It’s been happening fast — maybe too fast to keep up. When President Trump, nay, Darth Orange, fired FBI Director James Comey, (a man who by all accounts was such a boy scout that his proficiency in knot tying was world renowned and his farts smelled like smores) I began to question how truly deep the inane idiocy of our quickly devolving empire had gone. That was followed by a week of mass fuckery in messaging from the White house as Trump himself contradicted his team on the why of the dismissal. Then the Comey memos accusing President Trump of asking to quash the Michael Flynn investigation dropped, a special prosecutor has been named, subpoenas issued, and finally today comes an audio tape of the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan swearing the GOP members to secret regarding Trump being funded by Russia.
There have been times in my life where I have felt exacerbated by the information stream. There have been times where I felt those who seek to lead us to do so because of a need for power and influence without the character to wield power and influence. There has not been a time before now that I truly felt the need to piss into the wind just so I could feel some passing warmth.
What the entire fuck is happening? Is one party essentially complicit in undermining our sovereignty, elections, and democracy so they could push an ideological agenda? That’s where we are? Trickle down Keynesian Ecofuckinnomics has been such a colossal failure that we need to sell our souls to the Kremlin to push more tax cuts?
Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “ The ugly fallout from the American Dream has been coming down on us at a pretty consistent rate since Sitting Bull’s time — and the only real difference now, with Election Day ’72 only a few weeks away, is that we seem to be on the verge of ratifying the fallout and forgetting the Dream itself.” Well, I’m hear to tell you that the dream died a long time ago and we’ve been trying to make a baby by fucking her corpse.
Someone on Twitter today asked the great Patton Oswalt, “Where is our Hunter S. Thompson in this Watergate scenario?” His reply was simple — “Sadly, I think our HST in this thing is the entirety of Twitter?”
Is that true? Do we not have a codifying,if not crazy voice of a madman who seems to be shaking his fist at the sun until you put him in context? Who is going to be the person who steps up and says the things we need to?
I’m not saying we lack those with the vocal and testicular fortitude to speak up. Keith Olberman, risen again from the depths of journalistic Hades, dials it up on the GQ YouTube channel. Dan Rather writes deeply sensible paragraphs on the tragedy unfolding in America today.
The politeness of society has melted away, and the shock and awe of gonzo writing exist in nearly every meme, every article on Medium, every tweet. The anger is real, the people are all fucking crazy, and this political hurricane of piss we find ourselves swirling around in is about to land on the house with a witch named Paul Ryan.
There will be those on the right who put their version of reality, their version of country, and their party in front of the facts. They will deny their eyes, their ears, and the river of fecal extravaganza rising around them until the weight and smell of that shit is so overpowering they have to move.
In the wise words of Samuel L. Jackson, I offer the following two quotes:
“I am sick of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane.”
“Hold onto your butts.”
I’m 38 years old and this last December I finished my Bachelor’s degree in English from Arizona State University.
It’s not often that we get to take real time for self-reflection and journey back through our works from the past to see how far we’ve come. My collegiate career has been atypical than that of most who find themselves at the end of the journey reflecting on what they’ve learned. I started this journey as most do, when I was eighteen — but now, graduating from Arizona State University, after twenty years of work at the age of thirty-eight, I find that revisiting past work isn’t just seeing how far my education has come, but also how far I’ve come as a person.
I graduated high school in 1996 and had little aspirations of attending college. I was an IT guy at the height of the dot-com bubble and college just didn’t make a lot of sense. Reflexively, mostly on a whim, I enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College, signing up for English 1A: College Composition. I sat there on the first day surrounded by classmates from High School, and it felt more like Thirteenth Grade rather than my next step in education or life.Three weeks later I dropped out and focused on my career.
About a year or so after that I found myself living the college lifestyle in Davis, California. I went to the parties, the football games, hung out on the quad; I did everything one does in those years of personal exploration — except get an education. My friends were all students, but I wasn’t. When I sometimes run into someone from those days that they are inevitably surprised to learn I was never a student. “But you lived in the dorms!” They say. “IT security in the 90’s was pretty lax” I joke back. Meanwhile, I continued my career, working IT jobs, and progressing professionally step-by-step. I did, on two separate occasions enroll in community college, again dropping out both times within weeks — because in truth I didn’t see the point. I had all of the social benefits and felt like I didn’t need the educational ones. I was wrong.
