Things I Figured Out While Going Through my Books and Getting Ready to Move

  1. I don’t like poetry

Nor am I particularly good at it either. I’ve been a part of a few poetry groups, bought a lot of poetry books, written more poems than I’ll ever have the time to transcribe out of my chicken-scratch vandalized notebooks and into a word processor to make some sense out of whatever I vomited onto the page, yet I’m always finding myself shrugging at so much poetry, thinking to myself, “I don’t really get it.”

I know I’m not a philistine, and by all means I can definitely appreciate poetry as a genre and a craft in and of itself, but I don’t connect with poetry like a lot of the poets who I’ve hung out with. There was a long span of time where I wanted to connect with poetry so bad and I wanted to be passionate like so many poets, but I realized that it’s not the kind of thing you can force. You either get it and it resonates with you, or you don’t and you’re left trying to make sense out of incomplete sentences that are supposed to carry some sort of weight you just don’t feel.

And this is how I’ve figure out I’m a terrible poet. I’ve broken it down and called it the Bukowski test. It’s like this:

In all the poetry groups I’ve been a part of and with all the poetry fans I’ve shared my poems with, I always get the same response:

“It’s very Bukowski.”

Problem number one: I don’t like Bukowski’s poems. His prose is some of my favourite ever. I read Factotum in one evening. I read Pulp over a drive home from the Okanagan Valley. Hot Water Music was my favourite book and my favourite band at the same time. But I just don’t like his poems. This probably just falls back to point number one: I don’t like poetry (but apparently I like colons).

Problem number two is that everyone who has ever told me that my poems remind them of Bukowski, did not like Bukowski. In fact, a lot of them hated Bukowksi. A few even despised Bukowski. Yet, “It’s very Bukowski,” was meant to be a compliment.

So, when people tell me that, “It’s very Bukowksi,” what they’re really saying is, “You’re kind of bad at poetry, I think you’re kind of dumb, your face is unpleasant to look at, you write entirely literally and in layman’s terms, but I find you kind of funny and kind of charming in that off-putting awkward I’m afraid of what you’re going to say next sort of way. I admire your courage for putting yourself out there like that.”

Very Bukowski.

  1. All the first books I ever read all the way through were written by celebrities

The first book I read cover-to-cover, understood the whole way through, and didn’t have to read as a part of a class, was David Cross’ I Drink for a Reason. The second was Lewis Black’s Nothing’s Sacred quickly followed by Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob Speaks. I love these books. I think they’re funny, insightful, tell a great story, and are written without any pretension. They’re accessible and meant to be consumed, laughed at, enjoyed, and revisited when there’s nothing on TV.

I came out of a university program where people were reading David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen for the sole challenge of it. I’ll admit, I even bought a copy of Infinite Jest that has been sitting on a bookcase, doubling in size from dust collections since I brought it home. It’s seven-point font and entire-book-in-itself of endnote as part of the narrative (no, not references like endnotes in other books, this is fiction and you have to read the endnotes otherwise you just don’t get the book) has been an open challenge since the name first started getting kicked around my classrooms in first year. I’ve tried starting Infinite Jest, along with The Corrections and Freedom multiple times, and I’ve always landed on the same conclusion about ten pages in.

I don’t fucking care.

Yes, the writing is dense as a brick and the craft is something to marvel at like Renaissance Art. I understand the appeal of Franzen’s and Wallace’s technical skills as writers. But the writing is so fucking long-winded I can’t get through a sentence without losing my train of thought and de-railing thinking about books I’d much rather be reading right now.

This is probably something typical of a reader who grew up on TV and comic books as their first choice in medium up until college. Again, the first book I ever read cover-to-cover that wasn’t as part of a class was I Drink for a Reason and I was well into my 20s by the time that book was released, and even further into my 20s when I actually read it. That book did ignite that interest in me to look further into non-fiction well beyond journalism, which was my first writing medium of choice in my adult years, and was the start of that slippery slide that led me to stop caring about poetry and over-academic wanking and start finding books I can actually get into.

  1. At one point, I wanted to be a comedy writer

Then that horrible realization hit: I’m not funny. I think I might be quirky, and I’m neurotically over-analytical, and that worked well for Larry David and Louis CK, but they also know how to frame their quirks and analyses to be relatable, and therefore, funny. I lack those skills.

I’ve lucked out a few times hitting notes that people could relate to and getting a few chuckles, but I think my Bukowksi-charm wears out quick.

In addition to David Cross, Lewis Black, and Kevin Smith (all funny folk), I used to read a lot of David Sedaris (to be fair, I still often read Sedaris, but I went through a specific phase where I tried so hard to write like him) and my favourite comic book character was Deadpool (the comedic, pop-culture referencing, fourth-wall breaking mercenary whose yellow and white narrative boxes speak to him). Based on these influence, I wanted to bad to be a comedy writer.

I started looking into script writing and seeing what writers for SNL were like and I got into sit-coms that I felt like represented my generation. But then I ran into that problem.

The “my generation” thing.

As part of wanting to be a comedy writer, I really wanted to write the book that would be the millennials’ On the Road and Big Sur. I wanted to define the millennial experience through my unique perspective on storytelling. But the more I said that to myself, the more I fucking hated myself.

There’s an obnoxious pretension for wanting to “define your generation.” Especially with a piece of art. This is why I can’t stand Lena Dunham and Girls. It was a novel idea to start with, but the older I got the more her quirks and over neurotic analyses started to bother me. Self-awareness is a sign of intelligence. But hyper-self-awareness is a sign of narcissism. And narcissism’s novelty wears off quick. I can’t deny the show’s popularity so Dunham must be doing something right, but the drive to define your own generation doesn’t appeal to me. I seriously doubt Jack Kerouac went so far out of his way to try and define his generation. He just wrote cool stories about crazy shit he did.

Kerouac didn’t start out that pretentious. He wound up that pretentious. His fans are pretentious. Those who try to copy what he did are pretentious. People who over use the word pretentious are pretentious. People who think they’re funny for over using a word and pretending to be self-aware of over using that word are pretentious. Especially if the word is pretentious. Or a pretentious word.

I know that wasn’t funny. You don’t have to tell me. I know I’m not funny.

  1. I’m really bored with super heroes

Comic books are the reason I started reading, they’re the reason I kept picking up reading throughout my life, and remain one of my biggest influence when I write anything. Especially now that I’ve found my comfort zone playing with genre fiction, comics play a huge part in how I approach any story.

I still spend more money on comic books than I do on rent. But I’ve noticed how far I’ve strayed from the big comic publishers and the traditional comic characters. They’re more popular than ever thanks to their extra exposure in cartoons and in summer blockbuster movies, and I’m really happy that they’re so successful right now. My movement away from super heroes is actually very organic. I literally just looked through my comic collection and realized how few of them were super heroes and how many fall into either hard fantasy or hard science fiction categories.

I don’t know if I have a larger point with this point. Just an observation I guess. I still like super heroes, but I guess I know the format of sequential art to tell stories is capable of so much more than familiar franchises.

  1. Elf Quest is a very feminine comic book

I literally just figured this out over this weekend. I bought a few issues while at free comic book day because I’ve been looking for some decent fantasy and I know Elf Quest is a long standing title with a good following that is now being published by Dark Horse Comics (one of my favourite publishers).

There’s nothing wrong with it being feminine. Again, the format of sequential art is capable of a lot and this absolutely proves it. I have no larger point with this one either. I read through all the issues of Elf Quest that I bought and though I didn’t enjoy them I know there’s some solid storytelling going on. Just not my deal, nor does it have to be.

  1. Harvey Pekar made me want to be more honest

As part of stepping away from super hero comic books I got really into Harvey Pekar. American Splendor did a lot for comic books and for non-fiction. Reading American Splendor, Quitter, Our Cancer Year, and Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me was like nothing else I ever experienced before.

Most of all, it made me realize why I’m not funny and why I fell so short as a comedy writer. I’m not honest with myself. I tried to use comedy to hide from my own shortcomings and to point out the shortcomings of others. That can work to a point, but you always need to be willing to make fun of yourself first. I wasn’t ready to do that. So it didn’t work.

But reading Pekar’s work slapped a kind of sense into me that I wish was slapped into me years ago. He’s easily my biggest influence on the non-fiction side of my writing. I even hear his voice narrating along as I write these odd few essays every once in a while that I eventually publish on my blog which is regularly read by about twenty people. At least they’re reading.

As I box up my comic books, and look through the collection of novels and story collections and poetry collections I’ve gathered over my years of trying to figure this whole writing thing out, I realize how every one of these pieces of paper has somehow affected the way I write, and the way I live.

The lifestyle choices I make, the media I engage with, even the other books I get into are all influenced by whatever I’m reading at the time. And as much as this list is about things I’m not a big fan of, the piles of boxes that clutter my office floor remind me I have a lot to be stoked about too.

I should dig through my books more often.

Limited Space

There are so many small specks of light in front of me that I can’t stand back far enough to hold a complete picture. Millions and millions specks of light, so many unexplored, so many only leaving questions, so many whose existence can’t even be confirmed by looking at them. Their very presence is deceitful as time and light move at different intervals and the distance of these specks of light is immeasurable by conventional units used to gauge length of time. It disturbs me that I’ll never be able to touch each of these lights. To explore their mysteries and give each a name. But I still have to try.

The ship is the size of a relatively large apartment. When it was built, it was recommended that no more than three or four people travel in it for any extent of time. They warned of the enclosed limited space that the ship offered coupled with a lack of privacy and personal space could lead to significant conflict and possibly even a lapse in sanity.

There are two sleeping quarters on the ship. Our crew of four took turns on shift piloting the craft and analyzing data gathered from systems we passed through: two were on shift while two rested. The sleeping quarters are located toward the back of the ship and are next to the two bathing waste disposal facilities. The front of the ship is the main hull, an open space with three large windshields: one in the front and one on either side. The main pilot’s seat is situated in the middle of the hull. It’s a single seat with computer navigation systems in front. The pilot needs to see out the windshields and use the navigation computer to properly steer the ship.

The analyst’s computer is to the left of the pilot’s seat. It consists of a desk, chair, and onboard computer system with three large monitors: one that assists with navigation and direction, one that gives planetary read outs, and one that constantly analyzes the solar system the ship is in for any sudden changes or immediate threats.

Each member of the crew were trained for both piloting and analyzing, this way tasks during shifts can be changed to keep things fresh in the crew members’ minds. When someone does the same task for too long, it becomes automatic and they stop paying attention. When you’re in a crew of four, you’re thousands of galaxies away from your home planet, and there’s no guarantee of civilized life (let alone habitable planets), paying attention to everything is of the utmost importance.

I don’t know what happened in the last galaxy we travelled into. It seemed like a normal enough system: it had a star at its centre that acted as its sun and had five planets orbiting around it. The two furthest planets from the sun were gas giants and the two closest were inhabitable because of the immense heat and radiation from being so close to the star. But the planet in the middle showed signs of water and vegetation. It was the first planet that we encountered similar to our home world. We had been travelling for four years, which meant that if there were no established or intelligent civilizations on this planet, it could be colonized, our planet’s population and pollution issues could be resolved, and the crew on this ship could finally go home.

We approached this new planet, but stayed out of its atmosphere. We had no know what the plants were breathing before we could risk the ship and ourselves. I was manning the analytics at the time. Preston was piloting. We got up to wake up Daniels and Mackenzie to show them the planet.

“Roberts! Roberts!” Preston yelled out as he escorted Daniels and Mackenzie into the hull. “Tell them what you just told me! Show them the analytics!” Preston was smiling, but he was sweating too. He put his arms around Mackenzie and Daniels, smiling and talking about how we’re finally struck gold. Preston wasn’t blinking. His eyes were beat red like they were just blasted with sand.

“The planet definitely shows signs of water and vegetation,” I said. “But we still don’t have an atmosphere or planetary gas read. For all we know, as of now, this planet has a minimal atmosphere and the water and vegetation are feeding on radioactivity. I’m going to need a couple of hours for a full read out before we can even enter the atmosphere, let alone land and explore.”

Letting Preston know that it will be a while before we know if our mission is complete hadn’t hindered his excitement. We passed through what felt like hundreds of different galaxies, analyzed planets with surfaces too cold to sustain life, radioactivity that could melt a human in seconds, and surfaces submerged in liquids with PH levels of hydrochloric acid. No life, no growth, no habitation, just rocks and gas-balls floating in nothing, sustaining nothing, and revolving around nothing.

“Seriously, Roberts,” Daniels said as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “What do you figure are the chances that this rock is the rock we can land on and eventually haul half of our planet over to?”

The data readouts looked promising. I had only been monitoring them for a few minutes. Protocol read that we had to wait at least two hours before we were allowed to land. There was an incident where another crew found a planet with some of the most promising readouts in the history of our organization. It was almost four months before we found their transport ship, still floating just outside of the planets near damn-perfect atmosphere.

The crew took their miniature transport off to the planet. Once the crew landed, they immediately started sending signals back to their main transport to record their landing and exploration. The recordings from the ship told a story of the crew noticing something funny about the rock they landed on. It was soft. Almost like a sponge.

You could hear the crew start to panic when their miniature transport started sinking into the ground they landed on. The dirt and grass swallowed that transport like a headache pill. When the rescue excavated the crew’s main transport, the readouts showed that while the air had the right mix of nitrogen and oxygen and the atmosphere held off enough of the close-by star’s radiation so that the rock wasn’t a floating nuclear reactor in space. Unfortunately, they didn’t wait enough to read the planet’s air pressure and ground density. It was like a brick landing in pudding and then pulled under like it was being drug to hell.

“So far so good,” I replied back to Daniels. “We have another hour and a bit before we can load up and land. I’ll keep an eye on the readouts. If anything funny comes up, I’ll holler.”

“Stuck in the middle of nothing and we have to rely on silence for reassurance,” Daniels said.

Daniels and Mackenzie made their way back to the sleep quarters and passed Preston who was making his way back to the navigation chair.

