Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Step into the box

Hey, how's it going?  Good to see you.  This is my place, come on in.  Step into this box.  What, the couch?  No, don't sit there, it's not -- it's not comfortable.  You should stand in this box instead.

Trust me.

You want a drink?  We've got water, beer, I think we've got some wine back here if you're interested.  Just stand in the box and I'll bring it to you.  That one there, the cardboard box, the one that's ten-by-ten and about six inches high?  Yeah, just get right in there and stand in it.

Explain?  What's to explain?

I don't know if you've eaten, we can order some food -- I'm sorry, what?  Yes, the box, I'm being very serious.  I think it's pretty self-explanatory: this is my home.  I want you to stand in that box.  Honestly, you'll like the box.  Standing in it is good.  This is not a trick or anything, I'm doing you a favor, asking you stand in the box, but I really have to be insistent that you do actually stand in it.  This couch is old and it's not great for sitting.  When you're not here, I stand in the box, but I'm offering it to you.

Why would you not believe that?

Ok, you're right, this is ridiculous.  The last thing I want to do is make a big issue out of this.  I mean, ha ha, it's really rather funny and silly when you take the time to think about it.  Here we are, screaming at each other, over whether or not you're going to stand in some box?  It doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?  Ha ha!  So, let's just agree to drop this whole silly thing, you stand in the box, and we'll enjoy the rest of the evening.

You're an idiot.

Do you think I would ask you to step into the box if it weren't for your own good?  The box is in the perfect place in the room.  Were you not too stubborn, you would see that the fan is blowing right in the direction of the box, cooling you without the need for the air conditioner.  The light, which would otherwise shine harshly into your eyes, instead glows angelically behind your shoulder.  Yes, the lamp burns like a goddamn fucking angel.

What do you think, this is some trick?  This is a set-up?  I invite you, a friend, to my home, only to have you stand in a box, so -- what?  Something would fall on your head and humiliate you?  Have a look around the ceiling and walls, there's no trap.  You think I'm going to close the box around you and mail you to some war zone?  The box is only six inches high, you could never fit inside.  Your refusal to step into a box, an unbelievably simple request, is such a pointless and flagrant show of disrespect that it boggles the mind.  Just last week when I was at your house, you asked me to take off my shoes, and didn't I, immediately, without questioning your motive or your integrity?  Well, you wanted me to take my shoes off, I want you to step into a small cardboard box in the center of the room instead of sitting.  What's the difference?  Stepping into a box requires no more effort than taking off your shoes, in fact, I would argue it requires much less.  Are you so self-centered that you can't even comprehend that another person might make a request of you, in the same way you might --

Jesus Christ, get up.  You swung first.  You did, I saw you cocking back, preparing to swing.  There's no question you would have swung first if I hadn't responded so quickly to the threat.

Oh, yeah, fine, step ON the box.  That was the mature thing to do.

I'm not coming to your wedding.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Fuck on Jeopardy

They threw me off Jeopardy for saying fuck too many times.  I never swear normally, certainly not at home, around the baby, but also not at work or alone or even with "the guys."  I guess it all just got to me, the whole experience, with the hot lights and the cameras and Alex Trebeck himself and all the feverish competition.

The first time I said fuck on the show, it was an innocent mistake.  I thought it was the answer to a question, or a question to the answer, or however it goes (I'd never seen Jeopardy before going it and so the whole thing with the question-answer, answer-question thing threw me, I mean I'd heard people talk about it but I guess I thought it was an urban legend or something, I even looked it up on that Snopes site, in the green room, waiting to come out, arguing with one of the people I was facing on the show).  The category was "four letter words," so right away, your mind goes to a certain place.  You know, they dance you right up to the line, and then, when you cross it, they throw you under the bus.  So the clue was "It's the edge of a hat, or the topmost edge of a cup or bowl," and I buzzed in and said "what is fuck," and with 20/20 hindsight it's easy to say, sure, Fuck is not the name of part of a bowl, it's hard to retrace the mental pathway that leads one to guess Fuck in that situation, but you likely have never experienced a high-pressure situation akin to competing on Jeopardy and so have no standing with which to judge me.

The first "fuck" was handled well by everyone involved.  The audience tittered a bit, but Alex ignored them and just told me that I was incorrect and we moved on with the game.  It could have been a deeply humiliating moment, but Alex dealt with the situation with professionalism, and I am grateful to him for that.

