didn’t like was other humans ordering coffee at my face. They would order then say things like, “don’t look so happy to be here,” or “you sure look happy to be here,” or “one of those days…” And it usually wasn’t one of those days until they spoke words to my face about the angry look on my face. But that was just my face, I couldn’t help it. So I’d be having a normal annoying work day until some asshole threw around their sarcasm about the level of my face happiness. Then I’d go from having resting angry face to actually being pissed off. 

   If it was a pretty girl I would’ve offered her some Pringles, but what was the point. I suppose it could’ve set me off on the right foot, new adventure, new me. But I wasn’t desperate enough to change yet. She probably would’ve declined anyway, and I would’ve felt like a complete moron for years.

   I never knew where I stood with girls. I knew that some very attractive girls from my past were attracted to me, but the vast majority of females did not seem to notice my being a human male on this planet. Was it that the symmetry of my face only appealed to a small percentage of girls whom I also found appealing, or did my angry seeming disposition raise red flags in most girls’ eyes. Were they thinking, “he sure looks happy to be here…” or were they thinking nothing, because my existence did not register with them.

    I wanted to offer the stewardess some Pringles, she was extremely beautiful. But I knew not to do that, I wasn’t that dumb, I knew how that looked. She was paid to acknowledge my existence, and just because I was becoming desperate didn’t mean I had to broadcast it to a plane full of strangers. 

   This was going to be a solo adventure, through a bunch of places where I wasn’t familiar with the native tongue. So I wouldn’t be speaking much with the general public, which was good. I was however going to make a concerted effort to smile more often, so even if I wasn’t speaking with people they’d be thinking, “what a pleasant American.” Or they’d be thinking, “why is that lanky American awkwardly showing his teeth to everybody.” Either way I wouldn’t be able to understand them, so I’d give it a go, maybe.

     I knew the Pringle offering wasn’t paramount, I knew that… But it felt like it was. It felt like if I didn’t offer anyone on that God damn plane some Pringles, then for 2 months I’d hop around from hostel to hostel unable to offer anyone a snack, or even merely say “hello” to my fellow travelers. This plane ride would set the tone, someone else had to eat some of these fuckin chips. 

Walks and Brawls

 

I was taking my daily stroll, and figured I’d swing by the bank to deposit my tax return check. A few minutes into the journey a group of kids doing wheelies on their bikes rode by in bunches of 5 or 6. They were obnoxiously going over their plans for the day, jokingly calling each other faggots, and yelling out whatever else 14 year olds yell about, as one fat kid was pleading “wait up, guys!” from a block behind. The weather was getting warmer, and these passing encounters were becoming an annoying regularity. I began to wonder, if I rocked one of these kids off their bike, mid wheelie, how many more could I take out before they overwhelmed me and fucked me up?

 

When I was about 9, me and my two sisters were sitting in the living room of our old house. It was a fairly small house for 5 kids to be living in, my oldest brother Frank was the only one to have a room to himself. It was a Saturday, so we were just sitting around watching TV or listening to music when we heard Frank’s door open, you could always hear any door that was being opened in the entire house, no matter what room you were in. Frank’s door opened around noon and we thought nothing of it, it was common practice for both my brothers to stagger out of their rooms later in the day, a lot of the times they would call for me to bring them water because they were too hungover to get up, plus they knew I was happy to help. So we thought nothing of it until he carefully came down the 5-6 steps to the living room, and his face was mangled with cuts, scrapes, and bruises. There didn’t seem to be an inch of his face that was unaffected. We slightly gasped, eyes wide, and looked around at each other and him. He closed his already half shut eyes and softly shook his head as if saying ‘don’t ask.’ We didn’t, we knew we’d hear at least some of the story when our parents got home and saw his face, anyway. “Tommy,” his voice was hoarse, “get me a water, please.” I was happy to help.

 

