My Father

He was a monster who swore like a sailor, refused to wear seat belts, nearly poisoned me with a macrobiotic formula in my infancy, burned me with cigarette butts, bit me like a coward (bite marks disguised by long-sleeved shirts I wore to elementary school), and nearly asphyxiated me with a pillow. He was bad even before an auto accident in Fremont propelled him through the windshield of a VW bus, permanently scrambled his brain, and made him worse: more moody and abusive. He smoked Pall Malls. He sang and played guitar. He drank beer prodigiously. He sometimes gardened. He read books by Rod McKuen and had many other regrettable reading tastes that I thankfully didn’t mimic. He despised his job at the ZEP chemical facility. I’m pretty sure he loathed being a father. He was far lazier than I ever was, far lazier than I have ever been, and I suspect that one of the reasons I cultivated my crazy work ethic was because I remember his sloth and his entitlement, which shamed me and seemed permanently associated with the considerable physical and emotional abuse he meted towards me. I suspect his entitlement also made me angry towards anyone who felt entitled. Like him, I took up heavy drinking and heavy smoking at various times in my life. I am also quite liberal about my usage of the word “fuck” in everyday conversation, although I am decidedly cheerier about it than my dad was. His “fucks” were bitter missives hoping to decimate any and all joy around him.

I know that he’s in Oregon. Or was. The property associated with his name sold in 2016. So I have no idea where he lives now. He really liked to escape from people. He had paranoid tendencies. He had mental health issues, although, like my mother, he was never diagnosed. Perhaps a stubborn temperament was the cement that kept the unhappy marriage going so long. It’s one of the reasons why I am determined to leave the house and say hello to people every day, even though I simultaneously sustain the mystique of being the enigmatic bald creative dude in my Brooklyn neighborhood who says very few words about what he actually does. He aspired to be a writer. But, unlike me, he gave up. And I suspect this made him more bitter. I found a message thread a few years back in which he expressed how he had given up and how he made intricate toys pieced together from German kits and gave them to people. But it seemed to me that nobody returned these gestures and that he was very lonely and who the hell knows what else. Around the same time, I found a social media profile associated with his name and location in which a scantily clad woman was photographed in murky detail. Did he pay for someone? Why was this the only image? I do know that he cross-dressed. So who knows what the real sexual struggle was? Was my father angry because he could not be who he was? I do know that I get very angry when people demean and belittle me, especially when they make up stories and gaslight the narrative, although I am better these days about ignoring the haters and living a positive life.

The phone number I have for him is disconnected. I tried it about three years ago. I have not seen him in three decades. I spoke with him once on the phone when I lived in San Francisco. The call merely lasted for five minutes. I was in my early twenties. And I don’t recall saying anything of substance. I wish I had been wiser and stronger and bolder and more explicit about my need to reconcile this demon and the trauma his behavior inflicted on me. I wish I had tried to seek closure, to confront him with the pain that he caused me. But I wasn’t ready yet. I’m ready now, but I don’t have a working number.

Ten years ago, I wrote about him. My memories now are different, even though the reservoir of tearful thoughts I have to work from remains largely the same. I somehow don’t hate him. I just want to understand why he was such a monster and why he picked on a scrawny troubled kid and why he hated me. Because this screws a man up in ways that words can’t possibly convey, but that are best unpacked over a bottle of vodka with a trusted friend who will understand that I am trying my damnedest not to be selfish and that I am trying to be real and true and find new points of common empathy. I am still unmarried. I still do not have any children. I’ve reached the point in life where I wonder if it’s too late for me. For years, I’ve had this crazy idea that, if I can somehow start a family, I can erase the terrible one that I was cursed with and that caused me so much trouble in my adult years and that instilled my psyche with so many nightmares. But, of course, we all know that this is a stupid fantasy. You have to be honest about the hand you were dealt. But these are the melancholy thoughts you have a few weeks before your birthday. These are the thoughts you have when all you really have is yourself and you wonder if loving yourself can ever be enough.

You’re Not Very Interesting

So tell me about you. I mean, I’ve been talking a lot about myself.

I don’t mind. I like to listen.

Yes, but you’ve spent the last hour listening. And I don’t know if that’s entirely fair. What do you like to do?

I walk.


Long distances. Quite a few Great Saunters under my belt.

What’s a Great Saunter?

