Adam

When we pull up to the restaurant, it’s a long, slow deceleration and I’m flanked by other vehicles so far in all directions that I’m not even sure where the beginning and the ending is. Even to the side of me are other vehicles – solid black, windows tinted, bulletproof.

Someone opens the door next to the sidewalk so that I can exit and I do so casually – calmly.

Immediately, people who aren’t part of my entourage move away or else they are moved away for me.

Moved away from me.

Same difference, I suppose.

Doors to the restaurant are opened for me and, just like how my drive went, there are men around me in suits that make them seem like corporate professionals but they all have earpieces and guns and something resembling protection somewhere in the mix.

If the music in the restaurant were being played on a record, I feel certain it would mark my arrival with that scratching sound that we all equate to a very obvious shift in the narrative structure of the scene. Instead, I get to feel the effect of that moment but the music keeps playing.

Other patrons try not to stare or try to stare without seeming like they’re not staring. Some people suddenly seem to not be very hungry because they have most of a whole lobster or a rather full bottle of wine but now they’re paying their bill and clearly have places to be. Others are the opposite – frozen in time and looking at their plates and glasses and knowing that they have no more attention to give to either and yet they sit there and stare. They wait. Afraid to move. Afraid to not move.

No one is in my path except the people who are there to clear my path for me and I simply move where I wish to go and they maneuver like bees around their queen like they’re running on pheromones and instinct rather than training and fear and self-preservation.

I could go to any table or booth I want. Three are empty at the moment with two being in such a state because they were recently vacated and a third being empty because it clearly awaits a new customer.

I walk to the table I want – large and round with half of the circumference wrapped by curved, plush seating and the other half wrapped in chairs that probably cost more than some people get to make in a year – and I’m not talking in pesos.

It’s occupied currently by eight people who are currently stock still. Forks stuck in mid-air. A hand touching a glass but not lifting it to drink. At a glance, someone might look at this moment and think that time was frozen, but it’s just fear. Fear does weird things to people.

I remember when I used to be afraid. My world felt a lot smaller than it is now. It was smaller because it actually was and because I simply allowed it to be. In a way, I could say that some part of that never really changed no matter how much it changes.

The frozen people go from frozen in fear to fearfully leaving while the waitstaff moves with the speed of NASCAR mechanics changing tires so that I don’t have to be inconvenienced by things like stopping my stride or saying words that don’t need to be said.

By the time I’m slipping into the very center section of that half-circle booth seating, the table is the cleanest it’s probably ever been. There are three people holding out bottles of wine for me to choose from and I know the kitchen is literally on standby waiting to know what I want and if that means the building catches fire while I decide, they’ll let it happen.

At a speed that no other human in this restaurant has ever likely seen, I have food and drink and I’m surrounded by the least conversational patrons the world has ever known. There aren’t even whispers.

I take the first bite of a piece of steak that, if I’m being honest, just tastes like steak regardless of all the fancy words that wrapped around its name on the menu. The waiters and cooks are likely holding their breath out of fear that I’ll be displeased.

When I swallow my food and take a drink and I don’t spit it out, I feel like there’s almost a collective sigh of relief even if it’s not from everyone.

At a table, not far from me, a man and woman are sitting down to what is celebratory dinner. I won’t say I know that for a fact, but it feels like it. He has the look of a man that’s here to propose. He doesn’t have the look of a regular patron. He saved up for this moment. He ran this dinner through his head and crafted words and knew what he would order three weeks in advance.

I look over at him but I make sure I’ve swallowed my food before I speak because if there’s anything I can’t stand it’s a relegation of basic human civility. People who don’t say, “Pardon me,” and people who don’t hold doors for others and people who don’t say goodbye before they leave.

“Break the glass with your hand,” I tell him with only a minor glance before I return to my food as though I had offered nothing more than an affirmation to a waiter that I’d like more to drink.

I know the man is processing and he wants to say, “What?” but he’s not going to. I know he’s looking at his glass and trying to figure things out.

In my peripheral, I see him take the glass and pick it up as one might do when they’re about to drink which tells me he wants to empty it first which I understand but also find curious. On one hand, he probably doesn’t want to ruin his clothes and require stitches in the same day. On the other hand, I didn’t tell him to finish his drink and then break his glass.

I chuckle to myself at the mental wording of “on one hand…on the other” considering the situation.

I feel certain that other people are watching this now and their collective concern is growing.

I’m feeling forgiving at the moment, however, so I simply say, “I said to break the glass with your hand,” but I don’t even waste the time looking at this point.

I know he’s frozen for a second and that he puts the glass down. I know he’s looking at his embroidered, cloth napkin and thinking about maybe putting it over the glass and I know he knows better.

I know the woman across from him is locked into the worst moment of her life. She’s watching someone she loves do something against his will and she can do nothing about it. She gets to watch. She gets to see this man shrink and bleed because I get to say so because that’s the way it works.

I finally hear the shatter and the man even goes all in. He keeps hitting it and I know the stem of the glass has probably shoved itself into his hand and that his skin is wearing glittering shrapnel and blood is pouring over the table cloth and his clothes are damp with wine and blood and sweat and the woman has tears streaming down her face and her hand is at her mouth because I don’t want to hear crying. Not now. Not when I’m trying to eat. I can’t stand the relegation of basic civility. People with noisy children in a movie theater. People who stand in the middle of the aisle in a store as though they’re not blocking the normal flow of traffic.

“Take him to a hospital,” I say to no one in particular because I know someone will leap at the occasion to leave.

I want to explain something just to be sure we’re understanding each other. You might be thinking that this man was someone from my past and I have a reason to hurt him. You might be thinking that I can see into his heart and I knew he was a murderer. You might be thinking that somehow, some part of what I just did was based on justice or valor or some agreed-upon concept of morality.

I did what I did because I can and because I’m able to. Can and able to, on any kind of timeline, mutates into “it’s my right”. If you don’t believe that, see how people who you wish you could be get to live for the entirety of their lives and we can circle back to this conversation and you can apologize for being an idiot who both knows that life isn’t fair while convincing yourself that there’s a way to make it fair.

I suppose one of the peculiar things is that I didn’t come to this type of status and prestige in the traditional way. I laugh a little bit when I think those words. It’s comical if you think about it. Imagine that there’s a traditional way to become someone who doesn’t have to hear the word “no” ever again.

Understand the fact that such a condition can exist and that we, as people, have become adept at agreeing that it’s a thing that we’ll abide. Hell, we’ll protect it. We’ll die so that people can have that because everyone wants to believe that they’re not doing it for the ones who have that now, they’re doing it for themselves. You know, in case one day they get to have it.

The other patrons are still mostly milling about but not committing to anything.

It’s the act of self-preservation.

Self-preservation, for the uninitiated, is the cancer of freedom as often as it’s the cure.

Self-preservation will let a man sit in a room with a shackle around his leg for years because he tells himself, “What if I give up today, but tomorrow is the day I’d find my freedom?” And so self-preservation lets him keep dying because he’s afraid of dying.

Self-preservation.

I don’t entirely finish my meal because I wasn’t hungry enough for everything I decided that I wanted but I don’t really have to care about that.

Calmly – casually – I slip out of my seat and move toward the door, flanked again men in black suits.

