@

Querido person who stole my iPhone outside of a kebab restaurant in Barcelona at 4 a.m. and the prostitute who molested me immediately after:

I just wanted to get the Canadian girls’ email address and some fourth meal, not an unexpected $749 Verizon purchase upon return to the States and an aggravated right nut.

Shifty Thief, you’re a heartless motherfucker. Can’t you find a way to target individuals who actually listened when the Verizon associate told them getting the insurance is a good idea? But, Shifty Thief, I must be honest: Easy target aside, you are good at what you do. I don’t even know when you got me or what you look like, and I had even sobered up. I either placed it on the counter at the kebab restaurant and you swiped it, or I didn’t get it all the way back into my pocket and you picked it when I was molar-deep in some rolled-up European tastiness. I never thought I’d like any combination of food that included cabbage, but I was wrong, and no matter what you might have lifted from me, Shifty Thief, I’ll always have my cabbage epiphany.

Insincerely Yours Book Jacket RGBDear French Laundry Restaurant,

I know from experience how difficult it can be to secure a table at your renowned restaurant.  My telephone has a calendar that allows me to book well into the future, so I was hoping you could make an exception for a young man who knows he would like to reserve a table for six for his sixtieth birthday meal on December 21, 2029.  We would each like the full tasting menu and wine pairing.  I don’t know the dietary restrictions of those that will be present, but I can provide as the date approaches.

Thank you,

Mark Black

Dear Sugar, 

I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?                                                                                                              

Love,

Seeking Wisdom 

Muumuu House (est. 2008) is a publisher of poetry, fiction, Twitter selections, Gmail chats online and in print.

On December 13, 2011, I received an email from Daniel Cooper that began:

Would you be interested in doing a piece for HTMLGiant on helping ‘Daniel Cooper’ become a Muumuu minimalist?  I’m new to the ‘scene’ but have years of experience in ‘being depressed’ and writing. I also have a new sense of being ‘ironically detached’ from my ‘emotional vulnerability’ and a ‘real’ desire to make friends with people with ‘similar interests.’

He went on to explain why he chose to email me as opposed to other Muumuu House affiliates, a general idea for how he would begin to create his internet presence, and other things.

I responded:

Daniel,

I don’t feel interested in doing this, sorry.

My advice in terms of writing or [anything] is to ‘simply’ do you.

I don’t think there’s a ‘formula’ to becoming friends with [any Muumuu house affiliated author you mentioned].

I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my things and things by other Muumuu House bros.

Good luck,

- Jordan

 

He sent another email, then I sent another email, then he sent an email asking me if I’d consider writing the piece for $25.

I said yes.

This is what I wrote to him:

Dear Daniel,

Life is different than a math equation because in life there isn’t a specific, consistent method of achieving an answer or desired outcome to a perceived problem. One wakes up, does whatever s/he does, then sleeps, usually convincing him/herself that there’s an inherent reason for it all.

There isn’t.

Life is similar to a math equation – can literally be viewed as a math equation from a certain perspective – because a math equation is ‘simply’ a math equation. A math equation isn’t sad, happy, boring, fun, or [anything except a math equation]. Some people enjoy trying to answer a math equation. Some people don’t. Some people don’t care. But no matter how one may or may not view math equations, a math equation is still ‘simply’ a math equation. Life is ‘simply’ life.

That’s it.

People say things like ‘Life is what you make it’ but that’s not what I mean either. Life isn’t what you make it because you don’t ‘make’ anything. Even the contexts of your ever-changing, inconsistent perceptions and actions have been created by everything that’s happened before that moment.

Anything anyone ever does is a result of everything everyone’s done beforehand.

Forever.

The moment a child is born s/he is filled with ‘input’ and his/her ‘output’ for the rest of his/her life can only consist of variations of what has already been or is being ‘input’ into him/her. The important thing to recognize is that the ‘input’ isn’t up to you so your thoughts/emotions/actions can never technically be ‘up to you’ (though understanding certain ‘input’ in the context of other ‘input’ can and will create different thought processes, etc).

But no matter what, the input still can’t care about you. It created you; is constantly creating you.

With this understanding – that your existence has very little to do with anything in general and that Oh Well you can’t control it anyway – the next step could be to accept your existence as a human being, then do what you want to do while you’re alive, if you want to be alive. Everything except for you and what you choose to care about doesn’t really matter that much because, as we’ve already established, your life is only a small piece of something gigantic and unforgiving that literally can’t know how to care about anything. Life and Input can’t think.

The universe doesn’t care about you or me or anyone because the universe can’t care.

In emails we exchanged, I recommended that you ‘do you,’ to which you said:

Re: ‘doing me’ I usually can only write — or want to write — out of a place that is very upset and angry and I usually use that negativity to justify writing mean, or upsetting, or manipulative, or jerkish stuff.  I’m actually ‘also’ working on writing ‘not me.’  Actually the advice you gave, and I guess I’m doing it.

If you only want to write ‘out of a place that is very upset and angry,’ I would recommend ‘simply’ writing ‘from that place’ or realizing that you don’t actually want to write out of that place, but from another place, then do what [you] need to do to get to/write from that place.

‘Doing you’ (being a person, enduring life) means thinking about what you want or don’t want then getting it or ridding yourself of it.

To me, that is the common thread among writers like Tao Lin, Noah Cicero, Sam Pink, Brandon Scott Gorrell, Megan Boyle, Mallory Whitten, etc. We’re not all the same and we don’t all write in the same ‘minimalist’ style all the time. I think we all ‘do [us]’ or are striving to ‘do [us],’ even if we don’t understand what ‘[us]’ is.

That might be the reason why I started writing in the first place – to explore Input and Output and to fill life with something that feels like something other than that.

I don’t know.

- Jordan

Dear Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman,

I want to give you an update about where things stand with our son, Milo, whose eighth birthday falls coincidentally close to your trip to Portland and whom we will be surprising with a trip to Keller Auditorium to see you speak.

When I wrote you before, we were faced with Milo’s first shopping list:

Dynamite
Thermite
Cars to Blow Up

You didn’t reply, so I have to conclude you might have been a little busy blowing cars up with dynamite and thermite, and shooting Buster and his Merry Band of Human Analogues.

Or maybe you DID get my first letter and now you’re coming here to help Milo navigate the choppy waters of being a sweet, non-violent pacifist with a desire to detonate with DetCord. (I thought “Debt-Core” was a kind of music revolution raging against the injustice of the current monetary system. Turns out it’s the cable you run from TNT, just like in Road Runner cartoons.)

“I need to make some dry ice,” Milo said yesterday, as we were stumbling off to do some chore which included nothing so interesting as buying nose cones from scrapped jets, or Building a Better Buster to drop him into a reef full of sharks. “Do we have the ingredients?”

Appalled that I don’t know how dry ice is made, I told him that we didn’t have the necessary tools.

“We’ll need to pick some up,” he said, making a new shopping list in his head.

“For what?” I asked innocently, believing that maybe, just maybe, he wanted to make the bathroom sink into a steaming cauldron of wizard’s punch for fun, or learn about the scientific process called “sublimation.”

“So you take the dry ice,” he said, “and you put it in a 2 liter soda bottle.”

“Wait a minute,” dim sparks of the synaptic process chugging in my head at the speed of molasses, “is this a MythBusters thing?”

He paused. “Well…”

“‘Don’t Try This At Home’,” I admonished, repeating the words you recite before every episode like a prayer.

“But…” he said.

“‘We are what you call EXPERTS,’” I said.

“I…”

“‘We prepare weeks, and sometimes months, to do the stunts on this show.’

He stared at me. I stared back.

For the holiday break, he wanted to brush up on his Mythmania, revisiting years’ worth of MythBusters episodes; now he’s got all sorts of ideas about new projects. He wants to join the Boy Scouts because he heard he might get to shoot things. He wants us to buy him a shop vac so he can make a hover craft. When I told him he needed to start with the small-scale experiments, he looked at me like I was crazy. “Go Big or Go Home,” his expression read, one of amused superiority.

Milo wants a Newton’s Cradle now–that clever desktop toy which sits on executives desks, clicking back and forth between its five balls, proving Newton’s law of “Every Action…etc.” But I suspect Milo’s motivation is to construct a Newton’s Cradle out of a Bocci set; the small one will provide the model, and you guys already built one out of cranes and wrecking balls, so he’s willing to split the difference.

“You’re looking at a vegetarian from California,” Kari Byron narrates in your MythBusters Top 25 Moments Special, which ran in our house over the holiday break the way The Grinch Who Stole Christmas ran in everyone elses. “I never expected that I would be a gun person.”

Cut to: Kari, cute little dress flittering in the desert breeze as she blows away a tree with a gatling gun.

And it looks so fun that I too want to climb up on the back of a military jeep with a Dillon Minigun (Minigun? What the hell is mini about a machine gun which fires 30-caliber shells at 3000 rounds a minute?) to mow down a dead tree in the middle of the desert, spent shells tinkling musically to the earth in a waterfall of destructive beauty. Where do I sign up?

How do we, a bunch of card-carrying Portlanders who have raised chickens, believe in bicycles as a form of rebellion, and want organic, holy-granola-roller seaweed cookies massaged with love and first press olive oil–how do we enroll for shooting classes? Is it even allowed?!

“What were you going to use the dry ice for, anyway?”

“A dry ice bomb.”

So we’ll see you in a few weeks, the fervent glow of rapt attention bouncing off the lenses of our young son’s glasses as he files away every single scrap of information you share that evening. You’ll know him by the look of devotion to the scientific method.

If it involves “Big Boom,” anyway.

Yours sincerely,

Quenby Moone

 

PS: Milo rolls the full name of TNT off his tongue like a weapons expert: Trinitrotoluene. I can barely read it, much less say it.

PPS: And speaking of the Grinch, my kid is scared of the Grinch. He is not scared of Trinitrotoluene or gatling guns or coffee creamer explosions, but the Grinch sends him around the twist with fear.