We were all over Frank’s new house to watch a Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view. I don’t remember who he fought, but it was over quickly. So what usually happened at such gatherings happened, the gals formed a gal circle and talked about weddings or whatever, and we talked about the fight, which in turn, got my brothers recalling their war stories. “I just remember having, I don’t even know how many people, kicking me in the face, but being on top of this one dude, and I was just choking the shit out of him and actually saying to him, as this is all happening,” Frank’s hands were now out in front of him, choking the air, “‘were both gonna die tonight mothafucka,’ cuz I really thought I was gonna die, all I could see was feet,” he said, laughing all the while. “I bet that dude still tells that story to this day, he must’ve been horrified, like how is this kid talking about killing me while he’s getting stomped in the face.” The story was being directed at me even though by now I had heard it plenty of times, it seemed to come up every couple of years. “Then finally, Al and Tim started ripping people off of me  and got me up, and they were like ‘yo you’re fucked up, get on the bus,’ but I looked over and saw Dan just taking people out with a crutch and I was like ‘nah fuck that,’” he busted out laughing at this point, “and then I went after more people and like 5 dudes jumped on me again and Dan ran over and started taking them out with the crutch, I was like where the fuck this kid get a crutch?” Dan chimed in, “I took one of Steve’s crutches, that was after he fucked up his knee.” “Yea I had forgotten at the time, I guess due to the pummeling, but yea, then Dan got me up and got me on the bus, it was fuckin insane, pure mayhem.” “Yea,” Dan calmly agreed, “there was like 30 of them and like 10 of us, and one of us was on crutches, I think we still did pretty good,” then he laughed, “but it was still bad… I think you got it the worst.” Frank’s laughing fit had died down and he calmly replied, “yea it was pretty bad,” he laughed again, “I’m just happy I didn’t actually kill that kid, I don’t need that on my conscience.”

 

I guess it all depends on if they knew this attack was happening or not. If they knew, I could probably catch another 4 or 5 before their not yet fully developed fists and feet brought me down. But if they had no idea, at least half of them are booking it out of fear and sheer confusion. So let’s say there were 20, half of them bolt, plus the initial one I took out. That leaves 9. 9 confused, adolescents, I think I could take them all before they formed a united front.

 

I must’ve been 12 or 13, me and my friends were walking back from a movie, getting kicked out of a department store, calling each other faggots, whatever else 12 or 13 year olds did. We were about 20 minutes from home when another group of kids on bikes passed us. Nothing was said but there was certainly a fair deal of glaring. When they were almost out of earshot one of my friends yelled out “HEY!” or something, then shot them the finger. This was fairly common practice amongst 12 or 13 year olds, but perhaps ill-advised since they had bikes and we were on foot. A few minutes later the messenger from their group caught up to us and said they were gonna fuck us up. My friend who initiated all of this unconvincingly welcomed a fight, or perhaps it sounded unconvincing to me because I wanted no part of it. They had bikes for fuck’s sake, with pegs. This was what it must’ve felt like to see the Mongol Army approaching across the horizon for the first time. We continued walking and they continued following on their steads, 10-20 yards behind. We kept talking a good deal to hype ourselves up. “If they follow us around the bend, forget it.” “If they’re still behind us on Stoneham, that’s it.” “If they cross Guyon, we’re fucking them up.” “Oh god, I hope they follow us all the way back to the neighborhood, they won’t even know what hit ‘em.” Somewhere in the ever shifting line in the sand between Stoneham and Guyon, they retreated, lucky them. Sweet relief. The rest of the day we fantasized of the blood bath that would’ve ensued had they followed us a little longer.

 