You walk around the perimeter of Manhattan starting at 6 AM. 32 miles. I stopped doing it when I got food poisoning after eating a burrito in the Bronx. That was halfway through the last Saunter I did.

Mmmm. What else?

I cook and I bake. I invite people over for three-course dinners.

What do you make?

Everything. A professional food writer even gave me the thumbs up, which was a nice surprise. Or maybe she was being polite. Anyway, I always try something new. I once made sancocho from scratch. It took five hours. It made many people very happy. My dishes are often hits at potlucks.

What else do you do?

I volunteer.

Who do you volunteer with?

A few places. Meals on Wheels. Various organizations.

And you write and make audio drama?

Yes. It’s very fun. And it’s nice to have actors come by. They’re all very kind.

And you sing?

Yes. I have also written a few dozen songs since picking up the guitar again in August. People seem to like them. I’m going to start performing them.

You perform?

I act sometimes. I sometimes do all this under different names. Just to see if I’ve still got it.


Long story for another time. But I do most of what I do under my own name.

What else do you do?

I do a secret good deed every day.

Such as?

Well, it wouldn’t be a secret good deed if I told you. But kindnesses here and there. A gesture, a donation, a favor, a lengthy email of encouragement. Anything ranging from five minutes to three hours.

Why do you do that?

Because you have to give back. Or just plain give. It often isn’t enough.

Can I confess something?


You don’t sound very interesting.

I once saved a magazine’s archives from permanent digital deletion. I have talked quite a few people out of suicide over the phone. I gave money to a woman to help her escape her abusive partner and now she’s thriving. I drove 400 miles to bail out a friend on short notice. Not too long ago, a homeless woman asked me for a cigarette on a cold night and she looked so lost and sad that I bought her a meal and a Metrocard. I said that she could use my shower, gave her a new toothbrush and a few T-shirts, had her sleep in my bed while I crashed on the couch.

That sounds dangerous.

Everything turned out fine. I give pep talks. For some reason, people open up to me.

You don’t have to be defensive.

You’re right. I’m working on that. Well, if I’m not interesting, why are you here?

I don’t know. There’s something about you that intrigues me.

But you just said that I’m not interesting.

You’re not. But you intrigue me.

Can you be intrigued by someone who you don’t find interesting?


Maybe you’re just passing the time. Can I tell you a story?


So I was a little effusive on New Year’s.


Yeah. I just wanted to wish everyone a happy new year. Because I was feeling good and really positive at a karaoke bar. They gave me the mic and I sang U2’s “New Year’s Day” just after midnight. And I accidentally texted someone I dated two years ago.

What happened?

Well, she opened up to me a bit about how we had connected. And I told her she was kind and peaceful.


Yeah. And we were being real with each other. And then she said something about a guy named Isaac. And I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. And that’s when she realized that it was another guy named Ed that she had dated around the same time.

What happened?

She invalidated the text chain that we had shared before and told me she wasn’t interested in texting further. So I peacefully obliged. But here’s the thing. If you share an experience with someone, and that person is not who you think they are, does that cancel out the experience? It was a harmless mistake. Could have happened to anyone. But it made me wonder if we’re all far more willing to fall into scripts and assumptions rather than actually connect and empathize with each other and understand that there’s another human being on the other side. That there’s a beauty in recognizing another person’s totality. I don’t think anyone wants to acknowledge the commonality of our fuckups. We would rather be the heroes of our own stories. And that’s not very interesting.

Maybe you’re just not very interesting.

Maybe you’re right.

My Grandmother

Yesterday my grandmother died. I got the news this morning by email from my uncle. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my grandmother because my family didn’t tell me that she was near death and they haven’t informed me where or when the funeral services are. And I’m too shellshocked and grief stricken right now to find out. The one thing I can say is that my tears of rage are greatly diminished by a relentless sobbing that flows with the rhythm of the rain now pattering against my window. There is a fierce peace to these stronger tears, which mourn not only the majestic woman who my grandmother was and who I now celebrate and who I have also memorialized as the character Virignia Gaskell in my audio drama, but for the beauty of the human spirit. Despite coming from monstrous and unloving stock, my grandmother gave me the hope and the guidance I needed to live my life in defiance of meanness, especially in the last four years. She gave generously on all fronts. She checked in on people. She quietly helped others, whether they were people close to her or total strangers. And because of that, people remembered her. She believed in people and possibility. And despite all the hell I have been through, I still do too. I cannot seem to sour on life or the marvelous world around me. And I will always be grateful beyond words to my grandmother for imbuing me with this resilience.