 

Dear Bear

By Gary Socquet

Letters

So people call me Garebear (Bear for short) not because it rhymes (that would be lame, and my friends are not lame) but because I’m actually half bear, on my mother’s side. A few years back I started an advice column for the lovelorn: as it turns out, you learn a lot about making relationships work when one of your parents is a bear. And, well, I just like to feel useful. I think you’ll see what I mean. Let’s dig into the mailbag, shall we?

Dear Bear:
My boyfriend is my best friend, he’s smart and funny and sexy, but he’s not a giver: he never considers my feelings, never asks me how my day was, and in five years he’s never once told me I look pretty. What should I do, Bear?

–Unappreciated

 

Dear Unappreciated:

Are you pretty? Is it possible one of the qualities you left off the list of his many fine traits is “honest?” Have you ever considered the possibility that he’s just taking pity on you? I mean, you call him your best friend, but it doesn’t even sound as though he likes you all that much. You’re clearly very needy, you have limited self-esteem, and at this point the jury is still out on your looks – although, honestly, if he’s never once in five years said you look pretty, well, do the math. And count your blessings.

 

Dear Bear:

All my girlfriend ever wants to do is have sex: first thing when we wake up, in the evenings while I’m trying to watch Jim Lehrer, sometimes she even shows up at my office in the middle of the day and tries to get me to do it with her on my desk. What should I do?

–All-Whoopied-Out

 

Dear Whoopied:

Hmmm. This is a tough one. Well, let’s start with first thing in the morning: the alarm goes off, you open your eyes, rub the sleepies out, turn your head, and there she is, giving you the hungry look. Am I right? Okay, here’s what you do: roll over, and have sex with her. Got that? Okay, moving on: you’re watching Jim Lehrer, he’s talking about a squabble in Congress, or the situation in Afghanistan, and she climbs into your lap and starts rubbing herself all over you – sound about right? Here’s the plan: position her exactly in the line of sight between you and Jim Lehrer’s face . . . and have sex with her. Now to the nooners: she steps into your office, locks the door behind her, sidles around your desk, puts one high-heeled shoe up on your leg, lifts her skirt to show you she’s not wearing any panties – am I close? This one’s the toughest yet, but I think the answer is coming to me . . . yeah, here it is: give her my number. Loser.

 

Dear Bear:

I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost two years now, and I really love him, but lately he’s been working super long hours and I’ve been spending a lot of time with his best friend (we both miss having him around so much), and, well, I’ve started to develop feelings for the friend. I don’t know what I should do!! ;-)

–Helen of Troy

 

Dear – wow, Helen of Troy? really?:

Well, let’s see. A couple things come right to mind: first, it’s natural for the bonds of a relationship to be strained when circumstances change, particularly when those changes lead to what seem like satisfying short-term distractions; also, try not to be such a giant whore. That almost always makes things better. (Did you really just emoticon wink at me?) Good luck, Helen!

 

Dear Bear:

I’ve been with the same woman for seven years, and I’ve always thought things were fine, you know? But lately she’s been dropping all these none too subtle hints about making it official, if you know what I mean. I just don’t know, you know? I mean, she’s great and all that, got a great body and a good job, but I don’t know if I want to put myself in that position, you know? Like, the only woman I ever get to sleep with, forever after? Help me out, buddy?

–Jets Fan

 

Dear “Buddy”:

Yeah, I get this question a lot. It’s a real pickle. “She’s great and all that, got a great body and a good job” – I hear ya. Who wants that? I suggest a two-pronged approach: first – and it’s absolutely essential that you take these steps in the proper order – first, get your fat, stupid, Jets-loving head out of your ass, and second, get your fat, stupid, Jets-loving ass out of her life. Seriously, if she doesn’t realize she could do better than you, at least be decent enough to give her a chance to find that out. It makes me sick to think you might be the last guy she ever gets to sleep with – there, I threw up in my mouth just thinking about it. Be a mensch for once in your life and get the fuck out. Buddy.

Ah, that was nice. It feels so good to help. Now for my favorite part – here’s a letter from someone who recently came to me for some advice. Let’s see how he’s doing.

 

Dear Bear:

I’m following up to let you know I took your advice and talked to that girl at work I like. You were right – it was so easy! Turns out she got a new pair of glasses and she was asking people in the break room what they thought, and I said, “They’re librarian hot.” (No pun intended.) What’s my next move, Love Doctor?
(name withheld for obvious reasons)

 

Dear Scott:

Guh. Please tell me you didn’t . . . Okay. Shit. Okay. Your next move . . . your next move. Okay, here’s the thing: “no pun intended” is not an idiom. It means exactly what it means. It is intended to follow an unintentional play on words, like when you’re in a meeting and somebody asks the fat guy to “weigh in” on the topic. So I’d say your next move should be to tell her in no uncertain terms how much you love her boobs, and then say, “No pun intended.” Get it, Scott?

(I’m not going to lie to you, people: sometimes I wish I were all bear.)

 

Good News

By Siri Z. Müller

Letters

Dear Friend,

Here is some crap. Here is some shit, here is something useless, my dear, for you. To make up for my negligence and my weakness. I’ve failed you in so many ways, ha ha. My letters are too far between, so let’s laugh and make some fun. I’ve had a little wine. Oh I’ve missed you, too. So. Well… anyway.

Ach. I don’t know. Days come and go, stories pass by unnoticed, just a sentence each, not enough to care, not enough material to weave. The great big strokes come much later, after we’ve had time to feel and think. Life continues to happen in wonderful ways, churning as always, but somehow I have nothing left to explain, to anyone. But I’m sure it will have been a really great year, looking back. A turning point, as usual. Isn’t that always the way with me? Ha ha ha.

Well, what can I tell you? I ran a short marathon in a big city, part of it through a zoo. Inexplicably, the herd ran faster there, winding through somewhat impractical paths and things, and the rhinos turned to stare, incredulous. They were excited, happy. The cats stared. Somewhere, a giraffe folded her neck and snorted. So we ran faster. I was consistent, and surprisingly fast. I’d silently asked the gazelles for gazelle energy, and they telepathically informed me that that was probably a very poor idea, after which I asked the bison for some advice, but by then we’d already left the park and moved on to the next kilometer.

Some people ran in costume. I watched them for a while to pass the distance. It was my first marathon. Well, not technically a marathon, but a race. I’d been so busy that I hadn’t had time to train, but it was not an overwhelming distance for me, and I welcomed the change of routine, surprisingly, on race day. Oh but my body ached afterwards, I was lame and my lungs felt totally unfamiliar, stretched a little too wide. We drank beer and warm tea at the finish. Some of us were more excited than others, because some of us were simply trying to find new uses for useless bodies, a new occupation.

Quickly, and to my surprise, this I should share with you, I received an accolade, and a great deal of money. A privilege and a station, which is just weird, and I seem to have also earned respect though that aspect was coincidence, and not due to any efforts on my part. And of course I adore conflicted emotions, so this constant source of ambiguous disappointment is fantastic. Nevertheless, it is something one should be proud of, and probably speak of in less elliptical ways. But nobody knows, because it is not a thing I love. I won’t even tell you what it is. I know, I know, how silly I’m being.

Ach. What else can I tell you. The cat doesn’t have cancer, probably, but I did find a flea on the dog, and now everything itches, constantly. We’ve moved, and my husband has a new office, and it’s lovely. I do not ever have a thing to wear, any morning, ever (I see mornings now) and my digestion is fine, I suppose. My sister is pregnant, again. I am not, as usual. They sent a yellow card informing us of the fact, though we already knew months ago, by designed accident. She signed her son’s name, I’ve never met him. We don’t speak. My sister and I, I mean. I’ve told you, probably. Right? We have not spoken since my wedding. Well no, actually since her wedding which was after ours, and which we weren’t invited to.  Yeah, it’s strange, we were close, I thought. Oh but I’m used to it.

I don’t speak to any of them, actually.

I hear my mother is building a house, after all. My brother wrote on Facebook that he is moving to Florida. So that’s great for him!

Whatever. I don’t even care what they do, anymore.

No, ugh, sorry, I have been so moody lately. Hormones, probably. I am definitely not pregnant, though, ha ha. Oh I must have mentioned that already.

Me and my crumbling, decaying reproductive system.

Oh dear, oh ha ha ha. I’m joking. No no no! Don’t worry about me. Some day I won’t be so unhappy.

Ok, darling, I’ll let you go and have a good night. You have so much to do tomorrow, and I have so much to do here. Say hello to the kids for me, they are just so adorable, as usual. But it must be getting close to bedtime there. So I should let you go.

Much love,

Siri

As a gift for making it all the way through high school, my dad bought me a Sony rack stereo system. Up to that point I had enjoyed my favorite 80s music on a smaller unit, which was essentially a glorified jam box, although occasionally, when my parents were out of town, I sneaked a listen on my dad’s audiophile-quality rig.

This was just before the CD began to really take off, and the players were still pretty expensive, so my stereo didn’t have one. But it did have a decent turntable, and from that point forward I only purchased music on vinyl because the sound quality of prerecorded tapes was vastly inferior.

However, using expensive blank cassettes and Dolby Noise Reduction, you could record your own mix tapes and arrange songs in whatever order you liked, and the sound quality was indistinguishable to the ear. At least to my ear.

To make these tapes sound as pristine as possible, I used a record cleaning kit that included an anti-static gun. That is not a joke. I would clean the record with a special brush and then shoot the record with a gun that emitted a stream of ions. These ions neutralized the static electricity generated by the friction of brush on vinyl. Yes, I know it sounds like science fiction but it really did work. My mix tapes were amazing.

As great as vinyl sounded, however, it was not a convenient format to use. I couldn’t play records in my car, and if I wanted to skip a song I was forced to get up and physically move the tonearm. And I couldn’t ever line it up exactly on the song I wanted to hear. And every time you play a record, you damage it ever so slightly. For this reason I didn’t actually listen to the records themselves very often. I considered them source material that I could use to make my own “perfect” mixes.