I woke up on the couch at my brother’s apartment after a night of boozing. After some stirring, him and his girlfriend came out to the living room. None of us were in a real rush to do anything, so we sat around bullshitting, listening to music for a while. Somehow conversation drifted towards someone from his past that he used to wreak havoc with. Dan was 9 years older than me, so we didn’t hang much during his wreaking havoc days. “So these were the kids,” he was midway through the story about how he lost 98% hearing in his left ear, “these were the fuckin kids, and they, for some reason, I have no fuckin idea why, they came down to our neighborhood, and were talkin all this crazy shit.” His girlfriend Ashley was trying to get all the facts straight, “so wait…the kids you hit with the bowling pin, who then hit you with the bowling pin, later came down to where you hung out? To do what?” “Yea…well that was the thing, I’m not sure what they thought was gonna happen…but it was bad, my god, it was fuckin bad,” he said while laughing and shaking his head. “Why,” Ashley asked, “did you beat them up?” “Putting it lightly, yea…well I didn’t do anything, the fellas, uh,” Dan laughed again, “the fellas wouldn’t let me, they said they’d take care of it. So the kid Dave, my friend Dave, this is so wild thinking back on it, so the one kid’s sitting on the curb for some reason, tryin to look all cocky and talkin shit, and Dave just goes ‘oh shit! Look out for ya boy!’ and our other friend Steve came out of nowhere with a half full 40, and broke it over this kid’s head.” Dan was still chuckling and shaking his head, Ashley put her hands over her mouth and looked over at me as if to say ‘do you believe this?’ I could, I could believe it. I’ve heard this story and many more like it a million times over. “Oh my god, what the fuck,” she said. Dan continued “so yea, they just went to town on these kids…oh man it was fuckin bad, Jesus Christ, haha.” “Why are you laughing?!” “Cuz fuck them, they almost killed me.” “Well you hit somebody first.” “Well yea, I kinda had it coming, but still, fuck them anyway. Whatever, that’s how it was… crazy times.” She was shaking her head, not necessarily in disgust, more in amused disbelief, “a gang, you were in a fuckin gang.” “God…I think about all that stuff and it really seems like a whole other life, like a totally different life that didn’t actually happen.” She looked over at me, “meanwhile you’re so calm.” I smiled, “I just didn’t want to get smashed in the head with a bowling pin, I avoided all the mayhem.” Dan jumped back in, “that’s why I don’t speak to anybody from that era anymore, it just got to a point where I was just like ‘you know what, I don’t wanna do this anymore, I’m tired of beating the shit out of people because of my asshole friends.’” “Well why the fuck were you always beating the shit out of people,” she asked. “Because… we were a bunch of degenerates,” he laughed, “but it wasn’t all our fault, dudes would always start shit with us because there wasn’t a whole lot of us-whether it was over graffiti or a girl or fuckin whatever- they would have us wildly outnumbered but we were all maniacs and happened to be fuckin huge, so we would just fuckin charge them, and they’d be like ‘ahh AAHHHHHH’ and wouldn’t know what to do, and most of the time we’d win.” “A gang, you were a fuckin gang.” “It was just different times… My neighborhood was fuckin crazy growin’ up, it was only 3 blocks, but the concentration of lunatics in that place was insane. When I was like 12, this 16 year old just blasted me across the head with a 2×4…for no fuckin reason. I didn’t go outside for like 3 years.” She laughed, “and that’s when you said you got fat, right?” “Yea, I was horrified. I just stayed inside and ate entire pizzas, for like 3 years,” he said laughing and shaking his head.

 

