Movie Review: Before Sunset (2004)

Before Sunset (2004)

Director: Richard Linklater

Writers: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Before Sunset, Richard Linklater’s follow-up to his well-received 1995 date movie Before Sunrise, is to me is the most effectively emotional, wonderfully acted, and masterfully contrived romance in the history of film.  In Before Sunrise, having just broken up with his long-time girlfriend (he was dumped), directionless college student Jesse (Ethan Hawke) spends a daylong whirlwind romance with spunky french beauty Celine (Julie Delpy).  The film ends on a major cliffhanger, with the young lovers promising to meet each other on a certain day at a certain place in six months.  As Before Sunset begins, it’s been 9 years, and Jesse is on a publicity tour for his new novel, This Time, which is a fictionalized account of the night he and Celine spent together almost a decade ago.  He stops to do a book signing in Paris, and just before leaving the bookstore he sees Celine, a beautiful vision from the past.  Together, they have another day of romance, in which they speak at great length about their their lives and their feelings, and we see it all.

I say that we see all of it because at the moment during Jessie’s book signing when he first sees Celine, we begin to follow them, completely without cuts.  The entire film is one extended conversation between these two former lovers, wherein we see that in their time apart the love they shared has not shriveled up, and is more intensely felt than ever.  At the moment Jesse first sees Celine he is answering a question about future book ideas, and as he first sets eyes on her, he is in the middle of saying “. . . and it’s obvious to him that time is a lie.”  This is significant, to me, because at the moment when he sees her, he is transported back to the way he felt on their first night together.  In the moment when they first set eyes on each other, a huge set of powerful and contradictory emotions is written on each of their faces, and these emotions are brought fully by the masterful performances of the two leads.

Hawke and Delpy (who also co-wrote the script along with director Richard Linklater) step into the characters of Celine and Jesse easily, imbuing each with intense emotion.  Hawke, as Jesse, spends most of the film staring at Delpy’s Celine, mesmerized by her beauty and absorbed by everything she says.  Delpy’s Celine is extremely intelligent and self-possessed, but when Jesse is near her jabbering to himself, she can’t tear herself away.  Both characters spend the film trading monologues, each fascinated by everything the other says, and filled with heavy longing.  I’ve seen it many times, and I would recommend, when watching the film, watching the face of the character being spoken to rather than the one speaking.  The silent emotion on each of their faces is the core of the film.

The emotion constantly spilling onto the characters faces is so obvious that I could not help but feel the same.  In one scene, late in the film, when Jesse describes two recurring dreams he has about her, Celine reaches her hand out, almost touching the back of his head, before pulling her hand back, embarrassed.  This moment, to me, perfectly describes the relationship of these two star-crossed lovers.  He is entirely obsessed with her, she is always on his mind and filling him with love.  She in turn is intoxicated with him, and is as devoted to him as he is to her.  If I’ve seemed to get a bit flowery and romantic in my language, it is only a consequence of having just re-watched Before Sunset.  I whole-heartedly recommend the film, for its intelligence, its acting, and most of all for its flood of emotion.

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Movie Review: Before Sunset (2004)

Poetry: The Head (Volume 1)

He doesn’t know if he’s ready, but he has his assignment and the time is now,

the moment for man-making is, stepping into the air holding pack and saber,

no fellowship partner or dog, he is all alone in the night heavy with sweat,

the contract is a death to bring, he must find a wolf and claim its head as his,

all of his friends have done it, if he wants a wife he needs to prove worthy,

dodging rocks and hurdling logs, in the distance he sees a torchlight,

he mouths a curse and spits thick, turning around escaping into darkness,

fires frighten wolves to vanishing, he knows from his father’s words,

“as darkness spreads all around, teeth fill in the space between trees,

watch yourself with your feelings, they are all you will have in the dark.”

 

Seeming to have direction, he loped from the flame, to grow his length from light,

as the fire faded from view, he groped the stillness, willing his thoughts to settle,

his eyelids shut around him, he achieved silence, but someone struck a flint,

a dim light through the brush, he this time ran for, his knife out and face afire,

whoever they are he thought, he would kill them, finally he would be a man,

he knew society would wonder, they would ask, “where is your trophy head?”

and he would respond simply, “I cleaved but one,” hanging a soul from a chain,

sneaking quiet near the light, he was almost to it, suddenly the flame snuffed,

and thus he was alone again, he whirled about, stabbing his blade in the air,

when four torches circled him, he stumbled feebly, he felt the cold ground rise,

“did you bring enough coin?”

