Just now, tonight, walking home, guys were washing the windows of the grocery store with big hoses. All the lights were off in the parking lot but you could see their silhouettes as lit by the glow of the dairy cases all the way at the back of the darkened store. You also knew they were there from the loud SHHHH sound of spraying water and the tendrils of run-off reaching downhill to the sidewalk, tendrils that would catch moonlight and signage and start to go all neon.
Clouds overhead threatened to make all the pavement like that, slick and shiny, loud and super-reflective. I hoped they’d hold off, because I preferred the water the way it was, confined to the ground, a paper cut-out of an octopus that someone colored in like downtown Tokyo.
I was made glad by every ominous thing around me. Shadows and unburst clouds: almost everything is better as potential.
Don't you hate it when you remember something that gives you a sense of dread, and then you forget what that thing was, and you're left with only the sense of dread?
That's when the real dread sets in.
Just outside of Little Ethiopia I see two big black birds dive-bombing, flying straight up and then straight down again, over and over, like someone is throwing them in high parabolas. I drive all the way out to Venice and when I get there I regret not bringing a sweater. At one point, driving back, the sun is not at an angle where it's in my eyes, but I put my sunglasses on anyway, just to have them on.
In my neighborhood, I notice that on one corner the grilles on both the walk/don't walk signals have fallen open like waffle irons, revealing two unlit hands and two sets of dead numbers. Across the street, the ground around a low gray wall is strewn with uncooked white rice, and sitting on the wall, there's an all-black banana. It is like someone was having a ritual, trying to bring to life the little wooden man who holds a sign advertising a special at the pizza place.
On two different days I sit in the same restaurant and eat the same salad. On the first day, the salad has tuna in it and I read the first half of my friend Mina's big article for Fortune Magazine. On the second day, they're out of tuna so the salad has salmon in it, and I read the second half of Mina's article. On both days I feel thoroughly adult, eating vegetables without anyone making me and reading an article about bond market intrigue written by someone my age. To complete the effect, I don't drink soda with either meal.
They based their lives on magazines until they realized this was insufficient:
The world moved,
pictures in magazines didn’t.
So they based their lives on music videos until they realized:
in the world, you had to constantly be choosing where to look,
your view was not dictated by a director
with a background in fashion photography.
What medium could they imitate
wherein one had to constantly choose one’s own perspective?
They thought about basing their lives on video games,
They would wait for the French to start making video games.
You have a time machine? Good. Use it in my bedroom and scrub around the timeline. There is, as of a few minutes ago (not that that arbitrary temporal distinction is really meaningful to you anymore) a moment where I am rolling backwards from my desk in my new purple roll-y chair from Target, rolling just a little bit, so my legs will be free from the obstruction of the desk and I can get up and go to the bathroom, and I mis-distribute my weight and the chair goes rolling out from under me, and I land in the most awkward position possible, one that manages to split the difference between backwards and face-first, but is somehow not landing on my side. I bend my wrist all weird and look around, embarrassed, though no one is around to see.
You will know you're getting close because it is the one funny part in an otherwise pretty boring stretch where I am just sitting at my computer watching YouTube videos of my friends Anthony and Emilyn play music at a loft party in Brooklyn last August, wishing I was there, partially so I could see if I would be as upset at the people that are TALKING DURING THE MUSIC if I were actually present, partially so I could be feeling the irreplaceable feeling or set of feelings that is "getting drunk on a hot August night in New York," partially so I could kiss both my friends in the forehead area because I think they're so incredible.
"Help, don't hurt, always flirt
Don't you get jaded, you jaded fuck
Just take all your chances and ride away home with your luck
Always mean it
always mean it"
Can I use your time machine to go back there? Thanks, dude. You don't need it for anything important, right? Right. You're using it to look at guys fall down alone in their bedrooms in the middle of the night.
On the monitor, there’s a shot of you curled up in this chair that looked like a hand, not a tacky one like you’d see in a tiki bar, but one you can tell someone spent a lot of money on, though that doesn’t necessarily make it NOT tacky. You have a phone in the crook of your shoulder and what I’m supposed to do is draw an arrow pointing to the phone, and the words “KARA (John’s Girlfriend),” add drop shadow to the arrow and the words, and then make the whole thing wiggle around slightly over several frames, an effect that probably looked “alternative” when the show was new all those seasons ago but now just looks antiquated.