The train let you off at the top of Guyon, it was about a mile and a half walk home. But it was on a downward slope, so even drunk at 2 in the morning it wasn’t too bad. Plus it was a beautiful summer night. A kid in my age range, 21, 22, something like that, got off the train a little before me. We were walking down the same side of Guyon, he was probably 2-3 blocks ahead of me. As I was approaching the main intersection at Hylan Blvd- which was about my halfway point- a car pulled up a block behind my fellow pedestrian, a kid with his hoodie up got out of the backseat, and began following him. I couldn’t tell if my fellow pedestrian noticed any of this happening, I slowed down a bit and used my peripherals to see if anyone was on my tail. Nothing yet. Before I arrived at the intersection the car pulled ahead of everybody and turned onto one of the crisscrossing side streets. Maybe I was in luck. My fellow pedestrian turned down a different street. Did he do this intentionally? I had no idea. The hooded kid jogged up in pursuit, but still appearing to keep a little distance. By the time I crossed the intersection, I had Guyon to myself, but it didn’t feel that way. I passed the street they turned on a minute later and nothing seemed to be happening, no sounds or signs of a struggle. Perhaps my fellow pedestrian escaped, perhaps he didn’t. I wasn’t sure which outcome would’ve worked more in my favor. Either way, I quickened my pace while trying to maintain a confident gait, and decided to forgo my usual shortcuts down side streets. A block before my normal shortcut, the same car slowly passed by me on the opposite side of Guyon, I pretended not to notice. I passed by my shortcut on Riga, passed Stoneham, and turned right on the next street, Mill. I gave one glance as I turned; the car had made a U-turn. Half way on Mill between the street I lived on and Guyon, another car was parked with people getting out of it. Civilians. Witnesses. The car slowly passed us all, but made the next left. My street was a one way, sandwiched in the middle of parallel running two way streets. All 3 ran about 1/3 of a mile long. All 3 were desolate, and I lived all the way at the bottom. I still had a chance if they didn’t park near the top. I jogged over, ducked behind a parked car, and peaked out. The car was stopped all the way down, seemingly right near my house. I figured this to be a coincidence, assuming these random assailants didn’t know where I lived. This would’ve been rotten luck if Dan hadn’t moved into the side apartment across from my parent’s house a few weeks prior. I ran down the sidewalk, slouching behind what few cars were parked there, until I got to an old friend’s vacant house, and ducked into his backyard to call Dan. He was home, he was awake, he didn’t really believe me, he sighed, “alright, gimme a minute.” He took a little longer than I would’ve liked. For 5-10 minutes I went between hiding and running out behind a parked car to peak my head out and see if the car was still there. And after 5-10 minutes the car pulled away and looped around to the adjacent street. I carefully jogged down towards my house; Dan appeared when I was almost all the way home. He was wearing basketball shorts and a white ginny-tee, covered in tattoos, and wielding my little league baseball bat, apparently it was his now. We met in the middle of the street, “well,” he looked around, “nobody’s here.” “They just turned the corner a minute ago, they were parked down there for like 10 minutes.” Alright,” he said, still not believing me, “and they followed you?” “Yea, maybe all the way from the train, I saw them tracking the kid ahead of me.” “Alright…you sure? You’re not just a little high? Paranoid, somethin’?” “Yea man, I’m fuckin sure, they’ve been following me since Hylan, and were parked down here and probably heard your door opening and drove off.” “Alright… guess we’ll just wait a minute and see if they come back.” He steadied the bat at the top of the barrel so it was standing on the asphalt, turned and started to piss in the middle of the street. A moment later headlights swept across the top of the block, a car was slowly coming down. “See man,” I said. “That’s the car?” “I can’t tell from here, but who else is it gonna be.” “Alright, let’s see what happens,” Dan said as he grabbed the handle of the bat. A minute later the car slowly passed us as we stood near the narrow sidewalk, staring in as they passed by. They parked in the middle of the street about 25 yards from us. We waited to see if anybody was getting out, when they didn’t Dan took a B-line for the car, my little league bat slightly shielded at his side, I followed right behind him. When we got within about 15 yards, two guys with their hoods up got out of the passenger side, the one who got out of the front seat leaned back in and grabbed something, then quickly stuck it in his pocket. They started to walk in our direction, but not straight at us. When we were a few yards out of striking distance, Dan slightly raised the bat and causally said, “hey fellas, what’s goin’ on tonight?” They put their heads down and walked right past us, opened the nearest gate, and scurried across the vacant backyards to the other parallel running street. The car peeled away, me and Dan stood in the middle of the street, watching them go. Dan looked at me and shrugged, “alright then.” We walked to his apartment and opened up a shitty bottle of wine. “Jesus man, what the fuck was that,” I said before taking a gulp. “A couple of fake frustrated tough guys cruising around on a Friday night looking for someone to beat on.” “What do you think that was the dude in the front seat grabbed?” “He grabbed something?” “Yea, he grabbed something as he was getting out and put it in his pocket.” “Really? I didn’t even see that, you sure?” “Yea, must’ve been like a Taser or some shit, it was small enough to fit in his pocket.” Dan took this in for a minute. “Hm, well now I’m pissed, I should’ve just cracked him with the fuckin’ bat if he had a Taser.” “Well I don’t know if it was definitely a Taser, just kinda looked like it.” He shook his head and looked off to the side for a second, “fuckin sweet boys. You know what, good thing I didn’t see that, good thing I didn’t see that and good thing Frank’s not here, we might be burying two bodies,” he laughed, “fuckin’ punks. That drives me nuts, it’s not bad enough you’re driving around jumping random people by themselves walking home, you need to fuckin electrocute them too. Good thing I didn’t see that fuckin pussy grab a Taser…” Dan went on about the ethics of brawling a bit more, while we polished off another bottle or two of Yellow Tail.

 

Then I started to think, what happened afterwards if I do level this group of bike riding teenagers. Say they are all sprawled out across the street and sidewalk, their bikes everywhere. It was a busy street, it might stop traffic. What happened next? There would be ample witnesses, possibly an adult who would see this heinous act and counter attack me. Even if it was someone I could normally take, I’d be tired from wailing on the children. Once I come to from my burst of fury, what’s my next move as I stood there, blood and bikes about? Do I continue to the bank? Turn and go home? Take a bike and make a run for it? It all seemed like a horrendous ending for me, so long story short, I didn’t do it.

 