The engineers who developed the compact disc format were familiar with the limitations of vinyl and sought to eliminate them. Instead of scraping a diamond stylus against your cherished copy of Abbey Road, you could instead bounce light off it. Instead of having to move a tonearm you could just hit a button, and the next song would be lined up perfectly every single time. You could play a CD in your car. It sounded exactly the same on the first play or the 1000th play. The dynamic range of a digital recording was vastly superior to any previous format and the noise and distortion were almost zero.

I’ve always wanted to believe the reason CDs overtook vinyl as the primary music delivery format was because of the superior sound quality. Objectively, when you look at the numbers, there should be no comparison between the sound quality of vinyl and lossless digital formats. In side-by-side listening tests, except on the very best turntables in the world, CDs sound cleaner, brighter, and more spacious. That’s what they were designed to do.

But the enjoyment of music, like life itself, is not an objective experience. It’s a highly subjective experience. The sales of CDs overtook vinyl not because of the supposedly superior sound quality, but because of their convenience. This is the same reason digital files have become the primary way to listen to music today. You can fit your entire collection of music on a little rectangular box that fits in the palm of your hand. What’s not to like about that?

But the scrappy vinyl format never really died. Instead, it fell into the hands of hobbyists who claimed the sound of digital music was harsh and lacked the human, organic experience that vinyl delivered. Over the years I’ve read countless articles in audiophile magazines about the debate between analog and digital, and I’ve always sided with the digital guys. The very thing the analog enthusiasts enjoy the most, the “warm” sound of vinyl, is in fact distortion. Sure, it’s a type of distortion many people find pleasant, but how could one make the argument that records sounded “better” than CDs when the digital format essentially eliminated distortion?

It’s not surprising that for most of my life I’ve been a digital guy. Almost every modern convenience we take for granted involves the use of computers. Digital technology makes nearly everything easier, more productive, and in many ways more enjoyable. It’s romantic to long for simpler times, before technology, but the reality is life before technology was difficult and grueling and left little time to enjoy much of anything. We modern day, first world folks are pampered like no other humans in history.

My own life, in many ways, has paralleled the evolution of the world from analog to digital. When I was younger, I was riddled with self doubt and in the mirror I saw only flaws. I was such an introvert that I didn’t kiss a girl for the first time until I was nineteen. I didn’t have sex until I was 22. I was mortified of women, of social encounters, of almost everything that had to do with other people. But rather than be stuck with these flaws, I instead sought to eliminate them. Over a period of years I taught myself to be comfortable around large groups and with women. I changed my appearance by dressing differently and styling my hair differently and even having major surgery as part of a orthodontic procedure that altered my smile and face forever.

Not many people in my life are familiar with the old me, the analog me, because I maintain a tightly controlled public persona. I manage to write novels and TNB posts about many subjects, even emotional subjects, without revealing many details about myself. I don’t like to reveal weaknesses and insecurities, probably because doing so reminds me of the old me. I like the new guy a lot better, this guy I Photoshopped into existence. This digital guy. And lots of other folks seem to like him, too, so why even acknowledge the analog me? I put him in the attic years ago and he’s been collecting dust there ever since.

But a funny thing happened on the way to this supposed road to digital perfection. When I had everything I wanted, or thought I wanted, I realized I wasn’t really happier than before. I lived in a beautiful house, I achieved my lifelong dream of becoming a published novelist, I married a gorgeous, likeable woman whose face was known to everyone in the community. In most measurable ways, I should have been the happiest guy in the world. But instead I was bored. I felt empty. Instead of heeding the advice of John Lennon, I had always seen life as a destination, or like a video game that if you worked hard enough at, eventually you could “win” the game. Instead, my life had been sailing by while I was making other plans. Striving for something else instead of enjoying what was right in front of me.

Over the past few years, especially when I began making friends in the MySpace blog community, I became increasingly aware of the disparity between what I imagined life to be and what it really was. I picked up a lot of regular readers and fans on MySpace, and many people enjoyed my work. But gradually these readers began asking questions. Why didn’t I write more about myself? Why did I always write about things and subjects instead of people and feelings? At first I found these questions annoying. I didn’t understand why it mattered. With every post, I started an interesting conversation that hundreds of people enjoyed, so who cared what I chose to write about?

What I didn’t understand then is that these readers, my friends, weren’t asking questions to challenge me. They just wanted to get to know me. The human, not the writer.

In my novels, I tried hard to focus on the people, and not just ideas, but the ideas always won in the end. Even though there’s a love story in every novel I’ve written, in the early ones the relationships were mainly window dressing for the high concept plot. This is no surprise since, in my actual life, I’d always been more fascinated with the miracle of the cosmos and scientific exploration than with my fellow man. How could my feelings or anyone’s feelings compare to the grandeur of the universe and its very existence?

During the process of writing my newest novel, however, I discovered that knowing the answers to everything, knowing the truth, doesn’t change the essential nature of life. If someone told me today the whole world was an elaborate video game, or a joke, or whatever, I would still have to get up in the morning and eat and go to work and spend time with friends and loved ones. Having a peek behind the curtain wouldn’t change what was going on in front of it every single day.

My entire life I had been striving for a destination that, in the end, was as pointless as it was impossible to achieve. I began to realize that instead of looking to some faraway place for fulfillment and happiness, I could look at the things right in front of me. Which seems obvious and trite, but sometimes life is obvious and trite.

Unfortunately, it was right around this time that the things closest to me took a turn for the worse. In the span of a few months, my marriage ended and I was laid off from a company where I had worked for seventeen years. My agent kept asking for changes to my new manuscript, telling me the characters didn’t seem real or human or likeable, and I began to wonder if I would ever sell another novel, that maybe the first sale was a fluke. Even when my agent finally did accept the manuscript, interest from publishers was minimal, and my savings continued to dwindle.

You think I would have taken advantage of all the free time to write another novel. After all, I already had a new idea. All I had to do was sit down and write it. Without a job tying up nine hours of my day, I could have written something in a few months if I worked hard. But instead, I frittered away the free time and sank into a very dark place. Honestly, I can barely remember what I did with the time. I was off work for thirteen months, and aside from putting the finishing touches on Thomas World and writing a screenplay adaptation (in three days), I accomplished absolutely nothing. When I was down to the very last of my savings, as I pondered complete financial collapse, the mood in my head grew darker still.

It was about this time that I met someone, a girl, who was also recently divorced. I added her on Facebook but made no real attempt to court her. I was in no mood to date someone and I wasn’t sure I would like her, anyway. But little by little we began to communicate, and the more I learned about her, the more I liked. She was (is) extremely intelligent, hilarious, has great taste in music and films, but most importantly she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She doesn’t take anyone too seriously, because she’s had a lot of drama in her life and now just wants to relax and enjoy each day.

She’s a very analog girl.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have met her. She looks at the world in the exact way I wish I did. She sees beauty in the spaces that most of us miss. Whenever I spend time with her, I learn something new about the world, about her, about myself.

Around the time I met her, almost to the day, I was contacted by a placement firm about a good job opportunity. Also around the same time is when I signed the contract to have my third novel published. In mere days, my fortunes reversed in almost every measurable way. This near-miraculous good fortune should have instantly cured my dark moods.

But old habits die hard. I couldn’t quite let go of the digital destination I’d always envisioned. For example, when my new book sold, instead of being thrilled, I was disappointed that I wasn’t paid as much as the first two. As the book neared publication, I began to feel an intense amount of pressure on how it would be received, on how it would sell. I tried to convince myself how fortunate I was to have sold a book at all, considering the economic climate and the state of the publishing world, but I continued to focus on what I hadn’t achieved, instead of enjoying what I had.

Recently, all this confusion surfaced as a series of irrational arguments I started with my new friend. For those who know me well, this sort of behavior stands in direct contrast to my normal personality. Even as I was creating this artificial turmoil, and especially afterward, I could not answer why I had behaved so bizarrely. Especially not when everything in my life was now moving forward. How could one feel like the world was his oyster, and yet somehow reject it?

In the digital world, information is encoded in such a way that makes alterations easy to perform. You can retouch a photograph or add special effects to a film or create amazing music so easily that you begin to expect the real world should behave that way. On more than one occasion, I’ve made my own remixes of songs I enjoy, using a multitrack recorder to shorten or lengthen songs at will. I retouch photos and I create funny golf videos from footage that often isn’t funny at all. In the digital realm, with enough patience, you can exert complete and precise control over every facet of existence, you can send it wherever you like, play it in your car, play it on the other side of the world with almost no effort.

Things are different in the analog world. Complete control is not achievable. In the analog world, emails become handwritten letters, Facebook avatars become the real faces of your friends, and CDs become record albums.

Last week, after spending time with my new friend, listening to her record collection, I asked my dad to dig out his Bang & Olufsen turntable, circa 1983, from the attic. I found a stylus cartridge on eBay, and retrieved my record collection from my own attic. I hadn’t taken care to store the LPs very well and some of them were too warped to play properly. But most of them were salvageable, and I spent the better part of my weekend listening to those old albums. More than once I had to correct myself when I picked up the remote, intending to skip to the next song. And since I no longer own the cleaning brush or anti-static gun, the listening experience was not a fidelity level to which I am accustomed.

And of course it was beautiful.

I also spent an evening reading about Buddhism. I’m not a religious person and probably never will be, but I’ve always been curious about Zen and what that worldview is like. What I read was not groundbreaking stuff, not at its most basic level, but it did have a profound effect on me. There’s no controlling the world, the behaviors of others; in fact the disorder and warts and the many and differing personalities that comprise the world are in fact the beauty of the world, that to achieve peace you must be okay with your place in it, with your beautiful and flawed self.