After putting the time in, by 2003, I was well on my way in my career and my life. I was engaged to get married, getting promoted at work, and overall doing well — but in the quietest part of my soul something still bugged me about having tried and failed three previous times at college. I enrolled in English 300 — College Composition at Sacramento City College with the sole intent of simply passing the class that had beaten me thrice before. This time, however, I found that it was easy.
It seems that in the intervening times between attempts I’d grown up a little. I learned to think, to listen, to be enthralled by education. I was so encouraged I took another class. Then another. Then more. I discovered in myself a love of the process. I loved to learn, and what’s more is that I was pretty good at it. I discovered that the frustrations that plagued me during high school had fallen away and all that was left was a simple humility and openness to be more. I discovered that the benefits of schooling go well beyond the class materials, and touch every aspect of your life.
I continued taking classes — sometimes just one, sometimes four — whatever I could fit into my schedule. I never even considered a major or a degree. I simply kept going for this newfound love of learning.
Some years later my profession took me and my family to Canada. It was an incredible experience where I grew professionally and personally. I learned so much, but for those three years, even though I wasn’t taking any classes, school never left my mind. I even applied and was accepted (much to my surprise) to the University of Calgary, but didn’t attend over finances. Another career opportunity presented itself, and I took another major step forward, returning to the United States — specifically to Scottsdale, Arizona. Within the first three months, I researched the local community college and was excited to resume my studies and rediscover my love of education. Mostly on a whim, and with zero expectation, but encouraged by my UOC acceptance, I applied to Arizona State University and was accepted. Over the next five years, I took classes when I could. Sometimes on campus, mostly online — but kept just chipping away.
The collegiate journey for me has been one of persistence. It’s been one of tenacity and self-growth. It has been with me my entire adult life and now that it’s coming to an end in many ways I feel more sad than excited. It was hard to balance family, work, fatherhood, and personal time with classes and school — but I want more. I don’t know what’s next. I haven’t decided on that yet. For now though I’m planning on taking a deep breathe, maybe raise a glass to myself, and find a place on my wall for my new Bachelors Degree.
The greater lesson in this, the lesson I hope my children will one day understand, the lesson about myself that took nearly twenty years to learn, is simply to keep trying. It’s cliché for sure, but clichés are such that they are based on truths and persistence. If you want a degree, even if it takes you twenty years, keep trying. If you want a better career, to learn a new skill, to be more than you are now — keep trying. Leave complacency to the other person, put your effort on the table, and whether it takes a day or twenty years, keep trying. The effort itself is also a reward.
If you haven’t started yet, stop waiting for the right catalyst, the right moment, or the right motivation to come. If you want to be more, take any action, no matter how small, and start that journey. Waiting costs nothing, weighs nothing, and delivers nothing. The road may be long, but you’ll never know until you take the first step.
If you want to know where to start, reach out. I can’t walk to the Emerald City with you, but I can show you where to start on the Yellow Brick Road.
This is about my daughter, when she wasn’t yet one. I wrote this sitting in a chair in her room while she slept.
I know the truth.
I know that when I’m not looking she dances, she frolics, she leaps, she jumps. She pirouettes and does perfect toe points. She straps on roller-skates and glides around the house. She’s not fooling me at all.
I know the truth.
I ask her questions, and she looks at me with her big brown eyes and smiles, feigning she doesn’t understand. She’s toying with me. Eventually she’ll stumble. She’ll remark on the weather, or tell me she doesn’t like the outfit I picked out for her. It’s only a matter of time before I catch her.
I know that she wakes up in the middle of the night to dance in the moonlight and sing beautiful arias. I’ve heard her beautiful song in my sleep. I’ve seen her tiny legs practicing complicated steps. Once, I stayed up extra late to catch her, but she must have known I was watching and pretended to peacefully sleep in her bassinet.
I know the truth.
I know that she speaks five languages and is a covert operative for the CIA. She’s taken down foreign governments. She’s assassinated assassins. She’s foiled jewel heists, stopped industrial espionage, and defeated evil countless time. Being my daughter is just a cover story; her alias. I’ve been looking for evidence, and I’ll find it eventually.
