Retirement

          The golden age of action movies happened in the early nineties, and Steven Segal was a demigod. I forget which, but in one of his movies, he wrote “fear of death is worse than death itself” on a mirror with lipstick as he stalked one of his villains. The villain came along and read it, became petrified with fear, and then died a few moments later after getting his balls blown off by a shotgun.

***

          I retired at age thirty-seven. Just to be transparent, I should tell you that I’m jerrymandering semantics quite a bit: my former supervisor would use a different word than “retired,” and I’ll eventually need to make more money, so my retirement is finite. However, regardless of labels, right now, I’m on top of the world. Decades from now, when they ask me about the best time in my life, I’ll tell them about the 2016 holiday season. I’ll tell them about how I lost my job right after my birthday and I’ll make mention of the fact that I walked into October with the biggest shit-eating grin that’s ever been worn. I’ll tell them that in the twilight days of this year, my life changed permanently.

          I’ll need to catch you up before you’ll understand fully. For the last sixteen years, I sold my soul daily to the oilfield. The money was good, but I loathed my occupation—it felt like socially accepted prostitution. My true opinions had to be smothered in ignorance and kept quite as to not startle the rednecks, and every professional moment was a lie lived. I went to work day after day as a sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing just so the rest of the pack wouldn’t sniff me out. “Hey, look over there,” they’d say, “that man isn’t one of us. He’s different and he writes things just for fun. He thinks too much. Get the tar, get the feathers.” My discontentment was a palpable thing. It grew and grew through years of accretion because I hated what I did for a living and I hated the people who worked alongside me: assholes in zipper-free wolf suits. I snapped a couple years back. The unhappiness was a whole bale of hay on my camel’s back. I made some changes and I faced a few things honestly. I went back to school and I started to write for real. I kept my job to pay the bills, but I was just going through the motions. A layman would say that I didn’t give a fuck. My performance was laughable but I was still the best at what I did because, frankly, my left testicle was smarter than my competitors. And I waited. I just waited and waited for the end to come. Every day was purgatory while I waited for the axe, and then when it finally came, life exploded: it exploded in a good, cathartic way, like the victorious bombs of flame that blossom in fanfare at the end of every Chuck Norris movie. I’m walking away from the oilfield in slow-motion as my past life burns behind me. I won’t even blink when the wind from the explosion tousles my action-hero hair. Boom bitch, I win.

          Just to be honest, I’ll put in writing the valid point you’re saying to yourself right now: if you hated your job so much, why didn’t you just quit? The short answer: I was a coward. After that many years of indentured service, I became institutionalized just like a Shawshank inmate. The outside world was a scary place full of uncertainty and murky paths. My job, even though I hated it, seemed like the lesser of two evils so I never mustered the courage to leave on my own. It’s pretty pathetic and it’s hard to admit, but if you’ve lived a lengthy life, I’m sure you can relate. I’m sure there were things you should’ve done that you never did because fear of the unknown kept you “safe.” So don’t judge me too harshly.

          Even though I wanted what came to me, those first few days were hard. Losing my job was like breaking up with a bad partner. You know in your heart that he or she is the problem, but he or she is too narrowminded to admit it. He or she thinks that you’re the problem, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and you never get the validation you need from you ex. It’s frustrating. There were tears and middle fingers held high, appalled laughter and regret and happiness, all mixed together like a confused soup. However, I had my family. When I lost my job, it felt like a too-taunt cord was severed quickly, it felt like freefall. Life was frightening chaos for a while, but it didn’t do a damn bit of harm because my girls came in and set things right. My cold teenage daughter warmed with love and encouragement. She supported me. Cacti rarely bloom, but when they do, their flowers are extra special. My eight-years-old daughter told me that everything would be okay. That’s her truth because for her, everything really is okay because I always make it so. And my wife came through. She asked me how long it would take to graduate if I didn’t go back to work. She asked me how long it would take to write a book. Those questions felt like mana from above and my vision always clouds when I think about her support because I might’ve crumbled without it. There’s really no way to fail when I have those three girls pushing from behind.

          I don’t care if this reads like a cliché, but I’m one of the lucky ones, and not just for the obvious reasons. I was just one of thousands who lost his job. The oilfield is dying. Some people who’re still in it will tell you otherwise. They’ll say that it’s coming back, that the bust is turning to boom, but they’re wrong. Sure, it’ll come back for a while early next term as commodity prices and greed surge, but it’ll be short lived. The oilfield is a feast or famine world, as many know, but what they don’t see is that the feasts aren’t as good as they used to be, and the famines worsen as the generations pass. Three steps down and two steps up still leads you down. This impending “boom” is nothing more than a final gasp before a drowning industry goes under. Who knows? Maybe I’m a bit too fatalistic, and maybe big-oil can kick to the surface three or even four more times before death comes. Whatever. The important takeaway is that death is coming, and most of the displaced cogs like myself don’t have my advantages. They don’t have means or education, they don’t have dreams. The oilfield is their life; for me, it was a means to an end. I didn’t lose any of my identity when the axe fell, but I know men who have. Just last year, if you would’ve walked up to one of these men and asked “what are you?” most of them would’ve lead with their job title. If you do something for long enough, it becomes part of you, you become it, and when it’s taken away, there’s nothing left besides feelings of inadequacy and depression. I despise the oilfield as I mentioned and I have similar feelings for the archetypical oilfield-man, but I also have boundless empathy for all the good people who’ve lost and who’re anguishing. Right now, there’s an entire demographic suffering through an identity crisis, but luckily, I’m not part of it. I’m the crab who clawed his way to the top of the bucket and escaped.

          You see, throughout all those days I sold my soul, I never let the oilfield get into my soul, if that makes sense. I never acclimated to oilfield culture, I was never assimilated. Even before my birthday, this is how our conversation would’ve gone:

          “What are you, Jesse?”

          “I’m a father, husband, writer.”

          “Okay, but what do you do?”

          “I make sure my family is good and I write things. I work in the oilfield, I guess, but that’s about as important as my job replacing the toilet paper when it runs out.”

          See what I mean? The secret is this: fuck it. Fuck all of it. Work to live, never live to work because that’s not living. Don’t get tied up in your day-job because what you do to buy toilet paper isn’t who you are. Don’t feel bad if you’re just now getting it; plenty of people never do. The trenches I escaped are still there. There are still people working there, blaming their woes on my departure and giving birth to rumors. Those fools are just crabs still stuck in a bucket, jealous of my freedom, clawing at their coworkers with negativity as they long for escape. They’re just like I was: they hate where they’re at but they’re too afraid to seek greener pastures. I know how that feels, intimately. But that’s not my reality anymore, and I have a plan.

          Plan “A” would be to take a year off and plow through my degree, earning money as a freelance writer along the way, and then lock down a remedial job of some sort while I earn my master’s. Maybe I’d publish a book along the way. Plan “A” is super sparkly, but it’s not too realistic. Plan “B” is to take a full-load for the spring semester and take just six months off work. I’ll find a job if I need it and it’ll only push back my graduation by a semester or two. This is where I’m headed. I have an internship at a local newspaper set up for the spring and it isn’t a stretch financially or morally to go through with it. It’s painfully exciting. Plan “C” is by far the most realistic: get a job, peck away at the degree. Wait to be a writer, wait and wait longer because it’s safe and secure and that’s what the fear says to do. My resume is on point and I’ve already turned down a few jobs. I had an interview this morning for a position that’d be a step up from the one I just left. Things went well. It has the six figures we’re programed to chase and all the benefits that lead away from unsure dreams. I have another interview the first week in January. This job would be a step up from the step up. I set these things up and chase things I’ve already had because I’m afraid to jump; I’m climbing down the cliff slowly.

          But what happens when one of these jobs is offered to me? It isn’t unrealistic to think that one of the two could be mine, and they’re both perfect. They’re local; they’re in a field that isn’t dependent on barbarian controlled fossil fuels; they pay ridiculously well. Will I be able to turn one down, and even if I could, should I? “Actually, sir, never mind. You can keep your perfect, realistic job because I want to be a writer when I grow up. I don’t need all your stupid money and benefits because I’m an artist damn it!” Right… that’s bullshit. My hypocrisy is alive and well, and of course I’ll take the money. Of course I’ll go back to selling my soul, albeit to a different devil, because principal and freedom just look good on paper. I like to travel and I like brand names and I like the crust of the upper-middle class because it tastes better than generic foods from the grocery store. But jumping on a job is just probably what I’ll do. I have until January seventeenth to make a final decision regarding my spring semester schedule, and that leaves me where I am, right here, right now: In the best months of my life, telling myself that the possibility is finally a reality, that maybe I can be a writer without waiting. There: you’re all caught up.

          This is going to sound trite, like a middle-aged man pining for younger years; I promise it’s anything but. I never had a young adulthood. My wife and I were married before she was legally allowed to drink, and we had a baby on the way. I went from living in my dad’s house with nothing more to my name than a burgeoning drinking problem all the way to living in my first mortgaged home with a new car. It took me about three months. A baby will light that proverbial fire under your ass. The point is that my wife and I skipped that whole “find yourself in your early twenties” thing. We didn’t travel the states in a piece-of-shit station wagon, we didn’t try to find some little town thousands of miles from home that we could call our own, and we didn’t spend the time trying to find our passions. The missed romance of such formative years is regrettable, but it wasn’t all bad. We got a head start on life—for it, we have investment properties to show, a nest egg for periods in life just like this one, and a lifetime of adult experience that many of my peers are just now jumping into. So, it is what it is. I’m not going to make some vain attempt to recapture a part of life that I missed: I’m just going milk out of these winter months as much enjoyment as possible because I feel like I deserve it.

