Sylvester (Volume 8)

All right, when did she die?  This was the first calm thing I thought to myself after I found my mother dead, because I couldn’t remember her groaning or stirring as I lifted her to the couch, so she might have already been dead.  I might have lifted my mother’s corpse over my shoulder and dumped it on her bed, or she might have been unconsciously hanging on when I’d moved her.  It didn’t make any difference to me.

It was 11:13 PM when I checked on my mother for the first time since I dumped her on her bed, and I found a dead body.  Upon discovering the death of my mother, I gasped and fell into the wall behind me, striking it with my shoulders at the same time and forcefully enough that I knocked the wind out of myself.  The sensation of it was nostalgic, calling to my mind instances from childhood when I’d felt the same thing.  I’d often slipped off the swing set in the backyard and landed painfully on my back; I remembered staring up at the sky watching the empty swing I’d been riding twist in the wind, gulping air to fill my empty chest.

I’d just lay there for what felt like fifteen minutes, waiting for my mother, who I knew had been watching me, to come to my rescue.  When she didn’t, I flipped over, erecting myself and hurrying back to Mom in a huff.  “Why didn’t you help me?”

She picked up the pitcher of tea from the table in front of her, retrieved her cup of ice cubes, and slowly began to fill it.  She tipped the pitcher as gradually as she could, and I watched the level of liquid in the glass rise gradually while she peered up at me and smiled.  When it was full she lifted the glass to her lips and took a pirate captain’s swig of it, sighing loudly after she did.  “You’re ten, you had a good run.”

This was my mother’s sense of humor, and thinking of it my eyes started to water.  I had laughed, and she’d responded by grabbing my rib cage with both hands and tickling me furiously.  I remembered pleading for her to stop, knowing that she wouldn’t right away, at least until we’d both had our fill.  I remembered looking up at her, watching as her smile became wider and madder.  Her pudgy face lit up, and her teeth glowed bright white as she cackled.

I fell against the wall staring at the dead body on my mother’s bed, and a single sob almost burst through my lips and seeped out of my eyes, but I strangled it down.  I made two solitary yelping sounds back to back, like a rim shot, and put my hand over my mouth.  I looked at the ground as my wrist hit the front of my chest and I crossed the fingers of my hands so hard that it hurt.

I grimaced as my back slid downward against the wall, and my ass landed on the floor with a painful thump.  I sat there for a period of indeterminate length, remaining still and allowing sadness to fill me like water fills a balloon.

My Mom was dead, finally, and all I wanted was to play Scrabble with her.  The guilt I felt, that I’d not made it back sooner almost bowled me over.  What if she’d been waiting by the game board for hours, praying that I’d burst through the door, and I never had?  Would that, I wondered, have given her the motivation to drink herself to death?

I started to hit myself, pounding my fist into my right thigh and left shoulder, and then turned around to face the wall.  I put my palms up to it, as if testing that the wall were really solid, and began to strike it with my forehead.  Steadily and rhythmically I met the wall with my face, forcefully enough to create a large divot in the drywall.

You idiot, you idiot, how could you?  My head started to hurt, not just from the outside, the pain spread out from the center of my head in waves, bringing me to my knees.  This too had been a childhood habit of mine, and one that mom hated with a passion.  “If you keep doing that,” she’d begun, I’m sure intending to threaten me with something.  When there wasn’t even hesitation in my masochism, she’d just scream “Stop it!” and run out of the room.

This occurred at a consistent rate for the first sixteen years of my life.  I’d do something wrong, like spill pop all over the living room carpet or fill my desk with incomplete homework assignments, and then punish myself in this way.  This continued until my Sophomore year of high school, when mom finally put a stop to it.

It was after I’d spent a weekend at my friends’ parents’ summer house in Michigan, without telling her beforehand.  When I called from Michigan to tell her where I was, she screamed at me.  When I got home I was ready to handle her anger, and sought to diffuse it by head butting the wall.  After putting my head into the wall four times, I turned around and saw her.

Tears were falling down her cheeks, “I won’t tell you to stop anymore, just know that when you do that it hurts me too.”  As I recalled this moment, I felt a pain in my head that was a lot worse than I remembered, so I stopped.  I turned to look at my mother’s cadaver, fell over her, and wept.

 

Eventually I called the police, and people in uniforms started filing in and out of my house, taking care of all the necessaries.  I told them with a twinge of pride that I’d spent the previous night at my girlfriend’s house, and had come home around four in the afternoon that day, at which point my Mom had been alive though passed out.

I told them my mother was an alcoholic, and that I had no idea how much she’d drunk that day.  One officer, a not-unattractive woman with pockmarks on her left cheek and her hair in a tight auburn bun scribbled on a clipboard as I answered her questions.  I think she was probably conciliatory, but I hardly noticed, distracted by the war raging in my own head.

I grappled with a deep sense of guilt, but of a different kind than I’d ever felt before.  This guilt was not the result of anything I’d said or done.  This guilt came from knowledge of the fact that within myself, deep down, I was joyful.

Ding dong, the witch is dead.  Which old witch?  The drunken witch!  As I considered that now I could bring my new girlfriend Sonia to my house, fuck her as loud as I wanted, and that she might even want to move in, a grin unfurled on my face.  As soon as this smile revealed itself my face instantly transformed into an expression of horror.  This isn’t fun, your mom is dead.

While I watched the sky turn powder blue, and the coroner carried my mother’s carcass away, I sat on my couch and turned on the TV.  SportCenter was on, and as I watched it I realized that I could use a drink.  I checked what had been my mother’s regular hiding places and found a half-full liter of vodka in the bucket of supplies under the sink in the bathroom, and I used it to make a drink.

I sipped my mixture of two parts Coke and one part vodka, followed by another, and still another.  I was woken at 10:30 AM by my phone vibrating in my pocket.  After a few moments of half-drunk contemplation, I reached my hand down and retrieved it.

It was Boss Jorge calling.  I looked at the name on my phone and remembered that I hadn’t been to work in two days. I poured myself another drink and immediately returned the call.  “Boss Jorge?”

“Where are you?  What are you doing?”  Boss Jorge sounded angry, but more than that he sounded worried.  “You missed two days in a row, were you attacked?”

I smiled, feeling an almost familial closeness with my boss of twenty years.  “My mom died last night, I’ll be in after lunch.”

