Life Coach

This post originally written as a gift to the star character. Leo Rabbits have all the fun.

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I was sitting in the very last row of seats at the back of the plane.  Sandwiched between two people so that my hands were relegated strictly to the space above my lap, I held my nag chompa scented copy of Trout Fishing In America, a book that is not really about fishing, and pretended to read it while contemplating how to explain myself.  I am the author known as The Devil You Know which means, of course, that you probably don’t know me at all.

One of the people I was stuck between was my mom. We had gone on a mother and daughter vacation, apparently.  The plane ride from Salem to Magdalena was approximately three hours and, while I had assumed she had run out of irritating and embarrassing shit to say either to or in front of me, respectively, I had thought wrong.  I was concentrating hard on my book that was not really about fishing when my mom leaned over and asked me “did you read What the Dog Saw yet?” “Not yet” I told her.  Knowing I was a Malcolm Gladwell fan, she had picked up a copy for each of us when she saw it on 2 for 1 sale at a bookstore that is now defunct.  “Well”, she replied, ” I didn’t think it was as good as his other books so I only read part of it but I did like the one story that was actually called ‘What The Dog Saw’.  It was about that guy who is good with dogs.”  “Caesar Milan” I told her. “Yeah that’s him. He has, like, 30 dogs that he is rehabilitating at any given time and they (the dogs) just fall all over themselves to please him. It’s because he’s the dog whisperer.”  Dog Whisperer indeed, I thought.  While she continued talking about dogs and books I shifted in my seat and the bruises on my ass mumbled something about how it would be nice to stand up and walk around.  Less than 24 hours ago the world was so different.

My screaming and crying could no doubt be heard all through the three story house and probably all the way down the block.  I had been forced to undress and was pushed onto my hands and knees atop a hardwood coffee table.  A man who was easily twice my size had a handful of my hair and was making me look straight ahead while he was spanking my ass with his other hand.  The continuous stinging blows were merciless and growing in intensity.  When he saw I was fighting back tears, he hit me particularly hard and demanded to know “am I hurting you?”. “Yes” I whimpered “Then say you’re hurting me!”  When I said it, he hit me again and continued to do so until I was choking on the words, “you’re hurting me...”

Eventually my mom tired of dogs and books and went back to examining her souvenir brochure from the world famous Chinese Gardens.  I didn’t think I should tell her about my flashbacks so I returned to my book that was not really about fishing.

When I was young and in college, I met a cute boy.  He had brown skin and long hair. He played bass guitar with savant-like mastery.  Unlike your average savant, he could also tie his shoes and juggle oranges. He was cool and sweet and funny. Naturally, I loved him though I was quite sure he didn’t notice me at all.  One evening, when I had given up hope of accidentally attracting his attention, I set him up on a blind date with one of my friends.  At the time I only had two friends and, since everyone knows that girls travel the plains in roving bands, all three of us climbed in the car and made the journey from Pie Town to his apartment.  I would love to claim that this was my evil genius master plan, concocted to win him for myself but, sadly for my intellect, it was pure dumb luck that he didn’t like my friend nor did she like him and, somehow or other, I found myself naked in his bed at the end of the night.

“The supposition that it is necessary to feed the Cobra Lily a piece of hamburger or an insect daily is erroneous.” -excerpt from Trout Fishing In America.  The more I didn’t read this book, while sitting sandwiched between two people in the last row of seats at the very back of the plane, the more I began to wonder how I would ever explain all that had happened.  He had asked me to write about it but there is no straight forward way to tell this story because I, for one, am crooked as a stick in water.  In my life, everything has to do with everything else so how do I tell the tale of one thread in a tapestry without unraveling the whole image?

The plane was yesterday and I acquired all these bruises the day before. Tonight I laid on my bed, tapping this story out on my phone, until Carl also came to bed. I switched programs and was scanning my Twitter feed by the time he made it across the room.  Though he hasn’t done anything wrong, I am annoyed by his presence and because he has interrupted my train of thought. I lay on my back, tolerating his hand on my stomach which also bugs the crap out of me.  I have a plan though so I keep reading my tweets and waiting for him to fall asleep. He is just drifting off when a black furry face with huge eyes pokes up over the edge of the bed.  My cat doesn’t like to jump anymore so she reaches her arms out, digs in with her claws and drags herself up where she wants to be. Then she lays down on top of me, purring like a race car.  With the invasion of the cat, Carl removes his hand and eventually dozes off again.  When I’m sure he’s asleep I turn off my reading lamp, gather up cat and iPhone, and exit the room with them both.

Many painful things occurred on and around the coffee table in the basement of the three story house.  Next to the table I stood on the floor, bent over grabbing my ankles and he beat me with a riding crop while demanding that I thank him for each stroke and then request another; a request that was always granted. Realizing that there was nothing I could do to alter the course of events, I did as I was told.

After the blind date that did not go as planned, I spent a lot of time with my new boyfriend.  One night when I had the stomach flu we went with my friend, Monique, to meet some other people I didn’t know at the hot springs.  After an hour of bouncing up the mountain in the back seat, we finally arrived and I fell out of the car and threw up on the ground.  While sitting in the springs one of the other men there asked my boyfriend if I was in middle school which, evidently, was commentary that meant I appeared to be twelve yrs old. Sixteen years later, I now appear to be at least thirteen. During the night we laid on the ground and listened to the rise and fall of Monique’s voice as she sat on the edge of the hot spring smoking a cigarette and shaking her foot; charming some guy’s dick into fucking her. She didn’t drive all that way for nothing after all.

While I sat naked on the coffee table, he made me thank him for stripping me of all power and control.  He was very strong and I learned to obey him. He made me sit on my knees, which was hard on both my knees and ankles.  When I saw him pick up the nipple clamps, I knew better than to raise my hands in self defense. They were a viscous and biting device but I sat there, with my hands down, as he applied them and the pain shot through me.  The clamps were connected by a short chain which he placed in my mouth and then told me to raise my head and look at him. This was painful and nearly impossible due to the short length of the chain. He hit me extra hard with the crop and told me that if the chain fell from my mouth he would give me ten more. He then used his hands to force an orgasm from me.  When he touched my pussy, it was wet.  An orgasm, when taken by force, is not in any way the same as when it occurs naturally.

On the morning I left Salem I saw a zombie walking through the airport.  It was my reflection in some glass doors.  When it saw me staring, the zombie reached out and grabbed the front of my shirt, drawing my face to it’s black teeth. “Cada profeta en su casa” it said, rank breath stinging my eyes. Fucking zombie.  Having spent the night cursing and puking into the toilet, I was in no mood for bilingualism.  My dinner at the Chapel Pub the previous evening was served with a side of malicious intent, which was disappointing because I had ordered french fries.  Can’t say I was surprised though.  My mom was horrifyingly rude to the bartender and I had wanted to sit across the room from her so he wouldn’t think we were together. Too late though, he already knew.  I stumbled through the airport, stomach churning, mom in tow, zombie trailing behind.

My college boyfriend was a short affair, lasting only a few months. We didn’t break up but rather we moved on.  While we were together we took a road trip to Las Vegas to see the Grateful Dead. I don’t think either of us was actually a fan of the Dead. We were not Dead Heads, as it were, but while we were there we did have sex in the same bed where a different boy I had been involved with was also sleeping. He was snoring so I guess we figured he wouldn’t hear us.

He made me lay on my back on the table while he poured the molten contents of two candles all over me.  The searing hot wax burned my skin and I expected there would be marks but it didn’t leave any.  He sat between my legs and I was vulnerable to him. This was clear to both of us. I heard him plug something in and turn it on; a brief buzzing sound before my pussy was rocked by an intense vibration. I was not able to choose whether or not to cum anymore than you can choose to keep your leg still when the doctor tests your reflexes. While I was consumed by involuntary spasms, he held me down and continued with his work.

After we parted ways I did not see my college boyfriend for many years.  A psychic medium had told me we would meet again but so long had passed that I was sure he was lost to me.  Then one day, many years later and a year or so before today, I was in a sad place.  Not knowing what else to do, I reached out to him and, to my surprise, he reached back.  We discovered that we still liked each other.  He told me of his life and he told me things about himself that I never knew.  I told him how I had accidentally hypnotized myself into an emotional prison and he said something like “well, that’s dumb” and I was like “yeah, it is”.

Now that I’m home, I’m going to have to keep my ass hidden for awhile as it looks like a badly painted mural.  Little dots and squares and big circles, ruptured capillaries snaking like blue streams down a mountain; all of which would be tough to explain.  I’m sure Carl was expecting to get laid but, as it turns out, he’ll have to wait.

When he finished disciplining me on the table, he pushed me on to the floor and dragged me across the room. Then he tied me up in a steeresque fashion, hands to feet.  During these sessions, when he taught me about submission, he would explain his rules to me and, should I ever not follow them precisely enough, his punishment would be swift and harsh.  At times, when my head would rock back from being slapped in the face, I would think at him ” you know I’m trying to do as you said!” but as he consistently reinforced his authority I noticed a deeper part of myself responding; not with any kind of malice or resentment, but with acceptance.  He stood over me with the riding crop, hitting me when he felt like it. The way I was tied made it difficult to squirm around much or roll away.  I didn’t want to show him resistance but my body responds to pain.  He was right to restrain me.