          During these holidays, I have true freedom. The fall semester just ended, so this period is the first time in my adult life wherein I have nothing to do. No class, no job. And oddly enough, this period is the first time in my life that I don’t have a boss. Seriously. I went from living with a parent directly into a career so there was always an authority figure looming. There was always someone who could call and ask me to do something. But not right now. I’ve untethered myself from my cell phone. The first time I left it behind, I took my youngest daughter to the park. I told her that I didn’t bring my phone on purpose. I told her that I wasn’t available to anyone else in the world besides her, and the smile I saw was love painted into an expression. Hell, that single moment was worth all the stress that came along with my severance. And that’s how I’m living life right now. For me, for my daughters and wife, for the fucking moment. I’m watching cartoons and eating Lucky Charms. I’m working out like a beast and growing my beard in accordance. I’m cleaning and cooking (as it turns out, I’m quite the domestic diva), and for once, I’m writing daily. The twenty-five hundred words you just read equal only half of what’s come out of me today, and it honestly feels like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s wonderful. These three months will surely turn into halcyon days of remembrance and I’m not going to make the mistake of cherishing them less than I should while I’m living in this temporary-retiree paradise. And that’s why I wrote this. These five pages I just banged out are nothing more than a sticky note reminder, a string tied to my finger: Jesse, you have what you wanted. There’s no excuse to be unhappy. Don’t worry about what’s coming because it’s manageable, and just enjoy this time off because it’s okay, and it’s deserved.

          However, I need to write something for you as well, some nugget of verity. So, here it is. Steven Segal was right. All those days I waited for the end were far worse than the end itself. There were months and years of “something’s got to give” feelings before something finally gave, and when it happened, it didn’t carry with it the pain I saw coming. The world didn’t end and I didn’t lose who I was. My family didn’t reject me and I wasn’t instantly homeless. I wasn’t shunned by the rest adulthood like some beggar pariah and I found the support I needed and the tools that’ll take me forward within myself. Everything, every bit of it, has been awesome. So, if death is coming for you, if an end of your own is forthcoming in the near future, just deal with it when it comes. All the days between now and then are for living, and that’s not something you can do if you’re not right here, right now, where you’re supposed to be.

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Belize

          I’m not a travel writer, but I’m a writer who just traveled so I should probably let logic take the tiller and write about my travels… I just swam with fucking sharks in Belize. For real. Our boat stopped out in the reef and we moored to a cemented anchor. I’d like to say that the ocean smelled fresh just to paint the perfect picture, but it didn’t. It never does; it depends on which way the wind is blowing. Sometimes the breeze is a clean thing, telling your nose about new life and a refreshing swim. Sometimes the breeze is dirty and pungent, and it talks about the death and decay down below. The ocean is half life, half death. Our reef was huge—the world’s second largest—and we were surrounded by the sea; two fathoms of water that stretched on and on. Greens and blues you only see in the tropics. Life swam beneath our boat. Sharks and rays and barracudas and all kinds of creepy shit that bites and stings. The man said to jump in, so I jumped in. I landed somewhere in the middle of the food chain.

          I’m a decent snorkeler, but irrational fear controlled my lungs. In out in out, quick and quicker. The man noticed and suggested a lifejacket when I got back to the boat. I could just lie on it if I needed and relax. It’d put Styrofoam between me and the teeth. Hell yes. I swam back out floating on top of my orange security blanket. I calmed down. There was a small nursery shark that just moments before was doing an awesome impression of Jaws. There was a peaceful ray flapping her wings in the sand (I assume she did it to look majestic). There were two barracudas lurking in my peripheral, holding still and playing the cat in cat-and-mouse; I showed them my lifejacket. The man swam down before my eyes and coaxed an eel out of his den; he breathed with his huge gills and proffered translucent teeth. Holy shit it was wonderful; it was like snorkeling in the movies. The man was our docent through house-sized outcroppings of coral. Explorers in an underwater canyon, we swam left and right through schools of curious fish and other tourists, pale on bottom and burnt red on top. My fish of a daughter would swim under me and then away, a fearless eight-years-old beast on a mission, and then she’d swim back all the while trying to tell me something through her snorkel. I’d just nod, smile, wave.

          Our reef was a barrier reef, one that protects all of Belize from the predatory ocean, but the barrier had a channel in it: a submerged portcullis in the reef wall. We swam across it and I felt the tug of the ocean pulling me out like the ensnaring song of a deadly mermaid, but we made it across easily. Life and wonderment lived everywhere and we swam through it for close to an hour. We got back to the boat and the man said it was time to go to “shark ray alley.” That’s where they all are he said: the big ones. It was a short boat ride and as soon as we moored off, they came slithering in. Dark shadows, wraiths of the seas, swam everywhere. The white noise of the engine pulled them close. Guides who don’t follow the rules bait the sharks with handfuls of fish food and the beasts know that one way or another, when they hear an engine’s purr, food is getting in the water.

          Look. I know that my fear of sharks is ridiculous, but I don’t care. They grow teeth like I grow hair, they’re cold and stoic like serial killers, they’re hungry and carnivorous, and they do that creepy sideways swimming thing. Sharks are bullshit. Saying you’ll face your fear is a shit-ton easier than actually doing it, so I’d been trying to get out of our snorkeling trip for days: “Terra, you’re allergic to shrimp, so maybe you’re allergic to the ocean. Terra, I promise that I’ll freak out and ruin everybody’s day. Terra, this is dumb, so let’s just stay in our rented condo and lock the doors.” Granted, these were nursery sharks, but a ten-foot nursery shark doesn’t look anything like an animal that belongs in a nursery. And the man said that he’d seen the occasional reef shark. Um, that’s the type of shark that attacked James Bond in Thunderball. Fuck that. But when the man said jump in, I jumped in… There was a big asshole right underneath our boat, growing teeth and swimming side to side right at me. I tried to show him my lifejacket but then I realized I jumped in without it. Shit. On he came. Luckily, he turned away when he was about ten inches* away from my face (yards*). I was scared shitless, but that youngest daughter of mine wasn’t. She kept complaining about how the man had told her not to let go of the life ring that was tethered to the boat. Who the hell complains about that? Who the hell thinks that holding onto a “life” ring while floating above a murderous school of monsters is a bad thing? My daughter. She wanted to swim off on her own so she could name and tame the sharks; she’d cuddle them into submission.

          I was nervous. Everyone was nervous. Even the man didn’t like this part of the trip. He stood safely out of the water and kept yelling “stay by the boat, stay by the boat!” But about halfway through the experience, my fear vanished. I don’t know if something broke in my brain or if confronting my fear diluted it down into extinction, but either way, I simply wasn’t afraid of the sharks around me. We eventually got back in, all extremities accounted for, and I started making small talk with the man. So, has anyone ever been bitten? He laughed, and then he told me the “after the tourists get back in the boat story.” He pointed down to his leg to show off his puckered foot-long scar. He’d taken out a group of Polish tourists a few months prior. They brought with them a translator. They were snorkeling along shark ray alley when the nursery sharks rose from the depths en-masse and formed a feeding frenzy, stoked by the man’s outboard motor and its diner chime. The translator, ever the center of attention, dove down below the frenzy and then swam back up right in the middle of it. That Pollock would’ve made my daughter proud. Can you imagine what it’d look like to do such a thing? I can. I see this roiling bait ball of death centered perfectly in the salty openness. When you dive down, you see the ocean darkening beneath you in gradients of blue. The sandy white floor shimmers below like a mirage. As you swim back up, you watch the swirling ball of beasts get bigger and bigger as you pick up speed, pulled towards death by your buoyancy. Then you come up in the middle, surrounded by rasping grey skin and bloodied teeth. Terrifying.

          In a feeding frenzy, sharks lid their eyes to protect their vision—they just bite blind and randomly in the churned confusion. The translator in the middle was taking hits, bleeding in the water. And that’s when the man jumped in (and incidentally, that’s why I call him “the man”). He grabbed the translator and pulled him out of the melee. He kicked the sharks away (in my mind, I picture Chuck Norris kicks just destroying shark faces), but one shark was a bit to wily. He bit the man right in the calf. The man knew that if he tried to pull his leg free, the shark would thrash and he’d lose a chunk of muscle, so he just waited patiently for the shark to let go. That’s the part that blows my mind: the man was swimming away from a shark feeding frenzy, he was pulling with him a bleeding Pollock, and when a shark tried to eat his leg, he just waited patiently until the ancient predator decided to let go. He got the translator back to the boat and then took everyone to shore. He got some stitches and then he healed and then he went right back into the water. There’s an aphorism in there somewhere.

          The man finished his story just as my once-dead fear of sharks started to breathe again. He took us back to shore and I tipped him with the colorful money that seems to be everywhere else in the world except our country, and we went back to our condo. The rest of our trip followed suit. We drank bottomless mimosas by a saltwater crocodile lagoon; we gorged ourselves on soursop ice cream and conch ceviche; we parasailed over a flock of manta rays. I’m sure the proper group noun for manta rays is something like “school” or “pod” or some other nautical nonsense, but it shouldn’t be; things that fly do so in flocks, and we could see those creatures flapping their wings underwater even though we were soaring high above with a parachute. And when we landed, a sting ray, the manta ray’s nimbler kin, jumped out of the water and flapped his wet, leathery wings until he splashed back down. Our guide that day was a bona fide Rastafarian and he looked exactly like he looks in your mind right now. He yelled out “Ay man! You saw that ray mon? Ya mon!” His dreads bounced around his head like pasta as he did his Rasta dance. As he was unhooking my harness, he leaned in close and made a joke about why the sting rays jump out of the water: “because they be getting excited mon.” “The be getting BJs from the other fish mon.” “Ya mon!”

