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Brutal and tragic events around the world confront me in the headlines.
In most cases I am able to keep them at arm's length.
Occasionally, the human suffering will touch me more deeply, and evoke a sympathetic response that is both scary and reassuring (as in perhaps I care about others after all).
There was a mouse in the trap this evening.
I must have walked in right after the !snap!
I dumped it among the undergrowth at my yard's perimeter, and when I came back inside, there was blood on the trap.
The headlines should affect me this much.
Everybody I work with makes about the same amount of money.
It's an odd dynamic, in that the differences between us in disposable income are most often a result of our comparative wisdom and discipline in our personal finances.
I have come home on many occasions feeling pretty poorly around this particular issue.
Hearing a lot of "I don't carry any credit card balances," or "My house will be paid for in two more years" creates a sort of dull sick feeling in my bowels.
I get really quiet during these times.
Then I go home and say something inappropriate.
I often wonder at the talking heads on television.
Whether it's Tom Brokaw or Jon Stewart or Regis or any other of the endless people who get in front of the camera every day, I am amazed as day after day they act like nothing else is going on in their lives but this show.
They must have a pretty good Zen thing going.
I can just see myself.
"Sorry, Jane, but my wife threatened to leave me as I was walking out the door for work today, and I just can't seem to keep my head in the game."
Ninth grade. Germany. Air Force housing, top of Westfalen Strasse.
The bad boys' (S)Hell Station.
Four Marks to the dollar.
Mom throwing my comic books away.
My first job, sweeping and mopping the stairwell in the apartment building.
My first 45rpm records, "Magic Carpet Ride" and "Love Child."
The kids smoking at the bus stop, and my dad's warning.
Debbie Waltz drove my dreams from the apartment downstairs.
Sleds, snowballs, and escape routes.
Washing Grove's 67 Mustang fastback.
Patrick's bicycle crash.
Herr Butler, Turkish cigarettes, piano teacher, his daughter's perfect handwriting.
Opelbad and Hallenbad, two amazing swimming experiences.
I knew bullshitters, and Ross was no bullshitter.
He proved it on the day that we made a hot-air balloon out of a plastic laundry bag, two kite sticks, fishing line, and a box of birthday candles.
It had been all talk to that point, and I was dubious.
At thirteen I had heard boasts and threats and promises to last a lifetime.
I had dabbled in it myself, making up past exploits to enhance my resume.
It left my mouth feeling chalky.
Now that I want to write fiction, some regular work in fabrication would have been good practice.
I could blame Hugh Hefner for my unrealistic expectations.
My dad kept the Playboys poorly hidden under some Life magazines in the drawer of his nightstand.
Beginning about fifth grade, those images ignited my desire and described a touchstone for my standard of perfection.
As a forty-nine year-old married guy with young children, my realistic prospects of enjoying an intimate relationship with perfect breasts is diminishing with depressing speed.
Despite an otherwise firm grip on reality, however, the hope burns brightly within me.
To fondle, lick, and tweak.
To squeeze and suck.
To nuzzle and caress.
This Lexus SUV is left lane on some guys ASS bigtime, doing seventy with eighteen inches of bumper separation. I'm a witness only, but behind the wheel is a pure-D babe, blonde and tan and in a desperate sort of hurry, I guess, since she ducks dangerously back into the right lane to make my exit a few cars ahead.
I'd like to get another look at her, just for my database of pulchritude, but two turns from home I lose her.
An hour later, I'm bicycling in the park and I see that Lexus parked there.
Exorcising her stress.
"Hey, Dad. You know what I learned from my brain?"
He's just turning six, and this is his way of saying that he made something up.
Perhaps he's aglow from the mere act of creativity, but I find the expression instructive.
It's in there.
All of the stuff that I'm so anxious to get on "paper" is just residing in my brain, only waiting to be teased out.
Or pounded out.
Coaxed, prodded, intimidated, cajoled, or tricked.
Or, by doing it daily, every single day, maybe I can get my brain to just give it up by dint of habit.
I was on the top bunk, the light from the hallway slicing into my room as the sounds of my parents' return filtered down the hall.
I watched the doorway.
My dad's silhouette appeared.
He walked into the room and crunch.
"That better not be one of those toy cars I just bought you!"
Of course, we both knew instantly that it was.
His voice was loud, harsh, scary.
I was seeing everything in a pattern, as if the trauma had altered my vision.
I scare my kids sometimes.
I wonder if the pattern lays across their eyes.
My daughter just completed fifth grade. To my mind she is still so much a child. I want to say that she's sexually naive, but she attended a sex education class which, although age appropriate, pulled no punches when it came to details. Still, she seems so innocent, so unaffected by her own nakedness.
