Category Archives: memoir

John Kelley’s Wake

Back in the main room of the pub they were playing “Auld Triangle” on the speakers — The Pogues version, as if there were any other. It was sundown, and in the distance you could just make out a halo around the crown of the Prudential Center. Spires of frosted orange sunlight shone through the bay windows at the far end of the bar, the silhouettes of panes framing all the faces that turned out to say farewell. I wasn’t in much of a mood for talking — Irish funerals also make for massive social events — but looking out at the crowd that had gathered at the bar, it was nice to see the diversity of lives that John had touched over his however-many years.

Before the sun had set, it had been one of those beautifully grey New England days that bugged my knee, so I’d been using my da’s old shillelagh as a crutch to help me walk. A few folks tried to offer me their stools to get me off my feet but I ignored them, not wanting to deal with all the small-talk conversation that would surely come along with it. The more funerals you find yourself at, the less inclined you are to go through that same dance every time:

“What’s good, brotha?”

“Ah, ya know, hangin’ in there. How ya been?”

“Good, good, yeah. Besides, you know.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuckin’ shame, y’know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I think he woulda liked this though. It’s a nice way to honor him.”

And so on ’til you puke. “No, he wouldn’t fuckin’ like it,” I always wanted to say, “‘Cause he’d still be fuckin’ dead, and having the corpse of the recently deceased prance around the funeral would really do a number on his loved ones, don’t you think?”

But instead the conversation shifts to some nostalgia, as if you and who you’re talking to have any kind of bond worth catching up on, besides being spat out on the Earth by your mams in or around the same zip code. Of course, it’d be rude to say, “I don’t care where you’re living now, I haven’t seen old-so-and-so, and I don’t care that she’s fat but since you asked I think it’s pretty fuckin’ rude of you to say so won’t you kindly piss off so I can grab another drink and drown the pain.”

It would take me at least another dozen pints until I got that honest.

Unhappy Old Years

12:00am, 1 January 2014

“Well…bye guys,” said 2013 as she waved her nonliteral appendage weakly. “It was fun while it lasted.” But she knew that no one was listening. They were all too busy cheering and kissing and clinking their glasses and singing some vague semblance of “Auld Lange Syne.” 2013 thought about the way they used to sing that song for her. Or at least, that one time they sang it for her, anyway. But now she was that old acquaintance, forgotten just as swiftly as she came.

The party would roar on into the wee hours of the morning, but 2013 skipped out early without so much as saying her goodbyes. Everyone looked like they were having so much fun, and 2013 didn’t want to disturb them. Everyone was happy with 2014, this cool new year that had replaced her in their lives, just like she had done with 2012. As she walked down the street towards the Island of Old Years Past, she wondered if all the years went through this same feeling of dejection, or replacement, of ennui and emptiness. Even though she knew that it was nothing personal, she still wondered if 2012 had held his grunge, if he would scorn her when she arrived.

2013 stopped and looked back at the triple decker home where the party raged on. “I thought the ending would be bigger,” she said with a whimper. “That I’d go out with a bang, some explosive last hurrah, just like how it started. You were all making Top 10 lists and looking back with such fond memories and recounting all our times together, I guess I thought…I really thought it meant something.” She picked up a metaphorical stone from the sidewalk and threw it at the window of the house, sending it shattering into allegorical shards. “I hope that you look back fondly on our time together. And if you ever need me again, you know where to find me,” she said. And with that, she kept on walking forward out of time to her own entropic heatdeath.

Then she heard a familiar voice say, “Well see? It’s not so bad, huh?” She looked up and saw 2012 standing before her, holding two glasses of champagne. He extended one towards her and said, “No hard feelings, kid. C’mon. Everybody’s waiting. And when you’re here out of time, the party never stops.” She would have smiled, if years could do such a thing. So instead she took a sip and joined the rest of the past forever.

Self-Checkout

It feels like forever while I wait for the guy buying three different kinds of organic peppers and one vine tomato to figure out how to punch in the produce code into the keypad and realize that he’s not supposed to weigh all four fucking fruits together at the same time and then I still have to watch him struggle with swiping his god damn credit card and screwing up the system that I start to consider running for office entirely on a political platform that pledges to require  all potential Self-Checkout users at the grocery store to be licensed before they can be let loose in the lines.

When he’s finally finished fucking up my evening, I step up to the machine and swipe my savings card on the score. “He-lloThome.Well-comeback.,” intones a clunky mechanical voice that vaguely resembles some concept of femininity. “How-was-the__Elli-osPiz-za__that.You.pur-chasedAt__two. Twenty-Seven. Aye-Em___To-Day?”

“Uh, fine. Thanks. Yeah.” I say. I glance around quickly to make sure no one in the line is listening to this dumb machine reminding me of last night’s regrettable drunken purchase. Although perhaps it’s not fair to say that it’s “regrettable” being that, well, I don’t actually have much recollection of it.