          We finished the parasailing day by eating at a truck-stop that’d be hard to stop at with a truck. It was out of town a bit: twenty minutes in our sputtering golf cart along a muddy single-track. The food was fresh and local. Five converted shipping containers encircled a few park benches and tables. We ordered spicy noodles and chicken wings and then sat below an umbrella until the rain pushed us to the bar. It was a sign. We drank beers and plotted our retirement. Now, before I continue, I’d like to type out a little disclaimer: I don’t eavesdrop intentionally, but I do it nonetheless and I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I was born without the brain part that lets most humans filter out background noise. It’s a handicap. Chewing noises, too-loud laughs, obnoxious conversations happening anywhere around me: I hear them all. I’m forced to listen to every conversation I hear like some unwilling voyeur. My mind categorizes all the conversations and then files them away for moments like this one: There were two other couples sitting at the bar. Couple number one said “we just moved here” and then couple number two said “why?” and then couple number one said “Trump.” Holy shit! Here they were. Here were two Americans who’d said that they’d move if he won—he won, they moved. Two disenfranchised Americans, two patriots without a nation. My wife cheered. And she cheered rightfully because couple number one had the collective balls to move out of middle ‘merica and into Central America just to honor their convictions. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on. Objectively speaking, couple number one won. They stayed true to their word and they got paradise while the rest of us liberals are stuck here at home with nothing more than the “I-told-you-sos” that we’re about to dish out.

          Our last day came and we flew back to Texas to sleep for a night before making the connection to Durango. I had mosquito bites and a new cold. I won’t lie: I thought about malaria and the Zika virus more than once. I imagined being “patient zero” and about how horrible it would be in Durango once my exotic disease decimated the town’s population. But that hasn’t happened yet and I promise to keep covering my mouth when I cough. Our lives have gone back to normal, but the first three days back in my home felt special. True, they were hard—we were stressed after so much time so close to one another, and we came back to a Colorado winter—but those days reminded me how ridiculously good we have it here in the States. The conch ceviche in Colorado is outrageously expensive, but we have doctors and teachers and infrastructure (all three have debatable efficacy, but that’s irrelevant). We have freedom (sort of), we have rights (most of us), and we have opportunity (if we’re lucky). It’s not perfect here at home but it’s a lot better than it is in Belize. So, even though I too have an urge to pack it all up and head for foreign latitudes, maybe I (and all of us) should just suck it up. And that’s good advice no matter which side you’re on because the present day winners will be someday losers and it’ll just go back and forth forever. We Americans are fond of fighting back and forth on a constrained field, a ceaseless game of inches (just think about our favorite sports). So maybe we should just jump into our nightmarish political cesspool, into our regressing culture, and face it straight on like a sideways-swimming shark. Or maybe moderation is where it’s at: leave sometimes, travel, get prospective. But come back. Come back to fix what’s broken instead of moving someplace like Belize where there’s lots of sand to stick your head in. Running away to paradise is still running away. And that’s where I’m at right now. I want to fly away on a special airplane equipped with windows you can roll down just so I can stick out my hand and flip off everything behind me, all the uncertainty, but I’m just going to write instead. I’m just going to be a travel writer when I travel and a writer-writer when I’m stuck here in this small office and I’m going to face life and fear with my craft, because unlike my lifejacket, writing isn’t something I can leave behind when I jump in.

belize

Thanks Carla

My eldest daughter almost talked me into adopting a one-eyed cat. He was the type of creature that could only be loved by someone benevolent like my child. I said no, but if I would’ve said yes, he would’ve been named One Eyed Willie, because as a Goonies fan, it would’ve been the axiomatic choice. HEYYYYY YOOOOOU GUUUUUYS!

One Eyed Willie was one of the cats up for adoption at the Humane Society over by Walmart. We take our daughters there by way of bribery if they’re patient while the wife and I peruse the thrift shop next door. We walk in and battle back the ambient barks and meows with an affable hello to the girls up front. There’s a transparent box on their desk for donations. I always put in a five. And I make sure they see me do it, kind of like we all do when tipping at a coffee shop. That way, they know I’m not just stopping by to let my children harass their kittens. But like I said, the kittens only have to deal with the harassment if my children let me and the wife shop.

Just like a Goony, I feel like a treasure hunter at the thrift shop. Once, I found a cutting board with a big “J” on it. I have an extensive collection of German steins thanks to the thrift shop. I even found a framed copy of “The Irresistible Waltz” by Vivaudou. I paid twelve bucks, but I’m pretty sure it’s worth fifteen trillion. The wife is more pragmatic in her shopping. She usually buys clothes which she wears for a few months before dropping them back off as a donation. We both have our routines. We walk in, give each other a high-five, and then split up like a football team after the huddle. Or at least, we used to. Now we walk in together and find the mannequin with a moustache to see Carla’s latest “work.” Carla is the ridiculously nice woman at the checkout counter.

Here’s her first installment; I’d say this is an obvious protest against bourgeois consumption and its effects on the next generation:

Child

This one besmirches nudity and our misplaced idolism:

Iron Man

This one is just a nice cross-dresser standing next to a chicken and holding some GMO broccoli:

Cross Dresser

Would you believe that someone actually complained because of this last one? Apparently, someone took a break from their thrift shopping to gripe about the fact that a male mannequin was garbed in a dress. For fuck’s sake; art critics piss me off. And despite my sarcastic tone, that’s exactly what Carla is doing. She’s making art. Sure, it’s a bit ironic that a mannequin is being treated inhumanly at a thrift shop benefiting the Humane Society, but whatever. I think it’s awesome. Art is one of those things that just pops up at times. Carla’s efforts should be applauded despite the fact that she’s blurring the gender lines associated with an already androgynous mannequin. And that’s why I sat down to write this. So… dear Carla, as a long time and avid patron of your thrift shop, I’d like to say thank you for the smiles.

Respite

There’s a place in Key West that uses ice cubes made out of coffee in their iced coffee; my caffeine has never been so undiluted. A couple cups will give you that chemical aftertaste that lets you know you’re awake. It’s like unalloyed crack. Down the street, there’s this slightly obese guy who dresses up like Darth Vader and plays the banjo after the sun sets. He’s throwing distance from a skinny man who dresses up like Spider-Man and plays the sitar, but I don’t think that they’re friends. They’d be mortal enemies if their two fictional worlds existed together in some other dimension, and tourists only have so many dollars to dole out for a picture, so competition would dictate that they’re advisories at best here in this dimension. By day, the streets ruled nightly by busking superheroes are given over to wild chickens. I know that they’re wild because they shun my attempts to pet them and they speak some odd form of chicken dialect that differs from that of the domesticated hens that I have cooped up in Colorado.

The Gays and Russians also deserve mention. Each group seems to rule Key West alongside the strutting roosters. Rainbow flags outnumber those with stars and stripes. There are drag queens everywhere, and they’re just as delightful as you’d expect. One even called me “sweetie” as I walked past her haunt with my wife. It felt natural and unforced (I’m obviously a sweetie) so I said hello and kept walking. The local paper told me that Russian mafia owns most of the local T-shirt shops which is strange because Hollywood paints them a bit more nefariously. The Russians are a bit cold though, cold and ubiquitous. There’s so many of them that the “all sales are final” sign in the Salvation Army thrift store is translated into Russian. I walked by plenty of Russians and not a single one of them called me sweetie, but in their defense, I was a bit reticent to offer up my own terms of endearment. But I nodded my head to a guy wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Putin’s face. There was something written in Russian underneath the picture, but I couldn’t read it (the only thing I can read in Russian is “all sales are final”). Who knows, maybe those odd backwards letters said something satirical and maybe I missed out on having my first Russian friend. I’d like to think that his name would’ve been Vladimir.

I’m a bit sad as I type this. My iPad is glowing lambently beneath my fingers and I’m on the plane headed home. It’s a home lying dormant under a pall of snow and my foray into the tropics was too short lived. The wife and I went to celebrate belatedly our thirteenth wedding anniversary. We went to escape the cold and tedium of home. We needed a break. If not for the children we miss and the fiduciary responsibilities to which we’re enslaved, we wouldn’t be on this plane. Key West is perfect and I don’t doubt that we’ll live there sooner rather than later. We rode our rented bikes all the way around that island as we fell in love with the idea of calling it home. We walked with the butterflies and greeted the sunset with tourists who spoke in countless tongues. We ate out, we dined in. I prepared exotic fish and couscous in our vacation rental which we ate after appetizers of charcuterie; aged cheeses and expensive smoked meats paired with dry crackers and capers. But the meals prepared for us bested mine.  We ate shaved filet, served raw with aged Parmesan. We ate soba noodles with pickled vegetables, Philly cheesesteaks, fish tacos, and tart Key Lime Pie. We checked every box on the quintessential tourist check list. We went to the southernmost point in our country, cooked our bodies on the sand until we looked like parboiled crustaceans, and we went to Earnest Hemingway’s house by way of pilgrimage. There’s a fountain outside his front door and I dipped into it the tips of my ten fingers knowing that he had probably done the same at some point. There’s a Catholic Church just down the street boasting a font of holy water, but I know that I wetted my soul with the real stuff.

To me, our trip, and the piece you’re reading now, represents a necessary respite. Time spent in warmer weather away from where you were is nothing less than a panacea. I finished a semester of higher education not long before we left, and I start another one the day after this plane lands; I’m in a liminal state of peace that’s about to end. And it’s far too soon because I swear the classes I’m taking are guilty of language abuse. They force me to use all of these flowery words as tools of analysis. I write and write and dedicate my words to political science or anthropology or argumentation and the papers I turn in cause to shrivel up and die any creativity that might be put to prose. It’s almost like if one were to look closely enough at my college papers, numbers could be found hidden amongst the letters, numerals betwixt the consonants. I’m drawing lines with my diction when I should be painting pictures. But I’m not doing that now. I’m writing just for the joy of writing, and during this brief period, I’m doing things just for the joy of doing.