 

This new voice sounded thick and travelled by experience and rum,

there were four men holding torches emerging from the wood,

each held a fire to his right and dangled a wolf’s head to his left,

a voice slid through the night like warm poison syrup,

“Raise your silver slow, boy,”

the salesman spoke an offer that cut the boy’s pride at an artery,

“The price is twenty for the head alone and seventy for the full pelt,”

“I carry no silver tonight, man,”

the boy holding his knife spoke with a dumb and haughty pride,

“My blade carries a death to the unholy but I’ve brought no coin,”

“You’re just a fool then, kid”

the salesman spoke on spewing a rueful mockery and contempt,

“Go with your god but when you fail you will search for my torch,”

“I am a righteous fool, sir”

the boy took this talk for a verbal joust and leveled his lance high,

“And if I find your torch I promise that you will die that night,”

 

The torchbearers riotous laughing, they fell as pins tipped over,

“I too was once a child,” came a voice behind him, “I was stupid,”

a pain swept through his knees, he was knocked down looking up,

“this is a lesson learnt,” the boy saw dark shapes, “learn it well,”

weighted leather fell with a thud, the blackest night shot through

the boy was in a red mist hanging from a string,

acid rain melting him down,

to nothing,

shink like a descabbard blade,

daytime comes in a great wave that heats his eyes,

the boy is a furious painful hate, directed at himself completely,

“You are like a soft egg,” cursing the reflecting pool, “a dead fool,”

he held his knife in suicide posture, ready to sever his own arteries.

 

“Stop!” a voice burst from the sky, “you’re not serious, you can’t be,”

“Idiot!” another came from behind, “an idiot with heart and derring-doo,”

The salesmen emerged, stalking slow and grinning deeply at the boy,

only a pair of them stood, Jackal and Horshoe with two sinister smiles,

“chance” said Jackal with a start, “or divine providence some would call,”

“yeah,” and Horshoe was giggling, “it’s the lucky day they would say,”

The boy sat on a log, making scales and seeing what options are best,

and dawn shone bright, the world is a game with ease of advantage,

 

Competition, hope and greed, they taught, or would,

“if today be my first lesson I will sop it and smile,”

the boy knelt, palms upturn, mind opened, wanting,

“I drop to knees and supplicate myself completely,”

Jackal cackled, and there was no other word for it,

his teeth sounded like knives, “that’s dangerous,”

moving like smoke he continued, “do you know?”

“he knows,” Horshoe contended, “sure he does,”

clapping the boy’s shoulder, lifting him skyward,

“don’t you?”

Poetry: The Head (Volume 1)

Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, (novel by) Peter George

Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden

Dr. Strangelove is brilliant satire, and while it deals with themes of apocalyptic importance, it never fails to be riotously funny.  In 1963, burgeoning auteur Stanley Kubrick won the rights to adapt “Red Alert,” a serious-as-hell paranoid fantasy about the beginning of a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia.  He and screenwriter Terry Southern struggled to adapt the novel, eventually coming to the decision that the events described in the novel were so terrifying that they could not be handled seriously.  So the two of them changed course, creating one of the most brilliantly hilarious pieces of political satire ever conceived.  In the film, an American base commander launches a surprise nuclear strike on many targets inside Russia, unwittingly triggering a Russian “doomsday devise” that could wipe out all life on Earth.  This film, brilliant as it is, could never have worked without the efforts of certified comedy genius Peter Sellers, who tackles three of the film’s central roles.

Using his native British accent, Sellers first plays group captain Lionel Mandrake, whose put-upon stammer provides the audience with its clearest surrogate.  This character is desperate, terrified, and absolutely professional.  Later in the film Sellers reappears as the eponymous Dr. Strangelove, using a ludicrous German accent and seemingly random vocal emphasis to portray the character’s madness.  His greatest performance of the film, however, comes in his portrayal of U.S. President Merton Muffley.  The sequence in which Muffley, on the verge of tears, explains the situation to Russian head Premeir Kissoff, is an absolute comedic masterpiece.  Though Sellers’ powerhouse performances dominate the film, three other brilliant and likewise hilarious performances are turned in by Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickens.