I wish I could say that I was tough. But I’m not. Right now is a very raw place to be, especially when I consider my grandmother’s openness against the vile way the rest of my family left me for dead. My grandmother was the only member of my family who loved me for my totality when everybody else viewed me as evil and irredeemable. My grandmother saw benevolent qualities in me that I was too afraid to acknowledge until only recently. She taught me how to be kind and positive to others. She also taught me to be responsible. I am pretty sure that my ridiculous work ethic comes from her. I do know that my sense of the absurd springs in part from her.

I remember one time in my youth in which I didn’t have enough money to go to school. Despite being inexplicably pegged as a very smart and talented person, my education options were limited because I grew up poor and starved: a fragile kid coping with the residue of accrued abuse and trying to do the best he could. But I still went to school and I made up for any deficiencies by reading every book I could get my hands on and throwing myself into everything with all the natural exuberance I had. That scrappy and casual ability to roll with the punches despite all odds came from my grandmother. She did, after all, make her wedding dress from a parachute during the Depression. She was determined to celebrate life even when there weren’t a lot of options.

My grandmother was always baffled by the ways in which my mother neglected me and she said that I could borrow money from her. And I did, paying back the small sum each month. And when I did this regularly after about nine months, my grandmother said to me, “You don’t have to pay the rest back. I wanted you to learn something.” And I did.

People who come to know me understand that I am one of the most loyal advocates you can have. And this was because I learned from my grandmother that it was vital to be giving and not expect anything in return, even when there’s nobody in your life to give anything to you. Because of my grandmother, I do a secret good deed every day. Because of my grandmother, I have learned to love and take care of myself. Because of my grandmother, I give to others, often more than I have, when I have nothing. My grandmother would take the time to listen to everyone and she would always reframe every serious problem in a way in which it was never all that big of a deal. Had I not had my grandmother, and now I don’t have her and that not having her seems unfathomable but it is now regrettably and painfully true, I would never have landed back on my feet with a sanguine faith after a sustained period of homelessness and a series of baleful setbacks that I would never wish on anyone. My grandmother, in her own inimitable way, showed me that there was a benign way to not give a fuck and to devote yourself to living.

My grandmother always saw the good in people, even when they had severely wronged her. And she was always good for a devilish and very funny quip, which she would often mutter in a sneaky stage whisper in the kitchen, often with a glass of wine. When I lived in San Francisco, she would ask if I wanted to come up to her home in Marin County to celebrate the holidays. She was the only family member who seemed to understand that love didn’t involve a ledger, but amounted to being there for others and letting life work its strange magic.

This is the most staggering loss I’ve ever experienced. God, it hurts. My grandmother was really the only family I had. But I’m going to be kind and brave and I think that, in remembering my grandmother, I’m going to have to be more true to myself, true to the promising young man that my grandmother always saw. The rest of my family has wished me dead, but I am here, a feeling and caring and flawed and open and honest and quietly kind person who is quite happily alive, and I am now very much on my own. While my abusive and vituperative family would undoubtedly relish seeing their untrue and cartoonish vision of me confirmed, reveling in gossip and backtallk rather than listening and being present for other people and knowing that nearly every putative sully can be forgiven with enough time, I’m not going to give them that pleasure. Because that is not the way you live and love in this often hard world. And that was not the way of my grandmother.

In her own way, I think my grandmother was trying to tell me that I was her and that she was me. There was a great love and a beauty in that. There was also a great ease in the way my grandmother managed it. And I’ve been crying all morning thinking about it. And if I am her, if my heart is even one half as mighty as hers was, if that’s what she was trying to get me to see all these years, then maybe there’s some hope for me after all.

My Birthday Problem

On most days, my mother, the most manipulative and emotionally scarring narcissist I have ever known, would spend the entire evening feeling sorry for herself, tanking herself up on a box of cheap wine and lounging about like a squeamish lout on the couch. I don’t know how many times she asked us to refill her glass because she could never be bothered to get up, but it was surely somewhere in the thousands.

On any given night, my mother would shamble into drunken oblivion. Yet there was nothing more horrifying than the occasion of her birthday to reveal the full depth of her affliction. The hell of it was that we were too young to see it.

We loved her, even with all the Gehenna she marched us through. We hated to see her sad. We tried so desperately to please her. We didn’t understand that she had a much bigger problem.