I guess I was 19? 20? My friend was having a shindig in his basement apartment at his grandmother’s house, this was common practice at 19 or 20. A group of kids we knew to be douchebags showed up, and not too much later, began living up to their reputation. Well it started with one kid who I didn’t really know, friend of a friend, that kind of thing. Somebody called somebody else a faggot, and supposedly the other somebody was indeed gay. I never really got the story straight. I just saw a melee, and I didn’t really know the two kids at the bottom of the scrum, so I was just interested in keeping some order of peace for my friend and his grandmother’s sake. But once mayhem ensues, it’s difficult to retain peace. So there were kinda bodies everywhere, some trying to fight, most trying to break it up. I was one of the breaking it up people, until one of the main fighting people tried to throw a couple of haymakers at my friend whose house it was. I wasn’t sure what tunnel vision was, but that must’ve been the state I went into upon seeing these horrendously thrown punches in the direction of the party’s host. Outer body could’ve been another term, I yelled out, “YOU FUCKIN KIDDIN’ ME?” and darted in their direction, grabbed the assailant away from my friend, and rag dolled him what felt like 15 feet, across the lawn. As soon as I let him go, and he was sprawled out on the grass, attempting to get up, my other friend came out of nowhere to rock him in the face, but pulled up a tad last second and just forcefully tapped him with his fist. The first person I saw when I looked up was my friend’s grandmother, nervously leaning, half in half out, her screen door, staring at the ruckus. Thankfully nothing escalated after that, it might’ve killed her. I was replaying the brouhaha to my sisters and Frank the next day, before heading to a family BBQ. Upon the conclusion of my story, we headed out in separate cars. Me and my sisters in one, Frank and his girlfriend in the other. As we got in the car, Amy lit a cigarette and said “god, Frankie looked like he was gonna cream his pants while you were telling that little story.” Sue added, “reliving his past battles,” we laughed, “but seriously, don’t start being like them now, mom can’t handle another lunatic.” “I’m aware, it’s not like I went out looking for blood, this kid was swinging at my friend, what was I supposed to do.” “I know. I’m just saying… try to avoid it. You’re the good one, you can’t kill mom.” We laughed, and I rolled my eyes.

 

I arrived at the bank and deposited my tax return check. As I was coming out of the bank, an older guy of 75-80 was about 10 feet away. I walked through the door, waited a couple of extra seconds before leaving to hold the door open for him. “Thanks,” he said in a raspy tone, putting a little extra effort into his stride to take the door from me. “Have a good one,” I said with a smile. I nearly took a bow, what a gracious act.

Fireworks

    I was hanging out with my parents. My parents were having a thing, it was the Fourth of July, you know, so they had people over, they had everybody over, they were having a thing. I liked my parents, they were fine.

    So everybody came over, they’re all from my mom’s side, everybody came over, it was fine. But, you know, we all like to drink, so everybody came over and we were drinking and it was fine. But it was always fine until it wasn’t.

    At the end of the night I was hanging out with my dad and my uncle, everybody had left. My dad doesn’t drink anymore, he said, “what did I say?” My sister had left in a huff, and he didn’t know what he said. I kinda knew what he said, but it wasn’t a big deal, she overreacted, she got like that. 

   Later, I was hanging out with my mom and she said, “well he knows how she is when she’s drinking.” But we were all drinking. He didn’t drink anymore, but he had ideas, he had beliefs. We had opposing beliefs from him, he wasn’t talking about that, but it was always a comment away from becoming about that. So she left in a huff. My mom said “he knows how she gets.” 

   Everyone knew how everyone got, but it never made it any better, it always ended like that, it never ended with a song. 

Register

   I was there too, I was in line with them. Hard to say I was just an innocent bystander. I was there just as much as they were.   

  But I had the decency to never reproduce, give me that at least. At least I didn’t bring a clan of mini savages with me, and at least I wasn’t yelling a very personal conversation into my phone while ignoring the savages as they ran amok. Throwing hula hoops at each other and anyone else who crossed their paths, screaming across the store to the asshole who brought them into this world about some bullshit toy they wanted, as the asshole ignored them and yelled a very personal conversation into their phone, while their stomach drooped past the bottom of their shirt. Give me that, at least I didn’t bring all that, I just brought myself, give me that.  

   I had to have headphones in, I took out my headphones for a few seconds to focus on a text. I took out my headphones to concentrate and I heard the asshole’s personal conversation and the screaming savages and everyone else’s bullshit, and I understood mass shootings. I didn’t have a gun, but I understood mass shootings in that moment. 

  But I was there, I chose to be there. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I could’ve went somewhere else, but I went there. The sunglasses came in cool colors, and although the phone cases were dirt cheap, they were sturdy as fuck, so I decided to go there, I made that choice, I’ll concede that. 

  The guy at the register was old, too old to be the register guy at this place. Aloof teens should have been the only ones manning the register in such a god forsaken establishment. Instead it was this old man. He grinned at the behavior of the mini savages at one point, I was blown away. I was still somewhat young, and didn’t even work the register here, and I now understood mass shootings. Yet this old man, working an aloof teens job, grinned at these savages. He grinned as if to say, “kids, amirite?” But I thought they were complete savages. I was rooting for one of them to somehow get hurt by the hula hoops they were fucking with.