I know that this helplessness is just an act. The smiles, the laughs, the big eyes…none of this can be real. She’s not fooling me at all. I won’t be swayed by her simplistic beauty, her small hand in mine, her warmth as she lay on my chest.
I know the truth.
Me and my daughter, Mazzy – September 2006
Here’s some context on this – I wrote this draft for a class and never used it. It was too dark. Re-reading it now I still like the concept and maybe will expand it out into a full story at some point. It think it’s pretty reflexive of my early writing style where I used a lot of colloquial language and humor to interject my own personality into the work.
Today was the greatest and worst day of my life.
It was great because as I sit here writing this, I feel great. I had the time of my life last night and have never felt freer in my choices.
This was the worst day of my life because I found out I was dying.
I don’t mean the existential version of dying where I realized that one day when I’m old and grey I’ll drift off to a peaceful sleep surrounded by loved ones and never wake up… I mean that at 3:41pm, while sitting in my doctor’s office staring at a picture of his ugly kids and surgery enhanced wife, he said told me in overly dispassionate tone that I had maybe had a year left.
Cancer of the fuck you.
It’s an odd feeling, starting that countdown to the end. The news punched me in the gut and I wanted to vomit cheerios all over his desk. In the movies it always takes a dramatic minute or two before the news sinks in. In my experience it took all of a third of a second before I wanted to punch the fucker in the face and demand a retraction.
I lost all concept of time, sitting there listening to him try to inject some semblance of hope into what was clearly a hopeless situation. People die of Cancer every day, and one day soon that person would be me. “We can try Radiation” he said. “We can try Chemotherapy, but the chances are slim. If we had caught it earlier…”
Mentally I had retreated into my own head. Basically a mini-psychotic break. I heard him, and I’m sure I nodded or made some gesture; but all I could think about what to have for dinner.
What wine goes with Cancer? Definitely something red… maybe a good Cabernet.
Not long after I was leaving. I had managed to schedule some sort of appointment for follow up, though I don’t think I have any intention of following up.
I sat in my car for a minute, trying to figure out my next move. My mind was all over the place. I wanted to be an Astronaut when I was a kid… can I pull that off in less than a year? I always wanted to go to New York City… that seems like a much more attainable goal.
My first choice was the grocery store.
I’m not sure how long I was standing in the pasta aisle, staring intently at the shelves but not actually seeing anything. I was dying, and in it seemed relatively soon. That’s some fucked up shit to deal with. I probably could have stood there, working my way through the five stages of grief, a bottle of shitty pasta sauce in my hand for hours… but as it happens, a bit of kismet intervened.
“Elliott? Dude, you look like shit.” Matt, a casual friend I played basketball with was standing in front of me. “You alright?”
“Uh, yeah. Matt, what’s up. Good seeing you…” and I walked away. I just put my plastic basket down on the floor and left.
I wasn’t sure where I was going. I got in my car, no particular destination in mind and drove. I must’ve circled the town five times before ending up in a seemingly surprising destination; my driveway. I’ve read those stories about people being faced with some traumatic situation and they just get in their cars and starting some grand adventure; but I’m willing to bet that for every adventure that starts with a turn of the key, a billion or so other people just end up at home still pissed off that their wife left, they got fired, or in my case they had a year left to live.
I’ve watched those shows on TV where someone says something seemingly profound like, “The world looked different to me somehow.” Bullshit. I still had the same apartment, with the same furniture, and the same stupid shit I see every day. I flopped into my familiar ass groove on the couch and flipped on the TV, not really paying attention to it. I popped the lid of my laptop open and checked my email.
Somehow in the back of my mind I half expected an email from my mom, crying, apologizing for spanking me when I was ten.
As it were, I got ten emails of craptacular spam.
I logged into my facebook account. Twelve friends on, no one I liked. Status updates, Farmville, book reviews… fucking miserable.
Okay, so maybe not everything is the same. I looked at this bullshit on the screen and it bugged me. These people were caught up in inane crap and here I was reading it because I had nothing better to do that sit there and fucking die.
I pulled up my list of friends; Two hundred and twenty eight friends. I scrolled down the list looking for the first victim to delete. Shep Turner, bingo… a guy who I used to play with in third grade. I don’t know shit about this guy, he doesn’t know shit about me. He could have grown up to be a serial child molester with a penchant for shoving vicodin up his ass. Here I was dealing with some major life events and he was bitching about his fucking facebook farm! Fuck that shit!