“This is it, this is it, I know it!” Preston rambled on.

I kept my eye on the readouts, looking for even the slightest off readout that would make trying to habitat this planet difficult. Nothing. I even faked the time readout and got an extra half-hour of readouts. Nothing. Preston was still sitting in the navigation seat, rambling on and on and on.

“So, what’s the word, Roberts?” Preston asked. “Are we packing up and dropping down?”

I kept staring at that screen. It was a perfect planet. Every other planet we encountered had some flaw or some reason that it wasn’t quite right. I looked out the main navigation window and stared at the perfect planet. Not a thing wrong. Like god was handing it over to us in a silver platter. Even though we’d been travelling for so long and working so hard to find a planet like this, now it almost seemed too easy. Too perfect.

“I guess it looks alright,” I replied. “Still doesn’t feel right though.”

“It doesn’t feel right because we’re not down there yet,” Preston laughed. “Just think about it. Think about how many people we could fit on that rock. All the things we could build. The cities we could develop. I bet there’s some amazing tropical islands, untouched by people. No pollution or over-population like what happened in the Caribbean and Hawaiian islands. You’ll actually be able to get a spot on the beach and be able to lay out your towel comfortably. Shit, I don’t think those beaches have been that clean since the twentieth century, or even earlier.”

I remembered going to those beaches as a kid and wondering why so many people flocked to them. All along the horizon, you could barely see the sun or the sky or even the water. Just people and umbrellas and beer vendors everywhere. I felt like I didn’t have room to breathe. I was scared that every time I moved my arms I would hit someone I was walking past. I was scared that the people around me were feeling as enclosed as I was, they would be mad that my arm hit them when I walked by. I didn’t know how they would react. I was scared all the people around me. Even in this ship with only three other people around me, I was scared of getting in their space. God knows how someone with such limited space would react if you got into their personal bubble.

Preston was still staring off, probably imagining all the things we could do with a blank slate of a planet, when we heard the screeching from the sleeping quarters. It was like screaming and choking and vomiting all at once. Preston and I ran back to the sleeping quarters to see Mackenzie on top of Daniels. Mackenzie’s arms were pulsating to where we could see the veins clearer than we could see the pigments of his skin, his jaw was shattering, the sweat was pouring off of his head, and the drool was slipping off of the side of his mouth and dripping onto Daniels.

Nothing Mackenzie said made any sense. He gritted his teeth and growled out at Daniels while he pushed down against his throat. Daniels was kicking his feet, trying to throw Mackenzie off of his body. Daniels’ face was turning blue by the time Preston and I got into the room.

Preston and I pounced on Mackenzie and pulled off of Daniels and drug him onto the floor. Mackenzie kept fighting, swinging at us and clocking me across my jaw before Preston finally thrust his fist down into the middle of Mackenzie’s forehead. Mackenzie’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he stopped struggling. Daniels behind us was still coughing and throwing up.

“Did you kill him?” I asked while rubbing my sore jaw.

“I don’t know,” Preston answered. “If he isn’t dead he’s probably concussed pretty good. He won’t be getting up anytime soon.”

Preston checked Mackenzie’s pulse, looked up to me and nodded. “He’s still alive. Barely. We better figure out something to do with him before, or if, he wakes up.”

Preston and I drug Mackenzie into the bathroom and latched the door from the outside so if he woke up he wasn’t getting out. Daniels was sitting up on his bed, still coughing a bit and wiping sweat off of his head.

“I don’t,” Daniels coughed. “I don’t know what the fuck happened there. I was sleeping. I wake up and Mackenzie is on top of me. I don’t know what the fuck happened.”

Mackenzie was fairly quiet this entire mission. He shone brightest while he was reading reports. He was very logically minded and loved reading through numbers and understanding data. You could tell he was most in his element while he was running data. He seemed like he was actually relaxing while he was running data. Everywhere else you could see how tense his shoulders were. We could all tell he wasn’t comfortable being with other people this close all of the time, but he never complained and he was never aggressive before. He was always polite but brief.

Preston started pacing the floor, wondering what we should do if Mackenzie woke up. Preston knew that we couldn’t land with one member of our crew losing his mind for seemingly no reason. This was probably sending Preston even more over edge. I wasn’t sure how long he could hold his anticipation for landing.

“You know, we could always leave him while we head down,” Preston suggested.

“We can’t do that,” Daniels replied. “If he’s hurt really bad, we need to help him. If he’s ok and wakes up and figures out we all left him alone on this ship, who knows how he’ll react. It could send him even worse over the edge. He could fly the ship off and leave us on this planet. And god knows how long we’ll last if he leaves us…”

“You’re wrong!” Preston barked out. “We’d be fine down there! We could probably last years until the rescue finds us. You have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about!”

“Calm down, Preston,” I stood up. “We’ll get down there soon enough. Don’t worry. We just need to know what to do about Mackenzie first.”

Preston turned and marched over to the bathroom where Mackenzie was locked. He opened the door and looked down at Mackenzie. “He won’t be waking up. He’s not our problem. Taking care of him isn’t our mission. Finding that planet is our mission. And the sooner we get down there, the sooner we can head home and start developing. If this piece of shit is the only thing stopping us I’ll make sure he’s out of the way.”

Preston lifted his boot and stomped down onto Mackenzie’s head. With a single stomp, Preston’s foot made its way through Mackenzie entirely and landed back on the tiled floor. A piece of Mackenzie’s skull rolled out of the bathroom and slid across the floor, landing in front of my foot.

Preston’s face was soaked, either in sweat or in tears or in both.  “What the fuck happened? How did I do that? That wasn’t supposed to happen. What the fuck happened?”

Preston stumbled out of the bathroom. I put my arms out to him, trying to get him to sit down. He shoved me back and I fell onto the data readout controls, crushing some of the circuitry underneath me. Preston paced, heaving heavily and wiping sweat from his mouth and off of his face.

“Get packing, we’re fucking landing,” he said through clenched teeth. “Be ready in one hour. You hear me? One fucking hour and we land on this mother fucker.”

Preston marched off to the sleeping quarters. Daniels was standing next to me, help me back to my feet and checking the damaged controls. “Asshole’s lost his mind,” Daniels said. “We gotta get him to calm down. And if he doesn’t calm down, we need to tie him down or something. If this planet’s no good, our mission is already fucked, we can’t read shit anymore. We deal with Preston first, clean up…” he swallowed hard and his lip trembled. “We clean up Mackenzie, and we figure out a best course home. We’re useless out here now.”

The door to the sleeping quarters flung open and Preston came marching out, his eyes fixated on Daniels. “Is that what you think?” he gritted his teeth and his face burned red. “You think we’re just going to turn this puppy around with its tail between its legs? Is that what you think mother fucker?”

“Preston, calm down,” Daniels tried to reason. “We’re still going to land, we’re still going to explore. You just need to mellow out a bit man, you’re acting crazy.”

“You know what’s crazy?” Preston spat out. “You assholes don’t want to succeed. You obviously don’t. Otherwise we would have landed the minute we found this place. God just handed the Garden of Eden to us on a silver platter and you assholes don’t even want to land. All of our planet’s problems can be solved with this rock. Why the fuck are we still sitting here?”

“Because you goddamn just murdered Mackenzie, that’s why!” Daniels yelled back. “Mackenzie just needed a few minutes to calm down. The anxiety of this place was probably just getting to him. You had no fucking right to…”

“That asshole was probably a vegetable after we had to fight him off of you,” Preston stepped to Daniels, staring him down like a dog fighting for territory. “Keep in mind, you’d probably still be gasping for air and turning blue if we hadn’t fought him off of you. We did what we had to do. He was compromising the crew and the mission.”

“He was part of the crew!” Daniels yelled.

“He stopped being crew and became a liability the minute he snapped,” Preston yelled back.

“If Mackenzie was a liability, what’s our contingency plan then with you?” Daniels stared back and buffed his chest like he was ready for a fist fight.

“The only contingency plan here is surviving and making it back home with something to report,” I piped up. “Our controls are destroyed and we’re going to kill each other if things don’t calm down. None of us are in our right minds right now. We should all just rest for half an hour, do something with Mackenzie’s body, then try to land.”

Preston looked to me and with a complete straight face and monotone voice, he said, “Let fucking Mackenzie rot where he is.”

Without a second breath, Daniels reached back and smoked Preston across the jaw, sending Preston toppling to the floor. Preston wiped the blood from his mouth and tackled Daniels, both landing on the navigation chair, damaging the controls. The ship started moving while the two kept fighting. I tried to fix the navigations and get the ship to stop, but it had already set its course and none of the override controls were working. I looked over to see Daniels on top of Preston, both hands around his throat and pushing down just like Mackenzie had been only minutes earlier. Preston reached beside himself and found a piece of a broken computer and lodged it into the side of Daniels’ head.

A blank stare immediately overcame Daniels’ face, like he was seeing the light to the afterlife glowing in front of his face. Daniels then fell over, stopped breathing and bled across the floor.

Preston sat up breathing heavily, brushing dust off of his t-shirt. “Well, two down,” he said staring up at me. “Do you want to make it three, Roberts? Or are you going to shut the fuck up and get us on that planet?”

I looked over to the navigation controls and looked back to him. “You broke both the data readouts and the navigation controls. Nothing works anymore. There are no overrides. The only thing still functioning is the autopilot with a destination.”

“Well where the fuck are we going then?”

“This galaxy’s star.”

Preston huffed and stared up out the window. “You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

“I’m not. In about twenty minutes, this ship will fry.”

“What about the transport? Does it still work?”


“Well why don’t we get the fuck in there and save our sorry asses?”

“And land where!?” I yelled. “Onto that perfect planet!? That has no pollution. No ozone depletion. No man made problems killing every living thing on that world. You want to land there and start all over again? And just keep doing the same old shit? Fuck you, Preston!” I walked over to the hatch leading to the transport and slammed the emergency launch, sending the transport floating off into nothingness, with nothing inside and direction set.

Preston shook his head. “You fucking idiot. You worthless fucking idiot. We were so close. So fucking close.” Preston stood up and walked into the sleeping quarters. He didn’t close the door when he pulled out a revolver from underneath the bed. He looked out at me and held the gun to his head, splattering what was left of his mind all over the bedding and the walls.

He toppled to the ground, his legs crumbling beneath him like a marionette whose strings were dropped. I walked into his room and all I could think about was how surprised I was that no one had gone for the gun earlier. I guess we all still tried to be professionals. That got us far.

I still don’t know what got into Mackenzie. It won’t matter though, I’m sure the outcome would have been the same one way or another.

I wanted to name all of the stars I saw when I looked outside. Touch each of those lights in the sky. But I realize that the universe doesn’t want us. Nor, do we deserve it.

On the Death of Fred Phelps

The passing of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church ignited the internet. Within minutes of the Huffington Post sharing its first publishing of the details of the man’s death, hundreds of comments filled the feed, condemning the man for his work in establishing the infamous group who have been launched into the popular culture sphere for their extreme fundamentalist views and their picketing of soldier and celebrity funerals, pushing their idealism through shock-value tactics.

Through all the ironic puns and propositions to picket his funeral, once internet staple, who has been one of the loudest voices for LGBT equality in America, posted a message that took a different approach. George Takei wrote, “I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil holding, ‘God Hate Freds’ signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul who tormented many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.” Takei’s message quickly spread, already becoming a meme shared all over the internet, showing a different side to this polarizing topic and how that there’s still a more human approach.

I have never supported anything the Phelps family or the Westboro Baptist Church have ever done. Much of their misguided scripture interpretation and their hunger for public attention have done worlds of harm and not even an ounce of good. I have seen members of my family and many of my closest friends deeply disturbed by this group’s action and have even found myself thinking extremely hateful things toward this group.

It’s important to remember that all of these people, Fred Phelps included, are still people. They’re scared and are struggling to understand this world in the very short amount of time they have to figure things out, so they turned to a book that claimed to have all the answers and they took each word of these parables and metaphors and literal rules and regulations. They’re fallible and, believe it or not I do believe, they think they’re doing the right thing by pushing their doctrine. I really believe that they think that what they do is helping others and they’ve been so heavily indoctrinated that they don’t notice the amount of harm and grief they’re causing others.

And like all other people, I believe that Fred Phelps doubted himself all the time. I bet right to the very end. But I also don’t believe that as he lay on his death bed, he was thinking, “I hope God kills all the fags.” I bet, like any other human being, he was thinking about his family, his loved ones, and if he was still praying, I bet he was praying for them and not for the people he spread so much hate about.

I have no doubt he loved his family. His way of showing and expressing his love was overshadowed by his convictions and beliefs, but I have no doubts about this because Fred Phelps was still a human being. And no matter how much any human being can hate, they’re still going to love more.

A lot of the internet comments I read about Fred Phelps’ death speculated on his own afterlife and some definition of god’s judgment on this man for his life of hate. I personally have no religious inclining, I don’t believe in god or heaven or hell of afterlife. And if my suspicions are correct, then Mr. Phelps is simply gone and maybe the lack of god or heaven or any truth to what he spent his life pursuing could be his own personal brand of hell that he will never be aware of.

But the fact that our awareness of what happens once the body ceases to function makes the concept of an afterlife insignificant. What’s most important is what we as humans do in this blink of existence that’s over far too quick for any of us to comprehend. And though we cannot control what others decide to believe in and how they act upon those beliefs, we get to decide how we react to them.

My reaction is this: this will be the last time I write about the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church. Whether we pay attention to them or not, condemn or question them, they will continue to do what they feel is best. I’m not advocating acceptance or pardoning or even condoling what they do. They’re like a wasp nest: if you ignore them, nothing they do will affect you. It’s a small nuisance, but one that can be easily overlooked for more important things in this life. They’ve already become a self-parody in the popular-culture canon and it’s not as if their numbers are growing exponentially as they picket more funerals. People who buy into what they do are already predisposed to this brand of ignorance.