I’ve been doing this kind of graphics work on reality programming for a couple of years and when I first got into it I felt unequivocally better than it: it’s stupid, I thought, it flattens actual three-dimensional people into two-dimensional characters and worse, it probably doesn’t even have to do that much work, so willingly are the people involved flattening themselves, competing to see who can be the simplest, the most sum-uppable. And I don’t know if it was getting jaded from watching hour after hour of it, but after a while, I started to revise my initial judgment. People I knew in real life, who were nowhere near lights or cameras, started to seem to willingly give up their dimensions, seemed to race towards a time when that criticism of reality television, that it was SO far from reality, would no longer really hold up. No one had cast Ethan as “the alcoholic,” but he was going to give his life over to it anyway, at the expense of his music and girlfriend. No one had cast Ilana as “the party girl,” but, case in point, that night we met when we weren’t supposed to.
I was visiting her while she was working on the show you were on in that town that none of us are from. It was her night off. We were drunk at a club she swore she didn’t know the cast members were also at, though she’d later admit she knew. We made a stupid, employment-risking game of dodging the cast and the cameras. I told her someone from production was sure to spot her, and she threw a cocktail umbrella at me and told me not to worry, “they know me.” I started to tell her that that WAS my concern, that they knew her, but then I realized what she meant was they KNEW her, as in, she was the crazy girl who could not be controlled, on or off the clock, and you either went with that or you didn’t, or something. I got up to go to the bathroom, more as something to do than anything, and that’s when I ran into you, John from Boston, and it was not until thirty minutes later and a lot of prodding that you revealed you were on the show, and even then, I didn’t believe you, because you were not at all vapid, and you were actually really nice, and you seemed, I guess, multi-dimensional. I know that’s a dumb thing to presume about someone based on a cursory conversation in a club named after a perfume, but I’ll say this in my defense, even though it makes me a total hypocrite in light of everything I said about reality television stripping people of nuance, but: I can tell. Even when someone’s eyes are locked right on mine I can tell when they’re listening past me, and I have learned that sometimes, even when we’re finishing each other’s sentences and that first rush of comparisons, music taste and backstory, reveals that we’re practically twins, we haven’t shown anything, really, but an aptitude for loudly advertising ourselves in close proximity to someone else while they do the same. I guess what I’m saying is, I make snap judgments. Not about anyone’s upbringing or sexuality or moral fiber, but just about whether or not they are present. If there is a fundamental not-there-ness I wonder if anyone else notices about anyone else. If your insides are, and I’ve never spoken this phrase aloud to anyone or written it down so it might be impossibly trite or lame or something, but if your insides are a dead lake. I can usually tell right away and I’m always right. I’m desperate for a lot of things, as I’m sure Ilana would so willingly tell you even with me standing right there, but I’m most desperate to be proven wrong just one time. I am waiting for the math of someone to match up with how I actually end up feeling around or about them. You seemed great and I felt great around you. You mentioned you had a girlfriend but I already knew nothing could ever happen between us so that, that night while the A, B, and C cameras were all trained on Nicéne basically going down on a random girl in the middle of the dancefloor, didn’t bother me all that much. I had four drinks in me. I was getting on a train in six hours. I was not thinking about having to watch you every day at work, about having to introduce the world to your girlfriend via a little squiggly arrow pointing at a phone nestled in the crook of your shoulder.
I am not going to tell you the things I think are great about you. There was barely anything you told me in that brief exchange you wouldn’t end up revealing in the final edited-together version of the show, and taking into account all of the raw tapes that I have been sneaking into the edit bays to watch on Thursday and Friday nights after everyone’s gone home, you covered it all. It’s not like you showed me some hidden persona, and to sit here and list off the things I find attractive about the man you seemed to be to me and seemed to be on the show, I would not be painting anything but the kind of two-dimensional portrait I was decrying above, and besides, legions of John-From-Boston fangirls will soon do that on the Internet anyway. The only thing I can say about you that I don’t think they will, and the thing I’m pretty sure Kara has never told you, though admittedly I’m only working from the phone conversations the two of you have on the show and the things you say about her and the way you say them, is this: YOU ARE THERE. There is a person-ness to you. And I want to do all the things anyone would want to do to someone they were infatuated with, but more than anything I want to clap my hands to either side of you and hold you there, the three-dimensional person you are, and not let any part of it slip away, not let them flatten you out, not let them or life or any of it convince you to do it to yourself.
