Monthly Archives: September 2010

Contents Are Very Hot

This is an older piece, newly revised.

I ended up kissing that kid Joey from high school at the bar on Thursday night. It was messy, and I probably never would have thought twice about it if Tim hadn’t called me the next day to “talk things over.” I asked him what the hell there was left to say on the matter.

I met him at Peet’s Coffee an hour later. I had that kiss with Joey under my belt as ammunition, a final proof that I, in fact, would be just fine without him.

We stood at the counter, staring at the menu like we’d never been to a coffee shop before. In the end, each of us ordered a small cup of coffee. I sat down at the table near the window, away from everything else.

“Is your coffee too hot?” he asked, blowing into the cup disapprovingly. The steam rose into his face, fogging his glasses.

“Oh, quit stalling,” I said. “Coffee’s supposed to be hot. Now what did you want to talk about?”

“I don’t understand why you’re so angry all of the time,” he whispered like he always did when he wanted to compensate for my louder voice.

“I wish for once you could just see yourself the way I see you. You wouldn’t be able to stand yourself either.” I took a sip of my coffee, noticing the simultaneous numbed swell of my taste buds.

“Maybe this was a mistake,” he said. “Maybe you were right about there being nothing left to say.”

I didn’t buy his surrender. I slurped my coffee, waiting for his next mode of attack.

“I didn’t want it to end this way,” he said.

“How do you suggest we end this, then?” I asked.

“I don’t know? Amicably? We’re good together, you and I, but just not… you know.”

I looked at him. “I don’t know, no.”

“You are such a different person than when I met you. Would you agree?” he asked.

“You don’t get to be disappointed in me,” I protested. “We’re not together anymore. ”

“Lower your voice.”

“No! You don’t hear me, do you? I’m sick of feeling like I have to impress you and your damn family.”

“You shouldn’t feel like you have to impress me! Don’t you get it? We’ve been together two years, and you’re still treating me like you just met me. ”

“You don’t think you’re judgmental?” I asked, baiting him.

He crossed his arms and leaned back. “No, I don’t.”

“I made out with Joey Santos the other night.”

He didn’t react, just continued to stare down into his coffee. He shook his head a little, as though I had just provided his vindication.

My right hand, clutching the paper cup, moved with instinct. The coffee made an unsatisfying splashing sound, barely audible, and steam rose from his skin like fog on top of a lake. His cry seemed to come many moments after the initial splash of coffee, and it sounded almost out of place. I was not as shocked at my action as Tim was, or even the staff behind the counter, but rather more curious. I had never thrown coffee, or any liquid for that matter, in someone’s face before.

He stood up out of his chair, knocking it backward, making these tiny staccato noises. His face was a deep red, and he didn’t open his eyes. He looked ready to defend himself, though I had emptied my cup. There was no opportunity for an encore. I didn’t listen to much that he was screaming at me; I don’t listen well to raised voices. The police officer who came to escort me out of the coffee shop spoke more softly, as though he didn’t want to wake me. I heard everything he said.

He put me in the back of his car, and I fell asleep on the way to the station. He didn’t turn the sirens or flashing lights on. It would have been too much mixed with the ruckus coming from Tim’s ambulance.

In court, they showed pictures of the burns on his face. He was sitting right there the whole time, but the jury couldn’t see through the gauze. They compared them to pictures of cuts on my brother’s arms from when we were kids. There were a lot of things that Tim’s lawyer brought up that I thought had nothing to do with the charges at hand, but my lawyer advised me to keep quiet during the proceedings.

Only the Good Die Hard

Billy Joel vs. Star Wars
Star Wars vs. Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II vs. Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen vs. The Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders vs. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan vs. Epcot (draw)
Ronald Reagan vs. The Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders vs. Tom Selleck
Tom Selleck vs. Me & Michael Dudikoff & Michael J. Fox
Me & Michael Dudikoff & Michael J. Fox vs. Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise vs. Tom Selleck
Tom Selleck vs. Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis vs. Bart Simpson
Bruce Willis vs. Will Smith
Bruce Willis vs. Sonic the Hedgehog
Bruce Willis vs. Brett Favre
Bruce Willis vs. Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton vs. Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis vs. James Bond
Bruce Willis vs. Will Smith
Will Smith vs. Massive Chunks of Ice
Massive Chunks of Ice vs. Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis vs. Star Wars
Bruce Willis vs. Zombies, Aliens, Romans, Serial Killers, & Kevin Spacey
Bruce Willis vs. Harry Potter
Harry Potter vs. J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien vs. Tony Jaa
Tony Jaa vs. Spider-Man
Spider-Man vs. Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis vs. Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift vs. Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis vs. Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift vs. Michael Jackson
Taylor Swift vs. Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis vs. The Future