The second time I said fuck it technically wasn't on the show, I screamed it during a commercial break.  We were headed to the first break, I was in third place, the first fuck thing had happened, I had just missed the Daily Double, I was frustrated, and as soon as we were off, I screamed "FUCK."  The audience kind of gasped and the returning champion standing next to me flinched a bit.  Alex took it in stride -- he hardly reacted.  Someone with a headset came running in from behind one of the cameras and said to me "hey, man, you have to stop saying 'fuck,' this is a television show."  I nodded and apologized, even though I felt like, in a commercial break, I should be able to swear as much and as loudly as I want, since it's not being broadcast, but I didn't argue the point.

The third time I said fuck, I have to be honest, I don't even know what happened.  I was picking the clue and I said "State Capitals for 800" but the 800 was already off the board, so when this was pointed out to me I said "fuck" pretty loudly, and Alex just said, without a moment's thought or hesitation, "all right, you have to go," and they stopped the taping and a couple people in headsets led me off the stage.  As they were taking me away, I called out, please help me, Alex, I feel death closing in, but he wouldn't look at me.  They took me to the back and I had to watch the rest of the show from the green room.  They told me it was the first time in history that someone had been removed from the show before Final Jeopardy even though they had a positive amount of money, but they said it not in the way you'd talk about a positive achievement.

I do think, if circumstances had been different, Alex could have saved me.  I felt like...I still feel like, ultimately, he was on my side.  Even though he had been the one to decide to send me away.  If he knew how much love I had for him in that moment, he would have defended me instead of casting me off.  Because I did love him, powerfully, I idolized him -- how could I not! -- and the idea that I had disappointed the man I had come to love in the past twenty minutes, more than anyone else, was, at the moment, unsurvivable.

They draped a black garbage bag over my podium for the rest of the game.  When they aired my episode they put a black box over my face and altered my voice using computer technology, and replaced the sound of my buzzer with a sound effect of a toilet flushing.  And every time on the show Alex had given me an encouraging word, or an affectionate glance, or signaled in any way that he felt and understood and returned my love, even if he wasn't comfortable saying it out loud, they edited all of that out, so it was as if that love had never existed at all.

They invited me on the Ellen show after that, to talk about my Jeopardy experience, but Ellen didn't love me.  She treated me the same way she treats all her guests: with toxic contempt.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

To forget and then remember a rectangle -- a guided meditation

Do you remember what a rectangle looks like?  Most people always know what a rectangle looks like, so to remember one is mundane and without value, like seeing one's face reflected in a mirror.  But if you can forget what a rectangle is, and then be reminded of it, it's an incredible dual pleasure -- of reaching for something at the fringe of your conscious memory and grabbing it into focus; and of the neat symmetry of the rectangle revealing itself to you.  Today, we will remember a rectangle.  But before we can remember a rectangle, we have to...FORGET a rectangle.

To forget a rectangle, first, we must remember a rectangle.  First, remember a rectangle.  You see its four sides.  You see its ninety-degree angles.  You see that its perpendicular sides are of slightly different lengths (forgetting a square is a more advanced technique, which we will save for another day).  Are you remembering it?  Maybe there's a rectangle in front of you right now -- a book, or a table, or a television.  If you're having trouble remembering a rectangle, you might try remembering one of those things first and then erasing it of detail so that all that's left is the shape -- the shape of a rectangle.  Are you remembering a rectangle?  Good.  You might wish to remember holding or kissing a rectangle.  You may kiss a rectangle, but please go no further (do not fuck a rectangle).  When you are done holding and kissing it, remove yourself from the scene -- it is now just a rectangle.

No, you're doing it wrong.

Just -- the rectangle, remember?  Think about a rectangle, hold it in your mind.  Is it a rectangle?  All right.  Just, remember it.

Now: forget it.

Forget your rectangle.  Let the angles twist like a weak structure in a heavy wind.  Let the sides collapse like a pile of twigs.  What angles?  What sides?  You don't know; you don't remember anything like that.  The shape you held in your mind -- whatever its shape, whatever its name -- is obscured in a fog.  Your mind fills with this shapeless fog.  Although you find that you can manipulate the shapeless fog into shapes -- a circle?  Yes, that's that round thing.  A heptagon?  Yes, seven sides, you can see it.  Are there more shapes?  Sure, you can think of more shapes.  Different shapes, but not the one -- the one that...the one you can't name...the one that's there in the corner, hiding in the shadows, and if you turned your head to look at it it would be gone...