So when her birthday rolled around, no amount of celebrating her life would suffice. She could not summon gratitude for having a loving family or a stable job. She could not find any real reason — and there were many — to be alive. She could not stretch one inch outside herself. My mother wanted attention, but she would never spell out the deranged egocentric fantasy she truly craved. Her true ideas, never expressed, were grandiose and delusional. Here was a woman incapable of apologizing for her mistakes or seeing what had gone wrong, much less right. Her solution to her self-pity involved the world stopping everything that it was doing to celebrate her existence in the most unvoiced yet extravagant way. What I think she sought was a deranged and surreal scenario not unlike that old Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” in which a tyrannical boy with demonic powers has everyone in town doing anything he wants. What the boy cannot see, what he refuses to consider for even a second, is how these obliging and miserable adults must live out this perdition. The people around him are never once allowed to be themselves as they serve his every whim.

When it came to my own birthday, I never wanted anything big, just some basic acknowledgment that I existed from the people who were dear to me. But my mother did a number on me. And as much as it hurts me to say this, I want to be able to live with myself. I have a very serious birthday problem. I am certain that some of you do too, whether it is tied up in comparable abuse or some other hangup. But I am here to tell you that this is okay and that you don’t have to be ashamed. I’m hoping that those of us who suffer from paralyzing birthday anxieties can come together and tell ourselves that it is perfectly reasonable for us to celebrate our lives. We can beat this in the same way that we have stared down other demons. If you need someone to tell you that you matter, I urge you to email me and, whoever you are, I will be happy to celebrate your existence each year. Because I know too well what you’re feeling.

There was my twentieth birthday in which I was trapped in a remote cabin and my mother spoke to me in her high quavering voice and treated me as if I were a boy of five. I was still trying to figure out how to be a man in the wake of abusive father figures, and I just couldn’t take this bullshit anymore. I felt enraged and humiliated for being infantilized on a day that was supposed to be mine, especially since I could not escape the cabin. So I stormed off in shame and beat my fists into a metal sign until my knuckles were red and raw. And since it was a very small community, the commotion caused by my machine gun-like flailing had the cabin owner calling the police. I recall hiding behind a tree as the police car’s bright searchlight flooded its blinding circle onto the dark waters of the tranquil creek that lined the ragtag cluster of cabins, in search of the violent perpetrator apparently at large. My sister and her now husband found me and escorted me back to the cabin, holding me, knowing why I needed to sob and why I couldn’t. I couldn’t cry. Because who knew what this would do to my mother?

I spent my twenty-first birthday in Reno and had a lot of fun.

It’s hardly an accident that I first started smoking on my twenty-second birthday. I did so out of boredom, walking the streets of San Francisco by myself and feigning adulthood. There was a part of me cultivating a leisurely form of self-destruction that would grow and bite me in the ass years later. When Kurt Vonnegut replied to interviewers that he was committing suicide by cigarette, I knew what he meant.

I tried to win my birthday back over the years, but couldn’t. You couldn’t beat the house.

There was the time in which I asked twenty people (no expectations, no gifts necessary; in fact, I’m happy to buy you a drink like they do in Britain!) to meet in a bar on my birthday. Nobody showed.

Today, I do not smoke. Or I try not to.

My self-pity grew over the years. I felt terrible and birthdays were a big part of this. But there was also a burgeoning desire to rid myself of the pain. I wanted to feel good about myself without shame. Could this actually happen?

A few days before my forty-first birthday, which is today, I suffered the worst insomnia I had experienced in three years. Couldn’t sleep. Had to cancel a date with a very kind woman.

This is all greatly ridiculous. Because I’ll feel perfectly myself once my birthday has passed.

In the past, people have tried to step in and give me a good birthday. They didn’t know how. I was always a terrible member of the thinktank masterminding the plans. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself in the way that my mother had, but I can’t say that there haven’t been birthdays where I worked my way to the end of the bottle and utterly despised myself.

I don’t want to hate myself anymore. And I don’t want to inflict any of this on anyone.

Friends, knowing my hangups, have understandable worries about even mentioning my birthday. They saunter around the subject like a trepidatious sous chef walking on eggshells in a chaotic kitchen.

Friends also point to my resilience, which they claim is unmatched by anyone else they know. And they know people who are far more accomplished than me.