Slim Pickens plays T.J. “King” Kong, the American pilot ordered to attack Russia, and he fills the role with good-natured flair, portraying a man who, just by doing his job as well as he can, may end up destroying the world.  George C. Scott plays General “Buck” Turgidson, a towering buffoon who chews gum as if it owes him money.  Sterling Hayden’s performance as General Jack D. Ripper is hilariously stern and insane.  I’ve seen the film more times then I can recall, but I can never not guffaw when General Ripper speaks of “The international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

Beyond these masterpieces of comic acting, Kubrick filles the screen with visual jokes as funny as any I’ve ever seen.  In the war room General Turgidson (Scott) sits in front of a binder labeled “World Targets in Megadeaths,” and as a large machine gun constantly fires, we see directly behind it a billboard that reads “Peace is our Profession.”  General Ripper pulling a gigantic machine gun out of his golf club satchel, and Kong (Pickens) describing the contents of his own survival pack (“…Two lipsticks, two pair of nylon stockings…”) all add to the comedically enhanced reality of the film.  Dr. Strangelove is satire at its highest form, saying important things about meaningful topics, and it makes me laugh every time I see it.

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Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Zen Comedy 7: Timing

The Zen Comedian, upon hearing reference to the cliché; “timing is everything,” responded with the use of another cliché from the immortal Vince Lombardi: “timing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  With this lesson, the Zen Comedian meant that timing is not only the most important aspect of each and every joke, but is in fact the true substance of all comedy.  I learned this lesson very powerfully when I was around ten years old, from comedy’s greatest master of timing, Jack Benny.

When I was a child, I collected cassettes of classic radio comedy, and though I had many favorites (The Bickerson’s, Fred Allen, Abbot & Costello) Jack Benny, who will be referred to as Zen Master Jack from here on, was my favorite.  Zen Master Jack’s most dominant character trait was his stinginess, and likely eighty percent of the jokes on his radio show revolved around this aspect of his character.  He even had an underground safe in which he kept his massive fortune, like Scrooge McDuck.  On one of his trips to this safe, he was accosted by an assailant who held a gun to his face and demanded: “Your money or your life!”

At this Zen Master Jack said nothing for a very long time.  I remember listening to the audience bristle, ready to erupt as the pause went on and on.  I could envision the burglar’s frustrated expression as I listened to the sounds of laughter from the live audience grow louder and louder.  Eventually the burglar had enough waiting and yelled “Well!  Your money or your life!” to which Zen Master Jack responded almost immediately “I’m thinking it over!”  The crowd roared with laughter, not at the joke itself, because it was even then a simple and predictable gag, but simply because of the way it was timed.

Though the live audience at the recording of this classic bit had the advantage of watching Zen Master Jack’s vaguely effeminate annoyed expression, most of the crowd and all listeners at home laughed simply at their own imaginations.  Many listeners at the time I’m sure didn’t even know what the face attached to this voice on the radio even looked like, but they laughed at the anticipation of a response.  The Zen Comedian tells us that if the audience is offered an effective set-up, even if it is extremely simple, they can fuel their laughter with their own anticipation.  Searching my own comedy for the places I most make use of this lesson, I recall the punchline to my “Burger King Confessional” joke.

The concept of this joke is that to expedite the penance process, Burger King has merged with St. Ignatius (a Chicago Catholic church) and created the worlds first Drive-Thru/Confessional.  The punchline to this joke comes after the fast food patron confesses to molesting his nephew.  The Priest/drive-thru operator begins by repeating the order, “Large Fry, Medium Dr. Pepper, Whopper Jr. and,” and then pauses for a good length of time.  After I’ve allowed the audience to anticipate what they well know will be a joke, perhaps even to the point of laughing in expectation, I drop it on them.  “Hey who hasn’t?”  I’ve learnt (or believe I have) from Zen Master Jack that the greatest laughter comes from anticipation, even if it is anticipation of the laughter to come.

