You told me to buy presentable clothes and I did, a whole new outfit from Target. Neat slacks and spiffy shirt, even found shoes to match. And now here I am dressed like a fish trying to understand what it means to breathe air. We’re toddlers on a see-saw, you and I, for the first time trying to find stability. But this gala is full of coroners. My first big affair for a serious career, and my editor escorts me to a corner booth to meet the district managers who pay us both. I laughed at the right jokes but I kept my mouth shut, and they never once saw the tattoos ‘round my gums. The molars I had pulled from eating rocks as a drop-out. Clean-shaven clean-cut and dressed like the guest of a judge who doesn’t recognize my face from four years before, I could maybe fit in if my conscience didn’t heave. The walls are turning purple. Faces start to swirl with open jaws of twisting laughter, vortices of features. The chandeliers are bleeding light. The hotel porters are cackling rapists out in the foyer looking for a fix and I don’t know what I’m into but I’m out in the rain. I am the news man who screamed out the window and tossed himself to pursue his echoes. There is a limo parked in the curbside puddles, seven porters to open the limo door. Out steps the Big Man himself, CEO of Gannet. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” My editor masturbating through his pocket. I am pouring vodka into champagne so no one will notice the changes bringing back the alcoholic. Unemployment gets me paid about half as much but if I don’t need a car or to keep my appearance, well, that’s money well saved and spent at the bar. No – I should give you a call to keep my head grounded but our conversation cannot be heard by these howling de Sades. Their suits are worth more than the hearse they’ll wheel me out on. I am cackling at the bar. Am I the Marquis in the mirror? Behind me spins the eloquent calculations of Murdoch’s publications, wives and the mistresses of breaking war stories and the talking heads from GE that just won’t quit. I am performing Coyote Ugly on the bar, finally shouting all the things that should be said. I haven’t had a care in the world since Makers’ Mark let me forget the debts I owe and the kids we support and I may be the Marquis in the mirror but god damn these cruel fools, our see-saw will stay stable if we place a god damn trailer on it.
The chain breaks at one of two ends. I’m certain I have the world in my hands but can’t make it to stand two whole days without imploding. The gift-wrapped box in the sky with bow-ties engraved with my name, I can have it: in the land of the free in the 21st century, any one of us can have it (supposedly). The night sky hides 10 billion galaxies the world can’t yet see, just waiting for someone with the perseverance to reach long enough and grab it — a whole new realm of possibilities. The imagination isn’t separate from reality; they’re in the same box. Today I was on the phone for two hours trying to pay six different bills to eight different companies. I washed dishes and shoveled the driveway. I looked at my kid and couldn’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be reading just to pass the time. If life is a puzzle it disintegrates just the same. Just like in a movie, when a typewriter flies down a flight of stairs, the slow-motion bursting scatters little springs and keys in an upward shower of catharsis. Thoughts of self-castration are not far from mind. I could’ve been a fucking Jedi.
Long nights awake in bed, my tired circuitry is sparking with the energy of a jazz band. There is so much to be done in this life, but at 1am there is nowhere to go. Just to sleep. By 6am sunlight is faint, and my eyes are heavy enough to witness unconscious dreams of greatness on the dorm room’s concrete wall. The future on the concrete wall, a vortex of fog and the ghosts of future selves. The projector has been on all along – 8am awake to find myself sleep-screaming in the back of class. In the dream, someone telling me I’d been wrong. And in a few moments when I graduate I’ll be awoken by the screeching of a library desk. 8 hours of class, 6 hours of clearing tables. The kitchen is a cluster-bomb of aluminum line cooks, and the incredulous owner saying I yesterday called to quit my job. From my back on my mattress I had dreamt-up unemployment and I swear the projector had been turned on. The vortex on the wall it swirls; dreams no longer clearly separating from reality. Dizzying clouds of cigarette smoke in the heyday hours of a gentle trip. Today I am the professor of pharmaceuticals. Fog rolls down the basement steps to underground bars where bass-drops come in flavors of neon candy. I’ve been reading more Pynchon lately; Calvin and Hobbes for what might lie awake in the future’s fog. Tomorrow I can be a dentist; I can be a desk clerk. Tomorrow morning I can be quickly falling through the sewer grate, or founding an internet platform. I am going to write novels when I graduate, or I can uncover the next Watergate, or I will be the first to manufacture sheets of graphene. In a few years when I’m well on the road to my dreams, starting my own business and happily getting married, I’ll realize I’m awake in class, and they’re all frozen and watching me. Hope mocks me for being so dead wrong; the concrete wall is a facade, and all of life has passed me by on my back, long days awake in bed on my back. I awake to find myself still asleep in class, and everyone is watching, the vortex on my desk in a puddle of blood, where the pencil has dug a crater into the back of my hand.