Ode to Candy Corn

rounded wax wedges, waning; a tawny
base that tapers towards a soft point
white like tundra, in taste and texture,
bleeding out from burning copper ribs
hardly mellow hardened creme
of candle crops to harvest fat
free treats, a sign of times once pagan-
pluralistic-primal-precocious-pre-
human, uncivilized, re-captured,
re-claimed, costume the dead alive
and turn the season, turn to shovel
handfuls into mouths full of rotting
teeth a special offer, a limited time only
exciting when available but hardly
missed in memories of stomaches
turned to sick, in children as in men
but indulging in each dish we find it
harder to resist the solstice sweets
and let ourselves get lost inside
that sadistic sugar maize

I Try To Imagine Myself Old

I try to imagine myself old. 80. 90.
I try to imagine myself softly daft, cloudy-eyed and prone to mistiness
when a New Order song comes on.

I try to imagine myself old. Who will visit me, this childless
old broad with blurred crinkly tattoos?
Duncan, probably, because I let him have Yoohoo with his pancakes
when he stayed over my house.

I try to imagine if he’ll dread these visits. Making small talk
while I stare at the wall, machines whirring and blinking behind me. His children
kicking, bored, at the rungs and legs of soulless institutional furniture.

I try to imagine myself old. Fearless. Working the polls in November.
People reverently whispering that I was born during the Nixon administration,
that I saw “Star Wars” the FIRST time around.
In something called a “movie theater.”

I try to imagine myself old, beloved, nonjudgmental, accepting, accepted.
Finally happy with this radically changed body, its limitations and shortcomings.
I know this much: I will not wear purple. I will not wear a red hat.

What is Expected

There are certain things to be expected after your father kills himself. It’s normal to cry all through the afternoon and evening of the day your mother calls you with the news. It’s socially acceptable to sit up most nights of the month following trying to articulate to your very understanding boyfriend, who has to work in the morning, how you can hear in your mom’s voice that she’d seen her husband hanging from a rope in their garage. After that first month, it’s part of the passage of time for that same understanding and patient boyfriend to be a little less understanding and patient, and in order to save the relationship and his sanity, you, like most people put in a similar situation, reach out to other friends. (He does not use the phrase “driving me crazy,” but you do, to your friends on the phone in the downstairs bathroom.) You reach out to friends from college and upon rehashing the time between the present and the last you heard from them, you realize just how long it’s been since graduation.

At this point, about two and a half months after your father stepped off the roof of his car and allowed his feet to dangle in the confines of the open sunroof, it’s normal to reassess where your life is currently and where it’s headed. Given your sudden and recent realization of how long it’s been since graduation (it hasn’t been that long, by average standards, but your father’s recent passing has altered your understanding and respect for time) and the shamble-like state of your relationship with your boyfriend and your recently acquired habit of drinking whiskey late at night to fall asleep, no one would blame you for wanting to pack up the essentials, clean out your bank account and drive until you feel like you can begin again.

Your boyfriend, at first devastated, angry and confused (as would be expected after three years of living together), would initially adopt your tradition of late-night whiskey as though he were trying to preserve your ghost. Eventually though, he’d allow the subconscious relief to rise to the surface. It would be admissible, even respectable, that he would begin to date again until there was a woman sleeping on your side of the bed, through the night and whiskey-free.

By this time, one year and three months will have passed since the afternoon of your father’s funeral, after which your mother – with you and the aforementioned boyfriend in tow – pulled her SUV into the garage. Upon realizing that she’d parked her car in the same garage she’d considered setting on fire hours before, she slammed her finger on the door’s remote in a frantic repetition, forgetting that each application of pressure caused the door to begin its painstaking journey opposite the direction it was already going. The door, accompanied by its lethargic motorized sound, rose and fell by inches, back and forth until the boyfriend – usually not prone to sudden movements or heroic antics – snatched the clicker from your mother’s hands and commanded the door to finally open and release you.