Great!  You forgot a rectangle!

Now it's time to remember a rectangle again.  This can be the same rectangle from before, or a new rectangle.  The important thing --

Your phone is ringing.  Answer the phone if you have to.  This can wait.

You hang up.

You stare at your phone.  It fails to resolve itself in your hand.  It's solid, glass and light, you can feel its cold hardness in your hand, but to your eyes, it looks like liquid.  It's unstable; you're afraid that if you look away, when you look at it again, it will have taken on a new form, unrecognizable; it is a monster.

Anyway, now that you have a second to reflect on the call, you just got some bad news.

Ok, but put that out of your head, because it's time to remember a rectangle again.  So close your eyes.  Put the news out of your head.  It'll be fine, you can reflect on it later, the important thing is to remember a rectangle right now.  Wipe your mind clean.  See the blank canvas, and now draw a rectangle onto it, with its...number of sides and its...angles, of various...

All right, you're a little distracted, that's to be expected.  Take all the pain and frustration from the phone call and whatever other garbage is going on in your worthless life, and pen it into a solid, clean rectangle.  Rectangle, remember?  It's -- it looks like -- I mean, it's kind of hard to describe, it's just...it's just a rectangle...you kind of need to just, like, remember it, I don't know how I can help you beyond that, you just -- you need to --

You were doing something -- what was it?  Something you were supposed to remember.  The laundry?  No, you did that yesterday.  Something with the cat?  The cat is sick?  You see the cat, lying on an unstable, liquid mass in the bedroom.  The cat looks fine.

You step back, out of the door frame.  You try take it in -- you're baffled and frightened.  This thing, with the hinges, and the knob, it's a "door," but -- what the hell is this thing?  Why does it have so many sides?  It's like a triangle, but...more...

The room doesn't move, but your perception of it does -- it seems to tear itself open and hurl you into a void of sharp lines and right angles without name.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Teens took my jetski

Teens took my jetski.  I left it idling by the dock at the inn because I was just running over to the grill to grab an ear of corn and all of a sudden I hear the engine go and I turn around and I see the teens jetskiing off.  I chased them down the beach but I could only go so far before they'd left the shore behind and I was just yelling into the cloud of black smoke that comes out the back when you accelerate too fast ever since I drove it onto a sandbar last year.  But they saw me chasing them so they turned around (two teen boys and a teen girl) and laughed and yelled at me and did a couple donuts.  They were still too deep to chase after but just shallow enough that I could make out their taunts.  I could have thrown a rock, but to what end -- dent my own jetski?

It'll turn up somewhere, in a couple days.  The last time it washed up on the beach six days later, tangled up in a water volleyball net, chassis cracked, sand pouring out of the exhaust.  I'd again left it idling, this time because Dana brought donuts to everyone out on the pier.  The teens don't care what reason you have for leaving your jetski unattended, they just pounce.  People tell me not to leave it idling in the water, but it wastes more gas, I've read, to shut the engine off and then turn it back on if you're only getting a donut or an ear of corn, and gas is expensive.  Well, actually, it's pretty cheap now, cheaper than it's been in years -- under two dollars!  The teens figure they're just stealing some yuppie's joyride, but I need that jetski to get to work.

I'm back working at the marina.  The lake has this eel problem, so my job is mostly untangling eels from the propellers of yachts, and scrubbing off the lake muck that gets smeared onto the yachts as they plow through the water.  I couldn't afford the car AND the jetski.  I had to pick one and I'm fine with my choice.  I live on one side of the lake, the marina is on the other.  The commute is shorter, or roughly the same.  Some things are harder with a jetski than with a car that I hadn't thought about.  Grocery shopping, is one example.  I can pretty much count on losing a bag or two into the lake every time I go shopping.  I tried buying a bag of "dummy groceries," figuring, I'm gonna lose a bag, may as well have it be a bag full of stuff I don't need like cat food and bean curds and root vegetables and those unscented religious candles they sell and stuff like that, but it's not so easy to guess ahead of time which bag is going to be the one to slide off so now I've got all these bean curds and some eel is "digging in" to my sirloin steaks 150 feet underwater.  So that's a challenge.  And when it's winter, I won't be able to go anywhere at all, so I'll have to quit my job, I guess, I'm just realizing.  But I'm in trouble there already, having missed so many days waiting for the teens to discard my jetski, I may have already been fired without my knowledge for all I know.