Zen Comedy 7: Timing

Poem: Interruption

Close the window, shut off the clicking fan,

raise the screen, get ready to fall in,

the jolt of a whining quest and I nosedive,

I cough in the sand, I hack the dust,

but I’m an artist, undaunted I’ll use it as fuel,

explore the process, write a poem on poetry,

I’m not really a poet, I hope and swear to god,

asserting and responding, the words won’t stop,

is this the endgame?

I try to write novels, satirically grim and violent,

but my prose wanders, swells indulged angst,

my characters are toothless, my themes are trite,

loneliness or joy, all black and primary colors,

so I write poetry, at night when I’m crusty with focus,

I look back over what I’ve done, I don’t hate it.

It helps to have a restless girlfriend,

she bursts with annoying inspiration.

Poem: Interruption

You can do This

This is a thing people talk about, and confidence is what they call it, so psyche yourself up.  You stare at your own eyes looking back out of the bathroom mirror.  Her name is Christina and she’s in your Virginia Woolf class and she likes you, so go out and take hold of that knowledge.  Do what needs to be done.

This is what you say to yourself, holding your own eyes in the mirror, but the words aren’t solid.  This is your second year back at college after the accident, and you’ve got nothing to show for it, female-wise.  Not a kiss or a caress, but now is the time to make it happen.

You are charming.  Your voice doesn’t make you sound like a retard OR your voice does make you sound like a retard but you can overcome this because you are very smart.  You are riotously funny, and this is because you are extremely quick and clever.  You need confidence, because when you are confident words tumble from your mind like pebbles, and each is more seductive than the last.

“HA!” screaming a joyless cackle into the dorm bathroom mirror, a couple dudes you don’t know hurry out of sight.  After they do you squeeze out a small amused giggle just for yourself.

Your feelings are never hurt when you see people’s smiles melt upon hearing your voice, because you have empathetic reasoning, and you’ve heard recordings of yourself.

It’s disgusting; you sound like a retard and you know it, which explains why shopkeepers in small-town Iowa are so fucking helpful all the time.  Smile at yourself in the mirror and it’s genuine, because you know that those who know you, like the friends that enjoy your company understand that you’re not mentally handicapped.  They know that you’re whip-smart and you make them laugh all the time.

That’s what’s gotten a hold of Christina, it seems.  She comes to speak to you, almost via a beeline, every time you enter the same room.

So here’s what you do, after class on the way to the Union for lunch, just tell her how you feel.  She’s been sending signals all week, you’re pretty sure, so she probably feels the same.  Okay, maybe not the same exactly, but she’s gotta give you a shot.  Think of it, in a business-type sense, the risk to her is minimal, so why wouldn’t she take a chance?

Passing the bent and beckoning trees on the way to class, you’re feeling chuffed, and you should be.  Chuffed is a very good word.  It means like puffed-up, you think, and it sounds like it.  It evokes one of those old cartoon birds with the massive chests that are always grabbing Daffy Duck by the neck.  The word and this image of it are flowing through your mind while you head to class.

You’re seeing the steeple of Davis hall crest the top of the hill now, and you can feel your pulse quicken.  This is scary, and you have a few minutes till class starts, so you sit on a cement bench in front of the hall and collect yourself.  Oh shit, Christina’s here and she sees you, and she approaches.

In an instant, you try to sketch out what to do.  Calm down, a centering voice seems to say from the future and the past, let her speak first.

“Ready for the test?”  She says, clutching at the shoulder strap of her backpack.  You imagine that this might be an unconscious indicator, almost like she’s playing with her hair, which you’ve been told told previously is a sign of unconscious attraction.  Could this mean that she’s somewhat nervous also?

You try to seem confident and in control.  “Yeah, I kinda like essay tests.”  This is a lie, as all tests suck, but you do tend to perform well on essay tests.  It’s way easier to disguise how little you’ve actually read on essay tests.  If the question is on Mrs. Dalloway you’ll just parrot what Hankins said about Septimus and you actually loved A Room of One’s Own, so you’re not too worried.  “I like them better than short answer or multiple choice, anyway, how’re you feeling?”