I think about what I would do if I were Ilana, or better yet, Ilana’s boss Wendy, and when the show was shooting I was right there behind a wall with an ear-piece in my ear, and I was shaping your experience. I could do my damndest to throw things in the way of you and Kara. I know they did, and I know the way you remained loyal will drive the inevitable John-From-Boston fan-girls crazy, and it did a number on me, even though I feel the way about Kara that I feel. But say I was in Wendy’s seat and I tried harder, threw more female cast-members your way, more forcefully: it’s not like I would ever be in the story. For all that, I could only push you away from where you are, I could not pull you toward me.
I think about writing bitchy stuff in the parenthetical description of who Kara is. I try out some permutations, and I smirk at them for a minute before deleting them and writing what I’m supposed to. I animate. It takes a little while. Then, while it’s rendering and I have a minute of nothing to do, I fantasize about undoing my work, stretching the arrow out so it no longer points at the phone, stretching it below the bottom of the frame, stretching it off the monitor and out into actual space. Replacing the words “KARA (John’s Girlfriend)” with the words “MARCY (That Girl From The Club).” I think about hitting play, watching the letters and their shadows wiggle, watching the arrow dance in three actual dimensions. You look up and say, “Hi.”
I say, “Hi.”
You tell Kara you’ll call her back.
The clip finishes rendering. I watch it through. It works. I drag it into a bin and open up a different clip, where I’m supposed to add a caption below a guy’s face, telling the audience that his name is Corey, and that he’s your boss at the juice bar.
This whole thing was shot weeks ago. I think you’re back in Boston now, anticipating fame.
I just bought the first non-beer-or-soda groceries I have bought since moving into my new apartment. There was in no way a big enough parade.
An old-fashioned white-gloved disapproving matriarch lives in my head. She observes my life and behavior and clucks her tongue. She says, "This is supposed to get you a husband?" The gender is off but she's dead-on with the sentiment.
People tell a story of a guy, a townie, whose big joke whenever you saw him was that he was “on his way to class” even though everyone knew he didn’t go to school here, who subsisted one entire academic year just on free giveaway burritos (a lot of burrito places were opening up) and free energy drinks (a lot of street teams in brightly colored shirts were pouring free samples at card tables on the quad) and clothed himself entirely in free t-shirts related mostly to Student Government activities.
He was mean to you if you worked in the front of the burrito place, assembling the burritos, or behind the register. He was abrasive and would hand over one of his seemingly endless supply of free-burrito coupons all crumpled up, and he would never ever tip. He was super-friendly to the guys in the kitchen, though. They were mostly Hispanic and he would learn all their names and shout to them in Spanish.
The head of Student Government hated him. While throttling the handles of an elliptical machine in the Fitness Center, she told her roommate there should be an investigation: someone in Student Government was clearly funneling this guy t-shirts. They were always clean and always in his size.
He had the Team Leader of the Lizard Fuel Energy Drink promotional squad worried, which was kind of a feat considering he had a tattoo all about not being worried. The guy would crunch a now-empty can of Lilac Incineration Lizard Fuel on his forehead and the Team Leader would grab both his shoulders and try to look into his eyes and say, “Seriously, man: are you doing okay?”
He died face down in the street on Parents’ Weekend. His last words were “WOOO!”
As you get older a kind of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers thing happens where you start to notice everyone in the world being slowly replaced, except instead of being replaced by aliens or robots they're replaced by people the same age as you. Instead of some telltale sign like lizard eyes or random bleeding from the ear, the thing that gives it away is when people in positions of power, prestige, and authority reveal that they watched the same TV shows as you did growing up, and liked the same stupid bands as you did at the same time as you did. The kids, you realize, are BECOMING the grown-ups. Not, you realize, maturing into grown-ups as you always expected they would, but simply REPLACING them. It feels exactly the opposite of the way you were prepared for it to feel by a lot of the sentiment you grew up around, stuff to the effect that today's children were a peace-loving bunch and adults needed to preserve the world for them because once the kids took over, gosh darn it, things would be different. They must have been talking about a different set of kids. Maybe they have a race of superkids stashed away on an island somewhere. Because us? Plain old US? We're allowed to just become the grown-ups? It makes you want to run screaming into the street but instead of screaming "THEY CAN BE KILLED BY SODA WATER" or some other unlikely science-fiction pronouncement, you want to scream, "WE'RE THE ONES? ARE YOU KIDDING? HAVE YOU MET US?"
