Don’t Say I Never Gave You Nothin

Originally published in Newtown Literary Journal Issue 8, Spring/Summer 2016.

If Marie died the least I can do is get the cold cuts. Your mother, excuse me, god rest her soul. Thirty-seven years I lived next door to her. We shared a wall for cryin out loud. I can get cold cuts.

You’re nice to say you don’t need em and I know you’re gettin some trays from the Stop n’ Shop for the wake. Or the get together or whatever you wanna call it. I know the wake’s at the funeral home and the food’s for people comin over the house afterwards. But what kinda wake would it be without cold cuts? Or get together or whatever. Call it whatever you want but you need cold cuts.

I remember my grampa died and we’re all at his house and gramma’s throwin herself on the coffin and she’s howlin like mad, He went straight to heaven I just know it! And I’m just a tiny thing so I don’t know from nothin but it makes me sad to look at that so I stare at the spread instead and there’s food piled on the kitchen table and this huge tray of cold cuts all curled up. You know how they curl em up like that? Ham and provolone in these little tubes. I kept grabbin em and shoving em into my mouth. I didn’t know no better. God I was so sick the next day!

I watched you from when you and your brother was little. You remember that? Me and Marie, excuse me, your mother we’d watch you and your brother play with my Johnny. He’s down in the Carolinas now. Can’t remember which one. Never been down there. You believe that? Gotta be ten years he’s down there now and I never been. But me and your mother would sit on the stoop and watch youse kids playin catch and ridin your bikes. We didn’t talk much. I mean I talked a lot. Me, I’m always yappin. I’d dish all the latest news on the block with your mother. Who got canned and who got kicked outta the house and who was in trouble. Your mother, she’d nod or say, That’s a shame. That’s about it.

Your mother would always sit right on the edge of a stair. Like she was ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, like a lion. Most of the time your mother would say she had a thing to do in the house and she’d ask me if I could keep an eye on you and your brother and I always said okay no problem and off she’d go. She’d always be back in the house for a while. An hour sometimes. I didn’t mind.

Continue reading Don’t Say I Never Gave You Nothin

How to Predict the Future at Exactly the Wrong Time

Years ago I wrote a novel. It did not exactly set the world on fire, though the same can be said for 99% of everything written ever. However, I’ve been thinking about that book a lot of late because I believe it may have suffered from the fact that it came out at exactly the wrong time.

The book was called Hang A Crooked Number, and its central conceit was that professional baseball was a front for a domestic intelligence organization. The conflict of the novel occurs between that organization’s established leadership, which prefers low-key data-driven work, and a faction of cavemen types who want the organization be more brazen and brutal in their methods. The main character is an aging prospect who has yet to break into the bigs. When he finds himself caught up in the wonks vs. cavemen fight, he spots a chance to make his mark and finally earn his way to The Show. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t go so well for him.

I began writing the book as a thinly veiled allegory for the reality-bending horror of the Bush Years, with a healthy serving of the Stat Nerds vs. Jocks wars that flared up in baseball during the mid-2000s. But by the time I actually finished writing the novel, both of those eras had long passed. Obama was already into his second term, and everyone was eager to think of the Bush years as a distant memory. Meanwhile in the baseball world, the nerds had definitively won the data wars, and only the get-off-my-lawn-iest cranks argued otherwise.

In other words, the novel had two strikes against it before it even stepped up to the plate. This may explain why I failed to interest any agent in the novel, and why, once I self published it, no one wanted to read it. I’m also inclined to think that the novel wasn’t that good, probably? That may possibly have been a factor.

Nonetheless, Hang A Crooked Number has come to mind a lot lately. When I wrote it, I tried to create a world that was slightly more grotesque than the reality of the moment. Lo and behold, Bush Years + 25% More Horror = something that looks a lot like TrumpAmerica. To wit:

  • The world doesn’t quite work, and no one expects it to anymore. Things are broken and don’t get fixed. Roadblocks and train stoppages set up to combat terrorism do little more than annoy commuters. Severe storms level whole neighborhoods with such a frequency that the events are no longer shocking. There is no expectation that any of these conditions will ever improve.
  • Apart from the protagonist/narrator, the most important character in the novel is a former superstar trying to work his way back to the big leagues, nicknamed The Swing. He is an incurious dolt who keeps succeeding almost by accident. He has no interest in learning anything about his own abilities or the world around him, yet makes continual word-salad pronouncements on these and many other subjects. He is eventually promoted to the majors purely as a publicity stunt, by a team that has zero chance of winning anything.
  • The main character (referred to only by his nickname, Backstop) has a handler who also serves as the only source for extremely valuable intelligence. The caveman wing of the organization tries to recruit Backstop by insisting his handler is actually a double agent for a terrorist group. In his attempt to find out the truth, Backstop inadvertently sets up a sting operation that, for all intents and purposes, forces his handler to commit the crime his enemies had already accused him of, making their accusation retroactively correct.
  • Backstop then finds out that the cavemen who hoodwinked him aren’t as dumb and primitive as he thought. They wanted access to his handler’s source, and with his handler out of the way, now they have it. They also wanted Backstop to rope The Swing into their schemes, and he unknowingly does this as well. Their main goal was obtaining power, and they obtained it by feigning stupidity in a way that some found appealing.

Granted, there is plenty in this book that is not at all relevant to modern times. There’s almost no use or mention of social media in it, for instance, or of the oddly Ayn Rand-ian world of the modern technocracy. Straight-up white nationalism makes no appearance, either. But the above items are enough to make me think that the novel may have failed as much for its timing as for its overall quality. I’m good at some things and bad at many others, but one of the things I am least skilled at is timing. This would be my Exhibit A in that case.

Had I know a Trump presidency would have made my novel more relevant…well, actually, had I known a Trump presidency would even happen, a novel would’ve been the least of my concerns.

Mao Zedonald

These days, there’s no shortage of people casting dire warnings about Donald Trump. Each time the president makes another statement, millions of people point out the eerie similarities between his latest “tactic” and those employed by brutal dictators of old.

The dictator to whom Trump is most often compared is Hitler, an extreme comparison that would be totally unfair if not for the fact  that many of his closest advisers are full-blown white nationalists. At the risk of splitting hairs while the world burns, Trump’s style of governing (such as it is) does not remind me so much of Der Fuhrer, whose horror was at least meticulously planned. His first chaotic days in office remind me more of a completely different despot: Mao Zedong. Specifically, they call to mind Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

I’ve long been fascinated by hermetically-sealed cults of personality, like North Korea, and regimes that attempted to halt history in its tracks, like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.  But the place and period that fascinates me the most is China under the Cultural Revolution (which ran roughly from 1966 until Mao’s death 10 years later), which combined a cult of personality with an insane push to erase history into one horrifying amalgam.

During the Cultural Revolution, everyone in China—all 1 billion of them—was taught to worship Chairman Mao as if he were a god. Mao had always been officially revered, but this period elevated him to an insane, untouchable level. Mao made sure he remained at this level by fomenting a climate of “permanent revolution” in which any vestige of the past was questioned, then destroyed. The result was a roiling chaos that left everyone too confused, terrified, and exhausted to question anything Mao had done.

Even if you know nothing about Mao or the Cultural Revolution, this has an obvious, superficial resemblance to Trump. His election was an attempt to destroy all political norms that preceded it—both the Clintonite neoliberal consensus and the staid fiscal/intellectual conservative wing of the GOP. In the place of both of these, Trump has created a new political reality that revolves exclusively around his own whims.

But how are the two men specifically similar?  Allow me to demonstrate.

Continue reading Mao Zedonald

Official Outrage Meets the Belt-Whipping Klansman of Route 208

I belonged to the first generation of kids who were taught racism was bad. By that I mean taught formally, officially, in school. By the time I began kindergarten, the civil rights battles of 1960s had entered the realm of Settled History, with clear victors and losers, heroes and villains. There was once a time, we were told, where discrimination based on the color of one’s skin ran rampant, but now racism had been vanquished thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Cosby.

Around the time when the first MLK Day was celebrated, my elementary school hosted a presentation wherein someone who bore a remarkable likeness to the man himself reenacted the I Have A Dream speech, and led an entire cafetorium in the singing of “We Shall Overcome.” As a budding history nerd and self-righteous soul, this presentation genuinely moved me. In a fit of Lisa Simpson-esque civic earnestness, I felt compelled to write a letter to the White House, asking the president what I could or should do for the cause of civil rights. Because the president at the time was Ronald Reagan, I received a photo of The Gipper and a form letter that made no mention whatsoever of Civil Rights.