I have no problem hanging out with my friends any other time of the year. But I have always felt deeply ashamed at doing anything good for myself on the day that it counts.

Is that terrible? It certainly feels that way.

So I am saying something now, risking ridicule from the rubberneckers who still want me dead because they have invented some wrong idea of me that is considerably less distorted and monstrous than the false and bestial image I spent many years perfecting. Because now, more than any other year, I know that my life is worth something.

It is very hard for me to say all this. It has taken me more than four decades to get here. My existence is worth celebrating. I love being alive. I have a great deal to be thankful for. I am neither washed up nor finished. I’m just getting started. I’m working on many magnificent projects right now and am supremely indebted to some exuberant Scotsmen who were gracious enough to help me get back on the horse. And to anyone who has been kind to me during the past year, I cannot possibly convey how much your generosity has meant to me.

For those who have had to endure my birthday blues over the years, please know that I am more contrite than you can ever know. But I want to be honest now.

In his wry and endlessly thoughtful book, Faking It, which is a fantastic volume if you’re interested in the bottomless pit of hypocrisy and self-illusion, the marvelous thinker William Ian Miller observes:

Be careful what you pretend to be. Toughness, or a certain hardness, is a very useful trait to have, but the person who undertakes a pose of hardness or flippancy to protect what he fears is his core vulnerable sweetness may end with his sweetness shrunk to invisibility or inaccessible behind the ramparts, though he maintains the belief that his toughness is only a pose.

For a very long time, I have feigned being hard or insouciant about this birthday business, pretending that it is “just another day.” What I have feared (aside from becoming my mother, who I both am and am not) is capitulating to the pose that my birthday does not matter rather than being candid about the reality that I, like countless others, carry a modest vanity one day each year that I am deeply abashed about. That my forty-first birthday will be the first in more than a decade in which I will not share a bed with anyone speaks volumes about how I have gone out of my way to smother the act of being myself by projecting some version of my intimate core onto others willing to be intimate with me. I trace the beginnings of this to the blonde bombshell who smiled at me on my seventeenth birthday as we went to see Hot Shots! at a movie theater long closed. It is a sick and dishonest practice, but then I had the worst possible example growing up.

So here is what I am doing. Tonight I will be having a marvelously low-key dinner. Alone. I will be eating a slice of chocolate cake. Alone. And I am going to have a great goddam time doing this. Because if I can’t respect myself, then how can I expect anything from other people? I cannot leech on geniality in the way that my mother did.

It could take me many years before I can invite other people to celebrate my birthday. But the one thing I can do, starting this year, is to stop wielding my birthday around like a loaded gun. If I don’t commit myself to a happy time, then I’ll never have it. Of course, any birthday wishes from others are very welcome. There’s no sense in denying this anymore. But I will not retreat to any couch.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one. There is no pat remedy and I’d be kidding myself if I really believed that what I’m doing this year will flense my soul entirely of this predicament. But it’s a new year. I’ve just had my eyes checked and I have a new pair of glasses. This is the longest I’ve stared into the mirror. I am liking more of what I see. He is worth celebrating. And if he expects to give lavishly and effortlessly to others, as is his incurable habit, then he must give to himself first.

Mashup of Drafts (With Annotations)

I cannot be bothered to write anything of importance at the present time. Therefore, I offer the following post composed entirely of random sentences from other posts that I started in 2009, and I never finished, and that I have no real intention of finishing (with pertinent annotations):

I am in Midtown Manhattan, where the streets have no name. [1] Thanks to the dependable rage and knee-jerk regularities of the big crunching boot known as the Internet, Billy Bob Thornton has, in the past four days, been widely derided for his boorish appearance on a CBC radio program. [2] We make drinking within the realm of financial possibility while we tax the fuck out of cigarettes. So let’s take this oxidized sportster out for a spin, shall we? There is a part of me that might feel like one of those hokey magicians playing a PTA meeting for $75, the type who attempts to pass off that all-too-simple trick of squeezing water behind your elbow as cutting-edge.[3] Some figure who genuinely wallows in the suffering of others. Some savage soul who wants to kick in the teeth of anyone really. But I’m sure they’ll both choke on their free foie gras at some junket later in the year.[4] Never mind that I offered counsel and empathy when his personal life was falling apart. There is nothing entertaining, thoughtful, funny, literary, or striking about any of the material that is regularly posted here.[5] Last night, as I rested my freshly pedicured feet on my manservant’s lithe and writhing back, I found myself exceptionally alarmed. Our team of researchers, using the finest investigative techniques that microfiche has to offer, have located an essay written in 1983 by a hotheaded young man, who reportedly beat an Apple IIe with a baseball bat just after banging out the deranged essay reprinted for our readership below.[6] The box, the simple box, the box that rhymes with fox, the box you get back from the bagel shop that has your lox, may be the art form of the 21st century.[7]

[1] Careful readers of op-ed columns in a certain newspaper will likely see what I was satirizing. One common quality of these abandoned drafts is the fixation I have on the New York Times. This says more about me than the New York Times.