My college boyfriend, now pen pal, and I wrote many letters back and forth; each of us sharing the bizarre stories that are the fabric of our lives.  One day about 6 months ago he told me of a new endeavor; a passion for the domineering arts, commonly referred to as BDSM.  He was very excited about it.  I don’t believe I had ever seen him so excited about anything!  He told me of the overwhelmingly positive response he was receiving from his various female companions.  “Really?” I asked him, secretly feeling a little excited about it myself.  In his fervor he asked me in a letter how I would respond to being tied up and spanked.  My first response was “I don’t know, I’ve never been tied up and spanked”.  He didn’t realize it but he let loose a wild seed in my mind that started to take root.  I was tired. Tired of calling the shots, tired of making the decisions, tired of being the aggressor.  All of it was so draining and I was exhausted.  I felt resentful of the relentless pressure that I was under.  I wanted to put down the reins but, with no one to pick them up, it wasn’t an option.

I was still tied up on the floor when he slid his cock into my ass, unapologetic and without hesitation.   I had brought myself to him as an offering and, by doing so, had agreed to accept him as master.

I wrote a follow up letter to my pen pal with a new response to his question.  I explained my exhaustion to him and asked him for help.  I told him there was no one else I would consider turning to and I begged him to relieve me.  I acknowledged him as a dominant male and said I would respect his decision, whatever it was.  For what it’s worth, it’s not very often that a scorpion will lay down in front of a lion.  It defies the laws of nature. Despite having to dip his feet in the sea of moral ambiguity that is my world, he agreed.  He explained to me that he required my complete and voluntary surrender and that I would have to accept whatever came next, which was for him to decide.  I agreed and thanked him.  I promised I would submit to him in any way he deemed necessary.

He had me face down on the floor, hands and feet bound.  He was in my ass and, with his weight on top of me, I couldn’t move. His method of penetration was very forceful.  He was using one elbow to support himself and had his other hand clamped over my nose and mouth.  Silent, helpless and choking; I was subdued.  Never did it occur to me to be afraid nor did I feel any anger or aggression.  I was at peace with all that was happening and felt my trust in him deepen.  When he did allow me to breathe I told him to use me to please himself.  In my mind, he had won my respect. I loved him and wanted to turn myself inside out for him.  That was not a literally possible thing to do but what I could do was accept him fully, which I did.  The pain he had inflicted on me was necessary and appreciated.  It was a gratifying wave of relief.

Once we had made our agreement, there remained one little issue and that was how I was going to bend the laws of inertia to pull off a scheme of this magnitude. I had to find a legitimate reason to travel across the country without raising any suspicions regarding the nature of the trip.  While I command a certain wizardry over such things, this was no small feat.  Months were passing and I was having no luck.  Then one day, about eight weeks ago, my mom invited me to go to breakfast with her.  While we chewed our pancakes, she told me that she understood the cramped feelings I had since Carl and I were always together.  We live and work together and I had complained to her on many occasions about my lack of privacy and of not having any “me time”. She said she had thought of a solution.  Her idea was that she and I would take a trip together but go our own ways once we arrived at the destination. That way, I could frolic about all by myself and no one would be suspicious of my intent.  At first, I blew it off, thinking “yeah right, like I have time to do that.”  Fortunately, before I said anything too negative, a brilliant vision flashed before me.  I told her it was a lovely plan and that we would go to Salem.

When he had finished with me, we cleaned ourselves up and I cried on him for awhile. Then we went to get some Thai food.  I ordered chicken soup and what they brought me was a bowl of beaks and crow’s feet.  While I sipped my witchcraft with a giant spoon, we discussed what had happened and some of the ways in which it’s effect might be felt in the future. “Watch out”, he told me, “two other women I’ve been with have left their husbands.” “You know”, I grinned, “some people would call that being a home-wrecker.”  “No, no” he said, looking up and pointing his spoon at me, “I’m a life coach.”

Compassion

glos·so·la·li·a – noun
incomprehensible speech, sometimes occurring in a trance state, an episode of religious ecstasy, or schizophrenia.

In short, this word is used to describe all types of gibberish. Come to think of it, I should probably change the name of this blog to Glossolalia, but for now I’ll dish up this reference: Some venomous snakes are pacified by glossolalia but the ones that aren’t will bite you in the face.

I was on the phone with a miserable woman named Marnie Anderson. She was demanding that I tell her when Mr. Kline would be available to come to her house to take her album order from her daughter’s wedding. “Well…, never” was my reply. Even if he had time, which he didn’t, there was no way in hell he was voluntarily going to this woman’s house. Marnie was a repeat customer which, under normal circumstances, would have been considered a good thing. Mr. Kline had photographed her eldest daughter’s wedding a couple years prior and they were very pleased with the results so, when it came time to unload daughter #2, they knew who to call. Unfortunately, some tragic events had unfolded during the interim so, when we got the call from Marnie about Maria’s wedding, the conversation was heavy with “oh that’s terrible” and “we’re so sorry to hear that.”

Having been dealt an extraordinarily bad hand, it seemed that both Marnie and Maria were stricken with some type of inoperable cancer and they needed to get this wedding done pronto because no one was sure how much longer Maria was going to live. Naturally, they wanted Mr. Kline to do the honors but, due to the short notice, he was already booked. Carl was still available and we all assured the dying Andersons that Carl was an excellent photographer and that everything would be fine. During the initial consultation, while we sat around the table looking at photo albums and discussing logistics, Marnie hugged her arms around herself, coughed, hacked, rocked back and forth in her chair and got teary eyed. We all felt terrible about her situation and Mr. Kline tried to be as helpful as he could by offering her a very nice package, complete with bride’s album and two parent’s albums, all at half price. This pretty much meant that the studio was taking a hit in the name of good karma and barely breaking even.

“I just need to know when Mr. Kline can come to my house so I can tell him what pictures I want in my album” Marnie groaned at me. I’m not sure if her condition also rendered her hard of hearing so I repeated myself, again. “I’m sorry but he is not able to come to your house. You can either send your order in with someone else or you can tell it to me now over the phone.” “Well”, she continued, “I need to talk to him about these photos so you find out when he can come to my house!” I see, too sick to visit to the studio but not too sick to talk to me like her bitch. I was beginning to wonder if I had a speech impediment and that maybe she had I thought I said “if you make vague implications while raising your voice, I’ll find a time when he can swing by.” Mr. Kline, by the way, was sitting right in front of me refusing to take the phone and making it quite clear he wasn’t going to her house. I decided to try a different tactic. “Ok”, I said, “Mr. Kline can come by your house at 1:00 in the afternoon on November 15th”, a date that was approximately eight weeks in the future. As expected, she didn’t like that so she said “you tell me when Mr. Kline will be in the office so I can call back and talk to him directly!” Yeah right, like he was ever going to speak to her directly. “He’ll be in tomorrow” I told her and hung up the phone.

All three of us; Mr. Kline, myself and Carl, had gone through the photos prior to sending them out and we all knew they were fine, or at least as good as they could be. There was nothing spectacular about them but that wasn’t Carl’s fault because, as he explained to us, there were a number of obstacles he had to overcome just to get any shots at all and a lesser photographer probably would have hidden in the bathroom and cried. Upon arriving at the Anderson residence, where the photos were slated to begin, it was obvious that it was going to be a bad day. The house was in total chaos with all kinds of people running around yelling at each other and no one even close to being ready. Carl was told to wait in the living room. After clearing a pizza box and some empty soda cans off the couch, he made himself at home and spent a few minutes admiring the Christmas tree. It was July. After awhile a diapered, but otherwise naked, toddler came and sat down on the floor to watch TV. By the time the girls were actually ready there was no time left to shoot at the house, which was a downright shame with the trash and Christmas decor and all, and so they went on to the church and spent the rest of the day playing catch up.

There is only one customer service policy at Kline’s Photography and that is : unfounded complaints are not tolerated.

Eventually Marnie gave up on her mission to coerce Mr. Kline in to making a house call so she agreed to make the the trip across town to place her album order and talk about the photos. Despite being the newest, smallest and weakest member of the team, I was left to deal with the Andersons by myself, a slight that motivated me to set my sights on Carl’s position in the company which I acquired a couple months later. I mean, the way I look at it, if I have to do his job then I should have the title and the paycheck to go with it. Right? I refuse to take orders from anyone who would hide behind me.

I sat across the table from both Marnie and Maria. Marnie sat at the edge of the leather couch while Maria huddled with a blanket in the corner. Both of them looked rough but Maria was in especially bad shape: emaciated, completely bald from the chemo, black circles under her eyes and a catheter taped to each arm. Clearly, she had gone downhill since the wedding and I don’t understand why Marnie even brought her to this appointment in the first place. Maria never said a word but I could hear her labored breathing over the gravelly drone of Marnie’s griping. Marnie didn’t look too hot either but she did still have hair and, as far as I could see, only one catheter. She opened with “I wish we had hired a different photographer. I should’ve known what would happen if Mr. Kline didn’t take the pictures himself.” Honestly, given the circumstances, I don’t see how anyone could have done any better. When I didn’t respond, she followed with “I can’t believe we paid all that money and this”, pointing at the proof book, “is what we get. When Mr. Kline shot my other daughter’s wedding, the photos were soooo beautiful.” “Actually”, I said looking up and making eye contact, “you only paid half.”