In these last few weeks of nothingness, this wonderful winter break which foisted itself up like an island in my life, I’ve done all sorts of odd and rebellious things. For one, I grew a beard. And I mean a real beard. As all that coarse hair took root in my face, atavistic, primal urges took over. I felt the need to fell trees and wear plaid shirts. My wife said that I looked a bit Amish though. Whatever. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t also feel the need to churn some butter or drive before me a team of horses pulling a carriage. Before I finally shaved it, a liquor store attendant even tried to give me a high five after yelling out “hell yeah Chuck Norris!” And when I finally did trim it back, I took my time and used my clippers to make myself look as ridiculous as possible. I cut here and there to create an old west look, and then there and here to look like Hulk Hogan. I had a Magnum P.I. mustache long enough for a laugh and then shaved it off before anyone was the wiser. It was by far one of my better bathroom experiences.

The pilot just turned on the fasten seatbelt sign for our final decent. I can see that sea of compressed sodium, of burning argon, in the countless bulbs below which remind me of our species’ industrious nature. There’s no end to it in sight. I know this’ll be my last chance to write something non-scholastic before summer dawns, so I’m going to end this piece with utter disregard for a cogent conclusion. I’m going to write about kombucha:

Kombucha, if you don’t know, is a nonalcoholic fermented tea that can be found in any organic grocery store. It has that perfect blend of pretension and deliciousness; snobby asses such as myself can’t get enough of it. I even went so far as to start making it myself for a few months. I’d brew a huge batch of exotic tea on the stove like some hippy witch over her cauldron. I’d mix in the sugar and let it cool. It has to be cool because the next step is to add the “scooby.” If the tea is too hot, the scooby will die; it’s this slimy, snot-like jellyfish thingie which floats on top of the sugared tea. It’s comprised of a bazillion bacteria cells which I’m sure share some sort of collective conscious (my auto correct just tried to change “bazillion” into “bagel lion”). You just let it sit there and do its thing for a few weeks. It metabolizes the sugar and carbonates the tea, filling it with billions of probiotic little creatures which you then drink like some death crazed giant with no regard for the life forms you’re quenching just to quench your thirst. You can then remove the scooby and put it in another batch. It’ll grow and grow until it’s a gelatinous beast that’s capable of carbonating any amount of tea. At the height of my production, I had four BPA free containers of the stuff fermenting in my pantry. My scoobies were like little malodorous pets with which I shared a symbiotic, albeit high maintenance, relationship. But I eventually gave it up because my scoobies died while I was away in Alaska. They ran out of sugar. I let fall my end of the symbiosis. It’s better to buy the stuff one bottle at a time anyway. It lets you flaunt your esoteric tastes in front of all the strangers at your local organic grocery store.

As a side note, I just realized that my iPad isn’t in airplane mode. I’m just going to leave it as is because I’m straight up gangster. Anyway, how odd is it that we humans use cultures and bacteria in our food? We do it with yogurt and cheese although I have no idea how it works with either (I’m pretty sure sorcery is involved), and I’ve done it myself with kombucha. I bottled up another life form, fed it, let it fill my tea with gas, and then consumed the end product. That’d be like aliens scooping us up, caging us, feeding us, and then eating our farts. Shit… We’re landing. Tomorrow, I’m going to start my classes and catch up on work. You won’t hear from me for a while, but I’m glad you took the time to hear from me today. We’ll talk again the next time I take a breath after swimming down deep in the things from which respites are needed.

Key West

Terra

A library should be an organic thing, sans electronics. It’s not that I’m nostalgic for the old days when such cathedrals to literature held only that, but somewhere deep down, somewhere visceral, I know it’s the truth. The library through which I wandered in high school smelled like musty paper and brown wood. The carpets were earth toned. There were posters on the walls which touted reading’s importance. There was a card catalogue and the Dewey decimal system. True, there were microfiche machines against the wall, but I only used them to feel like a detective. I came for the books. I came for all the countless titles which held truths which our teachers wouldn’t share. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t find something infinitely more profound; I found my soul mate.

 

Emily Clark (who was a far cry from my soul mate) was a tutor. She sat at one of the brown round tables by the entrance next to an exotic beauty with a mischievous smile. Said beauty had this glowing mane of brown hair and a large forehead. Her grin was small, with her lips pressed together as if she was struggling to keep her thoughts from showing on her face. She was diminutive and firm and I couldn’t breathe for a moment. I walked over, with my long hair and pot reddened eyes, and stared at Emily with an “introduce me right fucking now” look on my face. Emily sighed and did. Her name was Terra. Emily told her my name while wearing a “dear god don’t talk to him because he’s as crazy as they come” expression. I remember it so damn vividly. And that’s odd because when I think back, there are two, maybe three other people who I can remember meeting for the first time. And they’re all dudes with whom I almost went to jail. Multiple times.

 

I’d see Terra in the halls and I’d do whatever it took to get her attention. I’d devolve into a simian cave dweller beating on my chest. She thought I was weird. She started dating one of my best friends from the second grade. He stopped being a friend. Instantly. I went on with my life, or the lack thereof, while she went on with hers. I graduated, two years before she did, and left for Oregon. I flittered around my late adolescence and failed at everything. But I made it back home to Alaska and hunkered down in the darkness of my father’s house and started my debauchery in earnest. I sunk lower and deeper into a quagmire of what some would call sin, and I reveled in it. I constructed a reputation that one usually only sees in movies, and I was proud of it. But one night, as I sat on a stolen couch in a stolen house drinking stolen beer (long story), I stopped breathing once more as Terra walked in the door. She was with my best friend’s sister, Robin, and some douche bag with blonde hair and a tight necklace sporting those stupid beads surfers wear. Who the fuck dresses like a surfer in Alaska? Anyway, Terra walked over with this full smile that made me quake, and asked what I had been up to. I wasn’t proud of my reputation any more. Instantly. I said I was in school. I was, sort of. I said that I painted runways for the air force. I did, sometimes. But I didn’t say I was a reckless drug addled nobody. A girl like Terra didn’t need to hear inconvenient truths like that. I made sure to get the blonde douchebag puking drunk and he was forgotten.

 

Robin put in a good word for me. She said that I had a nice car (how I got it is irrelevant). She said that I could play the drums and sing and that I was funny, which was almost 66% true. And somehow, via earthshattering luck complete with trumpeting cherubs, Terra and I started dating. She became the first girl I actually dated. True, I had dated plenty of “girlfriends” before, but none of them had ever listened to Emily Clark’s sage advice, and they learned the hard way that I wasn’t ready for anything more than a partner in crime. Terra took me to her home. She introduced me to her parents, to her family. She loved me, and for the first time, I loved someone other than a blood relative; it was hard for me because I felt so damn tarnished. But it worked. Our burgeoning relationship flowered into something real. I distanced myself from who I was and started painting for real. I traded in my brush for something in the oilfield. And then one day, Terra gave me a ninety-nine dollar gold ring from Fred Meyer hidden in a bag of Lemon Heads. I was standing in her mom’s small one-roomed cabin in the middle of a cold winter as Christmas approached. I cried and my very being exploded. Holy fuck, did that mean what I thought it meant?

 

I proposed in February. I spent two thousand dollars on that ring and she has it still. Sure, I borrowed most of the money, but I repaid that debt quickly, and we were engaged. We were pregnant soon after. I bought a house. We moved in. We got married in a tawdry ceremony in an Elk’s Lodge basement. Our gaudy union has outlasted some of the more extravagant affairs which we’ve attended since. Terra was five months pregnant at the altar, and her homemade wedding dress didn’t hide anything. Our honeymoon was two days long, and I remember the apologetic look she gave me as she puked into the toilet in our room at the top of the Hilton. I ran her a bath and laughed it off. We fought through some epic bullshit which was all spawned by my latent belligerence, but we made it. Catelynn came in the December following the December containing my Lemon Heads, and that little girl saved my life, but I’ll write that story when she’s old enough to hear exactly how bad things were.

 

We’ve since lived in New Mexico and Colorado, and had yet another monster named Kinley, who is a miniature, slightly pudgy (but cute), version of her beautiful mother. And we’re still fighting through that selfsame bullshit that comes from who I am. I don’t doubt that Terra wishes at times that she would’ve listened to Emily Clark, but I don’t give a damn because I have someone who’s better than anybody I could ever hope to have. Husbands throw around that “better half” label by rote, but it’s true in my family. Sometimes I feel like a worm in her palm at which she stares patiently while she waits for me to form a chrysalis and morph into a butterfly (a super manly, muscular butterfly), and I hope she waits still, because I fuck up at times, but my love is the very definition of truth. She is, and always will be, my one true love. I hope you read the stress I just put into the singular “one.” When she’s happy, I want to stoke the fire with gifts and praise just to see how happy she can get. When she’s mad and broken and sad, I want to build a stony fortress around my being to keep out the pain because it’s just so profoundly real and tangible that it leaves scars upon my organs.

 

I have but a few talents, and of them, writing is my strongest. At times, it’s the only gift I can give her which means anything. At times, like this one, it’s the only gift which she’ll accept. So I write for her, I write for my family, and I fight for it with these cold black letters. And it’s the only gift I’m giving her this day, on her birthday. I love you Terra, and I always will. I’ll be yours forever despite the presagious warnings which that damn tutor Emily Clark gave you. I’ll work on it all, and I’ll fight myself for the right because I’m my only enemy. I am yours, and you are my one true soul mate, my one true love, who I found in that long forgotten library. Happy Birthday Punk.

 

Terra Anderson

Acceptance

I’ve made a few questionable life choices in regards to my secondary education. If you’ve been following me for long, you’ve read about a few of them. But I’m going back to school, and I’m aiming high; I’m going to try and earn my Master’s degree before I turn forty. That gives me six years, which I’m sure sounds like an amply span of time, but I’ve got a career and a family and countless other distractions which siphon off my time like a gas thief in the parking lot. However, I’ve taken the first step, and The University of Colorado has accepted my application into their undergraduate program. And as luck would have it, the essay portion of the application process carried with it a good deal of weight. Here’s what I submitted:

 

Necessity

 

I went to college right out of high school because that’s what I was supposed to do. My friends were doing it; my parents insisted that I do it. If I agreed, I could maintain the status quo. I could carry on with the four year party that had been my life up to that point. And besides, the solidarity of an independent life scared me, as did the prospect of working for a living. My grades had been on a steady decline because I had other… interests, and one last hurrah sounded awesome. So I filled out my applications and waited. College wasn’t something I needed, but the experience was something I wanted. My acceptance letter to the University of Oregon arrived and the excitement began to boil. I had heard great things about Eugene (at the time, Playboy rated it in the top five party towns nationwide) and fall couldn’t come soon enough.