[2] I have been building up to an enormous essay about masculinity that I need to get out of my system. The theme has recurred in numerous drafts over the past eighteen months and there have been pitches to numerous outlets. Alas, nobody is really interested in the topic. Except that they are interested, as the near two million people who watched that YouTube video demonstrates.

[3] This metaphor was rooted in personal experience. And I’m going to have to figure out another applicable essay to get it in. When I was a boy, I would often attend Parents Without Partners outings with my then single mother, who was looking to get lucky and who, as it turned out, was extremely miserable. While adults gathered together for mediocre potluck dishes, I was left to wander the floors of some meeting room with frayed beige walls — the kind you found quite often in the mid-1980s that was often turned into a makeshift dance hall but that had not been architecturally designed for that purpose. But everybody knew that all the single parents were pinching pennies, with varying results and outright poor children with holes in their shirts and unwashed shorts pretending to be middle-class. There, I’d talk with other nervous kids, who were all likewise abandoned by their parents and were in need of a sad social fix. The adults often hired a cheap magician: someone who needed some pocket money, but who had certainly not made professional magic a full-time job. The kids didn’t care to be condescended to. And for some reason, they often looked to me. Because I tended to have a very loud voice and say things that apparently you weren’t allowed to say. (Or so many adults frequently told me. There was one particularly pious gentleman who took my mother aside outside of a church and said, “There’s something of the devil in that boy.” These days, it’s more or less the same thing. Except that the adults take other adults aside to talk shit about me and use four-letter words to describe how terrible I am. And it’s all a bit awkward because I’m now an adult.)

Anyway, I would often raise my hand when the magician asked for a volunteer. And if he was ever a bit condescending to my fellow kids, I would then expose all of his trickery to the audience, pointing specifically to the sponge behind my elbow and exposing the mechanisms of his act during the course of the show. I was truly a little asshole. But one such magician took me aside after his act, and he was very kind to me. And he asked me if everything was okay at home. I told him no. And he said I should perform magic shows because the other kids were very amused by my antics. And I remember that magician’s kindness any time I see some troubled kid trying to figure shit out, and I try and do something about it.

[4] This seemed a particularly vicious thing to say. One often writes in the moment and is astonished to see what one has written later.

[5] This sentence was written during the morose early days of quitting smoking.

[6] A chasm of memories I haven’t thought about in years have provoked ancillary imagery. It is no accident that violence remains a constant motif.

[7] I don’t believe any writer should be hindered by singsong prose. Some “literary” authors would be better off writing children’s books and rediscovering why they enjoy writing in the first place. It is very sad to have seen them deteriorate.

Just a Poker Game

On the evening of December 4, 2008, I came to realize that the next day would be December 5, 2008. This date, in and of itself, did not puzzle me, although it bears some minor importance to me for personal reasons I won’t bore you with. I began to recognize that the day would drift into another a little more than two hours before the stroke of midnight. The recognition of this change came after a long day of work, in which I had fallen fast asleep after I had committed approximately eleven hours (perhaps more) of creative labor. It also came after I watched, for the first time, an episode of The Office on an actual television, as opposed to some illicit download with the advertisements stripped. Now I had not watched an episode of anything on television for quite some time, and there seemed to me more commercials than were absolutely necessary. Whether the strange amalgam of television comedy and commercials caused me to dwell upon the shifting day, I do not know. I only know that I was trying to zone out and that I was trying to do so in a way that was similar to how other people who worked nine-to-five jobs lived their lives.