Freeze frame right here. So what is this? Some kind of sick cosmic joke? A moral test of compassion? Have I become the proverbial Job while God and the Devil are making bets as to how long I can tolerate this trash talking corpse? Can I look past her rough exterior and see through to her inner pain, thereby cutting her some slack, or will I reach across the table, yank that catheter out of her arm and stab her in the fucking eye with it?

I decided to try, key word being try, to be compassionate. I can hardly imagine the horror the two of them, mother and daughter, must feel while watching each other die of the same disease. I have no problems that could even be called problems when viewed in comparison to something like that. The thing was though, like a blood sniffing jackal, Marnie could smell my sympathy, was turned on by it, and evidently felt compelled to use it against me; prying at my conscious like a lever, until something gave. I then said the stupidest thing ever. I said “What is it about the photos you don’t like?” Que flood gates at stage left. I may as well have given her a sack of hammers and said “here, throw these at me.” What followed was a deranged critique of every single image in a 30 page proof book. A mind blowing shit storm of ridiculous nonsense which was only made worse by my calm explanations for why certain photos were shot the way they were. I had lost my respect for Carl when he left me with this bone crushing hyena but I still wouldn’t throw him under the bus for Marnie because she was wrong and that’s all there was to it. Like a two year old that asks “why?” all day, Marnie’s interrogation went on like a broken record. “Why is this picture so close? It cuts off Maria’s hair.” Maria’s “hair” that day was an ill fitting brunette wig of the Marge Simpson beehive variety. It sat askew on Maria’s head and the bangs were too long. There was no way to get a close up portrait of Maria’s face and not crop out part of her hair which, given how bad the wig was, should have been interpreted as a favor. “Well, why is that one so far away, you can’t even see Maria’s face.” Yes you could. “Why is this photo slightly crooked, why is that one in front of that ugly wall, why is this one so far from the building, why this, why that, why why why???” She just wouldn’t stop, or listen, demanding explanations for nearly every single image in her proof book and accusing me of unjustly defending the quality of the pictures. Somewhere around page 6 was a whole set of very nice portraits of Maria with an old guy in a tux. In an attempt to create a pause in the bitter machine gun fire spilling from Marnie’s mouth, I said “Aww, look at all these great shots of Maria with her dad.” “Maria doesn’t have a dad”, Marnie spat at me, “that is the groom.” Stifling a chuckle I said only “oh”. Right then I heard a rustle and a thump as Maria slid into a coma and her head bounced off the arm of the couch. Marnie didn’t seem to notice. “why is this one in the sun, why is that one in the shade? I thought you said Carl was a good photographer? Well let me tell you these are the worst pictures I have ever seen! Why is this one vertical, why is that one horizontal, why does this one have square corners?” She was relentless in her attack of rhetorical questions and never once did it seem to occur to her that most of the things she was upset about were her own fault for completely disregarding the time line on the day of the wedding.

I tried hard to hold on to my compassion, to remember that she was hurting and angry, but god damn, this situation was getting out of hand. Is it possible that being a psychotic, irrational bitch actually causes cancer? Because that would explain a lot.

Marnie continued turning pages and berating me. For awhile I stopped listening, tuning in to the sound of Lydia’s raspy breathing and wondering if she was going to die on my couch. Marnie talked a blue streak, barely pausing to breathe. Having shifted her voice into the background, she sounded like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon, wonk wonk wonk. This was probably the only time in my life I actually thought to myself “what would Jesus do?” Oh, I dunno, maybe swoop down from the sky on a magical dragon and smack her in the face with his sandal. I don’t know if that’s what Jesus would do but that is definitely what I would do if I were him. I didn’t hear anything at all from pages 15-19 and focused instead on the transformation of Marnie Anderson into a talking donkey pinata; beaten by a child with a stick and a Kool Aid mustache until her side split open and candy rained down, delighting both kids and parents alike. Somewhere on page 20 I felt my seal start to slip. Like a pressure cooker, it only takes a small breach in the seal for pinto beans to spray 30 feet across the room thus coating the whole house with a mutilated version of your dinner. She was going on about why, and how much they paid, and being disappointed when I surfaced from my trance and said “look, if you don’t like that picture then don’t pick it!!! You have over 900 images here and your album only includes 48 so figure out which ones you want and write them down! You can mail this form back when you’re done.” I snapped the book closed, signaling a premature end to this little convo, and pushed it, along with the paper work into Marnie’s lap. Then I locked eyes with her and folded my arms until she started gathering up her things, including Maria, muttering something about how she was going to tell Mr. Kline about the way I had treated her. “Yeah”, I told her, ” you can tell him all about it when he comes to your house.”

I guess everyone has a breaking point.

A few weeks later, Marnie mailed in her album order. Maria died before the albums were complete. Marnie passed away 3 months after receiving her order.

Empathy

“Kline’s Photography”

That was always how I answered the phone and no number of staff meetings or memos would make me bend to include my name in the introduction. The last thing I wanted was to identify myself prior to finding out the nature of the call.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kline is not available at this time but perhaps there is something I can help you with?”

Uh-oh….

“I would be happy to take a message for him, can you please tell me what this is in reference too?”

No, of course not, she just really needed to talk to Mr. Kline. Somewhere along the way, a rumor got started that Mr. Kline actually gives a fuck. Let’s clear that up right now. He doesn’t.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but due to the high number of solicitation calls, Mr. Kline will not return phone messages unless he knows what they are about.”

Special code for: He will not call you back just so you can chew his ass.

“Uh huh, yes, so you want me to tell him that the photographer at your daughter’s wedding did not get all the pictures you had envisioned?”

She had uttered the magic word, “disappointed” and also threw in another inflammatory phrase, “your photographer”, as if the person in question were a rabid dog that had jumped the fence and eaten the neighbor’s cat. “Your photographer took a dump right in the middle of the church and we’re a little disappointed.” Well now, them’s fightin’ words.

“Excuse me m’am, he’s not actually my photographer. I just work here.”

That was not the answer she was expecting but I said it so nicely that it threw her off balance. I spoke slowly, in my best cheerful monotone, a technique that had come to be known in the office as “the calm voice”. My co-workers knew, when they heard the calm voice, to put down what they were doing and gather around for the show.

“Can you tell me specifically what it is that you’re displeased about?”

By all means, please, do tell me the way in which my photographer made the unholy union of an unfortunate young man to your truffle snacking, biscuit kneed, cow faced daughter somehow less momentous.

“Oh I see, so what you’re telling me is that my photographer failed to “snap” a close up photo of the flower girl’s shoes that you personally spent hours gluing red sequins and silk carnations to and that this was the only photo you really wanted from the whole day. Is that correct?”

No, apparently there was more.

“So you’re also mad that there are more photos of the groom’s family than of your own? Yes…, yes, I understand, you’re not mad, you’re disappointed because the day was just so special and, I’m sorry, what else? Oh, it also pains you that the photos do not in any way resemble the samples you were shown in our studio and you thought you were hiring a professional. I would really like to help you get to the bottom of this issue, but since the photographer is not actually here, do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions, just so I can try to understand what may have happened?”

I am not a musician, per se, I can’t tune a guitar by ear but I have perfect fucking pitch when it comes to voice diagnostics. While her accusatory tone gains momentum, reaching a frantic pitch, I can see her, clear as day; a heavy set cyclone of a woman who spends most afternoons watching court TV with a diet coke in one hand and a skinny menthol cigarette in the other. She has eye liner tattoos. Sunspots on her face and smoke lines circling her painted-on red lips, her personal motto is “flaunt it if you got it” and by that she thinks her mammoth tits are sexy enough to overshadow her back fat and she’s sporting a tube top to prove it. Aside from the time she spends flogging her husband like a trash digging chihuahua she rarely gets an opportunity to feel important. She’s got me on the line and now is her time to shine like the power tripping bovine that she is. By this point I have retrieved the file from the wedding and am reviewing the photographer’s notes.

“Ok, on the day of the wedding, was the bride ready on time?”

Photographer’s notes: Bride 45 min late, arrives with dress in bag, takes another 20 minutes to put it on. Flower girl’s parents do not deliver her to the church until 5 minutes before the ceremony. She is crying and says her feet hurt.

“No…, no, of course I’m not implying that anyone other than my photographer is at fault here. I just have to ask so I can have a accurate understanding of what happened. So, tell me, was the groom ready on time?”

Photographer’s notes: While waiting for the bride to arrive, shot all of groom’s photos, including extended family and friends from grade school.

“I understand that you paid for this and, by doing so, have elevated your family’s status to that of the utmost importance. If it would make you feel better, we could delete some photos of the groom’s family so that the distribution of images will be more equal. I would be more than happy to personally take care of this for you, just tell me which ones you would like me to remove…. Hello? Are you still there? I’m sorry, my phone cut out for a minute and I thought we got disconnected…. Oh ok, so you don’t want me to delete any images? Are you sure because I really think it would make it seem like there were more of photos of your family if there were less photos of the groom’s family…. I’m so sorry ma’am, apparently I’ve misunderstood you. Can you please tell me again what it is that you’re upset about? Oh, so what you’re really upset about is that you can see a parking lot in all the outdoor photos of the bride and groom together. Right, of course that would be upsetting and especially since the venue was so picturesque, what with mountains being right there and all.”

Photographer’s notes: Church is a brown corrugated steel building with NO landscaping and surrounded on all sides by power lines and parked cars. The minister has to yell to be heard over the drone of a window mount AC unit in the sanctuary. I can barely see the tops of the mountains over the apartment building across the street. Bride is complaining that it is too hot and that she wants me to hurry up. She is also sweating profusely and it is staining her dress.