Sylvester (Volume 8)

Sylvester (Volume 5)

There was a single staircase that came up from a tiny entranceway next to the hardware store, and to many, it seemed spooky.  It was lit by a single light bulb that had been flittering for at least twenty years.  This led to Lincoln Square Lanes.  “The Alley,” as I’d called it my entire life, had become my normal bar of preference for what were primarily sentimental reasons.

The Alley was important to me.  I’d spent my adolescence there.  This wasn’t a bowling alley where little kids had birthday parties, this was a bowling alley where unemployed people drank beer and played pinball.  It was like the “Townie” bars I’d known in college, where people went to shut up and drink.  Most afternoons after school from sixth to eighth grade, I went to The Alley and bowled.

I wasn’t drinking yet when I used to hang out at The Alley, I just went there to pass the time.  I guess I liked bowling, or anyway the soundtrack of pins tumbling down was distracting.

In grade school, though I had a few close friends, we never really did much.  I was pretty lonely most of the time.  That evening at Sonia’s open mic, things would be different.  The Alley was no longer going to be a monument of isolation.  That day, there was a chance it was going to get me laid.

As I climbed the staircase to The Alley, I wondered, excitedly, what Sonia’s open mic would be.  I’d been to open mic’s in college, maybe even participated in a few (I couldn’t be sure either way), but those were mostly comprised by stoned singer-songwriters.  This was a mic Sonia had earlier that day assured me was “Just for comedy.”

Comedy open mic’s are events that occur mainly in bars, and give aspiring stand up comedians the chance to test out and advance their material.  I wondered about what it would be like.  What kind of jokes would these open mic comics tell?  I thought about about the standup comedy that I’d loved in the past.

I’d once loved Emo Phillips, and I thought about my favorite bit of his: “I saw an old school friend yesterday, Jimmy Peterson, I hadn’t seen him since third grade, and I slapped him on the back, saying ‘why Jimmy, how the hell are you?’  Jimmy started crying and screaming, “Mommy!  Mommy!” and I realized that if that were really Jimmy Peterson, he would’ve grown up too.”  Halfway up the stairs I burst into laughter considering this bit.

I loved the absurdity of the routine, and the way it told the story of an adult striking a child with wit and lightness.  That day, since the time I’d been with Sonia, I’d been trying to think of something similar; a fractured way of seeing the world.  I thought about my own childhood, and the ways I’d thought.  This was the joke I came up with:  “I like that Beethoven guy, well, the beginning of the fifth symphony, anyway.”

The moment I thought of this joke, I knew I didn’t feel strongly about it.  Anyway as I stepped up to the bar I told myself that I wasn’t going to perform that night, even if asked, as I had work in the morning.

On the other side of the wall adjacent to a row of bowling alleys there was a small, roughly one foot high platform, and on it stood a mic stand.  Behind this “stage,” Sonia was at work setting up an amplifier.  She switched it on, stood on the platform and began to perform a mic check.  “Hello everyone, is this microphone on?  Is everything cool?”

Sonia gave the bartender a curious look as he placed a bottle of cheap beer before me.  The bartender nodded and gave a thumbs up, saying “Yeah it’s good, no louder.”

“Cool,” she said, extending the microphone past its stand before pulling it back into its regular position.  She noticed me, and lowered her head to hold it just in front of the mic.  “And we have a new guest, Sil, who I’ve only recently met and has already turned me down for sex, give him a hand everybody.”  She raised her hand towards me, holding her thumb up and fingers out, like a model on The Price is Right.

For a moment I was stunned, preparing to feel humiliated.  I hadn’t turned her down, I thought, we’d just had a missed connection.  I was going to jump up onto the stage, pull Sonia close, and explain what had happened between us.  I would explain that had been my fault, and that I was still totally into her, but several sharp cackles cut the air between us.

There were four people at the bar, all of them seemed like teenage boys.  Despite the fact that they were all wearing baseball hats and jeans, I figured they were in their mid-twenties.  These boys all sort of reminded me of myself at their age, or they made me imagine the way I might have been, if I’d had a “Crew” of “Bro’s” like they did.  I pondered it, but couldn’t picture it.

As I pulled a stool out from the bar to take a seat, the white boy nearest me seemed to yell with a booming voice, “What were you thinking, man?”  He had a goofy face, and he seemed to be opening his eyes as wide as he could.  He had loose curly bright red hair that popped out the back of the bandana he was wearing like water from a fire hydrant.

I must have looked confused, as my mouth was slightly open and my eyebrows were knit tight.  “Um. . .” I spoke, trying to think of something funny to quip, and hopefully reduce the tension of this interaction.  I pulled a stool up close to the bar, sat on it calmly, and told the truth.  “I don’t know.  I was scared, I guess?”

The young man laughed and clapped in a way that seemed to be more at me than with me.  I ignored what I might have considered a slight as I felt Sonia’s arm lay across my upper back.  She wrapped her palm around my shoulder and brought it tight against my bicep, squeezing me harder than I’d have expected.  “Sorry about that.  I just saw you, and I’d had a few and I was holding a microphone.  So, ya know?”  She shrugged adorably.

“No, no, it’s fine,” I said truthfully, as it really was fine.  Sonia hadn’t embarrassed me by blurting out into a microphone that I’d refused her offer of sex.  Just the opposite, it made me seem quite the gentleman.  “I just wanted to come up and see, uh, what’s goin’ on.”

Sonia went about showing me the list of comedians and explaining its workings with a simple summary.  “I put the list up at eight, and it’s pretty much first come first serve, but if you wanted to go up early I can slide you in.”

“The list?  Slide me in?”

Sonia chuckled putting her hand on her hip.  “Slide you in just means put your name on the list to perform tonight.”

I would’ve probably objected, saying that I couldn’t possibly go up tonight, but I was caught by Sonia’s eyes.  I figured it was probably some obvious touch of makeup, like a dusting of blush or rouge wherever, but her eyes were stunning and they caught me; I was helpless.  From the wit in her eyes I could tell that she expected me to fumble, but I held strong and acted cool.  “Yeah okay, I’m in.”

Smiling and clapping, Sonia picked up a pen and the clipboard that held the list of that night’s performers.  The numbers one and two were blank, but the numbers three through fourteen were filled with names.  I turned to Sonia, as I was not quite sure what to do, but she told me that I didn’t need to put my name on the list, because she’d get me up whenever I was ready.

“Bullshit!”  The kid with the fire hydrant hair waved his arms and stomped his feet.  “He turned you down though, Sonia, fuck him.”

“You’ve already met Cali,” Sonia said with flippant disregard, “I guess you can tell he’s a shithead.”