Do I think records sound better than CDs? I don’t think it’s a question that needs to be asked. They simply sound different. Records sound warm and pleasant, and listening to these particular records had an unintended effect as well: I was flooded with images and sounds and smells from that directionless summer after I graduated high school, the countless hours I spent erasing any trace of static from my recordings, when I rearranged record albums into mix tapes the way I wanted them, when I spent far more time with my stereo than I did with other people; I remembered pounding out terrible short stories on my Royal electric typewriter, sending them away to this magical and foreign place known as New York City, where they were immediately rejected by faceless gatekeepers; I remembered standing in front of the mirror every morning, staring at my face, at the angry, volcanic ranges of acne, not understanding how I was ever going to ask a girl on a date looking like that; I remembered the doctor who fixed my acne problem, and my first kiss, the first time I ever told anyone I loved them; I remembered the palpable discomfort I felt in bars and in giant college classrooms; I remembered sitting down to begin my first novel, a story I wrote in serial format, sending each new chapter to my friend who was suffering though Army Ranger training…with every crackle and pop and skip in those records I remembered my analog self, and a sort of calm came over me, and the darkness that had built inside me like cancer over many months seemed to bleed out of me, replaced with a sense of peace I had not experienced in a long time. On the blemished surfaces of those platters of vinyl I saw my own imperfections very clearly, how they will always be part of me, and even if I were to achieve every goal I could possibly dream, there would still be a lifetime of days to enjoy, one at a time, and understanding this means there’s no more pressure of a destination, of forcing things to be just so.

The other day you said, I can’t stand things that are perfect.

In that case, you must really like me.

Dear M—,

 

I’m writing to ask about your goldfish, Javaunte. Is the World’s Oldest Goldfish still alive?

*

I’m sorry for the names I called you a few years ago. I’m sorry I wished you were hit by a truck. I’m sorry for stealing your e-mail address and trying to log on to your Facebook account so I could pick through your private messages and the profiles of men I suspected you’d slept with. I didn’t know much about Facebook then, or my own desperation for answers. Though I wouldn’t admit it, not to you, I was embarrassed. It’s not like me to do something that brazen or unethical.

*

Well, sometimes it is.

*

When I found out I was sick and might not get better, I went through Jason’s things while he was at class. I went through his desk drawers, his closet, the boxes under his bed. I went through his file cabinet. That’s where I found a stash of notes from you, filed under “Misc.” One of them had crude pencil drawings on it–you, Jason, and a smiling goldfish. “Please feed Javaunte,” you’d written.

Like everything else I found that day–a birthday card that spoke of a “bittersweet summer,” an old driver’s license word-bubbled with “I need some crack!”, a few photographs–I shredded the note to pulp.

*

We were moving to Alabama after graduate school. That’s why I started stalking you. Facebook, MySpace, Google searches with twenty different keywords: your name, law school, University of Alabama. That’s where you had just earned your Juris Doctorate, and where I would be teaching English in the fall. That’s where I expected to see you in my new coffee shop, my new bookstore, except they wouldn’t be mine because they would already be yours, like Jason was. I needed to know what you looked like so I could recognize you. What you looked like now, I mean.

*

In the pictures on Jason’s wall–the collages of college friends and concert tickets and newspaper clippings with his byline–you sometimes had blond hair, sometimes brown. In black-and-white, your eyes looked blue, but when I wrote once that they were blue, Jason corrected me. “Brown,” he said. “One of the irises leaks a little, like a dog’s.” He said that to make me feel better–here, a flaw–but I thought it was cute. I love dogs. I love flaws. I love Jason’s crooked bicuspid, the one he threatens to straighten someday, the one that cuts my lip when he isn’t careful.

*

You, holding a glass of white wine, a lit Christmas tree behind you. You, camping. You, wearing a Catholic schoolgirl’s outfit on Halloween. You, standing on a bridge with sunglasses on. You, smoking a Camel Light. You, sitting on a dock, looking out at the water, Jason sneaking up behind you to get the shot.

*

You were right about one thing: I can’t prove it was you. I know only that you had the disease first, the year before I did, that you lied about it, that you gave Jason a cure that doesn’t exist. What were those pills?

I can’t prove it was you, but I had to believe it was you. How else would Jason not take your calls in the middle of the night, when his cell phone screen read, “Baby calling,” and not see you on trips home when I stayed behind, and not one day introduce us and make us play nice over drinks? How else would those pictures come down so new ones could go up? How else would he finally, once and for all, let you go?

*

It was probably you. We both know this.

*

I never saw you in Alabama to tell you how I was feeling. In your body, the disease turned dormant and went away. In my body, it evolved.

When my sense of humor is most intact, I imagine a scenario. I imagine we are girlfriends that talk about their trips to the gynecologist. I imagine that, in Tuscaloosa, we get together over beers at Egan’s and grimace over the wrinkled doctor who treats us both in that complex behind the university. I imagine you know all about the protesters in the parking lot, the ones who carry misspelled signs (“You’re fetis loves you”), who call and make fake appointments. I imagine you, too, have had to arrive two hours early for a check-up because those protesters think you’re coming for an abortion.

I imagine it starts to get dark outside, almost as dark as in Egan’s. I buy us another round and ask if I can tell you something personal, something bad. You say yes. You say of course.

I tell you that the nitrogen oxide made me feel like I was rolling off the metal examination table. That the nurse held me fast and said, “Hush, baby, it’s almost over,” and I told her “baby” was your name and “darlin’” was mine. That Jason didn’t go in with me because I told him not to. That I wanted him to come in anyway. That I left part of my cervix in that room, the part covered in dividing cells, the part it took two people to make.

Like other women who have left pieces of themselves in that building, I, too, could call that part “baby.”

*

Even though your profile is mostly private now, I remember your pictures on Facebook. I made fun of you for writing “luv” in reference to your dog. I called you a bottle blond.

Here are some things I wouldn’t have said then: I think you’re pretty. I think you love your sister. I think your best friend is more beautiful than either of you, but also crueler. I think she has a controlling way about her, and I think you have done things to impress her that aren’t really you. I think you take a lot of self-portraits, like me. I think we are both insecure. I think that’s why I once cheated on a boyfriend I still miss sometimes, and why you cheated on Jason.

*

Jason and I are married, eight months now. At first, I made the wedding pictures public. You weren’t the only reason. But I hoped you would see them. Please forgive me. I’ve made them private again.

*

My friend laughs every time I tell the Javaunte story.

Jason was recalling Alabama, something he does more often now that we live in upstate New York. He couldn’t remember the name of someone in his hometown, the name of a wino who nearly died in the alley beside the Marion jail. “Oh, we’ll just call him Javaunte,” he said.

Immediately, I saw the bowl sitting on a coffee table covered with ashes and band stickers. Plastic grass waving in water that needed to be changed. A funny caption. “Javaunte: World’s Oldest Goldfish.”

I smacked Jason on the arm. “You pulled that out of M—’s fishtank!” I said. He looked stunned for a moment, and then he remembered. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I completely forgot about that.”

I stood up to get another beer from the fridge. “I know everything,” I called, sing-song, from the kitchen. “You have no idea what I know.”

*

You know what’s weird? I had a really old goldfish, too.

I got Norman when I was eight. My mother took me to the Tioga County fair and let me go off with some friends to the rides and games. I had only one rule. I was not to play the goldfish game. No more goldfish, she said.

I didn’t think I would win. I had no aim, wasn’t the least bit athletic. It was just luck that damn ping-pong ball landed in Norman’s slot. The game attendant put him in a sandwich bag filled with water and tied it off. My mother was livid, but she mumbled something about fair goldfish always dying the next day anyway.

It started to rain on our way to the car, and my clumsiness caught up with me. As I slid into the backseat of our Chevette, the sandwich bag slipped from my hand. The knot came undone, and all the water spilled out, on the floor, in my lap. It had a fishy smell. Norman lay flipping around on the fabric seat.

I screamed, horrified. My mother didn’t want a fish, but she didn’t want one to die either, so we got out of the car and began scraping rainwater off the other vehicles, refilling the sandwich bag with about an inch–all we could get from the hot July shower.

We put Norman back in the bag and drove home. He looked lifeless, barely fluttering at the bottom. My mother told me to expect the worst.

But Norman made it home, and through the next day, and the next. He lived until I was twenty-two.

*

Besides fortified goldfish, I wonder what else we have in common, M—. I’m sure you’ve wondered this, too. I’m sure you’ve thought there’s got be something we share besides cells and boyfriends, something fundamental, something a man like Jason would love in both of us.

Maybe enough time has passed for me to send you a friend request. Maybe we should move our stalking out in the open. Look at the pictures, scrutinize the hair, the eyes, the easy or uneasy smiles at the camera Jason is or isn’t holding. Maybe, if we look long enough–if we watch one another change jobs, cities, friends, body weights and hair colors and outfits–we’ll find the familiarity we were once sure didn’t exist in the other.

Even if it’s just goldfish we’re determined to keep alive. That’s something. I hope Javaunte is doing well.

 

Best,

Amy

 

 

My wife,

I would’ve liked to meet you at eighty. Our busy lives behind us, perhaps we could’ve watched all those movies we missed. I would’ve liked to see Hangover II. I would’ve liked to watch JAWS one last time. I miss you already. I know, we don’t believe in Heaven, but tell me, please, when we meet again, somewhere, even if we’re just two amoebas sailing over the waters of some new world-promise me you’ll notice me. Forgive, my wife, it was I who lost our wedding rings. We never did make that trip to Jeweler’s Row. It was I who never had the money. I had hoped to take care of you. I had hoped to buy you a ring. I had hoped to buy you an entire house. I had hoped we might sit in perfect stillness and wait for the good news. I had hoped to take you to Barcelona. We will never see Barcelona again. We will never share ice cream again. Forgive me, I let my illness make me crazy.

I would’ve liked to meet you at ninety, my wife. Our busy lives behind us, perhaps we could’ve experimented with drugs. I had hoped to discover the mystery of salvia. I had hoped to discover the mystery of your nightie, how, upon waking each morning, you’d slip out of your nightie, fold it into a perfect square, and hide it under your pillow. Don’t get me wrong, I had hoped to revel in that mystery for years. I had hoped, for decades to come, to reliably discover your nightie folded into a perfect square under your pillow. And yet, at eighty, I had hoped to ask, “Why, my wife? Why do you that?” You were so mysterious. You never squeezed out the sponge after washing the dishes. When confronted about this, you said, “I’m still washing the dishes.” And yet, I could see clearly: you were in bed, reading A Visit From the Goon Squad, and the sink was empty, and the sponge, absorbing its weight in soapy water, was sitting on the counter, just one more example of how you compelled my world, how you made everything remind me of you.