This setback notwithstanding, the message that Racism = Bad was constantly reinforced throughout my childhood, both in school and in kid-aimed PSAs like One To Grow On, wherein the ethical quandaries of the age were resolved by Nancy McKeon and Soleil Moon-Frye. The belief of the inherent equality of all humans seemed less a belief that needed to be held, but a fact that I acknowledged. I never encountered anyone who felt otherwise.

And then I met my bully.

Continue reading Official Outrage Meets the Belt-Whipping Klansman of Route 208

What’s Cookin

With the sheer amount of insanity that has transpired in the last week or so of the presidential campaigns (never mind the accumulated insanity to this point), you easily could have missed a special sliver of crazy that emerged down the home stretch. It’s difficult for anything or anyone to appear particularly bonkers in an election season that has legitimized the voices of anime-loving Nazis. That feat was managed late last week when the topic of Spirit Cooking lit social media aflame.

The budget version (and fair warning, even this condensed explanation could lower your IQ several points) proceeds thusly: the fire-and-brimstone segment of the electorate pored over the recent Wikileaks emails and found one in which Hillary Clinton operative John Podesta talked about attending a show by performance artist Marina Abramovic called Spirit Cooking. Said show purports to involve various bodily fluids, pig’s blood, self-cutting, etc., in a tortured bohemian tableau familiar to anyone who’s ever been dragged to a freshman art show. Through the fevered interpretation of the Alex Jones crowd, however, Abramovic’s work was not a high-school-goth level metaphor but an act of actual witchcraft.

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You Have to See This Thing

You have to see thing. I can’t believe I never made you watch it. It’s so stupid. I have this tape from when I was a kid and oh my god. You just have to see it.

This kid was in my class in elementary school. Every year kindergarten through fifth grade. Had this weird lisp that never went away. You know some kids can’t talk quite right yet when they first start school but they figure it out as they get older? This kid couldn’t. It just stuck on him.

We’d play Hot Wheels or whatever on the playground when we were little but he kept wanting to do it as we got older way beyond when we shoulda been playing with Hot Wheels. All the other kids started making fun of the way he talks. Like to his face. I don’t think they woulda done it if he was just a little off anyways but since he was it was like fair game. So I don’t wanna really hang out with him too much anymore. I mean I was nice enough to him. Didn’t really make fun of him or nothing like that. We lived on the same street so we had to ride the bus together and we’d walk home when we got dropped off. Not together. More like side by side.

He was too much like a little kid still and it bugged me. He was the youngest of six which I bet is rough in its own way but I was a kid and I didn’t care about that at the time. I just didn’t wanna hang out with this weird little guy anymore and he didn’t seem to get it.

So anyway. His dad puts in his 30 and the family moves off to one of the Carolinas the  summer before sixth grade. I didn’t think of this kid for a minute after he left. And then one day I get home from school and my mom says I got a package. I’m not expecting nothing and you know when you’re a kid getting a package in the mail is like the greatest thrill in the world. It was one of those manila envelopes with the bubble wrap inside. I open this thing up and it’s a VHS tape. No label on it or nothing.

I pop it in the VCR and oh my god. I almost died. It’s a home video of this kid. He grew a little since I last seen him but only a little. But he’s trying so hard to be a teenager. So god damn hard. He’s wearing what woulda been the hot fashion back then. An Agassi shirt and Bugle Boy jean shorts and a paid of gleaming white Reebok Pumps. Kid’s got a chain too. White gold it looks like. I would bet a million dollars he’s drenched in Drakkar Noir too. His hair’s moussed to death or at least what I can see of it because the camera’s on a tripod or something and the way the shot is angled it cuts off the top of his head. He’s sitting on his bed with one leg up and one hanging off the bed like he’s a camp counselor about to give me some real serious talk.

He starts talking to me. What’s up man. Haven’t seen you in a while. His voice is a little deeper than the year before but just barely and he’s trying to make up for it by talking as low as he can. He sounds like a cartoon and with the lisp on top of it the way he talks is almost upsetting. He tells me Carolina’s a little hotter than Queens but he’s used to it already. There’s no palm trees. I thought there were palm trees he says and he does this theatrical shrug that kills me just to think about it.

He’s showing me his new room. The new Super Nintendo games he got. A crossbow he begged to get for his birthday. The poster of a girl in a bikini washing a Lamborghini on his wall. And he’s talking about it all like he’s a god damn millionaire who’s made it to the top. He actually says Yeah life’s pretty good and clasps his arms behind his head. Except with the lisp it comes out life’th pretty good.

