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I'm intrigued by the idea that we should treat our future selves as though they were our best friends.
You'd do absolutely anything for your best friend, right? Wouldn't you spend five minutes tonight washing that bowl he'll want to eat cereal from tomorrow morning?
Like most self-help tips, this relies on self-deception. My past self may be a contemptible embarrassment, but at least he's consistent. I'd do something for him. My future self has a poor track record and few prospects. I'm not going to invest any more into that guy -- let him wash his own bowl.
Back in the late 80s we couldn't use the word 'hell'. Nobody could. You couldn't say it on TV, you couldn't say it on the school bus, and you couldn't say it at your friend's house. I think Ronald Reagan had something to do with banning it, but I was pretty young so I might be wrong.
If you needed to refer to the concept of hell, you had to say "
." Now, younger folks might find this amusing, but we weren't laughing about it back then because saying it made you sound like a jerk.
The ice in the driveway is an inch thick. After getting home from work, I took the chopper out of the garage. I chopped out a small square, then pried underneath the ice sheet to break it up. It felt good to chop and to make visible progress. I enjoyed the ache in my arms.
My neighbor got home fifteen minutes later. She stood at the top of the driveway and watched me, not understanding.
"It's just going to melt later," she said. I waved to indicate that I'd heard her, and she walked up the stairs, shaking her head.
I ordered something online, something to make my life easy and convenient and fine, and now I'm waiting for the box, waiting and muddling through until it comes, and when it does I'll wonder how I ever got along without, and I'll laugh easy and loud and long then. What a blessed state it is to have just the thing you need, the thing which might as well have been made
for you out of the finest plastics and metals, the thing that will go in your kitchen utensil drawer and make you the satisfied toast of the town.
I care. I care and I care and I care so goddamn much.
I know very well how to say that I don't care, and I know how to act as if I don't care, because that's what's expected. You'd never know. But when I get home I eat myself alive from the inside out with caring, and when I'm done I'm surprised and somewhat disappointed to find that I'm still there, which means that I have to go through it all again the next day, taking personally what everyone thinks and
that they're thinking the worst possible things.
I've been corresponding with Gary quite a lot since moving here. I'm more involved in his personal life now than I was when we were co-workers.
He told me about his dog's birthday party. It didn't go well. Jeffery, another dog, had his birthday on the same day, upstaging Gary's dog who sulked the whole time. "You know how dogs are," he wrote.
I don't. But I do know how Gary is, so I commiserate and say that yes, Jeffery shouldn't be invited next year. I'll never be bored with how different some people's lives are from my own.
Bird is up in his tree. Bird knows spring is here. Bird opens his bird-mouth to sing his spring song.
I AM A BIRD
ANY OTHER BIRDS OUT THERE
A man walking by is cheered by bird's song. The man is walking to work, and he knows spring is coming, too. The man whistles back to bird, repeating his message. He thinks he is whistling "Good morning, bird!"
WHERE ARE YOU
ARE YOU BEHIND THAT DUMB-LOOKING GUY
But the man has passed and bird-heart is bird-broken.
I finally met my other neighbor today. He was carrying reusable shopping bags into his apartment in what looked like his pajamas.
"Hi," he said. "I'm Doctor Anderson."
Come on, neighbor! Be cool! Be casual! You're not
doctor. We can't be on a first-name basis?
I quickly considered introducing myself as "
Dumpling," but thought better of it. After I got back to my place, I thought about the fact that I technically have a master's degree. Maybe everyone should call me "Master Dumpling." Isn't that better? When all is said and done, isn't it kind of hot?
I always buy the unscented shampoo because it's cheaper and I don't care what my hair smells like. The store was out of the unscented kind, though, so I had to buy a shampoo that, according to the label, smells like a
I still have a little bit of the old shampoo left, but I have to admit I'm starting to get excited. How will things change? Will people who come to my desk lean in and help themselves to a good long sniff and say "Your hair was unscented before, but now you are my favorite person"?
If you buy an organic pepper, the cashier gives you a look which seems to say "You're going to end up in the cold, cold ground just like the
"That's true, morbid weirdo," you seem to say with a different look, "but did you know bell peppers carry among the highest pesticide loads of any vegetable, and that's
washing and peeling?"
(The fact that so many of my current tales take place in the grocery store can tell you there isn't much to do in this one-stoplight village other than buying and thinking about groceries.)