As fulfilling as attacking this group for their beliefs might be, it’s simply another brand of hate that will still leave feelings of emptiness. If you’re really against what Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church stands for, don’t hate them. Don’t even pay attention to them. Instead, keep loving the people around you and keep accepting people everywhere for who they are. Existence is far too brief to focus on all things you hate all the time. There are too many cool things still happening in the world to be excited about.

The most important thing for me that I carry about Fred Phelps’ death is that a man died. Just like everyone else does. We’re born, we live, we learn, we grow, we die. It’s another reminder of life’s brevity and I’m not wasting it being angry anymore. Anger breeds regression and stagnation. I want to breed progress and solutions.

This Party Sucks

“Man, this is how ya gotta do your hair,” Jimmy explained to me as he began his follicle ritual. Half a bottle of hair gel dripped from his palm and between his fingers while he carefully strategized which section of hair would contribute to which rock-hard spike standing on its end. “Every time I go to the bar, I do my hair like this. And every time I get a chick’s number. I’m tellin’ ya, bro, you gotta start takin’ notes from me.”[1]

I sat on the lid of Jimmy’s toilet as I waited for him to finish up so we could finally leave. I stared up at him with my elbow on my knee and my hand holding up my face. Jimmy looked back at me through the mirror’s reflection and read my impatience. “Buddy, you can’t rush this kind of thing. It’s an art.”

I leaned against the back of the porcelain throne and rolled my eyes. I had known Jimmy since kindergarten and if I hadn’t, I probably would have hated the guy with a passion. We grew up together, went to same elementary, junior high, and high schools together. Shortly before graduation, we decided we wanted to continue the trend, so we applied to the same college. Jimmy studied to become a Phys Ed. teacher; I went into the liberal arts and majored in English.

After finishing his Michelangelo-esque sculpted hair, Jimmy turned to me and I noticed he was wearing a skin tight Hilary Duff t-shirt. I squinted my eyes and tilted my head slowly in confusion.

“What? It’s ironic!” Jimmy insisted with a half-smirk on his face.

“Wait, what? How is that ironic?”

“Cause, I’m totally not into Duff, but I’m wearing the shirt, so it’s funny.”

“That’s not ironic. That’s just kind of stupid.”

“Whatever, bro, you just don’t get it.”

“I’m studying English. If anyone gets irony, it’s me, and that’s not ironic.”

“Buddy, why do you gotta be such a geek about this stuff? That’s the reason why chicks don’t dig ya.”

“In case you couldn’t tell, I am a geek, I always have been. Almost twenty years of knowing each other and you still haven’t figured that one out?”

Jimmy shook his head and walked away. As he exited the door of the bathroom and walked towards his shoes at the front of his apartment, he added, “Yeah, but you’re not even a cool geek, like those Big Bang Theory guys. Chicks are totally into those kinds of geeks. Tonight at the bar man, you gotta tell the chicks you’re a science major, in like Biology or somethin’. They’ll totally be into you then.”

I stood up from my makeshift seat and headed for the bathroom doorway and leaned against the wooden frame around the doorway. I adjusted my glasses briefly before I answered back, “I freakin’ hate that show! And I really doubt that girls will like me better if I emulated a bad nerd stereotype.”

Jimmy finished slipping on his large, white skateboarding shoes with tattoo flash along the side. “Whatever, dude. Let’s just go. We gotta make it to the bar before 10 or else we’re gonna have to pay cover.”

Jimmy had received some notice from the girl who cuts his hair that a new bar had opened and it was going to be a hot spot in town. For some reason, he always insisted I go to these bars with him.[2] Nights at these bars always proved entertaining though. On a normal night out, Jimmy would emasculate another hyper-masculine male, drink more alcohol than Paula Abdul in an entire season of American Idol, spend more money than I had for groceries that month, and get a girl’s phone number or bring a girl home.[3]

That night was particularly cold. I had my Vans shoes on, a pair of jeans, and my black hoodie zipped up all the way. I didn’t do much with my hair, just combed it to the side a bit. Jimmy insisted on not wearing a jacket. He felt admitting it was cold was emasculating. I gave up arguing with him about it back in January; minus forty weather and he insisted on not wearing a jacket.[4]

The bar wasn’t too far from campus but it wasn’t exactly a student hot spot either. The main patrons at this establishment were oil rig workers with way too much money, cocaine dealers, and the girls who are into that kind of thing. The specified gender roles in this place always astonished me: the males were defined by what they did for work; the females were defined by who they were sleeping with.[5]

Thankfully we made it to the bar before they started charging cover, but the building was already packed with off-balanced tattoo print t-shirts and cheap looking hair extensions. The music was blaring from the speakers with a steady thump thump thump. The room was generally dark aside from the stage lights at strategic places in the bar and the moving coloured lights. I stood still for a minute and scanned the room for the possibility of an available table and the clearest path to get there. But my scanning was to no avail. I found myself a secure area against a wall, generally away from most of the other people in the bar, but still with a good enough view to people watch and have a good chuckle or two to myself.

Jimmy wasted no time once we made it inside. Before I knew it, he was no longer in my direct vicinity. I stood on my tip-toes and looked across the standing area to find Jimmy already at the drink buying counter, already with three drinks in his hands, and already chatting up two blondes in leopard-print mini-skirts. I stood back in awe as I viewed the fascinating art of the human mating rituals.

After Jimmy was done with what I’m sure was an engaging and intellectual conversation, he approached me with the three drinks in his hands: two short glasses in his palms and a tall glass carefully balanced between the two short glasses. He looked up at me, smiled, and yelled into my ear, “One of these is yours, but I don’t remember which one!”

I stared at Jimmy for a second, lowered my head slightly, and pointed at the middle, tall glass. “One of these Things is Not Like the Other” was playing in my head. “I think that’s it.”

Jimmy jutted his arms towards me slightly as I removed the burden of the third glass from his grasp. “That’s why you’re the smart one, broseph!”[6]

I leaned back against the wall, crossed my arms and sipped my anonymous cola product. Jimmy started for the dance floor with both arms in the air and his head bobbing to the obnoxiously loud bass pummelling through the speakers. I watched Jimmy on the dance floor and suddenly felt like I was documenting some bizarre Steve Irwin safari expedition.

Here, we see the bar-going-male, or homo-gluteus, perform the mating dance ritual to try to attract the attention of the females. The mating dance does attract the attention of other males quicker than it does the females, making competition fierce between the males for the opportunity to mate. Competition is fiercer than I thought it was going to be. All different breeds of the bar-going-male are present at this mating dance. The homo-gluteus-emoticus with his distinctive side combed hair that covers half of his face and his attire that is quite similar to the females’. Then there’s the homo-gluteus-Liddelous, distinctive for his tribal tattoos, which have no meaning, all along his arms and his desire for physical combat that outshines his desire for mating. And finally, the homo-gluteus-situationous, best distinguished by his desire to constantly show his abdominal muscular development and the large spikes on his head best used for defence against other males and to attract the attention of the females.

            I began to laugh out loud thinking about my expedition into the jungle of the club. Unfortunately, the wrong homo-gluteus-Liddelous spotted me giggling at the wrong time. I was then approached by a pack of three homo-gluteus-Liddelouses. The middle and clearly dominant of the group gave me a shove against the wall.

“What’s so funny, queer?”

I stared at the middle dominant for a second to try and estimate my chances for survival. His Puma sneakers were laced up tight, the seams of his pre-faded and pre-torn jeans glowed under the black light, his t-shirt boasted the name of what I deduced to be a tattoo artist I had never heard of, and his eyes stared not just at me, but through me like a bullet through a piece of paper.

I looked up, stretched my neck as far back as it could go to be able to look the middle dominant in the face. The two submissives that flanked the middle dominant were dressed virtually the same as their pack leader, but their stares weren’t as severe as the middle one’s was. I began to shrivel down as the pack descended upon me further.[7]

            The middle dominant, still shooting through me with his magnum glare, repeated his question. “I said, what’s so funny, queer?”[8]

Then, like Zeus just dropped down from the heavens, there was Jimmy, standing to my right, wielding the same magnum glare right back it like he was Dirty Harry.[9]

“Yo, you got a problem with my bro, here? Cause if you do, then you got a problem with me. Ya got me, bro?”

The middle dominant folded his arms and smirked in amusement while his two submissives looked at each other and laughed. “What, is this guy your boyfriend or something? You guys queer together or what?”

Without any warning, Jimmy wrapped his arms around me, grabbed the back of my head, clenched a handful of my hair, and laid onto me the most passionate kiss I had ever received. Our faces collided in full force then melded together. The stubble around my mouth and along my face folded into Jimmy’s perfectly shaved cheeks. It was full, open-mouthed, and tongue-inserted. His right hand groped my left breast. For a moment, I simply froze, unable to comprehend the taste of Jimmy’s tongue as it caressed mine. I began sweating in panic, trying to anticipate what would come next once Jimmy ceased to violate my tonsils. For a moment I believed that Jimmy and I were the lion and before us was Hemmingway, rifle in hand ready to annihilate us. The kiss lasted ten seconds before Jimmy pulled away and re-engaged his magnum stare against the pack.

“Yeah? So What? And if you three don’t beat it you’re gonna get the shit kicked out of you by a queer! So back the fuck up before I embarrass you in front of this entire club! Do you really want to be the dude who got his ass kicked by the guy who was just making out with another guy?”

The dominant looked back to his submissives, then shrugged at us and gave a passive aggressive “Whatever” before he walked away.[10]

Jimmy stepped in front of me and cocked his head to the right to signify that maybe we should leave. I stared at Jimmy for a second, unable to articulate how I felt about what just happened. Yes, I was alive and undamaged and there was no physical confrontation in the end. But, at the same time, his tongue was just in my mouth. I wanted to look at him differently, like what he did was just terrible. But it wasn’t. He was still Jimmy, he was still saving my ass from getting beaten by some bullies, and he was still my best friend.[11]

I zoomed past Jimmy and headed for the first exit I could find. I was putting my keys into my car door before Jimmy was even through the exit doors. Jimmy sauntered over slowly.[12] I unlocked the car doors and Jimmy got in the passenger side front seat and slouched back against the window.

As we began our drive home, I looked over to my slouched friend to whom I probably owed my life with tears building up in my eyes. “Jimmy, those guys were seriously going to kill me. I was a dead man standing. Thank you so much.”

Jimmy averted his eyes from looking out the front window and looked towards me with a cocky smirk. He then gave me a quick shove that pushed me lightly against my door.

“Quit being such a queer.”

[1] This isn’t the first time Jimmy suggested I take notes from him. In junior high he insisted that I study off of his notes for a social studies test. We were looking at current affairs and he had written in his note book “this is bullshit; a country wouldn’t bomb another country for oil.” I think my hesitation to take notes from him on anything is justified.

[2] Actually, not “for some reason.” I knew the exact reason. I didn’t drink, so I was always able to drive him. To his credit, he was fair in how he treated me when I did drive him. He always bought me pop if there wasn’t courtesy pop for DD’ers, and if we arrived late to some ‘bouncin’’ hot spot, he would pay my cover. Seemed like a fair trade at the time, but now I can’t help but feel like I was Kato to his Green Hornet.

[3] Come to think of it, Jimmy probably thought he was teaching me things. In reality, he just proved really amusing for me. Friday night television was nowhere nearly as funny as some of the things Jimmy would say or do on some of these nights. Sure, I always sat back and played the fly on the wall, but I never got involved. No harm, no foul.

[4] Got to love the over-testosteroned tough guys, always trying to prove something by doing something stupid.

[5] It’s actually astonishing how far back these people have actually set women’s roles.

[6] That’s right, folks! My deduction in identifying the non-alcoholic drink amidst Jimmy’s first round of booze is what made me the smart one between the two of us.

[7] I really know how to pick the best times to think of a good joke and have a laugh to myself. Even funnier was that my first instinct in this situation was to try and rationalize with the significantly un-evolved males that were ready to beat me into primordial ooze. Luckily, I came to my wits and realized that they have the logical strengths of a FOX NEWS reporter. I was fairly certain I was doomed.

[8] You have to appreciate that his repetition of a question started with “I said.” I guess it was a rhetorical question, so “said” would technically fit in this scenario, but I also severely doubt he was able to deduce the kind of question he was asking while he salivated at the prospect of killing little ol’ me.

[9] I could tell that Jimmy wanted this punk to tell him that he felt lucky.

[10] Jimmy later explained to me that most of the time guys who pick fights randomly like this are in fact, cowards, and just try to find anyone smaller and meeker than they are to challenge and assert their dominance upon. The minute anyone stands up to them, they back down. Classic schoolyard bully scenario.

[11] This wasn’t the first time Jimmy saved my ass from being severely beat down either. Hell, that’s how I met the guy. First week of kindergarten three other kids started picking on me because I wore glasses. Jimmy stepped in, punched one of the kids in the face, and made the other two back off and cry. He always said it was worth it because it was his first fight.

[12] He was probably looking around to make sure he wasn’t about to miss out on a girl who hadn’t seen him kiss another guy yet.


You can tell how much someone paid for their shoes by the clicking sounds they make when they walk across linoleum. The louder and sharper the click, the pricier the shoes.

Men’s fashion is always dictated by subtleties like this. On the surface, men’s fashion is very boring: jackets, shirts, sweater, khakis, jeans, plaid, pinstripe, black shoes, brown shoes, neutral tones, straight line cuts. Very linear. But the entire premise of modern male fashion is the details in the subtleties. It’s kind of like that scene in American Psycho where all the men in the office are comparing business cards. Bone, silian rail, eggshell, romalian type, pale nimbus white. And much like that scene in American Psycho, there are those who will ensure they flaunt their subtleties.

I hear clicking all day. The clock ticks, computer keyboards and mice click, lifting and dropping phone receivers click, and most of all, the click of people walking. The louder and sharper the click, the more they paid for the shoes, the higher up the hierarchy they are.