Two mouse clicks and he was out of my life forever. The finality was empowering… for almost ten seconds. He really was out of my life forever. I was going to be dead and this fucker wouldn’t care or know! Call me an egotistical prick, but if I’m going out I want a big fucking billboard that says “Elliott died today.” I want people crying in the streets, and Presidential speeches, and a worldwide moment of silence; and I’ve already managed to take one guy out of that loop because he had the audacity to fill the void in his day with a little bit of Social networking.
I found his profile and re-added him with the short note, “Dude, accidentally deleted you.” I could’ve gone with the longer, “I’m going to be dead soon and I want you to be my facebook friend so you might miss me when I’m gone,” but he would’ve taken it as a joke, and it probably would have made me feel shitty when he actually found out.
I looked back over my list of friends. People I knew in college, high school, middle school, grade school, Ex-girlfriends, ex-girlfriends roommates, and ex-girlfriends ex-boyfriends who they were still ‘friends’ with. There were even a few people I’d never actually met, but had chatted with online with for years through various other fads (AOL, Myspace, etc.). I even checked the list of who I was following; a few bands, a couple of celebrities, a few politicians, and the President of the United States.
All in all, it was quite a robust list of friends that a dying man could be proud of…assuming all of these people had any emotional stake whatsoever in my life. If all of them came to my funeral and brought dates (we’re talking the social event of the year) plus any family that was obligated to show up, my memorial could be a rager with six hundred people. Boomtown. I should book a DJ.
One of the weirdest things about dying is the constant and phenomenally cruel way reality crashes down and drowns any amount of hope or suspension of disbelief I may be harboring about any and all situations. Most of these people I barely knew and some not at all. The ones I did know I wasn’t close with. I was 29 years old, single and working a job I barely liked. Even my closest friend Ian had been relegated to online status, even though we still lived within eighty or so miles. We still saw each other, and he’s still the first person I want to call. I’m definitely not going to send him a fucking email about this.
I needed some connection. I needed to hear a voice and not just read some text on a screen.
I checked to see who was online hoping to find someone to reconnect me to the physical world.
Bingo, Scott Brosby.
I worked with Scott in College and he’d actually been a pretty good friend of mine. We bonded because he was another Jewish guy who had sweet spot for the love of shiksas and vodka.
I clicked his name to send him a message.
ELLIOTT: Dude. Sup.
ELLIOTT: Fucking bored. Anything going on tonight?
SCOTT: You still livin in Sacto?
ELLIOTT: Yeah. Anything doin tonight?
SCOTT: Hittin a club. You wanna come?
ELLIOTT: Sure. Time/Place?
SCOTT: 815 L / 10:30…?
ELLIOTT: Sweet. Hit my cell if something changes.
And thus it was so that on the day I learned my time on this sweet earth was going to be drastically shorter than I originally had anticipated, I ended up drinking Vodka and Pineapple juice with Scott in a overly crowded and sweaty bar. Conversation was shallow and meaningless. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk about dying, it’s just not something you can yell over a rap song whose premise is about ‘hittin dat ass’.
I opted instead to get a little too close and personal with a chubby girl on the dance floor. Somewhere on that dance floor, with my hand groping her doughy flesh, I felt the rush of being free of long term consequence. Who gives a fuck if I drink too much? Who cares if I take this chubby girl home and maw her box until she suffocates me with her floppy white thighs? Consequences-fucking-schmonsequences, right?
Two hours later I was doing tequila shots in her bedroom and peeling off her clothes. I wasn’t shy or inhibited. I didn’t care what she thought of me. It was one of, if not the best, sexual encounter of my life.
I made it home when the sun light was just beginning to wash away the dark from the horizon. I had the slightest hint of an approaching hangover and was a little sore from my rambunctious encounter with the chubbette, but was jovial from my night of true freedom and reckless abandon. It was and is an amazing feeling. Cancer of the fuck you, fuck you.
There was only one thing left to do before climbing into bed and finding blissful sleep, and that’s call Ian. He was my best friend and deserved to know. What’s more is that I needed him to know. I always knew that he’d walk through hell with me, and I just crossed the river and bought a ticket.