“I certainly understand that you are heartbroken over the missing photos of the mountains. I’m not sure that I have personally ever been to your church. Is it housed in a portable building? Yes, I understand that this church is your “home” and that you married your 3rd husband there five dreadful years ago but what I’m getting at is does it have a trailer hitch??? Yes, I’ll hold.”

I hear her lighting a cigarette.

“Yes m’am, I understand that your soiree of failed marriages makes you an expert on weddings and I am certain that Mr. Kline would gladly fire the photographer who ruined your daughter’s special day… Oh, so that’s not what you had in mind? Tell me, how I can make this up to you then? You want a… a what now, a free album upgrade? But ma’am, you hate the photos so much I am afraid that if we give you more of them it will only cause you further distress…. No, I’m sorry, Mr. Kline is still not available to take your call. Listen, I feel so bad about how much the photos are upsetting you that I will just cut you a check for a full refund and you’ll never have to see them again. How’s that sound?”

This game of verbal badminton went on for quite a while. When I did finally hang up, being totally pleased with myself for having accomplished nothing but to further enrage the troll on the other end of the phone, my co-worker, Thomas, was staring at me. There is something wrong with Thomas. Anyone who gets creeped out by big foreheads could tell you that. Mr. Kline had hired him two weeks prior, without consulting me, in an attempt to impress his mistress who was a devout Christian woman and who also did not realize she was fucking a married man. Thomas, it seemed, had graduated from some bible college and this, Mr. Kline decided, qualified him to wrestle the lions. Being the new kid, Thomas did not yet understand the level of depravity that people will sink to in an attempt to get some free shit so it didn’t surprise me when he said “you’re not a very nice person, are you?” “That all depends on how you look at it.” I replied curtly. He was constantly on my nerves and that, coupled with being immune to sarcasm, meant that we did not communicate well. “All that lady wanted was for you to listen to her” he told me. “Fuck that” was my response. Then he said something I’ll never forget, he said exactly these words “the reason you don’t empathize with people is because you have no feelings.” Leave it to Thomas to completely misdiagnose the issue, like completing a jigsaw puzzle, image side down. I sat back in my chair and looked at him, not knowing what to say. While it was clearly to my benefit for him to think that, I couldn’t help but feel a little horrified. “Is that what you think of me?” I asked. He shrugged and went back to his usual routine of making avant garde sculptures out of paper clips and tape. I never told him it was empathy that killed my feelings in the first place.

July 5th

Today is not a holiday but I’ve decided to spend the morning lying in bed, reading a novel as if the 4th of July would go on forever. The venetian blinds on my bay window are mostly closed but I can still perceive the shifting color spectrum as the sun makes it’s way across the sky. If only I could read in a light tight box, immune to the feeling of time slipping away, I could stay here much longer. Anxiety and galloping thoughts get the best of me. As always, the world is going on out there and in my head; endless variations of individual worlds.

Sometime between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m., I dreamt that I woke up in someone else’s bed. The bed belonged to my friend, Krivo, and it was in his new apartment. I have not been in his bed or his apartment since 1995 but I knew where I was because he walked in the room and started talking to me. I got up to look around and admire his art collection. The piece that caught my eye was a painting on silk of a man in a blue and purple suit wearing a fedora and playing a saxophone. The piece was titled The Jazz Musician. I remembered that this had been a gift from me and was touched that he still had it. Upon waking, I know I did not give him that painting but I sent him a text to see if he had something like it.

At 7:30 Carl left to take his mother to the cancer doctor. She has multiple myeloma and her body is wasting away. She weighs less than me now. That can’t be good. I feel for him because I know the devastation I would feel if my mother were sick but it is an empathy more than a personal sadness because I have intentionally never bonded with her. She is not my mother and I am not her daughter. I feel like an impostor, welcomed into her home like a stranger. Trivial small talk and jello salad. Paper plates partitioned so the mashed potatoes don’t touch the meat. Margarine scooped from a tub and presented in a glass bowl. She doesn’t know what to say to me nor I to her. She is a kind soul but she is not my mother.

Ernesto and Carmen sit at the airport waiting to board the plane that will take them home and back to their routines. I try to imagine Carmen’s life, seemingly free from the burden of ambition. She cleans the house and makes dinner; watching talk shows and servicing her husband in accordance with routine. She goes bowling. At forty-something years old she has many things that he has bought for her yet her own efforts have yielded only a shelf full of bowling trophies and romance novels with creased spines; souvenirs from a life-time free of ambition. Not trying equals never having to fail. It is safe. It is air conditioned. It is the lead role in a cage. I guess it’s a cushy gig. I have to wonder though, bringing nothing to the table, what is she to him except a housekeeper that puts out? I don’t understand and I’m not going to try. She fits his definition of “wife” and it is my lack of understanding that relegates me to being what Monique would refer to as “hardly anyone’s type.” It’s ok though, I would rather be what I am.

Dean is at his office, impeccably attired in clothes that clearly did not come from the department store at the mall. He is not a snob but he is a snappy dresser. Those are his words. He is not prideful but his dignity is strong. Those are my words. He sits at his desk; stirring the world, initiating chemical reactions, making something out of nothing. He is beautiful.

Mr. Green Jeans

I was floating on my back in the pool. I can’t swim but I can do this gimpy, floaty thing for short durations of time until the visions of being eviscerated by imaginary sharks scare me back up to the lawn chairs where I belong. I rest my feet on the edge of the pool and lay back in the water like an upside down chair. In this manner I could consider the possibility of swimming while being relatively safe from drowning. So I’m floating, eyes closed, sun on my face, until I feel someone staring at me. My eyes pop open and I see a decent looking middle aged man standing at the edge of the pool, smiling down at me. He says “hi neighbor” which pretty much scared the shit out me and I almost drowned anyway. I was 19 and living in a swanky condo in Las Vegas. This man who, as it turned out actually was my neighbor, lived 3 doors down. His name was Chris, he was forty-something and was a high school wrestling coach.

I’m not much for making new friends and, when it comes to introductions, scaring the crap out of me is not the best method, but he apologized so I let him off the hook. I even took him up on his offer to go back to his place so he could show me his lizard and by that I mean his 5 foot Green Iguana who resided in a stadium sized custom terrarium in the middle of his living room. The iguana’s name was Mr. Green Jeans. It was a stoic creature that would occasionally tilt it’s head to get a better look at you and sometimes might even move one of it’s feet. At the time, I had no idea that I would someday have one of these mini dinosaurs of my very own. The first thing I noticed about his place was that it smelled like iguana. I suppose my house does too although I’ve had mine for over 10 years now so I don’t notice. Sometimes Chris would say hilarious shit like “we have to turn the music down because Mr. Green Jeans is getting stressed out” and I would be like “really, how can you tell?” Chris also told me that, although he had had Mr. Green Jeans a very long time, he didn’t plan on crying when the iguana expired and went to lizard heaven. For all I know that damn thing is still alive. So far as I know, they live indefinitely.

I still find it ironic that the first person to seduce me into smoking weed was a middle aged high school teacher. I was at his place one night and he rolled us a joint. I probably told him that I had never indulged the habit before but, to be honest, I don’t remember. Here’s what I do remember. We were sitting on his bed and I took a drag, expecting immediate results, and nothing happened. I didn’t realize it took a couple minutes to kick in so I guess I must of have inhaled, oh I dunno… all of that joint, like it was a cigarette. Chris, being an experienced smoker, just sat there with his god damned mouth shut and didn’t even try to intervene, apparently waiting to see if I might start reading his mind or speaking in tongues. What happened instead was that I became paralyzed. I mean not actually paralyzed; I could still wiggle my fingers and toes but my body seemed to weigh about 500 pounds and I couldn’t get off the bed. I couldn’t even sit up. What happened next? Fuck if I know. We might have had sex, but probably not, maybe I told him the exact date and circumstance of his death or where and when the next Mega Bucks machine was gonna hit, likely I told him to get some fucking air freshener for that lizard cage and then succumbed to a drug induced coma.

We only went one actual date, if you could even call it that. He took me to Tom and Jerry’s for some fish tacos and then we went to Binion’s Horseshoe on Fremont Street to have our photo taken in front of a million dollars. Yep, back in the day, Binion’s used to keep a million dollars in a bullet proof glass case and, for a nominal fee, you could have your photo taken in front of it. I never thought of Chris as my boyfriend. I didn’t feel any particular way about him, he was just the guy who lived down the street and I was just his naughty little secret. He wanted to fuck me, he tried to fuck me, and I didn’t stop him, but he had himself an acute case of the erectile dysfunction. I’ll concede that it can happen to anyone from time to time but I was 19 with the hormones of a race car which made me unsympathetic and, when it happened twice in a row, I was seriously unimpressed. I also began to pick up on the fact that he was hiding me from his friends. Apparently he didn’t want them to know that a limp dick was all that stood between him and deliciously kinky sex with a barely legal teenager. I took offense to that. I mean, what the fuck, right? That’s rude. So, with this in mind, I decided, rather than firing him, to torture him until he quit.