I had hoped, someday, to meet our children. I had hoped we’d have a daughter. Gloria or Isabella. Or, as you once said, “Francine!” Just kidding. You never said that. You never seriously suggested a name. I would’ve liked to hear what you’d come up with. I know you would’ve waited until the moment you met her. I always admired that about you. You always waited until you met someone to decide. Even then, you never made up your mind. In the wine store. At the movies. Standing in front of a case of ice cream-a glorious predicament! You never made up your mind. Don’t worry. Even if we’re just two rocks zooming around the universe-I promise, despite your indecisiveness, I’ll love you again.

I promise I’ll use the last of the ketchup before I open a new bottle. I promise, if we’re called upon to sit in perfect stillness and wait for the bad news, I will hold your hand.

I promise, the news won’t always be bad.

By the time we meet again, I predict a cure! Forgive me, I let my illness make me crazy.

Thank you, my wife, for saving my life. Thank you, my wife, for using the last of the ketchup. You were never meant for the dregs. And yet, for me, you took the dregs. Even if we’re the dregs at the bottom of some new world’s primordial puddle-promise me, my wife, promise me, you’ll tell me about the future. Skyscrapers! Plums! iPhones! Forgive me, I broke your iPhone. I broke your iPod.  I broke every single thing. I only wanted to see what was inside. I broke you, my nesting doll, and discovered another you.

I promise, someday, somewhere, I’ll make it up to you. Wedding rings. Mint chocolate chip. Three or four daughters: Gloria I, Gloria II, Gloria III, Gloria IV.

Oh, my wife, I miss you already, but I just know we’ll meet again. Even if we’re just two amoebas sailing over the waters of some new world-I promise, I’ll notice you.

For now, goodbye, but only for now.

love,

Me

Contrary to popular belief, the most dominant dog in any given pack is rarely the first one you notice.

Like any dictator, an alpha dog may be either benevolent or tyrannical, but unlike many human dictators, alpha dogs are never emotionally fragile, touchy, needy, or exceptionally demonstrative.  They just don’t generally stick out unless something has gone seriously awry.

This was about five years ago, back when my book was just coming out and people still used Myspace.  I kept a daily blog called ‘The A.D.D. Blog,’ and it wound up having a pretty good readership.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to conduct a letter writing experiment.  I told my readers that if they wrote me a letter — an old-fashioned letter, with a stamp, in the mail — I would respond in kind. I got myself a post office box, posted the address online, and waited.  And then the letters started coming in, dozens of them, all from strangers.  I answered each one over a period of about three months.   And then, when that was done, I canceled the PO Box and boxed up all the letters and put them away in storage.



It rained in LA this past weekend, a huge spring downpour that fell so heavy, and for so long, that there were flash-flood warnings and car accidents and a giant jacaranda on my block got uprooted and toppled across the asphalt, crushing two parked cars.  (Nobody, thankfully, was injured.)

I was stuck inside and fidgety and wound up going into my closet, unearthing an old box on a whim, and within that box were the “experiment letters,” sitting there on top in a giant stack.  For the better part of the afternoon, I sat there re-reading them — staggered, in a way, by how good they were — or, at the least, how interesting.  And often moving.  And sometimes pretty disturbing.

I figured I’d share a little bit, in the form of anonymous excerpts from some of the better offerings.  Individually, each snippet here struck me somehow.  And collectively, they paint a pretty striking composite picture of humanity in the digital age (or any age?).



WASHINGTON, D.C.:

When I’m really stressed, I sometimes have sex dreams about Ted Koppel.  I’m scared this is a sign of mental illness and that stresses me out even more.



CABOT, AR:

Last Wednesday Jenny went out for girls’ night.  I called the few friends I have that are still in town and it was to no avail.  I decided to drown my sorrows/boredom in a bottle of rum while listening to my iTunes five-star playlist over and over.  After hearing the live version of ‘Copperhead Road’ for what was close to the fifth time, the uncontrollable urge to get my rock on overtook me and, debit card in hand, I headed down to the local Wal-Mart and snagged a copy of Guitar Hero II.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I hate it when a good pen goes dry.  It beats dry pussy, though.



CASSELBERRY, FL:

Is it weird that my boyfriend is the one rushing into marriage?  Is it weirder that I’m not in any rush?  I guess I don’t want to be married when I’m in a dead end job and live in an apartment.  I’d rather have a career, one I can stand, maybe even one I look forward to…at least one that pays better, and with that be able to purchase a home.



SAN DIEGO, CA:

The culture of Navy people is incredibly odd.  They live their careers in a hierarchy.  The higher in rank they get, the less work they have to do and the more they show off to the lesser ranks.  They leave the military and find they have absolutely no people skills.



CLAYTON, CA:

You see, I’ve never had an exciting mailman.  No matter where I move, the mailman always seems like a typical white, middle-aged man with a growing balding spot.  I’ve always felt left out of those “your dad is really the mailman LOL” jokes, because it’s hard to imagine housewives, no matter how suburban and sexually desperate, copulating with a man who bears a striking resemblance to their actual husband.



WALDPORT, OR:

I dated my husband at 15, married at 19, and had a child at 21.  And now at 33 I have a 12-year-old daughter and a very unhappy marriage.  Where do I go from here?  Do I grow some balls and do something about my marriage and verbally abusive husband?  Most everything I’ve ever done has been for someone, but never myself.



NEW CASTLE, PA:

I’m a senior now, majoring in music education with a concentration in voice.  So pretty much I’m singing all the time and I’m also in the bands.  I play the tuba.  You should be laughing because that’s the general consensus of people.  I’m 5’6″ and have a thinner build, so it’s funny to see me dragging a sousaphone around.



DENVER, CO:

Today, I interviewed for Teach for America.  It went well, I think.  I was scared.  When it was over, I was hot and shaking.  I picked up the phone again and started dialing.  And my home phone started ringing.  The number used to be my mother’s.  I adopted it when she died.  I forgot she wasn’t there to pick up.  Just for a minute.



BOSTON, MA:

Sometimes I like to masturbate at work.  I’ll be sitting at my desk and my clit will just start throbbing and I will be unbearably horny.  Overwhelmed with my sexuality, I will retreat into the bathroom.  Lying on the floor, I will fantasize, usually picking a favorite sexual memory.  I focus on the look on his/her face and rub myself until I cum, not making a sound.  I am especially horny when I am bleeding, and days before I bleed.  Sometimes I get blood on my fingers when I masturbate.  And I lick it off.  Do you like that?



KIRKSVILLE, MO:

I worked at a funeral home.  When you work at a funeral home, you become part of the background; people forget that you’re watching and that they’re not alone.  It made me uncomfortable to witness their grief, their family quarrels…I guess it made me uncomfortable to see them without their masks on (like that Twilight Zone episode).  But put me in front of a computer screen and I will read a person’s deepest secrets for hours on end.



SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA:

My husband and I met online.  I placed an ad on Yahoo personals, and he was one of the people who answered.  We sent emails, then longer emails, then more frequent emails.  We spent hours talking over the phone, and then finally met in person in a nice, safe, public place (a mall close to where I was living).  We have been married a little over two years now.



LONG BEACH, CA:

Did I mention I have OCD?  No?  Well, now you have that little tidbit.  I wash my hands countless times per day, only write with certain types of pens, my car’s interior is spotless, I arrange the bills in my wallet in descending order facing the same way, and probably a plethora of other idiosyncracies that have yet to be pinpointed and identified, usually by my girlfriend.



LAKE HAVASU, AZ:

Do you have any children that you know of?



DUNDAS, ONTARIO – CANADA:

You do realize that many people (just like me) will use these letters as a form of therapy.



SPRINGFIELD, OR:

I just had a dumb argument with my wife about cold medicine and why I don’t take it.  I got defensive — I take it, by the way.  I just resist.



RICHMOND, KY:

They poisoned the stray cats on the street.  Evil people.  I hated my living situation.  And just when I couldn’t take any more of Jim and Edna’s shit, my upstairs neighbor got a new girlfriend.  I could overhear their boring, giggling, getting-to-know-you conversations (which they held on the “porch” right outside my bedroom window), as well as the getting-to-know-you sex they had above my head.  Her orgasms sounded like what can only be described as a dying cow.  Whatever he did to her to inspire those noises inspired me to take a broom and bang on the ceiling to to the same rhythm as their humping.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I’ve been on Weight Watchers since May.  I’ve gone from being overweight to average to almost underweight.  And this week marks my last week of maintenance and today is my last weigh-in before I become a lifetime member and don’t have to pay anymore.  That is, unless I’ve gained a huge amount of weight this week.  It’s been worrying me.  I got nervous.  And ate candy.  And that got me more nervous, so I drank magnesium citrate.  And now I’m just stressing out more until I weigh in tonight at five.

I grew up overseas.  Asia and Europe.  More specifically, Turkey and the UAE.  My parents were teachers at American schools.  Living there got me to be pretty open-minded about stuff.  Including my sexuality.  I used to think I was straight.  Then bi.  Then a lesbian.  Now I’m leaning towards bi again.  I don’t think I can really test that theory, though.  The thought of a relationship scares me.  I got my heart broken once, when I was 17.  By a girl.  So I don’t want a relationship with another girl yet.  Tried that — I wasn’t ready.  But boys scare me.  So I’ll never know who I am. At least until I’m out of adolescence.



MENOMINEE, MI:

I’m at a point in my life where I’m coming to terms with my own mediocrity.  I hesitate to say I’ve given up — because that’s even more pathetic than mediocrity.  I would rather live a black comedy than a foreign drama.  I still feel like an impostor and totally unqualified to be an adult.  I think about my parents and wonder if they dealt with this sort of identity crisis.



MT. SHASTA, CA:

I watched such a disturbing video on Myspace recently.  A hundred “money shots” from men with other men.  The men who were on the receiving end were gagging, literally.  And the looks on their faces…I just hope they got paid well.  And that it didn’t all go up their noses.



