Hell NO DGO

          It’s a breach of bathroom etiquette to piss right next to someone else. Everybody knows that. If someone’s using a urinal, you leave an empty one between you and him. If it’s impossible to do so, you still don’t piss right next to him—you use the stall. If all the stalls are full, and you’re forced to use a urinal right next to a stranger, you do so without saying a damn thing. You stare straight ahead at the wall with laser focus like a pissing robot and you do your business. That’s how bathrooms work; I didn’t write these laws, but I follow them. And really, if you think about it, bathroom etiquette is like a parable for the rest of life. It’s a cultural miniature for the rest of our social interaction: you give people their space through propriety and respect.

          The Telegraph has been around forever. I’ve read their paper for a few years’ worth of Thursdays. Their articles are real and organic and homespun. That paper grows out of our streets like a poplar and they’re an authentic representation of Durango. They’ve published my work and mailed me checks with handwritten thankyous. Their format is perfect, and from a capitalist point of view, I guess that’s why it was stolen by the Ballantine Cartel. DGO has fancier blue boxes, lacquered and shining in the spring rain, but other than that, they’re an ersatz carbon-copy of the real deal. Seriously though, why would they do that? Why would they decide to copy The Telegraph so blatantly and then even choose the same day for their free publication run? Was it an overt attempt to snuff out local media? God damn it DGO, Thursday was The Telegraph’s urinal. You should choose another. And stop pandering so goddamn much. We get it. You like bicycles and pot and you’re one of us, earthy and artsy in your “Durango Rocks” T shirt, and we should trust you for your trendiness.

          You know that guy who shows up to dinner parties with a bottle of wine just so he can spout off ad-nauseam about the tannins and whatnot? He annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, I love good wine and I love hearing about it from people like Allen over at Put a Cork in It, but every once in a while, I want to remind everyone that it’s just alcoholic grape juice. It’s no big deal. And pot is the same way. I don’t need to read weekly articles about obscure designer strains; that shit is just otiose nonsense because when you get right down to it, pot is just a weed that grows out of the ground. You light it on fire and breathe in the smoke and then smile about it. It’s no big deal. And it’s definitely not something big enough to build a publication upon. And let’s not forget that The Herald, Ballantine’s flagship, was vehemently opposed to legalized marijuana, but now that it’s legal, they’ve jumped on the pro-pot bandwagon as if we readers have no memory. So write about something else DGO (after you choose a different urinal).

          This is where I switch it up and talk about my own hypocrisy. I thought DGO was an independent startup the first time I noticed one of their blue boxes. I sent them one of my articles because I love seeing these words of mine in black print on grey paper. I never received a response, and if I’m being honest, I’ve been nurturing a petulant resentment ever since. And now, since I’ve discovered that DGO is a subsidiary of an out-of-town interest, I have the moral luxury of saying that “I’m glad they didn’t publish my stuff,” but it’s a lie. Hell, if they ever offered me a writing job, I’d disavow this entire article like a repenting born-again zealot and sign up without my soul if necessary. That’s how desperate I am to be a professional writer. But as a reader? As a local who’s allergic to the counterfeit? Well in this role, I choose to read The Telegraph. I choose to watch their racks go empty day after day while stacks and stacks of dated DGOs end up in the magazine graveyard in front of the treadmills at the Rec Center. I choose to sit here on my manufactured moral high-ground and support the only true local paper, The Durango Telegraph.

          But I’m a realist. I’m sure that the DGO team knew exactly what they were doing. I’m sure they knew that they were going against bathroom rules. In the real world, principal is pointless and money comes first. So DGO sauntered up right next to The Telegraph’s urinal and whipped it out and started pissing. They didn’t even look at the wall; they turned their head slowly and made uncomfortable eye contact. They looked down into The Telegraph’s urinal and cocked a derisive eyebrow—DGO’s money was bigger. It sucked. And why shouldn’t they? Their repetitive pot segments attract all sorts of advertising dollars from our one hundred and one local dispensaries, and there’s still something novel about legal pot. This is especially true for tourists. If they walk through our town and see one of those shiny blue boxes, they’re going to open it and smile when they see a free newspaper covered with green crosses and pot leaves. They’re going to read it, thinking that it’s part of us, and they’re going to validate a poser from out of town. It pisses me off.