“Shut up, bitch,” Cali responded quickly, and they each moved on.  It seemed like they’d been joking, or at least had some sort of prior understanding.  I laughed neither nervously nor excitedly.

Sonia introduced me to the three remaining young white boys.  “And that’s Jerry, Nathan, and Bob,” she said, pointing to each in turn.  “They’re awful too, like we all are, but they’re nice at least.”

The lad in the middle, Nathan, raised his hand as he called out.  “I’m not awful, I’m awesome.”  He was the one who seemed oldest, as his face was a bit pudgy and his hair seemed to be receding.

All the comics laughed, and Sonia put her shoulder to Nathan’s and leaned against him.  “That’s right,” she said, extending her lower lip out past her chin, “Nathan’s our favorite.”

Nathan laughed, shyly nodding his head as he did so.  “That’s right I’m awesome.”  Nathan squeezed his eyes shut in a mock sob as he lowered his head.  Both Jerry and Bob patted him on the back, offering their own condolences.

Open mic comedians, in my experience, are a strange bunch.

 

“Hello and welcome to this, the second edition of: The Bowling Microphone!”  Sonia stood in the center of the small, makeshift stage that rose only two feet up from the ground.

“It’s a straight first-come first serve, you can put your name and only your name on the list.”  She raised a single finger and wiggled it side to side, telling me that she wasn’t really that serious.  “Your time is four minutes.  You get the first light at three, this is the light.”  She opened her cell phone and held it above her head, “This means wrap it up.  If I’m waving at you and flipping you off, get off the stage.”

She finished her opening spiel in a way that seemed very practiced, and as she wrapped up by announcing the night’s drink deals, she moved on to her comedy.  As it would happen, most of her hosting set was spent discussing me.  “Okay, gang, so here’s what happened,” she bugged her eyes out a little and chewed her bottom lip, “I met a boy.”

She almost giggled, putting her hands over her waist and bending her knees slightly.  I giggled a bit too.  Her impish grin melted away in an instant and she pointed at me, saying plainly, “It’s him, so. . .”  She shrugged, “I’m not, ya know, wild about it.”

I burst into laughter so hard I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt its like.  I was able to keep my composure, so this guffaw was short-lived, and Sonia continued her set.  From this opening quip, she segued into written material.

“I’ve done a lot of research, and I believe I can say, with confidence, that without a doubt, the itchiest spot of the body,” she let the joke draw out smoothly, like a master calligrapher.  “Is the taint.”  She then took her free hand and inserted it between her legs, scratching the spot where they were stitched together with her nail.  As she at least pantomimed digging her nail into her crotch (though I think she probably actually scratched), she let out a soft groan.

Huoawhoah,” she sounded satisfied, releasing rather than creating her own unique call.  “This is one of the most important things in life, the little pleasures.”  She stood and looked out over her audience, moving swiftly on to the next joke.  “When I was a kid I thought the world was speaking to me.”

I was confused by the way Sonia’s material seemed to meander around.  “Like you know the sound of a stomach growling?  I used to think it was a little voice saying “stomach.”

Sonia was able to manipulate and shrink her voice such that while it did sound a lot like the sound your gut makes when it’s empty.  “You know, ‘cause I thought it probably knew what I called it.”

After just these few opening bits, Sonia retrieved the list and read the first name off of it.

“Uh oh, this first comic, this guy’s trouble, Lyle the Cutter.”

A tall, pudgy, clumsy-footed man with what I used to call a buzz-cut ambled onto the platform and faced his audience.  “My name is Lyle and the doctors told my parents to make sure there’s nothing I can strangle myself with at our house, I guess it was because I cut myself a lot.”  Lyle spoke in a monotone, varying the distances between his words very little.

This manner of speaking was unsettling to me.  It sounded as though he might have some kind of mental disability.  This consideration left my mind as soon as he told his first joke: “No seriously, I love to draw but they took my pencil away ‘cause I stabbed myself with it.”

I cracked up.  It was hilarious, and I didn’t consider even for a second how tragically honest Lyle the Cutter may have been.  The open mic comics who’d seen Lyle many times before laughed, with several of them also cheering and hooting.  Other than that, the three or four regular bargoers chuckled nervously and glanced at each other.

From there, Lyle’s act devolved into near-robotic recitation of facts and lists.  His joke about stabbing himself with the pencil really made me laugh a lot.  As I thought about it, most of the humor of this statement seemed to come from the lack of a comma between “away” and “‘cause.”  If you pronounce the joke like that, I felt, it would be like you were reading the joke like a news bulletin, and that there was nothing odd about it.

After Sonia and Lyle kicked the show off with a very weird pair of sets, the mic was off and running.  To tell the truth, I’d admit that the majority of these comics were forgettable, but there were a few standouts.

One guy, Bob Avaro, whom I’d sort of been hanging out with at the bar with just prior to the start of the mic, seemed to do his best to bring down the energy of the room.  He held the mic in front of his chest, lowering his head to meet it.  “I usually wake up pissed cause I don’t wanna go to my work, but then I remember I lost my job yesterday, and that calls for a celebration drink.”

After Bob, both Jerry and Nathan, his two compatriots from the bar went up in direct succession.  Their acts were sort of hackneyed, blatantly obvious, and distinctly forgettable.  The same could not be said for the comic who went up soon after them, Malcolm, “cali” Kavanagh.

Cali, who I’d met earlier and had made an annoying impression on me.  His long, curly red hair, as well as his obnoxious demeanor, made me want to push the palm of my hand into his face.

His “jokes,” if they could be called that, meandered from reflecting on the fact that he was performing at a bowling alley to noticing the people in the audience that looked weird.  At one point he even said “Get a load a’ this guy, what’s with his head, right?”

As Cali performed in this way, each “joke” only earned only silence and derision from the audience, until he turned to me.  As he looked over his audience, groping for something funny to say, his eyes locked on me and he smiled wide.  He pointed at me, “And did ya hear?  This guy turned down Sonia, what the hell man, she’s a milf!”

I raised my hands, pointing my palms to the ceiling, trying to think of something to say.  Cali’s mention of Sonia and I had garnered the only laughter his comedy had received so far, so  I knew he wasn’t likely to just move on without getting my response.  I wasn’t fast enough at it, though, as before I could respond to him, Cali resumed aggressively questioning me.

“So what’s the deal man?  You gonna hit that or what?”

I just stared up at him and watched him point the microphone at me.  Having no response, I looked at Sonia, and she was jumping up and down, waving an open cell phone in the air; I pointed to her, “I think your time’s up.”