  I was there too, there was absolutely no denying that. I didn’t have to be there, I could’ve ordered a phone case and sunglasses online. That was the truth, I could’ve done that. But I was there. I was there with my nose up in the air, my eyes rolling back until I could see my brain. My higher functioning brain, higher than these savages and that fuckin asshole on the phone. Higher than the old man working an aloof teen’s job. Higher. Even though I was there too, even though I was also waiting in line. I could’ve left at any moment, I could’ve walked right out the door. 

Cooking Duel Theatre 3000

Cooking Duel Theatre 3000

     ​There was no reason to split a 12 pack in their parent’s living room on a Tuesday night while watching The Food Network, but there was no reason not to, so they popped open a Yuengling each.

​     One of the many Chef-off competition shows had started, and they were about to introduce the contestants as Stevie and Emilia lounged on their respective couches. The first chef was introduced and his audition tape began to play. “I’m Giacomo Roccorito, Executive Chef at Strive in Manhattan, a fine dining restaurant in the mecca of modern cuisine.” Emilia wasn’t having it, “oh my god, I already hate this guy. Your name is not Giacomo Roccorito, that’s nobody’s name, shut up.” “I’m classically trained and sickly ambitious. I like sexy, exciting food, the kinda food that just pops off the plate.” “Anyone who refers to food as sexy really needs to kill themselves, and quickly,” Stevie added. “I may be young, but I’m already very accomplished in the industry, and these other Chefs better watch out… yea, I got a few tricks up my sleeve,” Giacomo confidently laughed after this statement. Stevie put his beer down and began gesturing at the T.V with his hands, “why are you laughing, stop fake laughing, stop being you.” Emilia added, “he really needs to stop being him, he has to be someone else, immediately.” “I hate him.” “He better lose.” The next chef was introduced and her audition tape began to play. “I’m Stacy Stason, I’m 24, I’m a Sous Chef at Berri in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and I came here to win, so these other chefs better steer clear.” “I bet she’s here to prove that she can hang with the guys,” Emilia said. “I live and breathe food, I may look sweet, but I’m a fierce competitor. It’s a male dominated industry, and I’m here to show the boys what we girls can do in the kitchen.” “I think Stacy is setting women back by trying to show the boys what she can do in the kitchen.” “It’s only setting us back if she loses to that first douchebag.” The next chef was introduced. “I’m Jeffrey Gosewich and I’m Chef/Owner of Morning Catch in Portland, Maine. I may not work in a fancy New York restaurant, but I got the experience and skills to take this money back to Portland.” “I think Big Jeff should focus his bitterness on Portland, Oregon before he goes after New York, baby steps.” Emilia replied, “Jeff Gosewich has already surpassed that Portland in his mind, he’s going right for those fancy bastards.” “Bold Jeff Gosewich, very bold.” “I have two beautiful daughters, and unfortunately, this business doesn’t afford you much free time. So I wanna win for them. The money would let me spend more time with them, and they can say ‘hey, my dad’s a champ’.” “They’re never going to say that, you’re living in a god damn fantasy land Jeff Gosewich.” Emilia laughed, “how would ten thousand dollars help him spend more time with his kids? What’s he gonna abandon his restaurant for 3 weeks and hang out with them, until he realizes ten thousand dollars isn’t life changing?” “Hahaha seriously, like you can’t even get a new car with that money. Buy a plane ticket out of that fantasy land Jeff Gosewich and just start a college fund or some shit… and continue to neglect your children to pursue your dream, you selfish fuckin Jeff Gosewich. What a fuckin Jeff Gosewich this guy is.” “Yea they don’t need you anyway Jeff Gosewich.” The last Chef was introduced, her tape began to play as Stevie opened up two more Yuenglings. “I’m Mia Bertones, I’m 28 and I’m a Personal Chef and Caterer living in Miami.” Stevie took a few sips from his beer, “big gal.” Emilia had a mouthful of beer and was trying not to spit any out, “terrible.” “I know, I’m sorry Mia, for all I know you have a glandular disorder.” “I’ve always loved cooking and being in the kitchen from when I was a little girl cooking with my mother.” “Here it comes.” “Earlier this year my mother passed away… but I know she’s looking down on me… and I’m gonna win this for her.” Stevie asked, “how long until she brings up that her mother’s dead to the judges?” Emilia replied, “maybe she’ll do it before the first round even starts. They’ll unveil the ingredients and she’s gonna just yell out ‘MY MOTHER’S DEAD’.” Stevie laughed, “these people have no shame, what do they think like they’re not gonna care that their food sucks because their parents are dead?” Emilia began imitating a judge on the show, “well, this is the absolute worst, most over cooked, under seasoned piece of salmon I’ve ever eaten… but it’s really tough what you’ve been through, so here’s then thousand dollars.”