Outside the restaurant seems rather calm at the moment. My entourage is so vast that the entire road around where I’m at is inaccessible. No traffic in any direction because everywhere around the car I arrived in are cars protecting the car I was in.

Then I hear a gunshot and one of those men spins like a top. The rest create a human shield with guns out and eyes darting. I know somewhere nearby is a helicopter that’s already looking around. Cops are probably on their way at such a speed that you would think the bullet was linked into the 911 emergency call center.

The more interesting thing is that everyone else – though they’re far afield from me, what with not being allowed to be otherwise – they do much the same as my protectors. They’re more afraid of me getting hurt than they are of themselves getting hurt.

Wherever the shooter is, they’ll be found. The shooter won’t ever feel handcuffs. The shooter won’t get to explain who and what and where and why because the shooter will find a swift death at the hands of whoever finds them first.

Whoever kills the shooter will likely hold the moment with them forever. They’ll brag about it like someone might after finding themselves at a random dinner with the president. There’ll be no consequences for anyone but the shooter even though I couldn’t care less about what happens to any of the people in this scenario.

I don’t panic. I don’t run. I don’t even make an attempt to dodge.

I stand there calmly knowing full well that the worst-case scenario is only a worst-case scenario for everyone but me.

Have you ever seen that movie “A Million to Juan”?

In it, a man named Juan is given a check for a million dollars but he can’t cash it. Juan, at this point, doesn’t really have much of anything. He’s a simple man. He’s poor but, as is the case in movies, there are things that give him happiness outside of money.

With this check that he can’t cash, the world still changes. The idea of the money changes how people treat him. They give him things because he is – in their eyes – a millionaire now. They’re not being good people, they’re investing in their own selfishness because they’re betting on what happens when the check clears.

In the end, the check is still an illusion. The kindness goes away because it wasn’t real. People stop giving because they know that he doesn’t have anything to give back.

Of course, in true Hollywood fashion, he finds love because that’s what movies tell us. Money was never the point. It was all about love. The real treasure was the friends we made along the way. The real meaning of life is the connections we make. The real whatever-the-fuck is the whatever-the-fuck we whatever-the-fuck along the way.

Insert personal buzz words where necessary.

You never see a movie telling us that the meaning of life is power or money or status and you can’t walk three feet without seeing a world that would give up every friend, lover, family member, and childhood memory for a small fraction more of money and power and status. And if you ask those people what really matters in life they’ll say, “Love and family and friendship,” with the programmed sincerity of a doll with a pull string on its back.

If you ask me, the meaning of life is whatever the meaning of life is to the person living it. But I suppose that’s a hard tagline to put on a movie. It’s not a good sales pitch. No one’s going to get a case of the warm fuzzies from that narrative.

I finish mulling over whatever I feel like mulling over while people are shot and killed and they scream and panic and the world acts like everything is on fire because they’re afraid of everything being on fire. As I move toward the car, I see newspapers at a newspaper stand and I see references to me on the front page because I’m always there.

They call me Adam even though it isn’t my name. It’s the name you end up with for the same reason someone with spurs and a black trenchcoat can be called “The Black Rider” even when he doesn’t have – and has never had – a horse.

Part of me hates it because it’s not the right word and the word that led me to this point was inaccurate. Part of me hates it because it’s a biblical name and I know that that makes people associate me with something biblical instead of something human. I suppose that maybe it’s accurate though. I could tell them to stop, of course. I could make that end if I really wanted to, but it’s just not worth it.

If I did, tomorrow it would just be something else. The next day, something else.

You have to pick your battles after all.

Years ago, when my world was smaller and I had a shackle on my ankle, I chose a lot of battles not to fight. I was a captive, after all, but it took me a long time to realize that the shackle held me in place like a wall made out of paper holds back the rain.

The real shackle was self-preservation.

I was so afraid of dying that I was dying.

I wanted freedom to be given to me like a piece of birthday cake. I wanted a rescue team. I wanted someone to walk in and say they’re sorry for everything, they feel terrible, just terrible, and they really want to make things right.

People make things right because they end up in positions where it’s the only option left, or because they’re genuinely good people.

In my experience, there are a lot more of the first type than the second.

I let someone else open the car door for me while everyone keeps their distance and I slide into the interior of the vehicle.

I wait for the cars to all start up and we all move like a collective herd of metallic buffalo down a highway that feels smoother than any road should feel. The car I’m in could probably drive on an old brick road constructed by a blind man trying to replicate an Escher painting and I’d only barely feel a bump.

When I arrive home, it’s quiet. Serene. Unlike the way it was when I decided to live there.

Back then, another family lived in the house but I liked it, so, as is the way of the world, I entered because it’s my right and I said that it was mine now.

I watched the husband stand there making a little “fish running out of air” face before everyone got their act together and filed out while the mother was trying to explain to the children why they couldn’t take their belongings.

I remember the look of panic they had when the youngest child started to cry.

They moved a lot faster at that point and it’s probably for the best.

There are few things more magical than looking a man in the face – the kind of man who gets to wake up when he wants, work when he wants, vacation when he wants – the kind of man who says things like, “money is no object” – the kind of man who knows plenty about wants and needs and very little about having them denied – and telling him, “this is mine now,” and then watching him come to terms with the world that everyone else lives in every day for their entire life. They feel attacked on a molecular level but never once think about how they’ve done that to so many others and never once thought it was wrong.

It’s interesting to think about everything I have because I’m allowed to have it.

No one asks me to pay for this mansion. No one tells me I need a license. No one tells me no. The word no is the relegation of basic civility in my world.

One of the last times I heard it was because I asked a man if they were ever going to let me go.

A lot can change when someone takes your self-preservation away. When they tell you that you’re playing a lottery that only uses numbers you can’t pick. When they just tell you – without exception – that no – this is it. This is where it ends. This is what you get.

When atoms collide, they create more force than two trucks slamming into each other – regardless of how big they are, how much they weigh, and how fast they’re going because they’re limited by such mundane measurements.

I understand why they called me Atom and I understand that soon it became Adam and that they wanted to make it biblical in the same way that the scientists wanted to make it scientific.

They didn’t understand that once the belief in freedom granted is taken away, all that’s left is death granted or freedom taken.

Have you ever seen that movie “Akira”?

In one scene, Tetsuo leaves a medical facility, amped up on powers he couldn’t control and he paints the walls with stock security personnel. They’re ragdolls to him. From there, he takes and crushes and kills. Tetsuo wasn’t evil but evil things were done to him.

I’m not saying that what he did was right, but you can only take so much from someone before they decide to take back. The pendulum swinging in reverse. The other shoe dropping

The other shoe tends to be a lot heavier than the first.

I’m not Tetsuo. I won’t tell you about some amazing super-power origin story with scientists or aliens or a radioactive spider. I also won’t tell you that I wasn’t in control of what I was doing when I left a pile of wreckage and dead bodies in my wake.

I can tell you that I walked out of there feeling like V from “V for Vendetta” except I didn’t leave with a thought about exacting revenge and making the world a better place.

I left knowing that I was tired of the word “no” and what it meant and how much I had to hear it and how much everyone has to hear it while we can look in so many other places and see other people being told “yes” because they’re the equivalent of a check that never has to cash.