CANYON, TX:

It seems that the only emotion I can express is anger.  Which makes sense, because anger is the most real emotion you have.  But so is joy, and I can’t seem to get a grip on that one.  If I go by astrology, I should start to have good luck and happiness by the time I’m thirty.

Wow, less than nine years of torture and darkness.

Well, at least I have a goal in life.



JONESBOROUGH, TN:

To pay the bills, I work at a local grocery store in the bakery/deli department.  (Yes, I do have a degree, but it didn’t take long to learn that it’s fairly useless.)  It’s not bad — I make OK money, can do the job in my sleep (I’m a virtuoso on the meat slicer), and I like the people (particularly the assistant store manager — but that’s a whole other story, heh).  I hate the uniform — they make us dress up as chefs (oh yeah — hats, too!).  They seem to be under the delusion that we work in a 5-star restaurant serving haute cuisine instead of boil-in-a-bag/fried crap on a hot bar in a grocery store.



LEXINGTON, SC:

I never cry and it kind of scares me a bit.  I used to cry for no reason at all.  Now when I try — nothing, absolutely zilch.  Until just recently (actually this morning).  I was in the shower and became intimate with my shower head.  I had the most intense orgasm, but afterwards I just sobbed and sobbed.  Strange, huh?



ISSAQUAH, WA:

My daughter’s conditions make her more vulnerable than the average teen for pregnancy, running away, drug use, and health should she ever become pregnant or try to have a family.  Hell, just having a LIFE will be a challenge.  At times, I’m simply overwhelmed by the enormity of my daughter’s problems.  I try, very fervently, to focus on the positives — the high intelligence, the vivid imagination, the amazing creativity, the advanced artistic ability.  Sometimes, though, all I can see is the struggle of the hour.  And a lot of the time, I find myself wishing the day away, so that night will come — so that she’ll be in bed, asleep, and I can breathe again, relax, remove my drawn-up shoulders from around my ears.



LONG BEACH, CA:

For some reason, I really like lobsters — whimsical pictures of lobsters, live ones scuttling in tanks, lobster/crab imagery, claw harmonicas, etc., though I don’t know why.  The only thing I don’t want to do is eat them.  I’d never kill one, much less crack it open in some barbaric fashion and scoop out the meat from its very bug-like body.  In San Francisco, I used to pinch my ex with my hand claws — it was a strange form of PG-rated foreplay.  Worked every time, but maybe that’s because I was often nude.



WORCESTER, MA:

One of my students is a boy in 5th grade.  One day, in the middle of a quiet writing assignment, he decided to share his desire to be dunked in a pool of chocolate so that he could lick it off his body, because then he would taste really good.  He’s autistic and has a very loud voice naturally, but he tends to be louder when he is more excited.  He was very excited by the idea of being dipped in chocolate.  I got some comments from the teacher across the hall.  It’s often very amusing what children will say in general, but when a child has no verbal filter, well, I tend to hear some strange things.  I love my job.



NAYLOR, MO:

My favorite subject is sex.  I find that people are not open enough about it; most people find that I’m too open about it.  I’m single and have been most of my adult life.  I don’t mind most of the time.  I’d rather be single than be with someone that I am not passionate about.  I know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?  Says who?  I mean, it’s important, nobody likes an asshole all the time, but people are lying if they say it doesn’t matter what someone looks like.  Likewise, sexual attraction is very important.  I keep hearing, “but he’s so sweet,” “he’s very responsible,” he’s good looking.”  All that is great and fine but if the sparks aren’t flying then a relationship is relegated to friends.



UNION, ME:

I work in a group home for children in state custody due to abuse and/or neglect.  Basically, kids are removed from abusive homes and come to us.  We work with them and try to help break the cycle of abuse, and to prepare them for foster care.  Emotionally, it can get tough — it’s not uncommon for me to cry the whole ride home after work.  Despite that, I love the job.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  I love what I do, I’m proud of it, and I’m good at it.  I’m also broke, because it doesn’t pay for shit.  Can’t have everything, I guess.



EVANSTON, IL:

I’m 33.  I have a six-and-a-half-year-old son.  Going through a divorce.  The usual:  husband cheats and has two kids with another woman.  I make light of it now but unfortunately it’s true.  Enough about that.  I’m sure you’d rather hear about my son who wants to be a girl.  That’s true, too.  He’s a great kid.  I just think of him as being very creative, right?  Just say yes.



PORTAGE, IN:

My son, Billy, just got married last year.  I am truly happy for him and Tammy.  I would like to find a companion for myself.  At age 48, my love life has led me onto a path of cynicism and cautiousness.  I remember when I used to fall so easily for someone.  Now, my immediate reaction is to find, as quickly as possible, all the reasons why a potential relationship might fail.  In my attempt to save time and prevent pain, I have painted myself into a lonely corner.  Somehow, being aware of my self-sabotage has not altered my pattern.



BAJA, MEXICO:

At age 26, I can tell you I haven’t been endowed with favor for interpersonal relationships.  I haven’t been lucky with the guys I like.  They just don’t like me.  It is maybe because I’m very shy when it comes to a guy I like.  I think this has to do with the thing that I was sexually abused when I was a child.  I’ve changed many things in the last six years:  I’ve read; I went to a psychologist….Anyhow, I’m still alone.  It’s weird and sad (sometimes) being 26 and not knowing what it is to have a person beside you that you could call your boyfriend.  (I have have never had one.)  Sometimes I think that maybe I’m destined to be alone — who knows?



HOBOKEN, NJ:

Most multi-millionaires are happiest when they’re interacting with strangers.  In real life they are the most miserable bastards you’ll ever meet.  I’m not a millionaire, I just dress like one.  I’m an eBay-aholic.  If you’re ever bored, go to this site, www.evalueville.com.  Just don’t get hooked like I did.



BROOKLINE, MA:

There’s an aspiring actress who lives somewhere in Hollywood.  We’ve been friends since age six.  I see her every six months or so — whenever I’m in town.  She mentioned she would like to have a temporary life parnter.  I told her I might move into my family’s vacant house in LA while I’m in law school.  She says she’ll live with me.  I told her it will cost her a lot.  She said she’d cook.  You get the picture.



LA MESA, CA:

I haven’t much of a sex life.  Although I think about it in the mornings when I wake up only.  I’m dreaming of a nice man, as I’m a woman.  I want to experience life as well as love.  I work as an artist.  I draw temporary tattoos on people yet I so want to do the REAL TATTOOS!

So I’m drinking Bass ale tonight after a very long abstinence.  I guess I’m buzzed, but it’s good because at least I’m writing….

It’s all good.



ANAHEIM, CA:

I’m a happily married woman with 2 kids, 1 dog, and 3 hermit crabs.  Until 3 weeks ago I thought I had it all until I met a gentleman I’ll call Sam.  Sam came on to me pretty hard at a party and I was very flattered, but not interested.  The next day, two of my best friends called to tell me how Sam wanted to meet me again and how beautiful I was and how I was the woman for him.  I was suddenly interested, because I felt like a goddess and I was finally getting the attention I feel I need.  My husband is very quiet and non-complimentary and basically refuses to fawn over me.  My friend asked if Sam could have my number and I said yes.  We began speaking to each other every other day or so for 2 weeks and we finally met in person.  The electricity between us was phenomenal and we haven’t even kissed.  We just talked that night for about 20 minutes and left.  We haven’t spoken since.  My friend says I said something that night that scared him, but I don’t remember anything I might have said to scare him off.  He still talks about me all the time, but won’t call me.  I know I’m just responding to his attention since I don’t get that need fulfilled within my marriage, but why, oh why won’t he call!  I’m pissed.  I’ve never in my adult life had a guy blow me off.  Asshole.  I’ve tried to get over it, but my girlfriend and her husband are roommates with him and I would feel like a bitch if I ask her to not talk about him.  That would be selfish, but I can’t seem to get past this.  I totally feel like I’m back in high school and I don’t know what to do.



HOUSTON, TX:

It seems that being a 21-year-old female artist who is straight-forward is threatening to a lot of men.  I refuse to be submissive to anyone.  Except of course Jon (the cocaine addict).  I’ve only been with him twice.  Now that I think about it he probably thinks I’m some girl he made up in his mind while he was blowed.  I haven’t heard from him in a week.  I don’t understand — the sex was mind-blowing — I know it was more so for him, too.  I don’t even get the pleasure of being a fucking booty call.  I never told him how I felt because I didn’t want to scare him off.  I’d rather be a “friend with benefits” than be nothing at all to him.  Now I see that I achieved that anyway.  I’m hoping he’s so fucked up that he hasn’t remembered me.



NORTHUMBERLAND, PA:

I am scared.  I write….A LOT!  Especially poetry.  I collect stamps and baseball cards.  I think Johnny Depp is gorgeous!  Every year, I have three different calendars on the wall in my room.  It is tradition.  This year I have a Beatles one, Scenes from Paris, and a Disney Princess one.  I hate bugs.  I wear contacts.  One of my best friends is a whore.  I have two dogs.  I got a stuffed hippopotamus for Christmas.  My brother and sister actually have A.D.D. and Tourette’s.  I don’t.  I’m the youngest.  Last year, I broke my wrist falling off the computer chair.  I’m addicted to Facebook and Myspace.



EL PASO, TX:

I once fell in love with a very apathetic boy named David, and I cried and eventually he cried and we loved each other, but he’s in Missouri and I’m in Texas, and though he repeatedly promised me that “true love waits” and “one day we’ll be together,” he lied and found himself a shallow girl there who fell in love with him and so that was that.  He settled for something “okay” instead of waiting and working for something “great.”  I think, since this falling out with my dearest David, I have become a more apathetic person.  I’ve found someone else now, though.  And honestly, I love him wholeheartedly.  His name is Miguel.  I’m beginning to fear, though, that maybe we are too different.  He’s into video games and heavy metal, and I’m a writer and into a lot of different music — not including heavy metal.  But, I’m making an effort to involve myself in the things he enjoys — such as Warhammer 40k.