     ​Stevie was younger than Emilia by three years, but had a good eight inches on her. “How do I always end up on this retarded, tiny ass half a couch?” “Shut up, that’s how.” Stevie took a long sip from the bottle, “ohhhhh, that’s how.” He shifted around trying to find a way to get comfortable with his lanky limbs hanging off all sides of the couch, “this couch is fuckin ridiculous!” “You look very funny right now,” Emilia said while taking out her phone, “don’t move.” She took a picture and laughed, “that’s quite good.” “I’m glad… Let me see.” She threw her phone over to him, he laughed, “I look like a fuckin giant, invading a planet of dumb little couches.” “Yes, yes you do.” “But seriously, why is this here, why do we have this?” “I really don’t know… Not mom’s best decision. I’m surprised, she usually has better taste. I don’t know why she went with these like modern art chairs that are hard to sit on.” “Time to take her out back. If these are the choices she’s making, her time is up.” “That’s your line? For killing your mother? Poor couch choices?” He took another long sip, “yes. What’s the saying? Time to let her go graze? Throw her outside?” “Put her out to pasture?” “That’s the one. We gotta do that, you get a bad couch, you get put out to pasture.” “Harsh.” “Harsh, yes. Harsh but fair.” Emilia laughed, “but is it?” “There’s gotta be consequences. You can’t just go floating through life buying little couches when all of your sons are over 6 feet.” “Yea, but you’re the only one who still lives here.” Stevie felt his argument dwindling, “stop defending this dumb little couch, you come sit on it if you think mom should live.” Emilia took a sip from her bottle, “on second thought, maybe she needs to go… Speaking of dead mothers, this Mia broad is trying to make rice in the appetizer round.” “When will these fucks learn?” “How many people have to undercook rice on this show before they realize rice takes too long.” “She’s gonna be pushing that sob story hard.” “Yea, make up some lie about how her mother was able to cook rice in five minutes.” “I wish Joe Pesci was one of the judges for that, ‘was dis magic rice? Did she buy from da same guy who sold Jack his bean stalk beans?’” Emilia laughed and there was a brief pause in the conversation as they watched the show, then Stevie went back to his Pesci impression, “’are you sure about dose five minutes, are you sure about dose five minutes?!’” They both laughed, “I would give anything for that to happen right now.” “Let’s just put Cousin Vinny on.”

     They didn’t change the channel. They didn’t switch seats. They opened up a bag of Garden Salsa Sun Chips, they still had half the 12 pack left.