Some clicks are so distinct, I know who it is from twenty steps away. And I can tell when they’re coming to my desk.

“Ogden,” I hear Samuelson blurt from over my shoulder. I try to make it look like my eyes are down looking at my keyboard. I’m really staring at his Italian shoes whose brand name I can’t pronounce. The stitching weaves along the top and around the toe like baroque poetry. Those shoes’ click was at the top of the food chain here, or damn well near its alpha-predator stature. I try not to look at my pair of Stacey Adams, which I had to skip a student loan payment to afford. Even then they’re a whole year out of season. I hope no one else pays attention to these details like I do.

“Hey,” Samuelson points to my shoes. “Wearing those while the snow’s all melting and gross out there? That’s a great plan. Let the dirt mess up those dinosaurs. Am I right?”

I keep my Stacey Adams in my desk drawer and I wear a pair of cross-trainers while I trek through the melting snow. When people ask me about my shoes, I tell them I’m heading to the gym. I haven’t worked out in years.

“That’s right my man,” I instinctively reply, smiling like I just got some joke at some other poor schmuck’s expense. I react this way a lot. Sometimes I don’t even hear what a guy like Samuelson says. I look for the cue, see his smile, hear his laugh, and I just join in, hoping I disguise how terrified I am every time he stops by my desk.

“Anyways, Ogden, a bunch of us are going for tapas at this whisky place a few blocks from here after work, care to join?”

Samuelson always invites me to these things. I always decline. Where the fuck do these guys get the money for these fucking things? I’m terrified to find out what their monthly tapas expense is on their budget. I don’t know if he always asks me because he genuinely likes me or if he likes humiliating me every time I have to turn him down. I try to make up excuses, but he knows where he is on the ladder, and he knows where I am.

I brush the crumbs from my peanut butter sandwich onto the floor without losing eye contact. The more I look at him, the less likely he’ll notice the mess from the last bit of food left in my house.

“No can do my man,” I keep smiling. “The wife at home,” I’m not married and live in a basement apartment, “Wants me to look after the kids,” I don’t have kids, “While my mom takes her out,” my mom’s been dead for ten years, “To show her the family cottage just a bit out of town,” I’ve never left the city.

“No worries, Ogden,” Samuelson raises his arm and it takes me a second to realize he’s looking for a high five. “Maybe next time, my man.” Samuelson walks down the hall, and I watch as he meets with another guy at the same level of the food chain as he is. They high five and laugh. Samuelson looks back for a second, still laughing. The two click off together.

I don’t pick up my phone for the rest of the day. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I spent my whole life being told that as long as I go to college, I’ll find a great job, a rewarding career, and I’ll be able to make something of myself. What the fuck have I become? How the fuck did I wind up here?

I watched my father grow through the company he worked for. He was with them for nearly forty years. Every year he had another raise. Every few years, another promotion. I wasn’t even out of elementary school when he got his first managerial position, along with the fat salary that came with it. He worked his way up, found success, retired easy, and is now remarried and living the easy life. His new wife is young enough to have babysat me while she was in high school.

“What a fucking prick,” I hear from behind me. I look back and see Adams. We started here at the same time. I have no idea what he does. I don’t think he knows what I do. I barely know what I do. “Did he ask you about tapas after work too? I don’t know if it’s managerial charity work or if he gets some sort of kick out of watching us turn him down, but I wish that motherfucker would shut the fuck up already. You know, he thinks he’s fucking charming. He thinks everyone likes him and looks up to him because of his position. You know how he got that job?” Adams wraps his hands around in a circle and starts jabbing at himself back and forth making choking noises. “World class cocksucker. Guaranteed.”

“Come on, man, how can you know that?”

“Did you know that motherfucker is two years older than we are? Did you know he joined this company six months before we did? Did you know he doesn’t even have a degree? He’s either sucking cock, or he got raped as a kid by the biggest shareholder and getting hush money.”

Adams had a strange point. He must do something with staff records. How else would he know this? He could also be making this stuff up. Either way, it’s entertaining.

“Hush money or not, he’s still higher on the caste system and we have to take his shit,” I look down at Adams’ shoes. He’s wearing cross-trainers. No shame. You have to admire that kind of conviction in a person. “What do you got going on once we punch out?”

Adams shrugs. “I don’t know man. Cheap beer and online porn probably. Why? You wanna watch?”

“Fuck no,” I reply. “But while we’re on the topic of cheap beer, maybe gather a few of the other dredges here and have a game of poker or something. My place?”

“Five buck buy in?” Adams asks.

I nod my head Adams pats my shoulder and scurries off. He’s good for getting a decent group together for cards. We drink, eat crap food, and talk about who in the upper caste we would kill first if opportunity arose. It makes my empty fridge and barren apartment on a Friday night a little less depressing.


Adams took all of us Friday night. Wound up leaving my apartment sixty bucks richer (some of the dredges got ambitious and bought themselves back in a few times after busting) but promised that pizza was on him next time.

Monday rolled around too quickly. I spent my weekend either on my couch or in my bed. I didn’t want to think, especially not about work. I just finish tying my Stacey Adams when I start hearing the clicking again. Only it’s not Samuelson who walks by my desk. It’s Adams.

“Fancy new kicks, Adams,” I call out. “Is that what you did after you robbed us all blind?”

Adams looks back and smiles. “Something like that.” He dances a tap-dance-ish jig before walking back to his desk. I watch his shoes as he walks away. Italian leather, fine stitching, a little worn but still sharp. No way sixty bucks bought those shoes. At least not new. He must have an in with a warehouse or an eBay wholesaler.

And email pops up on my screen. Adams wants to do sushi for lunch. I pull out my wallet and see a ten. Enough for a bit of sushi, I can eat the rest of my lunch when I get back to my desk if I’m still hungry. It’s totally worth knowing what Adams’ secret to those shoes is.


“Seriously, I know you got those on eBay, there’s no way you could afford them otherwise. Spill the dude’s username,” I pop a small piece of maki in my mouth.

“And I keep telling you, I didn’t get them on eBay,” Adams smiles.

“How else could you buy those? I can’t even pronounce the name on them.”

“It’s a secret.”

“Spill it Adams, come on!”

“You really want to know?” Adams is still smiling.


Adams looks back and forth.

“I got them from Samuelson.”

“Samuelson sold you those?” I look down at the shoes. “Are you guys even the same size?”

“Turns out we are,” Adams grin grows wider with pride. “But he didn’t sell them to me.”

I drop the piece of maki I was about to pop into my mouth.

“What?” Adams shrugs. “It’s not like he’s going to miss them. Do you know how many pairs of shoes that motherfucker owns? Like thirty. All black, Italian leather. I scuffed these ones up a bit so he wouldn’t notice them. He’s not going to notice one pair gone.”


Samuelson noticed. He charges toward my desk, his clicks getting louder as he gets closer.

“Where are they?” he demands. “Those were seventeen-hundred dollar shoes. That’s more than you fucking whore mother makes in a year. I saw you eyeing them up last week. You better fess up, or so help me fucking god I will have your balls.”

Adams yells out from the back. “What are you going to do with his balls?”

Samuelson looks over. “Shut your fucking mouth!”

“Or what?” Adams yells. “My balls are next?”

Samuelson clenches his fists and looks back down at me. “If I ever see those shoes on your feet, no one will find your body.”

Samuelson turns and walks away and as soon as he’s out of sight, I look back at Adams. “What the fuck was that from you?”

Adams shrugs. “He ain’t so scary.”


The next day, Adams shows up to work in a pink silk shirt. Not girly pink either, power colour pink. It looks impressive.

“It was one of Samuelson’s white shirts,” Adams whispers to me by the water cooler. I try to tell him to hush as I look around to see who might be listening, but Adams keeps going. “Samuelson takes these fucking sleeping pills, right? I could teabag him with my sweaty balls after a ten hour workout and he would never know. I watched him. He was out by ten, I snuck in, grabbed his shirts, washed them with a bunch of my red soccer jerseys, and voila, brand new pink cashmere shirts for the office.”

Samuelson walks in a couple seconds after Adams finishes his explanation. Samuelson obviously heard nothing. He walks right in, grabs a paper cup, looks to Adams and says, “Great shirt man. I could never pull off pink. I got the same ones in white. Looks good though.” Samuelson actually came off sincere. No fake smile, no inviting out for tapas, no laughing with the other upper management. He’s actually impressed.

“Thanks man,” Adams replies. “I’ve been refining my taste. No more cross trainers and corduroys for me. It’s amazing how much better quality you get when you spend a little more, right?”

Samuelson nods. “Yep, higher price means higher quality. Just how life works.”


I must have nodded off in front of the TV. It’s 2 a.m. and there’s a knock at my door. I get up from the couch and open the door to see Adams in a two-piece, double breasted suit, silk tie, black shoes polished so well the defining lines look white. He adjusts his tie and says, “Well, Ogden, how does it look?”

I hear a pop and some mists into my face. It stings my eyes and I wipe them. I look down to see my hands smeared in red. Adams is on the ground with a hole through his head. He’s twitching and bleeding all over my porch, and then stops. I look up and see Samuelson at the far side of the backyard, pointing a gun in my direction. He lowers the gun and walks toward me. My brain keeps screaming to shut the door and call the cops, but I just freeze in place. Samuelson walks right up to me without taking his eyes off mine. Once he’s standing in front of me, he aims his gun down and shoots again, without taking his eyes off mine.

“You can wear whatever the fuck you want, and it won’t make a difference,” Samuelson is sweating. His brow is furrowed. He doesn’t even blink. He shoots Adams’ body again. “You’re still nobody. You’re as replaceable as a stripper on a Tuesday night. As useful as a dog in a gutter. You just scrape off the bottom, hoping some shit falls off of my heel, just so you can have something that used to belong to me.” He leans in closer. “And don’t forget it.”

I can hear sirens in the distance. Samuelson turns and walks away. I hear his shoes clicking for blocks. And I stand in the same spot until the police arrive. I tell them I have no idea what just happened.


When I was a kid, I used to have to step between the cracks in the sidewalk, and only between the cracks in the sidewalk. I could only step twice between them. My feet were the exact length to fit two steps between each perfect concrete square that lined my neighbourhood from my elementary school back to my parents’ house.

There was one sidewalk piece that was a long rectangle. It curved around a corner and it had an extra crack running through it, probably from the sewage drain underneath it. Some extra moisture probably seeped into the concrete piece and split it across. It took me months to figure out how I was supposed to step through it. It required three steps and I never stepped on any of the cracks. I somehow rationalized that this one anomaly in my walk home was ok. At least I figured out how to walk through yet. Yet, I’m 27 now and I still think about that rectangle of concrete.

I don’t pay that much attention to how I walk across sidewalk blocks anymore. I don’t have to touch every button on the TV remote any time I change the channel anymore. I don’t have to sit up and lie back down three times and say to myself, “Ok, it’s time to sleep, just relax and sleep,” to get myself to relax and fall asleep. I don’t worry about falling asleep before midnight anymore. I don’t have panic attacks if I don’t fall asleep before midnight anymore.

I’m not as haunted by arbitrary measurements and guidelines as I as when I was a kid. I think I was about thirteen when I stopped needing such a strict routine in order to function. But, it’s not like I’ve been cured of all of my nervous habits either. I bite my nails. And when my nails are so short that pressing my fingers gives me a sharp pain through my hand, I chew on the skin underneath my nails.

I don’t know why I do this. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t taste good. It actually really grosses me out. I catch myself chewing on my nails or on my skin while I’m at my office. Once I notice I’m doing it, I stop myself and look around to see if anyone is staring. The only thing I can compare catching myself chewing my nails in public to is something like burping or farting in public. I look around to see if anyone noticed, unsure if I should excuse yourself or just leave the room, I can’t tell if anyone even actually cares or is paying any attention.

Even though all the straight faces around me surrounding my cubicle al show a sign of apathy, I’m still convinced my stench has crept its way into each of their noses and the odour of my shame reeks like a decomposing body lying in the middle of the floor.

As long as I can remember I’ve always fixated on nails. Why cuticles? What was the trigger? Sadly, there was none. I don’t know if that would make this essay any more interesting or not. It’s like Michael Myers in Halloween versus Michael Myers in Halloween 2: is Michael Myers more interesting when his killing spree has no meaning or root, or is the family elimination purpose more interesting? I’m torn either way. But regardless of the possibility of an interesting story arc, my nail elimination fascination has no significant root. I didn’t always chew on them; I picked and pulled them first. But my own nails weren’t enough, I had to pick and pull everyone’s nails. I have odd flashes of memory of lying in my crib and not being able to sleep, so one of my parents would either sit or lie beside me and let me pick at their nails until I fell asleep.

Unlike my nails, I can pinpoint the exact moment when the sidewalk crack fascination began. First, we moved houses, then I changed schools. Third grade. I came off like a happy kid, but I don’t know if I necessarily was. It was around this time when I fully immersed myself into fantasy, comic books, sci-fi, and really started trying hard when I drew. Someone who spends that much time in their own imagination can’t be all that happy.

I was eight years old, I had to deal with these new kids who weren’t my friends from my old school, this was the first year I went to Catholic school not having any idea what the fuck a Catholic was, I was adjusting to living in a new house in a new neighbourhood where I was instantly marked as the weird kid, and I started actually noticing that I didn’t talk very much to other kids. My self-awareness of how I didn’t play with other kids and that I wasn’t involved in any clubs or teams with other kids started around this time as well.

At a very young age, I realized I had no friends, but for the most part it didn’t bother me. Things were a lot more fun in my head. School was boring. Other kids were boring. Part of me wished that I would find friends who appreciated things like video games and comic books. Part of me gave up. I did eventually start making new friends and my fascination with how I should walk across the sidewalk subsided. But I still picked and chewed my nails.

