The faces are in the bricks one by one piled into the wall. I can feel them staring and observing and criticizing; the cardboard houses shutter beside the dumpsters as the crows ascend, fleeing. I can feel them watching as I crawl from the alley.
The faces are in the windows a hundred stories high. I know they face down and are watching and peering and leering, corporate courthouses for the American Dream, warehouses of needle-dicked neck-ties stored in climate-controlled lockers. I don’t know what they want.
The faces are leering and bulbous and large, jeering and peering through the back of my skull – What is he? What is he worth? What career is he? Who does he think he is?
To what they criticize and complain I do not know, the looks in the faces I do not know I do not know I do not know.
What is it that you expect!
What is it that you want!
The faces are in the sidewalk hovering all around. I walk faster and try to keep my eyes down, keep looking up, glancing, I cannot keep myself from side-eyed wondering what these faces are for. They hover all around, disembodied and disappointed, condescending in their disgust. Timidity on my shirt-sleeves, fear stitched into the seams of my jeans that do not fit and have not fit since the day I stopped consuming, starving.
The skeleton walks and the faces leer through its ribcage, having eaten.
The daily sweat burning August sun into the red of my neck, head bent day long placing pavers up a driveway to a three car garage. Exhaustion is when limbs get numb, dehydration underestimating the volume of a gallon water jug. When the lamppost by the cascading stoop comes on, lights an orb with edges dissipating into a night hiding the house’s upper-floors… there is something I’ve missed. I am supposed to be home and I am still laying bricks. The stars in the sky out-competed by the porch lights deck lights driveway lights garage lights lawn lights of the much-achieved sub-division. I stand up from the bricks and turn a confused circle. I am pushing a brick-loaded wheelbarrow back down to the pick-up, curb parked. The pick-up has accrued at some point several tickets beneath the wipers. The wheelbarrow catches an unevenly-laid brick and the weight is a moment tumbling free of my hands. I was supposed to be home. There is something I have missed. My kid is asleep and my wife on her one night off is waiting up for me. It wasn’t supposed to be this. Suburban lights have lawns glowing green, surreal, past the windows of the pick-up. I must have made a wrong turn. The GPS doesn’t plug in anywhere and my flip-phone isn’t receiving 2G. Somewhere in a cul-de-sac I have become lost. I am sweating needle-pricks from my goosebumps and I don’t know where I am. In the windshield are memory-versions of myself sitting in college classrooms, studying in the library, taking rum from my empty pockets sleeping nowhere, and in a mindless storm of impulse rocketing my future down a highway away from school, towards towns I’d yet to explore. And needed. And desired. A life not spent bent supplicating paychecks from the boss’s desk. I am on my own. And I am crushed. And my family has no future in a townhouse past the gentrified edge. And I am sinking in debt and insurance and credit scores I refuse to check. And I am told to hire a crew. If I’d just stayed in school a degree and then ten people working under me. I must have become confused. Or corrupted, with some sick ideal a dozen people shouldn’t work beneath me. I am a fuck up. The windshield a translucent reflection bloated to dimensions of pathetic ethics, face pallid stained with blood sinking into a gut that won’t climb itself a single capitalist rung. Idealistic refusal and the delusion my children will be better off. That I work for no one and I run no one, and I am confused. It is four in the morning in a cul-de-sac and the pick-up still a mile down the driveway. There is something I have missed. I am placing the bricks back in the wheelbarrow and this is the day beginning. I was supposed to be home.
I am the exoskeleton on the couch, the shell with six stick legs that kick with random ticks of subterranean neural sparks. The cushions here are comfortable. I can’t remember what I’ve been watching on the TV. The TV seems to be off.
There are beer bottles brown vessels empty on the coffee table glued to the finish with the stick of my ejaculate. The blankets on the couch are warm. It might be close to sunset. The real chore is counting the hours from the moment I ran out of gas.
Gas sputtered in my thorax choking sounds within the shell before the release valve (mid-point between my second set of legs) burst, and the gas burst sticky and yellow out like old motor oil. The sputtering oil ruined my carpeting.
There are insects grotesque that can survive while they’re headless, exoskeletal husks lumbering on with oil sputtering from the thorax. But the subterranean neural kicks subsist on basic instinct – it all gets very subconscious.
As the exoskeleton on the couch, bloated with self-serving pleasure I’m quite the debauch. And while I’m in this couch-pit funk something in the head continues to tink, tink, tinker away like a clock with hands that don’t move even though you can hear the ticks.
The ticks are in the bookshelf. I can hear the ticks and it isn’t the TV this is for damn sure. The ticking is in the bookshelf. My six legs spasm and kick and I am walking quickly across the couch, over the end-table, sideways on the wall around the room to the bookshelf.
There is something here I am hanging upside-down from the bookshelf’s top shelf and my mandibles pull every volume from the shelves, looking for the tick, searching for the ticks. It is here.
When the spark-plugs die the gas backs up and blows the valve. This is simple insectoid mechanics. The spark dies and the gas gets stale and that’s called motivation leaking from my abdomen. The motivation leaks liquefied intestines turn to carrion on my ruined carpeting. This is me, hollowed exoskeleton on my couch.
But the spark is there where the ticks in the bookshelf hide. It is a matter of remembering where I put the spare spark. This is me rediscovering religion in a novel I haven’t read in years and it doesn’t have a title and it doesn’t have a single chapter and the message on each page is the same as the last: It Doesn’t Matter. Be Excited Because It Doesn’t Matter Be Excited Be Excited You’re Alive.
I am running today. There’s a length of road unfurling from a spool I dictate; on this side green idyllic valley, on this side clean urban culture, up ahead, a destiny. The running isn’t running, it’s a brisk walk that won’t wear me out, but the scenery changing and the unfurling fast enough to keep exciting, to stay excited about moving, not looking back at the swamps where the road began.
I’m in a hole and the six feet of dirt over me is the refuse of every project I half-heartedly take on. This is my circular dream and I am a square inside of a square inside of square inside of square. My dream is circular:
naked before rust-stained flannels and jeans faded by months of weathering life in the street: sidewalk-trawlers, wide-eyed and dreary for a drink of something sane; bum-wine and molly and verse raw it will peel your skin, lyrics with grit to break your teeth – before this naked I stand
they see the skin moisturized by gentle body-wash, flesh well-nourished and the carseat-carrying Jetta I’ve parked on the curb, free from dent or blemish or a winter spent without heat. Here I am with circular façade asking to be accepted: “Hi, I blog about your scene, will you accept me?”
I’m trying not to be self-loathing. Bulwark my sense of self – Hey, man, you’re probably more real than they are – I tell myself. And this is stupid, because what the fuck does it matter?
Here is what you do: your shirt looks cool if you make it look cool.
What you are doing is genuine if you make it genuine.
Be genuine; it’s not superficial: it’s what you feel and what you exude.