          Eventually, money wins. Always. When 92.9 The Point first came on the air, they promised us to be “no talk and all music” forever. It was beautiful but too good to be true. People are more receptive to oblique advertising that’s masked as a conversation, and the temptation was too great. The Point introduced a seemingly innocent morning show, “the breakfast club,” that’s chock full of not-so-subtle marijuana advertising and a shit-ton of talking. Son of a bitch. What did I expect? Did I think that The Point’s puppet master, American General Media, would be any more benevolent than the Ballentine Cartel? Did I really think that they’d just give me music and no talk just because they were nice people? Hell no. They did what they did to make as much money as possible, and eventually, they’ll grow up to be a normal radio station just like all of the other all-talk-no-music stations in this town. They’ve since changed their motto to “the most music in Durango,” but soon, I’m sure it’ll be “92.9 The Point. We’re just like everybody else.” Jesus, hasn’t anyone learned about the life and death of great media from MTV’s horrible demise? Hasn’t anyone figured out that honest originality and an adherence to principal can also be profitable in more ways than one? Knock it off. It’s been a couple decades, but I still want my MTV. Give me my music. Give me my independent newspaper that’s free on Thursday. Give me less greed and less imitation and give The Durango Telegraph space in the bathroom. Thanks.

DGO

Bailey’s Friends

          Bailey’s eyes are a mess. They’re barely blue, like deep bathwater, and they reflect back at her in the bathroom mirror like two vitreous pools of contempt. She imagines the bloodshot creeping through the sclera in each. Red veins grow from her irises and reach out towards her trembling eyelids. Her lacrimal sacs bulge like ripening fruit before tears erupt. Mascara runs.

          “Ugh!”

          She wipes her palms on her cheeks with a sniffle and backs up to assess the damage. Her makeup is ruined and her eyes are puffy, but it’ll be easy to pass off as a touch of angst. The huge bathroom is empty, fifteen vacant stalls lit brightly by buzzing fluorescents. It smells like detergent. Bailey talks to herself.

          “Make it through this class. Go back to the dorm and lock your door. Put on your headphones and wait for tomorrow.”

          Bailey breaths in. She breaths out. She gathers her lanky black hair into a messy bun and walks out. The opening door sounds like an explosion in the quiet. Condon hall is a brick-built masterpiece that grows out of the verdant University of Oregon campus. It looks and smells like history. It’s the type of place that makes you want to know more than you already do. The wide halls and vaulted ceilings feel too empty as Bailey makes her way back to class with her books clutched to her chest like a bulletproof vest, but places that are built to hold crowds always feel a bit alien when they’re vacant. She finds her lecture hall. She opens the door and walks in. She presses her back to the wall and wills herself to be perfectly still, perfectly invisible. It doesn’t work. A handful of the hundred students in attendance turn to look, but then they turn back to the lecturing professor.

          “As you know from last week, Hinduism is the oldest religion of man that’s still practiced,” the professor, doing his best to look like a cleaned up version of Indiana Jones, turns to let his intelligence wash over the crowd.

          Bailey whispers, “Is there any other religion besides a religion of man?”

          “But that doesn’t mean that it’s the oldest on record. For that, we’d have to look to the Egyptians. I’ve studied their religious writings extensively, as you will this semester, and we’re going to take a comparative look at their beliefs. We’re going to start with Horus.”

          The professor turns his back on the class and pushes a button on his handheld remote. A picture of a falcon-headed man appears on the projection screen. It’s a cartoonish representation, and sure enough, he’s walking like an Egyptian.

          “Horus and Jesus actually had quite a bit in common. They both benefited from a virgin birth. They both walked on water. They both had twelve disciples, they were both crucified, and they both arose from the dead,” the professor pauses and turns to look back over his shoulder with an arched eyebrow, “I’ve always thought that the ‘H’ in ‘Jesus H. Christ’ stood for ‘Horus’.”

          The supplicants in the front row chuckle in ersatz appreciation. Bailey makes a sound of disgust. It’s too loud, and her invisibility dissolves. The professor raises his handheld remote and points it at Bailey. He pushes a button. A green laser shoots out and does it’s best to bore through Bailey’s bulletproof vest.

          “You in the back. There are a few seats here up front. Come take one.”

          Bailey’s breath turns to liquid and freezes in her throat. Her heart does a drum solo. Her flesh prickles and sweat floods out of her skin like a malicious tide.

          “Fuck this.”

          Bailey turns to flee. The door doesn’t cooperate. She has to push, not pull, and muffled laughter urges her out as she gets it right. The halls blur by. There’s something about a hallway’s closeness that makes you feel like you’re running superhero fast even though you’re not. She makes it outside and down the stairs. Her shoulders go up and down as she cries. They go back and forth as she runs with her books still clutched to her chest. It’s a mess in motion.