EGLIN AFB, FL:

I am seeing a therapist for the deeper issues.  Being teased growing up, bickering mother, environmental changes, surviving chronic mastoiditis, losing my life during delivery (almost), gall bladder surgery, and hubby’s deployment….The house got fleas.  They are gone now.  The car’s starter went out.  Billy and I got the flu.  Why does things go wrong when you least expect it?



SEWICKLEY, PA:

You said to write to you about anything, so I’m going to include in this letter a confession.  I have a cousin on death row in San Quentin for the murder of of a police officer.



GREENCASTLE, IN:

One blustery fall day as the cats played outside, I told my parents I was going to the city to grab a sandwich, to sit and meditate at the park.  My dad told me I could not go.  Dad said, “Do I have to hold you down?  Do I have to call the cops?”  I was not acting strange or remotely violent.  If you knew me, you would understand how subtle and shy I am.

Dad took apart my car engine and hid my car keys.  He called the cops from his hospital (he’s a doctor) and the ambulance drove up with the cop cars.  The cops said they could make my dad give the keys back, or since the ambulance was there I could go in it.  Who knows why — worst mistake I have made — I went in the ambulance, and after a day of failing to explain to physicians why I was in a hospital, I signed myself into a mental institution and had to stay there for a week.



DUNDEE, SCOTLAND:

When I was little, about 8 years old, my life was great, or I thought it was.  And then it went all wrong when I found out my parents had been keeping secrets, which meant none of my childhood was as great as I thought it was.  I’ve slowly learnt to deal with the fact that everyone lies and keeps secrets.  Not really sure who I am anymore, but I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I don’t care if people don’t like me.



CORNING, NY:

I’m married to a wonderful man and we have been together for 15 years.  We have a beautiful daughter.  We have great jobs and a “good life.”  The conflict comes from me feeling like I’ve come to a boring place inside.  My life has always been filled with hard times, abandonment and different kinds of abuse.  I understand that it became my security blanket over time and without it life seems plain.  Recently, I have been chatting with other writers online and one in particular has set a fire in me, not only with my writing but personally.  I feel kind of obsessed with him.  He is very interesting and we have so much in common.  I flipped out the other night and professed all of these things and luckily our friendship didn’t disintegrate.  I felt like an ass the next morning for saying it out loud and for feeling like I slighted my husband in some way.  My friend is also married and neither of us is willing to ruin our relationships — not to mention we geographically are separated.  But I wonder if my enjoyment of his company is wrong.  We both feel like we fill a void in each other that our spouses could never fill because they don’t enjoy the things that truly fill our hearts.



HARRISBURG, PA:

Picking lint
from my belly
Texas rain
Stinky wet dog
Something’s growing on my neck
like a zit, maybe cancer or
an eyeball or a second penis
the cat’s all twitchy
laying on a chair
dreaming cat things.



BERLIN, GERMANY:

I’m in Berlin today.  I’m working on a book with a friend.  I’m also wondering whether to dump my new boyfriend.  He’s excellent, but the sex is crap.  His penis has a large head and a small shaft, like a slender-stemmed mushroom.  Do you get a lot of those — random, intimate confessions brought about by the anonymity of the letter exchange project?



NEW YORK, NY:

It doesn’t make sense why I should die.  I just look at things simply and I don’t try and complicate them by learning through other people’s delusions.  I don’t like their logic so I make my own.  I don’t make shit up like professors and shit do.  I just look at something as basically as I can and I take it for that.  I don’t go to school and pollute my mind with someone else’s fantasy about how the world fucking works.  I don’t want to be a psychologist or sociologist or priest.  I don’t try to explain things in that sort of way.  The simpler one lives, the easier it is to become the master of one’s self and surroundings.  Doesn’t that sound fucking nice and fluffy?  That way you stop living in the fantasy world and live in reality.

When something occurs in the universe, it should stay that way.  Maybe because I don’t believe I can die, that makes me unable to die.  I believe other things can die because they’re idiots and believe in the same logic that everyone else believes in.  But I won’t.



MINNEAPOLIS, MN:

We moved into a small apartment in Anaheim, California and lived simply.  A couple of memories that stick from that time are watching the fireworks and getting some kind of vaccination shot.  It’s funny because we never went to Disneyland, yet right from our apartment we could clearly see the fireworks from Space Mountain.  We would watch them whenever they went off.



EASTPOINTE, MI:

Mostly I think people as a whole suck.  One of my daughter’s first phrases she uttered was ‘I hate people.’  Now she wears a shirt that says, ‘Drop knowledge, not bombs.’  At any rate, I think the word entitlement says it all with a lot of people today, especially the upcoming generations.  On the other hand, just so you don’t think I’m a complete anarchist, I’m totally fascinated by people, and their lives.



OAK ISLAND, NC:

I had an awesome conversation last week with someone in line at the grocery store.  It was pretty one-sided, but I enjoyed it.  I asked her if she knew if an avocado was a fruit or vegetable.  She shook her head no and I told her it was a fruit.  She turned away but I continued by stating that they have a large, stony seed.  She scoffed when I told her that they can be eaten raw in salads or as dips.  The cashier laughed at that line.  I got her phone number, and we had sex two days later.  Needless to say, I won’t be returning to that grocery store anytime soon.





Dear vermiform appendix,

It pains me to write this. But at least now I can write. For a while, there was too much pain to do anything besides curl up in a ball and drool like a sad walrus on an unloved beach. Now, with some space between us, I can finally share my side of the story, and with an obvious debt to Alanis Morissette, there are some things, dear appendix, that you oughta know.

You remember the night I made a meal entirely with ingredients from Trader Joe’s? What a delicious meal that was. Being that at the time I was relying on Trader Joe’s for about 70% of my caloric intake, it was also a somewhat ordinary meal, and it was a safe one; no meat, and no dairy. You probably remember that, although I’m not even a vegetarian, I sometimes have a unexplainable hankering for vegan food. You can thank my vegan ex-girlfriends and my friend Goldie.

So when I began vomiting a few hours later, followed by fever, chills, body aches, stomach cramps, dry heaves, and then a persistent dull pain in my lower right abdomen, I first felt angry at that suddenly cruel and treacherous monster named Trader Joe’s. This was the worst food poisoning I had since my experience with Mystery Lou down in Argentina, but on many levels it was more devastating. A breach of trust with Trader Joe’s would be, along with the waning of print media and the ceaseless conflicts overseas, the Sadness Of Our Generation.

It was time to see the best doctor in the world, Dr. Garcia, who told me the truth: it was you, vermiform appendix. How dare you make me throw that kind, caring, dependable Trader Joe’s under the bus like that, when all you had to offer me was your own vestigial confusion?

Now look, I understand that you’ve had it rough. A bit of an identity crisis and all that. Many of my other organs that knew you, that saw you around, they liked you – but they also knew that you were ultimately up to no good. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t just listen to them sooner. I’ve since met people who’ve had their appendixes removed preemptively, say, before traveling overseas for a year, just to get the damn thing done with and get some closure.

You lived right under my nose for so long before I really got to know you, but once I really did—and it breaks my heart to say this—you quickly became impossible to live with. You were like that neighbor that I’d never met for years, who, right after we finally met, decided he could start blasting reggaeton at 6:30 in the morning. Only in your case, there was no landlord to call, and the reggaeton was potentially fatal.

Dr. Garcia immediately sent me to a CT scan and a few hours later it was confirmed: The pain in my life was from you, and you had to leave. Still, I fought this conclusion; I didn’t want to let you go. I asked right away if there wasn’t something I could do to make things go back to the way there were, maybe couples counseling, maybe a nice weekend getaway with just the two of us—someplace that’s not in the news, like Togo or the Pitcairn Islands—but no. That night I was to go to the hospital.

It was a bad night for sympathy. A couple friends of mine had dying or injured pets, one friend was having a final going-away party before a permanent move to New York, and it was raining in Los Angeles, which meant that no one wanted to drive, especially the people in their cars. However, my friends Jake and Dan came to the rescue and arranged for my safe transport to and from that place where I would finally kiss you goodbye.

Some good people helped me through our separation. I had a pretty wild anesthesiologist named Mikey who is apparently known for the “awesome music” (the nurse’s words) he plays during operations. Matthew, my laparoscopic surgeon, I found later, does not agree with said nurse’s assessment. Apparently the battle during my operation, between Mikey and Matthew, was whether to listen to Gloria Gaynor or Coldplay. You decide which, if either, is awesome.

If they let me choose, I would have requested reggaeton, specifically “Chacarron Macarron” by El Mudo, as loud as possible, but it didn’t matter, because whatever they did play, I didn’t hear at all. When I came to, I was in a dark room called RECOVERY with two people I had never seen before and would never knowingly see again. They seemed bored, so I knew that everything was swell.

Staying overnight in a hospital is like trying to sleep on a cross-country bus. I was awoken constantly all night by strangers, and for often logical but also disorienting reasons. I passed the time between intrusions by watching, (in order of quality, coincidentally) Rear Window (awesome), The Karate Kid (amusing), and Dinner For Schmucks (corrosively dumb). During my fitful sleep, I was somehow able to avoid having a nightmare about being pushed out of my window by Raymond Burr, though if that would’ve prevented me from watching Dinner With Schmucks, I’d have understood.

The Trader Joe’s dinner was on a Wednesday night, and after vomiting it up, I didn’t eat solid food again until Saturday afternoon, when a kind nurse brought me Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and a big brown bowl of the thickest, most savory soup I’d ever tasted. I decided to finish off the soup first, and then noticed they didn’t give me any gravy for the potatoes. I then realized what I’d just eaten an entire bowl of.

If you’re ever in a hospital again, try it some time. They’ll totally give you a free pass for that kind of thing.

After about seventeen hours, I was on my feet and out of the hospital, six pounds lighter than I’d been on Wednesday, and who knows how much of that was you, dear vermiform appendix. It was tough at first to get my old strength back, and to find myself again, but with the help of a number of friends, I made it through. The wounds are still healing, and for now I need my space, but I honestly wish you well.

Everyone asks if I saw you one last time, and sometimes I think it’s a shame I didn’t. I heard they sent you up to pathology, where you were a bit of a rock star. I know I would’ve been proud.