Girls With Strange Names

      My alarm would go off at 430, everything would still be dark, and I’d just think, “fuck, still? I still have to do this?” And that’s how it was for the entirety of our relationship. I’d wake up before the sun and just feel like, “fuck…” As I started driving in, I would think, “maybe I’ll get into a wreck and I won’t have to go in today, wouldn’t that be awesome,” but it never happened. She was away at school about 86% of the time, so it wasn’t like I was waking up next to a beautiful, warm body. I was just waking up and feeling “fuck.”
    My exes name was pretty standard, but it had a twist, a nice lemon twist. She had a “Y” where most white people with her name used an “I.” So it was different, she was different. She had a lemon twist, and a “Y” where there was typically an “I,” she was intriguing and smart and hilarious, stunning, but she was also intense, felt a good many feelings, intensely. It wasn’t easy. Her not being white was a lemon twist as well, but in a way I hadn’t considered, I wouldn’t say that was the main reason she was my ex, but it wasn’t not the reason.
   People told me interracial relationships were hard, but I would say, “pfffffft, it’s 2014-2016, wake up people, it’s merely a lemon twist!” And it was to a certain extent, but a more complex lemon twist, a lemon-lime twist, the kind of twist that could make your lips pucker. We ended on good terms, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments of puckering towards the end.
      I wasn’t waking before the sun anymore, I was waking up whenever I wanted. Funemployment the kid’s were calling it. I was however still waking up cold. Waking up next to a beautiful, warm body was down from 14% of the time to 0%, due to the puckering. When I decided to finally rise for the day, I would go to a local urban farm where I volunteered most of my free, sober time.
    The first girl I hooked up with, post puckering and lemon twists, was named after a famed European city, but she was American, borderline southern. We met at the Jersey shore, she did farm things as well, that was my in. She had a ridiculous voice, almost cartoonish, but she was a delight to look at, and even a greater delight to roll around the sand with. I didn’t even mind her unshaven legs, like her name, they had a strange appeal. She was couch surfing and wasn’t comfortable having sex on a public beach or her friends living room couch, so we never consummated. I never fully recovered from the blue balling of that weekend. But I’m confident that if I ever found myself near the borderline south, I could pay a visit to the famed European city.
   The girl who snapped my drought was a friend of the famed European city, and her name, well her name actually sounded quite Southern. But I think she was from like Connecticut or something, go figure. Her name sounded like hospitality, or a tire swing next to a rickety old porch, or sweet tea, or a pie made with some berry you’d never heard of before. We were hanging out at another mutual friend’s birthday party, a few months after my fling with the famed European city. We were back at our mutual friend’s house later on that night, and the dog kept trying to cock block me, every time she would touch my dick, the dog came over and use it’s mouth to throw a pillow on my face and started barking. The dog eventually left us alone, but I was like fuck, what has to happen for me to get laid. This drought was lengthy, and I really needed this sweet tea, this farkleberry pie. I wasn’t particularly attracted to her, maybe that’s why I didn’t remember exactly where she said she was from, or any other information about her at all.
      I had to wake up again, but the sun was up when I did, so it wasn’t all bad. The pay was bad, I guess when you were limited, you had to wake up before the sun to make decent money, who knew. The farm wasn’t able to employ me, but the restaurant that bought there produce was, so suddenly I was a cook. I had zero professional kitchen experience, so I was uneasy, felt like a fraud. I dreaded every order that came in.
     I was seeing my future sister in law’s best friend. She had a boy’s name with a few extra “e’s” added to make it sound feminine. I was a fan of that. The sex was phenomenal. The conversation, less than thrilling. This was a delicate situation. Not too long before that, before the farkleberry pie, I was in a Californiaesque drought, I remembered how tough it was out there, most girl’s had regular names. She was one of my future sister in law’s bridesmaids, I was one of my brother’s groomsmen. We were gonna be walking down the aisle together at their upcoming wedding. This was a delicate situation. We were fucking around for like a month or so, and it was feeling pretty casual. I felt like she wasn’t looking for that, perhaps because she mentioned she wasn’t comfortable with a casual relationship after the first time we had sex. I made her a nice birthday card, but wasn’t taking her on dates or talking to her that often or anything like that. I figured if i kept this up any longer, I was skating along the edge of being a pretty shitty person. The longer I kept up this charade the more awkward walking down the aisle at my brother’s wedding would be. The sex was phenomenal, she was quite attractive. But the conversation…less than thrilling. I had an out, I had just started cooking professionally. I pulled the “its not you, it’s me,” but with a lemon twist. I said, “it’s not you, it’s not me… it’s the job! Too much stress, too many hours, I don’t know what I’m doing, it wouldn’t be fair to you. I couldn’t be as present as I would want to be in a more than casual relationship.” Hook, line, and sinker, I couldn’t believe how well that worked. Nobody was hurt, but I was back out there.
    I woke up hungover and went to this party where I didn’t think I was going to know anyone, I was dreading it all day before going there. Ended up having a blast, I met this girl who I kinda met a few times before, but had never had a conversation with. I just assumed she wasn’t interested, but on that day she was interested from the second I walked in. She was named after a color, and not some bland primary or secondary color, it was a tertiary, or whatever comes after tertiary, color. We hung out, danced, talked, all that jazz, the entire party. She was smart, and the kind of hot only rich girls could pull off, charismatic, and kind of annoying, but I was very drawn in. I was in the beginning stages of what felt like could be another substantial drought, who was I to knit pick just because she was harmonizing without jest with her sister to a Mariah Carey song. She was a Manhattanite, openly and knowledgeably talked about the anatomy of the vagina and how orgasms worked, you know that kind of girl, the kind that’s named after a tertiary color. After the impromptu anatomy lesson, I figured I was in. After I dropped her off at the train and we exchanged numbers and later got one of those dumb ass emoji things sent to me, I knew I was in. A few party goers even went out of their way to say things like, “by the way, you’re totally in.” I texted her some pedestrian joke about my terrible spelling a few days later, trying to get a conversation started, and she didn’t answer me for a day. When she finally did answer, she was short and uninterested. I was baffled. These storm clouds were a fake out, they passed right over, leaving me parched and smoldering.
   I had to wait for a girl named after a poem, or the wind, or something to come along now. Who knew how long that would be. I didn’t have many options at work, but they finally hired a real looker as a waitress. I felt like we were flirting a good deal, but then she mentioned something about a firefighter boyfriend. This wasn’t surprising, she had a pretty regular name, girl’s with regular names loved firemen, and dudes in the army. Heros. I was no hero, I wanted to wake up when I felt like it.