It was the hardest conversation I’d ever had. Not a lot was said. He’ll need time to process, and so will I.
Context: Something I wrote for a class in 2004ish. It’s so campy. Here’s more:
Someone is watching me.
They see me like only they can.
It’s been said that I am an egotist.
Not something I would classify myself as,
Impression is perception when it comes to others.
Sitting here, thinking over both my online life, and my real life…
All I can think of is the times where I’ve said the wrong thing, the hurtful thing, the egotistical thing,
Which life is which?
Impression is perception.
It always hurts more when the names you get called are true.
I’ve been called many names, and I thought I had grown a skin against them.
‘Insults don’t matter’ I tell myself.
‘Insults don’t matter’ I lied to myself.
Why is it so easy to accept an insult, and so hard to believe a compliment?
Why is it that when someone tells you that you look good, you immediately go to the mirror and see everything that’s wrong?
There is always so much wrong.
Then we enter a place where there are no faces, only avatars.
Everyone’s pretty, everyone’s handsome.
Judged solely on character, on wit, on humor.
Turning your head from the cruelty of one perverse world, for the ignorant bliss of another virtual one.
I remember my old self.
The anger, the rage.
I run my hand over the now healed bone that shattered when I hit that wall,
wishing it was her perception.
Her inability to agree with me.
What I remember now, is that she was right.
I remember my old self.
He comes in a clenched fist, a solemn tear, a rapid heartbeat.
Walking the line of humility takes effort and strength.
It takes compassion and faith in more.
I think I stumbled off that line somewhere.
It’s so confusing though.
I waste so little energy on myself.
I waste so little time, so little love.
It’s always them before me… But it’s my own self worth I’m bartering for.
I give to feel good.
I peddle my emotional wares for a teardrop of happiness.
A second of pride.
An instant of eternal happiness.
I often wonder if my kindness is out of self glory, self gratification, self preservation…
Or is it genuine favor towards someone’s well being?
Its there that I am a true egotist, I can’t help but wish I was a better person.
My life is distorted, reflected in a funhouse mirror.
Context: I wrote this while, for the first time, experimenting with hallucinogenics.
Life is a beautiful thing.
As I lay here,
feeling the fire course through my body
I am reminded of that simple fact.
My fingers dance an electric ballet across the keyboard,
guided by the orchestra of simplistic pleasures.
Voices rise from downstairs.
They lurk across the ceiling,
down the wall,
and eventually find their way into my head.
They call my name.
They ask how I am.
What a perverse question to ask.
I am beautiful,
I am hideous.
I am perfect,
I am chaos.
I am me.
Time moves slowly across the desert of the mind, never quite stopping or dying. Possibilities.
Light, music, people.
All is needed right now.
Must go dance with the wolves.
They are calling.
A bit of musing on IKEA
I needed a dresser. Well, I suppose need isn’t the right word, but it is the universally agreed upon way to store one’s clothes and who am I to go against convention? Having just resettled in the Sacramento Valley I took a cursory glance at the internet to determine where one could easily acquire a piece of furniture that was functional, aesthetically pleasing, and within the general price range I wanted to pay. Dressers, as you may have guessed, vary wildly in price. They go from cheap pieces of shit all the way up to hand-crafted, rare wood, absurdly expensive pieces of shit. I wanted something that wouldn’t buckle under the sheer weight of my underwear, but also wasn’t made by a sacred village of furniture artisans only recently discovered in the Amazon rainforest. It took mere seconds online to come up with that singular word that I’m fairly sure is Swedish for Cluster Fuck: “IKEA”.
I’ve been in IKEA before, but not in years – and what’s more the last IKEA I was in was a Canadian IKEA – a people and culture world renowned for their courtesy and politeness, and even then I barely avoided a knife fight over the last collapsible laundry basket. IKEA in my mind is where your day goes to die. It’s the place where the hopes and dreams you woke with are slowly tortured out of you in a rainbow haze of inexpensive furniture and meatballs. I knew it was the best option. They’d have a dresser, sub two-hundred dollars, and I’m handy so I’m not afraid to assemble. It all made sense on paper, but even then I had reservations. I’d have a free couple of hours on Saturday morning and going to IKEA on a weekend is akin to being in Pamplona during the running of the bulls with a severe limp and a bad case of diarrhea: You might get trampled or shit yourself. Maybe both. What’s more is that in a total collapse of mental acuity I decided to bring my kids. Now I’d not only be defending my own psyche from the overwhelming desire to own a new rubber spatula – but also fending off the pitiful yammers of children who want their room to look like that room.