I want to make a bomb.  I want to leave it on my jetski and blow it up the next time it's stolen.  I want to watch those teens ride off, exulting in their theft and my oldness and lameness and stupidity, and wait until the moment their triumph seems to them assured and just blow them up.  I want to feel the warm tickle of liquefied teen on my skin like a hot summer mist.  I want all the other teens to be gathered on the beach, so they see their friends' beautiful heads pop off and land, still smiling, at their feet; I want to make those surviving teens come to understand that they can die too, and all their youth and sex and vigor means nothing against our old, brutal adult violence.  We invented that.

I told Dana this, and she just shook her head.  Teens are infinite, she said, and their knowledge is never passed to the next generation; they can only make the same mistakes forever.  She's right.  Because I was a teen once, and death touched me, and all I learned from it was, "but it wasn't me, and it never will be."  Though sometimes I wish it was me and not my slutty teen girlfriend who had that balcony crash down on her head, or that it was me and not the town bully who got drunk on his birthday and passed out and slept where a tractor would roll over him the next morning, or that it was me and not my brother who rode a jetski into unfamiliar waters and hit a rock and slipped under the waves; and that it was him and not me who clung to the side and had to ride home alone and tell his drunk of a father, who hardly cared, what happened -- I wish all this in just the same way the teens who steal from me hope that they drive it into some rocks or that I build a bomb and blow them up so their responsibilities are relieved of them and they can die the way they want to be remembered -- young and beautiful and moving away fast, with no eels ever to be untangled.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Mulchtown

You can now watch Mulchtown, a short I wrote for Adult Swim, on Youtube.

This is based on stories that were previously published in PBQ and Snacks Quarterly.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Late from school

The kid came home at 3:10.  School gets out at 2:20 and it takes half an hour to get home on the bus, which means he usually gets home at 2:50.  So what the hell made him twenty minutes late?  These are the questions that seem simple, and yet answers elude me.

Where have you been, I asked him.  School, he said.  True enough.  What about after school?  He didn't answer, just grabbed a snack cake from the tall cabinet and stomped up to his room.

And look, I know how it sounds.  I'm not such a hardass that I'll ream the kid for getting home a little late from school.  I try to give him his independence or whatever.  It's just -- to get from school to home takes a known number of minutes.  Five or even ten minutes late suggests traffic, or forgetting a book in class, or chatting with a neighbor -- a brief, unexpected delay.  An hour or more late, ok, sure, he's got something else going on, another activity of some kind, a little heads up would have been nice but I suppose I don't have to know everything.  But twenty minutes late is too long for a delay and too short for an activity -- it's only enough time to do something wrong.

He drinks now -- I know that.  His mother says it's not big deal, and it's not, obviously, but it annoys me.  He knows a server at Chili's, some girl in college, so he and his friends go there every Friday and Saturday and get a table and get a bunch of appetizers and their server friend brings them preposterously colored drinks all night.  I don't know how this has been going on for weeks and the girl hasn't been fired yet.  He comes home with his breath stinking of weak booze and fruit mixes; his teeth are stained blue or red or purple.  I'm always right about to lay into him but his mother cuts me off and says she's just glad he got home safe and asks, did you have fun? like he's coming home from flying a kite.  He says they take turns being designated driver but I've never seen him come home sober.  That's not what he was doing today, obviously, it's just to say -- I know him, and he's rotten.

I went up to his room and knocked on his door.  He was blasting something on his television way too loud.  He called out WHAT, already annoyed.  I told him I didn't want to shout through the door and that he should open up or I was coming in.  He shuffled some papers and shoved them into his desk, it sounded like, and then came to the door.

"Turn off that damn TV," I said.  "We never should have let you bring it up here."  He stomped over and made a big show of turning it off.  I was actually glad he had the TV; it was my idea; it keeps him out of our hair, and it's useful leverage.  "I'm going to cut the cable cord outside, see how you like that."  He sat on the bed and looked out the window, away from me.

"Return to the door," I said.  I wanted him to face me.  He sighed and dragged himself over like his shoulders weighed a thousand pounds.