I left and found myself near a fancy car and I was wearing the kind of gown you get in a hospital and I didn’t have shoes and when the car owner saw me he looked like I was the plague and I stood directly in front of him.

He told me to move.

I told him no.

He shoved me and I watched his hand erupt and a shockwave rip through his body as fast as lightning and then he splattered all over my new car.

From there, I kept saying yes to myself.

This car? Yes.

This house? Yes.

This food? Yes.

This life? Yes.

I once walked into an embassy and interrupted a meeting with diplomats that feel like they never have to hear the word no and I sat there in the center of them and told them to stop talking and to stand still and to not move.

They sent in men with guns and when the first bullet hit, it was my shoulder and that was a big mistake. The shockwave took out everyone within about a hundred feet of where I was sitting. Everything drenched in red particulate. Fibers of clothing reduced to dust. Here and there, I could see the remainder of an expensive, Italian leather shoe or some semblance of a bone fragment. A ways away, I saw an eyeball rolling around like a soft marble.

I said, “You don’t want to see what happens if you hit me in the head.”

So now I’m just walking around with my own proverbial check for a million dollars and hoping that someone will call me on it and realize that it’s not quite what it seems.

After all, this won’t end well for me no matter how it plays out. Anything I touch with anything resembling force, I reduce to a mist of blood and bone fragments. I could kill a man with a firm handshake.

You don’t want to know what happens if I attempt intimacy.

All I have left now is to see how long the world can be afraid of telling me no before someone realizes that they’re all living with a shackle on their ankle and hoping that one day I decide to be the second coming of Jesus.

Eventually, someone will take the shot and put me out of my misery.

Put me out of the world’s misery.

Same difference, I guess.

Sugar

It seems like a fitting enough place, all things considered – even if no one knows it and no one knows why. Here where the air is rich with the scent of steam which shouldn’t even be a scent at all and the various fragrances of food and drinks being made, consumed, and discarded mingle together in that way which should create some abominable odor but never quite does.

But I get ahead of myself.


“Hmm…” the doctor offers with his hands wrapped in the sterile nitrile gloves of his profession. “How long has it been like this?”

“Not sure anymore,” I tell him. “So long I can’t remember.”

He gives me another sound through a mask that hides his face and I know what he’s going to say before he says it because I know everything that can be said.

The sad truth is that I want it to be something meaningful. I want him to say it’s an infection or cancer. I want him to say that it’s alien DNA and a xenomorph is going to burst through my chest. I want him to say that they need to take blood samples and I want them to find out that the needles don’t pierce the skin.

Ask someone if they want to see a violent alien invasion and – sure, they’ll admit that it would be terrifying – but they’ll almost always say yes even if they don’t really want to say it – even if they don’t say it with their mouth.

They say it because we all want to believe that there’s something else. Something more. Something different. We want to see water that flows uphill and trees that grow sideways. We want to see somebody spontaneously combust just so that we know something amazing can actually happen.

We want Hagrid to kick the door down and say, “You’re a wizard, Harry.”

And then we remember that we’re not. We never will be. We can’t be.

I know that gremlins aren’t stealing my pens at work unless Dave in Professional Services used to – by mere chance – be called “the gremlin” back in his varsity days.

We’re all of us looking at a tagline that says, “This is the artist’s interpretation of human isolation, encompassing everything and nothing and coalesced into the mental state of the post-post-modern society as seen through the lens of…whatever…” but we all know we’re looking at a blank canvas and the artist just knows how to bullshit a gallery so that they’ll pay him for it.

Bonus points for cleverness. Points deducted for integrity.

“Apply cortisone cream and Neosporin,” the doctor says. “Try to keep it covered when you sleep. You’re probably scratching it at night.”

I feel like I’m saying the words along with him in my head.

No need for a prescription. No need for a follow-up.

The unbridled, downward slope of the mundane is the only real diagnosis and the only cure is – according to most – not so much a cure as it is a resignation.

Some people will lie and say that the mundane is fine with them. The routine is fine. Life is fine. If you asked them about the addition of any new chaos in their life, they would look you in the eyes and tell you that they have no need for it. Better the peaceful reprieve of boredom than the insertion of needless mayhem and all the pain and tears that it will likely bring.

It reminds me of a study that was done some time back. Participants were placed in a room with nothing to do. In the room, there was a button. The only thing the button did was administer a painful shock. Every participant was told that the button was there and they were told exactly what the button would do. Over half of all participants, when left alone with nothing but boredom and their thoughts, would push the button because eventually, the insertion of self-inflicted pain was preferable to all those seconds that led up to it.

When I get to the office, things look the way they always look. They sound the way they always sound. The beep of the door that lets me in. The scattered, muffled noise of people on phones and people typing and people being there but not really there because they’re looking at the phone in their hands instead of the screen in front of their faces. Luckily, the other people on the screen don’t notice because most of them are just looking at themselves, looking at themselves, looking at themselves because everyone wants to be the center of the universe and watching yourself in a Zoom meeting is as close as most of us are ever going to get to a camera on a film set.

In my mind, a few spare synapses seem to jokingly say, “Lights, camera, action!” and I time it so that my screen unlocks right on cue.

A star is born.

Somewhere else a star is dying – literally and figuratively, I suppose.

In a meeting with nine other people comprised of three still images, two black screens, and four faces that occasionally move out of sync with the person responsible for the face in question, my microphone is muted and my eyes dart from screen to screen.

I’m not busy or even sure what I’m looking at or why, but no one is saying anything I care about, and looking at something other than Tabitha’s double chin when she speaks about cloud integration with user data profiles seems like a worthy escape even if never lasts long.

If I had a shock button of my own, my finger would be glued to it.

While everyone is doing their four-thousandth “okay, goodbye,” “see you” “take care” that accompanies the wave and disconnect dance of the digital meeting, we’re also informed that it’s Tabitha’s birthday and there’s cake in the break room.

There’s a part of me that dreads this as someone will inevitably walk by and mention there’s cake. They’ll ask me if I’m getting cake. They’ll ask me in the past tense if I’ve had it. It’s the same routine I see every time it snows and the whole world acts like it’s the first time it happened.

“Did you see it’s snowing?” “Hey, it’s snowing” “Wow, it’s really coming down” “They say it’s gonna be at least three inches”

I hate dodging the cake question because anything other than excitement for cake breeds questions about diets and diabetes and with a two hundred, thirty-seven pound body that often feels like a tube of pudding spilling over my size thirty-nine jeans, it’s hard to say the word diet and have anyone think that it means what it’s supposed to mean.

I’d love to say that I’m eating healthy or trying to eat healthier but I know that eating more kale is limited in functionality when it’s just replacing the lettuce on a double cheeseburger, and the myriad of other pretensive actions I take are the equivalent of switching out soda for tea and paying no attention to the size of the fries I keep ordering.

I cave to the conversation that I don’t want to have before it happens and I let myself fall into the wonderful, human repository of justifications.

I don’t get to have a xenomorph or the ability to climb walls. I don’t get to see an alien invasion or shoot lasers from my eyes. I don’t get to escape the circle that, pixel by painful pixel, has begun to look more and more like a spiral with each passing year and so I tell myself that I should at least get to enjoy cake.