“Just when I was finally getting laughs!?”  Cali gesticulated with his hands, pretending to hurl the microphone on the floor, and then placing it gingerly on the top of the stand.  “I apologize, as always, for everything I’ve said into this microphone.”

Cali dropped his head as he placed the mic back on its receiver and lowered his head.  Looking out over the audience, which by that point was comprised almost entirely of aspiring comedians, and then sat on the stool to my right.  As he was doing this, Laura resumed her hosting duties.  “That was our main man Cali, give him a hand.”

At 11:43 PM, I was feeling tipsy, so I decided it was time for him to go home.  I considered heading out, and I remembered that I’d told her I would perform I would perform that night.

Will she hold me to it?  This thought wrapped itself around my head and would not let go.  What would she do when I told her he didn’t want to try standup?  Would she make fun of him?  These open-mic comic people seemed to be pretty quick and nasty with the insults, what would they say?  What if they pressured me to perform after all?  It could become a very embarrassing situation, and I hated those.

As the second-to-last comic was just about to come to the mic, I feebly sidled up to Sonia.  “I don’t think I’m gonna go up, actually.”

I’d spoken shyly, as though ashamed of my cowardice, and I expected her to denigrate me.  Or worse yet, she could’ve acted disappointed, hanging her head and shaking it slowly.  However, in response to my cowardice, she smiled and spoke with a warm voice.  “Oh no problem, maybe you’ll do it some other night.”

Hearing Sonia say “some other night,” excited me, as it indicated she was already planning to spend more time with me.  “Yeah maybe I will,” Sonia responded, switching off one of the microphones on her PA system.  She walked over to me, laying her wrist on my shoulder.  “You stickin’ around?  We’re almost done.”

“I got work tomorrow, sorry.”

She fired back like she’d been ready.  “At least stay to the end, you’re almost there.”

I agreed.

Sonia stepped to the mic, holding her eyes on me.  “And now, here we are, the last comic of the mic, let’s hear it people.”  The seven or eight people that were still listening clapped and hooted half enthusiastically.

It was an eighteen year old with lame jokes whose name I don’t remember, but during his entire set, Sonia and I were ensconced in the “looking” game.  This is the game that occurs between people when there is both a mutual attraction, and a public shyness shard between two people.  I would stare at her until she looked back at me, then I would avert my eyes.

We did this until Sonia noticed that she should’ve called the comic off the stage a minute ago, and she jumped on the stage, closing the show up as quickly as possible.  As she did this, she added a bit in the end that caught my ear.  “And so, thank you for coming to this, the second installment of The Bowling Microphone, now let’s all get laid!”  The significance of this quote from Back to School was not lost on me, and I smiled wide because of it.

After she slid the microphone into its place on the stand, she stepped off the platform towards me, cutting the distance between us to almost nothing.  She stood before me, our noses almost touching, for what felt like a long time.  Though it was not at all like me, and afterwards I was never able to adequately explain to myself where I gotten the courage to try such a thing, I kissed Sonia.

It was not for more than a moment and it was very sweet.  We flowed into each other, as it seemed our energies fed off of the inspiration of the other.  At least that’s what I felt, and Sonia seemed to feel the same.  We made out a little before traipsing down the staircase to the street.  When we left The Alley into the deep dark starless night, Sonia took a left when I’d have taken a right, and I followed her.

I thought about the reasons not to go with Sonia, from the fact that I’d promised my mother I’d return to the fact that Mondays are often a hectic day at Harvest Time, but none of them received precedence.  I was with a groovy chick at 12:39 on a Monday morning, and we were going to have sex.  I forgot everything else I could possibly have been thinking at the time.  I was about to have sex

Sylvester (Volume 5)

Sylvester (Volume 2)

I woke up the next morning with a headache, which told me that I’d drunk a lot.  Also there was an empty bottle of vodka on the kitchen table and my mom was passed out on the couch, so those were more clues.  I could only guess at the events of the previous night, but it was an educated guess.  II took what evidence I had and pieced the night together as best I could.

I figured I’d probably rolled in around 1 a.m., found my mother passed out on the couch next to a partially drunk liter of vodka on the table, and then finished the liter.

Or that’s what I allowed myself to believe had happened, because it delayed the realization that my mother probably drank the entire bottle.  If she had drunk the entire bottle she probably wouldn’t remember.  If she didn’t remember drinking the bottle she may demand that I go get her more.  This was a regular occurrence.  Sometimes I would fight her about it, refusing to get the vodka, sometimes I would fold.

These arguments, the craziness in them, made me chuckle to myself on a regular basis.  I would categorize these chuckles under the word ‘bitter.’  The worst chuckles came when she said that she had finally kicked it, meaning her alcoholism, and poured out all the vodka in a flash of self-righteous masochism.  “I poured it all out because I know that I deserve the pain of withdrawal, but now in the harsh light of day, I realize that I could sure use a drink.”

I chuckle when I think about it, and imagine I could write a funny sitcom about an adult son living with his alcoholic mother.  Maybe I could call it “Beans and the Wheeze.”  “Oh mom, you’re such a drunk bitch!” (laugh track).

If I showed her the receipt proving that I had indeed purchased vodka for her just two days previous, she would either call me a liar and a forger, or start sobbing and promise never to drink again.  Living with an alcoholic is a bizarre experience.

Years ago, I remember thinking that my mom was probably an alcoholic, but I wasn’t gonna say or do anything about it, probably because I was scared.  I told myself that she felt it was her life, and she was seventy-eight, so what business did I have telling her anything?  That was what I told myself, but I think the real reason I turned a blind eye to my mother’s alcohol abuse was sadder and more troubling than that.

Honestly, it’s sad to say, but I probably figured it was as good a way out as any for her.  I know it sounds cold, and it is cold, but she didn’t have much to live for at the time.  I mean whenever the two of us were alone together talking seriously, which happened rarely in those days thank god, she would launch into wailing and gnashing her teeth about this or that.

Sometimes I got really mad at her because she was such a bummer to me.  If she wasn’t a generator of constant trouble in my life she was certainly a beacon to it.  Trouble constantly patrolled her sphere of influence, but I couldn’t be anywhere else because she was my mother and I loved her.

Even then though in many ways our mother/son relationship had flipped over on itself, she still held a lot of authority over my emotional life.  I wanted her to be okay, all the time, and when she wasn’t it pained me.  Paradoxically, it seemed before the drinking took hold, anyway, she was likewise emotionally chained to me.  If I was sad she was sad, so I preferred to gloss over my fits of loneliness.