 

My dad dropped me off at the airport. I was seventeen and carried with me everything I thought I’d need for my freshman year. I had clothes and a credit card and a pocket full of cash. The flight from Alaska to Oregon is a blur. So is the taxi ride to campus. But I remember getting out of that taxi and standing in front of my dorm. The lawns were lush and the trees were green. It was a verdant paradise. My nose, accustomed to the sterile smells of an arctic desert, was assaulted by the floral smells of the “lower forty-eight.” There were teens everywhere, running, playing, laughing; it looked like the opening credits in a “coming of age” college movie. I dropped my bags and smiled. A smorgasbord of sin stretched out in front of me like that scene in Pinocchio before all the bad kids turned into jackasses. I laughed. I was in heaven.

 

It took me less than an hour to find my dorm and move in. I needed to buy books and memorize my schedule, but that could wait. I hadn’t enrolled in college to attend college. I ran out on to the quad looking for a good time. I needed a stimulus; I needed new friends. And I’ll be damned if that old adage isn’t one hundred percent true: birds of a feather flock together. I had a click of three or four other freshmen by day’s end who were looking for the same thing, and that thing had nothing to do with academics.

 

That’s pretty much how my freshman year went. I bounced from stimulus to stimulus like a drug addled pinball and did the bare minimum needed to keep my parents from sending in a rescue team to pull me out. When I left in the spring, I didn’t have much of an education, but I had a few stories that were almost too crazy to believe. I hadn’t yet declared a major, but I hadn’t gone to jail either. In truth, I came closer to the latter.

 

I came home, my parents saw my freshman transcript, and they pulled the plug; my brief foray into schooling out of state was slapped with a “do not resuscitate order.” I enrolled at the University of Alaska where I managed to extend the party of my adolescence by two years. But nothing changed. And eventually, reality teamed up with necessity, and it all came crashing down. I met the woman who’s now my wife, and our first child snuck up on us. I grew up. It was time. I got a job and a car and a mortgage all within three months. I started working like a slave to chase that dollar, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. We have two daughters now, and we’re proud Colorado residents. My wages have been on the incline because my family has been my only interest. But I don’t love what I do. This job has its perks, but that’s all it is; a job. I need a change. I’ve come to the point in my life wherein hindsight sharpens and my regrets start to look fixable.

 

It took me thirty years to answer the question I’ve been asking my daughters as of late: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, I want to be a writer, so, I started writing. I’ve self-published two books, both of which have done better than expected, and a third is on the way. I’ve had short stories published by professional and paying markets, and the local newspaper accepts my submissions regularly. I have a blog with a good deal of international subscribers, and I even have a few readers who describe themselves as “fans.” But I don’t have an education, nor do I have the degree that’ll force editors to take me seriously, and that’s why I’m applying to The University of Colorado at Denver. I plan to earn my four year degree through your school, if you’ll have me, and then apply to the MFA program at the University of Texas. I need to do this online because I have a career and a family and all the other things in life that consume my daylight hours. This is my only avenue.

 

So I’m getting it together, and applying. I’ve submitted requests for transcripts and test scores, and they should all be into your admissions office by the time you read this essay. It made me feel a bit old to find out that my SAT scores were archived on microfiche, but it’s better late than never, and I’m freakishly excited to finally start my education in earnest. Because now, this isn’t an experience that I want; college, this education, is something that I need.

Acceptance

State Line Yin-Yang

I yell “base” as I cross the state line back into Colorado from New Mexico. It feels as if I’m playing a game of tag with all the idiocy down south, and once I make it into the mountains, I’m safe. I’ve made it to my base.

I’m not sure how it is that two cities that are such polar opposites cropped up so geographically close to each other. It makes sense if we stick with the magnetic metaphor because polar opposites always attract, but it usually doesn’t work that way with cities. San Francisco is a lot like San Diego, New York is a lot like New Jersey. But Durango Colorado is a blue mountain town full of culture and education; thirty miles south across the state line, Farmington New Mexico is a red town full of strip malls and natural gas. Durango is verdant and crisp, Farmington is a brown desert. The former is populated by outdoorsy liberals with affable smiles, the latter is plagued with quasi cowboys who spout platitudes like “love it or leave it.” And for the record, I left it.

The family and I moved down here to the Four Corners from Alaska six years ago to escape the dark winters that aren’t advertised in the tourism commercials. Farmington looked good enough, so we bought a house. We settled in, and that “new car smell” that comes with a new home masked the bullshit that’d eventually spur me north. To be fair, Farmington has a few redeeming qualities. There’s an authentic Thai restaurant downtown. The parks are nice, and the parking is free. But maybe the parking is free because time spent in Farmington is something which has to be given away. And Farmington is close to plenty of cool places to be; you can get to Phoenix or Denver or Santa Fe in a few hours. I clung to those pros and lived in Farmington for six years, but the truth eventually bitch slapped me: if the best thing about a place is the fact that it’s close to someplace else, maybe one should just go to that “someplace else.”

I was dumbfounded the first time we drove north out of New Mexico. There’s a brief no-man’s-land in between the “you’re leaving New Mexico” and “welcome to Colorado” signs, and as soon as you make it through, the land changes. The air cools. Nature intensifies and you can tell that you’ve made it to greener pastures. It’s as if some natural boundary holds in all of Colorado’s awesomeness. It feels like you’re popping out of a bubble, or maybe driving into one.

Back home in Farmington, I was used to the antiquated architecture that comes from the quick and cheap expansion associated with natural gas booms. I was used to the desolate and decrepit parts of town that came from periods of economic collapse when the tycoons would take their money elsewhere. I was used to shittiness. Adversely, Durango is a vacation town. Durango is a college town. Durango is a town fueled by thought and art and play. It was a night and day difference, and I fell in love. My trips north became ever more frequent. And at times, as I walked amongst the streets, where one must pay handsomely for parking, I’d forget that I was homesick, because I felt at home. I fit in. Hell, I already looked like one of the locals (affectionately referred to as “Durangatang”).

Eventually, the trips north didn’t cut it. We’d come up for Easter Egg hunts and good sushi, but the hour drive each way was taxing. And inevitably, the locals would ask where we were from as we rubbed elbows. I’d say “Alaska” at about the same time my wife would say “Farmington.” She and I would laugh and explain the lapse, but it’d always be too late. As soon as the local heard that we lived in Farmington, they’d get this “aw, that’s too bad” look on their face and desperately look for something nice to say like “well… you have a Sam’s Club, so I guess that’s something.” Then they’d politely excuse themselves and leave us to our exclusion.

We had to move. So we did; we decided to live in a vacation town, which felt like an euphony. To live where one is supposed to vacation? It was genius. We rented out our home in Farmington and found a bucolic little paradise up here. I got a Colorado driver’s license as soon as I could so I could prove that I was a local, and I’ve never been happier. Seriously; I am in fact happier now than I have ever been. I used to wake up in the middle of the night back in Farmington with no clue where I was. I’d have to search the walls for familiarities or reach over for my wife just to anchor my thoughts in reality. Here, that hasn’t happened once. The air up here is a nepenthe for my thoughts, and I’m at peace. I’ve decided to go back to school and take this writing thing seriously, because if I could live here in Durango, while feeding my children by doing what I love, I’d finally have that consonance between profession and life that leads to true happiness.

But to be fair, Durango has its downfalls too. It gets a bit crowded at times, probably because everybody is a fan of awesomeness, and it’s a bit cooler (which is something I love, but my wife, not so much). There are a few asses on the streets with their jacked up brodozers (large trucks with smoke stacks meant to compensate for something else) but that’s alright, no place is perfect. In a yin-yang, there’s always that little dot of black in the white, representing that little bit of bad in the good. The free parking in Farmington is their little dot of white in the black. That little bit of good in the bad wasn’t good enough for us, so here we are, and here I write. I’m proud to be a Durangatang, and now when people ask where we’re from, we answer in unison: here.

Hasta la Vista

 

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Writing: Part 5

Playwrights

That actor on stage is nothing more than a middleman. The gesticulations are his, and the emotions, but those words, those lines, are borrowed from someone else. These thespians whom we’ve elevated to idols, on the stage or on screen, dedicate their lives to memorizing someone else’s ideas. This “someone” is a writer who lives on the leeward side of the gossamer curtains that separate fame from obscurity. I know exactly who Brad Pitt is (he’s that guy who’s buying foreign children like the rest of us buy candy bars) but I can’t name any of the people who’ve written the words upon which his fame has been founded. It’s a shame. Ergo, I’ve decided to dedicate my final look into burgeoning authors to playwrights.

As a personal point of contention, the honorific of “playwright” has always annoyed me. I understand that the “wright” is added because of the profession; a wheelwright makes wheels, a playwright makes plays. But it’d make more sense if we spelled it “playwrite” because 1.) silent g’s shouldn’t exist, and 2.) plays are written, not forged like wheels. Whatever. I know it’s a rather trivial complaint, but I still think it’s valid.