It’s the honorable mention of life, after all. The participation trophy of human mediocrity. We find the things that didn’t kill us – the ones that could have been worse – and we pretend it’s a celebration because the flip side is that we recognize that we wanted something better than “at least you’re not dying” and since we can’t have it, we allow ourselves a piece of cake to celebrate that the news wasn’t worse instead of getting to celebrate news that’s actually good.

Mark is behind four other people, queued up like cake cattle at the long table in the room, and when he sees me he says, “Things check out okay? Not cancer, right?” He says it with a grin because that’s what we do to diffuse things. We turn life into jokes and punchlines because if we stop smiling for too long we know that there won’t be a reason to start it up again and so we protect our fragile, fake smiles with artificial sweetener and what passes for conversational wit so that we don’t lose that particular battle and realize it’s the last one we have left to lose.

I stifle the urge to say that it is, in fact, cancer but part of me wonders if he realizes that one day he’ll say that to someone who was just told that they have stage four pancreatic cancer and that they’re still there at work because the news hasn’t settled in just yet and it’s easier to pretend that life keeps going and that deadlines still matter because their last smile is about to give and they’ve just been informed of the delivery date.

“All good,” I say instead. I give him the same smile I’ve been perfecting for so many years that I don’t even know where it came from, but I know it isn’t mine and it never has been.

We have nothing else to say beyond that. What else can be said? How many conversations can be had about server errors and that someone is quitting and someone else just got hired? Cake, in and of itself, cannot carry a conversation that is any deeper than the frosting that’s sitting like a crown of complacency on its soft, pillowy frame.

I take mine back to my cube where no one can see me. I oftentimes imagine myself as a stray dog picking up a scrap of food and running away into a dark alley, hunched over it and consuming it like I’m fearful of food theft. I have no fear that anyone plans to steal my food, however. I’ve simply eaten alone for so long that the idea of people watching me eat makes me nervous as though, unlike all other humans, my method of consumption is crude and alien and would frighten small children.

The cake is the type of cake that you expect to get in a corporate office where people say things like “team” and “family” and “unity” and “cohesion” and “synergy” and all the places look the same so that if the lights were off you could get lost in the same-on-same, square-on-square formatting that makes me feel like a courier new character – individual in concept only, but as evenly spaced as the rest so that whatever is unique or special can be mitigated so that the other letters don’t feel overshadowed.

In short, it’s the kind of cake made in bulk repetition – it tastes about the same.

I think about scraping the frosting off as the inane mental guilt machine within my brain pretends to care about calorie counts and step goals, only to be overridden by the desire to pretend I’m celebrating because the doctor didn’t say that life is like a school where everyone has forgotten to plan a curriculum and I get to leave early.


No one really looks up and pays attention until something is out of place.

Curiously, if something is suddenly in the place it’s expected to be – even if that’s usually the place it never is – people are less likely to notice.

A man can forget to put his keys on the hook by the door every day for a month. Every day, the same moment occurs where he goes to grab his keys, sees they’re not there, and then he looks for them. Almost every day they can be found in the pants he wore the day before. Every day, he expects to find the keys on the hook and yet his brain will never normalize that they will always be in his past-tense pockets.

The one day he leaves and the keys are on the hook, he will grab them as though this is the norm. He will leave his home and drive to wherever he’s going. He might never once stop and realize that the exception to the rule is the exception to the rule because he firmly believes that the rule is the exception so that when the exception occurs, it means that life is normal. Things are as they should be. Life is going smoothly.

It’s a Wednesday when I realize that I’m using the same pen that I feel certain I saw last week. It’s not the most mind-blowing revelation ever, but in a world where excitement is synonymous with a stable VPN connection, it eventually stands out enough to notice.

Granted, many a pen is the same, but I’m looking at it now and I’m seeing the words “Reltech Industries: Where Innovation Meets Imagination” and the back end has the little bite mark I reflexively make like I’m a teething puppy every time I put the pen in my mouth because I’m one of those people that puts pens in his mouth even when I know how disgusting that reality is.

The proverbial keys are by the metaphorical door and I’m now literally curious.

I’m not, however, curious enough to care. Or inquire.

After all, if I lived in a neighborhood where my belongings are constantly stolen, I would not – upon finding my belongings not having been stolen – go searching for the criminals to make sure they were okay out of fear that they had not stolen enough from me.


It’s Friday when we’re having an “All Hands” meeting and someone mentions the card going around for poor Dave in professional services. I don’t know what’s wrong with him and I’m mostly sure I won’t find out anytime soon.

Three years ago, a woman named Karen died. She was younger than I was. I have no idea how or why. In truth, the only reason I felt curious was because of her age compared to mine. Was it something I need to worry about? Did she die in her sleep? Was there pain? Was it cancer? Did she find herself looking at someone asking her, “Not cancer, right?” only to find herself incapable of saying that it was because then she’d have to let her smile drop and, like dominos, see everyone else’s follow suit?

It’s peculiar how often so many of us allow ourselves to be made uncomfortable and voluntarily inconvenienced so that other people don’t have to hurt or worry even when – and, I might say, especially when – those who we are trying to not infect with discomfort and pain would never do the same for anyone but themselves. Dying slow deaths of willful neglect because we’d rather drown in tears than make one callous, self-serving asshole feel for half a second that they don’t get to be the hero in their own self-constructed universe of selfish intent.

What I remember most about Karen’s death is that I started trying to eat more kale and did a decent job of quitting smoking until they made nicotine taste like blueberry muffins.


It’s Monday and I’m at home, but not because it’s my normal routine.

Life has changed because Dave never did get any better. There was a virtual meeting where everyone was again silently obsessing on how good or bad they looked while looking at themselves, looking at themselves and pretending that they cared to look at anyone else while not really listening to anyone. Mark mentioned that Dave wasn’t coming back and no one actually asked for any further clarification because no one wants to pry.

It’s the same reason people die in the snow on street corners. It’s not that we don’t want to help – we just don’t want to pry.

It’s why a wife gets beaten by her husband on the other side of a wall so thin I can talk along with their television – it’s not that I don’t want to help – I just don’t want to pry.

It would seem absurd that the whole office is taking precautionary measures but I get the feeling that someone else has likely gotten sick and – even if it’s not the same thing – everyone is paranoid and now a cleaning crew is probably in the office with machines pushing steam so hot it could take the skin off your body through the paper-thin, economy carpet of our offices. Chemicals that would make bleach feel shy being spritzed by people wearing protective gear because the only thing the chemicals won’t devour is plastic.

Like everyone else, I’m mostly just waiting for the all-clear so we can once again tap our feeder bars and tell ourselves that tomorrow will be the day we finally start to live – or else, finally start to die in some way that has more flourish than the slow deprecation of existence that we’re all slowly typing out letter by letter on mechanical keyboards and glossy cell phones.

I take respite in the fact that fear is a drug that can do as much for human interaction as alcohol and when some people are faced with the reality of mortality, they become that person in vegas who realizes that they’ve gone too long placing coins in the slot machine and now they’re putting their car keys on double zero on the roulette wheel.