Before we left I cleared some room in the car, folding the seats down in my SUV knowing that as much as I loathed IKEA, she also sings a siren song calling in sailors to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Who knows what waits to seduce me with its low price and cheap craftsmanship within the confines of that building? Who knows how long I’ll be able to withstand the evolutionary bestowed upon cuteness of my daughter’s eyes that allow her to make me buy things for her and not kill her for meat. Finally, having satisfactorily rearranged my car to accommodate two children and a rash of bad decisions yet made, we set out on our journey.
The drive over wasn’t long enough. Maybe seven minutes. I live seven effing minutes from IKEA. This fact disturbs me greatly as it means I’m always seven minutes from emptying my bank account in an uncontrollable meatball binge. Seven minutes from rustic outdoor décor… from kitchy wall prints of Marilyn Monroe… seven minutes from more wicker baskets then any one single parent should own. What in the great wide blue fuck do people keep with wicker baskets?
Looking for a parking spot I see that there is an entire section near the front, for “families,” and I think to myself – “Oh Shit! That’s us!” I may have thought that out loud… which explains why my daughter from the back quickly shot back, “swear jar.” Dammit – this trip was already costing me money and I hadn’t even parked the car yet. I pulled into a spot and handed a dollar back, which she took with a smug, satisfied look.
My daughter is eight. I don’t worry much about her. She’s smart and feisty. I’m not scared about the possibility of her getting misplaced amidst the folds of IKEA. My son is five, and a bit scatterbrained. He has a tendency to examine something so thoroughly that he understands not only the assembly of a thing, but the philosophical drive that created it. He’s a thinker. If I’m not careful I could lose him as he’s trying to work out the nuances of Swedish philosophy as it relates to decorative shelving.
We enter and are immediately presented with the choice: Do we venture upstairs, where the store seduces you with its unique and well-designed room vignettes; or do we venture straight into the “marketplace” and start filling our cart with trinkets. I freeze, unsure of what to do. It’s my daughter who jumps on the escalator and makes the choice for us.
At the top we’re again offered a choice. To our left is the first section with a series of couches along a path neatly plotted on the floor; to our right is the cafeteria with the wafting smell of meatballs. The smell is so good that I think my stomach growled out its own “Oh shiiiiiit…” – I hand my daughter a dollar and say, “You guys want to get food first?” This was less of a question than a demand using my dad voice. My daughter, having known me for a while, says “Nope,” pockets the dollar, and heads down the path. My son, who likes her taste in toys more than mine, follows her.
It’s on. We weave through the living rooms. Then the kitchens. The Bathrooms. The bedrooms. The Kids rooms. It was an hour of…
“Oh, look at this end table!”
“Oh, look at this shoe rack!”
“See! This is the thing that will be perfect for that spot!”
“Oh shit! This is the thing I’ve been trying to find for a year” (hands over dollar).
“No, you can’t have bunk beds! You already have bunk beds!”
“I don’t know why that woman smells like that.”
We were hypnotized. The place had it. At some point we stopped walking the path and began dancing it. It was as IKEA had seduced us and we had ascended to Swedish heaven. We lay in beds. We sat in chairs. I went into an absurdly small water closet and sat on the toilet to see if this claustrophobic little bathroom was something that wouldn’t terrify the literal shit out of me. The people around us also danced – sometime in unison. How long had we been there? Days? Weeks? I expected the world outside to have fallen into a post-apocalyptic zombie uprising while we lucky few danced for eternity in the fluorescent joy. Odin never vanquished the Frost Giants, he just built them a damn IKEA.