          Anxiety is a lead blanket, just like the ones in the dentist’s office, and it slows her down. She finds a shaded bench and sits. The afternoon passes by. Bailey watches it. It’s a time lapse video that excludes her. Students stop and go stop and go stop and go, always in small groups. The sun moves through the striated sky. The tree behind Bailey’s bench that gives her shade becomes a gnomon. It casts a moving umbra on the ground in front of her that Bailey tracks with her numb eyes.

          Bailey’s phone buzzes in her pocket. She pulls it out to read the text. The world goes back into real time as she swipes her thumb across the glass.

          “Hi honey, it’s me, mom. How’s it going?”

          “Dear god mom, you don’t have to tell me that it’s you. This thing knows whose texting me. It’s a smart phone.”

          “Laugh out loud!”

          “Your killing me mom.”

          “It’s spelled ‘you’re’ honey. Now that you’re in college, maybe you could start acting like it. Anyway, how’s it going?”

          “Your right. College is great. I don’t know anybody. Everyone here is either a smelly hippy or a stuck up white girl. I love it.”

          “YOU’RE going to be just fine. Have you pledged yet? Have you found the Delta Delta Delta house?”

          “I’m not going to join your cult mom.”

          “It’s not a cult! I’ve already called the house. Just go over and ask for Stephanie. Please!”

          Bailey holds down the power button on her phone. She slides to power off. She puts her phone back in her pocket. She leans over to one side and fishes around in her back pocket. She pulls out her can of chew and opens it. The pungent tobacco smell, made riper by the heat in her back pocket, invades her mind with memories of her father. He sits in his pickup, a burly lumberjack smiling over at his princess, and spits into his empty beer bottle. New tears fall. Bailey wonders how often one has to cry before dehydration sets in. She pinches out a chew and puts it in her bottom lip. She focuses on the familiar sting to fight back the nausea. Maybe the chew will do her the same favor that it did for her father. There’d be no more tears.

          “Hello there! My name is Melissa, and I was wondering if you’d like to come to an Alpha Chi Omega mixer!”

          Bailey looks up. There’s a blonde in front of her. She must’ve just appeared like a bubbly apparition. Maybe spontaneous generation really does happen, and maybe sorority girls just crop up out of the grass from time to time in Oregon. They make eye contact. Melissa’s smile melts. Bailey pictures herself, tear covered with a bulging lower lip, and knows why. Melissa takes a step back.

          “Um… ew. Gross. Never mind.”

          Anger is a firebrand. Bailey throws off her lead jacket. She’s on her feet now, but her rejoinder is stillborn; Melissa runs away before Bailey’s thoughts can turn into words. Bailey screams her frustration. Brown spittle flies out of her mouth. Melissa shrinks in the distance as she scurries back toward whatever white girl copy machine made her. Bailey starts the trek back to her dorm room. The trip is a blur.

          Bailey calms down and finds herself in front of her computer. Her mouth is empty, which is weird because she has no recollection of losing her chew. I hope I didn’t eat it. Her dorm room is dark, but the glow from Bailey’s monitor is bright enough to reach her door. It’s locked. She must’ve done it already. Weird. Microsoft Word is open to a blank page. I wish Melissa would’ve stuck around to hear this. She centers the first line. “The Beginning.” She starts to type.

          “I don’t have a father. I never did. My mom woke up pregnant after a dream that I’ll tell you about later. I was born knowing everything that I know right now. You see, in the beginning, there was nothing, but nothing is something. This dichotomy caused a schism. It made a force. This force is God, and she is our mother. She never corrects me, and she loves me like she loves us all. Now listen to my words!”

          Bailey types on and on. The words come from someplace else, like a touch from above. They feel true and right and hallowed. Bailey makes her own rules, her own commandments. Thou shall not be a smelly hippy. Thou shall not be a Starbucks drinking white girl. Thou shall only wear loose sweaters. Thou shall not call Bailey gross because she is the one, the Alpha, the Omega, but not the Delta Delta Delta.

          Bailey finishes and clicks “save as.” Her work is stored on her desktop under “Manifesto.” It’s eight pages long, double spaced with one inch borders. She prints out as many copies as she can. She only has one ream of paper. That comes out to sixty-two copies, but it’ll have to do. She looks over at her locked door. Light comes in underneath from the hall outside. It’s darkened occasionally by moving shadows. The real world is out there. They’re out there, the people who make her cry, and trepidation wells up in Bailey’s soul like a tangible thing. But then she thinks about Melissa’s “ew” and makes a decision. Apprehension is replaced by acrimonious rage that demands action.