Christina looks at the ground, an adorable smirk or grimace on her face.  A muffled “Meh” sound escapes from her lips as she pulls them tight against her teeth.  “Me too, I just hope she doesn’t ask about Waves.”

“Yeah I couldn’t even make sense of that thing,” you look to the distance, portraying a charming apprehension.  “I don’t even really know who the characters are.”

“Yeah me neither,” she chuckles adorably.  She’s comfortable with you, or seems to be, so you try to go deeper.

“Yeah, but I think she’ll have mercy on us about that, I don’t think we’ll need to talk about Waves.”  She smiles and nods, so you take your chance.  “So—um, I wanted to talk to you a little, so—uh, don’t hurry off if you finish the test before me.”

There’s a flash of panic on her face, you’ve seen it many times before and it portends doom.  But this one, Christina the understanding, pushes past it and smiles again, restoring your confidence.  “Okay!  I won’t finish before you but if I do, I’ll wait for you here.  Ready for the test?”

The teeth in her smile alight and beckon you towards the classroom, and you think she might have even winked at you.  This is a good sign, better than you’ve ever seen before, and you think it could finally happen this time.  You’ve thought it before, man, but this one could be your first real girlfriend.

You know you’re shooting yourself in the foot even considering that, because you’re 20 years old now, and it’s weird to have never had a girlfriend.  It’s embarrassing but the fact that you’ve never had a girlfriend doesn’t matter, because she’s cute and hot and she really likes you.

 

Test’s over, you probably did okay, but now comes the waiting.  Christina’s still in there, of course, so you look for a spot to post up.  This is tricky, because you want to find a spot where most people who come out won’t notice you, at least at first, so you can introduce yourself when it seems most appropriate.

You take a spot under the branch that hangs just above the entranceway stairs.  You pull your feet up onto the bench, wrapping your hands around your knees and clasping them together.  You close your eyes and your checks feel the denim covering your thighs as you press your face into your legs.

You try to focus and calm down, but you are rudely interrupted.“Hi Andrew, how’d you do!?”  Leslie saw and chirped at you, raising her hand and grinning.

“I don’t know,” you say, and then you see her lips start to purse expectantly.  “How’d you do?”

She drops her bag onto the bench next to yours and takes a seat.  She sighs theatrically, “I don’t know,” she drops her head to the side.  “I think I got some good points in, like about the inner lives of the characters.”  She sits down, lowering her head to your level, but you’re still just watching the door.

You try not to look at her or make any expression that indicates you’re about to say something, but she keeps looking at you anyway.  “Yeah that’s the kinda thing she’s usually looking’ for, I bet you did fine.”

She grins and nods, almost losing the tiny hat off her head.   “Thanks,” she says politely, laying her left hand over her right and patting her own lap a few times.  “This was a fun class, right?”

You didn’t really understand where her question had come from, but she looked up at you after she asked it.  You answer “It was totally a fun class!” because it was.  At Cornell College you do the one-class-at a time block schedule, which to your taste is perfect for english and social studies classes, which is all you take.

One of the few advantages to the after effects of your traumatic brain injury is that you don’t have to take science or math classes, yay!  “What’s your next class?” you ask without thinking.  You curse yourself silently.

“Europe: 18-whatever to 19-whatever.  It’s a history course.”

“Eh,” you say.  You see a group of five more students come out, leaving only a few left.  You know you don’t need to talk to all of them.  You could let a a few go, but you’re unable to stop your mouth.  “I got world religions next, been looking forward to this one.”

She seems puzzled, though a smile slides over her lips.  “Oh, um—“ she chuckles faintly as she seems to search the ground around her for something specific.  “You interested in world religions?”

You think about it, why does it sound interesting?  Unable to come up with an actual answer right away, you instead gave her the joke you’d previously developed in your room, alone.  “I’m just really curious about Zoroastrianism.  It sounds awesome.”

Leslie began to say “Yeah I find it pretty. . .” but then you lost track of what she was saying because Christina finally came out of the main door of Rorem Hall.  You excused myself from Leslie, giving no real excuse, and started to stalk toward Christina.  You kind of notice Leslie’s face looks slightly crestfallen, but your mind is elsewhere.