There were rats in our ceiling though I know you couldn’t hear them. The house was crowded, it was loud, little house reverberating with the sound of New Year’s tidings. You were speaking to your friend’s parents, the ones who work at a hospital, and my sister was planning her wedding. Everyone was talking, everyone was watching the countdown on TV, everyone was enjoying the simple normalcy of things. But there was a scratching in the ceiling over the kitchen, a noise, that isolated me. I had to focus to hear the little claws. I admit it was easy, to disconnect from the party and hear the silence in my head quickly broken by the scurry of little claws. And maybe the silence had been there a while, is why it was so easy to find – spaces in broken conversations to hone in on, like the air you find inside the cardboard décor of furniture stores. It is all empty air and the silence it was piercing my head. And this is when I first heard the rats, seated in silence at the kitchen table hearing friends go on about fantasy sports and TV shows to ring in the new year and the vacuity of it all suddenly transpired – in me the distance, the fear of floating away in the wake of a cruise that’s already left the bay.
I believe they noticed I was pale and clammy, these people at the kitchen table with me. They regarded me with a safe distance, like a child around whom you carefully choose your words. I was the idiot they looked at and had to repeat exactly what they meant when they said the stock market was a better way to hedge their bets. As if I were the idiot! They couldn’t hear the rats clawing six feet above our heads. The tendons in my chest began to tighten, I was sweating with a pain that could have been the flu or claustrophobia – more rats were filling into the ceiling, the scraping reaching a frantic pitch and no one could hear a god damned thing but their own platitudes and plaints. My eyes were stuck in the middle distance of nowhere, focused compulsively on the silence that surrounded me, filled me – and how quickly it was broken by the clawing in the ceiling! I had to act. Visions of insulation and wires being ripped apart by the clawing horde making nests in my ceiling.
It was the footsteps they heard, paired to the conspicuous vacation from the kitchen chair I’d occupied all night: they knew it had to be me on the roof. Figure, it would be only me they heard through the ceiling. I admit I was stomping trying to find a weak patch in the roof, a way to get through to the rats making nests in my ceiling. I didn’t notice them at first, my audience below, and the sight must have been something to see – the front yard matted with leaves I never raked, garbage bags piled in the drive I never took to the street, and the dozens who gathered in the cold New Years’ drizzle to see me stalking the roof with a flashlight and cleaver. My plan I hadn’t fully thought through. It was you who called up to me first. I waved you away and said go back inside, this was something I could handle. And this must have been the stroke of midnight, because somewhere behind our house fireworks were going off. And I imagine the fireworks put me in silhouette because the light of them was bright enough to hide the shine of my flashlight. I was looking up in the trees over the house, for the rats, because even on the roof I could still only hear the scraping somewhere above me.
The boxes beneath the tree tremor with soft scraping sounds etching into the cardboard from the inside-out. The tree is dry and I haven’t watered it since you dragged it into the house, put it up yourself and strangled it with lights. The strands flicker electrical shortages. I am in the armchair across the room, alone and in the dark – the dark broken across the room by the white and green lights sparking in and out, and behind the tree in the lousy bay window (bay window stuck to the front of our drowsy rental by a landlord finding a reason to charge more) are the outside lights hanging from the gutter and these lights too sputter in and out, a madhouse effect of lights’ electrical shorting and the rats in the fucking boxes wrapped in cheery Ho Ho Ho! are finally scratching through the cardboard.
I am in the armchair and I am wracked. My hair is at odd angles from hands that tried to hold the itching, the itching inside my skull, from cracking out, greasy and clammy from three days’ sitting here to remember what this was all about. I don’t how I arrived here to live in this house, with you. I can’t remember why I went to college, or why I dropped out, or why I stopped going to work last week. I don’t know how it is that you can cry, or what it is I’ve done.
I can’t rationalize why I should feel pleased that you – or anybody else – thought to buy me a sweater or a DVD or a god damned mouse for my laptop. ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT THE WAFFLE IRON? I want to crack my teeth on the concrete steps that maybe the pain will be sincere enough to let me enjoy a moment of quiet television-watching so I can tell your parents how glad I am for the 12 months of Hulu they gave us.