It got worse my second time around in college. My nails took some serious abuse during those years. Especially while I sat in class. I was twenty-three and I couldn’t help but notice that almost everyone around me was maybe eighteen. Those who weren’t eighteen were in their forties. I felt closer in age to the baby-boomers in the room, probably because I had tried the college thing once already. I flunked out, but I still felt like I was some sort of veteran. I knew there were no bells between class blocks, I knew how to search through the bookstore and find the specific books for your specific class section, I knew where had the best coffee and which places stayed open late. But I was also aloof. I existed somewhere between not knowing how to talk to the people I was in class with and not caring to talk to the people I was in class with. I started feeling like I was in Catholic school again for the first time.

I don’t know why I’m instantly scared of people. And that’s really what it is. Sometimes my defenses go up and I come off like I don’t like people or I don’t care about them, but what I’m actually experiencing is fear. It’s probably why I chew my nails. And I chew on pens. And I chew on the straws that come with my fast food drinks.

I used to think that my chewing on pens had something to do with smoking, but I never smoked enough or long enough to form that sort of habit. I haven’t had a cigarette for probably six years now and I’ve maybe smoked a grand total of ten cigarettes in my life. I try to make it look like it has to do with smoking, but it’s always worse when I have to go into meetings, or we have staff functions, or I have to meet someone new. Freud’s oral fixation argument holds no merit, believe me there is nothing sexual about my office. My oral fixation is anxiety based. And being in an open office surrounding by people for eight hours a day is only making it worse.

If you watch people for long enough, you notice that everyone has some sort of nervous habit: they bounce their knees while sitting, they talk to themselves, they tap their fingers on their desk, they twirl pens between their fingers, they chew their bottom lips. Luckily for them, these are all subtle nervous habits. I have unfortunately drawn the highly visual and probably bizarre and inappropriate nervous habits. Looking out for people’s judgemental stares is how I got so good at people watching. When I spit out a nail or a pen cracks while it’s in my mouth, I sometimes wish that I did fart in those scenarios. I could blame that on a sudden stomach virus. Say the sushi we had for lunch tasted funny and run to the bathroom. I might earn some pity points then. But having to explain to people that I’m chewing on myself and anything that winds up in my hands because being around them makes me nervous probably breaks some unwritten social norm that I probably should understand by this point. You’d think watching people the way I do would shine some knowledge of social cues. I don’t have time for that though. I have watch them bounce their knees. I need to make sure that they’re not watching me.

What Happened?

I’m trying to remember what I did in university that made me such an insane creative writing machine. I’m not sure if it was the genuinely enthusiastic and idealistic environment, the easy access to some of the best writers I’ve ever known – let alone read (both student and instructor) – or if it was the feeling that I carried no other responsibility than to exercise the introspective thinking and passionate storytelling that makes life bearable to begin with, but I used to turn out personal essays and short stories and poetry like Paula Dean turns out clogged arteries and racial slurs.

Fast forward a few months. I’m done university and out into the working world. I even got a writing job. I get to write blog posts for the company website (those are kind of like short stories, right?), I get to write for the quarterly internal magazine (that’s like writing essays, right?), I do internal communications (um… poetry?), and sell advertising space (now I want to kill myself). The real paycheques I earn and real health benefits I get finally afforded me to get my own apartment and afford groceries and (most importantly) booze. I have a job where I exercise (or rather, experiment with) my skills as a writer every day that affords me the comfort to go home and write whatever I want whenever I want.

Why the fuck haven’t I been writing anything?

Ok, maybe it’s not the case that I haven’t been writing anything. But my creative juices are slowing down. A lot. Nothing I ever wrote used to be this hard. And I don’t mean hard in the sense that I had to really dig in myself and really explore these themes and have a full grasp as to what I’m going to say. It’s hard as in when I go home form work, literally all I want to do is eat junk food and watch cartoons.

I want to say that my job drains me of all my writing desires and leaves me exhausted and wordless. Who am I kidding, I spend more time sharing Huffington Post stories and making witty comments about them on Facebook than I do any sort of work. Despite my secondary residency on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Facebook, I’m actually on top of (and at times a few weeks ahead of) all of my work. Am I really good at my job? Is my job just that easy? Are the writing habits I developed in university following me into the working world making me actually very efficient but then very (VERY) easily bored?

I think being bored is the main issue here. I’m bored at work and when I leave the office I get bored when I go home. But it’s the worst kind of bored possible. When I was a kid, being bored meant that it was time to try a new hobby. Being bored meant that it was time to get off my ass and do something constructive. Being bored meant something was wrong with my current situation and it was time to change it. How come now being bored means I shift to a different position on my couch and fall asleep to the sitcom I paid 180 XBOX points for?

When I was in university, I read an essay by Jonathan Franzen about his struggling with writer’s block. During the class discussion, I believe my exact words were, “If you’re writing about writer’s block then it’s time to kill yourself.” Ironically, we read David Foster Wallace’s “Shipping Out” shortly after. Wallace, of course, did literally kill himself and many speculate that he did so because he couldn’t write anymore. I want to say that I feel fortunate that I work a job where I write every day, but I still feel completely unfulfilled and like the moment I quit this job some other fresh university graduate will be sitting in my chair writing the same blog posts, internal magazine articles and internal communications. Being able to write only goes so far, but if you don’t give a shit about what you’re writing about then you’re going to find yourself completely unfulfilled. Being unfulfilled is the worst feeling I have ever experienced.

I grew up part of this generation being told that we can be whatever we want to be. What we weren’t told is that there is a limited amount of options available for us to choose from. It’s like being told in the Harvey’s hamburger commercial that you can make your burger however you like it, but then approaching the toppings counter and finding all of the toppings soured, rotten and molding. Sure, there are some options there, but do we actually want any of them?

We enter post secondary with the highest aspirations. We work and study to find ourselves and where we exactly fit in the world. We earn good marks, we receive our degree, and we come out of convocation running with our gowns flowing and degrees in hand ready to start what will be an exciting career in exactly what we were studying.

Again, I got this, in a sense. And part of me feels guilty for whining when I know people who literally collect the coins off the stages at the strip clubs just so they can make rent. I’m one of the lucky essayists/poets/authors who has a steady job. But a steady job isn’t enough. Life isn’t work, pay, and death. At least it isn’t for me. I don’t think I’m the reproducing type, so I might not find the meaning to my life in raising another human being to grow up and find the same disappointment that I did.

My favourite writing quote is from Ernest Hemingway: “In order to write about life, you must first live it.” I’m not living for a fuck of a lot right now; therefore, I have nothing to write about. I can’t write about laying on my couch at home on a Friday night (Buzzfeed already has the monopoly on the “why my 20s suck” meme market). I know I have a lot of life to live before I can even look to the left at Hemingway (and a lot of animals to kill) but life doesn’t happen in a cubicle staring at a screen.

I don’t want to say who I work for, I have a strange feeling that people I work with read this and I still need the paycheque (I can always tell them, “oh yeah, I wrote this while working my last job.” Most of them are illiterate enough to be able to call me out on this shit anyways). But I can tell you this: when I came into this job, I didn’t even know this company I worked for existed, let alone have any prior knowledge of anything it does. And a far as I’m concerned, 90 per cent of it is bullshit anyways. Yet, I rattle on day after day like I am the utmost expert on the industry I apparently work for. Who the fuck am I? Seriously, when did I gain the authority to write about things I didn’t even know existed up to a few months ago?

The real issue here is my engagement with what I’m doing for work. I very obviously just don’t care. Motivation is hard to find when you’re apathetic, and even harder to find when you’re really trying not to be apathetic. Because I’m not engaged with what I do for eight hours a day, I go home exhausted. When I was in school, I was fully engaged. I loved every second when I was in the classroom. I loved how I was challenged as a creative and critical thinker. I worked my ass off and it was amazing. But school’s over. I don’t have the money to study for my Master’s. To make money I have to work.

And I don’t even think it’s the very current day job that I have right now. Any day job would leave me feeling this way. I’m probably shooting myself in the foot because any potential employer who reads this is never going to want to hire me now. But I think it’s worth saying.

I’m not very high on the totem pole. And I don’t think I’ll ever climb that high up the corporate ladder. Some of us are made to scrape the bottom like eternal characters in Bukowski novels. He wrote the way he did and the characters he did for a reason: he was scraping the bottom most of the time too. But so long as our work doesn’t define us, we can remind ourselves every day that we get to walk away with a paycheque and afford the luxury of doing what we like when we have the time and the energy.

This is the most I’ve written for this blog in a long time. Posts are getting more frequent again, but it’s still not the story a day I used to be able to do. But it’s something.

I don’t know how I got here. But I’m not going to get to a better place eating junk food and watching cartoons whenever I leave work. Well, sometimes it’s excusable.


Tim read through the pamphlet for the fifth time, trying to fully understand all of the benefits this procedure will have on his body. His eyes glazed over the pictures of the smiling senior citizens and the diagrams showing where exactly what was being inserted and how. He read all of the side-effects, including the one about what to do if your body rejected the implants, who to contact, what conditions to look for, and how it sometimes cause extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, the development of or enlarging of breasts and other hormonal anomalies, and in some cases death.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Karen rubbed Tim’s shoulders like she would while they lay in bed together; Tim would be having his stomach cramps and couldn’t sleep at night.

“I don’t have much choice outside of this, do I?” Time replied. “With all the time we spent talking about it, I might have, what? Three months? There’s nothing else.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” she asked.

“At this point, so what? What worse could happen?”

Tim’s stomach cramped up and he clenched his side. His abdomen was throbbing, as if Tim could feel his kidneys slowing dissolving as he sat there.

Doctor Richards came out and sat down with Tim and Karen, asking them what they thought about the procedure. Karen pressed about waiting for a donor, giving Tim new living tissue rather than some piece of machinery that has been on the market barely a month.

“I told you, Ms. Fowler,” Doctor Richards began. “Tim has a rare condition. One we barely ever see. I had to find my medical textbooks from college just to diagnose him. Living tissue would only last a short while. Maybe give him a week to a month extra. I know it seems bizarre to…”

“I’ll do it,” Tim blurted out. “I’m so sick of this. I’m sick of never sleeping and being in pain all of the time. Even if I die on the operating table, it’s better than living like this. If I’m going to die, might as well die trying.”

Doctor Richards advised Tim not to think about it as how he’s going to die and pointed out how positive thinking can help patients pull through even the worst of situations. Tim glared at the doctor. “Just give me the fucking forms, doc,” Tim snarled.

Tim handed the brochure to Karen and clicked the pen as he read through the form. His knees were pouncing and he started clicking the pen repeatedly, in a steady but rapid rhythm. Karen placed her hand on Tim’s shoulder, and he stopped fidgeting, and started filling out the form, while Karen pulled out her chequebook, started writing the cheque and calculating to make sure they could still pay the rent and afford groceries. It would be tight, but it would be worth it.


The security scanner beeped and the airport security officer motioned for Tim to step aside.

“Any knives, guns, or other weapons currently on your person, sir?” the security officer asked. Tim could see the hole beneath his lip where his piercing had once been and could see the scars along his neck from where he used to be tattooed.

“No,” Tim replied.

“Any enhancements?” the security officer asked.

“Just my kidneys,” Tim answered.

“Nice man, vital organs are totally in right now,” the security officer commented. “Just had my spleen replaced with an E12. Purifies my piss so I can distill it and make booze. What model are your kidneys?”

“Um, E1, I guess?” Tim looked down as if he could see his kidneys through his jacket and shirt and read the model printed along the side.

“E1? And they’re still running? You’re crazy bro!” the security officer slapped his knee. “I was barely alive when they started making E1s! You gotta upgrade. Gotta upgrade.”

“They’ve been working great for twenty years, haven’t had a problem with them at all, why do I need an upgrade?” Tim asked.

“The specs man, the specs on the newer Es are so much better. Man, I got a second job and I’m pulling overtime here to afford replacing my arm,” the security guard slapped his shoulder. “This one here. My good arm. Gonna join an enhanced arm wrestling league.”

“That’s cool kid,” Tim reached for his bags coming out of the x-ray. “Cool talking with you, I got to catch my flight though. Good luck with the arm.”

“Thanks buddy,” the security guard giggled. “Like I said, get an upgrade.”

As Time walked toward his flight gate, he could hear the kid ask the next person in line, “Any enhancements?”


The flight was over Ontario when Tim woke up. He left the TV set embedded into the head of the seat in front of him on the channel showing the flight path. He wiped the drool hanging from the side of his mouth and looked over at the seat next his’ TV set to see what other people were watching. The man sitting next to Tim was staring down at a small screen embedded into his forearm and had headphones plugged into his wrist. The man caught Tim staring and unplugged a headphone.

“It’s a new model,” he said. “Full digital media capabilities. DME12. I’d say I can’t leave home without it, but people would probably be staring even worse if I was missing an arm.” He chuckled.

“No kidding, look at that,” Tim leaned in staring at the screen. “My TV at home isn’t that sharp.”

“Do you have any enhancements?” he asked.

“Just my kidneys,” Tim answered.

“Oh, what do you use those for?” he asked.

“Heh, I used them to live,” Tim answered. “About twenty years ago my kidneys decided to take a holiday and not warn me first. If I didn’t fork out the fortune to replace them I would have been dead within a few months.”

“No kiddin’,” the man replied. “None of the enhancements do that anymore. Well, except the old models. What are you running in there?”

“E1,” Tim answered. “And for the love of god, don’t tell me I should upgrade.”

The man laughed. “You got that young kid in the security line too? Too many people upgrade for no reason. I mean, I’m constantly travelling, so having all of my media on me like this just makes sense. When I run or hit the gym, I can just plug in and all my music is right here. None of the tissue on here is living, so it doesn’t sweat, but the rubber faux skin around it is still water proof so I can swim and if my sweat drips down, no damage. Just makes sense.”

Tim wanted to avoid any obligatory airplane talk, but he had to know who better who was sitting beside him. “So, what do you do then that requires the travelling and the rigorous workout schedule?”