Then he starts talking about his new junior high and he’s trying to play like he’s a big man there too. Tells me he has a girlfriend named Tina. She’th awethome. Totally hot too. And I think to myself oh man no why are you saying that. I know you’re lying about having a girlfriend. Why are you doing this no please stop.

He’s been looking straight at the camera the whole time so it’s weird when he looks away all of a sudden. Darts his head like he heard a noise.

Thome of the kidth at thchool can be jerkth he says. But what can you do. It ith what it ith. And there’s a super long pause and he looks around the room. Like what he needs to say next is written somewhere but he can’t find it.

Then asks me to write him back but he stops himself mid-sentence. I mean tape. Video. Thend a tape. Tape yourthelf. And I swear to god he smacks himself in the head. He says Thupid in this squeaky cracking voice and he gets up off the bed and you see him turn off the camera and that’s it.

My mom thought this was the sweetest thing that he wanted to keep in touch and told me I should send him a tape too. She nagged me about it for months and I kept telling her I’d do it until she forgot or figured out there was no way in hell I was gonna do that.

Every time a friend came to my house for years I made them watch that tape. If they knew the kid it was funny. If they didn’t know him it was even funnier. The desperate sweaty try-hard-ness of the whole thing. Me and my friends would quote it to each other. If someone fucked up we’d say thupid just the way he did.

Freshman year of college we’d watch this thing in my dorm room every Friday night before we went out. I did a shot-for-shot remake of it for an intro to filmmaking class even though it confused the shit out of the professor. I’ve showed it at every party I ever had at every place I’ve ever lived. Like it’s three am and things are winding down I pop the tape in as a treat to everyone who stuck around that long. Sometimes somebody would be like oh no this fucking thing again and I’d be like yes this fucking thing again.

The tape made me laugh even harder as the years went by. If I had a shitty day at work I’d come home and pop the tape in. I still have a VCR just so I can watch it. The clothes the kid wore were so in that moment. Like if he taped it a week later he’d have been wearing something completely different. He looks so trapped in that time. He looks so trapped.

The tape used to be the litmus test for every girl I went out with. Like if they didn’t think it was funny then things probably weren’t going to work out. I was dating this one girl for like two months before I showed it to her and I thought we got along well enough but she didn’t think it was even a little funny. She said I was laughing at this poor kid and I was being too cruel. I told her I’m not laughing at him. I’m not laughing at whoever this person is now. I’m laughing 20 years later at a dumb kid doing something dumb. And this girl said But he’s still here. And I don’t know if she meant the kid is out there somewhere or she meant he was there on the TV screen. Anyway it didn’t work out between us. Probably dodged a bullet.

I thought about putting it on YouTube. I bet it’d get a million views. I know it would. But people would share it for a couple of days and it’d be forgotten. Who remembers what people were sharing last week let alone last year? This way it’s mine. I’m the gatekeeper. I decide who gets to see it. You come to my house and you watch or you don’t get to watch it.

If random people watched the video they would laugh at him. I’m not laughing at him. I’m laughing at this one moment caught on tape. The other day I tripped walking up the subway stairs and dropped an ice coffee all over the place. This guy walking in the other direction laughed and I was mad for a moment but then I thought shit if I saw myself at that split second I probably would have laughed too. That guy might still be laughing now and there ain’t shit I can do about it. So let him laugh.

This kid is probably fine now. He’s probably doing better than me. I got a crappy apartment and a job I can’t stand and meanwhile for all I know he’s a CEO with a penthouse and a hot wife named Tina. Got a speech therapist and got rid of that lisp. Everything’s great for him now. Better than things are for me. I bet.

But you gotta see this thing. It’s real. I mean it’s really something.

Trump, Bush, and the Curse of Memory

The worst thing about Donald Trump is that he’ll get to come back.

There are many terrible things about Donald Trump The Presidential Candidate, to be sure, more than I care enumerate in this space. But the worst thing of all about him is that he won’t have to pay for any of these sins. He won’t be punished for empowering an army of nazis (online and off), or stoking revenge fantasies among a sizable portion of the electorate that will be impossible for the next president to douse, or even for being a goddamn creep of the highest order. This is all next-level awful, and bodes ill for the presidential elections of 2020 and beyond, when another fascist with sharper political skills and a modicum of impulse control could play the Nixon to Trump’s George Wallace.