I’d love to say that it’s here that my life takes a sudden dramatic turn. Things become bright and meaningful. I want to say that I learn that, with the love of the right woman at the right time, life suddenly takes on a profound meaning. Suddenly, there’s a purpose. Suddenly, the spiral isn’t a spiral anymore but some amazing fractal design of interconnected lives and variables and it’s all so beautiful.

So beautiful you just can’t imagine.

What I can say instead is that a lack of social aptitude can only be mitigated so much by the circumstances of fear and our own mortal imperative. I can only say that appetizers and dinner for two with drinks came with a bill of $82.27 and I gave the server a 25% tip because I tell myself I’m not a monster so that I don’t have to feel like one later that night when I hear Amanda Simmons crying next door and Johnathan – who goes by Arthur because he thinks it sounds more masculine – is slurring his words because he’s a machine that runs on bourbon.


It’s August and, if I’m being honest, days don’t really seem all that important anymore.

Last month, people were admitted in bulk to various hospitals and no one really knew why. Everything seems a bit murky. Carl Thompson had been admitted with heart palpitations and doctors said that he seemed to be showing signs of a shellfish allergy but they couldn’t confirm if he’d eaten shellfish recently because he died before he could tell them.

It was one of those occurrences that only became a talking point two weeks later when similar issues were happening to other people, though it didn’t seem connected because it just seemed like this person is allergic to strawberries. Another was allergic to peanuts.

People have allergies, after all. This is nothing new.

It didn’t become worrying until they finally had people dying of allergies to things they didn’t ingest – weren’t around – hadn’t touched.

Part of me pivots between “I’m glad it’s not me” and “even in this, I’m not included”.

Leave it to the human condition to see myself as a victim because I’m still alive.

Doctors have so many EpiPens at the ready that there are whole cleaning supply closets filled with them. Beds don’t fill up so much as they are temporarily occupied and then made vacant because the window between life and death versus life and more life is happening at the speed of anaphylaxis.

Agencies are going through restaurant dumpsters and three men are arrested because they emigrated from Tunisia and one had a brother who was a suspected terrorist in a bombing on the Algerian border.

Every alphabet-soup collective and think tank is sorting through the debris and the growing pile of bodies and data to connect strings to pushpins – CSI: Mt. Saint Nowhere.

For me, it just means that work has become so concerned with talking about who and what and where and why and what we’re doing about it that I can mostly not exist and no one would be the wiser. I can sit there quietly with my eyes darting around my various screens and ignore the chatter more than usual because so little of it seems even tangentially work-related.

I tell myself that maybe karma will come through and Johnathan Arthur Simmons will finally get a case of whatever this is because we live in a world where it’s easier for me to think that some mystery problem will kill a man than it is for me to realize I should have called a cop seventeen months ago and then every third day since.

This is what passes for human compassion these days.

Lights, camera, action.


I’m not a fastidious man and I am not Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac.

I would love to say that I crack the case. I solve the puzzle. I put it all together and I alert the authorities so that we can all collectively find salvation.

I would love to say that I was instrumental in some meaningful way. I helped. I cared. I did my best and it mattered. People lived because of me.

I can’t say any of those things without all of them being lies and I tell enough of those to myself every day so that I won’t tell so many to anyone else. Lying to myself, after all, is the lesser evil.

What I do instead is notice my keys on the hook by the door.

Metaphorically speaking.

In a proverbial sense.

In a very literal way.

I find myself at a restaurant that I could have likely never been able to get into without a reservation made by my great grandparents because I’m celebrating that I’m not dead and sometimes an honorable mention is the only thing we get to populate our trophy case.

I find myself eating ice cream because eventually some allergy of mine will come along and that’ll be that. I don’t want my last moments to be filled with regrets because of all the ice cream I didn’t eat. Being fit won’t save me when my throat closes and my eyes roll back into my head and the doctor says “Time of death – 8:18 PM”.

I find myself having sex with someone I never would have – someone who I feel very certain is thinking the same – because expectations get lower when ‘any moment might be your last, after all’ and suddenly rationalizing that regular life is more toxic than any STD gives us a false sense of liberation.

I find myself waking up with blurry eyes because even though I was never one to drink, I have to ask myself what sobriety is doing for me as I slide toward the inevitable decline of absolute certainty.

I suppose I could say that I at least got over eating in front of people but it’s a thin consolation.


As numbers tend to do, numbers keep increasing.

The three men are eventually released but still deported.

Part of the city has signs on buildings letting everyone know that things are closed. Some are doing so because business is failing. Some are doing it because agencies are still combing through their trash and their records. Some are doing it because they see the inevitable and they’re trying to keep whatever assets they have before they die the same death as the business next door.

I haven’t been on a Zoom meeting in weeks and I’m not particularly concerned. Work kept paying me even though the only thing I’ve done regarding work in the last month is to open my laptop, stare at it for a moment and then close it again.

I’ve received eight emails about our Employee Assistance Program and the last two seem like they were not stock letters but rather ones that were definitely written for me.

I can’t say that I’m particularly concerned.


I’m leaving my house and my keys are on the hook by the door. Exactly where they should be.

Next door is a calm world of silence and I haven’t heard crying in days.

The roads are emptier than ever and I couldn’t be closer to some word that another human might call content on a good day or happy on a bad day.

Maybe I have those reversed.

I’m sitting in a restaurant that has more people in it than you’d expect. People are still nervous and I know why. People are telling the restaurant what allergies they have.

Food is being inspected and sterilized as though it’s a new level of culinary chic.

“Give me the brazed lamb twice sterilized with a pre-soak of Elehydroxamine Sulfinate.”

The waiter is wearing nitrile gloves like a doctor and I think about how my rash finally went away. I can’t even remember the last time it flared up.

I order a cup of coffee and nothing more which, I’m sure, seems less odd these days than it might have before.

Tracking back all the who and what and where, I find it funny in a way that is both funny comedically as well as funny curious that so much can happen to so many people and that enough variables in enough places makes everything look like a suspect. I find it funny that when everything is a suspect, it becomes impossible to find the one that matters.

I’m thinking about the places I’ve been and the places I’ll never go and I notice that I don’t see a spiral anymore because the whole circle has been hijacked and bent into something else. It’s not a beautiful fractal and it never will be but sometimes the best we get is what life is not rather than what life could be.

All the same, it seems like a fitting place. Here, surrounded by people who have never known me just as much as everyone who ever knew me never really did. Here where people are looking at their plates and wondering if they get to survive this bizarre edition of the not-so-hunger games.

I’m thinking about the restaurant where Carl Thompson had eaten the same night I was there. I’m thinking about how I touched my neighbor’s mailbox with my middle finger up in some pathetic moment of teenage angst as though it could save Amanda from the violent fists of her husband and how I was so drunk I could barely stand and how I tripped and fell and only barely got inside before Arthur came out and made me confront how big of a coward I really was.

I think about the woman whose name was apparently not Tiffany – and it had never been – who told me she was a philosophy professor as though either of us cared about that between our ninth and tenth shot of rum and our apathy about using condoms and how I wasn’t surprised to see her face with a different name in a later edition of “today’s body count”.

I think about how so many people would rather know that a xenomorph will rip through their chest than to hear another doctor tell them to take these pills because the only condition you’re suffering from is existence and the only cure is to give up or keep suffering.