Sometimes I would lie to her about some new gal from Ohio I’d met at the library and had a date with that night, but then I’d just go see a movie or something.  There were even a few times when there’d not been a movie I wanted to see, so I just went home, saying that she stood me up.  My mom would hug me and say “At least you’re trying,” which was the most depressing thing for me to hear for a variety of reasons.

“HuhWHOA!” through the wall I heard my mother’s morning groan, followed by a series of thuds indicating that she was clumsily pulling herself together.  Her bedroom door flew open, making the doorknob slam into the indented section of drywall behind it.  “Bright in here, huh?”

She was still drunk, it seemed, but barely.  She opened her door with enough gusto to slam it into the adjacent wall when she was tipsy, a level of intoxication that indicated she was either on her way to or coming from a full drunk stupor.

I was laying on the couch watching a political roundtable, paying no attention, of course.  “Sure is, Mom.  Whattya want for breakfast?”

Her eyes softened, “Oh I couldn’t put ya’ out, I’ll just have a bowl a’ cereal.”

There wasn’t any cereal, and I knew there wasn’t any cereal, but I preferred for my mother to figure that out on her own.  After hearing drawers open and close through the wall separating the kitchen from the living room for what felt like long enough, I finally spoke.  “Find the cereal?”

“No, I guess we’re out,” before she spoke her next words I could see the game she was playing.  She was gonna find that we didn’t have any cereal, and she would need to make a quick trip to Dominick’s to pick up some more.

Along with cereal, the Dominick’s near our house also sold vodka, which I assumed was her true aim.  I knew that if I let her go for cereal, and even if she promised not to, she would also get vodka.  So before she even suggested it, I jumped up.  “Yeah I was gonna go anyway,” I said pulling my shoes on and heading out the door.  “Goin’ to Dominick’s, I’ll be back soon.”

Whenever I went anywhere I once felt an intense need to tell someone where I was going and when I’d be back.  I used to tell a lot of people these pieces of information all the time.  It had even become sort of an inside joke some of my close friends had with one another.

They’d get up to go to the bathroom and they’d say “Hittin’ the shitter, be back in five,” and everyone would laugh.

The thing that’s kinda weird about this, I guess, is that I only actually did this when I was a little kid.  When I was a teenager I was just doing it because it made people laugh.  It got embarrassing though, so I stopped.

After my dad died I started telling my mom where I was going and when I’d be back every time I left the house, just to remind her of something cute I used to do when I was little.  I think it helped us through a difficult time, or I like to think that, anyway.

It was a behavior pattern my mother had instilled in me starting from a very young age, though she didn’t pay much attention to my announcements anymore.  I can’t exactly remember her telling me to always keep her informed of my plans, but I imagine she began this tradition from the first words I spoke.

Things between us had devolved quite a bit since then.  Thee to five days a week she just drank and sat in silence all day.  It was definitely unsettling, and probably would have been fully disturbing if it happened less often than it did.

When it did happen, she’d fix herself a few stiff screwdrivers, drink them, and sit on the couch staring at the wall for as long as two or three hours.  When she’d stared at nothing for what I supposed was long enough, she’d lie on her side and close her eyes.  Living with my mom while she was spiraling downward wasn’t really any fun.

That’s not to say there weren’t positives to my mother’s drinking, because there were.  Sunday mornings had become considerably more pleasant for me since my mother didn’t bother so much with church anymore.  There were no more shaming glances at me as I stretched out on the couch instead of praising His name and begging forgiveness.  Forgiveness for what?  For acting just as He designed me to act?  Fuck that.

Anyway that’s the point I came to way back in 6th grade, and I’ve never looked back.  Whenever people talk about the heavenly father or the way they are imbued with celestial purpose, I roll my eyes and make the ‘jack off’ motion with my right hand.  Like get a load a’ this guy, you believe this?

I had to stay stealthy about my agnosticism all through grade school and the start of high school, just to keep the status quo stable.  Eventually I told my mother that I no longer believed, and her response was less negative than I had anticipated.  My my mother held out hope that I would come back to the church on my own.

Sunday afternoons were quiet in my neighborhood, most people are in church.  Outside it was pretty sunny, pleasant and empty.  It was the type of day I might have enjoyed had I been in a better mood, but I wasn’t.  All noises were annoying and light pulsed in from every angle.  I just wanted to go to the store to get cereal, probably a little candy, and maybe a little vodka.

I was gonna get Raisin Bran Crunch but I got distracted by all the options, so I just stood and stared.  As I stood still in the grocery store, I heard a familiar, unexpectedly timid voice.  “Um, hi, I don’t know if you remember me but. . .” her voice shrunk and disappeared as she approached me.  It was Sonia, from the night before, and she held her hand out fearfully as if warding off an aggressive dog.

I wanted her to go away.  “Listen I’m sorry, but—“

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, really, I—“ she seemed to be considering what to say next, silently mouthing some words and rolling her eyes to the back of her head.  “—I was just such a bitch, and I’m so sorry, you don’t deserve that.”

Now that she seemed to have pulled herself together, or maybe I was just seeing her through sober eyes, she was cute.  She had thick, soft, curly black hair.  Her eyes were shiny and soft, and through her smile I could see all the sweetness that had ever existed or would ever exist.

Oh shit, I thought silently to myself, here we go.  I had a crush on Sonia.  “It’s no problem, I don’t even remember anyway.”

This was a lie of course, as I did remember and had been thinking about the insult she’d paid me the previous evening, but she apologized, so why should I tell her that I’d been insulted?  She hadn’t requested that information and I didn’t feel like providing it.

Sonia rocked back on her heels slightly as she kept her hands in her pockets and looked at the ground.  “O—okay.  I’ll see you around, buy you a drink.”

I raised my hand just above eye level as I smiled and nodded slightly.  I then hurried away in a way that I tried to make not look like hurrying, over to the candy aisle.  As I looked over the candy deliberately not looking behind me, I was very curious about what Sonia was doing back there.

Sonia had probably gone on to whatever she had to do next in her day.  I always reminded myself that other people’s lives do not revolve around me, and everyone’s got their own stuff to deal with.  I turned around just to reassure myself that she wasn’t there, and she wasn’t.

All right, I told myself, that’s fine.  I didn’t even care, and it just would have made me scared anyway, if she’d been back there waiting for me.  I picked up a little bottle of vodka, just in case my mom got really crazy that night, I’d have something, at least, to soothe her.