I’ve never attempted to write a play, but I grew up going to them. Granted, the productions that made it to Alaska were about as far “off-Broadway” as they can get, but they were better than nothing. We’d bundle up and drive down to the performing art center in downtown Anchorage and mingle with the other fur-clad denizens of our arctic paradise. All the grownups would sip champagne and do their best to pretend that they were surrounded by culture as opposed to living in an Alaskan exile. All the kids would pretend to be grownups. We’d file in, ushered by the ushers, and find our velvet upholstered seats. We’d thumb through the program. The lights would dim, the curtains would part, and the show would begin. Afterward, we’d always stand and clap for more no matter what. The ovation was a product of our far-north isolation; it had nothing to do with the quality of the play. “Please, you fine thespians from a place with four seasons, please give us more. Don’t leave us here with naught but the cold.”

We’d always linger long after the play had concluded. Everybody seemed to speak a bit louder, laugh a bit longer. Maybe they were trying to imitate the actors whom they had paid dearly to see. Maybe they too were trying to project their voices to an impromptu audience of their fellow play lovers. Either way, I remember the plays from my youth fondly. But again, I only remember the actors on stage. I’m sure the playwright was given due credit in the program through which I thumbed, but in retrospect, it just doesn’t seem like enough.

***

The first author in this last segment is Alicia Wozniak, who was born and raised in Cleveland. “Woz” now lives in Tampa, with the rest of Ohio. This 40 year old can be found teaching Zumba, all over Facebook, figuring out Twitterblogging, and working her full time gig in a marketing division of a textbook publisher. She wonders how many jobs she really needs. If she isn’t moving, she’s unconscious. Life, which includes a Weez, is good and as long as the beer is cold and it isn’t snowing, she’ll keep moving forward—Xanax close at hand.

You can find more of her work at: http://putthecatdown.wordpress.com/

Alicia Wozniak

Harry’s Melon

Once upon a time in a faraway land… Oh who am I kidding? (take an enormous bite of a sammich and talk with your mouth full while speaking) There’s dis guy who lives in Cleveland. His name is Harry, but he ain’t got any on his head. You’d think dis guy would like, ya know, wear that stuff, what’s it called, sunscreen? (finally swallow) Yeah, or maybe even a hat to protect his dome from the sun. I mean, that giant ball in the sky Clevelanders hardly ever see has powerfully wicked stuff coming outta dere that can cause like cancer and shit. (take a long drag on a cig)

(another bite of sammich…wipe mayo from chin after wife hands you a napkin) Well, Harry, he never listened to his mutha. (swallow and pick food out of teeth while still talking and laugh) So, dis guys been walkin’ around Cleveland for like 60, maybe 70 years with the sun’s rays bouncin’ off his melon like a friggen disco ball, right? Right, Pauly! (Pauly, covered in marinara sauce, nods)

(sit back in chair and loosen button on pants, remove napkin from tank top) Yeah, so his doc says, “Hey, Harry. You gotta bump up here and I gotta take it off, OK?” So, now Harry looks like a friggen bowling ball, right Pauly!? (Pauly raises a greasy two thumbs up) Dis guy, he’s funny. He’s making up stories and stuff about Obama-care policy of withdrawing active brain cells from the accomplished for implantation into the heads of less skilled members of a certain political party or some shit like that. I ain’t got no idea what the Hell he’s talkin’ about. I’m thinkin’ Harry hits the Jack maybe a little too hard, but what do I know, right? To each his own. Hey, Maria! Where the Hell is my dessert?! (obscene words and breaking dishes heard from off stage)

(take a giant gulp of iced tea from a ridiculously large plastic cup from random theme park) So, yeah, Harry’s got holes in his head now and he’s gotta be good and wear hats. I mean had he just listened to his mutha… (drag on cig) I’m sure she bought him some nice hats over da years and his kids too. I bet they bought him hats too from where ever the Hell they go cuz you know they don’t come home as often as they should, right, Maria? Friggen ungrateful little bastards. I tell ya, me and Maria we ain’t got nuttin’ nice because we spend all our money on our kids and you’d think they could come home once in a while and show some respect. (look around in disgust and admire plastic covered couch, get lost in on coming food coma)

But I digress. (put out cig)  Harry, he’s a good man and da holes they are gonna heal. Let’s all say a prayer that the doc got da crap outta his head. (obscene words and breaking dishes heard from off stage finally stops, Pauly stops eating and our narrator starts snoring)

 

***

The second author, and the writer with which I’ll be concluding this five part look into burgeoning authors, is Randy Carr. Futher information on this last writer can be found after his piece. The following is an excerpt from his play which has been chosen to kick off the 2013 South West Festival of the Written Word in Silver City.

Randy Carr obtained his BA in Acting and Directing from Eastern Washington University and his Masters in Human Relations from Pacific Lutheran University.

A retired investigator, now settled in the history rich southwestern corner of New Mexico, he quickly immersed himself in the history of the area.  The result is “TUCK,” © an original play designed to entertain and educate audiences about the real old west and one of its true-life unsung heros.  He can be reached at deputydantucker@gmail.com.

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TUCK

ACT II, Scene 1

Thet there wern’t the first lynchin’ bee in town.  One feller got his self hung three times.

(Refills coffee.)

See, theys two perfessions thet wuz highly regarded in yer frontier town.  One wuz a good blacksmith, t’other wuz a good bartender.  ‘Cordin’ to many, Arkansas Bob Black wuz the best bartender Shakespeare ever seed.

Now fer this story to make any sense at all you haf ta unnerstand thet the first civilizin’ influence on any frontier town wuz the arrival of the wives.  The presence of them wimmenfolk jus’ had a calmin’ effect on the men.  They demanded, ‘n got, the kind of comforts ‘n genteel social atmosphere thet might be found in yer better locales.  As you might figger, the menfolk, ‘specially husbands, would do near anythin’ to keep the wives happy.

(Chuckles to himself.)

S’pose some things never change (Pause.)  Anyways thet is why old Arkansas Bob got his self hung.

He wuz a handsome scoundrel, alus wore his hair greased back, sported a big waxed handlebar mustache ‘n a ready smile.  He had quite an eye fer the ladies, too.  But they wern’t no single ladies in Shakespeare jus’ then, so Bob Black took up with this married gal.  ‘N fer whatever reason, her husband didn’t object.

When he started sparkin’ thet married gal, the other wives in town got some (Pause.) o-ffended, I reckon you could say.  This jus’ could not be allowed ‘n they demanded their husbands do sumthin’ ‘bout it.  So, one night a bunch a husbands come up to Arkansas Bob, explained the sitchyation ‘n po-litely suggested it would be good fer him to leave town fer a spell.  They done this with some pause cuz they liked Bob.  Imagine their surprise when ol’ Bob tol’ em’ to go stick it in their hats.  When the husbands reported back to the wives thet Bob wouldn’t leave, the wives, bein’ the great civilizin’ influence thet they wuz, sez “Well, hang ‘im then!”

(Crosses and picks up lariat.)

Soooo, the men got ‘em a coil a rope ‘n went huntin’ fer Bob.  They give him ‘nother chance to leave, but he weren’t movin’.  So they took ‘im over to the Blacksmith shop, tied his hands, roped his neck ‘n hung ‘im from the main beam.

(Imitates hauling down on rope.)

Course, they lowered ‘im right back down ‘n ast if he’d leave now.  He sputtered ‘n tol’ em in no uncertain terms thet he weren’t goin’ nowhere, so they hauled ‘im up again.

(Again imitates hauling down on rope.)

They kept him a danglin’ ‘til he turned this pretty shade of blue then lowered him down ‘n ast’ him again if’n he’d leave.  His answer wuz nearly as blue as his face.  The gist bein’ he wern’t leavin’.

So, up he went a third time.

(Once again imitates hauling down on rope.)

This time they kep’ him swingin’ ‘til he passed out.  Then they brung him down, threw water in his face to revive him ‘n ast’ him again.  He gasped ‘n wheezed ‘n panted ‘n when he fin’ly got his breath back, he tol’ his strangler’s thet if’n they’d untie ‘im (A beat.) he’d beat ever last one of ‘em into the ground, but he wern’t leavin’.

Now, this left the would-be lynch mob a scratchin’ they heads.  They didn’t want to hang ‘im to death, they liked ol’ Bob.  Fin’ly one feller suggested thet if they couldn’t git Bob to leave mebbe they could git his galfriend to go instead.  So, the group trooped over to thet lady’s adobe, ‘n wakes her ‘n her husband up.  They dangled thet rope in her face

(Dangles loop end of lariat.)

‘n tol’ em in no uncertain terms thet if she didn’t leave town she’d be found at the end of thet rope, come mornin’.  Sure enuf, before daybreak, thet lady ‘n her husband packed a wagon ‘n headed out.

The miners proudly announced to their wives thet they had fixed the problem. (Pause.)  Would they a really hung her?  Don’t you ever misjudge the power of a pack a angry wives.  ‘N Arkansas Bob?  He went back to tendin’ his bar, but thet’s ‘nuther story.

***

Dan Tucker is an undiscovered real life hero of the old west.  He was the Chief Deputy Sheriff in Grant County in the New Mexico Territory from 1877 to 1888.  Later becoming the first Town Marshal of Silver City, Special Agent for both Wells Fargo Stagecoach Company and the Santa Fe Railroad and finally Deputy United States Marshal.  He became one of the most feared, fearless and deadly lawmen of the era, credited with besting at least 12 men in shootouts.  He was the one man even Wyatt Earp and his posse gave a wide berth.  Tucker’s exploits were not publicized by the dime-novelists of the the day and were not written about until recently.   “TUCK” © is his story, the story of the Southwest in the wildest days of the 1870’s and 80’s seen through his eyes.

After the premier of “TUCK” © in Silver City in August of 2012, reviewers wrote the following:

Randy Carr brings “Dangerous” Dan Tucker to life on the stage, in a one-man show that transports the audience back to the heyday of the Wild West. The script deftly mixes history and personality, with just enough bits of both humor and gunplay. Carr makes an ideal Old West lawman, looking back on his “dangerous” career on the occasion of New Mexico’s statehood—think Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain, if he were packing heat.