I tell myself that if these people were alone in a room with me, they would push me to feel the shock of pain because it’s better than the banal existence they keep enduring.

The waiter stops for a moment and asks, quite jokingly, if I’d like some coffee with my sugar – what with the container draining into the cup like a waterfall of white.

I smile at him and say nothing.

I know that in the near future, most of these people will be dead or wishing they were or else lamenting that the person they were eating with died while wondering, “Why them? Why not me? Why is this happening?”

Honestly, the truth is so cumbersome. I tell myself I’m sparing them the burden.

I tell myself that one day I’ll find my own button but for now, this will have to do.

I can’t give them an alien invasion, but I can give them this.

In my mind, I say, “Lights, camera, action.”

I time it so that I swallow on cue and I let science and biology do the rest.

Somewhere a star is dying – but here – everywhere around me – everything smells like sugar.

Say

I guess the way I worded all my words, just spelled “deserted”
And I’m really not surprised you couldn’t stay

When truth was at its lowest and the snow was at its slowest
There were angels on the ground that couldn’t pray

I couldn’t hear you calling through the fall of this enthralling
Little moment that could never last a day

But now I can’t see meaning, only dreams reduced to screaming
Since it seems you have it figured out, for me there’s no redeeming,
Then I guess I never did
And even now, I really don’t
And never will, for you, have any words to say

All

If all the weary passengers I’m seeing
Were really ever passengers to places I could go
I wonder if they’d see me as a person merely fleeing
From the places they were heading
Or the ones they’re merely dreading
Or to “trust me, when you see it, you’ll know”

In truth, it’s been a while since a person
Was passing any other way but where I couldn’t see
And maybe that’s the symptom of the things that only worsen
When the sun is never setting
And the world keeps on forgetting
That I don’t remember much of them or them so much of me

I tell myself, “the rain is going nowhere”
And chase it with a cup that never learned to hold a drink
Where mountains, I can see, but never once is any snow there
But I guess that doesn’t matter
If the cups we carry shatter
And the steps, though moving forward, always sink

But maybe it’s a tempest I’m deserving
And endlessly behind it, I’ll continue just to crawl
Until I can convince myself I’m hopefully observing
That the storm, in tired leaving
From me took no disbelieving
When the storm, before it came,
Or even whispered there was rain
It promised nothing but in passing, took it all

Symptoms

I’m sitting here with one leg crossed over the other, a steno pad on my lap where a pen is moving in a way that would certainly imply I’m writing something down.

Thomas is talking about how he couldn’t buy something that was on the counter at a convenience store. See, he didn’t know it was there when he’d gone in and so he’d picked up something else. By the time he saw it, he was near the register. He couldn’t get it because he was only going to get one thing. He couldn’t put the thing back that he had because then he’d have to get out of line, put it back, get back in line and then actually get the item at the register.

Thomas’s issue – if I’m being entirely honest – has nothing to do with the problem he’s explaining because Thomas’s issue is not doing, but being seen doing.

Had the same item been somewhere on route to the counter, he would have had no issue. The problem has nothing to do with his idea of rules or restraint. He isn’t obsessive-compulsive but some people probably think he is.

He doesn’t want to be seen being who he is because he doesn’t want to see himself being who he is.

He mentally measures what he’s doing and how he’s doing it. He pays attention to how he might come off to others by way of aesthetic – the way he walks and carries his weight. He applies extra thought to what he’s purchasing and why so that the fictional narrative that strangers aren’t even having about him might hopefully conform to the fictional identity he’s crafted for himself.

Thomas is irrational.

He’s talking about how he knows it’s irrational. Problem is, he’s talking about the problem he doesn’t have instead of talking about the one he does have because he still doesn’t know what the problem is.

Even if he did, the irrational is hard to repair.

It’s right there in the name.

It can’t be easily rationalized. The person can’t be easily reasoned with even if they’re paying you to help them reason with it until it becomes rational.

See, if someone believes that we’re all living in a snowglobe, there’s not a lot to be done. Your explanations will never seem like enough and your inability to resolve every question in life will give them an infinite number of unrelated, manufactured fail points to use as the equivalent of “you didn’t actually prove me to be absolutely and unequivocally wrong within the constraints of what I’ve decided must be proved for me to be absolutely and unequivocally wrong.”

The only real option, if we’re being honest – and I’d like to think that we can be honest here – is to somehow pull the person out of the snowglobe. Even then, we’d likely just be dealing with another Tobias Jenkins situation.

But you probably don’t know about Tobias because I haven’t told you and that’s a shame.

It’s a real shame.

For all intents and purposes, I’d like to believe that your mind – clever as I’d like to believe it is – can follow the context to the conclusion that it needs to find.

It would be the reasonable conclusion.

The rational one.

Even if the metrics aren’t exact, I think that if we could assign a number or a color to the narrative denouement in this moment we would all be thinking of relatively similar things even if we would all feel a bit too sheepish to voice them so casually.

Thomas is done explaining the way he likes to explain so that other people understand what it was he’d like to pretend he was doing because Thomas has learned to talk about his symptoms for so long that he has mostly mistaken them for the underlying condition.

I’ve seen it often enough.

He is, however, like a man trying to take cough syrup because all he knows is that he has a persistent cough while having no idea that he has emphysema.

There was a man three years ago in North Carolina.

Roger Arlington.

Roger Arlington went to a doctor at 9:37 AM on a Tuesday morning on a regular spring day. He left the building at 11:13 AM with a prescription for medication because he thought he might have the flu and the tests didn’t seem to find anything terribly worrying but what symptoms he did have seemed to be in line with what one would see from the flu.

Roger Arlington died at 6:22 PM three days later.

See, around two months before that, Roger had started taking a supplement that he heard was really helpful for something. It seemed like something that would be good to have. He was, after all, not getting any younger.

Supplements, unlike drugs, don’t have to be cleared by the FDA to prove that they do (or do not) do anything at all. They mostly just have to not cause enough harm to get in trouble. Most supplements disappear not because tests are being done and people are making sure things are safe, but because they end up being unsafe enough that it causes enough problems for enough people that tests are done and the product is found to be unsafe.

Essentially – supplement users are the beta testers for the supplements they’re using because the alpha testers didn’t die of anything.

And because this wasn’t a drug, it didn’t say that it could reduce blood pressure.

Had Roger known this, he might have mentioned it to his doctor.

See, Roger had something else, and the “something else” he had should have presented with elevated blood pressure. That blood pressure – which would have been an irregular spike on poor Roger’s record – would have likely caused concern and more questions. Had they asked those questions, they might have run some more tests.

They might have found out that Roger did not have the flu.

Roger would not have purchased prescription antibiotics that shouldn’t have been mixed with the “something else” he had. But then again – in all the ways that mattered to anyone who was paying attention, Roger just had the flu.

They call things like that a perfect storm.

A confluence of variables.

The point I’m trying to make – if you can believe that there is one – is that Roger was trying to treat a symptom he didn’t even have which created a symptom.

That symptom hid a real symptom he was actually having from an underlying condition far more consequential than the one he was trying to treat.

This made his most identifiable symptoms look like a problem he wasn’t actually having which led him to take medication for a problem he didn’t have.