The comforting thought, the thing that would pacify you after you'd had been driven mad by the revelation that everyone in the world had been replaced by the people you went to middle school with and you were being wheeled away on the gurney (because no one will listen to you, secretly the sanest one of all) was that this was not the first time this had happened. Your adults, your actual responsible-seeming adults, the ones you were horrified to see swapped out for people who also went to the Warped tour, they were former kids, too. They were once the flawed invaders. Some of them were similarly traumatized to see themselves and their peers slide into world domination without ever actually growing up. "It's us? Really? The Class of '79? Weren't we supposed to, like...learn something first?"
And maybe that's what would finally drive you truly, fully nuts: That it had always been that way. That there was never a generation of "men" and "women" who didn't feel a little bit like fakers by describing themselves in those terms. Books full of important, old-seeming portraits, every human in history: wave after wave of old kids pretending.
When I was still in college, a friend of mine told me about a cool internship he’d had that he said he could probably hook me up with: he’d worked under the music booker at Late Night With Conan O’Brien. He described being the music intern at Conan as pretty much the ideal job: you worked on the show, and you did it by trying to get cool bands you liked to come on. It was a lot of work, he said, but really rewarding. He said it was probably so much work that I wouldn’t have time for any extracurricular activities, like the sketch comedy group I was directing or the shows I was doing at UCB. He said it wasn’t really related to the comedy part of the show: they were pretty segregated and if I wanted to reap the benefits of experience and connections in the comedy world I’d probably be better off doing an internship on that side of the fence. It sounded like a fun thing that would’ve taken me in a totally different direction than the one I was headed, so I didn’t pursue it any further than that initial bar conversation.
In my life, I’ve had the chance to enter a lot of cool rooms, rooms I didn’t end up going into, for really good reasons. Most of those rooms have had guitars in them.
Seven or ten tourist girls in sunglasses came out of a parking lot and walked by me on the street. "Look," said one girl, pointing to the Capitol Records building, "it's the Capitol One Records building."
You never think a given day will be the day you spill soy sauce on the uncorrected proof of an ex-girlfriend's new book. But she sends you the book. You buy the sushi. If you listen closely you can hear the wheels of fate start to clank.
I didn’t have anything to do tonight so I hung out by that the bend in the universe where all things become possible and kind of watched stuff come into being. I didn’t know anyone so I kept checking my phone. I didn’t want to seem like I was gawking but it was hard not to look up when the raw pre-matter of everything formed a whale-god that swam away, leaving a wake of imploding super-sparks. I was happy when you finally came out but I didn’t want to float right up to you because I didn’t want to look like I was just hanging out there waiting for you to exist or anything. Thankfully you recognized me and waved me over. You leaned against that tendril that emerges from the heart of time and I wanted to warn you that it would make your back hot and cold and wet and dry all at once, but you seemed like you knew what you were doing. I pretended to be annoyed by the impossible roar of the perpetual ubernova but I was actually really glad because then we had to do that thing where we leaned over and shouted in each other’s ears. It wasn’t awkward until I said something where you had to ask me what I’d just said like five times over and of course that was the time that I was telling you you were only theoretical. When you finally understood what I was actually saying and I took my face away from your ear and saw the look in your eyes I felt awful for ever saying anything at all but I realized it was way too late to play it like I’d been joking and you bit your lip and as though things couldn’t be going any worse, that was the exact moment the fabric of space-time stopped consenting to project you and you became a drifting smear of light. I wanted to tell you, and it seemed pointless to just shout it into the event horizon, but I wanted to tell you that if I could somehow trade places with you, and have you be the sentient being made of matter and have me be a weird flare of observer-dictated reality static, I would. I think you’d do a lot more with a physical body and a corporeal origin than I have. I can barely make eye contact with anyone. You said like seven true, awesome things and, if time has any meaning out there, you’d only had a mouth for two hundred seconds. There are obviously a lot of fields at play by that bend in the universe, but I swear there was this one that was only around for as long as you existed, and it made me feel comfortable, and even cool. It arrived when you arrived and it was gone when you were gone but as I watched the light you became curve away towards infinity I envied the place that would receive you.
I was walking in downtown Tempe a few months ago in the middle of the afternoon and saw a bunch of people at an open-air bar engaged in some kind of quasi-Spring Break drinky truth-or-dare activity. An MC with a sports-talk voice was ordering girls to drink, or do something embarrassing if they'd failed to drink fast or enough. There was a prize wheel on-stage next to him with words like "Jäger Bomb" painted on it.
"Are you a virgin?" the MC said into the microphone. "You better finish that shit!"
Eskimos have 100 words that mean "snow." Americans have 10,000 meanings for the word "fun."