There is something wrong here that I cannot understand. But maybe it’s me. I never remembered to buy you a gift, and to be honest it was far down my list of important life goals to accomplish. I sit here now, in this armchair, with a shuttering heart of regret as I watch, with a head that feels the pressure of a thousand leagues down, the sparking lights set fire to your tree.
I do not flinch, I do not think twice about the presents or your dreams or the life we’ve dumped into our little house, I can only sit here and stare as the flames reach the ceiling and I am drowning in a feeling I may someday call remorse. Remorse that I could never tell you how much I cared for us, because I could never put together what I wanted for myself.
There is something eating away just beneath my scalp, the frantic nail-breaking appeal of a damaged mind just trying to get out of hell. And I am sorry I dragged you in without properly marking the door.
I don’t know what it is I wanted with you, if I just can’t remember or if from the beginning I never knew, what it was. But the problem remains, every day; I am still completely in love with you.
I just want to one day be able to wish you a merry Christmas.
It was a dead monkey I heard say it, is how I know this to be true; deep in the verdant jungle where nature still appears real, the hunted-dead monkey said to me, “All life has a point.” I agree this is ridiculous, that a dead monkey spoke to me, but anyway that isn’t the point. The point is this: All life has a point.
On this I still haven’t heard from Jesus or Buddha, Moses or the sun god Dionysus or Ra. But the dead monkey has spoken and said it succinctly: All life has a point. And for a while the daylight imbued the sidewalks and little grass strips along the road with a peculiar, pleasant beauty; and the moonlight shone white blankets to heighten, by contrast, the mystery buried in night’s distant streets. There I found proof to show what the monkey claimed to be true: down the thousand unknown side-streets of a thousand foreign cities, kept secret and inviolate in the folds of night, is the mystery that creeps unbidden near the extremities of the known, crouching and goading over the untouched possibilities of life. Therein lies the point.
What soon became clear was that I needed to find every little alley-way and nook of the mind that hadn’t been fingered. At night I went skipping with a mind full of nebulae poured into dextromethorphan: there are versions of trees you can see when the streets are vacated and your eyes are too bright to miss the massive conduits between the earth and air. I spent a week on hunger-strike with no particular gripe in mind, just starvation for the sake of seeing what worlds would spawn across my bare white walls. I scavenged the dumpsters of seven holy cities for messages cast-aside. I watched the bottoms of people’s feet from behind as they walked, to discover what maybe they always hide in stride.
I burned three-day stretches between the coasts on methamphetamine and bass-drop overloads. I got lost in the tome of the man driven mad by his will-negating drive to unleash good Dionysus, who grew into the perimeter with no stars. I scratched and crawled up the sides of buildings I had no purpose being in, and found on the roofs the castrated and sacrificed will of the dead who could never dare to explore, for themselves, the mystery at the end of their cul-de-sacs at night.
What I found there at the end of my parents’ cul-de-sac one night (alone, I was wondering if I should finally accept shelter; I did) was the collective unwillingness to explore the dark secrets lying dormant at the end of our world. The crushing machinery that has built the AI to digitize our dreams into little pixels of digestible pastries, the algorithms and political house-keepers issuing well-dressed drones to hunt down and devour the little mystery still left hiding at night – at night the immensity of the mysteries unexplored, sprawling; the purple moon at night is circular and will say nothing at all.
The store is harsh white bright lights with splashes of green the brand color, peach square floor tiles and faux-mahogany wood, and the person behind the register with hands squarely planted on the counter shoulders up, What Can I Do For You? in a tone done repeating himself. I have come to the wrong place. Are you the new hire? he asks. Yes, yes I’m here to…, I haven’t spoken a word to a person all day it’s maybe 9pm. Who hired you? he asks. I talked to, Mary, I tell him. Customers passing in and out a filing line of swiping goods and moving on, the man at the register in glimpses between the coming-going customers. Where should I park? I ask. Where did you park? this the woman standing beside me, Mary she’s also facing the register. She repeats herself. She has a thick accent I place as maybe Azerbaijani because it’s something I’ve never heard of. On the side, I answer. You need to park at the gas pumps, she says facing me now with a palm outstretched towards the gas pumps out the front windows. I stammer because sweat prickles under my face and I’m in a thick sweatshirt because I thought it was going to be cold outside but with these bright white lights hot and the body heat of the people who won’t stop moving, just appearing at the register quick-swipe their goods goodbye. The man at the register’s come out from behind the register walking hastily to stand before me, he is short maybe Vietnamese or Turkish or Peruvian but I can’t understand him and he’s right in front of me looking closely at me and asking, Where are you supposed to be? Who hired you? What are you doing in my store? I thought you called me, I answer.