I was getting ready to go home to see Dean for his birthday. On the day I was flying out, Chris invited me over for a glass of wine. I’m pretty sure I polished off an entire bottle of something pink, at which point my behavior deteriorated to completely unmitigated bitch. I recall him saying “I’m gonna take you home now because you’re being an asshole”. This next part has nothing to do with Chris but is funny in any case. After he brought me home I still had to pack for my trip. I was only going to be gone for a few days but was so shitfaced I couldn’t figure out what to pack so I dug up my biggest suitcase and put pretty much everything I owned into it. Then I made my bitch of a roommate drive me to the airport. I was still drunk when my mom picked me up and I had no explanation for why I had packed enough shit to spend the summer in Europe.

Upon after my return, Chris invited me over for the evening. Having not forgotten my plan to torture him until he tapped out, I accepted. Shortly after I arrived, Chirs decided that he was going to take bath, presumably because he thought I would join him. Instead, I decided to perch myself on the back of the toilet and give him the mantis stare until he felt so awkward that he got out of of the tub and dried off. Then I went home. The next week he invited himself over to my place to watch a movie. We were sitting on my bed watching whatever lame ass flick he had brought over. I didn’t like it and was making frequent crude remarks about it when he said “why don’t you just relax and enjoy the ride?” “Really?!?!” I said “I am the ride”, a few minutes later he left of his own accord stating that I didn’t seem to want company right then. “How do you like me now?” I asked as he walked out the door.

The Gun Show

Carl just stepped into the kitchen donning his favorite accessory; an olive colored Red Oxx travel bag.
“Does this look too much I’m carrying a purse to the gun show?”
“No”, I said, ” it looks like a European shoulder bag, but if there’s any safari types there, at least they’ll know you can’t buy Red Oxx at Wal-Mart.” My answer seemed to satisfy him and he headed out the door to meet my daddy/brother, a relative god never intended for us to have in common, at whatever gun show the two of them are planning on perusing today.

Personally, I just can’t bring myself to spend an entire day walking around a drafty building with exposed insulation, rubbing sweaty elbows with a crowd of pot bellied Lone Ranger types; all mustachioed faces and beady eyes, swimming in a sea of camo hunting caps. Seems to me like wearing camouflage on your head is a good god damned way to get shot in the fucking head. But that’s just me. Eavesdrop on any conversation and the air is rank with paranoid lunacy. Each man intent on defending his wife from imaginary intruders and storming the show with an unprecedented sense of urgency. I’m sure their concerns are well founded, today probably is the last chance to complete their stockpile of ammo before Obama arrives at their house to personally disarm them and maybe steal their TV. Well whatever, kids. How much beer did you have for breakfast?

I’ve always been a little on the fence when it comes to weaponry, of any type. It’s not that I’m against the right to bear arms, as it were, but it attracts and breeds the type of mentality who falsely believes that the threat of violence brings peace, or who mistakes the stalemate masquerading as peace during an impasse, for a resolution. Well Johnny Walker Red, where were you and your concealed carry last week when a 73 year old man in Yuma, AZ went bat shit crazy, shooting and killing six people including himself? What? A little late on the draw? I’ll say. That whole mess could have been avoided if only you had been there. Despite all the peacekeeping guns in the world, chaos marches on, tracking bloody footprints into the house and staining the carpet.

A story from my personal collection:

Sometime around the beginning of my senior year in high school, my step dad, Charles, decided to let his mid life crisis manifest itself in the form of a personal guard dog. I remember coming home one night to find him sitting on the couch holding a tiny Blue Healer puppy named Pete. Pete was pretty cute but, when I reached out to touch him, he snarled at me. Resisting the urge to snap the little bugger’s neck I looked at Charles like what the fuck? He said “This dog ain’t a pet so don’t you go treating it like one.” He then went on to explain that he had purchased Pete to defend his welding truck from tool snatching pirates. This may have sounded like a good idea. It wasn’t.

With each passing week Pete got bigger and meaner and Charles grew in his resolve that no one was to scold his precious killing machine for being aggressive towards people. This was his personal guard dog after all. I should mention that from the time I was 5 years old until I flew the coop at age 19, we always had a minimum of four dogs and this type of overt aggression was never tolerated. Once Pete lost his puppy teeth and grew some real canines, the incidents started to pile up. Despite being saddled with the responsibility of watching the truck, Pete would still spend his nights in the yard and house with the other dogs. The problem was that Pete did not understand the difference between friend and foe. It is nothing short of miraculous that no one sued us for damages. Pete bit, and drew blood from: my step brother, my step brother’s best friend, my cousin and my boyfriend. Charles couldn’t be bothered to offer even a begrudging apology for his dog’s behavior; always muttering some passive aggressive nonsense about Pete serving a purpose.

Any sportsman will tell you, a gun that goes off by itself is destined to go in the ground.

When spring rolled around my mom took me to get my senior pictures done. After my portrait session was over, we ate lunch and went shopping. It was one of the last really good days we spent together before time came along and changed everything. On the way home we stopped at the grocery store to get dog food. Since we had five dogs we would always get the biggest possible bag which would typically weigh 50lbs. Back at the house, it was a pretty long walk from the driveway, all the way through the yard, up the stairs of the porch and to the front door, so I volunteered to carry in the heavy bag. The gate was crowded by four happy dogs with wagging tails and one snarling, crazy eyed, mean as hell Blue Heeler. After pushing my way through the gate and making it half way across the yard, Pete charged me and helped himself to a big mouthful of my calf muscle. My mom managed to kick him off of me and we made our way into the house where Charles, who could not possibly not have heard the commotion in the yard, was sitting smugly at the kitchen table; presumably feeling proud of fine job he had done of training his guard dog. I probably should’ve known better but was full of adrenaline, and way past the point of no return, so I made my way through the living room to the kitchen, looking Charles straight in the face with blazing eyes, and said through clenched teeth “Control. Your. Dog.” and then threw the dog food bag down in front of him, stormed off to my room and slammed the door.

I don’t think either of my parents were prepared for my reaction. My mom had been trying for months to talk some sense into Charles about this insane dog situation. It was a futile effort. He couldn’t be reached or reasoned with and would explode with self righteous anger at the slightest insinuation that he may be doing something wrong. I didn’t expect this time would be any different nor do I actually know what happened next. I assume my mom filled him in on the details. All I know is I was in my bathroom wiping up blood and pouring hydrogen peroxide on the holes in my leg when I heard a rifle discharge in the driveway followed by my mom’s hysterical wailing and, by that point, I had come out to the living room where I could hear Charles’ booming voice shout plain as day “shut your god damned mouth Melinda, this is what you made me do!” All at once I understood what happened; Charles had shot Pete and, worse yet, he didn’t do it because the dog attacked me. Knowing we would be sufficiently horrified, he did it to be spiteful. As per normal, he won because the girls cried and a hateful impasse, that vaguely resembled peace, was restored.

People Watching

Try to make it real. Compared to what? -John Legend

People watching is a habit that causes insanity. I should know, I do it compulsively. The problem, you see, is that people lie and this is Universal Truth #1. They lie on every level and about every thing. They lie with their words and their actions. Elaborate facades are built with clothes, houses and cars. A pig with a Benz and a boob job is still a pig, you know? That house in the cul-de-sac may seem opulent from the outside but it doesn’t necessarily come furnished with happiness. From the inside, it might look like a prison of debt, intent on draining the last drops of nectar from the inhabitant’s soul. The world of human relations is a charade and the bottomless cauldron of poison apples for this mind virus is Twitter. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter as much as the next introverted scab picker but there comes a time when you have to spit out of the Kool Aid of inadequacy and draw a line in the sand dividing truth from fiction. Self employed nut jobs and patient spiders, this is for you.

So let’s say you own yourself a little business and have accepted the task of creating an online presence to raise awareness by coating the faces of your followers in the seed of your influence. First of all, this shouldn’t be your job because all business owners are manic depressive gluttons for punishment. We gamble with our peace of mind every day, shaking it like to make it break, stepping on or around anything that gets in our way; impervious to cold, hunger and pain, or so it seems. What we really do is gnaw off our own cuticles and scratch our skin raw agonizing over what to do next. You know it’s true and if it’s not, then maybe you’re doing it wrong. In light of this ubiquitous fact, you, the business owner, should not ever, never ever never, even look at Twitter, much less indulge in the stalkeresque tendencies that most people would seek a restraining to order to put an end to. What you need is a good right hand man with a keen bullshit detector to do this for you; someone whose job it is to save you from yourself.

Universal truth #2. The “right” answer is implied in the question and may or may not have anything to do with the truth. Ask any kid how that bubble gum got stuck in his hair or why his brother is crying and he’ll say “I don’t know” because that’s the right answer. Ask Bill Clinton about the stain on his assistant’s dress and he’ll say “it’s toothpaste”. If the question is “what shall I say on twitter about myself and my business?”, the “right” answer is: anything that makes you sound happy, fun, knowledgeable, busy and successful with the occasional candid remark thrown in to remind everyone that you’re still a real person; a devastatingly effective, empathy inducing move. Those of you positive thinkers in the crowd assume I’m being a negative Nelle, drunk on the swill of disillusionment, but let me tell you, Pollyanna, I call it like I fucking see it. Reality is not biased by the letters after your name or the romantic notion that spouting frivolous nonsense on Twitter makes you better than you actually are but, if you want a level playing field, then it’s time to get hip to the rules. What I’m talking about are the real rules and there’s actually only one: when you show up to the party, you had better come dressed as who you’re supposed to be. Clearly then, the right answer is not anything that sounds like “my business is sucking wind, IRS is breathing down my neck, clients are blood slurping jackals and my competitors won’t stop until they have my head on a stick.” That, my friends, is the wrong god damned answer. Doesn’t matter that it may be true that day, that week or even that year, it’s the wrong answer so don’t say it.