“I’m a major league hockey coach,” he answered and the put out his non enhanced-hand. “Stan Davis.”

They shook hands. “Tim Fowler. I’m retired.”

“You don’t look old enough to be retired,” Stan smiled.

“Thanks for the flattery, but I unfortunately am that old,” Tim answered.

“Well, what did you used to do?” Stan asked.

“Nothing special, sold insurance for a while. Spent a few years running the admin work for a construction company. You know, this and that.”

Cool, cool,” Stan stopped and stared out, looking like he was trying to find a conversation somewhere in front of him. “Are you stopping off in Hamilton?”

“Heading right through to Calgary.”

“Oh, well,” the silence again. Stan started to place the headphone back into his year. “It was nice to meet you.”


By the baggage claim, a six-foot illuminated sign with a map advertised the airport’s new enhancement-application. It listed off everything passengers could do with their enhancements: buy flight tickets, check for cancelled or delayed flights, check in, weight baggage, order in-flight peanuts, it seemed like everything could be done off someone’s body part. Tim laughed a bit staring at the ad, thinking about how far along technology has come, yet sitting beside him on a plane was someone who made a living assembling a team of people who hit a hunk of rubber with a stick.

The conveyor belts kicked on and bags began dropping. People standing around the conveyor belt pointed their fingers or their palms towards the bags that passed by. Tim caught a glimpse of his black suitcase, patched-together with the same luggage tag he’s used for forty years or more. He reached down and picked up his suitcase, and someone standing beside him tapped his shoulder.

“You didn’t scan that bag,” he said.

“Sorry?” Tim began. “What do you mean scanned? What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t scan the bag with any of your enhancements,” the man continued. “How do you know if the bag is yours?”

Tim turned over the luggage tag and the man saw the scribbled note with Tim’s name and address along the white piece of paper, laminated and hanging off the bag’s handle.

“What is that?” the man squinted and leaned in. “It looks like my grandfather’s luggage.”

“Was he on this flight?” Tim asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Then you know the bag’s mine,” Tim pushed his way past the man. “Excuse me.”

It was raining in Calgary when Tim stepped outside to hail a cab. The bright lights guiding the cabs along the dark roads leading up to the airport’s main doors reflected off the wet concrete, hurting Tim’s eyes a bit. Tim never thought he would want sunglasses in the middle of the night so bad. He man from the carousel stepped outside and he held his hand in front of his face, shielding from the glare off the road. He stepped up beside Tim when he finally dropped his arm. Tim looked over and saw the man’s eyes had turned completely black. Tim stared for a short while. The man laughed.

“Yeah, should guess that you’ve never seen these before,” the man pointed to his eyes. “It’s new. It adjusts your eyes to levels of brightness so that you can see everything better in all conditions.”

“Like transitions lenses,” Tim said.

“Like what?” the man asked.

“Something we had when I was younger,” Tim explained. “They were glasses whose tinting would adjust as the light around you changed. It was a brilliant invention. Saved a lot of lives probably with all the issues people have with night driving. Those eye enhancements of yours are actually a very good addition. I am impressed.”

“You think that’s cool,” he continued. “Had a little less-than-legal addition to these bad boys too. Full x-ray capabilities. Expensive addition, sure. But in the long run, I’m saving a lot of money from not having to buy porn anymore.”

Tim said nothing and hailed the first cab that pulled up.


The diner was dimly lit and by this time of night only two kind of people were hanging around: lonely insomniacs and drunken kids who had nowhere else to go once the bars kicked them out. The kids hung out in the booths at the far end of the diner where the waitress would only visit occasionally, “After all,” Tim remembers one waitress telling him one late night when he was hanging around, “once they order their food, they only have their drinks filled maybe once after that. They’re not actually here for food or service. They’re here because they don’t want to be home yet.” The insomniacs sat at the front of the diner along the bar, hoping each other would start a conversation though none of them could muster up the right words to start talking. So they sat quiet, stared at their black coffee and stale fries and barely moved.

“Haven’t seen you in a long while,” a waitress with dark hair tied back said as soon as Tim found his stool at the front of the diner bar. Time couldn’t remember her name. He never knew any of the diner’s staff’s names. “Where ya been there old timer?”

“Visiting the east coast,” Tim answered. “Had a check up on an old procedure I had, well, years ago. You were probably in grade school.”

The waitress blushed while she poured a cup of coffee. “Procedure? What do you mean by that? Like surgery?”

Tim grabbed a newspaper from in front of an empty spot along the bar. “Yeah, a surgery. My kidneys decided to pack up and leave without telling me. Nearly wound up in an early grave. Those enhancements saved my goddamn life.”

The waitress looked over to the table of young kids all staring at their arms, some with headphones in their ears, occasionally talking to one another and showing each other the screens on different parts of their bodies. “I never understood those enhancements,” she said. “Just more crap for us all to spend money on that doesn’t actually make any of our lives better.” She topped up Tim’s coffee. “I’ve seen kids downright obsessed with those things. One kid who came here nearly had every part of his body replaced with some piece of machinery, just to brag about how much of his body are enhancements. All the most recent models. All the top brands. After I saw that kid, I swore I would never have one of those things. Tried to save up for a while, but pay here barely covers my rent and food. No point, I’m just fine without it.”

Tim looked down at his watch and smiled, “I understand that, believe me, if I had real kidneys, I wouldn’t have a single piece of machinery in my body. You know, I’m really glad you don’t have any enhancements. I like you and wouldn’t want you to go through this.”

“Go through what?” she asked.

The sound of plates crashing and cups toppling over sang from the booth with all the kids. “What the hell’s going on with my arm?” one yells out. Another was screaming, “My god, I think he’s dead! His liver must be malfunctioning!” Tim wondered how other people were reacting to the same situation.


After Tim’s surgery, Karen visited him every day that he was recovering in the hospital. They had to keep him there for a month to monitor how his body was adjusting to the new kidneys. He was resting comfortably but could feel the machines in his body working. Though it was unsettling at the time, Tim got used to the feeling of machines in his body before he left the hospital.

“I’m just worried,” Karen said through building tears.

“Don’t be,” Tim reassured her. “That’s why the doctors are keeping me here. I’m going to be fine. If anything goes wrong, they know something went wrong and they can fix…”

“Not that,” she said as the tears streamed. “I’m worried that you’re less than human now. You’re missing something and you replaced it with some gadget. What point do you stop being a human?”

“When I become more obsessed with the gadgets than my own humanity,” Tim replied.


“I’m no luddite,” Tim said as the waitress scrambled looking for her phone. “I think most technology we developed over the last century or so has been really helpful. Made our live easier and allowed us to progress in other ways. But these things, are fucking useless. It’s for the better, believe me.”

The waitress discovered that all the phone lines were dead only after she found her cell phone and tried to call 911. “Did you do this?” she drops her cell phone.

“The cell phone signals were an unintended side effect,” Tim explained. “Enhancements run on the same satellites as the cell phones do, after all, most enhancements have been replacing cell phones.”

“No the cell phone lines!” she yelled. “That!” she pointed to the booth of kids, some dead, some with non-functioning limbs, some comatose but possibly still breathing.

“Well, as in did I somehow shut down all enhancement signals causing all of them to shut down? No,” Tim shook his head while he sipped his coffee. “But, did I do something that wound up with the ripple effect of all these useless gadgets finally shutting down? Yeah, that was me.”

The waitress started crying, putting out her arm to balance herself against the counter and knocking over the coffee pot, letting it crash against the floor. “Why?”

“A beautiful woman once asked me when do we stop being human,” Tim explained. “I said it was when we become more obsessed with the gadgets than our own humanity. I owed this to her.”


Tim did all the research on gallbladder surgery before Karen went in for her procedure. The number of death during this procedure, even for older populations, was negligible. The hospital offered Karen an enhancement to replace her gallbladder, talked about all the benefits of a mechanical gallbladder and tried to sell her on the top high-end brands for enhancements. Karen had integrity, and Tim really admired that, and she refused any enhancement, saying she only wanted the simple procedure. Karen went her whole life without any enhancements. She never needed them, never found any use, and was perfectly happy with skin and bone.

The waiting room Tim sat in while Karen went in for surgery had posters all over advertising for the newest enhancements, covered in infographics showing what each enhancement does and brand name logos competing for the impulse buy of a designer arm or finger or toe or pelvis or neck.

The screaming could be heard all throughout the waiting room. Everyone lowered their arms and unplugged their headphones to stare up and all wonder the same thing: where did that scream come from?

The screaming went on for a couple of minutes before a doctor finally came out and called for Timothy Fowler.

The doctor explained that one of the surgeon’s arm enhancements started playing an Internet video. Something hit something the wrong way as surgeon’s entertainment enhancements were all supposed to be deactivated during procedures. The signal playing the video interfered with the medial equipment. The medical scalpel went haywire, cutting up Karen’s insides. Doctor said she was dead within second of the arteries around her heart being cut open.

Another doctor come out of the surgery room and Tim peered over. The doctor was drenched in blood. Tim caught a glimpse of the inside of the surgery room. It looked like a bloodbath that Bathory would have found excessive.

The hospital managers soon entered the conversation, offering their apologies and trying to compensate for Tim’s loss by paying for all of Karen’s funeral arrangements and offering Tim some new free enhancements.


“Your kidneys,” the waitress said. “How are you not dead? Your kidneys!”

“First model, they never went online with enhancements on first models,” Tim sipped his coffee. “My kidneys don’t need to watch videos of celebrities naked in order for them to do their job. They run on some of the same technology, though. They’ll be shutting down soon enough.”

“So, why are you here then?” the waitress asked. “Why did you come here? Did you have something against those kids? Did you have it out for one of the other waitresses? Why here?”

Tim shrugged. He thought about the man going blind while looking through a woman’s blouse. He thought about the hockey coach losing the function of his arm while swimming. He thought about the arm wrestler having his spleen suddenly shut down while on a drinking binge. “I have nothing else, and I’m about to die. Figured I go drinking the only coffee in this city I can get at this hour.”

The waitress looked at the TV resting on the end of the counter behind the bar. She was a news report that showed a building on fire, with a caption that said, “Enhancement Manufacturing and Control Building Currently on Fire.” Around the building engulfed in flames, little balls of fire were falling from the sky. The news reported said something about them being satellites and the broadcast may be interrupted.

She heard a coffee cup fall and shatter and looked to see Tim toppled over on the bar, still sitting on his stool. The sound of white noise filled the diner as the TV broadcast went dead. She could hear sirens outside in the distance and wondered what kind of enhancements the EMTs had. She wondered about all the doctors’ enhancements. She wondered about all the police’s enhancements. The politicians’ enhancements, the CEOs’ enhancements, her friends’ enhancements. She couldn’t figure out how the world was better off now.

Public Executions

Welcome to this week’s edition of Public Executions – I’m your host, TV’s Bruce Telford. To recap, last week we had Mitt Romney on our show. If you recall, the former Presidential Candidate and venture capitalist was caught embezzling money from Bain Capital and god knows how many other companies who are beneath Bain. This is in addition to the books that he fixed on his own personal taxes.

As you recall, this symbol of capitalist progress then ventured into a whole new territory when he was caught running a polygamist colony where he married and impregnated three thirteen-year-old girls. Bet you wish you believed in contraception now, don’t ya Mitt?

Mitt came out onto the chopping block and we asked our audiences to vote on how he would be executed. We asked if the thieving, molesting polygamist should be forced fed e-coli poisoning, castrated with a gangrene infected clever, or if nails should have been driven into every inch of his body starting from his feet and working on up as far as we could before h went stone dead.

As much as I was rooted for the gangrene clever, I have always wanted to know what a Romney’s junk looks like, 60% of our record setting call-in votes, that is over one million votes, called to nail Romney like he did those thirteen-year-old girls.

We gave Romney the dignity of dressing in his favourite suit, go figure navy blue with a white shirt and a red tie, then strapped him to a board and started driving those nails in. We started with the feet, moved onto the legs, planted a few rusty ones into his crotch, and just started on his hands and his arms before he finally bled out, crapped his pants, and dropped dead. From when we drove that first nail in, we gave you forty-five minutes of solid entertainment that was chosen by you, the viewers.

And, needless to say, justice had been done.


Telford annoys the fuck out of me. I hated him when he played that rookie cop on that god awful police drama. I hated him when he was the square dad trying to be cool on that Wednesday night family comedy. And I especially hate him now. His voice is like something between a used car salesman and the voice on a infomercial. Sometimes I wish he would get executed already.

I’m trying to figure out where this record number of call-in votes came from because I don’t remember a single damn call from last night. The production room’s always a graveyard – dead silence aside from my odd camera change order. Sometimes I catch myself whispering and muttering things really low, like I’m afraid to wake up the corpses lying all around me. It’s even worse when I forget to give the camera orders and I catch myself just staring at the glare of so many screens in front of me, completely unsure as to why I’m still watching this fucking garbage.

This isn’t the kind of show you get used to watching day in and day out and if you ever do get used to watching this show then I’d suggest you get some fucking serious psychiatric help. But it’s why the ratings are always so high. We could execute people the same way every night and people will keep watching. I don’t think anyone in their right mind can ever get used to sitting back and watching people get slaughtered – but everyone loves the thrill of seeing blood spill.

I hear the production assistant call to ready camera six. Tonight’s convict has started to make her walk to the stage. I peer at camera six’s screen while she makes her long march to centre stage. She’s skinny, blonde, young, with black smudges under her eyes for makeup that has to be a few weeks old by now. The handcuffs barely close tight enough around her small wrists and the pale blue prison uniform looks big enough to be a blanket. We never know who the convict is until they’re on camera and Telford reads out their profile. Courts are always worried about some conflict with releasing who will be on the show before they take the stage – especially if we ever have gang-bangers on the show. We don’t need to have some psychopaths shooting up the studio audience. It’s bad for insurance, but fuck would it do a lot for ratings.