A friend from another nation whom I had not seen in two and a half years had been staying with us, and he was a bit stunned by how I had changed. He decided to leave at the last moment for a bed and breakfast, but never offered me a specific reason or a goodbye. His wife had ordered him away. I have not yet met my friend’s wife, and I would like to. But I do know that he had come on a plane before her, stayed with us, and the two of us had imbibed quite a bit of Jim Beam. I knew what I was getting into, but I felt the crushing hangover from this crazed carousing the next morning and it nearly killed me, but I pressed on with my labor. It’s what I do. I had two interviews to conduct. This type of labor was foreign to my friend. He was shocked to see me up at 6:00 AM, and stood at attention when I made coffee and secured bagels to ensure that everyone would have some breakfast to get through the day. But he didn’t understand that I had to work, and that I was committed to my strange job, as low-paying (and often non-paying) as it is.

More than a decade ago, I thought my friend was helping me. He encouraged a shy kid to be true to himself. He was kind to me, and I tried to be as kind as I could right back. I got a late start, but I got a start nonetheless, and I am grateful to him. But now that I have become truer to who I am, I’m wondering if I was actually helping him. Did he see something in me, even in a prototypical form, that might have been a clue to his own identity? In all these years, has he been hiding behind something that is not what he is, but that, in a great twist of irony, helped me to become who I am? This unexpected understanding has made me feel treacherous in some way, but I know that it’s not my fault.

The late John Leonard once said that it takes a long time to grow new friends, but what he didn’t observe was that it sometimes takes a much longer time for older friends to come to terms with how they’ve changed, and that sometimes the divide can’t be crossed. We become lost and occupied in our baroque lives, reuniting with longtime pals after many years and regularly hanging out with the current friends within our circles. Sometimes, the gaps between years are negligible, and it’s easy to pick up where things left off. It’s like a pleasant game of poker in which all the hands have remained face-down on the table, and the players have had the decency not to look at the cards. Despite the thick film of dust that has settled upon the green felt, all the participants play the game through. But there are other times in which the moment has passed, and some don’t wish to marvel at the great changes in others. It’s just an old card game that can’t be reinvented, rethought, or improved upon. And the cards languish until they are reshuffled by other parties. But it’s still a great pity that the people before never finished their game. As old as poker is, it can still conclude any number of ways. And even if you lose the current hand, you might win on the next one. It’s only a pleasant card game. Nothing competitive. Just a good way of getting to know another person. Even the ones you thought you understood.

Contents of Box

  • A yellow legal-sized writing pad containing mysterious ideas and plans.
  • An issue of Mike Hampton’s Hot Zombie Chicks.
  • Minidisc case reading “Babbling — Raw #7. Also, The Babbling Project #1.” (No minidisc.)
  • Minidisc case reading “1. Babble 2 6/6/00.” (No minidisc.)
  • Mindisc (with case) reading “Babbling #8.”
  • Y adapter for telephone line.
  • Minidisc case — scratched and unmarked. (No minidisc.)
  • Floppy disk with label scratching out Intellipoint driver, reading “ME — Startup.”
  • Floppy disk (unmarked, unlabeled).
  • Various audiocassettes from November 2004 containing interviews that I conducted to research a still unfinished polyamory play.
  • Minidisc, with case reading “The Babbling Project #2.”
  • Blue Sharpie
  • Box of Bostich No. 10 1000 mini staples
  • Unlabeled green floppy disk
  • Floppy disk reading “Creative stuff began @ work I”
  • Damaged minidisc with Chet Atkins and mysterious “Test 7/21/00” label.
  • Blue Pocket Etch A Sketch
  • CD — containing driver for Olympus digital camera I no longer own.
  • Unusued Ampex magnetic tape still in shrink wrap.
  • 3M Recording Tape containing audio for uncompleted film.
  • Many business cards.
  • Many mysterious microcassettes — what’s on them?
  • An incomplete San Francisco Secondary Schools Pass.
  • A minicomic — Melina Mena’s Sour Milk Sea.
  • A 2004 monthly calendar designed by my friend Tom Working.
  • A strange package containing an adaptation cable for a video card that was fried sometime in 2005.
  • A small bottle of Advil PM. (It’s still good! The expiration date is 10/09.)
  • Many 3×5 index cards.
  • A red Bostitch mini stapler.
  • Many VHS videotapes containing (among many movies) Soapdish, episodes of the animated Star Trek series, episodes of Blake’s 7, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, episodes of Doctor Who and Monty Python, Twelve Angry Men, Sullivan’s Travels, Miracle Mile, episodes of The Simpsons, episodes of The Prisoner, Quick Change, an HBO special starring Rowan Atkinson, Suspiria, and Poison Ivy (recorded, no doubt, because of the promise of Sara Gilbert and Drew Barrymore naked).
  • A pair of red scissors.
  • A small journal I had forgotten about that contains the sentence, written in 1999, “I am slightly fearful of being laced with Judeo-Christian nonsense.”
  • A CD containing photos of a play I wrote and directed many years ago for a small venue.
  • An additional CD containing the sound cues for Wrestling an Alligator.
  • A mysterious 5 1/4″ floppy — what’s on it? how to transfer?
  • Numerous writing instruments.
  • An unopened box containing a corner brace — 1-1/2 in. x 3/4 in.
  • A student ID from 1991 in which I actually had hair.
  • A Swingline package containing 5,000 standard staples.
  • A floppy labeled, “YES! 4/97 Job Search.”
  • A floppy labeled, “Servant of Society.”
  • A receipt from Stacey’s Bookstore, dated 05/04/07, for Bleak House. (I still haven’t finished that book.)
  • The Fat Camille Omnibus 2007 by Camille Offenbach.
  • Another minicomic: Nitsy and Bitsy.
  • A CD labeled “80s MP3s.” (Shudder.)
  • An undeveloped roll of Fujicolor film from who knows when. (What pictures are on this?)
  • Julia Wertz’s I Saw You…: Missed Connection Comics #1.
  • A handout for an improv class that I took in 2005.
  • A handout from MUNI on “Ballpark Service Tickets and Fares.
  • A spare serial drive cable.
  • 2 AA batteries — still good?
  • A UHU STIC gluestick.
  • Many DV tapes — containing what?
  • Two VGA to DFI adapters.
  • Printout of Segundo scheduling spreadsheet from 2006.
  • 16mm yellow leader tape.