When I texted you that night
to see what you were up to
despite recent Facebook signs that you are
In A Relationship
if you are in fact
In A Relationship
I must’ve seemed like an emissary
from the Land of Single People
a laughable anachronism from an older world
where people send each other
craven phone messages
around the end of another companionless evening
to see if they can’t join up
and beat back their loneliness together
with the forever attractive prospect of Really Hot Sex
(a thing we think we can make not empty
by pointing to it and saying "that's empty"
I am sorry for riding up in my outmoded carriage
pulled by an ailing horse
appearing on the street in front of your
where electricity is the norm
where they finally cured solitude
with beams of relationship-ish reassurance
shooting back and forth at all hours of the night.
Just remember that up until a few days ago
you were one of us
in our little tumbledown part of the city lit by flickering bulbs
populated by rats, thieves, bad television, premonitions of death, and things you'll never say because you haven't earned a listener
which seems endless once you are inside of it.
Endless, just endless.
Every year, CIA handlers have a retreat. They discuss peculiarities of the trade: the way they develop distinct park-bench preferences (wood slats or stone?) and how they have come to be fond of certain ducks in certain ponds in certain Eastern European cities. They relish the way they can just tell the waiter what they want, shouting orders at a young man in a warm and crowded room while surrounded by friends instead of whispering them outdoors at midnight in the Vatican. No conversation ends with the unspoken understanding between the two parties that this may be the last time one of them will be seen alive, and this is so refreshing, so freeing, that they go back for seconds at the waffle bar, and they punish karaoke. Trivial conversations are had and the trivia is just that: trivia. Every noun means only itself, it doesn’t imply anything nuclear.
“…and that ain’t code for shit,” a red-faced good-old-boy type says to a colleague he hasn’t seen since the Curtain fell, and gestures for another round of drinks he has not poisoned, and neither has anyone else.
Tomorrow, they will be hung over. Two days from now, they will be everywhere in the world. Three days from now, they will be planted on benches in public parks and train terminals, handing secrets imprinted on various media and wrapped in innocuous foreign newspapers to the handled, those poor bastards, those traitors and killing machines, and in the midst of a cryptic exchange, the handlers’ minds will wander just when they shouldn’t, and they will think back on this weekend and smile, and the expression on their faces will for once match how they actually feel inside, and that alone will be worth having taken the time off and the price of the flight to XXXXXX.
I am going to have to insist that everyone, including me, stop saying they like things "unironically." I will bet that there are people who say they like things "unironically" more often than they say they like things, straight up, and the thought of them chills my spine.
I think it is a good step towards ending the separation of our likes and dislikes into two piles, things we full-on like because we feel they're acceptable to like, and things we like but have to say we like ironically because they are from 1999, or air on MTV, or both. When we tag our appreciation of something as unironic we are essentially saying "Any right-thinking person would assume I 'like' this thing, in air quotes, but I actually just LIKE it, in spite of knowing, as a right-thinking person, that I should have to somehow blunt my feelings about it with sarcasm. By acknowledging all this, I'm getting to have it both ways!" And that is tiresome. That is pointless. That is taking one step into pure, wonderful, genuine LIKE while leaving your other foot in Cool Kid Land because you think you're supposed to.
If I tell you I like it, then I like it. If there is a cowardly qualifier on my affection, I will let you know.
Girls: do you guys get sick of seeing the bare, linty, straw-wrappery surfaces of our car and bedroom floors that were recently cleaned, but not well, on the off chance that you might end up in our bedroom or car? Is it like the feeling cops must get from constantly seeing the drivers around them tap their brakes for fear of getting pulled over, even if they weren’t really speeding? Do you think the cops, upon seeing those brake lights, at least appreciate the fact that an effort was made? How many pennies is an okay number of pennies for there to still be lying around?
At the end, she told him something about herself that he hadn’t known, one of those small things that indicates everything, not because it’s actually important, but because it’s one of the small things that pass between people who are intimate. The sort of thing that, in a movie, would slip out between people whose bonds were dissolving, and both the not-fully-known and not-fully-informed parties would feel sad and guilty and betrayed.
She wasn’t even mad that he didn’t know. She had known he didn’t know and it didn’t bother her and it didn’t bother him when he found out the thing he hadn’t known and realized he hadn’t known it. They both knew they should care in the way described above and they just didn’t.
It was something about a summer she had spent in Greece. It doesn’t matter to us because we don’t know them. It should have mattered to them, but the way it feels to us now is pretty much exactly the way it felt to them. They were other people to each other.