But even if we wind up with an actual race-baiting Putin-worshiping monster in the White House 4 or 8 or 12 years from now—someone who will have marched there on a road Trump paved—Trump himself will not receive the slightest blame for it, and he will not only be unrepentant, but will not be forced to answer any hard questions about the horror he has unleashed.

This won’t happen because Trump is a psychopath who can compartmentalize the segments of his consciousness like a serial killer, or because he’s a self-proclaimed multibillionaire who can spend his way out of trouble, although these factors certainly help. This will happen because no one will call him to account. On the face of it, this seems impossible; surely Trump will have to answer for something he’s done during this election. But American political history—particularly that of the last 20 years or so—provides ample evidence to prove this, and the hyper-accelerated pace of media and life in general guarantees it.

Continue reading Trump, Bush, and the Curse of Memory

I Want to Live on a Paid Street

I want to live on a paid street. The paid streets have the nice buildings and the good stores. There’s no good stores on the free streets where I live. On the paid streets they got grocery stores with fresh stuff in all the windows. They got real herbs in the stores on the paid streets. These big bushy green things that look like trees. I don’t even know if I want to eat any of that stuff but I know they got it. Plus they got coffee shops and bookstores and other places like that. There’s hardly any stores on the free streets except for the check cashing spots and bodegas and the bodegas got nothing in them but black bananas and ramen.

The roads are better on the paid streets and there’s hardly any traffic on them because they got these trolleys that run right down the middle of the street. The trolleys don’t even got drivers. They’re like robots and they know where to go and when to stop. The roads on the paid streets don’t got all those potholes like the free streets do. Mom wrecked her car going over one when she was driving a little too fast because she was running late to work and she bottomed out and cracked an axle. Now we gotta ride the free streets buses that smell like shit. The fare is $3.75 and they only take quarters so I gotta lug around 8 pounds of quarters just to get to school and go back home again.

You can’t drive on the paid streets unless you live there. If you live on the paid streets it’s because you work for the company that maintains them or you live in one of the buildings the company owns or something like that. Mom explained it to me once but I still don’t get it because she works for the company too. She says it’s because she only works in the cafeteria and I said to her but that’s still working for them and she says it’s not enough. The rules say she could live on a paid street if she made enough money to get a place there but you don’t make enough money working in the cafeteria and that’s just how it is.

They got these toll booth things where the paid streets start and the toll booths scan your plates so they know if you’re allowed to drive there. If you’re not supposed to drive on the paid streets these barriers go up that cut your tires to shreds. But the paid streets are right in the middle of town and you gotta go around them to get from the east side to the west. It takes forever. When we had the car and mom wanted to visit my aunt sometimes she’d try to go through the paid streets because some of the toll booths worked better than others and you could sneak through if you were lucky. And sometimes it worked although she felt weird because she thought her old car stuck out against all the Lexuses and Priuses the paid street people got.

One time we snuck through a toll booth and we got into the paid streets but when we got to the end of the paid streets the barrier went up ahead of us and these cops came out to give mom a hard time telling her, You know you not supposed to be here. The cops got different uniforms on the paid streets. Not dark blue but light brown that’s almost green. They made mom go back the way she came and followed her in a squad car the whole way with the lights on like she was some dangerous criminal. Then a couple days later she got a bill in the mail for using the paid streets when she wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know how much it was for but she was pissed.

We can’t go the paid streets but the people in the paid streets can come to the free streets any time they want. You see them pull up in shiny cars at the Mexican place down the street. I think it’s Mexican. The sign’s in Spanish. My friend Javy is Colombian and he says it’s not Colombian but that’s all he knows for sure. It got a good review in the paper or something and all of a sudden the place was packed past midnight every night with paid street people spilling out onto the block. I can hear them all the way down in my bedroom which is four buildings away and five stories higher. The paid street people never shut up. You see their cars at the dispensary too. They didn’t want to put a dispensary on the paid streets. They fought it like hell. I saw the paid street people yelling about it and shaking signs at the mayor on the news. But you sure as hell see a lotta paid street cars outside it all day long.

They used to open the paid streets once a year around the Fourth of July. When I was little that was my favorite thing to do all summer. When the paid streets was open they gave out free ice cream cones and balloons which is all you need to make you happy when you’re a little kid. They had an inflatable bouncy castle I went in maybe a hundred times before mom dragged me out of there. They had fireworks at night. It was great.