Universal Truth #3. People can be counted on to give the right answer at just about any cost. There’s a great line in the movie Jackie Brown where Samuel Jackson says “You can’t trust Melanie, but you can trust Melanie to be Melanie.” That’s right. You can’t trust people to do anything except to behave like people and what was the first thing I said? People lie, and combined with the second thing, most often in an attempt to give the right answer. I know this. I know it backwards, forwards, upside down and sideways and yet still manage to get mind fucked by Twitter way too frequently. There are times when even my business tanks for a month or two, I have to rob Peter to pay Paul and I start thinking that maybe a real job is in order. These thoughts don’t make me happy. I’m a simple creature, really. I like money, coffee, cigarettes, and hot sex but not necessarily in that order, except for the money part. I don’t enjoy being poor, it’s hard on the ego. When I get in a funk, I start spending a lot of time on Twitter and immediately notice how so and so is purportedly doing this and that and I’m NOT. This only pours gasoline on an already volatile psyche, unleashing the rabid dogs of depression which leads to spending even more time on Twitter and so on and so forth. You see where this is going? It’s a dead end game of erotic asphyxiation. My point is I know that everyone else is just playing along, tweeting out the right answers. A few of them are true, some vaguely resemble the truth, and a good deal are completely erroneous. So why do I take it so personally? Befuckingcause I gauge my value as a human being by the success of my business and if it’s not good then I’m not good. If things aren’t right then I must be incompetent. The voices in my head are brutal. In this weakened state, I am more than happy to let my condescending and toothless chauffeur drive me around in the short bus with the rest of the retards. Pass me a helmet.

Universal truth #4 – Eyes on the prize. Circular obsessing drains potency to the point of nil. It’s a small world and a short life. Don’t look around, look where you’re going.

Watching The Flowers Sway

I was watching the flowers sway, staring at the sky through a screen of yellow petals. Clouds float by and birds soundlessly peck seeds from the round center of the flower faces. Butterflies alight on my hands. I don’t feel them but their wings are luminous. There is no time here. The jingle of keys breaks the silence.

It was well after working hours on a Friday afternoon at Cortez Elementary School. Most everyone else had already gone home to settle in for their three day weekend but I had wanted to get caught up on the sizable stack of work on my desk so I was still there, working uninterrupted for the past two and a half hours, and only took a break when I did because of the hunger pain gnawing at my stomach. I realized that my husband, Greg, was probably getting worried because I hadn’t called and, after digging around in my purse and desk, I also realized that I left my phone in my car. Suddenly feeling very guilty for losing track of time and being off the grid, I felt that I urgently needed to call home so I jumped up and charged out the door, turning the bottom lock from the inside to make sure no one could get in while I was gone. You know, sometimes I think I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached. I looked everywhere in my car and couldn’t find my phone. “Shit”, I thought, “I must’ve left it on the kitchen table this morning.” At that point I decided I better just pack it in and go home so I head back to my classroom to get my purse but, as I’m walking up the ramp to the door, it hits me that the only keys in my hand are my car keys. Of course I locked the door behind me on the way out and I can see through the little window that my classroom keys are sitting on my desk. “Aww, fuck me” I mutter to myself. I usually wouldn’t talk like that but at this point I’m tired and hungry, plus I’m alone anyway, so who cares? I march back towards the main building desperately hoping to find a custodian still on duty.

Martin unlocks my office door, much to my relief, and I thank him profusely. He seems pleased with himself for having done me a favor but then he follows me inside, closing the door behind him. We are standing facing each other at either end of my teacher length desk. He stares at me with his typical lack of expression. Fear hits my veins in the same instant he lunges for me. He tries to grab my wrists but I am able to pull away and run towards the door. Unfortunately, the steel door is heavy and in the time it takes me to pull it open, he lands on my back, driving my forehead into the sharp corner. My vision goes black momentarily and he throws me across the room onto the floor. On the way down my right foot catches, causing my knee to turn out of socket, and I come down hard on my shoulder. I hear him lock the door from the inside and, as my vision returns, I scramble backwards towards the fire extinguisher on the south wall of the room; it’s the only weapon I could think of. Martin stands in front of the locked door, hands in his pockets, watching me pull the fire extinguisher from it’s holster. I realize I’ve probably dislocated my shoulder as well. I’m sure he can clearly see the bloody goose egg growing on my head coupled with my lurching movements. He knows I’m injured and evidentially is not concerned as his face hasn’t changed nor has he moved from his position by the door. Only now does it occur to me to say something so I say, “get out of my classroom”. Martin doesn’t react. I hadn’t had time to consider what was happening but now I realize that the two of us are quite likely the only two people on campus and I’ve got no means to escape or call for help. Why doesn’t his face have any expression on it? He doesn’t look angry, he looks… vacant. “Martin”, I say in the most rational tone I can muster, “what do you want?” He still doesn’t answer me but now he takes a step in my direction and I can see he’s gripping something that’s in his pocket. It’s obviously not a gun but other than that I can’t tell what it is. My heart is beating thunderously loud and I really start to panic now. He means to kill me, I’m sure of it. I start to scream ” get the fuck out!!!” and he quickens his pace. I know there’s probably no one that can hear me but I scream for help anyway. I also know that the school district hasn’t had this fire extinguisher serviced in at least 10 years and that it won’t work. I’m standing on my left leg because my right foot is rotated painfully to the outside and I can’t turn it back. The pain in my right shoulder is intense too so I’m on my left foot with a broken fire extinguisher in my left hand while the man of a thousand expressions is almost to me. He pulls whatever it is from his pocket. I still don’t see it because I’m swinging the fire extinguisher at his head. Unfortunately, I miss and hit him in the shoulder. It must of hurt more than he expected because he reeled backwards momentarily and I heard him say “stupid bitch”. I saw then what I can only describe as madness in his face. Martin was always quiet and reasonably polite however I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was friendly. To be quite honest I always figured him to be a little slow. Now though, it seemed like someone else was looking out through his eyes. His face still bore no real expression except his eyes which were shiny black and focused. He came at me again, faster this time, and I swung the fire extinguisher as hard as I could, so hard in fact that it flew out of my hand and put a hole in the wall, missing Martin altogether. Martin’s forearm landed across my collar bones and he pinned me to the wall. I was able to get my hand up and on his face. His arm was crushing my windpipe and I could see a screw driver in his right hand. I couldn’t breathe and the world was starting to go black again. With the last of my strength I drove my thumb into his eye. Again he retreated, hands clutched to his face. I hoped I had blinded him, there was a little blood on my thumb and I tried to run (lurch) for the door again. I was about three steps away when he tackled me from behind, throwing me to the floor with unbelievable force. All the air shot from my lungs leaving me mute and unable to breathe. There was blood on the floor under my face, it was dripping from where I hit my head the first time. He was straddling me, sitting with all his weight on my back. Even if I hadn’t just had the wind knocked out of me, I couldn’t have inhaled. I felt him grab a handful of my hair. He pulled my head up and bounced my forehead off the floor.

I was watching the flowers sway, laying on my back in the grass. Yellow sunflowers towered over me in every direction. I only observed; having no thoughts or feelings. The silence of eternity was here. I gave no consideration to how long I had been there or how long I would remain. No ideas surfaced in my mind. I just was; still in the present moment.

Pain wracked my entire body. I gasped for air and choked on my own salty blood. I tried to open my eyes but could only see out of one of them. I didn’t see Martin but I smelled cigarette smoke and heard his keys jingle behind me. I was facing the back of the class room and I guessed that Martin was leaning against my desk smoking a cigarette. I had no concept of how much time had passed. I could see a screw driver on the floor a few feet away from my face and it was completely coated in blood and what appeared to be some of my hair. Oh god, everywhere I looked there was blood, my blood. How am I still alive? I notice that I’m cold, my feet especially so and, to my growing horror, I realize that I’m naked from the waist down and my blouse is torn open. I don’t see my clothes anywhere. I can’t imagine why I should be awake right now only to discover that I’ve been beaten, broken and raped and am very close to dying of blood loss. A cruel cosmic joke of sorts. My assailant is still in the room, presumably watching me gurgle and choke on my own blood while he takes a smoke break. I have no illusions of fighting him off, escaping or of not bleeding to death but, in hopes of avoiding any further pain, I decide to play dead. I try to breathe as shallow as I can and it is all I can do to not choke on the blood pooling in my mouth. Please god, just don’t let him hurt me any more, stop my heart before he finishes that cigarette. From behind me I hear some rustling and clanking. He’s going through my desk. My dwindling brain power reminds me that there is a hammer in the bottom drawer. I hear metal clang on metal and the sound of a drawer closing. I should be scared, I guess, begging for mercy or something like that but ,when I heard his footsteps approaching, a strange kind of fearlessness came over me. I was furious for what had been taken from me in this room; everything, everyone I had ever loved, every memory, every experience and emotion I had ever known had been torn from my grasp and I couldn’t accept that all the moments of my life had led me here; dying at the hands of an expressionless janitor on the floor of my own classroom. When Martin’s footsteps stop behind my back, I listen for his pants to rustle knowing he would be squatting down. I felt his hand on my shoulder and, somehow, someway, a superhuman burst of adrenaline hit me and I reached out, grabbed the bloody screwdriver and plunged it into his arm. He howled with pain and brought the claw end of the hammer down on the top of my head.