You never think your son is going to grow up to hate you.  Well, that's not true, I had an inkling.

"What were those papers I heard?"

"What papers?"  He avoided eye contact, which, I knew from television crime shows, was a sign of deception.

"I heard you shuffling some papers before I came in.  You threw them in your desk.  What were they?"

"They were just some magazines."

Preposterous, that he thought I couldn't tell the difference between the ruffling of papers and a glossy magazine, even behind a closed door.  But why lie and say they were magazines?  Even if he thought he could fool me (fat chance), did he not realize that magazines opened himself up to all kinds of uncomfortable questions?  That in many ways, magazines were more suspicious than papers?  I was a bit thrown off, so I decided to respond with that old standby, explosive rage.  "I know the difference between loose papers and magazines, who do you think I am?"

"It was just homework."

I had him changing his story; it was difficult not to grin.  "So first they were magazines, and now they were homework sheets.  Why, if we're here for much longer, soon they'll have been elephants!"

"You're not making sense, Dad."  He always did that; skirt my traps by pretending not to understand their logic.  Well, he's dim, but he's not that dim.

I wanted to press further, but ultimately decided to move on for now and circle back to the papers later if he squirmed free on the main issue.  "Where were you today after school?"

"I don't know," he said, "on the bus?"  Every answer was another question with him.

"So why were you twenty minutes late?"

"I wasn't that late."

"You want to explain to my watch that you weren't late?"  I tapped on my watch for emphasis.

"I didn't say I wasn't late, I said I wasn't twenty minutes late," he insisted.  "I was like five minutes late."

"Well let's start there," I said.  "Now we have an admission from you that you were late, and I appreciate that you're being honest with me."  This was a ploy -- let him feel comfortable with his story, and soon enough he would contradict himself, and then it would just be a matter of pointing out the inconsistencies and he'd have no choice but to acknowledge that I'd been right.  "So the question is, why were you late at all?"

"I don't know, I was just walking slower?"

"Well, that's another lie," I said calmly, "shall we begin to tally them up?"

He scoffed.  "Can I close this door now?"

I burst into the room.  I seemed to pass through his body like it was a mist, odd.  I marched over to his desk and yanked open his drawer.  There was a single sheet of paper inside, with "Fuck Dad" written neatly in pencil on the top line.  "Ah ha!" I cried.

"I told you, it's homework!"

"Homework, indeed!  For your 'fuck dad' class?"

"Give it back!" he screamed, but he stayed where he was, as if his feet were rooted to the spot.  In fact, his feet were still facing out the door, where they were before I'd stormed in; he'd had to spin at the hips to face me.

"So this is what you think of your father!"  I waved the paper under his nose.

"I guess."

"You guess?  You guess 'fuck Dad?'"  We were going nowhere.  The conversation, the situation, the relationship, it was all going nowhere.  "Is this why you were late?  Were you writing this filth?"

"Yes."  He had no spirit left -- I was losing hold of him.

"Don't evade me!"

He put on a pair of sunglasses and pulled a skateboard out from behind the door.  "Surf's up, dude," he said.

"You don't make sense, you don't hold together," I screamed at him, "you lack depth, you have no reason to be, and you're not interesting or amusing!  Why are you even here?"  His posters and his pictures all fell off the walls.

He shrugged and blew a big cocky bubble with his bubble gum.  He mouthed words but all that came out was a low, even whimper.

"Louder!"  The air conditioner and the furnace both started blasting at the same time, the TV turned back on and the vacuum howled from where the downstairs used to be.  My son was saying something to me but I couldn't hear it, and everything was wrong.

I searched for something to say -- something witty and droll, maybe, or something cutting and brutal -- something coherent and true that would bring things to a close, but I reached down deep and there was nothing there.  The fact is he was never there, my son, he was never real to me, it was you.  It was you I was trying to reach, to shout at and beg for clarity or meaning or forgiveness, but the fact is, I don't have anything to say to you anymore.  And I'm not angry, it's just how it is.  You were a light in my head but it got switched off and now all that's up there is the parts that tell me to eat and sleep and go to the bathroom.

"You all right over there, Pops?"  My son punctuated his sentence by rapping on a pair of small bongos and flashing a peace sign.  I ripped the world apart and was absorbed into a blackness that was very bright, and what does that even mean?