The symptom of having done so is that Roger Arlington died at 6:22 PM on a rather unremarkable spring day.

There’s a lot to be said about that word: Symptom.

What it is.

What it isn’t.

Right now Thomas isn’t saying very much.

It’s to be expected. No one can talk forever, after all.

I’m still sitting here. I’m certain I look like I’m writing.

You, well…you’re just wondering where it goes, right?

You’re waiting for me to take the ribbon and tie the bow.

As Thomas is leaving, I can hear him speaking to a woman. I know there’s a part of him that’s still rationalizing the act of what he did and didn’t buy on a random Wednesday at 3:16 PM even if his mouth has moved on to some other story where he doesn’t sound like someone who worries that the world will see him.

The interesting thing about when people believe they’re living in a snow globe is that they believe that they’re in a snowglobe.

This might seem to be less of a revelation than I’m making it out to be, but I assure you that it’s deeper than it seems. A little Atacama Trench in the center of your teaspoon.

See this is important because they have to actually believe that that’s the case.

You might be nodding to this as though you’re already breaking the surface, having risen from the pretentious depths of my previous assessment while you’re resting comfortably within your snowglobe.

There’s a lot to be said about what is said.

What is not.

It only takes water falling by one window to make a man think it’s raining, after all.

The rest of the customers have mostly been doing what customers do. They’ve been there as set dressing. Little pictures on the wall that weren’t really instrumental to the song that I was playing. Even now, their only function is to be revealed.

Melissa always seems to think it’s funny when Thomas explains why he is the way he is.

She’s with him mostly because he’s a little bit broken. He’s broken in that way which will allow him to gladly determine that it’s all much better if she’s there to make it just a little bit better. He’s decided that if he can make the broken part of him fit the shape of her, then everything will line up.

Still trying to treat a symptom. Still not aware of the underlying condition or that there is one to be aware of.

She likes that he needs her even if he doesn’t really love her.

See, Melissa’s problem is that she wants to be needed. Feeling needed feels like love and she wants to feel that more than anything. If she can’t feel loved, then she’ll feel needed because as long as she’s known how to breathe she’s never known those to be two different things because she’s only ever known one of them.

I feel certain that if you had to guess which one, you’d guess correctly even if you weren’t really paying attention.

At the end of the day, none of this probably matters.

After all, I haven’t been writing anything and as far as I can tell everyone’s snowglobe is still giving the gift of swirling white because it’s easier that way.

If I had to guess, Thomas won’t be getting better anytime soon.

See, Thomas doesn’t have anything else going on in his life to make him fearful and he’s likely to see minor discrepancies in the variegations of life as largely inconsequential. It’s never a problem until the bone is outside of the skin, so the saying goes.

As a result, Thomas probably won’t notice anything as a symptom that needs treatment. Likely, he’ll mention it to Melissa and go from there. After all, even if he’s not sure if he loves her, he feels like he needs her.

He won’t go to a doctor and no one will notice the increase in blood pressure. They won’t run more tests and well – you don’t need to know everything to know that we’ve got another Tobias Jenkins.

Melissa – well, she won’t be needed much longer. In the long run, she never seems to be.

But she’ll be okay.

She was after North Carolina.

Still treating a symptom. Still not aware of the underlying condition because she’s not aware that there’s an underlying condition to be aware of.

And me? I’m leaving the mini-restaurant that sits next to the building that used to be a record store back when those were a thing but is now a store displaying oversized hubcaps in the window and I’m wondering where it goes from here.

I’m like everyone else, after all.

Just a different set of symptoms.

Demolitionist

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, and I’m dressed as a wrecking ball.

I didn’t plan to be but that’s how things play out sometimes.

You wouldn’t be able to tell – no one would. All you would see is a pair of jeans and a business casual shirt on shirt ensemble with the top button undone. I suppose I could try to say that not all wrecking balls look like wrecking balls but that would belie the truth.

The truth is that I look exactly like what I am, but no one ever sees it because no one wants to see it.

It’s the peculiar line of logic that leads people to say things like, “But if you could do that then why don’t you…”

And I say that that’s not how it works.

And they say, “Okay, so how’s it work then?”

And I say that it’s like when you see a bit of light that looks like a rainbow.

See, the light isn’t trying to make a rainbow. The drop of water, the piece of glass. The time of day and the position of the earth. The sun and the stars don’t care. No one is building a rainbow. It’s several variables that don’t care about the other variables because they don’t know they’re variables at all and so they don’t know there are other variables to know about. And then there’s you – sitting there and watching and not adding anything but voyeurism.

And I say that maybe that’s worth more than you think it is and not just in that old “if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there, does it make a sound?” kind of way.

And I say, “There are things that behave differently when they’re being observed that have no reason to act any different because they shouldn’t have any way of knowing that they’re being observed.”

And I say that that’s maybe a great or terrible indicator of the idea of god and what it is to be made in something’s image. All of us – even down to the atomic level – unable to be ourselves if anyone is watching. All of us turning into actors and singers or else those who avert their eyes and try to say without saying, “If I don’t see you for long enough can you stop seeing me?”

And I say, “It’s more like that.”

And sometimes someone will nod, I suppose, or else they just assume the logical assumption: I’m just someone saying things because things are fun to say. What would conversation be without it?

I suppose the problem is that, by the time I explain what “that” is there seems to be very little “that” left for the listener to turn into a “this”.

It’s for that reason why I don’t often waste the time explaining.

In truth, there’s very little to explain when everything works as expected and there’s no way to explain anything when it doesn’t.

And one time someone asked if it mattered what the words were, and I told them that it only mattered because it had to matter because it’s like a sort of bootstrap paradox where the end result is partially the cause of the end result.

I suppose that, in the end, it never really matters much – and that’s exactly what I tell people when I choose to tell them these things.

I didn’t need to tell anyone this today. Not here. Not while sitting in a coffee shop.

I’ve just been sitting here quietly. Building momentum. That’s what I call it.

No one asks about that. I don’t find this surprising for exactly two reasons.

The first is that is seems largely straightforward and undeserving of an explanation.

The second is that I’ve never told anyone that because no one ever asks me anything that would require me to tell them.

“Give me an example.”

That’s the big one.

Everyone wants an example, don’t they?

Funny voices, is it? Let’s hear your best accent.

Comedian? Tell us a joke.

Superman? Leap a tall building.

If Jesus is real and Jesus returns and he can’t walk on water, that guy’s gonna have a bad day. That’s all I’m saying.

I don’t need to sidestep the answer but then there’s no way not to.

I say that there’s a man that says he can always guess a winning lottery number, but it won’t win if those numbers are submitted.

Right there, everyone is a theorist. Everyone knows what they would do if they were Batman.
Everyone has a gameplan when they don’t have to play the game.

Critics on a couch talking about how borderline Olympians aren’t doing it right.

They say the man should write down the numbers and…

There’s always a loophole, right?

But the man says there isn’t. The numbers are guaranteed – but only if no one plays them.

He says he has proof.

In his wallet is an old lottery ticket and he unfolds it and shows you the faded bubbles that are filled out and there’s a section of a newspaper with a date and the winning numbers and they match his.

But you say that proves nothing.