David Fryxell – Editor – The Desert Exposure

Those who delight in both local history and good drama will wish to experience Randy Carr’s “Tuck” ©.    Accurately dramatizing an earlier Silver City through the dramatic monologue of Deputy Sheriff Dan Tucker, Randy, as author and actor, brings to life a segment of our precious past.  Highly commendable as both history and drama, “Tuck”©  will significantly enrich our 2012 celebration of New Mexico’s centennial.

Larry Godfrey – author of Dancing with Gods.

“Randy Carr assumes the persona of Sheriff Dan Tucker like it was his second skin. In the deliciously florid yet rough and wry victorian voice of the Old West, Carr/Tucker enthralls us with true and often outrageous stories of hardship, violence, tom foolery, adventure, and wit in old Territorial New Mexico.”

Starr Belsky – Co-Chair, Silver City Arts and Cultural District.

To view the youtube promotional video for the Statehood anniversary presentation of “TUCK,” ©  click here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRk0Zn1fpGM&feature=youtu.be

***

If you’ve made it through all five of these segments, I thank you. I’ve written over ten-thousand words throughout these five pieces, and introduced ten different writers who cover the gamut of success and skill. In truth, I didn’t plan on going any further than that first installment, but it’s been fun; I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Trolls

“It blows my mind to think that ‘LOL’ is probably spelled differently in Spanish.” –Me

 

It doesn’t really blow my mind; that was just an attempt to be funny on Twitter. My little snippet was tantamount to verbal diarrhea. It’s an interesting thought though, because most of my Spanish followers type “LOL” at the end of their Spanish tweets even though the acronym is clearly English. Technically, they should use “RAC” for “riendo a caracajadas,” but whatever. I guess our American shorthand is insidious enough to infect other languages.

 

But after I tweeted the above mentioned nonsense, a troll came out of nowhere and responded by saying “you have a very tiny mind.” Of course he immediately blocked me so I couldn’t respond, you know, because he’s a real man. And it pissed me off because I wanted to post something supper witty like “I know you are but what am I?” but his hasty departure robbed me of the chance. So I looked through his tweets because anybody who could so flippantly insult me should have some badass wit, right? Here’s the first one I found:

 

“I’m all for reparations if it will get black people to stop saying ‘nigga.’” –We’ll call him “Mike”

 

Holy shit. How does one say “OMG” in Spanish? I guess I was wrong. Mike turned out to be a fat-ass ineffectual fuck-tard as opposed to the witty guy I was hoping to find. But that’s usually the case with trolls. In case you didn’t know, a “troll” is anybody on a social media site that intentionally insults something you say to make up for the fact that they were born with an innie instead of an outie (you know, down in their pants where it counts). These walking penises usually hide behind a fake profile picture to minimize the backlash from their offensive comments, and that’s exactly what Mike does.

 

You know, I’m finding it really hard to be pissed at this guy despite his assholeishness because he’s got some serious style. I bet the inside of his trailer is uber pimp.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Mike suffers from clerk’s syndrome. Man, “Clerks” was a great movie, and it taught me a good deal about human nature. Just in case you’re not familiar with clerk’s syndrome, I’ll fill you in. Basically, gas station clerks develop a certain amount of resentment towards customers over the years. They eventually begin to look down on them despite the fact that most of their customers do more for our species than your average gas station clerk. The customers are doctors or teachers or educated professionals. Yet they all look the same to the clerks who talk shit about them as soon as they pay for their burrito and leave. Customers can be annoying with their repetitive complaints and quotidian bullshit, and ultimately, the high and mighty clerk realizes that they’re better than the sheep that ring the hallowed bell on the gas station’s front door.

 

You see the same thing with the “geniuses” at the Apple Genius Bar, and with the “geeks” on Best Buy’s “Geek Squad.” They deal with the average Joe so often that they start to think that the average Joe is beneath them. I had one of Best Buy’s Geeks get pissy with me because I had questions as to how I should apply the screen protector onto my iPad. How dare I bother him with something so trivial! The snide little bastard rudely answered my questions and never realized that I make five times as much as he does, or that he had reached the pinnacle of his existence.

 

I have no idea what Mike does for a living (it probably involves the bathroom at a truck-stop) but I know clerk’s syndrome when I see it. I usually ignore the trolls on twitter because I know what they’re doing. They’re reaching up out of their pit and trying to pull me down into their negativity where all the petty little people live. I usually ignore them, or respond with positivity when I’m not blocked, but today, I’m going to take Mike’s hand and let him pull me down into his bullshit to see how the lesser half lives.

 

Mike, here’s the response I would’ve given you had you not blocked me: I know you are, but what am I? RAC!!! If I was sitting next to you at the bar when I said what I did about the Spanish LOL, would you have told me that I have a tiny mind in person? No. You would’ve said it to yourself, or mumbled it into one of your chins because you, Mike, are a pussy. It’s easy to be brave behind a fake avi and say things about other races. It’s easy to insult and run, so stop congratulating yourself, because you’re not nearly as profound as you think.

 

Mike runs a YouTube channel that features short, animated videos staring an octopus with a unicorn horn. It’s pretentions as hell but I have to admit that his work comes close to art. Some of his videos have even had as many as five-hundred views. I don’t like the videos, but maybe that’s just because Mike doesn’t like my tweets. I can be pretty petty when I set my tiny mind to it.

 

And in truth, I’m not really being fair to Mike. It’s just that I’ve encountered a few trolls this month and I’ve grown tired of their antics. Usually, they do it for publicity. You see, I have well over eighty-thousand followers on twitter, and if a troll can bate me into a back-and-forth volley of insults, all my viewers get to see it, and then maybe the troll gets a few more followers of his own. It’s a rather sound tactic when you think about it. I know I’m not supposed to let it get to me. I’m supposed to remind myself that I have a bulging intellect (wink, wink), an abnormally well-paying job, a healthy family, and a damn good life. I’m supposed to let a troll’s idiocy bounce off of my confidence and go about my day. But it’s hard. No matter how secure you are, a stranger’s insults still sting a bit.

 

Some tweets are more susceptible to trolls than others. If you ever talk yourself up, those furry little assholes come running. They want to bring you down because it’s easier to look up at those above you with a derisive sneer if you have someone standing next to you. And if you ever tweet about working out, watch the fuck out. You might as well walk over a bridge like a Billy goat gruff and prepare yourself for a full on troll invasion. My wife once said something like “twitter is a place for assholes to be even bigger assholes and to be accepted by other assholes.” It’s not entirely true, but it’s close.

 

I posted a picture of the weights in my home gym last week, and about five minutes later, another “artist” troll immediately responded with something like “oh wow! You go to the gym! Who fucking cares!” He even used a hash tag which is the social media equivalent of drooling in the middle of an insult thanks to inbreeding. So, just like I did with Mike, I looked at the troll’s pictures. Surely this guy was going to have tons of artful pictures that’d put mine to shame, right? Nope. There were hundreds of pictures of women’s shoes that he’d painted. He was trying to sell them via his art blog. I guess it makes sense that a grown man who finger paints women’s shoes should be able to insult a man who works out. Err… um, actually, no it doesn’t.

 

But I get it. I’m pretty sure that Cross Fit is actually a cult, and all the pictures of people doing pull-ups are a bit annoying. However, two years ago, I was coming close to weighing 220 pounds. I looked like… well, I looked like a younger (more attractive, better dressed, not so fat) version of Mike. I took steps. I started dieting and working out like a psycho and lost more than sixty pounds. I’ve since been putting on muscle. I can see my abs. I can run 5K races. And frankly, I’m damn proud of it, so of course I’m going to post the occasional picture because they chronicle my achievement. If you don’t like it, don’t look. Hell, just un-follow me.  I don’t say snarky shit when you proudly display your foot fetish, so you should keep quiet when I talk about something healthy. It just makes sense. In this specific instance, I replied that I was too big of a pussy to go to the gym, and that I liked the shadows in the picture so I posted it. The troll laughed and erased his comments. I killed him with kindness; he still follows me.

 

My point in all of this is that there’s really no point in being a troll. You’re not scoring any points or affecting any change. I know for a fact that my wife is laughing her ass of right now because I’ve posted my share of smug idiocy, but I’ve been trying not to. All these little comments trolls leave are permanent. They’re little electronic ripples spreading out in the wake of their insults, and even though the hurt is small, it still exists. A troll’s legacy is a virtual epitaph that reads “here lies an asshole.” You can only play devil’s advocate for so long before you’re not “playing.”  But I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything else, because I constantly spout my nonsense like an asshole into a place for assholes to be even bigger assholes. Trolls just come with the territory.

My Gym

Writing: Part 4

Short Speculative Fiction

I opened a rejection letter yesterday; they don’t come as often as they once did, but they still sting. I’ve become abnormally good at almost getting published, so I usually get the “we loved it and you’re on the short list” letters, which I like to refer to as “eventual rejections,” and I get a flat out “yes we’ll take it, here’s your ten bucks” once or twice a year. But the main reason I receive fewer rejection letters is the fact that I’ve chosen to self-publish and post most of my work on this blog… See how I made it sound like a choice? That was me trying to make you think that I could go the traditional route if I wanted to because publishers are constantly kissing my ass. Spoiler alert, they’re not.

Anywho, most of the publications from which I’ve received rejection letters have fewer subscribers than this blog. The truth is that I get more exposure this way; I only make the occasional submission to a third party because I crave the validation. Yes, it hurts like a bitch when some magazine with thirty regular readers says “thanks, but no thanks,” but it’s nearly orgasmic when they say yes.

It’s gotten to the point when even if I receive a rejection letter, the editor always sends a nicely written note with a few critiques and a reason for the rejection. This last one said that “the story felt rushed” but that they loved my style, and that I should submit again ASAP if I had something written in a slower pace. Actually, it was a damn good critique. I reread my piece and came to the same conclusion. But here’s the bitch: this particular publication has a five-hundred word limit for submissions. Holy shit.