I did a complex set of moral gymnastics for me to justify buying my mother vodka on Sunday morning.  In the end I landed on a simple reason to buy the alcohol: it is necessary.

It was necessary for me to get vodka because if I didn’t there was a chance I wouldn’t have any when my mother wanted some, and that would spell trouble.

So I got the liquor, and I was feeling pretty guilty about that as I stomped away from Dominick’s in a huff.  When I was about to get to the corner where I’d make my turn for home, next to the turquoise Abraham Lincoln statue, I heard Sonia’s voice call after me.  “Havin’ a party?”

I startled so sharply I almost fell down, and raised my arms up as if to defend myself.  “W-what?”

“Are you having a party?”  She advanced on me, “I mean vodka, candy, cereal, kinda weird.”

I was stunned for a long moment.  It took me a while to turn around because I wasn’t sure how I should react.  I was supposed to get back to the house soon with the cereal, and mom would probably demand liquor once I got there.  On the other hand, Sonia was intriguing.

Sonia waited near the exit of the Dominick’s, having come out of the store just after I did.  “Oh-oh I don’t mean to insult you.”  I stopped and turned around to see Sonia looking very embarrassed and holding her hand in front of her mouth.  “Sorry I just overheard the cashier tell you your order.  Maybe I was following you a little too close in there, and, I don’t know, I’m an asshole I guess, sorry, ignore me.”

When she spoke her last two words I wondered if she realized how ridiculous they were.  I couldn’t ignore her anyway, if I tried.  “No no, I just—you surprised me is all.”

“Didn’t mean to,” she said, letting her hands drop toward her sides.   “I just wanted to apologize, for the way I acted the other night, It was just—“

“—no I don’t, there’s no need.  Sorry, I—”  I raised my hands up, palms forward, and shook them left to right, warding away Sonia’s embarrassment.

She coughed with purpose, just to shut me up.  “Don’t apologize, stop it.”  As she spoke these short, crisp words, her aspect seemed to soften.  Her left hand slowly wrapped its fingers around my right elbow and held them there, not grasping my arm but hovering near it, touching it only lightly.  “I’m trying to say that I liked you, and I know that I was weird about it, but I saw you bought some vodka, do you wanna party?”

I was terrified, horrified, and more excited than I’d been in years.

Sylvester (Volume 2)

A Soulless Rake: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorcese

Writer:Terrence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)

Stars: Leonardo Dicaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill

As I left the theater having just seen The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorcese’s newest meditation on excess, I felt as if I was in a daze.  Was that really three hours?  The amount of drug abuse, nudity, and near-constant profanity in the film corresponded to make its lengthy run time seem to whip by.  In the story of Jordan Belfort, real life stockbroker, drug addict, convicted felon, and motivational speaker, Scorcese has found yet another historical example of the symbiotic relationship that exists between wealth and moral turpitude.  Like Goodfellas and Casino before it, Wolf shows the way that the quest for money can cloud your judgement, desensitize you to suffering (particularly your own), and possibly end in no great lesson.

I say possibly because whether or not Dicaprio’s Jordan Belfort truly learns anything in the film is a personal judgement that each viewer should reach on their own after they view it, which I would recommend.  I consider The Wolf of Wall Street to be Scorcese’s most enjoyable work since the first half of Gangs of New York.  During its first two hours, I had an ear-to-ear grin that did not leave my face.  The credit for this, beyond Scorcese’s as-ever obvious mastery of the form, goes to Dicaprio’s brash performance, which I consider the greatest of his career.

Personally I’ve never loved that Dicaprio has become Scorcese’s obvious muse.  Though I liked him in Shutter Island and The Aviator, I thought he was too soft for The Departed or the aforementioned Gangs.  Maybe it’s my own prejudice against his obvious beauty, but I’ve never bought him as the badass.  In The Wolf of Wall Street however, I finally see what Dicaprio really has above other actors, a twinkle in his eye.  Dicaprio, plays Belfort as a sort of drunken pixie; charmed, reckless and egotistical, he attracted and repelled me in the same time. Dicaprio’s Belfort, after a lunch with capitalist zen master Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey, who steals the show in the film’s first half hour, never to be seen again), sets his sights on unfathomable riches, and will not be dissuaded.

Beyond McConaughey, of course, Dicaprio is flanked by outstanding supporting performances.  Jonah Hill affects a heavy northeastern accent (I couldn’t place it) and a disregard for decorum that rivals Dicaprio’s.  Rob Reiner is charismatic as Belfort’s anger-addicted father, and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) is a believable morally stalwart FBI agent.  But for me, the best supporting performance is Margot Robbie’s turn as the deceptively intelligent sexpot Naomi Lapaglia.  Like Lorraine Bracco’s Karen Hill in Goodfellas, she’s drawn into a morally and legally untenable situation by the charismatic male lead, but keeps her backbone and edge, making him pay (as best she can) for his mistakes.

The Wolf of Wall Street, while overstuffed and exhausting, such that it may leave an audience either gasping for air or looking for a pillow, is a fitting capper to Scorcese’s Triptych of decadence (Goodfellas and Casino were the first two).  Though I can’t speak to its specific message without giving away the film’s finale, I will say that I found the film sobering, and that Belfort did not win my favor.  After the first hour of the film, Belfort’s first wife is never seen or heard from again, and the two kids he claimed to have with her are never seen at all.  In the end, due to this and many other elements of the story, Scorcese has shown me that a lust for money and power can rob you of your reason, your freedom, and your soul.

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A Soulless Rake: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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: Oh Man

Who do you think you are?

it’s a good question, when you think about it,

me, I’m a massive living statue that shoots lasers from its face,

I guess, I’m a guardian of the realm,

perched on a rampart, black as ash on the sun,

ya know, basically, I stand watch is all,

they come in straight lines like space invaders,

and I make laser sounds with my lips pointing and pursing.

but do I, hit, anything, ever?

I wonder because I never know, or knew,

like all my kind I’m bound and blind,

it is an odd thing to call yourself guardian,

that which is not necessarily but could be,

am I on my side?  Or am I a spy?

 

Maybe poetry is poison.

I bet it’s odd to be the space between stanza’s,

to waver between conception and evincing,

does it think of itself in this way?

does the space between stanzas believe in existence?

No,

is the short answer, and the correct one also,

because it doesn’t believe anything, it’s a concept,

Is it everything?  Is it me?  Am I it?

I could believe one thing, or just as likely the other,

but who do I think I am?