The convicts are always dropped off by the prison guards, who then hand over the information cards to Telford to read out. Our executive producers always pick the convicts by hand and they’re usually chosen by gauge of crime, celebrity status and public recognisability. This show has executed Bobby Seale, Tommy Lee, Nancy Pelosi, half of the Gotti family, all high profile.

Who the fuck is this girl and what the fuck did she do?


Tonight’s contestant hails from Austin, Texas, and she currently holds the record for the youngest convict we’ve ever had on our show! We’re making history tonight here folks!

At only fourteen years old, Brittany Bundy was accused and convicted of murdering her parents with a hammer in their home and abandoning her illegitimate child in a mall dumpster. She had no accomplices for her crimes and the father of the illegitimate child has never been revealed.

And tonight we’re upping the stakes even more. In addition to the three execution options we are adding a fourth voting option to you, our viewers.

Call our hotline at 1-900-257-1234, that number again is 1-900-257-1234, and press one if you want to see Miss Bundy here given the Mary Antoinette treatment with the guillotine. Press two if you want to see her put into a cage with a lion in heat. Press three if you think she should be burned at the stake like our forefathers did to the rest of those witches that came before her.


Press four if you think that Miss Bundy should be allowed to live.

Operators are currently standing by to take your calls. It’s three dollars a call. Kids, ask your parents’ permission before calling.


The producer’s station hangs above the filming stage; looming over like god watching the Garden of Eden, waiting to pass judgement and exile its occupants to an eternity of damnation. I stare down from the glass walls and she stares back up at me, like she’s praying for salvation and forgiveness.

The glass lining the walls let me see trough and down onto the stage; but anyone outside of the producer’s both only sees themselves reflected back at them. I don’t know if she’s staring at herself, trying to recognize who’s looking back and understand how they got into this mess. Or, can she see through the glass?

She starts to recite her prayer, consisting of only two words: Brandon Reid.

I know the name.

The mouths the name again, slowly and gently, like she’s telling me a secret through tin cans connected by strings. She knows there’s no point in making a sound on stage but maybe there’s something above her who could reach down and save her. She keeps staring up, hopeful.

In short, Brandon Reid isn’t just any failure-t-o-launch case: he’s the worst kind of failure-to-launch case. Tipping into his thirties and still living with his father whose deep pockets give this kid no sense of consequence, Brandon Reid’s father is one Igor Reid: Judge Igor Reid. Funny enough, Reid was appointed to the Supreme Court by Romney – you know, before he was caught with the thirteen-year-old girls. Judge Reid was a corporate defense lawyer famous for defending Bain Capital on a great many of occasions before hopping ship to the public sector and being handed his appointment to the Supreme Court.

A lot of money, a lot of power, a lot of status, and not a hell of a lot of time to pay attention to what his bastard kid was up to.

Brandon had a bad habit of hanging around malls trying to impress girls with his flashy clothes and new car every week. He made a worse habit of taking the girls he picks up on long, fast drives through the city while chugging bottles of JD like they were Gatorade and snorting enough coke to keep the cartels in funded for ten years. He had a new car each week because he kept wrecking the old ones.

While the girls were in the car.

He put a lot of young kids in the hospital, some of them never walked again.

Daddy always bailed junior out whenever he got in trouble: community service here, small fine there, he never faced any consequences.

I’m not exactly privy to this knowledge either: Brandon was a regular fixture on the evening news with his accidents and court dates. Judge Reid was always too oblivious to notice what the fuck was going on.

I guess he got pretty close with Miss Bundy on the stage. One of the few girls he didn’t put in the hospital. My guess, he put her parents in the morgue instead. I guess we know what happens now after he picks up the girls and actually makes it home.

Her eyes drop and she stares into the audience. At first, she snarls and cringes. Then, she just cries uncontrollably. Her handcuffed hands cover her face as she cries and screams louder and louder. I peer down at the audience to see who she’s looking at. I figure even he can’ be that sick.

Slicked blonde hair, chiselled jaw, black suit jacket – the son of a bitch looks so much like his father, especially when they’re sitting next to each other. They even laugh the same as they point at the poor girl on the stage crying because her parents are dead and she’s about to be killed on live television.

Every part of me wants to put that kid on the stage where I would personally put a screwdriver through the back of his head.

Then I think about how much money his father donates to the show.


The room where the phone-in votes come in is no bigger than a bedroom with a single desk and a single computer. As all calls come in through and callers make their selection on how our contestants lose their lives on stage, the single computer tallies up all calls and votes and when the polls close, it spits out a graph showing who voted for what. And thus, the people have spoken.

Because everything in the whole voting process is automated, the control-centre usually only needs one person working it at any given time. I crack open the door, wondering what I’m going to tell the operator to get him out of the room. Only there’s no operator sitting there. There’s no one in the room at all.

I grab the desk chair and roll myself in front of the glowing screen with the plan of making sure she would make it through against this blood-thirsty public. The computer program used to tally votes is from the same developer as all the computers in the production room. It shouldn’t be that hard to find the graphs, falsify some numbers, and have it print out a more favourable outcome.

I find the graph, I think. Only it’s empty. Not a single call.

I start browsing through the back logs and see all the familiar graphs from previous shows. All showing the favourable executions for every one of our contestants. But these were the final outcomes, I wanted to see the call logs, the mid-day voting numbers, anything that would show progress.

Nothing anywhere. Either no one was calling into this show or somebody’s been deleting all of the call logs.

I run across the backstage studio floor and back into my producer’s booth, looking for my executive producer. I find him looking down onto the stage, watching and smiling.

“You know, this will probably be our highest rated show ever,” he tells me as I approach.

“Probably, it’s our youngest contestant ever. The most plain for the crimes. People identify with non-celebrities better. Celebrities are a nice fantasy for people, but when they see someone real, they’re so much more captivated,” he continues.

“Who’s working the vote tally room?” I ask. “I keep walking by and I never see anybody around there.”

The lights from the stage reflected back and gave off a shine across his bald head. Folds bunch up above the back of his neck. His cheeks are round and his nose and chin are both bulbous and round. He chuckles a bit and looks over to me. “Who do you think is supposed to be working over there?” he asks.

That’s a question I ask myself a few times to myself before I try to give an answer. I’ve been working at this studio for a couple of years, specifically on this show about six months, and in all that time I’ve never known who has worked in the tally room.

“Have you ever actually been in that tally room?” the executive producer asks.

“I can’t say I ever had,” I lie.

“Well, it’s a little complicated in there. But I think it’s time you have some insight into how this show actually works.”

He walks me back over to the tally room, opens the door and gestures to the computer and the desk. “Millions of calls each night, and do you really think all of that can be filed and tallied neatly on this hunk of junk?” he laughs as he slaps the monitor. “I can barley look at porn on this thing. We don’t tally votes here.”

“Where are the calls tallied then?” I ask.

He shakes his head and brushes off some dust from his black suit. “Kid, there are no calls.”


And we’re back! Sorry that I’m a bit out of breath. I was just running some waters to our operators. Boy you folks at home are keeping them busy! Calls are just pouring in and with just a few minutes left before we tally the votes and show our results, this could be your last chance to call in and have your say.

Let’s get a sneak peak at how our polls are looking so far.

So far, thirty-five per cent of you think our contestant Brittany Bundy should have her head lobbed off with the guillotine. Ten per cent of you think she should be put in the cage with the lion in heat. Thirty per cent of you think she should be burnt at the stake. And, finally, twenty-five per cent of our callers think she’s innocent that her life should be spared.

It’s a close match. So close I almost can’t watch! Stay tuned to find out how our contestant fares against our callers.

But first, a message from our sponsors.


They could say one-hundred per cent of callers want to see her hung from the nearest light post and hit with shit-covered sticks until she stops breathing and it wouldn’t make a fucking bit of difference. They’re purposely creating a sense of hope to hook in viewers. No one wants to cause the car accident but everyone will stop to watch. If there’s an ambulance, they’ll stare for hours for any sign of life in the wreckage and carnage. If they see everyone sitting up and talking, they go home and feel better about themselves. If they see someone taken away on a stretcher, they’ll go home feeling worried and hoping everyone pulls through okay. If they see a body bag, they’ll keep watching and click photos on their cellphones and send the images to the evening news hoping that something they created gets viewed across their city. That slightest glimmer of fame and recognition.

Sometimes I feel like people will do absolutely anything to get on TV. The contestants on this show all agree to be on it. They all sign the waivers and release forms. Agree to the terms and sign the contracts. I guess if they’re going down, then they’re going down broadcasted across North America. The last ditch effort for fame. Deep down, we all want it. Some people will just go lower than others to find it.

I look at that fucking useless judge’s kid and I think about his fucking smile and his slicked back hair and perfect white teeth. He dresses like he’s still in private school, navy blue blazer and khakis. He’s been prepped his whole life. Given all the right things to say at all the right times; all the right friends in all the right places; every opportunity in the world handed to him on a silver plate with lettuce garnish and a side of grapes.

She never stood a chance. The minute that little prick got a little hard for her, he should have killed her right then and there. He got into her pants and got into her head. He knew a young girl like that would be easy to manipulate. He got everything he wanted, used her for all she had, got his rocks off and lived all of it wildest fantasies, and now he’s done and he’s thrown her to a pack of hungry wolves while she prays that somewhere between the saliva dripping off of their fangs there’s a shed of pity.

They’re all too busy watching to see if there’s a body bag to give any glimmer of hope.

I watch them announce the final votes. Burnt at the stake won by an upset. Of course, a sudden shift in expectation keeps audiences interested and excited. This is just good production. I can’t fault them for that.

They go to a commercial break while the stage crew sets up the stake and starts stoking the base fire. Wardrobe is running around backstage getting Brittany’s final costume prepared: ragged beige cloths, torn at the edges, making her look like a savage cavewoman. Ironic that the savages are watching at home.

Makeup starts messing up her hair and rubbing dirt on her face for that added dramatic effect. She keeps staring up to the booth, like she sees right through and is staring right at me, telling me I can stop this at any time. That I have just as much power as anyone faking a voting poll or a rich kid getting a TV station to take out his garbage. She wants me to stop this. And I could.

I could step onto the stage while they’re strapping her to the stake and stoking the fire even more. I could stand in front of live broadcasting cameras and tell the world that they’ve been sold short to a scam. That no one ever calls this show. The voting polls are arbitrary numbers. This was all set up to be as gruesome as possible to up the price of commercial time and while they watch people die they’re told about what to be afraid of and what they should buy to battle those fears. It’s all emotional responses to shocking stimuli. It’s so easy yet everyone still watches.

And because everyone still watches, what will be the point? If I tell them it’s all fake, will they simply tell me to get out of the way so they can see what happens next?

The fire’s stoked and the cameras turn back on just as they want her out onto the stage. They strapped a collar around her neck and are dragging her by a chain like a dog. The judge and his kid are laughing. They’re having a grand ol’ time while they wipe out the last of a family.

“I was worried about you, kid,” a voice says behind me. “I thought you were going to go nuts, call us all out in front of the cameras, try to ruin the show and try to be a hero. You surprise me often, and I like that.”

I look back and he’s holding a file. “Checking some numbers here, kid,” he says. “One number we don’t lie about is the viewers. Another record night. More demands for commercial spots. New exclusive deals. Imagine what would have happened if you did try to ruin things? These numbers would have probably doubled.”

“Wait a second,” I interrupt. “The numbers would have doubled if I tried to do something?”

“Absolutely,” he replies. “People would have called each other, telling their friends and neighbours and family about the whackjob on TV screaming about a conspiracy. It would have been golden. No risk either. It was like you were given to me on a silver plate back there by that computer.”

They’ve finished strapping her to the stake now. The fire’s kicking up, her hair is singed and smoking, the cloth around her body is burning up, she’s screaming and crying, and those two fucking assholes are pointing and laughing. She’s heading somewhere better, where these fucking animals can’t get to her again. They think they won but she’s escaping this fucking garbage planet, and I want to be just behind her.

I reach back and grab him by his fat fucking head and I punch him between the eyes twice. His forehead is welting and his starts bleeding, dripping and staining his clothes. “What the fuck are you doing, kid?” he yells.

“I want to be the next contestant,” I grit my teeth and grab him with my other arm, launching him through the glass wall and down into the audience. My aim was perfect. He landed directly on those two laughing mother fuckers.

Glass continues falling onto the audience as people get up to run. Who’s fucking laughing now?

Patrick: A Story about Friendship and Growing Apart

I buried my best friend today. I listened to the eulogies and watched as people cried for a life they thought was cut too short. Twenty-six years isn’t exactly a life fully lived and no one ever fully realizes their potential in that little time. Patrick was different though. I’m not denying he was talented. Through a lot of the eulogies, old friends and relatives reminisced about how well he could draw and how many hours he would spend huddled over a drafting table getting every line as precise as he could, obsessing over every detail. I don’t know if I was the only cynical prick thinking about how Patrick hadn’t picked up a pencil since he was eighteen. Funny how people omitted that little detail. They only want to remember the god things. It’s like how after a rock star dies, suddenly everyone remembers all of their best songs and talks about how important they were to this and that and everything else despite their horrible downward spiral and how they alienated everyone around them. People just try to remember the good things.

I remember first meeting Patrick in high school. It was the second or third week, I barely knew my class schedule and could never find any of the rooms I was supposed to be in. My social studies teacher was something of a Nazi, especially for tardiness. His oversized forehead had veins that constantly bulged out and one of his eyes had a permanent blood vessel popped. The second bell to start class just rung as I snuck in and found the last available seat in the classroom off to the far right (the aisle nearest the door) and smack dap in the middle of the row. Sitting beside me was a guy with short spiky hair and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. He bobbed his heads to the music playing through his headphones as he doodled all over his notebook. This was Patrick. And this is how I always remember Patrick. Listening to music and drawing on any surface that would stay still.