And then there was the Fourth of July when mom said I was too old for her to take me there but I still wanted to go so I went to the paid streets with my friend Javy from school. But it felt different. I felt it right away but I didn’t want to feel it. I wanted to think it was still the same way it always was. So I just pretended like the feeling wasn’t there and everything was fine.

We got balloons and ice cream even though we were in junior high already. I don’t even know why we did that. I guess because in my head that’s what you were supposed to do when you went to the paid streets and I didn’t know what else to do. Me and Javy waited on line for a half hour to get a tiny little ice cream cone and when we got to the front of the line the guy in the ice cream truck took a look at us and he squinted like he couldn’t see us too good and he said, Really? You ain’t too big for this? Before we got to the front I seen him serve tiny ice creams to grown ups from the paid streets. Some of them was old too. White hair or bald heads. And he didn’t say nothing to any of them. So I said, Yeah really. It’s hot. We want ice cream. The ice cream guy sighed real loud like we was asking a huge favor. Like we wanted more than everyone who came before us.

And as soon as me and Javy got our cones I could feel all these paid street eyes on me. I’d look off to the side and they were staring at us. But they’d look away soon as I locked eyes with them. They were ashamed of staring at us but not so ashamed that they didn’t do it.

Me and Javy sat on a bench outside a coffee shop to eat our cones and this lady with an apron came out and she said to us, Excuse me can you please eat those somewhere else? And I asked her why and she said, I would just appreciate it. Thanks. My friend Javy asked her what we were doing wrong but she went back inside and we saw her take out her cell phone and talk to someone while staring at us the whole time. So we figured we better move.

So we’re eating our cones walking down the paid streets and Javy tells me that the trolley thing that runs down the middle of the street will stop automatically if you step in the track. I saw one of the trolleys was coming down the track so I told him to prove it. When the trolley was about 20 feet away from us Javy jumped on the track and landed in a karate stance like he was ready to fight it. The trolley stopped short with a squeak and the power lines up top shot out a few sparks.

Then Javy told me, Now you have to. So I ran ahead a little bit and I waited until the trolley was a little closer than when Javy jumped and I ran across the track. Javy called me a punk because I didn’t stop and stand on the track like he did but the trolley stopped anyway and there was even more sparks this time.

Then we took turns doing it. We’d let the trolley start up and move a little bit and then one of us would jump on the track or across the tracks or sprint through them. I would jump over and make a stupid face toward the trolley in mid-air. Me and Javy couldn’t stop laughing.

There was only six or seven people on the trolley maybe but I could see all of them was pissed. This nerdy looking guy with glasses leaned out a window and called us thugs and told us to stop. So Javy yelled back, Come out and make us. Of course he didn’t do nothing about it.

Then we see the paid street cops come running after us. The paid street cops don’t got guns but I heard they got tasers because there was a kid in the next building who got zapped the last Fourth of July when a paid street store thought he stole a pack of gum. And I knew for sure the paid street cops got clubs because I could seem them flapping back and forth as they jogged toward me and Javy. So we booked it. There was five blocks between us and the end of the paid streets. I never ran so fast in my life. My lungs was burning by the end.

Me and Javy made it out safe and when we got out into the free streets the paid street cops stopped short because they couldn’t do nothing to us once we got there. Javy grabbed his balls and screamed at the paid street cops and all the paid street people who was staring at us from the other side of the border. That’s right, Javy said, you can’t do shit to us now you punk ass bitches.

But the paid street cops and the paid street people looking back at us didn’t look mad or scared or nothing like that. They looked sad. And that made me so god damn angry. Don’t look at me like that. Don’t be sad because you see me. I can be where you’re at. All you got is money and all I need is money and we’ll be in the same place and you will look me in the eye on a paid street.

Labor Days

It is not a good time to work in a creative field, from a financial standpoint if nothing else. Despite this cold hard fact—or perhaps because of it—it is impossible to spend any time online without encountering aggressive creative encouragement. Every few days, you will encounter some meme ordering you to forge ahead with your project, which are basically 21st century versions of Hang in there! Barring that, you will receive a link to a personal essay that uses 2-3K words to broadcast the same message, usually depicting a Hero’s Journey from Unhappily Not Doing Things to Joyfully Doing Things.

As someone with writerly ambitions, my own anecdotal experience shows that literary corners of the internet are lousy with this stuff. The solitary nature of writing lends itself to a state of isolation that is susceptible to anything resembling encouragement, no matter how trite the sentiment or unrepeatable the path to success.