One day when I was in fifth grade, sitting in the back row of class beside Marilyn, the boy on the other side of her pulled out his penis and began stretching it and flicking at it. I don't know about Marilyn, but I was mortified.
After college, I increasingly came to terms with the sensation of doors closing on my life.
Opportunities that once seemed limitless were deliquescing while I piddled at my cul-de-sac of a job.
I harbored an internal battleground of resignation and desperation, of hunger and complacency, of dreams and nostalgia.
After a while, the battle subsided, and I came to terms with my life, abetted by better work and the responsibilities of a new family.
For the past several years now, I have been adjusting to a new reality.
The keyboard and the on-ramp.
And time is the enemy.
I have no shortage of demons in my life. From eating disorders to impulse control to fiscal irresponsibility. I try to cobble together a respectable existence from my good traits, and keep the bad guys fenced up.
Occasionally, I will score a great victory over some internal adversary, as I did against that nasty nemesis, procrastination.
The dread I'd feel over the consequences of my inaction was a staple emotion of my youth, and still a defining aspect of my personality into adulthood.
These days I only rarely suffer with the worry of the undone.
It's another source of gratitude.
We didn't have the greatest team in the little league, but the moms were
hands-down the best looking.
I learned the craft from Dominic on drafting day.
"Pick Santos in the sixth round. By that time all of the good hitters are gone anyway. The kid can't hit for shit, but if you'd seen his mom run across the outfield in her work-out tights to give her son his mitt, you'd have creamed your jeans just like the rest of us did. With all the babes around, there's also never a shortage of dads around to help with the team."
I smiled and laughed.
We laughed together, but the incisors were predominant, and subterranean malice glimmered on their slick surfaces.
I gave him a hard time for not sharing his art work with me. I found out through a third party about his opening. His excuses were effectively bland, and all I could think about was my own deception. I had actively excluded him from my work, and it seems inevitable that he would find out.
The hard truth is that I don't trust him. He's one of those people who stings you publicly with little bits of confidential information.
If I let go of current dreams to build a new life -
A LazyBoy, an HDTV, a subscription to Netflix, and a perpetual hydroponic stash of sensimilla.
A cop-out to hedonistic indulgence? An abandonment of my ingrained protestant work ethic? A recipe for poor mental and physical vitality?
What about a ratcheting down of the type-A intensity that I impose upon myself and my family? A jump off of the consumeristic carousel that's driving the world to soulless ruin? Soothing isolation from current events that rattle my visions of world peace and portend a calamitous future for my children?
Sammy had rolled the cigarettes poorly. Eugene sighed in exasperation, clicked the case closed, and stared blankly across the platform and the tracks.
Partial thoughts and mixed emotions melded and melted within him as his fingers absently caressed the fine golden elephant on the cover of the cigarette case. Subconsciously, or perhaps out of habit, Eugene flipped open the small circular door on the elephant's forehead to reveal the ivory cameo of Corlene's lovely face.
He was probably the only person in the world to whom this face evoked dread.
Just the tip of the iceberg, too, was that dread.
Alex held the mirror to the available light, a gray and joyless light that sulked into his third floor apartment, trying to illuminate this problem on his neck.
It had started out as a small itchy spot on Wednesday, and Alex thought that he had picked up a bit of poison ivy.
He'd gotten an over-the-counter remedy Thursday morning, but repeated applications had only exacerbated the problem.
By Friday afternoon, the spot had grown into a patch, and now it was Saturday afternoon.
Alex's hopes for ending his hermitage this weekend evaporated completely as he examined the oozing, scabrous mess.
We visited an artist in Albuquerque.
Her home and studio, the latter of which was a modern addition to an old house, were situated in the flat valley where the Rio Grande alternately trickled and raged through the city.
The yard was drab and brown, surrounded by equally drab fencing, yet the large windows of the studio turned it into a simple, even appealing, backdrop for the artist's environment.
The studio had a large and well-lighted work table and a free-standing fireplace with a white stucco mantel.
On the mantel were arranged fetishes of varying sources.
She fed them grain.
I saw my grandfather's lips quivering in that palsied fashion that says "very old."
It seemed to have happened almost overnight. I've seen this happening to other men (it's different with women), too.
I'm thinking, that Brian, man, that guy looks good for sixty. I hope I look that good when I'm his age. Years go by as Brian, vital beyond his calendar age, retains an appearance that defies the effects of time.
These gents become fixed in your mind this way, and the shock is difficult to conceal on that day when those years show up all at once.
Don't we all have the same basic and underlying fears?
Fear of death. Fear of abandonment. Etc.
Perhaps they follow a hierarchy of needs.
Different fears to correlate to our different needs.