 

To unveil the question I’ll start with the answer,

Andrew Halter, basically a nice guy,

I’m funny, obviously, as you can see, maybe,

but am I a crusader for justice?

no, I like justice, I don’t crusade, not yet I don’t,

maybe I’ll just crusade, figure it out later,

so as you can see I’m pretty unfocused,

if I had focus I would do great sad things,

speckle my lawn like soulless supermen,

they would haunt me like ghosts in The Wire,

but I’m glad and I don’t want to even know,

I could create a utopia with my loneliness.

 

there are no utopias,

nor were there nor will there be,

a spurious concept, utopia, like a miracle tonic,

step right up, step right up, everyone does their part,

I’m like please,

once there you try to hold, and mold stinks,

the ground decays, fear into hate, love into death,

heaven is constantly moving,

so that’s what I know, for the first thing anyway,

I am a pessimist, would be termed thus,

that’s the first thing, I’m also a philosopher,

allowing ideas to float, bubble pop and stick,

but I lack focus though, and so I’m left with this,

begin with no end, maybe see wisdom in the lines.

 

So is there a conclusion?

To the wisdom, does an end come?

smirking question mark wiseass,

I don’t know, what use are you?

I’m no use, breath and pause on a page, yammering in a desert,

piling words on each other, a sightless end,

this is all I am, an adventuring nothing,

going nowhere, questing thus.

 

And oh shit, I just read the earlier in this poem, and I sound like a dick,

like I think I’m the inspirational street magician, “just check your messages,”

and there’s just a voice on the phone saying “please don’t kill yourself,”

and it’s like “whoa I didn’t even tell anyone about the gun in my pocket,”

“the gun with but one bullet, you know the one,” my last bullet, you know,

but there I go again off on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known,

And bam, right there is a good end, oh shit I just fucked it up, again.

Poem: Oh Man

Short Story: The VICTORY

You thought you’d stared up at that sad white paint for the last time a year ago, didn’t you?  You really believed the lie you scribbled on the wall, that this complex wouldn’t swallow you again, and that you had it beat.  There’s no winning against this place.  The hospital is a living organism and it has your number.  You were smiling, laughing, the first time you left, and now you’re crying and you’re back. You’ll wear their pity like a bloody carpet.

And you’ll know it’s all your fault, that’s what’ll make it sting.  Not the injury, that comes from some infected scar tissue in your abdomen, but the true pain.  The true pain comes from flashbacks of Carmen, how she helped you recover emotionally, and the love you feel for her.  After you almost died in a car accident, rehabilitation was daunting, but Carmen was there to help.  Every week, she would come over to your house and watch House.  You fell in love with her then, in those hours spent glancing at her when she chuckled.

Lovely, sweet, dusky eyes peer up at you from a smiling face, and you’re caught.

You thought you could be someone to Carmen, but she helped you, you didn’t help her.  When you tried to kiss her what else was she gonna do?  And you were crushed, fucking flat Stanley crying like a little bitch.  And you can’t even stop thinking about her.

This is a pediatric ward, so there’s dead and dying little kids in every direction, but you’re not even sad about that.  Deep down in your core you’re sad about one thing, and it is pathetic.

What, when Carmen began spinning behind your pupils, you called it love, but the bad kind?  You know there’s no such thing as unrequited love; you know that’s not fair.  Obsession is real, devotion and doe-eyed obedience are real, but you can’t call these things love, because it’s not fair to.  How much do you even know Carmen?  Yes you know her better than before the accident, and that time in the bookstore you felt like maybe she liked you, but you should’ve known that that was just pity.  Pity is the most horrible thing in the world, because it is not emotion; pity is only judgement and classification.

Those that would pity you look at your life and say to themselves “There but for the grace of god go I,” and they move on, which would be fine.  The problem comes when cripples like you try to hit on normal people.  Everybody was just lying on the bed at Clark’s because we were all tired and high, and it wasn’t anything; but you saw Carmen lying next to you and you tried to kiss her, God.

And now she’s in love with Kirk and it doesn’t even matter, because she’s human and you’re fucking gross.  You can tell yourself that hole in your throat is cool all you want, but it’s nasty and it makes people uncomfortable.  It’s like you’re showing off, Mr. I’ve-Been-To-Hell-and-Back.  Look at me, I’m better than you because I know what it’s like to need a wheelchair and see a hospital ceiling all day, but that’s bullshit.   What could Carmen love in you?  Fuck, what could Carmen like about you?  Admiration though?  What’s that?  She admires you for what you went through, and that’s sexy?  That’s attractive?  That’s endearing?  You know it doesn’t even matter, anyway, because she’s just not into you.

But that’s all just slings and arrows, and everybody’s got those; you’re not special, you’re fucking typical.  You can lie there feeling sorry for yourself but around the bed next to you are new parents watching their infant child die.  You’ll probably never know pain like that, and you think you’re hurt.  Even with all that you’ve seen and been through you’ll never have to see that kind pain up close.  They seem nice; a little boring maybe, but that doesn’t mean they deserve this.  That baby might have been bouncing around and giggling a short time ago, and now it’s in the hospital.  Or maybe it never bounced or giggled.  Being in the hospital makes me consider these things..

What will you be when you go home after all this?

All you did today was watch the clock with bated breath like you were hoping for something, but you were just waiting for your parents to show up towing their sad eyes, and when they did it wasn’t any help.  Your dad came and he was like “Let’s go get a board game or something.” and you said yes because you saw hope in his face.  He wants so bad to see you smile; he wants to hear you joke, so joke, you say, you’ll really try to.

Last time you were in the hospital you and dad actually walked to a video store and picked up some Yes, Prime Minister, and that was so funny.  You can remember sitting on the hospital bed and laughing your asses off, and Fawlty Towers too, and when dad would take you out on walks sometimes and he would jog and tilt the chair back.  Going fast like that was simply fantastic, like you didn’t even know that the shadow you were rolling in was from the hospital.  it was just sharp and cold and bitter and wonderful.  It’s strange to think but you miss those times, when you were learning how to walk again,  and when you could feel progress.

But you can’t do that now, it hurts so bad to walk.  Every time you take a step you feel like nails are being pried out of your abdomen, wrenched by the tool on the back of a hammer.

So you were wheeled back to the game room with dad and what did you expect?  All it was was a bunch of sad children in bandages playing stupid board games and giggling, but their giggles didn’t sound whole.  In those little minds, even if their consciousnesses don’t realize it, score is kept and they’re way behind.  Those little kids know that their friends aren’t in the hospital, but that’s really only the beginning; they don’t even know that this is supposed to be the time their discovering girls; they don’t know what it means to miss that, and that’s probably worse than seeing it pass by.  You watched it pass by, so you at least have someone to blame.  Obviously blaming yourself isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing at all, you guess.