The spell is broken when my son utters the magic rune that has gotten us out of plenty of bad situations before, “Daddy. I have to go potty.” The opium of cheap furniture seeps out of my pores and my parental lizard brain kicks in. I grab his hand and the look on his face tells me it’s go time. This is no time to walk. He is moments from unleashing his American manifest destiny on the floor of IKEA and creating an international incident. I see a sign, then another, and another – and in a flash my daughter and I are sitting on a lonely bench, in a lonely hall, listening to my son eek out a rather loud grumpy through the men’s room door. A woman on a rascal scooter rode into the family rest room just as my boy let out a rather descriptive “It’s really biiiiggggg.” I don’t encourage this type of behavior, but it’s rather difficult to discourage it. Fecal humor is funny at any age.
I take the fifteen minutes to collect my thoughts and reprioritize the rather long list of “must haves” I’ve come up with over the last hour. Shoe rack. Dresser. Miscellaneous. I can get out of here under $200. It’s possible. I hear the hand dryer going off in the bathroom and know we’re close getting back on the horse. My son emerges looking flustered and a tad like he just wrestled a bear. I’m determined to get out, so I grab their hands and guide them to the marketplace downstairs.
“Should we get a cart?” Damn my daughter and her reasonable thoughts! A cart? A CART? Do you know what will happen with a goddamn cart?
“Sure sweetheart,” I tell her and we’re off. My list is small but things are jumping out at me.
“Yes you can have a new bed spread. Pick one out.”
“Sure we can get that whisk.”
“Of course we can buy that wicker [expletive deleted] basket.”
The cart is full. We finally reach the end and get in line. I look over the bounty – which is a weird word considering I feel like I’ve just been hypnotized by the Norse God of Regret. The line is long – long enough that three more impulse items make it into the cart. We make it to check out and I’m actually starting to feel heart palpitations as she rings up item after item. How did I end up with this much crap?
The bill comes out to $458.73. I can actually hear my credit card scream as I run it through the point of sale machine.
Not long later the car is loaded and we’re eating at the International House of Pancakes. It seemed apropos considering the international adventure we just had.
In the end I got the dresser I wanted. Along with a bevy of other items – and I can still hear the call. She sings to me every time I see an empty space that could be filled with something. Every time I think to myself, “I need a…” then I stop. Take a deep breathe. Tell myself, “you don’t need any more of that shit,” and hand my daughter a dollar.
I saw a busker, playing his guitar in the San Francisco subway, and I wondered what his story was. I listened for a while, and as I did a man and a woman began to dance to his music. The moment was a still life, isolated from time, and I knew I needed to know the story of how it all came to be.
“I came to San Francisco from South Dakota. The big city. I thought I’d hit the limit of what I could be at home, and a change and a chance for something more seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t Los Angeles or New York, but I could afford the bus ticket. So with my guitar and a sack of clothes I rode for two days and arrived in the shadow of this metropolis. As I walked around the towering sky scrapers I looked up to see if I’d see Superman speed on by.
I’d spend my days busking; sometimes downtown, sometimes out on the piers. I’d play for loose change and dollar bills, and every so often someone, feeling whimsical for the song I was playing, or a guy looking to impress his date would give me a little more. I’d been staying with friends, strangers, anyone who’d have me.
I’d given it a shot, I’d tried to make it. I joined a band, played some gigs. Joined another, played some more. Nothing was going. I decided to head home. To make the bus fare I headed down to my spot in the subway. There are tunnels that run from station to station. The acoustics make it easy to project and be heard. I’m not sure why, but that day I was feeling nostalgic for home and played my mom’s favorite songs, longing to see her again. It’d been some three years and she was my biggest advocate, my biggest fan. She would send what money she could, always telling me to go after my dream.
I tuned my guitar and started strumming. People passed by. A quarter here. A dime there. I sang. I sang for only my mother and future and didn’t care who was there to tell me I wasn’t good enough, or talented enough. A woman walked toward me. She had a beauty and grace, but walked with trepidation and nervousness. She stopped and listened for a moment, then reached into her purse and gave me ten dollars and a smile. I gave her a nod and watched her then walk toward the trains more confidently, a little more calmly. A few minutes later she passed by again with a man, hand in hand. I winked. She smiled at me. He pulled her in tight and she buried her face into his shoulder as they embraced. I played louder, and as they moved away he took her hand and began to slow dance. It was an expression of love and desire; of romance and magic. After they were gone I knew I was done. I put my guitar back in the case and slung it on my back. If I’d done nothing in life, I’d at least given two people the opportunity to dance. And knowing that, seeing that, was good enough to go home on.”