I scan my carton of coconut milk across the machine and wait while the dumb thing prompts me to, “Please.place-your__Coconut. Milk.___on-the-belt.” like it does every time, as if I hadn’t figured it out myself by now.

But this time, it keeps talking. “I-see.That.You.have-purchased__Coconut. Milk.__My_records.show.that-you-like.to-buy____Garelick-Farms_Whole.Milk.__Is-this.cor-rect? Please-press__*Yes*-or__*No*.” I press the little green button on the touchscreen and I can hear the people in line behind me shift their weight and sigh.

“Are-you.Di-e-ting_Thome?” the machine asks.

“No!” I say, perhaps a bit louder and more emphatic than I should have when speaking to a machine in public. I laugh nervously then turn to the little old woman behind me and say, “I’m actually just, I’m making sorbet at home tonight, for my girlfriend, so, ya know, the, um, the coconut milk is — ”

“¿Que?” she says, which is how I know she hates me.

The machine interrupts again. “Please-press__*Enter*__if.You-would.like-this.Ma-chine-to.keep-track-of-your.di-et-and-off-er-sug.Ges-tions. Press__*Exit*__if-this-is-a.one-time-pur.chase.” I poke my finger at the red button on the touch screen, then keep stabbing with my finger in angry little bursts like a drunken wasp.

“Thank-you.For.cancel-ing-your.Or-der.Please-have.A-good-day.Thome.” the machine says. I can feel the angry eyes behind me burning holes into my neck. I glance around to see if any of the staff is nearby. It turns out the coast is clear, and my coconut milk is already sitting at the other end of the conveyor belt. I smile at the little old Hispanic lady behind me, then dart down the aisle, grab my milk and make a run for it.

I’ll Fight A Whedon For You (Ode To Maurissa Tancharoen)

The first time I saw you in pony tails,
that Horrible Doctor’s fan,
I knew by your groove when you sang that tune
that I wanted to be your man.

But then your Commentary
made me Asian Aware-y
and I knew what I’d have to do:

I’ll fight a Whedon for you:
Zak, Jed, or Joss,
Yeah, you know that it’s true.
There’s more a chance
I’ll see DOLLHOUSE renewed
But it’s true:
I’ll fight a Whedon for you.

Echoes remain from that song that you sang
as Kilo the cutest Doll.
I’m too poor for STARZ or for SPARTACUS,
but you know that I’ll give you my all.

No, I’ll never yield; I’ll back AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
until Agent Coulson dies (I mean, again, like, for real this time)
You’re Pretty In Pink, I don’t care what they think
Then I saw you with another guy.

Even though you have lupus
I thought we could this
but then werewolves devoured my heart.

But I’ll fight a Whedon for you:
Zak, Jed, or Joss,
Yeah, you know that it’s true.
There’s more a chance
I’ll see DOLLHOUSE renewed
But it’s true:
I’ll fight a Whedon for you.

Did you know that our birthdays
are one day apart (except
plus or minus ten years)?
And sure, Jed is hot —
what’s he got that I’m not?
(I mean, other than a career)

So Mo, won’t you go
with me, baby, you know
we’d be cool (ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)

But I’ll fight a Whedon for you:
Zak, Jed, or Joss,
Yeah, you know that it’s true.
But I’ll still be here
after S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2
’cause it’s true:
I’ll fight a Whedon for you.

Poem for Brian McGackin

A short, simple burst of verse that appears
at first mundane, a slacker’s sonnet, a simple
twist of words that somehow still obscure these
patterns, little games of surreptitious puns and
plays on phrase that only the most astute readers
will pick up on, pick upon, between the subtle
allusions to Seal, or Harry Potter, or, inevitably,
soccer, this false banality that hides a sense
of suffering, of Guinness, of meaning that is
all too often missed though it’s clever when it
lets you in and waives its endless turnpike fees,
a strong syllabic voice that set this website
into motion, keeps my sentences on track, even
when he was kind of a dick about it; but in the end
the purpose or intention is made clear, often
through a seemingly non-sequitur saying that sneaks
in at the climax, the culmination of a short
linguistic journey that illuminates in retrospect
the bullshit lines before it: Happy Birthday.

Attack of the Were-Chinchilla

“Look at it! It’s so fluffy!” Lucy said. She turned her head to the side as she awaited a response but kept her eyes focused on the furry grey chinchilla in the cage. The animal stood upright on its muscular hind legs, its tiny hands wrapped around the thin metal bars to help it keep its balance. It waved its twitchy nose in the air, as if trying to peer around its own snout to get a better look Lucy. “You gotta see this, John. It’s got like, little T-Rex person hands.”