          Bailey takes her manifestos in hand and leaves her dorm room. Walking down the hall, she passes door after door. She hears people living and loving behind those doors. It’s like she’s walking past boxes full of life. She hurries down the stairs into the common room. It’s wide open and walled by windows on two sides. There’s wood furniture and worn brown carpet; the room smells exactly like it looks. There’s a table against one wall with a large corkboard above it. There’s a bucket of rape whistles on the table, and the board is covered with a smattering of announcements. Bailey steals a thumb tack and pins a copy of her manifesto over a “Feel the Bern” poster. She takes a rape whistle and leaves.

          The cool air outside smells like rotting vegetation and marijuana. It’s autumn in Eugene. Bailey swims through it and goes from dorm to dorm blowing her rape whistle like a boy crying wolf. Her manifestos find places everywhere she goes. Now the people who live in Caswell and Wilcox and all the others will know the truth. When the corkboards are full, Bailey leaves her work on park benches or on the ground or simply throws it at passersby. They look at her with open-mouthed astonishment. She runs out of paper and walks back to her dorm with a smile on her face. It feels like she’s wearing a stranger.

          Each door she passes in her hall has a small dry-erase board hanging at head height. They’re all written on in red or blue or green or black. There are hearts and smiley faces. Bailey comes to her door and stops; there’s a dry erase board here, too, which her mom hung on that embarrassing first day when Bailey moved in. It says “good luck!” in her mother’s hand. There’s nothing else. Bailey doesn’t have a dorm mate. She wipes away the good luck and writes “I shall arise in the morning.” Bailey walks into her room, locks the door, pops an Ambien, and then falls into bed.

***

          Morning feels like a backhanded pimp slap. Bailey wakes suddenly. Her eyes hurt. Her head is throbbing. She’s still dressed and she smells like yesterday’s frustration. There’s a pain on her chest just above her boobs. Her whistle is still hanging around her neck; she must’ve slept on it. Oh well.

          She grabs her robe and her shower basket and her flip-flops. She opens the door and freezes. The hallway outside her door is packed with girls. They’re all sitting crisscross-applesauce on the floor and looking up at her expectantly with beatific smiles. A collective sigh of bliss washes out from the crowd as Bailey leavens their smiles with her own. They’re all wearing loose knitted shirts of some sort. It looks like an ugly sweater party gone wrong. Bailey breaths in. She breaths out. She addresses her children.

          “Hello. Thank you all for coming. I’m not sure how you found me, but from now on, you’ll all be known as Bailey’s friends.”

Like a Bat

          My mother used to flick me in the forehead whenever I pissed her off. She’d cock back her middle finger and make this weird pursed frown before flicking me right between the eyes with an exaggerated flip of her wrist. I’m sure it looked more painful than it really was, but it still hurt. I always wanted revenge for those flicks and I’d always do something new to piss her off as a result. She kept flicking and I kept pissing her off. Frankly, I’m not sure which came first, the flick or the affront, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that one day, not too long ago, I took a bullet in the head. It struck my forehead and it felt exactly like my mother flicking me. The frustrating thing is that they—Detroit’s finest—don’t know where the bullet came from. There were no witnesses and no reports; hell, I don’t even remember hearing a gunshot. I simply remember the pain, just like a flick, and then a blinding darkness that fell over my mind like a suffocating drop-cloth. A short time has passed, but not much has changed. I’m sitting in a bed that goes up and down at the push of a button; it can fold me like a taco. I never let go of the control, because if I did, it’d be lost forever. My mattress is suitably soft and my sheets smell like pungent detergent. I can’t tell you what anything looks like, but the floor has got to be freakishly shiny because the shoes never stop squeaking as nurses come and go. This is a hospital.

          I’ve been here for weeks. People come and offer condolences occasionally. I assume that they’re sincere, but I couldn’t tell you because expressions are hidden from me. The police have come and gone, and they’ve done all that they will until they have more to go on. It’s a paradox. My parents both came, at separate times of course, and my mother wasn’t pleased when I told her what the gunshot felt like. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to. Her silence sounded pissed off, but I was safe from her flicks; I was protected by adulthood and by my gauzy headband. How nice it was.

          But now I’m alone. My door is shut. I can feel it because there’s more pressure in my room when I’m cut off from the rest of the hospital. And the cacophony coming from all of the caring people in the corridor outside is muted to a tolerable point. It’s not that I don’t enjoy all of the attention that comes from those caring people, but the nurses I’ve seen, or I guess that I’ve “met,” always seem to get a bit too mawkish when it comes to blind, gunshot invalids. Maybe they like me better than everybody else who’s here because it’s not my fault that I’m abed. It’s not my fault that they have to spend part of their twelve-hour shifts changing my catheter. That’s the worst part of everyone’s day, but at least it’s not my fault. It’s not like I ate donuts like a true American until my blood turned into pudding; these are the people you hear the nurses complain about—people who’re here because of a choice. But I’m one of the poor, unfortunate souls. I get checked on more than the others, or at least I hear my door open and shut more often than some of the others. Maybe the nurses are battling back bad luck by giving me attention; maybe if they care for me more, they’ll be spared a similar karmic fate. Maybe I’m just a cynical ass.