“They” say that the hardest part in writing a good short story is keeping it short, and “they” are damn right. How the hell is one supposed to tell a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, complete with believable character development, in five-hundred fucking words? Of course it’s going to come across as rushed.

The trick, I’ve been told, is to boil it down until all you have left is unalloyed story. There’s no room for maudlin prose or overly descriptive bullshit. One must rely on simple fiction and pure plot to be a successful short story writer, and according to my most recent rejection letter, I don’t always pull it off.

Another thing that “they” have been saying is that “the short story is dead.” I can see where they’re coming from, but I’d like to think that short fiction is simply resting in a lull of sorts because the full length novel is just so damn trendy. I might be full of shit, but whatever. Honestly, I enjoy short fiction, and I absolutely love collections of short fiction. I might be a bit solivagant in this love, but so be it. Short stories are like perfect little vignettes of make-believe into which a reader can delve briefly without commitment. And collections are even better because if you start into a story that doesn’t feel right, you can always move onto the next piece. I don’t want you to think that I’m promoting a short attention span, it’s just that every once in a while, a trip to the buffet is better than a single entre meal. Get it? That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate the fourth segment of this look into burgeoning authors to writers of short, speculative fiction.

***

The first author I’ve chosen to feature is Rob Walker.

Robert Walker

He’s a writer and filmmaker living in Colorado. Rob is perhaps best known for “Victorian Cut-out Theatre”, an animated comedy series featuring monsters, deranged billionaires and time travel which is distributed through Cinevore.com. He also writes for the pop culture website Nerd Reactor. You can read his blog at www.robwalkerfilms.com

WEBSITE: www.robwalkerfilms.com

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/robwalkerfilms

YOUTUBE: youtube.com/robwalkerfilms

TWITTER: @timidwerewolf

The House on Maple Street

In a normal state, in an average town, on Maple Street, there was a house. The house was guarded over by two long dead trees. These trees, being long dead, had no leaves. In place of greenery, however, there were several crows. So many crows, in fact, that if you were to view the house on Maple Street from a distance, you would swear that these strange trees were in full bloom. But you’d be wrong.

If anyone had ever taken the time to measure the inside of the house on Maple Street, they would have found that it was a foot bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. That sounds impossible, but it’s true. And contained within the house were twelve rooms, one for every month of the year. Thirteen including the cellar, but no one ever did.

The house on Maple Street had been designed by Edward Clemmins in 1928, for George and Emily Bryant. Clemmins was considered a genius by many of his contemporaries and was responsible for designing the bakery in New York that looks like an elephant… you know the one.

Shortly after finishing his plans for the house on Maple Street, Clemmins shot himself in the head. They say that he knew that this house was cursed from the beginning and couldn’t live with the knowledge that he would be responsible for such a place. I think maybe he was just sad.

George and Emily Bryant moved in upon the completion of the house, and set to creating a family. After a year in the house they bore no children, and soon Emily disappeared. Many thought that Emily left George in the middle of the night to avoid the shame of a public divorce. Neighborhood children thought that George had murdered his wife and hid her body in the cellar. Nothing was ever proven. Before hanging himself in their bedroom, George wrote a note with one word on it: “Whispers”.

George might have been referring to the stories told behind his back after his wife’s disappearance. However, his friends say that before his demise, he complained about hearing Emily’s voice echoing throughout the house, like she was close, but he could never find her.

The house sat empty and had no visitors until 1930, when famous spiritualist Madame Devoe paid the house a visit, to cleanse it of what she called “disquieted spirits”. This visit lasted fifteen minutes before Madame Devoe was stricken blind. She retired from spiritualism shortly after. Though blind, she led a relatively happy life with her daughter in Florida until her death in 1975.

As so often happens with buildings of similar reputation as the house on Maple Street, local children would often dare each other to go inside, or at the very least knock on the door. One such event happened in 1963 when ten year old Jimmy Boyd entered the house on a dare. By many accounts, he was the bravest of the children. Five minutes later he emerged claiming that a beautiful woman that lived in the house offered him cookies if he would stay with her for a bit. After three weeks, Jimmy’s raven colored hair had turned white. This extreme and early change in hair color earned him the nickname “snow-top”. If you find him, ask him about the woman. He’ll be more willing to talk if you bring him a plate of macaroons.

Over the years, the people in town thought of tearing down the house on Maple Street. Everyone agreed that it was unpleasant to look at, and no one could ever sell it given the history. Town officials never did tear it down, though. So it still sits on its yard, all twelve rooms, well unless you count the cellar. Guarded by two long dead trees and several flocks of crows. A group of crows is called a murder by the way, I wasn’t sure if you knew that, but it’s true.

***

The second author I’m featuring is KendallJaye Collard:

Kendall Jaye Collard

“I live in Springfield, IL with my husband and daughter. I am in an unhealthy relationship with a 1967 4-door Chevy Impala hardtop. Cancer survivor, wine drinker, and protected by rock salt.

I can be reached at kendalljaye.collard@gmail.com and can be found lurking around Twitter @KJCollard.”

Failure No. 12

I’m all groggy. Something smells like industry. Something metallic. Like iron.

I realize it’s blood.

I sit up and try to open my eyes. It’s blindingly white. Like a million watt light bulb pointed directly into my eyes. My head should hurt but it doesn’t. What the fuck happened to me?

I squint and try to open my eyes again. It’s still so very white, but it’s okay. The white isn’t from a light at all. The white just is. I’m so confused.

Then I realize I don’t just smell blood. I taste it.

I rake the back of my hand across my mouth. I look down to where my hand should be. There is nothing there but white.

Then ever so slowly, outlines happen. Nearly paper thin lines of black simply appear and grow. The outline of my hand. The outline of where blood is smeared across the back of my wrist. There’s not even a hint of color. It’s like a blank page with a few calligraphy pen marks. The lines of the liquid blood far thinner than the lines defining my hand. How strange.

CLICK Hello there. Do you know your name? CLICK

A voice. Where is it coming from? I look around, and white things start to come into focus. Black outlines defining a ceiling corner. The walls. The chaise I’m lying on. But there is no shading. No colors.

“Hello?”

CLICK Hello. Can you hear me? CLICK

“Yes, I……”

CLICK Do you know your name? CLICK

“Yes. But… who…”

CLICK Just answer the questions for now ma’am. Everything will be answered in due time. What is your name, ma’am? CLICK

“My name is Cawks. Where am I?”

CLICK You’re very safe. Glad to meet you Cawks. My name is Beeks. Do you know where you are from? CLICK

My head should hurt. I’m bleeding. Why doesn’t it hurt? “Um… No. I can’t… recall.” More lines materialize breaking the monotony of white. This is an interrogation room. A pane of glass on the far wall. I sit up on the chaise and hang my feet over the edge. The velvety touch of the fabric tickles my fingertips. But it just looks white. I look across the room and notice a table being drawn before my eyes.

CLICK Where are you from Cawks? CLICK

“I said I don’t know. What’s going on here?” I stand up and trust that a textureless floor will support my weight. But why wouldn’t it? The chaise did. And the floor responds in kind. It’s cold on the pads of my feet. My bare feet.

I look down at myself for the first time and see more than just my blood smeared hand. I see the outline of feet, legs, arms. All the normal human body parts. I realize I am naked. The outline of the tiny vent in the corner breathes a sigh and the rush of chilled air goes across my skin. I feel panic rising.

“Beeks, where are my clothes?”

CLICK Cawks, I need you to go over to the table for me. CLICK

I look back again at the table. I walk across the floor. My feet go one in front of the other. The table inches closer, and the chaise moves farther away. All still white. I see the outline of the speaker come into view. Beeks.

On the table is an assortment of weapons. Their outlines are familiar to me. But I’ve never held a weapon. Why can’t I remember where I’m from?

CLICK Cawks, I need you to pick up the one you like best. CLICK

My eyes roam the table. So many to choose. “Which one?”

CLICK The one that suits you. CLICK

I let my eyes roam over their forms. Pistols. Rifles. Slingshots. Knives. My eyes stop at the longbow. I cock my head to the right. Suddenly I smell the wood and the oils used in it. “The Bow, Beeks. I like the bow. Can I hold it?”

CLICK Of course Cawks. It’s yours, after all. CLICK

I gingerly lift the strange white bow. It is firm in my hand. It feels like it should. Even though there is no wood grain to identify it, it feels familiar. Comforting. The outline of the bowstring somewhat thinner than the hard outline of the bow itself. There are no arrows here, but I snuggle the grip deep into my left hand. I hold it as if to take aim. I pull the nocking point back across my cheek. It feels like home.

“Beeks, why are there no colors?”

CLICK What do you mean? CLICK

“It’s like a blank sheet of paper. Like someone is using a pen or charcoal to draw lines. There are no shades or colors. I can only feel the textures.” I release the bowstring as I exhale.

A sudden crushing. My chest. I can’t breathe. “Beeks?” I drop my best friend on the ground. I grab at my chest. “BEEKS!”

No response.

“BEEEEEKS! I CAN’T BREATHE!”

Nothing.

My eyes fall on the chaise. I stumble my way there and fall heavily upon it.

Just a nap. That’s what I need. Just close my eyes. Just a little sleep.

Then darkness.

***

Somewhere in the United States three scientists continued their conversation.

“Cracking job on the tits, Reeve.”

“Thanks, Jude. I’m kind of an expert,” she replied as she crassly grabbed her own. “Sorry about the optics being off. Bummer man.”

“It’s okay. I’m really close. There’s a blood leak on start up, too. And Beeks hasn’t quite mastered the memory implants anyhow.”

Beeks shook his head. “Can’t stop until She’s perfect. Then we’ll make a million more of Her. Hated putting Her down though. You’d think it would get easier.”

Reeve slapped him on the back. “C’mon. Let’s go get lunch. We can clean up the mess when we get back.”

The three scientists laughed heartily and headed out the door.