Who’s to say when he filled those bubbles out?

How do you fact check the past when it has no timestamp?

How do you confirm the reality of a memory?

And people say, “That’s not an answer.”

And I say that it is, but it’s not the one they wanted because they wanted to see magic and I’m telling them that sometimes magic is just saying that it’s known that somewhere, someone is pulling some kind of rabbit out of some kind of hat, and I can only tell you that I know it’s true in a way that’s infallible even if you don’t understand why.

And people say, “So you’re just full of shit.”

See, people don’t say that because they immediately believe I’m full of shit.

This is the alpha-male, “What are you, some kinda pussy or somethin?” call to arms to let someone know that they’ve gauged the size of their testicles to be several sizes smaller than nature intended. But don’t worry, there’s a cure. The cure is to pull your balls out and slap them under a projector so everyone sees how big they are.

It’s an attack meant to provoke a response of, “Oh yeah!? I’ll show you by giving you EXACTLY what you want!”

I suppose they think that that’s how it works.

I tell them, “That’s not how it works.”

And they nod and say, “Mmmhmm…” all judgey while silently thinking, “but what if it’s true?” and they go home and they wonder it too. And they try it themselves and they go, “Did it work? Would I know?”

And if they’d ask me that, I’d tell them that they would – if they could – but they can’t. And if they asked me why I’d just stare at them like someone who’s incredibly short asking me why they can’t learn how to be tall.

But no one is asking me that today.

Not here while I sit in the coffee shop.

My momentum is as good as it can be.

I take the receipt and fill in the spot for a tip. It’s exactly 20.04%. I could tell you why that matters but it would never really tell you why it matters. It would only tell you what I think you want to hear. Or maybe it’s what I think I want to hear. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference.

I write in the total that could have easily been a very clean number had the tip not been 20.04% and I sign my name.

I sign it slowly and deliberately. It’s the signature of someone who writes all the letters. It’s the signature of someone who never stopped writing cursive the way they were taught in school and so every curve and divot and dash and dot is in its place to such a degree that the whole thing looks distinctly out of place in a world where names start with capital something and wind into a scattering of ink-line origami.

At the very bottom, I write, “Thank you” – I do not write “thanks” – I could tell you why this matters but you already wouldn’t believe it should matter at all and I suppose that’s the reason why I keep having to explain so many things.

I place the receipt upside down and set a saltshaker on top of it.

Some will probably say, and quite sarcastically, “Let me guess, the saltshaker is also…”

But no. Why would a saltshaker matter?

This is the problem with reality. Once it doesn’t match up to what people want, they dive into absurdity. If you can bend a simple law of physics, why can’t you eat the color blue and turn your pores into seagulls?

And I say that if that’s what that means to them then I suppose that’s what that means to them.

And people don’t like answers that don’t say what they want them to say. They like answers that they already decided they want to hear.

But that doesn’t matter at the moment. Not here while the momentum is released, and I see the light – totally unaware – as it moves through a drop of water – lost in its own little world – turn into a tiny dot of multicolored light that only shows up for a moment because I’m at just the right angle to see it flicker by.

I know that as the momentum strikes the world has shifted and I don’t entirely know what that means but I know exactly what it doesn’t mean, and I suppose that that’s probably the best thing for any of us.

After so much effort, there’s little else to do but take a walk.

After all, I feel so underdressed now, down to little more than jeans a t-shirt and a button up with the top button undone and some sneakers that should have been replaced last year but they don’t matter so much.

They only matter during the points between.

I suppose someone might ask, “Then why not just focus on those instead?”

And I tell them that that’s not what wrecking balls do.

People don’t like that answer.

It’s the only one I have to give them.

Math

I quietly stood as the wind rattled in
And I turned very little
For what was a breeze
When the sky hasn’t fallen or yet to begin
A decent knowing it’ll
Just shift in degrees
And when standing the way I’ve been standing I can’t say the wind has affected the path

With every new whispering, trivial sound
Whether given to ebbing
Or pointless egress
From a “what could be finished” for “what could be found”
Do I let it be webbing
Composed of a guess
That I know would be better, if blemished, but beautifully built as if bartering longing for last

And words like forever don’t measure as tall
When the spaces between it
Go shrinking away
So the pieces that mattered are kept, nearly all,
And I swear that I’ve seen it
Or will in a day
When the sun, even setting, is brighter than echoes of light far away in the past

And how very loving it certainly seems
As if built of affection
And careful restraint
But reality ripples and so do the dreams
And of course, in correction,
Do fantasies faint
And in moments the magic is melting away like an abacus counting what’s left of the day and you finally see it and finally say, “all the things you were giving, or tried to convey… wasn’t love, it was you doing math…”

Omissions

Long ago, I found a vacant field
A home, dilapidated, on the fiction of a crumbling foundation
Giving meager thought to if the imagery appealed
To any message I beheld
I guess avidity prevailed
And so I labored all the while just creating for the sake of some creation

Sowing seeds of negligent regard
And patching up the windows with an origami curtain of obsession
Watching as the pillars played politely in the yard
I made a frame of brittle board
For all the days that I ignored
And set it up like it’s a card so I could say that I possess my own possession

Laboring, I rarely wondered why
The walls were wearing jackets made of gossamer and old alliteration
Rested on the windowsill with such a heavy sigh
As if too weary just to say
“It’s still the first of yesterday
And every step is imitating all the ones I only took through imitation”

Walking, finally, far enough afield
Where shores, however reaching, never spoke of inhibition
I saw, not far behind me, like a scab I poorly peeled
No single signal that compelled
But rather reasons rarely quelled
As, in response, am I omitting all the parts I had to pare so I could keep what I omit from my omissions

Continue

I find a fitting melody to rob me of the quiet
In the shallowest peripheral of allegories slipping
Where the stone is smooth as silk and all the instruments are chipping
In the slow pursuit of something half as meaningful as what it cost to buy it

But long ago I found, if only doing so in folly,
The perimeter of morning where the evening is resentful
And the lips that let me rise are, to my eyes, now only lent wool
That remains as dying needles from the pine that’s turning gray beneath the holly

And hoping it was mistletoe that hovered there above me
I recalled, as if a metaphor that only meant forgetting,
There were reasons for a second set of glasses for the setting
That extended, momentarily, beyond the limits lent to being lovely

But somberness was severed from the damages within you
Like a ribbon that was stolen from a present undelivered
For the arrows giving love and lacking pain are cruelly quivered
And the dust upon the feathers and the clouds within the sky seem to imply that this is how it must continue

Friend

I twisted my apologies
And sacred ideologies
Until the parts I needed most were true
I filled my heart with fuses
Just to decorate the bruises
Knowing not why what I choose is
Always different
Never different
Somewhere in between cerulean and blue

Where all of the apologies
Were pages from theologies
The sun had bleached to bone before they bled
Where letters are as flowers
Petals lost beneath the towers
Holding vigils for the hours
Always changing
Never changing
Somewhere in between the colors rust and red

I wove all of the similes
Until their lacking symmetries
Was something I could hold, or else pretend
For just a little while
Wouldn’t falter like a smile
Just a stranger in the aisle
Always watching
Never watching
Somewhere in between forgotten and a friend