Most of this will probably be thrown away. But unfortunately, I’m too curious about the data that might be on some of these tapes. I’m additionally curious as to where I obtained some of this stuff. This curiosity, I suppose, is the problem with moving. When setting up in the new digs, I will likely expend a considerable amount of time trying to find a use for nearly everything on this list.

Class Distinctions

Back in the days when I played at the gilded trap known as the nine-to-five rap, there were often times in which my failure to distinguish social hierarchies was at odds with policies practiced off the clock. There was a night when I went out to dinner with my fellow co-workers. One of those terrible fusion places. The kind of place not so keen on food and atmosphere and social camaraderie, but where the individual goes to be seen. I have never cared too much about being seen, but I do like to have a good time, even if my own social tendencies sometimes get me in trouble.

waiter1.jpgThe place pounded bad house music at deafening levels. There was very little light, save for a strip of green neon snaking around the perimeter of the bar. The waitstaff were clad in black, murky figures who sneaked up on tables like highwaymen descending upon a stagecoach. I kept feeling around for my wallet just to be sure.

It was clear from the stray sentences that managed to penetrate through the deplorable four four beat that my co-workers had class aspirations. Their fun was tied into the consumption of material goods. Whether spending every spare dollar on needless decor, drinks tabs that extended into a three digit sum in mere hours, or the blow that one secretary snorted in the restroom with a file clerk two decades her junior. (“I still have my tits,” she once said to me, little realizing that my interest in breasts had to be justified with some minimum but by no means unreasonable level of smarts.)

waiter2.jpgI lost interest in the talk of a reality television show I had never watched and began observing a server who reminded me very much of one of the attorneys at the firm I was then toiling at. She had spent a good deal of time perfecting her posture, had carefully kept up her skin, and was in her early thirties. Roughly around the same age. The resemblance was so similar to me that I could imagine her replacing a tray with an attache.

I pointed out these physical and behavioral similarities to the group. They looked, conceding that there was some resemblance. But the secretary, slamming down her fifth straight shot of Jamison’s, waved her finger imprecisely in my direction and insisted, “But [attorney name’s excised] is beautiful!”

The waitress and the attorney were indeed both beautiful. But I didn’t really see why one would be more beautiful than the other. The only real difference was the vocation and the amount of take home pay.

But I suppose that if you look through a haze of drug and drink and drudgery, your sense of the world grows distorted. The ugly takes on a sudden allure. The tendrils of stasis start to resemble upward mobility. And beauty, which takes on many forms great and small and shouldn’t have a price tag, is hopelessly cross-stitched into commodity.