The teacher started his lecture through his two-packs-and-a-bottle-of-whisky-a-day voice and Patrick forgot to take out his headphones. Patrick hadn’t even raised his head from his drawing. The teacher noticed and came barrelling down the aisle, looking like he was ready to pummel Patrick. I kicked the bar that connected Patrick’s desk to his chair and his head shot up and spotted the teacher. With wide eyes and a grin that begged to let his life be spared, he said, “Sorry, I didn’t hear the second bell.” The teacher turned and continued his lecture and Patrick looked over to me and nodded his head. We met in the smoke pit after class where he formally thanked me. He bummed a cigarette from me and we talked about which junior highs we just came from and what our survival tactics were for getting through these next three years. Patrick could smell the geek off of me.

There are still a small handful of comics I can’t read without hearing Patrick’s voice as I read through the hero’s dialogue.

It starts raining as I keep standing over where Patrick is buried. It’s been a good thirty minutes since the ceremony ended and I have no idea what to do next. It feels like when you leave your house for work and you could swear you forgot something. You have no idea what but you definitely forgot something and you won’t remember what it was until three o’clock. That’s the only way I can describe how I’m feeling. Like I need to do something before I leave. But I don’t know what.

“What did you think of the service, Robbie?” I hear a voice from behind me ask. I turn to see Patrick’s younger sister, Mary. She’s about eighteen months younger than Patrick and even though they were in different grades growing up, they might as well have been twins. They talked the same, had all the same inside jokes, all they had to do was look at each other and they would start laughing and no one would have any idea what was so funny. They drifted though when Patrick was twenty. I was a little shocked that she was here.

“It was nice,” I reply, not having any clue how people talk at these things. This is the first funeral I have ever been to. I didn’t even go to my grandparents’ funerals. I’m clueless as to what’s socially acceptable. But then I think about high school again, and what Mary and Patrick were like then. “I’m happy everyone talked about all the good things. That’s what’s most important.”

She smiles and nods. “Yeah, I guess there’s no point in bringing anything else up at an event like this. Might be in bad taste or something.”

Mary started going to our school the year after Patrick and I had started. Physically, she was never anything like Patrick. She had long blonde hair and always wore light coloured track jackets. But the minute she opened her mouth, you knew right away the two were related. They had their own dialect that was so distinct there were times I couldn’t tell which of the two of them were speaking.

We had a pretty small but tight clique: the three of us and a few other friends who would join us for video games or table top RPGs during the weekend. We would take turns finding people to boot alcohol and cigarettes for us. I was the only one with a license so Friday nights I would head home, borrow my parents’ van, then I would meet everyone at a small convenience store connected to a liquor store just a few blocks from our school. We’d fill the back of the van with booze, cover the bottles with blankets, stuff the cigarettes under the middle seat, and drive over to Patrick and Mary’s house. Their mom worked all weekend and most evenings. She juggled two jobs so that neither Patrick nor Mary would have to have jobs while they were in school. Their mom had a lot of hope in both of them and was really banking on scholarships for the both of them. That would be the only way either of them could get into college. God knows single parent working-class families struggle to keep up on the rent and utilities, there was never any space for a college fund. She knew how smart her kids were though, they both had a lot of opportunity waiting for them.

Mary was able to keep her grades up. She got the scholarships that her mom knew she could get. Mary finished her first degree by twenty-one, finished her Master’s by twenty-three.

“So, are you going to be going the PhD route now?” I ask Mary, not sure of what exactly to talk about. I haven’t seen Mary in a few years, just heard through the small town grape vine about all her achievements.

“I don’t think so,” she replies. “Not yet at least. I had a few big firms headhunt me. I want to bank some money for now. I mean, mom’s never going to retire working her shit jobs and someone had to pay for the service today. There’s always time for more school later.” She looks down at her brother’s grave. “At least I hope there is.”

We didn’t go right into college once high school ended. Patrick and I instead spent our summer working for a landscaping company, saving every dollar that didn’t go to booze or smokes. Once September rolled around, we were on the first plane to England with no return flight planned.

We stayed in whatever hostel would give us a cheap room for the night, lived out of our backpacks stopping at Laundromats occasionally, explored the cities, the bars, and the women not just in London, and not just in England. That was only our first week or so. We hopped on trains and travelled through France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and in Holland. Our last few days in Europe saw us in Amsterdam, running through the red light districts drunk with joints behind our ears. We landed back in our hostel out of breath and not waiting to catch it before we pressed the mickeys in our pockets against our lips for another sip to keep us drunk.

Patrick dug through his backpack and pulled out his cellphone. He got really quiet. He wasn’t laughing anymore and he just kept staring at his cellphone. I finally asked him what was wrong.

“My dad just called,” was all that he said.

We were on the next flight back home.

Mary hangs up her phone and walks back toward me. She looks at me while I try to find something to talk about next. She beats me to it.

“That was just my mom,” she says. “She’s back at home and just wondering when I’m going to head over. I’ve been staying with her the past while. Just keeping an eye on things.”

I nod my head and ask if her mom is still in the same apartment that we would all hang out in when we were young. Mary tells me that the only thing that has changed in that apartment since then was the cost of rent. She’s a creature of habit and doesn’t take well to change. I think about how you can keep some things the same, trying to hold onto those good feelings that you never want to leave. And sometimes, things change whether you want them to or not. It’s not your choice and those good feelings are gone forever, no matter how hard you try to remember them. Sometimes they just die and all you have to do is bury them and move on. Being obsessed with a feeling can kill you.

Patrick and Mary didn’t have the same dad. Patrick’s dad left before Patrick was even born. His mom met Mary’s dad shortly after Patrick was born. They had Mary together, and then Mary’s dad died before either of the kids was in kindergarten. Their mom didn’t even bother trying to date after that, figuring she was cursed. She decided the only people who really mattered were Patrick and Mary. The sign of a true, strong mother.

Patrick had met his dad a few times over the years. He would kind of just pop up every once in a while without any warning. There was one time when Patrick and I were sitting in our eleventh grade math class and his dad came busting into the class and pulled out Patrick telling him it was an emergency. Patrick called me later that and told me that the only emergency there was was that his dad didn’t have enough vodka for the both of them so they had to stop at a liquor store before going to the park together. From what I understood, this was fairly normal for Patrick’s dad: show up, expect everyone to drop everything, he and Patrick would leave for the whole day with no clue as to where they were, and then Patrick would just show up back at home with no sign of his dad again until the next time he randomly popped-up.

When we were in Europe, Patrick hadn’t seen his dad since that emergency in eleventh grade. His dad wasn’t even at our high school graduation. Patrick was sure that his dad finally forgot about him and he would never see him again. The minute he found that call on his phone, it was like finding out Santa was real again. The whole flight home, Patrick told me about everything the two already had planned for when Patrick arrived. I wasn’t even sure of his dad was going to be there when we landed, god knows something else to grab his attention could pop up at any minute. But there he was, beige cap with a cod embroidered, dull leather jacket, black tank top, gold chain, and track pants, standing in the middle of the airport. The black stubble around his smile made his smile look like a clown in a black and white movie. He stretched out his arms, ready for a hug from his son.

“Hey kiddo!” he yelled as Patrick dove in for the hug. “Good to see you. And you too there… there little buddy.”

I outstretched my arm to shake his hand, “Good to see you too, Gus.”

Patrick turned to me. “We’re going to get going, Robbie. Are you good to find your own way back home?”

“Yeah totally,” I stupidly replied knowing that as Patrick got older, Gus got him doing dumber things. Gus gave him his first bag of weed, his first porn movie, I even remember him telling me he had to tell his dad he didn’t want an OxyContin for a headache he had. Gus always had oxycontin on him. He got a prescription for a back injury he had back while he was still roofing. From what I understood, Gus was able to steal one of his doctor’s prescription pads and worked diligently to copy his doctor’s signature. He would hop from pharmacy to pharmacy, making sure none of the pharmacists were any the wiser of his building habit. None of us were interested in drugs like that. At least, at the time.

After I left that airport, I didn’t hear from Patrick for weeks. No one did. Mary and I would call each other regularly hoping Patrick had called the other. No one wanted to report Patrick as missing, we didn’t want him to get into trouble because he was doing god knows what with Gus. It was six weeks before Patrick was standing on my parents’ front doorstep. He looked and smelled like he hadn’t showered, changed, or stopped running for the past six weeks. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot and the black circles under his eyes reminded me of the rings around a tree’s trunk. I swore I counted to his age and all the years he aged from the past six weeks.

Patrick walked into the house and started pacing and rambling. I couldn’t tell is he was trying to explain all the trouble he was in or how much fun he had with his dad. He would smile, then his eyes would bulge like he was panicking, then he’s retell conversations playing the voices of all the people he met. Then Patrick capped off with what was his final turn for the worse and the start of his uncontrollable spiral.

“I really feel like I’ve finally connected with him,” Patrick said smiling and laughing like he just found a bag of money. “We talked so much, and I met everyone he spends all his time with, and did you know he has a whole other family? I have two sisters and a brother. Can you fucking believe it?”

I tried pointing out Mary, saying he already has a sister, he already has a family. Patrick tried rationalizing that they were different and trailed off mid-sentence like he couldn’t justify his own bullshit anymore. He then looked around the room and asked if my parents were home. I should have said yes, but I told the truth.

“I need you to do something then,” Patrick said, pulling out the doctor’s prescription pad from his pocket. “All the pharmacies up have my dad’s picture, he’s banned from all of them. I tried picking up his pills for him but they saw me walk in with him. I obviously look too much like him to try and pick up his pills. I need you to do it. I can write your name on them and everything. You’re still on your dad’s insurance, you won’t even have to pay for them. You gotta do me this solid.”

Sadly enough, I considered it for a minute. I thought then about the pills showing up on my dad’s file. I thought about my dad talking to me about the pills and having to explain all of this to him. I read stories about people who did things like this for their friends. Their friends would always say that this would be the only time they’d need to help, but it’s never just one time. Even when you say no, they’ll keep coming back, like a parasite that’s found your blood to be a delicacy, doing anything they can to latch on even for a second. I didn’t need any parasites. He left me alone at the airport. Running off with his junky dad was so damn important. I told him to fuck off and pushed him out of my parents’ house. He was wiry and weak, trying to swing at me and push back. There was nothing in his system and pushing him out felt like pushing an empty box. Just hollow and easily bent.

“You know, she doesn’t blame you,” Mary says. “You should come by the apartment and talk with my mom, she would love to see you.”

I often think about visiting Patrick’s mom. Even when he was still alive, I thought about it, just to reassure her that Patrick’s spiral wasn’t her fault. I was scared, though. I was scared she would want me to find Patrick, to talk with him and try to help him. Get him into a program, clean him up, even try to get him back into school. Patrick didn’t want help. And you can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves.

“Yeah, I might try to stop by soon,” I reply.

Mary still thinks that the last time I saw Patrick was when I threw him out of the house. And, as far she knows, it was. She doesn’t need to know that I saw him when I was walking through downtown one day. We talked for a bit and he seemed like he was cleaning up. I gave him my phone number, told him to call me if he wanted to grab a coffee. He called me a couple of days later. He was crying, said he was in a lot of trouble. He robbed a pharmacy, said he beat up a pharmacist pretty bad and didn’t bother to check if the pharmacist was breathing or not before he ran out. He told me where he was hiding out and asked me to give him a ride to a hospital so he could start getting treatment.

I drove over to the house he was staying at. I don’t know whose house it was, but the doors were left open and I walked straight in. I found the room Patrick was in. He was shivering and had a bucket filled with vomit and shit. I thought he was trying to get the junk out of his system. He looked at me and smiled. Then I realized why the door was open. From behind me came another guy. He didn’t say a word. Just handed Patrick two bags of white powder. Patrick handed him the bottle of pills. Patrick wasn’t even smiling at me.

“I didn’t think this would ever come. You don’t want to know how long I’ve been low for,” he smiled and reached for a syringe he left on the floor next to his bed. “Man, I still can’t believe how much I get for just a few pills. This will keep me going for a long time.”

“I thought you were trying to get clean!” I yelled.

Patrick scrambled telling me to shush. “You would have never shown up if I told you otherwise,” he whispered. “I need you still, though. I needed you here in case my guy still wanted some cash, I’m strapped. And I need you to pick me up some food. Just enough until all of this dies down.” He didn’t wait for my response before he had his lighter in one hand and a spoon in the other.

“I’m not picking up anything for you!” I yelled again. “You can fuck rot in here!”

He filled the syringe like I wasn’t even in the room. I kept yelling but he just continued sticking the needle in his arm. He pushed in the plunger and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. He fell back on his bed and started shaking. First just his arms, then his legs, then his whole body, convulsed violently. He started throwing up and the vomit just shot up and fell back into his face. His mouth was full and I would hear him choking. If it were anyone else or any other time I may have turned him over and let the vomit drop from his mouth and let his airways open again. But I didn’t. I just watched. I watched until he stopped thrashing around. And I watched his still body for another ten minutes. Then I left. I got the call a couple of days later. Apparently the neighbours thought there was a dead animal somewhere in the house. They were right.

I hug Mary and tell her that I’ll call her soon to check up on how she and the family are doing. She tells me she looks forward to my call and just to call her mom’s house. I leave the funeral knowing that not telling Mary is the right thing to do. She doesn’t need to know how far gone her brother was. She doesn’t need to know that I was there for the last minutes of his life, whatever was left of his life. She would cry. Say that there was some glimmer of hope. That her brother was still in there, screaming to get out. She would have still believed there was something to be saved. Leaving it in the dark is easier for her. She doesn’t have to live carrying the weight I carry now. That’s my burden alone.

I do wonder what would have happened if I turned Patrick over. Let his airwaves open up again and given him the second chance he needed to clean up and be something. I wonder what would have happened if I felt this remorse and questioned my apathy just a little bit earlier, early enough that I didn’t have to bury my friend and lie to his family and live the rest of my days with the vision of his eyes rolling to the back of his dead carved into my eyes.

I live with the fact that I could have helped him. But I watched him die instead.


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