          I pass the time by playing peekaboo with the light that I know has got to be everywhere around me. I cover my open eyes with my hands and then take them away suddenly. I hope the shock will wake up my retinas or something. But every time I move my hands, quick and dramatic, it’s just dark. Dark before, dark after, just dark dark and more dark. I’ve come to hate that word. It’s just like any other word that you hear or think repetitively. It starts to sound like a word that isn’t even a word at all, just a random noise, and I should know, because sound is all I’ve got.

          Someone knocks three times and then opens my door before I answer.

          “Hello! My name is Jack, and I’m your sight coach. How’s it going?” I picture a tanned man with a moustache because this guy sounds exactly like Tom Selleck.

          “Good. What’s a sight coach?”

          “Well, once upon a time, I’d teach you how to use a folding blind cane, once you were up and about, but we’re just going to jump into the next level stuff.” I hear a muffled sound. It’s moving cloth. A hand in a pocket? I feel Jack press something into my hand. It’s a smooth rectangle of plastic, about the size of a Bic lighter, and it’s warm. I smile, because it was definitely the sound of a hand in a pocket. Why else would this thing warm? I hear Jack stepping away and I hear my door shut.

          “Instead of the cane, we’re gunna start with the clicker. Do you feel the button? Press it.”

          My thumb finds it for me. There’s a small circular depression on one side of the clicker. I press it. It clicks. I let go. It clicks again, but the tone is slightly lower. It reminds me of those safety caps on Snapple bottles. I used to click those things incessantly, or at least until my mother cocked back her middle finger.

          “Look, it’s like this. The doctors tell me that the bullet damaged a nerve, but they said your visual cortex is fine. Hell, your whole brain is fine. You might not agree, but you got lucky because that bullet didn’t go deep. Now the brain is a crazy thing. It adapts. If you try hard enough, you can rewire it. You can turn your visual cortex back on with sound. It’s pretty simple, but it takes time. You just click your clicker, and you listen. The sound will bounce around the room, and eventually, you’ll start to see things in your mind. You’ll see with your ears.”

          “Like a bat?”

          “Yes! Exactly like a bat! If you think about it, you’ll be able to see in the dark, kind of like a super hero!” I assume Jack is making some pretty crazy gesticulations because his clothing is sounding all sorts of exclamations. “Got any questions for me?”

          “What color is it?” I feel my head tilt to the side. Do I always do that now? Since I can’t see the people I’m talking to, have I started pointing my ears at them? Shit. Do I look like a confused puppy during conversations?

          “Um, it’s an off-white. Kind of like coffee cream maybe.”

          “Cool.”

          “Alright, I’ll leave you to it. The more you practice, the more you see.” I hear him get up and leave. My door opens and shuts solidly. I guess people don’t shake hands with the blind. I don’t blame them. Awkward.

          I start clicking. Click and listen click and listen click and listen. A nurse comes in to remove my catheter. We don’t speak much. At least I don’t have to make eye contact. She says I’m to start using the bathroom. Jack’s orders. She says the door is on the wall opposite from my bed. She sounds like one of those large women you see in southern church choirs. I smile and name her Aretha in my head as she walks out and shuts the door behind her. 

          The days and nights start to blur together like some sort of weird time soup. I can only tell the difference between the two by the level of activity I hear outside of my door. Jack comes and goes. He starts calling me Batman in his Magnum P.I. voice. And I practice. Walk click listen, walk click listen. Over and over. But now, the black in my mind starts to melt. It’s oil diluted by the thinning agent of sound. The walls and the obstacles and even the moving people around me start to take shape. They pulse in my mind’s eye with each one of my clicks. At first, it’s all greys and muted blacks. But then my brain starts to fill in the blanks. It paints by number. I start to see flesh tones on the moving people and the walls become eggshell white. Running water is a lipid blue, and when I go outside with Jack, the trees turn green under my click and through the wind’s susurration. It’s beautiful. The world starts to open and I feel my eyelids close reflexively because the light is too bright in my cloistered mind. How wonderful they are, these colors and these shapes and these tangible textures that I can feel with a click. How wonderful it is to see.