XOXO,

J. Ryan


Dear Herman Miller:

I am writing to ask if you would please send me one of your Embody chairs. For free.

Before I proceed, I want to assure you that I realize that the Embody chair is a work of high art and should not be granted to just anybody. With a price tag of $1100-$1600 there can be no question in anyone’s mind that Bill Stumpf’s last design was created for a distinct class of the seated elite. That Backfit frame that adjusts so perfectly to the Pixel-Matrix Support pads could only have been hatched by an ergonomic genius. And with seven different possible adjustments, every conceivable curve and contour of the back is cradled by attentive efficiency, leaving only the soul jonesing for more and left to cry out for the fulfillment of productivity. Well worth the money…I don’t have.

With the success of the uber-popular Aeron chair hatched in the 90s, you have by now no doubt had hundreds of thousands of clients at Herman Miller. I read recently that the Aeron chair itself boasts over 50,000 clients. The fact alone that you can refer to one who sits in a Herman Miller chair as a “client” speaks volumes – as if the person is being served by an accountant or possibly a psychologist. I imagine that a client of the Embody chair doesn’t even need a psychologist, as the chair itself is a psychologist. Have studies been done on this? Do clients of the Embody chair need less psychological help? Does the Embody chair pay for itself in a matter of only a few spared sessions of therapy?

I realize that I am asking for a lot. I am not a particularly lucky person or habitual prizewinner, nor am I accustomed to receiving free things, unless you count coffee or socks. Perhaps you do not care to know about such things, but I do feel it is important to be honest with you if we are going to start off on the right foot. The socks were from an over-zealous store clerk who then wanted, in exchange, my phone number. He was clearly a college boy who did not realize that I was at least 10 years his senior and, by the way, married. His mistake was giving me the socks first and then asking for my number. By the time I set him right it was too late to ask for the socks back. He was brave through his inflamed acne-scarred cheeks and even stammered that, if I wanted, we could still go get coffee (his treat) after he got off work “as friends”. The socks were of the water-wicking wool variety. And comfortable.

At any rate, I do not frequently come across free things nor am I a woman of means. I am a writer, as well as a struggling entrepreneur. When I’m not blogging about what it was like to grow up so religious that I wasn’t even allowed to use a Speak N’ Spell because it contained the word “spell” and talked like the devil, I help run a rural ISP in the mountains west of Boulder from a bulky mess of a chair I purchased over 12 years ago from Office Max. Even as I sit here now, the chair wheezes and swivels habitually to the left toward my bookcase whereupon I am subject repeatedly to the temptation of literary escapism. That I can finish this letter at all in the face of such partisanship is a small miracle.

Even so, in 2008 – in the face of distraction from my left leaning chair – I co-founded a web-based social lending company, which ended up being named as one of Colorado’s most innovative companies in the same year. This was fantastic and would have been upgraded to positively thrilling had we actually been funded as a result of the honor. Unfortunately, I and my co-founders needed to eat so the company is currently treading water. I am not saying that possession of a Herman Miller Embody Chair, or possibly an extra in carbon balance fabric with an aluminum base on a graphite frame for one of my co-founders, would help the company get back in the race, but I am not saying the opposite would be true, either.

Of course, I would never ask for something for nothing, Herman Miller, and I realize that with a free Embody chair would come grave responsibility. I assure you, I am an avid user of several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and would vow to regularly broadcast praises about the Embody chair while simultaneously typing from the comfort of one. Also, I would commit to end every blog post on TheNervousBreakdown.com and elsewhere with the tag, “This post was written from the blissful comfort of a Herman Miller Embody Chair and is certifiably 100% ergonomically correct.” In addition, my memoir about growing up Evangelical is due out from Emergency Press within the next 12 months, in which I will also happily make an endorsement of comfort.

Herman (may I call you Herman?), I realize it is not your policy to send out a free chair(s) to every person who asks for one (or two). In this case, however, I would like to offer that this could be a mutually beneficial exchange with potential for a lasting and, dare I say, passionate relationship. In other words, I will happily play Anaïs Nin to your Henry, er, Herman Miller.

If you will have me, that is.

 

Warmly (Not to be confused with the warmth that comes from constantly overcorrecting to the right),

- Erika Rae

 

 

PS – Should you decide me a worthy recipient, I will gladly cover shipping charges. Please email me at erae [at] thenervousbreakdown [dot] com or find shipping instructions in a subsequent post entitled, “Dear FedEx”.

 

 

Dear Fred, Dearest Nancy,

If, as the kids say, modern life is war—and I believe it is—then I no longer wish to be employed at The Strand Bookstore. To put it another way, more responsive to Fred’s upbringing then Nancy’s Go Go 70’s background; Maggie’s Farm—I no longer wish to work it. In fact, I wish to so terminate my relationship with Maggie’s Farm that I no longer understand the reference.

The reasons for my self-termination are plenty fold. Firstly, I do not enjoy going to work. On time or at all. But especially on time. My tardiness should never have been an issue, and certainly not one that was brought to my attention. Working at a book store shouldn’t be a popularity contest. This isn’t one of those offices where cupcakes are currency, and awkwardness—true and painful awkwardness—is mined for humor by the British. This is a bookstore. Or at least, that’s what it says on the sign outside. Now, after three-and-a-half years spent shelving the likes of Reckless Sunbeams: Finding a Life Through Love, I have my doubts.

And let me just tell you, when management told me to stop drinking on the job, a part of my childhood was stripped away. My father worked in construction or finance or was a tenured professor and all I’ve ever wanted was a job I could be drunk at. And, for the record, I NEVER drank on the job. I was, in fact, always still drunk from the night before. There’s a big difference between Old Granddad between the stacks and having spent the morning re-enacting the McCarthy-era education reel “Star Nosed Mole Vs. The San Andreas Fault” with an NYU mod whom one picked up at Morrissey Night. You would think that upper management, with their highly developed sense of smell and ingrained inclinations, would know where on the alcohol timetable a person was. My drinking on the job would be like cavemen fighting the dinosaurs— fun but unnecessary.

I don’t want to waste your time with the usual complaints about the quality of the books that I shelved, day after day, in the unchanging weather of the basement. My mother birthed me with a certain expectation of disappointment, but she’d have to lower the bar considerably before I added literary criticism to the pyramid of disenchantment that I’ve managed to build for her. If anything, my work at The Strand has made me more sympathetic to authors. Or at least more suspicious of those who think funning on them is the same as speaking truth to power. The literary world is innocent. Jews without any real ability need to do something and there will always be someone writing short stories with titles that are longer than absolutely necessary. The author of “Marc Almond Wears a Wristwatch (Because He Wants to Know What Time It Is)” is neither Prime Minister Botha nor the Coca Cola Corporation, and I won’t act like he/she is. Having said that, I’ll be glad to go back to reading magazines exclusively on the subway. I don’t like the way that people take a book in hand as some sort of signifying badge of membership in an elite. You don’t see people with bikes exchanging smug looks with other people with bikes. Well, ok, you do. But I don’t like that either.

When I was twenty-five I swore that I would never be the cool guy in his thirties at the bookstore, playing in a semi-popular band, sleeping with 21-year-olds. That would make me a failure. My success is that I am in a truly unpopular band and I sleep almost exclusively with girls in the 23–26 range. I am all too aware, as I had it pointed out to me by Samantha at the registers, that men who are self-deprecating while slyly bragging about fucking younger women are truly despicable. We fit somewhere on the social hierarchy above pedophiles and below male models. With the film actors who talk about how doing blockbusters allows them to do smaller fare, like saying that slitting open the bellies of baby ducks for cash allows them to buy platinum collars and bells for the neighborhood strays. Thank you for that, Samantha. Thank you.

I think it’s important to not be delusional about the sort of man or woman you’ve grown up to be, but you also have to avoid being a bore or—worse—clever. If you have to be that anarchist who hangs himself in the backyard of the bar, first set down a tarp or some sort of throw rug. There’s always a cleaning crew, and, if you have one essential goal in life, it should be to make their lives no more difficult than absolutely necessary. I suspect that my behavior at work is making other people’s lives exactly that, and I am not without a conscience.

There are those who will tell you that the doing of the work is almost as important as the quality of the work. That effort and striving, just trying, defines one’s character. I don’t take issue with these people’s standards. And, while I prefer to stay in bed until well after three in the afternoon, I’m not opposed to hard work, especially theoretical hard work, of an academic nature, performed by other people. I’m just saying that a lot of the author/prisoners that these people advocate for go on to kill again upon their release. But do I digress? I do. I’m sorry Fred. I’m sorry Nancy.

But who will apologize to me, for the digressions that have been foisted upon me and my plans? When is my Off Topic Day Parade, with politicians glad-handing babies and homosexuals protesting on the side lines? I know that I’m not the only one who once had perfectly fantastic reasons for moving to the city. The majority of my co-workers, if the break room chit chat is any indication, moved here for the mediocre Thai food and the plentiful artistic forums to express their first-world hassles as some sort of Gaza level tragedy. For myself, I moved here for the poetry, the hard drugs, and the roving gangs of loose and insecure publicists. If, while describing the dry, defensive, overeducated-Berkshires-by-way-of-Athens, Ohio detritus of my existence, I have seemed flip or even—ha—resigned, it’s because working in a bookstore for so long has numbed me to dramatic possibility. This, I think you’ll agree, must change.

Goodbye dear sweet bosses. You’ve been really okay. Tell the gang that I love them and the union that I think it’s cute the way it fumbles at the lock to the door to dignity. Tell Matt on the third floor that I hate every shirt, ironic and non, that he’s ever worn. And, most importantly, please tell Samantha (who I suspect is really named Becky) at the registers that I burn for her. Tell her that I burn to be the sexual stopgap between her MFA and her assistant editorial-ship at n+1, that I yearn to be the bad actor sweating over her shuddering whiteness, and if she ever changes her mind about that oft offered, never accepted, drink after work that I am, now and forever, “after work”.

Would you do that for me, Fred? Nancy? Thank you. You’re mensches.

I Will See You Around, 
Zachary H. Lipez