You make sure not to intrude on the conversation between Christina and one of our classmates, waiting until they say goodbye to approach.  When you are just within within speaking distance, Christina turns and greets you first.  “So you said you wanted to have a conversation, maybe after the test?”

The little voice in your guts wells up and pours out of your mouth, sounding cheery and energized.  “Yes!  —um, I mean yes, yes I did, shall we?”  You step aside to usher Cristina down Cornell College campus’s pedestrian mall.  “So how’d the test go?  For you.”

She rolled her eyes slightly as she answers your question.  “I don’t know, not well,” she looked at the ground in front of her.  “So what’d ya wanna talk about?”

“Well,” you said, pausing then, for a long time.  This is the hardest part, and it hasn’t worked yet, so you realize that you should just get it over with.  “In these weeks of class I’ve gotten to know you and I think we’re great together, so I was wondering if you wanted to get a bite to eat sometime soon.”

Watching her face, you know the instant the sound from your lips hits her ear that her response will be in the negative.  “I’m so so sorry, but I’m actually graduating in a couple weeks, and I don’t think now’s a really good time to start something new.”

Disappointment washes over your face like cold water, but there’s relief also.  Your hopes have been dashed, but at least it’s not your fault.  “Yeah,” you say, lowering your eyes.  “Yeah I guess, I mean I understand.”

You do understand, and that’s probably what makes it worse.  “I’m really sorry,” she says, and as you look into her eyes, you can see that she feels real regret.

“Don’t worry about it,” you say, even though your stomach feels flattened.  You smile at her.  “Okay, anyway I’m really sorry, but I’m sure we can be great friends.”

You could be bitter, but you’re not, because this is the fault of no one.  You and Christina did feel that spark, but this time, wouldn’t you know it?  The gods were against you.  So you say “Absolutely,” and you embrace her, but not in the way you want.  She pulls away from you and you head back to your room.

Sitting in your desk chair you realize you’re not thinking about Christina.  You are satisfied that the connection the two of you share is real.  If circumstances had not been so inconvenient, you believe, everything would have been different.

 

Flash forward 5 months

It’s a new day, and you’re ready to start your senior year.  Junior year was a bust, but you need to forget that.  You got out there, you tried your hand, you came up with nothing, but this is a new year and today is a new day.

You get your shit together and head out for the first big breakfast of the year, excited to see some of your friends.  You and D-Money can talk shit about whatever, you can discuss Trixie’s new speed run on Super Mario 3 or whatever, and maybe something new can start to drift into your life, who knows?

That’s what’s exciting about these first meals of the year at the union, the thrill of the new.  So you’re excited, you slip on your new Achewood T-shirt and your White Sox hoody and you brave the bluster striking out for the cafeteria.

The spring dawn is hidden behind a curtain, its noise softened by a mat of clouds.  You put on your spring jacket and put in your headphones playing “Earthquake Weather” by Beck.  You break through the front door of the student union feeling very cool, but as soon as the iced-over heels of your boots hit the smooth tile of the floor you flop flat on your back.  Landing with a slap that announced its pain loudly, instantly softening afterwards.

You can hear footsteps and rasping voices.  In the distance, you hear someone laugh.  Fuck.  You grin as you try to erect yourself smoothly and confidently, but instead you stumble foolishly and plop onto the soft lobby furniture.  Your eyes are closed, as you dread opening them.

Eventually you open your eyes, and you are pleased to see no one.  “Okay?”  You hate that quasi-question, coming from some invisible stranger.  Less an inquiry and more an inquest.

“Yeah,” you cough feebly, using it more as punctuation than anything else, as if it represented a comma.  “Yeah I’m fine.”

It must seem pathetic, the sight of you struggling your boots off and slowly tying on ratty gym shoes.  Since your brain injury your right hand is basically retarded, so that makes fine motor control troublesome.  You don’t see anyone who seems to really recognize you, and your spill may not have been as catastrophic as you thought.  Anyway you make your way into the line for the cereals.

You step towards the plastic tubs of sugary bubbles and grab a bowl.  You grasp the scoop and fill your bowl with a combination of Sugar Smacks, Honey Nut Cheerios, Peanut Butter Crunch, and Frosted Flakes.  You put this mess into a big bowl and drown it to the top in skim milk.  You stare at your concoction, grinning as you point yourself toward what had been your normal breakfast table last semester, and that’s when you see Christina.