There is always a few moments when you first wake up when your mind is still and the world is peaceful. You haven’t yet hit play on the nonstop recording of useless thoughts and worries that most of us call thinking. It is a brief moment. I was watching the flowers sway and I began to wonder where I was and how I would get home. I noticed the quality of the light start to change. The brilliant sunshine had been turned down a notch and there were no longer any birds or insects to be seen. A vague sense of unease came over me and I saw thunderously dark storm clouds rolling in from every direction. It was then that I noticed I seemed to be drifting up towards the flowers. This paradise had become something else, a deluge of thoughts returned to me and I was terrified to be cut loose from this world. I grabbed frantically at the flowers; tearing off leaves and petals, trying desperately to pull myself back towards the ground. The wind was picking up and huge rain drops started to splash off my face. I clung to the thick stems of the sunflowers, intent on preventing myself from being drawn out into the storm.

Martin saw a bloody hammer in his own hand and a dead woman on the floor. At first he didn’t understand what had happened. The last thing he could remember he was heading to the supply closet after cleaning the girl’s bathroom by the cafeteria. That’s when Mrs. Ringwald flagged him down saying that she had locked her keys in her classroom. Oh my god is that… He used his foot to roll the body over, it is! What the fuck?!?! He looked at his watch. 8:00, how in the world did it get to be 8:00?! The last he checked it was 5:00 and he was getting ready to leave. An all too familiar sick feeling came over him. This wasn’t the first time he had come to his senses in the middle of something ugly. Fearing the neighbors would take legal action, his parents had helped him dispose of the dead dog they found wrapped in a blanket in the shed behind their house. For weeks there were reward signs for the missing German Shepard. Jasper was a friendly dog that would frequently play in Martin’s yard and, sometimes when he thought no one was watching, Martin would go in the house and get a couple hot dogs to bribe Jasper into performing some tricks. His favorite was to place a little chunk of meat on the dog’s nose and then, on his command, Jasper would fling his nose up and catch the treat in his mouth. One sad afternoon Martin was playing with Jasper and “woke up” to find himself kneeling on the ground clutching a rock the size of a football and Jasper laying next to him, his skull was crushed. In a panic, not knowing what to do or even what actually happened, Martin drug the dog carcass into the shed and wrapped it up in a blanket. A few days later a mysterious foul odor was wafting into the house and his dad went out to investigate. There were other times too, other “incidents”, but nothing as fucked up as this. This was a woman, a human being! He had liked Mrs. Ringwald. She was so pretty and nice. He didn’t even remember coming into this room. I didn’t do this, it wasn’t me. Martin’s thoughts were racing. It couldn’t have been me, I wouldn’t do this! Oh god dammit…, god dammit why does this shit keep happening to me?!?! Martin sat on the floor beating his hands against his forehead. He recalled his father’s words as he listened through the wall while his parents argued one night, “Irene, that boy is sick. I’m telling you, he ain’t right and if we don’t do something, next time it may not be an animal that he kills.” Martin replayed this conversation in his head, hearing his mother not responding but only crying. He started to cry too but there was no time for that. He had to get himself and the body out of here before someone came looking for Mrs. Ringwald.

By the time the police arrived on Saturday morning Martin had long since fled the scene with the body, leaving an almost comical trail of bloody bread crumbs that led them straight to his front door. Like I said, I had always figured him to be a little, well, simple. They let themselves into my classroom and discovered a scene so gruesome that I was declared dead even though there was no body. Surveillance cameras, time clocks, bloody fingerprints and the trash bags of Martin’s blood stained clothes that he left in the dumpster gave police a pretty clear road map to follow.

I was watching the flowers sway, whipping violently back and forth and nearly bending to the ground from the force of the wind. Rain stung my eyes but I clung to the ground, refusing to let go.

I was watching Greg address the news cameras. He was pleading on my behalf, begging anyone who might know something of my whereabouts to come forward. “but I’m here” I tried to tell him. His sadness and desperation cloaked him like a black robe. I grabbed his arm with both hands and shouted “Greg!”. He only stared into the cameras and said “please help me bring my wife home”. My parents were standing behind him each lost in a world of misery. My mother’s eyes were blank and her face was horror stricken. When they went home after the press conference I saw her retching into kitchen sink before collapsing to the floor; hugging her knees to her chest and rocking back and forth. My father sat on the couch staring at the TV that wasn’t on. The house was silent. I didn’t want to be the cause of bringing this grief on my family. My heart broke for all of them as the pain of losing me ripped through them. I hurt more for their sadness than for my own lost life. I was especially sad for Greg. We had been married less than a year although we had been together for a total of five years. He was my soul mate, I really believed that and I could think of nothing worse than to helplessly watch him lie in bed crying night after night. I wanted to comfort him, to tell him that I was here and that what had happened didn’t really happen to me exactly, just the me he was used to seeing. I hovered around him, feeling helpless to make myself known. His darkness was so thick he couldn’t see or feel anything except his loss. When he would finally drift off to sleep I would try to reach him there and occasionally he would see me but he never recognized our interactions as anything more than dreams.

I didn’t know how much longer I could hold on. The wind blew so hard that the towering sunflowers were being ripped from the ground. I was so tired. If I let go I knew I would be swallowed up by the abyss of storm clouds. It would be no different than being dropped in the ocean. My fear of what was out there was intense but so was my fatigue. It seemed the more afraid I became, the harder the wind blew and the harder the wind blew the more afraid I became. Finally I couldn’t hold on anymore and let go saying “I give up”. Almost instantaneously, as if god had spoken, everything stopped and the sun came back out. The birds and insects returned and all was as it had been. Once again I was watching the flowers sway and I understood that it was only ever my own fears that were attacking me.

Two months. That’s how long it took the police to figure out where Martin left the body. He left it in a drainage ditch in Bernardo, partially clothed and wrapped in trash bags. A railroad worker found it. Being submerged in water all that time, there really wasn’t much left to find. Dental records were needed to confirm the identity.

I was watching the flowers sway and I decided to stop being afraid. Yes, you can decide stuff like that at any time regardless if you’re walking the earth or idling in sunflower limbo. Decisions can be made by any being at any point. The decision to let go of fear means you have to let go of a lot of excuses too. If you’re lucky enough to be alive, think how your life would be if you weren’t afraid to live it. As for me, I’ll catch y’all on the flip side and when I feel ready for another adventure, I’ll come back and start over.

Five years. That’s how long it took the justice system to convict Martin Sedillo of Carrie Thomas Ringwald’s murder. He’s going to die in prison. My family feels that it is “over” now but it doesn’t satisfy them to punish Martin. No amount of locking him up can undo what has already been done. Greg feels that it is ok for him to move on now. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to tell him that for years but he felt he couldn’t start to look at anything else in his life until the trial was over. All I want is for my family to be happy again. I can’t bare being the reason for such sadness but, like them, I have to let go and move on.

I was watching the flowers sway.

JC

Dear Mankind,
I’m afraid we must redefine the nature of our relationship. I regret to inform you that I will no longer be able to accept your cash donations in exchange for opportunities to blow me on television. While this was a pleasurable and beneficial arrangement, you loose lipped cajolers have been portraying me in an unflattering light and my agent says it’s bad for business. Sadly, I have never encountered anyone more adept at misinterpreting the facts than you pitifully nearsighted bastards and it hurts me in my heart, but that inglorious clown faced whore you make me out to be is lowering my klout. Apparently, some douche bag sporting the stigmata and a new pair of Gurkee’s charged a Milgauss on my Am-Ex card and then broke the neck of his saltine “companion” who tried to stash it in her twat while he was in the can reading WWJD Magazine and taking a dump. Unfortunately for her, she was not bat winged enough to pass a Rolex off as a camel toe and got a taste of the pimp hand for her efforts. Granted this could have all been avoided by not leaving a $6000 timepiece unattended in the company of a woman with a peg leg and open sores; any fool knows that, but the fact remains that no self respecting social media aficionado would be caught dead retweeting the tainted words of a charlatan. My bank even froze my accounts on suspicion of identity theft resulting in an incident that left me red faced with shame when my card was declined at Spago’s during my parent’s anniversary dinner. My old man had to pick up the tab prompting him to scold to me in front of everyone; wagging his finger in my face and saying “Son, you’ve got to get your affairs in order.” Then he slapped a waitress on the ass demanding that she hold his staff while he tried to make the manager comp the whole meal claiming that he had nearly choked to death on a hair in his salad. The long and short of it is this; you kids are making me look bad and I didn’t sign up for this shit. I guess it’s true what they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Additionally, I am not a doctor. I can’t fix your meth teeth and if pus laden genital scabs were a concern maybe y’all shoulda kept your collective dick in your pants. Please, fucking please stop with the pleas for mercy. I’m not your bitch and you’re gonna need to clean up your own messes. I do, however, have a direct line to the eye in the sky, flamboyant drama queen that he is, keeping me privy to what is hip and I even have a signed lithograph of @Banksy_Graffiti’s ‘Consumer Jesus’ being delivered to my vacation home in the tropics. Most of my friends consider this genre of art to be passe but word has it his work is extremely collectible. Anyway, I packed your shit into some boxes and left them in the garage. There’s some left over fish in the fridge and a loaf of french bread in the oven if you’re hungry. By the time you get this I’ll have walked halfway to Bermuda. Don’t try to call me or I’ll be forced to get a restraining order.
Yours in Christ,
J

Fake Doctors

The following is my opinionated, but not entirely unscientific, testimony for breaking up with dairy products.