God, Hannah, when was that? Fourth grade? And you’re remembering that? Thinking about how that should’ve been your first kiss, and maybe then the whole story would’ve been different?  You know, if you access your reason and really think about it, you know that it wouldn’t have made any difference.  If while working on building the model Navaho town hall or whatever, you know that if you’d said “fuck it” and leaned over puckering it wouldn’t have been what you’d always imagined.  Face it, she’d have recoiled.

Even when it actually first happened for you that wasn’t real, not like it would’ve been if you’d created it, it was made for you and dropped in your lap because even before the accident people pitied you.  Some new fellow freshman friend set you up out of the goodness of her heart, with Lin.  You and Lin sat on the bench swing discussing what you each felt in your heart about the tenderness in human voices and the art in utilitarian craftsmanship or something, you can’t even remember, but it seemed important.

Lin just felt like home, and you loved talking to her.  You can remember sessions of kissing and rubbing over the clothes and over the sheets of Lin’s bed, you felt like that was what it was all about.  That was your mistake; you were too satisfied; you didn’t think you would have to do anything.  When she said she’d prefer to stay friends, you smiled and said “that’s cool.”  And when you tried to reconnect with her after your accident it was like she didn’t know you and who could blame her?  But you deserved it, the way you acted when you were first getting to know Lin was shameful.

So when dad wheeled you to the game room the letters on the boxes were all laughing at you, or that’s what it felt like anyway.  At first you were like “I kinda wanna go back,” but then he looked sad so you said “Okay, Connect Four.”  Who knows what it would look like to have your heart in a game of Connect Four, but your heart wasn’t in that one.

You must’ve looked real pissy grunting every time you slid one of the pieces into place, because as soon as you finished like 2 games dad was like “Alright wanna go back to the room?”

“Yeah, lets go.”

And as soon as you got back in bed dad was like “Sorry, I just thought maybe we could have a little fun.”

“Nah, it’s okay,” and you raised your chin to look into dad’s eyes.  You know it’s really a shame you can’t cry anymore, because that might’ve been a really good time.

And then when he saw you look at the mattress he put his hand on your shoulder, “How ya doin?” he asked like he didn’t know.

Not too fucking good dad.  I’m in the hospital again, my stomach hurts like hell, and the girls, the girls hurt worst of all.  “Fine.  I mean, not fine, it sucks, definitely, but it’ll be over soon, so, ya know.”  What the fuck?  Where the fuck do you get off Mr. Tough-Guy?  Everyone knows, though; everyone knows it’s just a fucking act, you’ve got no one fooled.

“All right,” the words slid out of your mouth like ash, “I’m doin alright”

Now it’s been a week and you’re still staring at the ceiling and the baby’s crying so you get up.  You know what?  Now, fuck this, that’s what, it’s time to walk.  Grab the walker it’s not so hard, grab it with both hands.  It’s right next to your bed and when you grab it it doesn’t slip away, it’s yours, and fully it is.

Okay now move the walker to the front of you.  It’s a machine, it’s supposed to make a crippled bastard like you walk, so walk.  Alright, for the first leg we’ll go to the window.  You won’t even do any more than that, will you?  Oh boo-hoo it hurts so much, that’s psychological and you know it, nothing hurts anymore, you push through that shit.  And you won’t cry.  Yeah you guess you can’t cry, but you wouldn’t cry if you could, because you’ve got more in the tank than they all have put together; they’re all jealous, they wish they could be given this kind of strength, but you know, they’d have to earn it.  They’d have to earn it through pain and disability and rehabilitation, and then they might remember what joy is.  They would know the joy of walking around and talking with Carmen on Halloween at the zoo.

That joy, whatever happened afterwards, will always be there.  When you looked in her eyes she did love you back, and it had to be special for her too.  You reach the window and look out; you can see the black, but there’s specks of light too, and it’s not so bad.

You can see the stars and they’re beautiful and fuck the pain, because it means nothing to nobody, so fuck it.  Smile now, that’s right, show those motherfuckers who’s the boss of who—you can’t tell me what to do!—that’s right because what’s even trying to tell you?  Thousands of dollars, hundreds of man hours spent just to make sure you can think and talk and walk so what are you gonna do?  No, you’re not gonna lie down and throw that pillow over your head and cry; because you’re tough, that’s why, and you’re not gonna let pain tell your legs not to move you to a better place.

When you see Carmen again your head will try to fool you again, but you won’t let it will you?  So what if you keep thinking about her?  She’s a major figure from the past it’s only natural, the way of the world.  You’re the doting skinny pale best friend of the spicy Latina, that movie came out like 7 times in 1982.  Maybe you’ll find someone who excites you like you’re alive like never before and maybe not, who cares?  Unoriginal people with nothing to offer anybody would care but you’re not one of them; you’re a hero and an artist, and that’s why you’re gonna turn around and do it again.  You’ll walk through the pain again, while it disappears, or shows you that it never existed in the first place.

Here’s what winners call the wall.  They don’t mention it’s made of nails but who cares, you said you’re the toughest son of a bitch that ever lived so fight through that shit, beat it into the ground till it coughs blood and its mother comes to save it.  You’re passing your room again and your bed looks better than ever before.  Maybe something good’s on TV now?  Who cares so you turn left and get ready to face the pain again.  TWO, say it out loud in your mind, TWO!

Fuck two, why not three?  Fuck three, why not five?  Fuck five, how about fucking EIGHT!?

Wait?  Who’s this talking?  No nurse, I’m fine.  I’m just walking around the hospital I don’t need help.  No I don’t need a wheelchair I’m not goin anywhere, just makin laps.  Why?  You know I’d never really considered it, just feels good I guess.  Yeah I guess it did hurt yesterday but I’m fine now.  Feels good because I’m free and I can do anything.

Almost, almost.  Almost!  TEN, done, you can lay down now, you beat it and it’s never coming back.

I woke up a week after the surgery and my stomach didn’t hurt anymore.  It was thanksgiving, and on the way out I saw that couple from the other bed in my room walk through the doors carrying their baby, the baby was laughing.

In an instant, the earth will open below you, and you will be swallowed into the agony and horrible congestion of the reality that exists for all of us the same.  In accepting this as an inevitability, which all of us must do, the appropriate thing is to gird your loins and paint your face.

Short Story: The VICTORY