My pessimistic nature would cause me to chafe against these appeals regardless. But the more of it I run across, the more I believe it completely misses the boat in terms of what really ails anyone who aspires to do creative things.

Continue reading Labor Days

I Was Under the River Ma

I was under the river ma. The river. The East River. I was on the subway when you called. You know there’s no cell phone service in the tunnels. You know that. Can you hear me now. I can’t speak too loud. I’m on a train and I’m standing up and it’s crowded and I don’t wanna yell in some guy’s ear. How can there be a problem with the pills. I was just there yesterday and I set up all the carrousel for you for the month. Not a horse carrousel ma. The pill carrousel. It’s right there on the kitchen table. I don’t know why they call it that ma. Because it spins around I guess. It’s what the box said when I got it at Target. Today’s the first so just look for the little plastic box with the 1 on it and take that out and those are your pills for today. Why are you taking your pills now. It’s like 6 o’clock. You gotta take them all in the morning. Check your marker boards. I put them in the living room and the kitchen and the bedroom with all the important info on it so if you ever forget something no matter where you’re at you don’t gotta look far. Why are you looking for 2. Tomorrow is the second. No. Don’t take the 2 box out so you don’t forget tomorrow. They’re set up in the carrousel in number order so you can’t forget nothing. That’s what it’s for. What do you mean there’s no 2. I swear to god ma I was there on Sunday and I counted every pill for every day and I put every little box back in the carrousel. It’s gotta be there. I know it’s there. I’m not yelling. I know what I did is all. Find 1 then look right next to it and that’s 2. What do you mean there’s a space there. There’s no space there. I’m not yelling. Fine. If you can’t find 2 then do this. Look for 9.  The number 9 ma. Look for the number 9. You’re looking for 9 because that’s next Tuesday. You found it. Good. Take the 9 box out and open it up. Is there a little yellow pill in there. That’s the thyroid. You take those on Tuesdays. Take the 9 box and put it where the 2 box should be. Next to the 1. That way you’ll take the right pills tomorrow and I’ll fix the carrousel next time I’m there. What do you mean you can’t put nothing there. You just told me there’s a space next to 1. If there’s no space then what’s there. Then what’s there ma. Describe to me what you see. Explain to me what you’re seeing with your eyes because I do not have ESP. I can’t channel myself into your kitchen and see what you’re seeing. I’m not yelling. I sound upset to you. I been at work all day and I’m standing on this train and the AC don’t work so I’m sweating like a pig and I still gotta pick up Sara from afterschool and grab dinner. My day isn’t even close to being over ma. Sara. Your granddaughter ma. I put a picture of her on the boards. She’s wearing her tee ball uniform. Tee ball. It’s like little league. I can’t go over there tonight ma. Not tonight ma. No. Because Joe’s working nights now and he’s got the car. Joe. My husband Joe ma. His picture’s not on the board ma. No his name isn’t Greg ma. You’re thinking of Greg from high school. I’m sure I didn’t marry Greg ma. Because he fell out a window. Because drugs probably. I don’t wanna talk about Greg. It’s not that I don’t wanna help you. I’m there all the time ma. No. Do not call Steve ma. Because he won’t come and you’ll just get mad and even if he does come over he’ll be drunk off his ass and he’ll be useless like always. I don’t care if he’s my brother. Yes I can say that because it’s true. Don’t tell me to give him help. I help him all the time ma. I gave him 100 bucks last week even though I knew where it was going. I’m trying to figure this out ma. Because you can’t call Steve but I can’t hump over to your place on the 59 with a six year old under my arm. I’m alone tonight ma. You know what this is like. Yeah I got one kid instead of two but you know this is hard all alone and you want me to drop everything and. Jesus don’t cry ma. No I’m not gonna be happy when god comes to take you ma. Why would you say that. I’m doing everything I can. I can’t do this every night. Yes it is every night with this. Yes it is ma. You don’t know it’s every night because you’re. No. For the last time don’t call Steve ma. No I don’t trust Steve to even find a god damn 2. You’ll be lucky if he don’t take your ATM card. You didn’t give him your new PIN did you. I was on the phone with the bank for 2 hours clearing it up the last time you did that. Has he been by. Has he been by ma. Yes or no. I can’t do this. I can’t. No Steve ma. No. Then I’ll figure something out. That’s what I do. It’s always me. I’ll make it work ma. Look. This is my stop. I love you. I gotta go.

A potentially explosive collection of verbal irritants