At this juncture, no one would think you abnormal, even without your father’s suicide as a factor, to feel that you made an impulsive and ill-advised move from home and familiarity, opting instead for something even more jarring and disorienting. It is the thing of parables for you to reconsider, to repack your things, return home.

Smaug

Like a great hurricane, liberated
from an oppressive ocean; a typhoon
petulantly tossing threshers and small
boats through coastal farmland storage silos;
a gluttonous earthquake, your appetite

hardly sated after gorging on roads
and unsound foundations; a black angel,
cracked wings bent over a battle of five
armies, tasked to assassinate the sun;

an order to evacuate homes known
to harbor enemies of the nation,
race traitors and chemical bomb makers;

a magnificent blight and a treasure—
the limits of your greed know no better.

The Last Happy Meal

She lurched into the room on legs like Roman pillars — large, coarse, and grooved, speckled with the dying glimmer of glass caught in sandstone that struggled to remind you of its more majestic time some thousand years back. Even her hair was done up in a style reminiscent of the plume of a gladiator’s helmet, dyed red and wild, erupting out like a volcano at the top. She stopped in the doorway to smooth her dress and check the elevation of her hair before adjusting her position for presentation. Chin up, back straight, hands crossed together and resting on that horrible front-butt that women like her develop around the age of 43. Women like my mother.

I hate my mother.

I kept my head down, focused on the paint-splatter of paperwork that littered my desk. Of course I noticed her; her existence alone was intrusive enough. But I have a strict rule against stopping before I’m done. Even though it was just paperwork — at this particular moment, an invoice for fryalator repairs — I knew it would be impossible for me to re-acclimate myself to this exact line item, whether it was 5 minutes from now, or next week. I had to finish the line, then I could help her. There was no time or space to say something politely dismissive — even, “One moment, please,” would be one moment too much and distract me from ultimately more important things.

But she didn’t have the patience for that. She cleared her throat by coughing into her fist and advanced towards me, one lumbering pillar at a time. With her come a wafting wind of out-of-code baby powder and a long-forgotten flower shop that over-fertilized its ancient products in the hope of salvage. As she approached me, the scent of fries and Big Macs from the meat locker disappeared, completely and utterly consumed and destroyed by her presence. That smell, and all its selfish power, reminded me of my mother.

I fucking hate my mother.

I scrambled in a panic to finish the line item on the invoice sheet, but it was useless; she finally spoke, and my managerial instinct made me inclined to respond. “Excuse me,” she bellowed in a baritone.

My pencil tip snapped on the paper three-quarters of the way through the last zero. Dammit, I thought. So close. I looked up at her and forced a smile — the way you always do with customers — and opened my mouth to respond. I took my first deep breathe, prepared to speak, but found myself choked by the perfume that billowed down my throat. I spit out shrieks and gasps between my efforts to find oxygen somewhere in the air. Meanwhile, she just stood there, awaiting my response, with nothing on her face but selfish apathy and 4 pounds of Mary Kay make-up, the kind my mother always wears.

I really hate my mother.

30 seconds passed, and my fumbling hand finally found the cup of water that I kept at my desk. It was only a Medium, but it would have to suffice. I pulled it to my lips and slammed it back, wishing it were whiskey. No such luck. Still just warm soda fountain water. I swallowed deep into my gut and took a moment to collect myself before I finally addressed her.

“Hi, ma’am. How may I help you?”

She stared me down against the bridge of her nose, sat silent for a moment, and then responded: “I lost my purse.”

Not what I expected. I grabbed my manager’s visor from my desk and placed it on my head. “I’m very sorry to hear that. How long ago did you notice it was missing?”

“Last Thursday. The 17th.”

I hesitated again. Why would she wait so long to ask about it? “I’m sorry ma’am, but nothing’s been turned into us from the restaurant.”

“Then I’d like you to find it.”

“….Excuse me?”

“As a paying customer, my satisfaction should be your priority.” She wasn’t wrong; at least not according to the manager’s training video. She reached her large, tacky, faux-leather purse, pulled out a wad of cash, and threw it on my desk. “But this might serve as some incentive.” She turned her nose up again and awaited my reaction.

I counted the bills: $2,000 in twenties. I could feel the golden arches smiling along with me. With money like that, I could move out of the basement. My mother would be proud of me.

I hate my fucking mother.