Having a rub-on tattoo makes you feel pretty tough. I got mine in a box of strawberry candy. It is a koala eating a leaf.
I strut around my kitchen without a shirt so I can admire the tattoo. I nod at the bartender. He seems to want to remind me of the bar's dress code, but when he spots my tattoo, thinks "I'd better leave this one alone," and he goes back to washing glasses.
Some wiseacre at the bar mutters a smart remark to the guy sitting next to him. I only overhear the words "koala bear."
I throw a barstool over his head to get his attention. "A koala is a
," I say. "
a bear. Isn't that right, Mr. Koala?"
Here I realize I've put myself in a bind because now I have to do the high-pitched koala voice. If I don't pull it off, I risk losing the respect of everyone in the bar. I remember the ventriloquism book I got at the library when I was nine. "
" I squeak without moving my lips while I flex my bicep, so that it looks like the koala tattoo has said it.
The man, still ducking from the thrown barstool, takes a moment to evaluate what has just happened. There is a tense silence as everyone watches for his reaction.
He crosses the bar and shakes my hand. He says he is impressed with my animal knowledge. He wants to know where I came to possess that kind of information.
I tell him it was a "Fun Fact" printed on the back of a rub-on tattoo. I start to hand out strawberry candy to everyone before I realize that I am standing alone, shirtless, tattooed, ridiculous but unashamed, in my kitchen.
They wanted to know which celebrity I had modeled my life after, and I wouldn't answer. The next day Miss Kimberly took me out of colors and shapes and led me to a room where the school psychologist and my parents were waiting for me. The psychologist said maybe I just didn't understand the question -- who did I look up to? Who did I want to be like? And he had some colorful photos of celebrities' heads and asked me to point to one and I shook my head and crossed my arms, and he wrote something in his notebook.
With 'greater than' and 'less than' symbols, I have to imagine, as I did when I was
, that the symbol is a crocodile who wants to eat the larger number. So I see this:
And I don't know what it's called. I have to imagine an X on the left of it, and a Y on the right. I can see that the crocodile in this case prefers to eat the Y. That means Y is larger. So, reading from left to right, that means that "X is
Y," which means that is the 'less than' symbol.
I also have to make a writing motion to remember right and left. You
. Every single time.
When working with a screwdriver, I have to think "righty-tighty,"
make a writing motion with my right hand before I can begin. I generally duck into a closet or alcove to do this without being seen, because of the shame.
I also have to spell out "Never Eat Soggy Waffles" and point in each direction with my finger to know the relative position of the cardinal directions.
What I'm getting at here is that I'm wicked dumb.
"He had this playlist on his computer which he called 'Irish Rock?' with the question mark. It had the Pogues, the Dropkick Murphys, stuff like that, you know?
. But he had the question mark in there because... I don't even know, he had some reason for it, but that was just so
. He had to hedge
, I mean every goddamn thing, and sometimes I just wanted him to make one confident, unqualified statement. The sky is blue. Fish live in the sea. He could have answered a question without making his answer sound like a question."
Today at work a woman called me and asked for Jean. I said I wasn't Jean and I didn't know her, and she probably had the wrong number.
"I asked them for
number," she said, "Why did I get
There was a pause, and then a long, heavy sigh.
She said "Oh... kay..." Then another pause.
She stayed on the line for a long time.
"Um..." I said.
"Sorry," she said. "Sorry..."
I started to wonder whether I should ask her if she was OK, or how her day was going, but she hung up before I could.
I realize now that what I really want is The Big Picture. I don't have access to it because I am trapped within my own limited perspective, and what I want is to see it all from the outside.
Reading is the next best thing. When I read what other people have written, I can get an idea of what is going on inside their heads, but I can't
it. Also, I want to experience what is going on inside the head of every person, animal, vegetable, and mineral all at once. I know it's a lot to ask.
Back then I often left my CDs in my Dad's car, and he never complained. Sometimes he would say that he "actually enjoyed" a certain song, and I was partially pleased to know that I'd inherited my genes from Cool Dad.
One day I left my Grateful Dead CD in the car, and he came in through the garage in quite a mood. He said he couldn't stand one more second of, as he called it, "Shake it, shake it, Sugar Bee." Of course I was pleased that I was finally able to annoy one of my parents with music.
Today we had a mandatory three-hour lecture on the subject of corporate compliance. They told us what the rules were and how we should snitch on people who didn't follow them
Of course I didn't pay attention to any of it, and my imagination was seized with the unshakable thought of bringing in one of those boxes of three hundred roaches you can buy online. I spent the whole three hours figuring out the logistics of the thing, like how maybe I could open the lid with a long string so that I wouldn't get roaches all over myself.