Generally speaking, we Americans have been indoctrinated in the gospel of cow’s milk; being led to believe that partaking in it’s creamy goodness is not only wholesome but necessary. Milkiness is next to godliness. Don’t believe me? Turn on the TV and see for yourself. Interestingly though, no other adult mammal consumes milk and certainly no other mammal consumes the milk of a different species. Be that as it may, our near religious fervor for cow’s milk will not be quelled by the facts. To hear some folks tell it you’d think Elsie sits at the right hand of Christ as an honorary member of the holy trinity: Father, Son and Holy Fucking Cow.

Most milk comes from pregnant cows and contains huge quantities of the androgen hormone DHT (dihydrotestosterone), enough to regulate the metabolism of a pregnant 900 pound jersey cow and is also high in IGF-1 (Insulin like growth factor-1), the growth hormone responsible for turning a new born calf into a lumbering farm animal. Milk is baby formula and we make our own, there is no need to drink theirs. It is rumored that 75% of the world’s human population is lactose intolerant to some degree. This means that I am far from alone in experiencing the festive display of intestinal fireworks that commences immediately following the consumption of even the tiny quantity of half & half contained in a Mini Moo coffee creamer. I broke up with that low down bastard, milk, a long time ago but still continued in my love affair with cheese and yogurt because their cultured live enzymes made them digestible for me. I did not realize they were the perpetrators of another crime.

As a kid, my parent’s, like pretty much everyone’s parents, would miss no opportunity to plunk down a glass of milk in front of me and tell me to drink it. I was a small child, not sick, just slight but rather than stating the obvious which was that I was a healthy little person I was told, mostly by my grandmother, that if I didn’t start eating more food and drinking more milk that I would become frail and diseased, “like me” she would say. I consumed a lot of milk, yogurt and cheese so, in retrospect, maybe it’s not surprising that puberty hit me like a ton of bricks at age 11. While it never did produce a C cup bra size, it did mean I started my period in 5th grade and with it came a biblical scourge of breakouts that more or less put an end to my already minimal social life and led me to believe that I was going to have to work on being smart because skating by on my good looks probably wasn’t going to cut it.

My mother has recently informed me that she struggled with acne for a good 30 years; from adolescence until her mid 40’s, a fact that I somehow did not pick up on during the first 15 years of my life, but she swears is true. The thing is, she just told me this last week. I’m 35 years old. Last fucking week! Now, I’m not gonna say that she was a bad mother but I have a major bone to pick over this issue. When she told me of her affliction my first reaction was to throw something and demand “why didn’t you help me?!?!” She worked as a medical assistant in an urgent care center for about 12 years while I was growing up. There was a dermatologist who worked there too. I know this because she did take me to see the dermatologist, once. Granted, it is not my mom’s fault that this dermatologist prescribed some totally ineffective treatments but where I take issue is that she had the same problem and knew first hand how it affected her self esteem; transforming her adolescence into a painfully reclusive time yet, when she it saw it happening to me, she acted like it was no big deal. Not wanting to explode in her face with a tirade of accusations, I didn’t ask her why, but if I had I imagine her answer would be that I didn’t complain or ask for help and therefore she was blissfully (conveniently) unaware of my crumbling self esteem, assuming that there must be some other reason for my conspicuous shyness and inability to make friends. I didn’t complain or ask for help because I was too embarrassed and because I didn’t know that there might have been more help available. I think at that age, the responsibility for identifying and proactively addressing physical and emotional problems is the job of the parent especially when the problem was so visibly obvious and the parent was a health care professional. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, right? Seeing that I was destined to suffer the same fate as herself one might assume that my mom would’ve sought out every treatment option available, relentless attacking the problem from every possible angle until clear skin reigned triumphant. Instead, she would sit mutely by while my step dad berated me for wearing too much makeup, in what he assumed was an attempt to get “all whored up”, when all it ever was was an attempt to make my skin look normal.

In middle school I told myself life would be better by the time I turned 16. In high school I told myself all would be well by the time I got to college. At the beginning of college of I told myself there would be clear sailing by the time I turned 21. How long can puberty last after all? The answer; long enough to master the art of introversion or indefinitely, whichever comes first. Sometime around age 25 I stopped setting deadlines. Throughout my adult years, I’ve experienced varying degrees of severity; some years passing with only minimal disturbance while other years seemed like a repeat of 7th grade. I have tried EVERYTHING, every. fucking. thing; you name it, I’ve tried it. I’ve been to other dermatologists, all of whom numbly prescribe the same thoughtless regime of treatments that didn’t work the previous time either. Eventually, having no positive experiences to draw on, I really soured to the idea of seeing a dermatologist and resigned myself to finding products that didn’t make it worse and hoping for the best on a day to day basis. Things were actually pretty good for a few years in my late 20’s and early 30’s. I thought maybe I had finally won but then, about two and half years ago, it reappeared with a vengeance. A little breakout followed by a bigger breakout followed by an even bigger breakout until my complexion had gone completely off the tracks. I tried everything that had ever worked with any degree of success in the past, and all to no avail. My face was a disaster and all I wanted to do was hide but I still had to run my business and successfully close deals which requires a great deal of confidence, all the while feeling hideously ugly. After about 6 months of this nonsense, in a state of total desperation, I decided to once again see a dermatologist. This time, I told myself, is the last time. I’m going to ride this doctor like a fucking pony until they find something that works. I was committed to finding a cure. Incidentally, by this point I am convinced that there must be some stimulus, other than being smitten by God, that is triggering the breakouts; some hormonal, dietary or environmental factor that is working against me but I still have no idea what it could be.

On my initial visit to the new dermatologist, upon hearing my story and my feeling that there must be an underlying cause, the first words out of her mouth were “We don’t actually know what causes acne.” I was like “Are you shitting me?” Imagine that, the cause of the most common skin aliment in the world is not known by the doctors whose job it is to treat it! Really, I mean really?!?! Here we go again, I thought. While she was talking I stole a glance at what I assumed was her medical degree hanging on the wall behind her. Turns out, it was an associates degree in animal husbandry from Middleton Community College. A few months into my tenure she was writing me yet another prescription for a different oral antibiotic and I asked her if such prolonged use of antibiotics wasn’t adversely affecting my health in other ways. She looked at me like I was speaking in tongues and her answer was, get this, “but that’s how it’s treated.” Oh ok, so her plan then was to keep prescribing me oral antibiotics until the abdominal pain and intestinal liquefaction drew my attention away from my face and drove me to slit my wrists in the bathtub. There, problem solved. Eventually, after spending about 7 months and lots of money with this quack, I put in a vote of no confidence and went to find another new doctor. Unfortunately the new one was actually worse than the previous. Both of them did the same things: telling me that acne was a mysterious problem that may be caused by black cats or voodoo curses but definitely not by anything I may be eating and, since the cause is evidently more elusive than the aboriginal unicorn, there was really no point in trying to figure it out so just take these antibiotics until your stomach bleeds and use this horrible battery acid topical ointment that will cause 2nd degree burns, rendering the acne much less noticeable as a result. When these methods would inevitably fail they would get exasperated with me, like it was my fault their lame ideas didn’t work, and then just move on to the next items on the list, still making no effort whatsoever to consider the cause; hurriedly tossing another prescription at me and showing me the door. I only went to the 2nd derm three times. On the third visit she was so rude, curt and useless that I hit the end of my rope, sitting in my car crying with frustration for half an hour before I could get it together to safely drive away. This woman, whose degree I noticed was actually a framed certificate of authenticity for a 1985 Astronaut Barbie, actually said to me (after I shot down all her no-brainer suggestions), ” I don’t know what to tell you then.” Well fuck you very much doc, and thanks for nothing.

I know I can’t be the only middle aged person in America suffering from a chronic case of puberty and my heart goes out to anyone who is coloring their gray hair, applying anti aging treatments to their eyes and using Proactiv on their face all at the same time. If this is you and dermatologists have proven to be a condescending and useless tribe of fake doctors, I feel your pain. But there may still be hope for us yet. One night, during yet another exhaustive internet research marathon, a long overdue miracle occurred. I learned that, while it does not have the same effect on everyone, many people believe that the consumption of dairy products is a direct contributor to the presence of long term, treatment resistant acne in both teens and adults. Basically, the cow appropriate levels of DHT and IGF-1 present in any dairy product throws the human metabolism into a tail spin causing wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels, inflammation and increased oil and skin cell production and guess what all of these things are major contributors to? Surprise, surprise: acne. Admittedly, my love affair with cheese made me reluctant to test the the theory. Eventually though, I decided that no food tastes as good as clear skin looks and that if I wanted off this ride sometime prior to filing for social security, it was time to get serious. That was about 5 weeks ago. The first few weeks produced only nominal results and I was about to throw in the towel when, in week number 4, I began to see a dramatic improvement. Blemishes cleared up and new ones did not appear to take their place. Days are ticking by and, while I’m fully prepared to discover the whole thing is a cruel practical joke, so far the other shoe has yet to fall. With a long history of disappointment I am reluctant to announce the occurrence of an official according to Hoyle miracle just yet but, for the first time in a long time, I am optimistic.