I have a fear of my false teeth flying out of my mouth in the middle of a heated or passionate exchange. This is not an unreasonable fear. My "flipper" has lost it's anchors over the past few years, so that it's barely hanging on. I've found that when I am talking through an irrepressible grin, my facial muscles conspire to dislodge the partial plate.
Now that's fear.
"You know, what? You haven't had any alone time for the past two days, and it's made you cranky."
I asked, with complete innocence, if that was a bad thing.
When I was young, I craved company. I wanted to be around someone, sometimes anyone.
As a writer, I want to cultivate solitude.
As a person, it seems that to enjoy being alone, you must be comfortable with your own company.
Perhaps that's a difficult thing for some people to relate to. It's possible that some people want to be around others because they have difficulty with their own company.
They call him Happy Jack. Never one to see the silver lining, he has a remarkable ability to take the wind out of your sails.
"Oh, man, I had a great time cycling around North Park lake yesterday."
I was sharing a little bit of my personal life, just for conversation's sake, back in those days before I knew his ways.
"I would never bicycle there,"
he said with a caustic sneer.
"There are too many people on that path, and they're rude and inconsiderate to cyclists."
It doesn't help that he usually has a point.
He makes you squirm.
"I have way too many passwords."
"I printed it through my wireless network."
"I didn't dare open that attachment."
"My server's down."
"Got your Palm? I'll beam it to you."
Think about hearing these statements fifteen years ago.
Although the words were not new (words like internet, Google, web, inkjet, and email were maybe infants), the sentences would have sounded like gibberish.
When Bill Clinton took office in 1992 (only eleven years ago!), there were fifty sites on the web. By 2000 there were 250 million.
This is one ride that you definitely wanted to get an "A" ticket for.
"I know he wants me. He's so hungry for sex that it's practically written on his face."
Patty is subconsciously stroking her nipple.
Amber wants to slap this slut silly.
Patty charges on.
"I think he has herpes. It's the only thing that explains his restraint. I gave him a peek about a month ago, and he got an immediate hard-on. I damn near grabbed hold of it."
Amber has had enough.
"He's a guy, Patty. Ergo horny. But his fidelity might come from a better place than a fuckin' STD. Maybe he just doesn't want to lose his family."
Ed could only vaguely recall a time when he could run, or even walk fast.
He sat on the edge of his bed looking at his boots, trying to muster the energy to get them off of his aching feet. He had been dragging his sorry ass around his decrepit property since seven-thirty this morning.
There was so little joy in it anymore.
The admiration of the yuppie couple next door meant nothing to him. Theirs was a malnourished ethic of entitlement. To these bronzed and waxed demigods, hard work was a spectator sport, and Ed was their star quarterback.
"Now you listen to me. I am not going to tolerate any more whining. When I tell you no white bread, I mean it. You are eating to much of that garbage.
Stop that ridiculous crying!
It's only food, for crying out loud!
You're going to end up going to bed without any dinner at all if you don't get it together."
This tactic was not working, and I could tell that I was about to lose the little guy to a crying jag.
Another and too frequent example of ham-handed parenting.
"C'mon. Just give it a try."
Leonard can't stand silence.
And we can't stand to listen to his endless patter.
Sometimes he is subject to boycott by his co-workers. Don't talk to him, and perhaps he won't talk to you.
Perhaps, but he will talk.
If not to you then to no one in particular.
"Leonard, did a thought ever enter your head that didn't just automatically spill out of your mouth?" said Happy Jack.
Leonard seems oblivious.
He secretly longs for respect from his co-workers.
Why does he so desperately need to be talking?
Is he masking a poisonous sound loop playing in his head?
The smartest and most talented people that I know are not also the wealthiest people that I know.
This is no shock, but the irony of it bludgeoned me the other night at a pool party in the wealthy neighborhood adjacent to our own.
One gorgeous home after another, enticing to me and positively enrapturing my wife and kids, were populated by a Stepford-eyed array of couples with boring taglines and grade-school social skills.
I crumple with ennui in these situations, and I found myself uttering impish and provocative statements just to hear something human emerge from their mouths.
Back during high school, David Satterfield waxed brazen as he recalled his forays into recreational theft. He and his sister, he said, had stolen pillows on a mutual dare.
This was so far outside of my (innocent to a fault) notions of normal human behavior that I was rocked into a suspicion of people that I had never had before.
I began looking at people in the mall with the thought that any one of them might be stealing something.
It wasn't long before I found this as a preferable way to be thinking about people in general.
From the time she was nine, my great-grandmother wore a scarf every day of her life.
That was her age when she was scalped by Indians.
I should be able to tell you the tribe, but I have been remiss in my lack of interest in the story, for there is a chance that if I don't pursue the details that they will die with my father.
I do know that she was taken in by Indians after an attack on her Oregon-bound wagon train, and that the lore and customs she learned have remnants in our family even today.
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