When I was dating Julia, my Mom couldn't walk past a stroller or a toy duck without saying to my Dad, "Well, what do you think about this toy duck? You know, for... just in case of...
," and my Dad wouldn't know, and he'd say that there's no shame in wanting to play with the duck, and she'd say no, just in case any
come along. And she'd nod her head in my direction in a pretend-subtle way.
Now when I go back to visit and she walks by a toy duck, she doesn't say anything.
I used to tell myself "everything is fine, everything is fine," but since watching
The Big Lebowski
I've found a better mantra, which is "Nothing is fucked here, dude."
Is anything ever really 'fine'? Even when things are at their best, I would resist saying that "everything is fine," because everything is terrible somewhere else. This is why "everything is fine" rings hollow and fails to give comfort.
"Nothing is fucked here" acknowledges that things are bad, but not irrevocably, incontrovertibly bad. We haven't gone over the cliff yet, and so there is still a chance to turn things around.
When I see a car with a National Rifle Association sticker on it, I assume the driver is an armed lunatic with a lust for human blood. My reading of the American libertarian movement is that, when everything is boiled down, they are just really upset that the government has enacted laws against shooting people.
Add to this mix the fact that here a person can take a five-minute walk and see three cars go by with NRA and "Don't Tread on Me" stickers, and ask me again whether I feel safer now that I'm out of the city.
I want to be the only one who can attract your gaze,
Such that you can't resist me and I set your heart ablaze,
I had some rare earth magnets just implanted in my eyes,
So that you'd spin around for me and not for other guys,
But magnets do not work that way and now my life's not great,
The only thing I'm seeing nowwwwwwww,
Is the fork and the spoon and the metal muffin plate
and the single-serving muffin plate 'cause nobody wants to make eye contact with me
because I misunderstood the science of attraction
We had to take a hostage, so we chose the bored-looking guy in the gray suit. He was happy to come along, and we sent the others outside. Our hostage kept asking if he could join the gang, he really wanted to join, and we had a hard time explaining to him that if he officially joined our gang his value as a hostage would be gone, but he didn't care, he wanted in because he thought we were cool guys who treated our hostages really well and gave them sandwiches on a reliable schedule that worked for him.
Thank you for your interest in my e-mail! I understand your wanting to print out multiple copies of it -- one for your records, one for your archives, one to hang up, and one to take home with you to put on your refrigerator and show your family, friends, neighbors, etc...
However, I would ask you to take a moment and consider the impact this would have on our green world and blue sky.
I'm asking you, as a co-worker, as a teammate, and, indeed, as a
, to think twice before printing this e-mail.
Violeta came to visit and we spent a week in New York City in May. I quickly noticed that we were getting along much better than usual, and I caught myself wondering why we parted ways in the first place.
I thought maybe she had just grown beyond her previous tendency to pick bitter protracted fights with me about the shoes I was wearing or the way I pronounced certain words. After talking to her about it, though, I discovered she still
to do those things, but she was temporarily suppressing that instinct in the interest of getting along.
I can still remember when tooth-whitening products came out. Advertisements showed people being embarrassed by their less-than-sparkling teeth. Before that, we didn't notice what color our teeth were, because we hadn't yet been taught to be ashamed of them.
Similarly, I think "joy" has been made up by people who have something to sell us. If anyone starts talking to you about joy and how you should have more of it in your life, you tell that person to fuck right off. Can you imaging being "joyful" all the time? You'd be exhausted.
Say 'no' to joy.
Say I'm walking down a metaphorical road, and I see a real girl on this road and I want to talk to her. So when she turns left, I turn left and catch up to say hello. She says she doesn't really want to talk to anyone, but I say that since we're both going the same way, we might as well chat. Well, she can't say much to that.
After a while, I ask her if she still wants me to walk with her, and she says yes, as long as we're both going the same way. That's fine.
But now I start to feel like I might be wasting her time, so when she starts to turn left, I tell her I'm turning right and I say goodbye. But she says, "Oh, ha ha! That's so weird, I'm turning right too," and she does an awkward little U-turn.
Of course this makes me happy, but I notice there are other people on the road who might have much better jokes, or who might be strong enough to carry her, or who might be able to afford a car so that she doesn't always have to
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