You stand stunned for a moment, trying to come up with an emotional reaction that would be explicable.  You smile, and sit down across from her.  You will not be afraid of this moment, for this is probably one of the many moments that will amount to a personal self-respect.

“So,” you pause real long after this first syllable.  You watch her mouth, held open, it seems embarrassed.  You figure that’s probably  as it should be, if the universe is just.  Thinking about what you’ll say next, your lips crack a smile and you show your teeth.  “What’s up?”

You’re proud of your question, because it’s pretty noncommittal, but it can be delivered with spiteful flare.  “Yeah, uh,” she speaks nervously, clutching at her waist.  “Sorry.”

What the fuck does she mean by sorry?  You think you should play it cool, not revealing how hopeful you’d been.  You’d really thought she could be your first girlfriend, and the memory of that hope warms the poison in your blood.  “Sorry?”  You press the tray down swiftly onto the table, so that all corners clack onto the wood at the same time.  You try to think of something clever to say.  “So what class are you in?”

“Now,” she says, pausing while she acts embarrassed and looks at her own shoes.  “Now I’m a Junior.”

This is devastating, and you take a seat as if you need to.  “You’re a year younger than me?”

“Yeah,” she crosses her left hand over her right and lays them on her lap.  “Sorry about that, but you understand, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

It wasn’t until you were stomping back to the dorm that you began to think of a retort.  The best one you can come up with is “Fuck you.”  That wouldn’t have satisfied you anyway, but it does enough that you can make it back to your dorm room without breaking down.

Once you open the door and step into your room, you sit on the bed and turn to watch Lost on your computer.  How could you be so stupid?

You smile, reclining back onto a stack of pillows and lacing behind your neck.  Realizing it’s not so bad, and Christina’s an unfunny bore anyway, and you wonder why you cared so much.  Then there’s a knock on your door.

“Hello?” you say, no longer tortured, as you’ve begun to realize Christina was a passing fascination.

“Hey, I looked for you at breakfast, I heard you were here.”  It’s Leslie instead, and a gleeful relief washes through you.  You open the door, and Leslie takes the seat in front of your computer.  “I heard about what happened with Christina at breakfast.  That’s tough man, sorry.”

Without even hearing my response, she’d already started to speak.  “Yeah fuck her.”  Then suddenly with rib-rippling rhythm, you cackled for a time, nervous about what you were finally considering doing.  “Hey do you wanna go out?”

You wince slightly, because you know this is ill-timed.  You still have hope though, because you’re pretty sure she’s always liked you, and she’s pretty cute now that you think about it.

She has red pigtails and a patch of light red freckles that run from a spot on the back of her neck right to the center of her chest, massing together like a river.  Your eyes trailed this pathway of freckles until she speaks.

You’re watching her face, knowing that you would be able to tell what her response would be.  Her face droops, and so does mine.  “Sorry,” she says and looked at the ground.  You idiot!  You curse yourself for missing what was a golden opportunity to get with Leslie.  “Yeah,” you say, purposefully pausing a significant stretch of time, “So, I’m kinda going out with Kyle now.”

You think you know Kyle, he’s the guy who snorts Adderal and cleans his apartment all night.  But he’s a nice guy, and you don’t have the energy to be angry anymore.  So you recognize, the game is over now, and you’ve lost.  Motherfuck it all, especially yourself.

But at least this experience shows you that you at least have something alluring on your side.  So there you go, and if you’ve gained nothing, you at least have hope.

You can do This

Poem: Box the Turtle

I am invincible,

at a starter pistol I tuck my head and hunker,

I’m scared of nothing,

I can’t even hear the footsteps of my enemies,

but they’re out there,

from here I can sense foolish and lame vitreous,

they can’t cut me,

I sense the fear behind their bulky sunglasses,

they’re just jealous,

from outside my walls they smell smoking meats,

they must be cold,

likely their fingers bleed clawing at bare brick,

I would let them in,

then they’d see blank journals and empty bottles,

and know the truth,

that behind the curtain there is nothing at all.

 

Poem: Box the Turtle