Lucy peered over her shoulder and saw John standing by the doorway of the pet store, poking at his smartphone. Her head followed the rolling arc of her eyes as she looked back at the poor trapped critter. She sighed and slipped a waggling finger between the bars of the cage. “Hewwo Mistew Mogwai,” she said in that cutesy falsetto that we all reserve for animals and babies. “That’s what you are. You’re a little Mogwai, like in Gremlins. That’s why they can’t get you wet, no.” Her finger brushed along its fine fur coat, revealing starbursts of white hair beneath its dark grey tips. Her voice returned to its normal tone and she said, “Oh my god, you are the softest thing I’ve ever touched.”

The chinchilla let out a sharp, high-pitched bark and snapped at Lucy’s finger. She  gasped and quickly pulled her hand away. The chinchilla yipped again and bit down on the bars. She wondered how such a cute little creature could get so mean. Lucy noticed a small dab on blood on the tip of her finger. She stuck it in her mouth to suck the blood away and she heard John say, “We should really get going. It’s almost rush hour and mall traffic always sucks. Especially when it’s a full moon. That’s when everyone —  ” He stopped in the middle of his sentence, the skin on his face stretching back in disgust. “I hope you washed your hand first. Those things are disgusting. They literally bathe in dirt.” Lucy pulled her finger out of her mouth and hid both her hands behind her waist, as if he wouldn’t notice. “C’mon, let’s get out of here,” he said as he strode towards the door.

#

Evening came and the honey-colored moon grew brighter in the blue-black sky. John had an early shift the next morning, so the two of them had crawled into bed around 9pm. Lucy was surprised at how easily she fell asleep, but by 11:30, she was completely awake again, staring up into the sky as hunger pangs came over her. She went out into the kitchen and tore through the refrigerator but nothing caught her interest. Then she looked on top of the refrigerator. She saw a box of mini Sun-Maid raisin packs. She could feel her eyes grew wider, bright as the moon, as she grabbed one of the little snack packs and tore through the cardboard visage of that red-berretted woman and let the sweet, sun-soaked wrinkles fall across her tongue. But she could only eat two before her heart began to race. The sugar made her fingers tremble and she was overcome with thirst.

Lucy ran over to the kitchen sink and turned the water on, lapping at the faucet, little droplets spraying on the counter. She was lightheaded, woozy, though not quite tired. With three good hops she found herself standing in the living room, suddenly beckoned by the creases in the couch. She curled up beside it, making herself as small as she could, and tried to hide beneath it, but she was still too large. She tucked her head down and pulled herself in tighter. She held herself more tightly across her chest when she noticed delicate clumps of silky fur covering her shoulders and her back. She reveled in the softness as she shrank and shrank and shrank…

The Girl With The Starbucks Tattoo

It was a beacon of hope, always shining green through the long, hard winter, a steaming oasis rising through the endless snow to thaw her small town heart out. Before the store moved into the old downtown square, she hardly even knew that their could be anything more than the cracking, empty streets, a broken fossil of a faded industry. The idea of somehow leaving town, or doing anything but following in her family’s frozen footsteps, seemed as foreign to her as the rest of the country did, some thousand miles away. These were things she’d only seen on — television when the reception was good and they could still get channels, anyway.

When it finally appeared — when that sign went up, signaling its coming — it heralded an out. She believed herself to be the mermaid, that rare, majestic beauty, a literal and lonely creature lost upon the shore, surrounded instead by an ocean of snow, vast and cold, which numbed the lives around her. But she never even knew that she had fins, that she could swim away, not until she saw that sign rising in the distancer. She was 13 years old then, the loneliest of ages, and as soon as she saw it, she started to study, teaching herself the differences, the meaning of a macchiato, americano, cold press versus hot, and as soon as she turned 16, she strolled into the store, filled out an application, and submitted it on the spot. She hardly ever touched the money that she made. Instead, she saved it, every cent, building up a base for her escape.

She put in a transfer request when she was 18, and the day she finished high school, she hitched a ride in her cousin’s 18-wheeler and changed her life, a bright young mermaid escaping to the greater sea: Anchorage.

Her cousin dropped her off downtown, but before she even found a place to sleep that night, she slipped inside the first tattoo parlor on the strip. She’d never actually seen a shop like that before, not in real life, anyway. When she stepped inside, she was greeted by a league of fantastical creatures not unlike herself, exotic breeds who’d wandered from their native tribes and made themselves a brand new home. Endangered species, just like her. And so she wanted a symbol, to brand her scar her skin to show her small-town struggle and begin the transformation, taking that which was within and projecting it without. She thought back to that day when she first saw the sign, before she truly understood what it meant, what it would come to mean, and she rolled up her sleeve and offered up the first sacrifice from her savings account and the man with the oversized earlobes pulled out his magic pen, buzzing with the vitriol of a billion angry bees, and painted that green mermaid on her skin and when he finished she could finally feel her fins begin to grow.